Saturday, September 29, 2012

Citizens’ voices will be key to chart future development agenda, say top UN officials

By United Nations Centre, September 25, 2012 The input and participation of the world’s citizens will be key to charting the global development agenda beyond 2015, the target date for the achievement of the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), top United Nations officials stressed today, adding that the most vulnerable populations need to part of this process. “We need a clear post-2015 development agenda – an agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries – with the fight against poverty at the fore – and sustainable development at the core,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his remarks to the high-level panel of eminent persons on the post-2015 development agenda. The panel, which held its first meeting today, is tasked with providing recommendations on a global agenda following 2015, the target date set for the achievement of the eight MDGs related to poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a ‘Global Partnership for Development.’ “Together we are embarking on a journey with profound implications for the well-being of the world’s people – and in particular billions of the least privileged and most vulnerable members of the human family,” Mr. Ban told the panel, which is chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr. Ban stressed that giving voice to those who are currently struggling politically, economically and socially will be key to implementing a new development course. “How shall we reflect the hunger for political inclusion and democracy that we are seeing in the Arab region and elsewhere? People want a meaningful voice in their societies,” he stated. Speaking during an event on the post-2015 development agenda held on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level General Debate, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, said that if people are heard and respected they will be more likely to help deliver a successor framework to the MDGs. To secure citizens’ involvement, UNDP is undertaking a public consultation in more than 50 developing countries, to ensure their views underpin the design of the new development agenda. In addition, the UN is employing new technologies to hold a ‘global conversation’ with citizens around the world, asking them what kind of world they want to live in and what actions should be taken, UNDP said in a news release. “We hope that an ambitious post-2015 development agenda can be established, aimed at eradicating poverty in all its dimensions and providing a green, inclusive and equitable future for all,” Miss Clark said. “While the findings of the high-level panel will be vital, the priorities of citizens, civil society groups and independent experts must also inform the design of a renewed agenda.” To build on the momentum of today’s event, national-level dialogues are being organized in at least 50 developing countries, covering governance, health, education, jobs and other key issues initiated by the UN Development Group. Miss Clark said UNDP would continue to prioritize support for countries to achieve the MDGs, including by rolling out the MDG Acceleration Framework, which more than 40 countries have employed since 2010 to identify and implement actions to overcome bottlenecks and accelerate progress towards lagging targets. The event, which was chaired by Japan, involved members of the Secretary-General’s high-level panel, as well as various development representatives from Member States and regional institutions. The high-level panel, which consists of 27 members, is expected to submit its recommendations to the Secretary-General by 31 May 2013. Yesterday Mr. Ban announced the appointment of Izabella Teixeira of Brazil to serve on the panel, replacing Vanessa Perelli Corrêa who recently submitted her resignation. Source

Friday, September 28, 2012

Climate Change: Views from the Vulnerable (Complete) | Asia Society

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor is an independent global assessment of the effect of climate change on the world's populations today and in the near future. It is issued by DARA and the Climate Vulnerable Forum to draw attention to over 300,000 lives already lost each year as a result of global warming and changes to our climate. It is an independent global assessment of the effect of climate change on the world's populations today and in the near future.

The report targets some basic questions about climate change, including where the most serious impacts are being felt? To what degree? And what measures can minimize its harmful effects? In doing so it will clarify the extent of the main impacts of climate change on human society, and what some of the most effective responses to that impact are known to be.

Watch the full video of yesterday's global launch of the Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Edition on September 26, 2012 in New York

Climate Change: Views from the Vulnerable (Complete) | Asia Society

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Keep new development goals simple - experts

Lisa Anderson, Alert news, September 26, 2012 The Millennium Development Goals may not be perfect but they are simple and straightforward - qualities diplomats and others fear could be lost in the process of crafting new targets to replace the MDGs, which expire in 2015. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon underscored this on Tuesday in remarks to members of a high-level panel charged with working out what comes next. “We need a clear post-2015 development agenda - an agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries, with the fight against poverty at the fore and sustainable development at the core,” he said. Of the eight MDGs set 12 years ago, only those concerning poverty, slums and access to drinking water have been met so far. Efforts are being stepped up to try to achieve the other five goals on universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and promoting gender equality. But a lot has changed since 2000, according to a report from the Post-MDGs Contact Group, a discussion forum for government and civil society representatives from around 20 countries set up by Japan late last year. “In particular, the following issues are important: growth and employment; equity and equality; setting national targets; emerging and re-emerging issues including the environment, disaster reduction, access to water, food and energy; demographics and governance,” said the report. But the danger is that including too many of those issues in the next set of goals - widely referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - could be counterproductive, experts warned at Tuesday’s discussion. The session heard comments from development practitioners and researchers, as well as some of the high-level panel’s 26 members, including former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan. Its three co-chairs - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron - were not present, but the entire panel was scheduled to meet later on Tuesday for the first time. The strength of the current MDGs is that they comprise a short and simple list, according to Claire Melamed of the London-based Overseas Development Institute. The panel charged with identifying new objectives must beware of “complexifying” the agenda and importing problems that other agencies are trying to solve, she said. Mark Suzman, managing director of international policy and programmes at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed concern about “diluting the focus of the MDGs” with issues that are harder to resolve, such as security, good governance and sustainable access to resources. Heikki Holmas, Norway’s international development minister, suggested that even the name of the panel - officially called the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda - should be simplified. He also noted that “to fight corruption is very important in achieving the new MDGs”. Chernor Bah, a youth advocate from Sierra Leone, told the panel members: “Keep your promises.” “The dream of education, the dream of living free of hunger, the dream of not having a death sentence if you’re pregnant…those promises have not been kept,” he said, referring to progress on the current goals. “We want stability. They say that peace is a utopian word. As young people we refuse to accept that. We want a world where we can live to see our dreams,” he added. Panel member Kadir Topbas, the mayor of Istanbul, said youth are very much on the agenda: “We are here preparing the future for the next generation, looking at what we have now and what we will give to them tomorrow.” Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s minister for international development, noted that half her colleagues on the high-level panel are women. “The role of women in development and women in the world will have our full attention,” she said. Source

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Plastic from water hyacinth weed

By DowntoEarth, September 30, 2012 Water hyacinth is considered one of the most notorious aquatic weeds. It proliferates rapidly in lakes, dams and irrigation channels and chokes them. But scientists have now shown that the infamous weed is a rich source of carbohydrate and can be used to make biodegradable plastic. Past studies have shown that carbohydrates derived from weeds and grass can yield plastic material. This led researchers at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, to turn their attention towards water hyacinth. They found that water hyacinth-derived sugar molecules like lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose can be converted into polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a polymer that is a raw material for making biodegradable plastic. Currently, plastics and synthetic polymers are derived from petroleum-based raw material like polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene. These do not decompose. Plastics developed using PHB are compostable. Also, making PHB from natural resources can reduce cost and harmful gas emissions. To make PHB, researchers dried and crushed water hyacinth into a fine powder and subjected it to acid and enzyme treatment in the presence of water. The end product was used to grow Cupriavidus necator, a bacterium known to produce PHB, in the presence of organic and inorganic nitrogen sources. As the bacteria grew, PHB was found to accumulate inside them. Researchers ruptured the bacterial cells using an alkaline solution and extracted the PHB. Maximum PHB, 4.3 grams per litre, was obtained from the bacteria cultured using the products of enzymatic breakdown of water hyacinth powder. “PHB can have potential applications in a wide variety of fields such as industrial, biomedical, agricultural, domestic, and automobile,” says lead researcher A G Murugesan. “The quality of PHB derived from hyacinth is similar to PHB from other sources. The advantage with using water hyacinth as raw material is that it is available free of cost throughout the year,” he adds. The study is set to appear in the October issue of Bioresource Technology. Source

Reducing or Displacing Deforestation by Greenpeace International

Reducing or Displacing Deforestation by Greenpeace International Greenpeace criticizing forest offsets in California’s new emissions trading scheme

