Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Does Africa Speak with One Voice on Post 2015 Sustainable Development? | ECDPM

Africa is increasingly seeking to formulate a common African position ahead of key international events.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

6,000 mosques to go solar in Jordan

By Sami Grover, Treehugger

We've already heard about a solar-powered mosque in Turkey and a wind-powered one in Germany. Now, according to reports on a website called Eden Keeper, the government of Jordan is putting its weight behind a plan to solarize the country's 6,000 mosques.

Billed as a cooperation between Jordan's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and its Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, the project will initially see some 120 mosques receive funding for solar power systems, with installation starting this year, but the eventual plan is apparently to install solar on all of Jordan's mosques.

There are many reasons why this is very, very cool. Just like when a church goes solar, or when the World Council of Churches divests from fossil fuels, the immense symbolism and cultural influence of religious authorities can be used to set the tone for how we think about energy and the world around us. Indeed, the push for solar mosques coincided with a campaign to promote solar on residential rooftops too.

Of course there is also something else cool about Jordan's solar powered mosques: They are used. And they are used a lot.

With five regular prayer times a day, mosques are busy spaces with whopping energy bills. According to Aisha Abdelhamid of Eden Keeper, Jordan imports most of its energy at very high prices. If these spaces can use solar power to lessen their impact, the cumulative impact should contribute to a lower demand on the country's strained electricity grid.

We look forward to seeing this scheme roll out.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How A Dam Is Destroying Rainforest And Displacing Thousands In Brazil

The world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam is under construction on the Xingu River in Brazil, a process that will destroy swaths of rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people. Igre and her indigenous Xikrin tribe are among the communities facing an imminent threat to their way of life.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Five ways to shake up climate change deliberations | SciDev Net

By SciDev Net

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, held last week (5-7 February), is in its 16th year and is a slick, formidable affair. It felt like an inspired combination of activism, research seminar and symbolic communication. It is plastic-free, vegetarian and managed to attract an array of heads of state and celebrities (including Arnold Schwarzenegger!) to its opening ceremony.

For me though, the summit’s enduring value was best captured by a session I attended on the future of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was relevant, connected and pulled no punches.

The session featured three former IPCC report authors, climate negotiators and some from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, which is primarily tasked with sharing climate science with policy audiences.

There were some reasonably radical ideas on offer.

Climate change is the only multilateral negotiating process underpinned by a scientific partner (the IPCC) that has secured moral authority and academic respect equally — so there might not be much appetite for big changes. Yet it is this success that presents the overwhelming concern: more than once at the summit, delegates noted that science had ‘won’ and the challenges of climate change now lie elsewhere.

It was this concern about enduring relevance that underpinned many of the ideas floated during the session. Here are a few of them:

1. Communication
Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC and director-general of TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute, which organised the summit), said the panel’s Fifth Assessment Report, which was released last year, has data and analysis that is important for mitigation and adaptation strategies, suggesting that questions over the IPCC’s continuing relevance are misplaced. What his rebuttal proved most effectively is that the IPCC has a fundamental challenge around its brand. Currently, it is simply known as the panel that set out the overwhelming evidence that climate change is happening. There were suggestions in the session that the IPCC conduct more digitally aware communication campaigns or publish more prescriptive reports. But these are all part of a broader argument that the IPCC needs a more versatile brand.

2. Regionalisation
Nearly everyone agreed that the reports need to be more geographically granular. A planner from India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change made an impassioned plea for the authors to develop reports that would be meaningful in his constituencies. From this, it’s clear that the way the IPCC’s reports have tried to geographically differentiate impacts have not resonated and need to be presented differently and more clearly. Arvid HallĂ©n, director-general of the Research Council of Norway, pointed out that this would include getting better at engaging the social sciences to assess the feasibility of scientific interventions in various social contexts. (This has some methodological implications, but we’ll come to that.)

3. Research updates
A number of speakers noted that in many ways the schedule of the panel’s assessment reports is decidedly awkward. They often come in too quick a succession to capture substantive incremental shifts in scientific knowledge, and the schedule is quite disconnected from both global and national policy deliberations. To combat this, there was a suggestion that a parallel reporting process could capture breakthroughs in climate science as they occur. Eswaran Somanathan, a former IPCC author who works at the Indian Statistical Institute, thought these updates would allow a shorter review process. Of course, the panel will never have the flexibility of your average research consortium, but there is no fundamental reason why it has to stick to producing only the large and time-consuming assessment reports.