Sunday, September 23, 2012

To Be or Not To Be Equitable

By Por Mairon Bastos Lima, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth / UNDP, September 20, 2012 Have you noticed that most advocates of sustainable development speak of “win-win” strategies? I have always thought that a third word has been missing. Doesn’t sustainability have three pillars? The economic, the ecological, and the social? Guess which one is usually missing? Yes, the social. Efforts to incorporate previously neglected ecological concerns into development have increased tremendously over the last decades. Although what we do is clearly not enough yet, there has been a surge of investments in renewable energy, climate change has made to the top level of international politics, and other environmental concerns are gradually gaining ground all over the world. Many of these developments owe to an ever closer integration between ecological and economic concerns, as made clear by the Stern Review on “The Economics of Climate Change”, a path soon followed by the biodiversity field with the more recent TEEB – “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”. Excellent! Maybe people will finally stop calling sustainable development an oxymoron and viewing economic development and ecological conservation as incompatible. Except that, more recently, it has come to the world’s attention that many of these so-called “win-win” strategies are being captured by elites only, that some of people’s most pressing needs remain unaddressed, and that many of those “green growth” or “sustainable” strategies are actually working to further disenfranchise the poor. Let’s recap: nearly 1 billion people are undernourished while another billion is obese due to food overconsumption; 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion to sanitation. (And that is while most of the people you know are busy exchanging pictures online, commenting on each other’s “wall”, and thinking about replacing that electronic gadget from last year because it is already too old). Oh yes, let’s not forget: 2.6 billion people remain without access to modern energy services. I find it hard to conceptualize how many people that is – the numbers are just too large. How does one put an image to one-third or more of the world’s current population? Given that climate change is caused primarily by fossil energy overutilization in the world’s wealthier nations but will affect mostly the poor, many people are saying that socially exclusive “green” strategies are like adding insult to injury. That is because – we don’t see – but many of these have been “win-win-lose” strategies, the loss being in the social dimension of sustainable development. But what is this social dimension anyway? The social dimension is about creating equity, addressing social injustices such as the large existing discrepancies in levels of income, well-being and access to resources. The social dimension is about raising living standards and also about fostering democratic, inclusive participation and governance systems. The social dimension is about making sure that development does not further impair those who are already in disadvantage and marginalized, such as the poor and indigenous peoples, but rather that their needs are given special treatment due to their disadvantaged situation, and that their views are duly represented in policy and decision-making. Economic growth alone cannot provide for that; it never did. Not without institutions aiming at keeping development along the lines of equity. So sustainable development and green economy strategies have a choice: to be or not to be equitable. What we need, are not double, but triple-win strategies. Source

Saturday, September 22, 2012

David v Goliath? – How Colombia tackles climate change

By Martin Ross, CDKN, September 18, 2012 Colombia is the world’s third most vulnerable country to climate change, according to Frank Pearl, Colombia’s former Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. In fact, Colombians have recently seen an increase in floods during the “Ola Invernal” or “seasonal rains”, while others faced continuous threats of drought. Both the public and private sector in Colombia are aware of this hazard, with 95% of Bogotá’s inhabitants considering that climate change affects their quality of life. The country has reasons to worry as it relies on its agricultural sector which has already seen a decline in the production and export of its high quality coffee, mainly due to global warming. Considering its high vulnerability to global warming and climate variability, climate change and sustainable development are clearly top priorities in Colombia’s political agenda. Indeed, Colombia is arguably a regional leader in the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. At Rio+20, the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Colombia positioned itself as a frontrunner by proposing (together with the government of Guatemala) the well-received Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim at expanding on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that will run out in 2015. However, Colombia’s efforts date back as far as 1994 and 2011, when Colombia joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Since then, various initiatives such as the Colombian Low Carbon Development Strategy (CLCDS) have shown that Colombia is approaching the issue with skill and dedication. One of the fundamental advances in Colombia’s mitigation and adaptation efforts is the identification of the social and economic dimensions of climate change. Last year, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced new “state of the art regulations” which would make protection of the environment “compatible with economic development”. In order to enhance climate-compatible development, three main institutions now deal with the issue and have recently undergone a substantial overhaul: the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Planning Department (DNP) and the Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM). In 2011, Colombia’s government published a document called “Institutional Strategy to Articulate Climate Change Policies and Actions in Colombia”, which aimed at creating an entirely new institutional framework under which the DNP has climate change authority. This institution, receiving direction from the President, is in charge of formulating long-term public policies and possesses significant political power to coordinate all the ministries involved in climate change – these include the Ministries of Environment, Agriculture, Finance, Mines and Energy, Transport, Foreign Relations, and Social Protection. The Climate Change Mitigation Group, in its new location under the DNP, is responsible for defining climate policies and coordinating and articulating the country’s climate actions. This new institutional structure aims to communicate the relevant initiatives on climate change and allocate resources for activities such as the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA). Colombia’s ambitious plans owe their relative success to two main factors: firstly, even though the “Ola Invernal” contributed to stronger climate change awareness among policymakers, the government has also been able to raise consciousness at citizen level about the future social, environmental and economic challenges associated with climate change. Secondly, with the latest institutional reform the government attempts to keep the climate change authority separate from the environmental authority. This clearly shows, as mentioned before, that the environmental, as well as the social and economic dimension associated with climate change, is taken into account. The independence of a climate change authority facilitates better coordination in the government among ministries. Sufficient political power is also critical to keep the issue of climate change high on the political agenda. Despite the fact that Colombia still needs to confront highly complex issues such as poverty and growing inequality, it becomes apparent that the country shows good will and ambition to tackle a problem that not only spans across borders but affects humanity as a whole. Of course, there is still a lot to learn yet Colombia’s mitigation efforts clearly serve as a model for other developed and undeveloped countries to follow. Source

Friday, September 21, 2012

Water harvesting project transforms village

By, September 18, 2012 A community-initiated water harvesting and gardening project has transformed the lives of over 200 villagers in Dumbu village in Masvingo district. Bothered by the recurrent drought in the area, the villagers devised a way of harnessing water from a hill and rehabilitated a dam, which had been destroyed by Cyclone Eline in 2000. Twelve years down the line, the Ivhu Inhaka project has become an oasis of hope for villagers in the perennially drought-hit area. At least 60 families have a small portion of land each, where they grow maize and vegetables. A member of the project, Fadzai Mvurachena (39), said it was difficult in the beginning, as there was a lot of work required. “It was worth it because I now generate adequate income to care for my family of five from the garden,” she said. Mvurachena said she got at least US$100 from the sale of mealies per season and US$20 every month from vegetables from her garden.”Ivhu Inhaka is the sole source of income for a number of widows, widowers and orphans we work with,” Mvurachena said. “It helps those like me to subsidise their husbands’ income. I do not wait for my husband to buy children’s books or to give me money for use at the grinding mill because I always have my own small savings.” Ivhu Inhaka secretary, Muchuva Muchuva, said the project had become popular because it supplied vegetables to well-known educational institutions and businesses in Masvingo town. “Our project is now well-known, we get customers from all over who buy our produce which includes green mealies, potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables,” said Muchuva. Village head, Johnson Rangwani, said the project was a model of how communities can start self-sustaining ventures without donor assistance. In the initial stages, some villagers provided old pipes while others donated small amounts of money to buy more pipes to draw water from the dam to the garden. Impressed by the project, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Aquaculture Zimbabwe Trust, in May this year donated about 22 000 fish which are now being grown in the dam. The villagers expect to realise about US$7 000 from the sale of the fish by December this year. Source

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bhutan, in pursuit of sustainable development

Kenyan rubbish dump offers little money for much misery

By ThinktoSustain, September 19, 2012 A man with a sack slung over his shoulder trudges up a mountain of rotting rubbish, where Marabou storks perch like mournful sentinels. In the valley below, a woman pulls a jacket from the rubbish and holds it up, appraising it with a critical eye. At Nairobi’s Dandora rubbish dump, the working day is in full swing. Men and women pick through a newly arrived truck, looking for plastic, food, clothes, paper and bottles – anything they can sell on or take home to use. Robert Ondika, 27, straightens from sifting through the rubbish with an iron hook. He has been working in Dandora, one of Africa’s largest rubbish dumps, for three years and earns between 50 and 500 Kenyan shillings a day (between $0.60 and $6). “We come here to earn our daily bread,” he says in Kiswahili. “Here, we touch different things, we could step on something sharp. It is only God who is helping us here.” For these foot soldiers in Nairobi’s unregulated rubbish business, the work is perilous and the rewards paltry, to say nothing of the discomfort of spending the day in a smoky, stinking wasteland. But for those who live in the neighbourhoods around the dump, it offers survival. That is Dandora’s paradox – it is source of life, but also of illness and, occasionally, death. In a report released on Tuesday, Concern Worldwide, Italian development group Cesvi and church group Exodus Kutoka say the dump is “one of the most flagrant violations of human rights” in Kenya. The report says the city council of Nairobi, local government departments and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) bear legal responsibility for the hazardous living conditions in the slums nearby. The dump, which lies 8km (5 miles) from the city centre, was declared full in 2001, and since then campaigners, including Concern, have sought to have it decommissioned. The report, Trash and Tragedy: The Impact of Garbage on Human Rights in Nairobi City, says the rubbish had polluted the soil, water and air, affecting more than 200,000 people, including up to 10,000 who spend the day seeking treasure from it. Most of them do not wear gloves or masks and many suffer from respiratory ailments, such as asthma. Other conditions that have affected workers include anaemia, kidney problems, cancer and frequent miscarriages. A 2007 study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that at least half the children in surrounding neighbourhoods had heavy metal concentrations in their blood that exceed the minimum level set by the World Health Organisation. Some estimates say around half the workers on the dump are under 18. A site for a new dump was earmarked near Nairobi’s international airport, but that idea stalled this year when the Kenya Airports Authority said birds attracted by the rubbish could endanger planes. The Trash and Tragedy report says many workers do not support plans to close the dump, where 850 tonnes of waste are deposited each day. Father John Webootsa, who lives nearby in Korogocho slum, understands this. “It brings money and it brings death,” says the Comboni priest, who has campaigned for years to have the 30-acre dump relocated. He organises vocational training and loans for scavengers to help them escape. “We believe this is not a life that human beings should live,” he says. “Many [people] have died and others are dying. Others have been burned by the acid, the ‘boilers’ [contaminated industrial waste barrels] that are there. Beneath that garbage, there are boiling chemicals, and people may be burned if they step on them by accident.” Korogocho, which means “crowded shoulder to shoulder” in Kiswahili, appears to have been forgotten by the government. On one of the narrow streets, pigs snuffle among piles of rubbish, just yards from the body of a dead dog. Webootsa says people here feel rejected by society and by the government. “Social amenities are not provided, the government is not here. We do not have a public health facility … there are only two schools, and they were built by us,” he says. But the dump is a source of wealth and power for the men at the top of an informal cartel that runs the site. With no government control, there is plenty of room for gangsters to wield their influence. Visitors must organise and pay for “security” to walk around the site and to take photographs. Thereport says powerful business interests have rallied communities against the decommissioning process. “Most of the anti-decomissioning forces have deeply vested business interests that thrive in the prevailing chaos,” it says. The report argues that any solution requires a sea-change in Nairobi, a city of more than 3.5 million people where recycling is non-existent, or ad hoc. “Residents of Nairobi must take responsibility for their waste … a key step is to demand urgent delivery of a safe and comprehensive waste management system, with a functional sanitary landfill,” thereport says. Concern and its co-authors urge the government to use modern technology to isolate toxic waste in Dandora, and identify a site to build a sanitary landfill. Webootsa stresses that any solution must take into account the thousands working as scavengers. “They don’t need the dump. They need the job,” he says. “They don’t need the rubbish. They will be happy to have a clean environment, they will be happy to breathe clean air, and of course, there has to be a proper livelihood.” Source

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Temperature rise 'slows economy in poor countries'

By Paula Park, August 16, 2012, SCiDevNet Small increases in temperature may have reduced the industrial and agricultural production of poor countries, according to a study by US economists. Higher temperatures may also have contributed to political instability in these countries — defined as those with below-median per capita income, adjusted for the purchasing power of the country's currency — according to the study published in the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics last month. In contrast, rich countries have so far shown no measurable economic or political consequences resulting from temperature change. "Temperature fluctuations can have large negative impacts on poor countries," said Benjamin Olken, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors of the study. "If fluctuations affect the growth rate each year, over time that adds to a really big impact." The authors compared annual temperature and precipitation changes from 1950 to 2003 with aggregate economic output data. Based on the data, the researchers estimated that a one degree Celsius rise in temperature in a given year had reduced economic growth by about 1.3 percentage points on average. By correlating the temperature and precipitation data with regular changes of government, such as elections, and irregular changes, such as coups, the researchers found that higher temperatures are also associated with political instability in poor countries. The impact of temperature on political instability may be "one mechanism through which temperature might affect productivity growth", according to the paper. But further work is needed to determine why both a country's economy and its political stability are affected by temperature, the authors said. The findings could be used to tweak the traditional climate change models, allowing them to better distinguish the effects of climate from other factors influencing economies, the paper said. "There is a huge amount of literature looking at the [impact of temperature] fluctuations," said Melissa Dell, one of the authors of the paper. "We're more able [than before] to convincingly isolate the temperature and not just something that's correlated with it." Previous findings published in American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings in 2010 also found that a one degree Celsius warming in a poor country had reduced the growth of all exports by between two and 5.7 percentage points. Rich countries had not experienced such slowdowns that could be correlated with temperature increases, although the decline in imports from poor countries might have led to consumers in rich countries paying higher prices for commodities, the researchers speculated. "It has generally been a reasonable assumption that poor countries are disproportionately affected by climate change, which is what the study showed," said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow in the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development, in United Kingdom. Huq said there was now a need to analyse the impact that severe temperature fluctuations in major food-producing countries may have on developing countries. For example, high temperatures in the United States have resulted in sharp price increases in corn around the world this year. "I would like to see more about how changes in temperature in one part of the world have repercussions in another part of the world," said Huq. "Climate change in one part of the world can have a tremendous impact in another, that we are not yet aware of." Source

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Dark Side of the “Green Economy”

By Jeff Conant, August 23, 2012

Why some indigenous groups and environmentalists are saying no to the “green economy.”

Everywhere you look these days, things are turning green. In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous farmers are being paid to protect the last vast stretch of rainforest in Mesoamerica. In the Brazilian Amazon, peasant families are given a monthly “green basket” of basic food staples to allow them to get by without cutting down trees. In Kenya, small farmers who plant climate-hardy trees and protect green zones are promised payment for their part in the fight to reduce global warming. In Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations, fully 19 percent of the country’s surface is leased to a British capital firm that pays families to reforest.
These are a few of the keystone projects that make up what is being called “the green economy”: an emerging approach that promises to protect ­planetary ecology while boosting the economy and fighting poverty.

On its face this may sound like a good thing. Yet, during the recently concluded United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, tens of thousands of people attending a nearby People’s Summit condemned such approaches to environmental management. Indeed, if social movements gathered in Rio last month had one common platform, it was “No to the green economy.”

Whose Economy? Whose Green?

Just a few years ago, the term “green economy” referred to economies that are locally based, climate friendly, and low-impact. But since the global economic meltdown began in 2007, the green economy has come to mean something more akin to the wholesale privatization of nature. This green economy is about putting a price on natural cycles through a controversial set of policies called “Payments for Ecosystem Services”—an approach to greening capitalism that some liken to a tiger claiming to turn vegetarian.

Rather than reducing pollution and consumption, protecting the territorial rights of land-based peoples, and promoting local initiatives that steward resources for future generations, the approach is doing the opposite: promoting monoculture tree plantations, trade in pollution credits, and the establishment of speculative markets in biodiversity and forests, all of which threaten to displace land-based communities.

A report by Ecosystem Marketplace, the leading purveyor of “Payments for Ecosystem Services,” lays out the green economy argument: “Ecosystems provide trillions of dollars in clean water, flood protection, fertile lands, clean air, pollination, disease control. ... So how do we secure this enormously valuable infrastructure and its services? The same way we would electricity, potable water, or natural gas. We pay for it.”

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), among the chief proponents of the green economy, says this approach will result in “improved well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” The World Bank, also promoting the green economy, says, “Natural capital accounting would add to our national GDPs the wealth stored in our natural resources: minerals before they are mined, forests before they are felled, water while it is still in the rivers.”

But, for social movements, land-based communities, and indigenous peoples, the question is, who really pays? For what are they paying? And, most poignantly, since when has nature, the source of all life, been reduced to a service-provider?

One concern is that this new green economy is a form of “disaster capitalism”—a global effort to put the “services” of nature into the same hands that caused the global financial meltdown. And that seems like a very, very bad idea.

Increasingly, the evidence on the ground bears this out.

The reforestation plan in Mozambique has peasant farmers planting industrial monocultures of African palm for biofuel production, not native forest. The Kenyan farmers of the Green Belt Movement, while initially receptive to a World Bank-backed scheme that would pay them to protect agricultural soils, became discouraged when they realized the payments would add up to less than 15 cents per acre per year, and that they would have to wait many years for payment. In Brazil, the “green basket” of food staples adds up to 100 Reales per family per month—but cooking gas alone can cost 50 Reales a month, leaving families without access to the forest hungry and dependent on paltry state support.

And in Chiapas, where families in the Lacandon community are paid to protect the forest against their neighbors, the struggling campesinos from the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, and Mam ethnic groups are forced off the land and into prefab peri-urban settlements, where their customs and traditional livelihoods will be forever lost.

Carbon Dumps?

All of these initiatives are based on carbon offsetting—essentially, permission slips purchased by corporations and governments to allow them to continue dumping CO2 into the atmosphere in exchange for the ecosystem service provided by forests and agricultural soils in the Global South, which act as carbon sinks.

But, as Nigerian activist Godwin Ojo says, “Forests are not carbon sinks, they are food baskets.” Ojo tells of a rubber plantation near his home that has deprived hundreds of farmers of their livelihood under the auspices of the United Nations Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, a pillar program of the green economy.

“We find that most policies affecting indigenous peoples are designed without our participation,” Ojo says. “If this trend continues, it will lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and violence.”

If this is how the new green economy is playing out on the ground, it is no wonder that it has sparked resistance.

Social movements in the Global South do not mince words: The invitation for the People’s Summit in Rio declared, “Nothing in the ‘green economy’ questions the current economy based in extraction and fossil fuels, nor the patterns of consumption and industrial production, but extends this economy into new areas, feeding the myth that economic growth can be infinite.”

At the People’s Summit, spokespeople allied with smallholder farmers, women’s organizations, human rights groups, and others debated Achim Steiner, director of the UNEP.

Larissa Packer, a Brazilian lawyer with Terra de Direitos, an organization that works to secure land rights for landless communities, was among those who participated.

“Payment for environmental services,” Packer said, “posits that the actions of nature—the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the pollination of flowers by bees—are commodities, subject to the law of the market. In essence, such an approach implies the natural enclosure of these ‘services,’ and, when encoded in legal norms and property rights, the actual enclosure of the natural areas—forests, watersheds, wetlands. ... Such an approach is akin to the continued enslavement of nature.”

She then offered a clear summary of the economics at work: “In the current market,” she said, “prices are based on supply and demand, that is, on scarcity. As petroleum becomes scarce, its value goes up. The green economy will follow the same logic. ... If we put a price on forests, on biodiversity, on other common goods, those prices will be driven up by scarcity, So, for investors in these things, the greater the scarcity of ecosystem services, the greater their value. Where do we think this will lead?”

Steiner responded by saying that, while we may be frustrated with the state of the world, “whether we like it or not, economic thinking is dominating all our nations,” and we need to come to terms with this.

“When you say we give a price to nature and automatically it becomes a tradable commodity, I would ask, is it not useful to capture the value of an ecosystem also in economic terms? If countries began to understand how dramatic the value of our ecosystems and resources is to the future of our development prospects, then maybe we would enact laws to protect nature, we would increase protected areas, we would have far more indigenous peoples manage land and reserves, and we would pass far harsher laws to prevent the private sector from engaging in destructive practices.”

Steiner’s plea, however, left the social movements cold. Speaker upon speaker rose to denounce the green economy as the commodification of life, the final enclosure of the commons, and the largest land grab ever dreamed up by the corporate sector.

Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, boils it down to “the difference between money-centered Western views and the life-centered indigenous worldview based on the sacred female creation principles of Mother Earth.”

In the Amazonian backcountry, tribes are challenging construction of the world’s third-largest dam—by dismantling it. Here’s what they can teach us about standing up to power.

On June 21, winter solstice in Brazil, a delegation of indigenous people from an encampment called Kari-Oca II near the Rio summit delivered a declaration to U.N. officials. The declaration, signed by more than 500 indigenous leaders and blessed in a ritual ceremony, took direct aim:

“The Green Economy is a perverse attempt by corporations, extractive industries, and governments to cash in on Creation by privatizing, commodifying, and selling off the Sacred and all forms of life and the sky, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and all the genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, animals, fish, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and traditional knowledge that make life on Earth possible and enjoyable.”

Life-Affirming Alternatives

What is especially offensive about this new green economy is that it removes from the table all of the positive, life-affirming approaches that the social movements of the Global South have been nurturing for decades:

- The solidarity economies, where values and prices are set within a local, social context in order to create an exchange of goods and services outside of corporate-controlled markets;
- Rights-based frameworks that protect women, indigenous peoples, and other vulnerable populations not only within the market, but from the market;
- The Rights of Mother Earth, which says that all of life has inherent and inalienable rights;
- Territoriality, the notion that land-based people are not stewarding “a piece of land like a piece of bread,” but a sovereign space to call home;
- Climate debt, the idea that northern countries, whose prosperity is built on resource extraction, slavery, and protectionism, must pay for what they have taken; and
- The Commons, that age-old notion that democratic governance of shared resources must happen in spaces explicitly protected from the dominance of the market.

In other words, rather than expanding the scope of markets to every domain of nature, a true green economy would do the opposite: reverse the tide of commodification and financialization, reduce the role of markets and the financial sector, and strengthen democratic control over the world’s ecological commons.

As the Kari-Oca Declaration was delivered at the Earth Summit, many of those present looked up to notice a condor circling over the ceremony. In a week filled with acrimony and heated debate, with the United Nations poised to sell off the very foundations of life and our common heritage, the moment was rich with significance. If the social movements are able to stand their ground, that condor, the wind upon which it hovered, and the life which its solstice flight affirmed will remain ever as it was that day—just out of reach and priceless.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rio Summit’s Legacy Still a Question Mark

By Zoha Arshad, IPS News 14 September 2012

Academics gathered in Washington on Wednesday suggested that the mixed experience at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in June, has increased the importance of citizen engagement and consumer accountability in issues of environment, renewable energy and sustainability.

At a panel discussion, participants explored why there had been such a lack of progress after the June conference, known as Rio+20, one of the largest international summits on the issue in decades.

Particular emphasis was also paid to the fact that the private sector, particularly large-scale corporations, was being allowed to make sustainability-related promises and voluntary commitments without being held accountable for those pledges.

“The one commodity that politicians care about are people, and if people care the politicians will follow,” Michelle Lapinski, the director of corporate practices at the Nature Conservancy, an advocacy group, said Wednesday. “People should mobilise, demand a change and ask what’s happening about the future of sustainable development.”

Lapinski believes not only that consumers can alter the behaviour of companies, but that companies that cave in to consumer pressure will ultimately lead by example, setting trends for other companies to follow.

An example of corporations doing their part for the environment is PUMA, which published an environment-focused profit-and-loss report every quarter. The group as a whole agreed with Lapinski’s analysis, calling attention to Chevron, whose entire public relations campaign revolves around sustainable development and renewable energy.

Twenty years ago, the participants pointed out, this would have been unimaginable.

As with government, citizen pressure holds great potential over corporations.

“If people go on a particular website and saw that Coca-Cola promised A, B and C, and haven’t delivered, that’s a very good basis for campaigns, for boycotts,” Reid Detchon, the vice-president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, said. “They have to believe someone is watching – you have to hold (corporations’) feet to the fire.”

This concept of monitoring progress is why Jacob Scherr, the director of strategy and advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a research and watchdog group, is optimistic about the future, even after realising the lukewarm success of the Rio summit.

Scherr’s project,, is specifically designed to use social media to get the youth involved, to get their voices heard, and to make sure that they hold big corporations, business leaders and politicians accountable.

“The politicians didn’t feel pressured to act at the Rio summit,” Scherr said. “The people didn’t make them feel the pressure, but there were lots of young people who wanted to be heard. There were young business leaders with sustainable development plans and economic plans that need to be put out there and shared.”

Social media may hold out promise in this regard, particularly as a way to promote activism among the youth. Pop bands such as Linkin Park have also pledged support for sustainable development initiatives, with the power to mobilise tens of millions of followers into action.

Participants at Wednesday’s discussion also pointed to the new collaboration between the World Bank and the United Nations, which are co-chairing a new joint committee on sustainable development.

Still, many suggest, the issue will come down to citizen participation and consumer responsibility, initiatives hold out the promise of force a change in corporate culture, at least over time.

“Let’s face it. Our reality is we’ve been buying and selling nature for years – corporations do it, and now individuals do it,” Lapinski said, suggesting that the only real change that can be introduced on how corporations view their profits – the nature of how the transaction takes place.

If Coca-Cola uses water, she says, it needs to take the dual responsibility of giving back to nature and making a profit.

All of the participants emphasised that there will be no miracle solutions to the issue of sustainability.

But Scherr warns that the world doesn’t have another two or three decades to wake up and realise that the depletion of natural resources, waste dumping, and deforestation have almost killed the planet.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Kenya’s Water Wars Kill Scores

By Southern Africa NEPAD Water Centre

Water scarcity is fuelling deadly inter-ethnic wars that continue to claim lives in Kenya, according to government officials. And if nothing is done to educate communities on how to conserve the valuable resource, the situation will escalate, governance experts and environmentalists warn.

On Sunday, Sep. 9, 38 people were killed in revenge attacks in the Tana River Delta district of Kenya’s Coast province. The deceased include eight children, five women, 16 men, and nine police officers.

The incident occurred as the government announced it would conduct a disarmament exercise in the Tana River Delta following clashes over water and pasture that have left more than 80 people dead.

Coast province police boss Aggrey Adoli told IPS that about 500 raiders from the Pokomo ethnic group attacked the Kilelengwani village, in Tana River Delta, and torched a police camp and several other structures at dawn. On Monday, Sep. 10 the area was inaccessible and police officers were flown in by helicopter to quell the violence.

“This was in retaliation to Thursday’s incident in which 13 Pokomos were killed when raiders from the Orma (ethnic group) struck the Tarassa village in the area,” Adoli said.

The attacks are in retaliation to an Aug. 22 incident over water and resources that resulted in the death of 52 people, including 11 children and 31 women. The attack occurred after cattle owned by the Orma ethnic group strayed onto farmlands belonging to the neighbouring Pokomo community and destroyed their crops. Both communities have a long history of conflict over resources.

But conflict over resources is not confined to this region. Also on Aug. 22, four people were killed in a separate incident in Muradellow village in Mandera North, in North Eastern province. Police said that the conflict occurred at a water point where herders had taken their animals.

In March, 22 people were killed in Mandera, in North Eastern. More than 1,500 people fled their homes as a result of the violence, which occurred in El Golicha village, close to Kenya’s border with Somalia.

North Eastern provincial officer Ernest Munyi, who is also the region’s assistant commissioner of police, told IPS that the attacks were becoming more frequent.

“Clan attacks are common in the region, which has now been witnessing clashes every month since February. The attacks were often sporadic, targeting members of other clans but usually arise from resource competition.

“These are nomadic pastoralists who depend on livestock for survival. They rustle livestock and fight over water and the few grazing fields,” he said.

Political leaders, human rights activists and environmentalists are calling on the government to address the problem urgently.

Mwalimu Mati, the chief executive of Mars Group, an NGO that deals with governance, told IPS that the government must provide equitable resources to end the clashes.

“Resource conflict will be with us for a long (time) because the government policies that promote timber harvesting have resulted in deforestation,” said Mati, who is also a lawyer. Scanty forest cover has resulted in the reduced rainfall here, according to water experts.

Peter Mangich, the director of water services at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, told IPS that due to the effects of climate change, the country now only received one quarter of its previous rainfall.

“The average annual rainfall is 630 millimeters, which should be four times this figure to be enough. The National Development Plan 2002 to 2008 recognises Kenya as a water-scarce country where the water demand exceeds renewable freshwater sources,” he said.

“Our depleting natural water resources, due to inadequate rainfall and scanty forest cover that stands at three percent, are the problem. The country’s water basins do not reach an equitable area of the country,” he said.

And it is the reason for the increased conflict, according to Dr. Bernard Rop, a former Commissioner of Mines, a geologist and environmentalist.

“As a result of the skewed water distribution between the country’s water basins and within the basins, water use conflicts arise out of demand of water for irrigation, livestock, wildlife and environmental conservation,” Rop told IPS.

“There have been clashes over water and grazing fields in most parts of North Eastern, Turkana, Samburu and Pokot in the Rift Valley and the Coast regions for the last 10 years, resulting in the death of 400 people and the theft of 10,000 livestock,” he said.

Mati pointed out that conflict over resources would spread to other parts of the country that were not water scarce.

“Conflict will not only be in dry areas. Climate change is real and even countries that share the River Nile are quarrelling over it. Let the government adopt other means to solve this problem,” he said.

Mati explained the need for water had resulted in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan calling for the revocation of a 1959 treaty, brokered by the United Kingdom, that gave Egypt, and to a lesser extent Sudan, historical rights to the river’s resources.

Rop said that Kenya had water readily available, it just had to be tapped. “This country produces 290 megawatts of geothermal energy, the leading in Africa. It has a lot of underground water. If this water is tapped and distributed to the affected areas, conflict will end,” he said.

Mangich said that the government is addressing the problem.

“Since last year, we have partnered with NGOs like World Vision to sink boreholes in the affected areas so that residents can have enough water for their livestock and domestic use. We also encourage them to use the water to grow vegetables and maize to complement livestock keeping,” he said.

But Mati said that nomadic pastoralists should be encouraged to engage in other economic activities that are more vialable and suggested that the government encourage urbanisation.

“This will allow many people to live in towns that have social amenities and to farm on land as a group, not as individuals,” he said.

Kenya’s Minister of Educatoin Mutula Kilonzo told IPS that the government needed to implement existing policies regarding access to water.

“The new constitution has very good policies to cater for the dry regions by sinking boreholes and promoting irrigation. Let us implement laws that deal with agriculture and the clashes will end,” he said.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

From Denmark To Bhutan: The Policies Of Happiness

By Colin Todhunter,, 18 August, 2012

Over the last 100 years, living standards in the West have improved enormously, but it appears that people have not become much happier. In 2006, the first ‘Happy Planet Index’ (HPI) measured happiness across 178 countries. The small south Pacific island of Vanuatu was the happiest nation. Germany ranked 81st, Japan 95th and the US 150th. The index was based on consumption levels, life expectancy and reported happiness. Although Vanuatu was top, it only ranked 207th out of 233 economies when measured against Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Various surveys have indicated that while wealthy western nations use up vast quantities of the world's scarce resources, many of their citizens are not much happier, or are indeed less happy, than those who belong to poorer countries that use far fewer resources.

Take Bhutan, for instance, which places emphasis on ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH). Although over 30 per cent of Bhutan’s people are in material poverty, GDP per capita is among the highest in South Asia and it has made tremendous strides in education and tackling malaria. The country recognises a need to modernise, but is attempting to do so within the framework of its Buddhist values. It acknowledges the importance of economic growth, but also encourages the promotion of culture and heritage and the preservation and sustainable use of the environment. GNH comprises nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance, all of which can be quantifiably measured.

The 2009 version of the HPI placed Costa Rica at the top. Costa Rica also gained top spot in the WDH, which is based on respondents self reported happiness on a scale of one to 10. Costa Ricans scored 8.6. Denmark followed at 8.3 and Togo and Tanzania were last at 2.6.

Costa Rica dissolved its armed forces in 1949 and invested heavily in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society and boosted the economy. Rising education levels also nurtured impressive gender equality and improvements in health care, which means that life expectancy is now about the same as in the US. Education and health is a far better investment than military hardware for improving the quality of life and a general sense of happiness.

Industrialised countries that are highly unequal and lay great emphasis on military power, such as the US and UK, don’t always fare too well in happiness surveys. Contrast this with Denmark.

According to the World Values Survey in 2007, Denmark was the planet’s happiest country. It would be foolish to suggest that wealth does not positively impact well being or happiness because certain surveys indicate it does. But the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relative few may help to explain why so many people are unhappy in the wealthier nations. Denmark is not just wealthy, but its people feel safe because emphasis and investment is placed on social equality and robust welfare policies. Indeed, Scandinavian countries always come out near the top of quality of life and well-being surveys, usually quite a bit ahead the UK and US, which have adopted more strident neo-liberal policies.

It is revealing that countries reported to be happier tend to avoid undermining the ability of future generations to prosper and people in other countries to live fulfilling lives - in other words, countries that live within the limits imposed by the environment and ones that do not engage in neo-colonialism or imperialism. Perhaps this is why the US does not always do too well in these surveys.

In India, we don’t have to look far to see alternative models of development based on non-consumerist and communal forms of living. The Navdanya organisation has trained over 5,00,000 farmers in sustainable agriculture and is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. Another example, is the initiation of a government backed project in Dandi and surrounding villages in Gujarat, based on the Gandhian values of village development and environmental conservation.

Such projects acknowledge that the pursuit of material wealth to the exclusion of all else impacts negatively on health and the quality of personal relationships, which are among the most potent predictors of whether people report they are happy.

These initiatives may well be on the right track because, according to the Human Development Index (HDI), economic growth in itself seems to have little to do with all round well being. Indeed, several poor countries have caught up with much richer ones in the non-income aspects of the HDI, such as life expectancy and literacy. Despite high GDP growth in recent years, India ranks 134th among 182 countries in the HDI. According to the World Map of Happiness, Indians are generally an unhappy lot. Based on standards of wealth, health and access to education, it ranks 125th out of 178 countries.

Look no further than India’s urban centres as to why this may be. In a headlong rush to blindly ape the West, its cities are increasingly defined by their traffic-jammed flyovers cutting through fume choked neighbourhoods that are denied access to clean drinking water, a stable power supply and a generally decent infrastructure. Scratch a little deeper and you can see that its institutions are being moulded to fuel an unsustainable consumer culture and wholly divisive neo-liberal economic policies, which are leading to gross inequalities. Away from the cities, the influence of agribusiness and state-corporate grabs for land are leading to upheaval, major violent conflict and ecological destruction. Greed is no recipe for happiness.

We are told that this is ‘development’ and ‘good’ for ‘the country’. I guess it depends on just ‘who’ the country is meant to be and therefore whom all this turmoil happens to be good for.

In finishing, it has to be stated that many less wealthy (and wealthy) countries do well in happiness surveys because cultural priority is placed on family and friends, on social capital rather than financial capital, on social equity rather than corporate power. When decisions are taken to invest heavily in education and health as well as in self sustaining communities, local economies and the environment, happiness and well being are boosted. And this is all very achievable. Look no further than just a few of the government policies or individual projects that have for instance strengthened bioversity in Cuba, contributed towards happiness in Bhutan, enhanced sustainable, traditional agriculture in India or have improved health in Costa Rica.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guyana struggles to invest in climate defences

By Johann Earle, Alert News, September 10, 2012

Guyana has not made the financial investment it needs to cope with worsening floods and rising sea levels, highlighting how poor countries are struggling to make climate change adaptation a spending priority, researchers say.

Government funding for sea defences, drainage and irrigation has taken a backseat to expenditure on security in the poor South American nation, according to a study by geography experts at Canada’s University of Western Ontario, released earlier this year.

“Between 2008 and 2011, only 2 percent of the annual national budget was devoted to rehabilitating or upgrading the sea and river defences ($13 million in 2010), while 4 percent went to rehabilitating drainage and irrigation infrastructure ($25 million in 2010). Taken together, this adaptation-related expenditure was about half of what was committed to Guyana’s security forces, which commanded roughly 11 percent of the national budget,” the research notes.

It finds that the government of Guyana, a former British colony, is directing more resources towards climate mitigation efforts, including forest protection.

“On the one hand, the government’s mitigation efforts – which pivot on its sparsely populated interior – are bringing immediate financial rewards, some of which are targeted towards Guyana’s indigenous people. On the other hand, adaptation entails a prohibitive cost to defend against an imprecise future threat,” the study says.

Much of Guyana’s coast lies below sea level, which leaves the land vulnerable to seawater intrusion and hard to drain when tides are high or there is excessive rainfall. The majority of the country’s settlements and agriculture are located in coastal areas, meaning that extreme weather and rising seas - linked with climate change - pose serious threats to economic activity and livelihoods.

Experts interviewed for the study highlighted a shortage of capacity for research, planning and engineering in the country. One official with the department that manages sea defences explained that, after funding for projects is secured, it is a struggle to find people capable of managing them and maintaining infrastructure once it is built.

“The shortage of technical skills was regularly linked to both limitations in the education system and Guyana’s persistent ‘brain drain’, which describes the chronic emigration of skilled professions and the fact that migration remains a widely prevalent aspiration,” says the case study, intended to illustrate the challenges poor countries face in prioritising adaptation investments.

But Guyana’s minister of national resources and the environment, Robert Persaud, disagreed with some of the researchers’ conclusions.


Although the tiny nation is poor, it has spent significant amounts each year on sea defences and large reservoirs for storing and dispensing irrigation water, he said. This has come at a great opportunity cost to the provision of social services, he added.

“It must be borne in mind that Guyana’s REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiative is simply an offer to market its forest services as opposed to its logs and lumber, and is part of a larger (low-carbon) development strategy,” he told AlertNet via email. “The financing derived from the sale of these services is intended to fund, among other things, adaptation.”

As trustee of the Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF), the World Bank has so far received $70 million on Guyana’s behalf from Norway as payment for rainforest services through a forest partnership with Oslo, which will channel $50 million a year to Guyana up to 2015.

Based on successful monitoring, reporting and verification, funds for various projects are due to be released by the trustee and its partners. They include around $20 million for a hydroelectric power facility, as well as smaller activities to benefit Amerindian communities, such as the installation of solar panels and demarcation of Amerindian lands.

“While it is true that there is a large gap between what Guyana has done and what needs to be done, the degree of adaptation is a matter of financing,” said minister Persaud.

Guyana believes the need for it and other vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change stems from developed countries’ emissions over the last 200 years, “which have led to global warming, sea-level rise and changed weather patterns”, Persaud said.

Those countries that created the problem should provide financing for Guyana and others to adapt, he added.


“The responsibility is not only a moral one – it is a legal responsibility under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The limited response of Guyana to adaptation is therefore a reflection of the failure of the international community to make available the funds that they are morally and legally compelled to provide,” the minister explained.

Guyana has been working with other nations in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to establish an adaptation framework under the UNFCCC, as well as an adaptation financing window in the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF).

“It is hoped that the developed world will provide $100 billion annually to the GCF to allow poor impacted countries like Guyana to respond more effectively to adaptation,” Persaud said, adding that few countries have yet to benefit from the Adaptation Fund linked to the Kyoto Protocol.

Local media have reported that Guyana is making one of its biggest investments in climate change adaptation with the construction of a $15 million canal to the sea, which will drain water from one of the coast’s largest reservoirs when its level rises, threatening to burst its mud banks. Work has started and is scheduled to be completed in about a year.

But farmer Hope Rabindranauth Doodnauth, whose land is located around half an hour from the capital Georgetown, told AlertNet he is unsure when local farmers will benefit from the additional drainage the canal is intended to provide. In the meantime, he has to pay for costly petrol to pump excess water from his land so he can cultivate it.

“When water is on the land it is hard to plant,” he said. Currently, Doodnauth and others dig drains and prepare the land for sowing at their own expense. “Still we lose crops during the floods,” he said, adding that his papaya plants had been spoiled earlier this year.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lao PDR: Diversifying crops to cope with climate change

By Toby Fricker, UNDP

For Ki Her, the head of Kioutaloun village in mountainous northern Lao PDR, and 95 percent of the population who grow rice, the change in the weather over the past five years presents significant challenges.

With shorter but more intense rainy seasons, followed by longer dry seasons, farmers are struggling to figure out when is the best time to plant. Moreover, increasing numbers of landslides, land erosion and severe flooding are further affecting the crop that is grown on the slopes of the northern uplands.

To cope with the challenge the community is seeking alternative crops that can be more profitable and reliable than rice.

To help achieve this, the Kioutaloun community, along with three other villages, received US$50,000 in 2011 from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to plant non-rice crops to cope with the changing weather patterns. The initiative has benefited more than 2,000 people.

The project builds on the villager’s local knowledge about the most productive crops to plant and farmers receive support in purchasing seedlings and training on land preparation and planting techniques.

Manfred Staab, a UNDP technical advisor to the National Agricultural Forestry Research Institute says crop diversification is crucial to improve farmer’s resilience.

“If you have more options than one, then, if something happens to you, you are not as easily derailed from your main source of income, or your food security is not as easily in danger,” Staab said.

Another farmer, Tai On, and his family are referred to as the model farmers in Kioutaloun. They conduct workshops with their own community to share their farming knowledge on planting alternative crops. After a trip to Thailand three years ago, where Tai On saw farmers earning money from lemons, he started investing in lemon orchards, which now cover on more than half his land.

“The lemon trees now have fruit all year round. I use the lemons for cooking and to sell at the market,” he said.

He can get US$0.25 US per kilogramme for his lemons during the rainy season and three times as much in the dry season, when lemon production in the lowlands drops. He is also planting sweet bamboo, which he discovered grows easily, prevents soil erosion and, like lemons, can be sold at the market all year round.

According to Ki Her, the average additional income a household can earn from alternative crops, including lemons, cucumbers and sweet bamboo, is about US$375. This is a significant amount in a country where the GDP per capita is about US$1,200.

As well as working directly with communities, UNDP is also supporting the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in a four-year programme to improve the resilience of the agriculture sector to climate change (IRAS).

The four-year IRAS project aims to produce 10 to 15 successful intervention models that farmers can draw on to make them more resilient in the face of changing environmental conditions.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Kyoto Protocol May End With the Year

By Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS News, September 9, 2012

As government negotiators from the world’s poorest countries ended a round of United Nations climate change talks in the Thai capital, they sounded a grave note about what appears imminent when they assemble in November in Doha – the reading of the last rites of the Kyoto Protocol.

“We are concerned that the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only international treaty that binds developed nations to lower (greenhouse gas) emissions, and thus our lone assurance that action will be taken, is eroding before our eyes,” declared a statement released by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Africa Group, which represent over a billion people vulnerable to the ravages of extreme weather.

Such concern about the fate of the Kyoto Protocol in the capital of Qatar, where negotiators from over 190 countries will gather for a U.N. climate summit, is with reason. The upcoming 18th conference of the parties (CoP 18) will be the last meeting before the clock runs out on Dec. 31for the world’s industrialised countries to meet their initial, legally-binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and to announce new legally binding cuts for the second period as 2013 dawns.

But as analysts who followed the week-long talks in Bangkok noted, the world’s richer nations appear determined to walk away from the leadership they have been expected to demonstrate under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty, which entered into force in 2005 after nearly a decade of negotiations.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, a cornerstone of the U.N.’s international climate change architecture – the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFFC) – the world’s 37 industrialised nations and the European Union (EU) pledged to reduce their greenhouse gases by five percent, measured against 1990 levels by the end of 2012, when the first phase of the protocol ends.

During the climate talks here, which ran from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, the “Annex 1 countries” as the bloc of industrialised countries are dubbed under the Kyoto Protocol, offered little hope to the developing world that the talks will produce new, legally binding emission cuts that are higher than the prevailing five percent to cover a period from 2013-2020.

“The negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol need to be concluded successfully, and that means having the second commitment period in place by the Doha CoP,” says Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental policy think tank of developing countries. “It was meant to be revealed at the last Cop in Durban, but it was postponed by a year.

“That is why the Doha talks will have to be about the Kyoto Protocol; if not what is the point in all these negotiations,” he tells IPS. “The disappointment of developing country negotiators was evident during the final session at the Bangkok talks. They realised that the developed countries are not showing any leadership to meet their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.”

Even the EU’s offer to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over an eight-year period from 2013 onwards was dismissed by environmental activists. “The Kyoto Protocol that the European Union wants here is one that is not legal, but merely a ‘political decision’,” says Asad Rehman, head of international climate at Friends of the Earth, a global green campaigner. “The 20 percent target the EU is offering is ‘business as usual,’ and business as usual is killing the climate – it is criminal.”

Environmental activists are fortified by scientific reports that call for more emission cuts to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising to levels that could cause environmental havoc. The Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for global emission cuts of 25 to 40 percent by 2020 to keep the world’s temperature from not rising about two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age mark.

And other critics of the industrial countries argue that a climate regime being pushed by the world’s biggest polluters, accounting for 70 percent of the GHGs from 1890 to 2007, could condemn the planet to a worse fate. “What was agreed (at the last CoP in 2011) in Durban is a regime of ‘laissez faire’ until 2020, where only ‘voluntary pledges’ for emission reductions will be done,” wrote leading members of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank, in a commentary in the Bangkok Post.

“The tragedy is that these pledges are going to represent only a 13 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels,” says Pablo Solon, executive director, and Walden Bell, a co-founder, of Focus on the Global South. “This will lead to an increase in the global temperature of at least four to six degrees Celsius in this century.”

The United States, despite being the world’s worst polluter, stood its ground during the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol’s greenhouse gas cuts by refusing to sign onto the legally binding five percent target. And now, it is flexing its muscle to steamroll over expectations the developing world had for the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

“The U.S. government is opposed to a top-down structure under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period,” says Meena Raman, legal advisor to the Third World Network, a think tank lobbying for developing country interests, based in Penang, Malaysia. “The U.S. is for a voluntary pledging system to cut emissions that is not based on science nor based on equity.”

Yet even if the deadlock over the future of the Kyoto Protocol is broken in Doha, the scenarios that will unfold leave little room for optimism for the worst affected from climate-related disasters – the world’s poor. “Even if we see a second commitment period emerge, it will look even bleaker, since the targets under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period have not been met,” says Dorothy-Grace Guerrero, coordinator of the climate and environment justice programme at Focus on the Global South.

“AOSIS has placed numbers on the negotiating table for the survival of small island states from rising sea level,” she tells IPS. “They want Annex 1 countries to slash their emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels for the second commitment period.”


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Malawi: Roving a Bumpy Road to Meet the MDG on Water

By George Mhango, Southern Africa NEPAD Centres of Excellence, September 8, 2012

Neno District in the Southern Region of Malawi will one day lose out from development and business investment if not connected to piped water. Communities had hoped that by declaring it to be a district 10 years ago, this year, water problems would be history. On the contrary, as the area enjoys population growth, only borehole water is available on a minimal scale.

Visits to the area proved that there are three taps situated on the outskirts of the district. This hampers not only communities but institutions to deploy staff to be based there. Close to 3 000 people at the town depend on four boreholes. The whole district according to statistics obtained from the water department office has 478 boreholes.

“Most of these boreholes get damaged in the process of being overused. Maintenance is also a problem because village communities can afford to raise money just for that. It is sad that due to water related problem, some people in T/A Dambe suffered from Typhoid,” says Wyson Kuseli, who works as district water officer in Neno.

Although, Neno District Hospital and the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative (CHDI) have a mini-system of pumping water, it only caters for the hospital and their respective staff because of its capacity. The system is also not enough to provide the much need water, deemed to be life among human kind.

“Most of the communities are left out with no option but queue for borehole water together with some members of staff based here,” says Group Village Headman (GVH) Chekucheku, backed by other chiefs that the whole district needs piped water. Under GVH Chekucheku there are four Village Headmen such as Donda, Nkhukuzalira, Helani and Nedi, whose subjects spend sleepless nights on how to convince government to bring portable water there.

With a population of 107 317, Neno has four Traditional Authorities such as Dambe, Chekucheku, Mlauli and Symon. Out of the total population, 58 159 are people under the age of 18, a development that symbolises growth of the town and need for planning. Women too are not amused with the situation. The Southern Region Water Board (SRWB) has since zeroed in to deal with the problem not only in Neno, but various areas in the region.

“Once funded by the World Bank in form of a grant under the National Water Development phase two, work is expected to begin and it will not take four months,” says chief executive officer for SRWB Martin Chizalema.

Water problems faced in Neno are just a tip of the iceberg since most people depend on unprotected water sources countrywide. Challenges on the ground contradict a 2011 Malawi Sector Performance report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development. UNICEF also says water supply in rural areas is at 77 out of the 67 percent while for urban areas it is at 92 out of the 95 percent required by the UN MDG on Water and Sanitation by 2015. Initially, 85 percent of people live in rural areas. To this effect, Unicef is also advocating for provision of safe drinking water and sanitation measures.

The 2011 UN report also says Malawi is on course to meeting the MDG on water. But such percentages do not regard the long distances people walk, low water pressure and the damaged boreholes that are staying idle. Water related organisations say, 30 percent of all the boreholes are damaged and were not sunk properly.

Although, this means Malawi is doing well, most major cities and towns still face water problem. In Blantyre alone statistics show production capacity being pegged at 86,000 m3 per day against a population of close to 700 000, something that leads to water shortages in the townships such as Chilobwe, Zingwangwa, Bangwe and Nidrande.

In terms of what needs to be done, Minister of Water and Irrigation Development Ritchie Muheya says government is to provide safe drinking water in both urban and rural areas by initiating a ground water pumping project. “For example, in Dowa and Ntcheu, the system is underway. We are working with donors and local NGOs,” he says.

“However, there is more to be done in Lilongwe and Blantyre. World Bank also helps in the provision of safe drinking water. At the moment, the Northern Region Water Board, Lilongwe Water Board and Blantyre Water Board through the National Water Development Project are expected to improve their efficiencies,” says Muheya.

This is why Blantyre Water Board (BWB) management has secured funding to improve water situation. The European Investment Bank and European Union are funding the project as a loan and grant.

Apart from Muheya, Minister of Local Government Grace Maseko says plans are on to bring water to beneficiaries of the rural growth centers in the country, former president Bingu wa Mutharika singled out when he was in power.

Water Services Association of Malawi (Wasama), which acts as middle link between government and water service providers has since rolled out its operations to assist in bringing safe drinking water countrywide.

“Previously, it was difficult to monitor operations of water service providers. The plan is in line with the water and sanitation sector that is prioritized in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS),” says Wasama executive secretary Benedicto Chakhame.

A total of US$ 50 000 was allocated to integrated rural development in the 2012/2013 budget for programmes to do with rural growth centers and market structures, water and sanitation inclusive. Initially, these are clear signs that water in rural and urban areas, which are a must if Malawi is to meet the UN championed MDGs will be provided.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Community gardens boost self-sufficiency in Argentina

By Ana Bell, PANOS, August 31, 2012

With food prices rising around the globe, more people want to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Ana Bell reports on an urban gardening scheme in Argentina that feeds more than 3.3 million people.

Mario Benito walks into his allotment with a smile. At home he has been making a device to keep bugs away from his vegetables and he is about to try it out. Made from old plastic bottles, sliced to create a fan, it is just what he needs to protect his new basil and tomato seedlings.

Benito, 55, has tended this patch for seven years, growing a wide assortment of vegetables and herbs such as basil, thyme, courgettes and peppers.

Around six metres squared, his plot is part of a much larger community garden, or orchard as it is known, which is part of Argentina’s national Pro Huerta (“pro orchard”) programme.

Here, Benito and around 20 of his neighbours grow their own food, exchange seeds and grow seedlings, plants, spices and vegetables to sell at local fairs. Each family or group receives one or more plots to work, depending on the number of members they have. They plant whatever vegetables and herbs they desire, and keep the harvest for themselves.

Growing your own vegetables is not unusual but what sets Pro Huerta apart is the scale. There are 589,000 orchards and 160,000 farms (where families are taught and encouraged to breed animals, such as chickens and rabbits, for consumption) across Argentina, feeding more than 3.3 million people.

Like most Argentines older than 30, Benito remembers the great hyperinflation crisis of the late 80s and early 90s. Food prices rose almost every day, leading to supermarket lootings and the percentage of people living below the poverty line in and around Buenos Aires jumped from 20 per cent to almost 40 per cent. From 1988 to 1991 the “basic food basket”, a measure of consumer food prices based on the minimum a person need spend on food per day to cover their basic alimentary needs, rose almost 3,000 times.

The Pro Huerta programme was created in the midst of this crisis to increase the access of the underprivileged to fresh fruit and vegetables. Although the crisis is long-gone, the programme continues to grow.

Benito used to run a food store, but he was injured when armed robbers broke into the shop. He took an office job with the city council – a safer option but on a third of his old income. “When I closed my store, I feared I would not be able to feed my family,” says Benito. So he enrolled in Pro Huerta in order to become more self-sufficient.

Since 2003 the programme has been part of Argentina’s National Food Security Plan. Created by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), the project has been replicated in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Venezuela, as well as in Haiti where some of the 11,000 small plots managed to survive the devastating earthquake in 2010.

The Pro Huerta plots comes in different sizes and are are aimed at groups of gardeners in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, including indigenous and peasant communities, neighbours, small farmers, landless rural workers and community institutions.

In the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, home to more than 8 million people, there are currently 56,000 family orchards providing food to approximately 350,000 people, explains Juan Jose Zabalo, programme coordinator for the area. There are also more than 900 school orchards and more than 500 community orchards (areas of more than 200 square metres) where neighbours and community members grow their vegetables in a common area. In 2011, the Argentine state pledged more than US$10 million to strengthen and expand the programme.

To enroll in the Pro Huerta programme members must undergo training courses on orchard management and pest control. “Once they acquire the knowledge needed we give them a seed kit,” explains Zabalo. The kit contains 14 types of seeds: seven for the spring-summer period, such as tomato, sweetcorn and pumpkin, and seven for autumn-winter, including onions and celery. The state covers all costs and provides workshops for people to start their own initiatives.

“At first when you start the Pro Huerta programme you don’t know what to do,” Benito says. He explains that over time people become more familiar with the cultivation and growing of vegetables, which in most cases they have never done before in their lives. ”You save money by being self-sufficient”, he says. “Most of us haven’t bought a single spice or lettuce from the grocery store since we started here.” In a small, well-organised family orchard a four-member family can grow enough vegetables to save up to 200 pesos per month (US$43).

To make a bit of extra money, Benito, along with some other families, grows seedlings to sell at local food fairs. They offer basil, peppers, mint, tomatoes and parsley, depending on the season, at 2.5 Argentine pesos per seedling (a little over 50 US cents). They reinvest the profits to buy different seeds and improve the facilities at the plot. Recently they built two sheds and bought canvas to protect plants that are more sensitive to the sun.

The Pro Huerta programme is organic and during the training programme participants learn different natural method to control pests and insects without pesticides, including using particular flowers and aromatic herbs planted among the fruit and vegetables.

No fertilisers or pesticides are used. Instead, traditional techniques have been reinstated and updated to optimise yields.

Surplus grown on larger gardens and farms was designed to be sold commercially. Fairs are organised in different towns and neighbourhoods once a week or every two weeks, where people can buy organic products from regional producers. Initially people were skeptical about organic produce – the vegetables are not uniform in shape and size and because they are not grown on a commercial scale they are more expensive than those in supermarkets. However, the fairs have become well known in their regions and play a substantial role in healthy food supply.

But Pro Huerta is not only about “using available land and time to produce healthy food,” says Zabalo. Self-sustainability, community involvement and family production are some of the outcomes of the programme, which has nurtured a different approach to food consumption. “It’s not just the production of vegetables but also a cultural process that is progressing”, Zabalo concludes.

Back at his vegetable plot, Benito is quietly satisfied. The insect trap he made, smeared with a sticky oil, has entrapped a host of bugs and flies and the rattling noise it makes has kept the birds away. His seedlings are growing nicely and it looks as though this season’s vegetables will be a bumper crop.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nature’s Design Helps Keep Buildings Cooler


Building design mimics termite mounds for passive cooling. 'Learning from Nature Series' of brings forth innovations for sustainability.

Modern commercial buildings consume around 30-40% of energy that primarily goes into air conditioning. It is estimated that by 2025, commercial buildings will use more energy than any other category of "consumer". Besides this, buildings consume 40% of the world’s current output of raw materials, which is about 3 billion tones annually (Source: IBM), adding significantly to the overall ecological footprint.

Cooling these buildings by using innovative technologies has been in vogue for a long time. Though over the last 30 years, there have been significant improvements in energy efficiency of air conditioning equipment, these gains pale away in the wake of the rapid pace of urban development and the mushrooming of new big cities across the world.

Around 40% of commercial floor space is expected to be air conditioned by 2020, compared to 10% in 1994, in UK alone. This rise in energy consumption has a direct impact on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere responsible for global warming and also raises the energy bills as energy prices head northward. In a typical office, air conditioning can account for more than 30% of annual electricity consumption. (Source: Carbon Trust)

As temperatures hit record high in many cities across the world this year, the need to cut down on emissions and to live sustainably cannot be highlighted more. The traditional air conditioner might have undergone a complete transformation in terms of its technology and energy efficiency parameters, but using innovative and sustainable ways of meeting the cooling requirements would be needed to address this challenge.

Termite MoundsThe East Gate Centre in Zimbabwe is an excellent example of how we can learn from Nature and use its principles in building design. The East Gate Centre is a shopping centre and office block in central Harare. It provides 5,600 m² of retail space, 26,000 m² of office space and parking for 450 cars.

The unique feature of this building is that it is modeled after the self-cooling mounds of termites known as Macrotermes Michaelseni. The building uses the same cooling and heating principles as used by the termites. The termite - Macrotermes Michaelseni - builds mounds to harvest fungus deep inside its mounds for which a steady temperature of 31° is essential, but a challenge in the hot African Sun.

The termites maintain a network of holes in the mounds that are meticulously opened and closed in a regulated manner throughout the day to allow inflow of cool air and to vent out warm air at different times of the day. This process helps in maintaining a constant temperature of about 31° inside their nests while the external temperatures vary from 3° at night to 42° during the day. The termites seem to have naturally adapted to these harsh environmental circumstances.

This learning from Nature has helped developers to select appropriate design, identify proper orientation and choose building materials that would help them mimic the termite mounds to near perfection. The exposure of the building’s external walls to sun’s rays was kept to a minimum. Insulation of windows was done to prevent heating. The walls of the building were made from materials having high specific heat capacity so that they do not transmit heat to the interiors of the building.

Today, the East Gate Centre is known for its green architecture and ecologically sensitive adaptation. It does not use air conditioners and, therefore, has no expense on buying costly equipment and maintaining it year after year. Over the last five years, the building has consumed only 10% of energy that conventional buildings of its size would use. It has saved 3.5 million dollars in air conditioning alone in the first five years.

Nature has a unique solution to every unique problem. The challenge is that the solutions might not be exactly replicable in every situation. In the case of East Gate Building, the climatic conditions in Zimbabwe were favorable for the termite mound-based design. Because of its altitude, Harare has a temperate climate despite being in the tropics, and the typical daily temperature swing is 10-14°C. This makes a mechanical or passive cooling system a viable alternative to artificial air conditioning. The external temperatures fluctuate between 3°C at night to 42°C during the day making it possible to generate the draft currents inside the chimneys to vent out warm air out of the buildings. These draft air columns are created by the temperature difference between cool air and warm air. When cool air is allowed to gush in from the bottom of the building, the warm air is vented out through roof-top chimneys.

Such copying of Nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies to seek sustainable solutions to help mankind is known as Biomimicry. Nature has vast knowledge embedded in its various life forms that have evolved and adapted over millions of years. If we can learn more about such principles, we can live closer to Nature without harming it.