4. Content focus
Two suggestions were made about where the IPCC’s focus should be.

The first was for more attention on monitoring, including of financing. Related to this was a suggestion that the methodological focus should shift from computer modelling to physical observation. This might be useful in that it would leave the panel less vulnerable to constant challenges about the reliability of climate models, although it could bring a new kind of awkwardness, in that the observations might give the panel more of a ‘naming and shaming’ role.

The second idea was about better integration, not just between the panel’s various internal working groups, but also with the science community working at the interface with development studies. It was clear for instance, that Peter Holmgren, who heads the Center for International Forestry Research, had a mission to press for a closer working relationship between the consultative body CGIAR and the IPCC. (Efforts towards integration might even be smoothed by the update reports suggested above.)

5. Inclusivity
This is perhaps the most confounding challenge for the panel. Many of the authors present, notably the women, said the IPCC needs to do more about including work by developing world researchers. The exclusion is a natural consequence of relying on the existing research establishment — after all less than one per cent of authors in top journals are based in the developing world. While this is understandable, not addressing it will be a missed opportunity for the IPCC. Purnamita Dasgupta, another of the panel’s report authors, suggested restructuring the panel to allow more plurality as a way to address this challenge.

Academia is a conservative enterprise, so radical reform is regarded with suspicion. But since our responses to climate change will require profound societal changes, the scientists and negotiators involved might expect that fervour will be necessary at some point.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Car Washing: A Human-Induced Challenge to the Future of Lake Victoria’s Wetland Resources

By Kimbowa Richard, The East African Sustainability Watch Network
Wetlands are one of the fragile ecosystems that require to be conserved as countries develop due to tangible and non-tangible benefits now and in the future. They purify and replenish our water, and provide the fish and rice that feed billions. Wetlands act as a natural sponge against flooding and drought, and protect our coastlines. They burst with biodiversity, and are a vital means of storing carbon

Unfortunately, these benefits are not widely known. Often viewed as wasteland, 64% of the global wetlands have disappeared since 1900, according to the Ramsar (Wetlands Convention) Secretariat.

Therefore, the 2015 International Wetlands day on the theme ‘Wetlands for the Future’ comes as no surprise. For example in East Africa serious threats to wetlands arise from the need to meet the growing water, food, energy and other livelihood needs.

Lake Victoria wetlands: threatened sponges due to the fast growing urban population

According to the Ramsar (Wetlands) Convention, there are over 2,000 Ramsar Sites on the territories of over 160 Ramsar Contracting Parties across the world. For example the Lake Victoria basin hosts 6 of them including Lutembe, Mabamba and Lake Nabugabo wetlands systems; Nabajjuzi wetland system, and the Sango bay – Musambwa Island- Kagera wetland system.

However, Ramsar sites that are globally recognised are only part of the web that also includes smaller and ‘less important’ ones, which face considerable pressure and greed due to human induced activities. These form part of the drainage system (rivers, streams, bays and other natural water reservoirs) that are under considerable stress.

Ramsar sites of international importance: Under threat though we need to increase coverage

A key commitment of Ramsar Contracting Parties is to identify and place suitable wetlands onto the List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The Contracting Parties confirmed in 2005 that their vision for the Ramsar List is “to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services”. This vision reflects the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which describes ecosystems as the complex of living communities (including human communities) and non-living environment (ecosystem components) interacting (through ecological processes) as a functional unit which provides, among other things, a variety of benefits to people (ecosystem services).

Unfortunately, Ramsar sites are under substantive threats from human induced pressures. For example Lutembe wetland system hosts over 70% of the global population of white-winged black terns (Chlidonias leucopterus), large numbers of the grey-headed gulls (Larus cirrocepharus), black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) and gull-billed terns (Sterna nilotica). However, Lutembe wetland system is threatened by agro-chemicals that have now been detected in the waters which if not controlled, will pollute the waters and not only threaten the fish stocks, but human beings as well.

Car washing: a micro-level human induced activity on wetlands in the L.Victoria basin

Car washing in Lake Victoria is unsightly in many towns and cities like Kampala, Kisumu and Mwanza. This illegal activity goes on unabated despite the presence of institutions, policies and laws that ought to deter it. This has resulted in release of waste water that affects water quality, fish breeding, and contributes to eutrophication of our interconnected natural water reservoirs.

Despite several threats (for example in 2012, NEMA Kenya barred car washing in the Lake), the seemingly small scale practice is cumulatively going on unabated, threatening livelihoods (pollution of water supply, destruction of fish breeding sites, destruction of wetlands among others)

Petition to invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria

It is in the above regard that the East Africa Sustainability Watch Network is now petitioning NEMA (Uganda), NEMA (Kenya), the National Environment Management Council (Tanzania), the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, city and town authorities as well as other Local authorities around Lake Victoria to make a difference for the health of our heritage by acting on those that are abusing the established laws and policies.

The Petition seeks have all existing laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria invoked by these mandated institutions, to offset pressure on Lake Victoria wetlands and its declining health so as to improve the livelihoods of the over 30 million dependent communities across East Africa.

Click here to read more about and sign up Petition to NEMA (Kenya), NEMA (Uganda) and NEMC (Tanzania) to invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria from here

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Conservationists Caution African Governments on the threats from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests.

By Kimbowa Richard, Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) – Africa Section has issued a statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa. The purpose of this SCB position statement is to build on these efforts and highlight the rapid and unsustainable destruction of forests due to industrial oil palm expansion in West and Central Africa, and the role of oil palm expansion in the attrition of biodiversity including flagship species such as apes, as well as associated human health and economic implications. This is a call on African governments, policy makers and societies to formulate effective policies that support ecological sustainability of African equatorial forests.

SCB notes that Africa contains about 675 million hectares of forests, corresponding to 17 percent of the world total. These forests support an estimated 1.5 million plant and animal species that in turn support local communities in terms of food, shelter, clothing, and medicinal needs.

However, it is estimated that Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of forests between 2000 and 2010 of which 572,000 hectares was primary forest. The decline has resulted mainly from the rising demand for agricultural lands, commercial harvesting of timber, urbanization, and industrialization

The statement notes that recent significant investments in African agriculture in the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) industry are likely to lead to biodiversity losses similar to those in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is projected to lose most of its natural rainforest by 2022. Oil palm production not only drives natural forest cover loss, but can also lead to direct mortality of endangered species, such as orang-utans (Rainforest Rescue, undated). Oil palm has become one of the most rapidly expanding equatorial crops in the world. The global extent of oil palm cultivation increased from 3.6 million ha in 1961 to 13.2 million ha in 2006

The SCB statement points out that many threatened and endangered species will be affected by oil palm expansion in Africa. ‘Africa’s apes, which include the gorilla and its sub‐species, the common chimpanzee and its sub‐species, and the bonobo, will be affected. Current great ape distribution in Africa substantially overlaps with current oil palm concessions (by 58.7%) and areas suitable for oil palm production (by 42.3%); 39.9% of the distribution of great apes species on protected lands overlaps with suitable oil palm areas’, the statement emphasizes.

‘There is a growing appreciation of the links between ecosystem alteration and human health. A critical example is a model of infectious disease demonstrating that recent epidemics – AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and others – are due to alteration of ecosystems. Sixty per cent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic (from animals) and more than two thirds of those originate in wildlife’ the Statement adds.

The statement further notes that Industrial oil palm expansion at unregulated and unsustainable rates is a threat to forests and biodiversity in equatorial Africa and urges African Governments and societies to put into place robust policies and laws to protect the remaining forests in the region.

The SCB statement recommends that African governments should play a proactive role by granting concessions only to companies that are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Furthermore, Government could stimulate the development of oil palm plantations on ‘degraded lands’ by providing incentives (e.g. tax breaks) to make this option more attractive to companies.

In addition, producers must be given access to information that will help them to locate new plantations in areas where they will cause the least ecological damage.

The SCB statement also urges African Governments that before expanding plantations over primary forests, an investment in high‐yield oil palm plantations, through better seed quality and best management practices could be investigated first in order to achieve higher production of crude palm oil in a less environmentally damaging way.

The Statement also calls on Financial institutions, buyers and consumers assist by continuing to demand detailed evidence that producers are doing all they can to minimise the negative impacts of palm oil production, and by denying finance and markets to those that are not.

The Society for Conservation Biology is an international professional organization whose mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity, support dissemination of conservation science, and increase the application of science to management and policy. The Society’s 5,000 members include resource managers, educators, students, government and private conservation workers in over 140 countries.

Read the full SCB Africa Section Statement from here: Position Statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa