Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Honduras protects sharks in all its waters

By Ourfutureplanet

Endangered sharks are finding more sanctuaries. Honduras has announced that commercial shark fishing will be banned from its 92,665 square miles (240,000 square kilometers) of national waters. Honduras says the ban, which follows a moratorium on shark fishing, will bring in tourism revenue and preserve the marine environment.

"We have seen that protecting sharks helps our environment and our people," said Honduran Vice President María Antonieta Guillén de Bogran. "When tourists come to Roatan and other destinations, they spend money to see the sharks. But these animals don’t just help the Honduran economy. Our coral reefs and marine environment thrive because these apex predators are safe in our waters. Today’s declaration will help us all, underwater and on land, for generations to come."

Around the world, shark populations have been decimated by overfishing and bycatch. In fact some shark populations have fallen by over 90% in the past few decades.

Rising demand for shark-fin soup is partially to blame. An increasingly popular Asian delicacy, shark-fin soup is exactly what its name suggests. To meet demand sharks are caught, their fins sawed off, and often the animals' bodies—sometimes still alive—are thrown back into the water. Shark-finning, as the practice is known, is estimated to have killed an average of 38 million sharks per year between 1996 and 2000 by itself.

"Honduras has now set a conservation standard that other countries in the Americas should emulate," said Jill Hepp, manager of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group. "More and more, world leaders are realizing that, in addition to their value to the ecosystem, sharks are worth more alive—for diving, snorkeling and watching—than dead."

A recent study in the Pacific nation of Palau found that a single reef shark is worth an estimated $1.9 million in tourism revenue over its life span. Killed for consumption the shark is worth $108. Therefore the shark is worth 17,000 times more alive than dead, not including other ecosystem services beyond tourism.

Honduras President Lobo Sosa signed the legislation on Roatan Island.


Bamboo: can it live up to the 'green gold' hype?

By Eifion Rees

It could reduce the pressure on native forests but the rapid expansion in bamboo plantations is in danger of making it the latest in a long line of tarnished 'wonder crops'

From India and Indonesia to Colombia and Costa Rica, the number of bamboo plantations worldwide is rising as quickly as the fast-growing crop itself.

Some of the world’s most impoverished countries are realising the potential of this versatile tree-like tropical grass, which in so many respects seems worthy of its nickname: ‘green gold.’

Because it can reach full, harvestable maturity within five years, it is being touted as an alternative to dwindling timber supplies. Its success could mean hectares of hardwood forest being saved from the chainsaw.
Strong and cheap, bamboo construction projects are already repairing shattered communities in countries like earthquake-prone Haiti – but its cohesive properties work on an organic level too. Growing out of a tangle of carbon-sequestering underground stems, it can help reforest landscapes denuded by development or natural disasters, binding topsoil to prevent erosion.

The UN’s TECA platform (technologies and practices for small agricultural producers) has given the income-generating potential of single-family-run ‘homestead’ plantations the thumbs-up. In rural Bangladesh it notes: ‘so far no negative impact has been observed in respect of social economic and environmental aspects […] Rather [they] have created a positive impact.’

Green gold rush

The problem is that where gold is discovered, gold-rushes inevitably ensue.

India, China and Burma, with almost 20 million hectares of bamboo forests and plantations between them are already zeroing in on its cash potential, and last month the crop made its debut on the world’s financial stage, with the launch of asset-backed ‘bamboo bonds’. EcoPlanet Bamboo, the company behind them, expects the global market to be worth $20 billion by 2015.

‘Our objective to provide an alternative to timber currently sourced from natural forests is unilaterally positive,’ says Camille Rebelo, vice-president and co-founder of EcoPlanet Bamboo, which operates two of Nicaragua’s biggest plantations, totalling just under 3,000 acres. She insists the company is ‘only converting degraded pastureland into healthy, fully functioning ecosystems, and developing all plantations under the strictest certification standards’ (it intends to obtain Forest Stewardship Council and Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance accreditation, but hasn’t yet).

Profits from the bamboo bonds will be used to develop another 4,450 acres of plantation in Panama and the Dominican Republic within the next 12 months. Investors are promised returns of up to 503 per cent over 15 years. Too good to be true? Some financial advisers think so. And environmentalists have their doubts also.

‘Such a driver from the international market is the perfect way to ensure bamboo becomes only part of the problem,’ says Christoph Thies, international forest policy coordinator for Greenpeace International, which is concerned by large-scale monoculture plantations of all kinds. ‘Promising such high returns kills any chance of bamboo becoming part of sensitive, responsible development that takes account of social and environmental considerations.’

Evidence of land-grabbing

Dr Jun Borras, associate professor of rural development studies at the International Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, adds that the large-scale farming of any single crop will necessarily bring negative consequences.

‘While crops are not in themselves inherently bad, it is the social relations and production model that matter. Just like jatropha, which used to grow as a weed, bamboo production can result in socially and ecologically undesirable outcomes when commercial profits through industrial monocropping become attractive. Just like jatropha, under such circumstance bamboo [production] can also lead to land-grabbing.’

Attempts were also made to sell jatropha as an ethical investment last year, as an Ecologist investigation revealed, despite the controversial biofuel being linked to issues of land and food security. Bamboo too has power potential: US company Clenergen operates a bamboo-chip biomass power plant in the Philippines and has ambitions to become a major fuel supplier in southeast Asia.

‘Bioenergy – not only biofuels, but biomass-based energy in general – [is] boosting demand for all kinds of biomass,’ says Christoph Thies. ‘This will be an issue for bamboo and many other tree and plant species.

It is already a concern with China and its aggressive economic development, but [the same will be true for] other countries in the future, driven by cash crops in general, especially those that satisfy huge demand sectors like energy or pulp and paper, which take vast amounts of biomass. In the end [this will lead] to massive conversion of native biodiversity to bamboo, eucalyptus and other energy or fibre cash crops.’

One major issue with bamboo is that there are currently no international laws governing plantations: their management is down to the companies that own them and the countries that provide the land. If bamboo’s increasing popularity and profitability results in unscrupulous producers getting in on the act, the parallel concern is that cash-strapped governments will positively encourage them to do so.
Susanne Lucas, executive director of the World Bamboo Organization, says some people are undoubtedly jumping on the bandwagon to ‘make money quickly at bamboo’s expense’, but stresses the crop’s incredible potential.

‘In most developing countries it is a very progressive movement. I don't know why anyone would want to halt or hinder the expansion of bamboo areas where they make sound sense and could stimulate local economic development where people need it most. [They] are breathing, living, eco-friendly environments and certainly are better than many other types of monocultures that are clear-cut routinely.’

No certification of bamboo

Bamboo could play a role in reducing pressure on native, old-growth forests, but organisations including Greenpeace International oppose the hard separation of pristine areas from those where the principle of intensive agriculture is applied. This position is supported by a recent study in Environmental Research Letters, which reveals that soy expansion in cleared agricultural areas in the Amazon basin continues to contribute to the loss of rainforest itself.

The bamboo industry is currently only a fraction of the size of soy, but Dr Coosje Hoogendoorn, director-general of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), says the long-term future of the industry depends upon it growing. ‘When we’re talking about developing a sustainable bamboo industry, big doesn’t mean bad,’ she says.

She adds that getting the best out of them in social and ecological terms will rely on pro-poor and pro-environment policies to ensure the right kind of investment, as well as diligence from consumers in promoting sustainable sources. This appears to highlight the fact that the other kind exists.

Certainly a 2005 report produced for Dovetail Partners by Jim Bowyer, former chairman of the Tropical Forest Foundation, cites many examples of bamboo plantations expanding at the expense of natural vegetation, including clear-felling of old-growth forests.

Bowyer observes that much of the bamboo entering world markets would not meet the criteria for certified wood if independently evaluated against those criteria, although it is ‘promising’ that some distributors have taken the initiative to have their bamboo certified.

‘In view of the availability of certified bamboo, and systems for its certification, it is highly hypocritical of some green building programmes to continue to require certification of timber, but not of bamboo,’ he says. While bamboo is a ‘remarkable plant with some very good properties’, he points out that ‘it is not the silver bullet that it is sometimes claimed to be’ and will require safeguards to ensure responsible production.

With massive expansion forecast for the future and the lure of massive rewards, the risk remains of bamboo – like jatropha and palm oil before it – becoming the latest in a long line of tarnished ‘wonder crops’.

Last year a report revealed that jatropha, far from being the key to the global energy crisis, was a biofuel more suited to community-level initiatives. It may be that the golden opportunities presented by bamboo also lose their lustre the further from home they go.


Gas shortages push firewood prices in Ghana

By Lawrence Quartey, The Africa Report

An acute shortage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Ghana for the past five months has led to a sharp rise in the demand for charcoal and firewood countrywide.

Prices of charcoal and firewood have increased by an average of 20 percent in the last five months.

A mini bag of charcoal that sold at $18.00 five months ago in the eastern region now costs about US$30.

In the capital Accra a large sack of charcoal, which used to cost US$$120 now fetches US$150.

Saratu Nuhu, a charcoal dealer told The Africa Report that she now sells as much as 25 bags of charcoal a day.

Before the crisis, Saratu at times failed to sell a single bag of charcoal.

Attah Owusu the manager of the country’s Forestry Servics Division warned that if the shortage persist they will result in the destruction of the environment

But Energy Minister Dr Oteng Adjei said the crisis would be permanently solved when the west African country starts producing its own gas in about two years.

LPG is heavily subsidised by the Ghana government.


Climate change: storm brewing for Uganda’s booming tea industry


Tens of thousands of Uganda's tea producers – many of them Fairtrade certified – will need to take decisive action to protect their crop and their livelihoods if the latest climate change predictions come true.

A new report released today by climate scientists at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, by its Spanish acronym) shows that if average temperatures rise by an expected 2.3 degrees Celsius by 2050, some of Uganda's most lucrative tea producing areas could be completely wiped off the map. Many producers could face steep declines in productivity as soon as 2020.

Based on the combined results of 18 climate and two crop prediction models, the Future Climate Scenarios for Uganda's Tea Growing Areas report adds to the growing body of research into the potential impact of climate change on agriculture in the developing world. It looks at the effect of rising temperatures on Uganda’s booming multi-million dollar tea industry, which produces some of the highest quality teas in the world, employs over 60,000 small farmers, and supports the livelihoods of up to half a million people. The United Kingdom is the world’s largest consumer of high-quality East African tea.

Low altitude, high risk

With the majority of Ugandan tea produced in warmer, relatively low altitude areas on the margin of what the crop can tolerate, the industry – which includes farmers, pickers and processors - is already highly vulnerable to even small changes in temperature. As both temperatures and average rainfall rise, producers are likely to suffer a slump in yields, and an increased likelihood of attacks from pests and diseases.

The study, commissioned by the UK-based Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation and German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), found that by 2020, an expected one-degree Celsius rise in average temperature could significantly reduce tea "suitability" – the capacity of the crop to produce acceptable yields. While some cooler areas are likely to experience improved tea growing conditions, by 2050 suitability of all areas could plummet as temperatures rise by, on average, 2.3 degrees Celsius, with the optimum tea producing zone expected to both shrink and shift uphill to cooler areas.

Highly vulnerable are the well-known Fairtrade tea producing areas of Mabale, Mpanga, Igara and Kayonza, in the west of the country, where the study predicts that production could be reduced to a narrow band of "marginal suitability" by 2050.

The report reveals that consequences for Ugandan tea farmers are likely to be even more severe than those in neighbouring Kenya. A study released in June showed that into the likely impact of climate change on tea production in Kenya, which also saw suitability take a serious hit.

"The results were a shock," said CIAT climate scientist Dr. Peter Laderach, one of the research leaders. "We thought those from Kenya were severe, but in Uganda it’s even more serious. Concerted effort to adapt production now will be crucial to help minimize the risk to one of the country’s most important cash crops, and the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on it."

Both reports include climate assessments for possible alternative crops; in Uganda these include cassava, banana, pineapple, maize, passion fruit, and citrus fruits. By 2020, all are expected to be potentially viable options, but by 2050, only banana is thought to be resilient enough, with the report highlighting the need for further investigation.

"Helping farmers find practical, productive and profitable alternatives is a great way of spreading the risk of tea production. Otherwise, it’s logical to expect tea production will shift uphill into cooler, more suitable zones. Theoretically, this could result in the clearing of forests and protected areas at a significant environmental cost."

Taking action

Despite the alarming results, Laderach was keen to stress the need for the work to be part of broader series of studies into the factors affecting tea production, to ensure farmers and policymakers have a more detailed picture. "There is always a degree of uncertainty if you’re predicting tomorrow’s weather, let alone the climate of the future," he said. "Farming systems also are, by their nature, complex and constantly in flux; there are many more factors at play than climate alone.

"But these results, when combined with other authoritative studies, should help to ensure that the need for action is taken seriously, and that the response of farmers and producer organizations in both Kenya and Uganda is informed, measured and in keeping with prevailing farm and market conditions."

The Cafédirect Producers' Foundation has already met with farmer groups from Uganda and Kenya to discuss the implications of the CIAT reports, and to encourage their involvement in developing sustainable options for adapting to climate change, and reducing the environmental footprint of tea production.

"Most tea farmers in East Africa are aware that the climate is changing," said Programme Manager Kenny Ewan. "They might not think of it as part of a global phenomenon, but over the years they’ve noticed that it's, for example, getting warmer, or that the rains are changing."

"The report has certainly helped us to show farmers some of the science behind their local knowledge."

Together with the introduction of more resilient tea varieties and improved on-farm practices, the Foundation is encouraging smallholders to develop their own, locally appropriate, adaptation and mitigation methods. These include efforts to reforest hillsides and protect water sources, as well as planting kitchen gardens – small-scale, intensively managed plots of food crops close to home – to give farmers alternative sources of food and income. It is also working ways to improve energy efficiency both on-farm and in tea processing factories.

Read the full report from here

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In northern Ghana, 10 horsepower helps to fight poverty


Amadu Mahama has spent the last 20 years trying to bring modern energy services to his native village of Tamale in northern Ghana. Due to a lack of energy resources, most people in Mahama's village used to do all their work manually, and female children have often had to stay home from school to help grind and process grains by hand.

It is estimated that in Ghana's rural areas, only 17 percent of the population is connected to the national electricity grid.

In 2005, however, conditions began to improve after local non-governmental organisations, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introduced a three-year pilot project to improve energy access in rural Ghana.

The project, known as the Multi-Functional Platforms (MFPs) programme, aims to alleviate poverty and empower women in Ghana's rural villages by providing each community with a 10 horsepower, diesel-fueled engine to generate reliable electricity.

The engines, which cost about US$5,000, are easy to operate and can be maintained locally.

Most importantly, the engines they have multiple uses. Each one is mounted on a chassis to which a variety of processing equipment, such as a cassava grater or an oil press, can be attached.

The engines can also charge batteries, power a water pump, and light up to 200 lightbulbs.

For residents of the five districts where Mahama works, the platform engines have been a godsend.

“There is a direct connection between energy and poverty”, said Mahama. “Many women have seen their income go up from $30 to $120 a month because of the increase in agricultural production”.

Charles Kitindo, a 49-year-old farmer from the Nanumba North District, never thought it would be possible to cultivate commercial crops. He and his two wives used to work constantly just to keep their farm afloat.

But after having a well-functioning engine installed in their house, life became easier for Kitindo and his family. They increased their income and now have more food on hand, since they can process grain at home without having to travel to processing mills. Kitindo and his wives are also better able to care for their 12 children, seven of whom attend school.

According to the national statistical services, Ghana’s poverty rate has declined from 51.7 per cent in 1992 to 28.5 per cent in 2006. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has also been reduced by half, falling from 36 percent in 1992 to 18 percent in 2006.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Towards Rio + 20: 'Stockholm Statement' on Green Economy from the 2011 World Water Week

The 2011 World Water Week in Stockholm closed with assembled participants supporting a "Stockholm Statement to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20 Summit)".

The 'Stockholm Statement' calls on leadership at all levels of government that will participate at the Rio+20 Summit (4-6 June 2012) to commit to achieving "universal provisioning of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and modern energy services by the year 2030" and to adopt intervening targets to increase efficiency in the management of water, energy and food.

The targets include to be achieved by the year 2020:

* 20% increase in total food supply-chain efficiency
* 20% increase in water efficiency in agriculture
* 20% increase in water use efficiency in energy production
* 20% increase in the quantity of water reused
* 20% decrease in water pollution

With regard to Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, the Stockholm statement strongly urge that the following outcomes feature prominently within the Rio+20 Summit’s thematic focus areas:

o All governments commit to sufficient investments in safe drinking water and sanitation services and hygiene education for its people

o The current measurements of economic performance are expanded and complemented by indicators on environmental and social sustainability

o Economic and social incentives are created to promote water use efficiency and protect freshwater ecosystems

The 'Stockholm Statement' has been supported by UN-Water, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and endorsed by a number of international organisations, including: Conservation International, International Water Management Institute, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, Stakeholder Forum, Stockholm International Water Institute, Wateraid and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), among others.

Read the full Stockholm Statement from the World Water Week August 21 - 27, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Malians reforest climate-threatened delta

By Soumaila T. Diarra, AlertNet

Farmers in a fertile area of central Mali sustained by the Niger River are replanting forests that are dwindling due to a shortage of rain, hoping to protect the wildlife on which their incomes depend, including fish, birds and hippos.

After the rains start in late June, the Niger River inundates the Inner Niger Delta, a 30,000 square km wetland in central Mali’s semi-arid Sahel belt. The region, whose flood plains lie below sea level, is covered with floodwater from June to February, turning it into a network of ponds and lakes interspersed with forest.

The flood forests are a breeding ground for fish, which local people catch and sell in other parts of the country. Farmers also grow a natural fodder - the aquatic bourgou grass - which is used for cattle feed.

But the wetland region - home to one million people - has lost much of its forest cover in the last two decades mainly because of climate change, experts say.

“A steadfast rainfall shortage since the late 1980s is drying up the numerous ponds and reducing the size of the flooding zone where the forests exist,” explains Mory Diallo, a researcher working in the delta for Wetlands International, a Netherlands-based NGO.

By the end of the dry season in May, the flood forest of Akka Goun shrinks to a mere cluster of acacia albida, a drought-resistant tree native to the Sahel region. The cracked soil is peppered with shells deposited by Lake Debo, the wide lake that covers it in winter after the rains.

From March to May, this lake - 35 km long and 30 km wide during the flooding period - dries out, and only small fishing canoes can negotiate the Niger River.

Droughts struck the Inner Niger Delta in the late 1970s and early 1980s, destroying 27 forests on which local people’s lives depended, according to Hassane Kaya, a local agent for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Youwarou, a village in the delta.


In 1985, villagers and farmers started work to restore some of the region’s forests, with technical support from IUCN and Wetlands International.

“Seven ancient forests have been rebuilt in the inland Niger delta. And four of them are shelters for endangered aquatic animals, including hippos, manatees and some migratory birds,” says Kaya.

The ongoing programme to restore degraded forests and ponds is financed by international donors, including the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

“We are helping farmers to recreate several forests in this region where rainfall shortages are affecting millions of farmers’ livelihoods, which depend on the flood forests,” explains Mamby Fofana, a climate change specialist at the Swedish embassy in Bamako.

Millions of migratory birds spend the winter in the wetland, maintaining the local ecosystem. The birds’ excrement enriches the flood forest, where fish feed and reproduce. This process is vital to local livelihoods because fishing is the main source of income. Fishermen even sell some of their catch as far afield as neighbouring Burkina Faso.

But climate change threatens to stop birds passing through the delta because it is harming their habitat. “Some European migratory birds no longer come into the delta. For instance the white storks - who can’t find many giant trees on which they can nest - spend winter in Spain, Morocco or Mauritania,” says Wetland International’s Diallo.

In 1985, IUCN also helped villagers set up local conventions to protect the delta’s forests.

Kola Tienta, a Youwarou representative on the environment management committee grouping the villages surrounding the Akka Goun forest, patrols every day to check that all is in order.

“I have been told by a fisherman that a herder’s cows destroyed some acacia trees and I’m here to witness these damages firsthand,” says Tienta.

“When any member of the committee sees someone doing something that’s forbidden, or if another person reports wrongdoing regarding the natural resources, we inform the nature conservation agents. The sea cows and the hippos living in the flooding forest of Akka Goun are protected by the local convention.”


In Mali, people reforest to protect environment. But sometimes they are also looking for additional income.

In the western arid zone of Nara, outside the delta, an initiative has been underway since 2007 to replant 10,000 hectares of acacia senegal. The project is a partnership between local communities, the World Bank and Déguessi Vert, a Malian agro-industrial company.

The new trees will help reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2012, and over 500,000 tonnes by 2017.

The aim is for the plantations to qualify next year for the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which awards credits to projects in developing countries that limit emissions. The "carbon credits" are purchased by polluters in rich nations to meet their commitments to reduce emissions, or by investors.

The village of Dialoubé boasts a 50-hectare plantation, established in 2007 as part of the Nara plantation project, and four other surrounding villages have 6,000 hectares of acacia.

The Dialoubé plantation has already started generating money for local farmers, and is providing permanent employment for some.

In addition, during the busy period in April and May, all villagers find work planting young trees in mud in small pots. "Every year I can earn around 6,000 francs (about $10) per day filling the pots," says Dialoubé resident Amadou Cissé.

Locals use the money they earn to buy extra food, as their harvests are often poor due to lack of rain. But it will take time before the plantations generate enough revenue for larger investments, such as building village schools and health centres.

Further down the line, the project also aims to boost local inhabitants’ income through harvesting gum arabic (gum acacia), a natural gum from acacia trees used by international food companies as a stabiliser in products like sweets and soft drink syrups.


Dhaka turns to rainwater harvesting to ease water crisis

By Mushfique Wadud, AlertNet

Bangladesh plans to begin requiring rooftop water harvesting systems in new buildings in Dhaka in an effort to address the city’s worsening water shortages and curb drops in groundwater levels.

The amendment to the city’s building codes is expected to be in place this year, said Sheikh Abdul Mannan, director of planning for Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha, Bangladesh’s capital development authority.

“In this system, a portion of water would be used for drinking and other household activities and another portion will directly go to underground water reservoirs,” Mannan added.

Water shortages are an annual occurrence in Bangladesh’s largest city during the peak of the dry season in April and May.

Dhaka requires 2.4 billion litres of water a day, but can only produce 2.1 billion, according to the country’s national Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA). Unofficial estimates suggest the supply gap may be even larger.

The shortfall leads to water supplies being turned off in some parts of the city for periods of time, forcing families to purchase drinking water and use pond or river water for their other needs. Regular power cuts, which turn off well pumps, also contribute to the water shortages.


The shortages in turn are leading to protests. Every year during the dry season, people demonstrate in Dhaka’s streets demanding an uninterrupted supply of water. In 2010, Bangladesh’s government had to deploy troops to guard water pumps following angry protests.

This year, the city also saw protests in August as residents in some parts of the city took to the streets, saying they had no water service.

“We are not getting supply water since last week. Sometimes we get water in the supply line but it is dirty and not drinkable. We are purchasing bottled water for drinking,” said Alamgir Hossain, a resident in Mohammadpur area, a poor sub-district of Dhaka.

WASA officials said that the crisis is due to Dhaka’s dependence on ground water for its water supply. According to officials of the authority, 87 percent of the city’s water supply comes from groundwater, while the remaining 13 percent is treated water taken from two rivers.

But groundwater levels are dropping at an alarming rate in Dhaka as demand for water exceeds natural replenishment of the aquifers.

According to a study by the Institute of Water Modeling in Dhaka in 2009, groundwater levels in the city currently are going down by three metres every year. The study said that, overall, the city’s water table has sunk by 50 metres in the past four decades and the closest underground water is now over 60 meters below ground level.

“In our study, we found that in some parts of the city the ground water level is going down by 3.5 metres every year and on average it is going down two to three metres,” said SM Mahbubur Rahman, director of the water resources planning division at the Institute of Water Modelling.

“This is alarming,” he said. “If the ground water level goes in this way, there will be severe water shortages in the future, and it is also harming the environment. Government must find an alternative to ground water.”


Liakath Ali, deputy managing director of Dhaka WASA, said his agency was trying to shift from groundwater to surface water as a supply source. He said rain water harvesting would be a help, particularly if some of the water collected is directed back into aquifers to recharge them, as is happening with some pilot projects.

Collecting rainwater also will help avoid flooding problems in Dhaka during the monsoon season, he said. Roads in Dhaka are regularly flooded during the monsoon as a result of poor drainage systems.

Though rain water harvesting dates back at least to biblical times, it is seeing a recent surge in popularity around the world, in part as a means of addressing growing water shortages brought about by changing climatic conditions and by growing water demand.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) calls rain water harvesting an environmentally sound approach for sustainable urban water management.

Rooftop rainwater harvesting systems are already mandatory for new buildings in 18 states in neighbouring India. The Karnataka state government has proposed giving a 5 to 10 percent discount on water bills for users that install water harvesting systems.

In 2010, Delhi’s government also directed all its departments, local bodies and public sector undertakings to install rainwater harvesting systems in their buildings.


People's Statement on Sustainable Development and Rio + 20

August 17, 2011 (Bangkok, Thailand)

Please get in touch with The Peoples' Movement on Climate Change (PMCC) secretariat ( or should you wish to enlist your organization to the list of CSO signatories to this statement.

We, 52 women and men from 18 countries ‐ Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China and Hongkong SAR, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Timor Leste, USA, and Vietnam ‐ and representing peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, workers, women, youth and students, refugees and stateless persons, academia, environmental and support NGOs and networks met for the ‘Promoting a Transformative Agenda for Sustainable Development: A Strategy Workshop on Rio+20’ on August 15‐17, 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand.

We have come to this meeting fully aware that twenty years after the UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, popularly known as the Earth Summit, the world is farther than ever from reaching the goals of genuine people‐centered sustainable development. The multi‐faceted, yet interconnected crises encompassing the economic, political and ecological spheres are causing unparalleled suffering all over the world. Worst afflicted are people from poor countries, most especially women and indigenous peoples.

This crisis of global capitalism further propels profit‐driven and unsustainable development that causes irreversible damage to the world's environment. This crisis results in the global climate meltdown, the appropriation of natural resources and the destruction of lives and livelihoods, especially of ecologically sensitive indigenous and traditional livelihood systems.

Rio+20 in 2012 thus comes at an opportune time, when the world’s governments and peoples are obliged to think of alternatives to the current development model with its ever‐increasing failures. It presents opportunities to push urgently and comprehensively the agenda for genuine people‐centered sustainable development.

Indeed, solutions exist. And they are in our hands, the people, who in our communities, workplaces,
farms and forests, make the building blocks of genuine people‐centered sustainable development.

As we strengthen and consolidate our movements to achieve genuine economic, political, social, gender, ecological and climate justice, we call on the leaders of governments, multilateral institutions and other stakeholders to heed the people’s calls for genuine sustainable development.

We urge governments and the UN system to deliver and not backtrack on the promises and commitments made in Rio twenty years ago.

In particular, we put forward these messages:

On the Green Economy

We are alarmed at the corporatization of the Green Economy agenda. We believe that technological fixes and market‐based incentives are false solutions to the ecological and climate crises and will not advance sustainable development.

For sustainable economies to develop, it is crucial to democratize ownership, control and decision-making over productive resources and assets. We should move from a capital investment towards an appropriate mix of more democratic modes such as cooperative, community‐based and driven, commons or public forms of ownership to ensure that economic activity provides sustainable livelihoods and meets the developmental goals of the community and society.

• Public enterprises should remain in public control and privatization should be reversed.

• Promote sufficiency‐based economies (i.e. catering primarily towards meeting local needs and demands, developing local capacities, based on available resources, appropriate technologies and resource sharing).

• Manufacturing should promote closed‐loop production where products are designed with
minimum use of energy and materials, longer life‐spans and with maximum reuse and recycling of parts and components.

• Promote mass public transportation systems.

• Implement genuine agrarian, aquatic, pastureland and forestry reforms; and promote biodiverse ecological agriculture that benefit small producers, especially women and indigenous people.

• Stop profit‐oriented exploitation and destruction of natural resources that destroy lives and livelihoods.

• Stop industrial corporate agriculture and fisheries.

• No to renewable energy that depends on monoculture and biomass extraction.

• Respect and promote community‐based and farmer‐driven efforts in organic agriculture,seed banking and on‐farm improvement of crop varieties and animal breeds.

• People‐centred sustainable economies should promote the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in accordance with UNDRIP including rights to land and resources, and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

On the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

To deliver on the promises of the first Earth Summit, there is a need for an effective and democratic institutional framework that can and will ensure economic progress, social equity and environmental protection – the three pillars of sustainable development ‐‐ in an integrated and holistic manner. This governance architecture must operationalize and implement the Rio principles including the Right to Development, common but differentiated responsibility, the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle.

• Building a strong apex body on sustainable development that works on a global level and can integrate the disparate United Nations bodies working on one of the three pillars of sustainable development is desirable. Options that should be explored include transforming the Commission on Sustainable Development into a Council on Sustainable Development, or establishing a UN Organization on Sustainable Development.

• Rio+20 should work for the immediate establishment of a broad inclusive multi‐stakeholder consultative body or network tasked with supporting the promotion and implementation of Agenda 21 and Rio+20 resolutions. Such body should be participatory, democratic, and have an integral multi‐stakeholder character that accords civil society with equal rights and equal voice as governments.

• Ultimately, the effectiveness of a global body on sustainable development rests on the effective functioning of similar institutions at the local and national levels and its relevance to people’s lives.

On New and Emerging Issues

• The UNCSD 2012 must affirm and strengthen internationally‐agreed principles and objectives for sustainable development at all levels of government. All actors should be held accountable to well‐established international standards and conventions – e.g. Right to Development, Human Rights conventions, Extractive Industry Accountability, Transparency Accountability Initiative, etc.

• Reorganize international trade, investment, finance and development cooperation relations around rules that value, respect, protect and fulfill people’s rights; economic, social, gender ecological and climate justice; economic sovereignty and self‐sufficiency.

• Enhance development cooperation in support of sustainable development.

• Commitments from the North in the form of adequate financing (according to common but
differentiated responsibility), appropriate technology cooperation, and needs‐based capacity building are of utmost importance to support developing countries make a just transition to sustainable development pathways.

• Developing countries and their development partners should evaluate the coherence of their policies in trade and investments and rectify those that are incoherent with sustainable development. Repudiate unequal trade and investment agreements.

• Restructure foreign direct investments in the context of South‐South Cooperation (not North‐South or South‐South competition) to include regulatory controls and a transition period.

• Uphold food sovereignty to address the food crisis. Communities should have the right to determine their patterns of food production and consumption, and famers should be able to prioritize food production for domestic consumption. Government should give incentives to sustainable food production practices.

• Reject the intellectual property rights regime and other monopolistic enclosures that impede people’s access to commons and productive resources.

• There should be a global mechanism to assess the impacts of new technologies. Such
mechanism should provide resources towards building capacity of countries and communities to assess and monitor the health, biodiversity and environmental impacts of new technologies. We support the adoption of an International Convention for the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT) and an outright ban on technologies that put the planet at grave risks such as geoengineering.

• Governments should invest in research and development on people‐centered sustainable

• Policies should respect cultural diversity, and modern science should be combined with indigenous knowledge in bottom‐up approaches of research and development to develop technologies that are appropriate and democratic.

Communities have shown extreme resilience and creativity in confronting the spiraling multiple crises, utilizing various mechanisms not just to survive, but also to assert their economic, social, cultural and political rights. In the midst of this protracted crisis of the global capitalist system, people dare to imagine and build a new world where development means promoting the well‐being and dignity of all; where prosperity is created through shared resources and efforts; where nature’s limits are respected;
and where nations, peoples and communities cooperate to ensure democracy, justice, equity, peace and prosperity for all.

Today, even more so than twenty years ago, people of the world are aware that the challenge of genuine sustainable development requires no less than the profound transformation of societies and of international relations. We must all rise up to the challenge.#


Aidwatch Philippines
Anakbayan‐California/Katarungan‐Washington DC, USA
Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), Lebanon
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC), Hong Kong
Asia Pacific Forum for Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
Asia Society for Social Improvement and Sustainable Transformation (ASSIST), Philippines
Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG)
Center for Community Economics and Development Consultants (CECOEDECON), India
Centre for Environment and Development (CED), Sri Lanka
Center for Peoples Democratic Governance (CPDG), Philippines
Centre for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas (CSDM), Vietnam
Centre for Sustainable Rural Development, Vietnam
China Association of NGOs (CANGO), China
Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), Bangladesh
Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC)
Dignity International
Earth Rights International
Ecumenical Institute for Labor Institute (EILER), Philippines
Equity and Justice Working Group Bangladesh (EquityBD), Bangladesh
ETC Group
Forum of Womens NGOs of Kyrgyzstan
Foundation for Consumers, Thailand
Green Movement of Sri Lanka (GMSL)
IBON International
International NGO Forum for Indonesian Development (INFID), Indonesia
Institute for Motivating Self‐Employment (IMSE), India
Instituto de Estudios Politicos para America Latina y Africa (IEPALA), Spain
Khmer Institute for Democracy (KID), Cambodia
Korean Civil Society Forum on International Cooperation (KOFID), South Korea
Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), South Korea
Korea NGO Council for Overseas Cooperation (KCOC), South Korea
Local Development Institute, Thailand
Navdanya International
ODA Watch Korea
Participatory Research and Development Initiative (PRDI), Bangladesh
Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN AP)
Peoples Movement on Climate Change (PMCC)
Peoples Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, South Korea
Public Interest Research Centre, India
Reality of Aid Asia Pacific (ROA‐AP)
Roots for Equity, Pakistan
Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Burma
Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), Philippines
Sustainable Rural Development (SRD), Vietnam
Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation, Thailand
Thailand Environment Institute Foundation (TEIF)
Timor Leste NGO Forum/FONGTIL
World Society for the Protection of Animals – Southeast Asia Office
Vikas Adhyayan Kendra (VAK), India

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shell case echoes call to eradicate ecocide

By Robert Holtom

After years of struggle, Shell is finally being held legally accountable for the damage it has caused in the Niger delta where it is estimated up to 10 million gallons of oil has been leaked.

A class action lawsuit originating in London forced the Dutch oil giant to accept full responsibility for the 2008 ruptures of the Bodo-Bonny trans-Niger pipeline. Together the Ivorian community and a London law firm have forced the energy company to take responsibility for its actions.

This precedent is cause for great celebration. However, one thing this law case cannot accomplish is to undo the decades of social and environmental injustice caused to the Niger Delta’s communities and natural environment.

Whilst a wrong is being redressed it appears that the law is being used reactively. It will be decades before the Niger Delta is returned to anything like it used to be. This highlights how we also need something proactive, something that pre-empts the large-scale destruction of the environment and stops it from happening. In essence, we need to make such human-made catastrophe illegal.

Criminalising ecocide

Ecocide is defined as the “extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished”.

Polly Higgins, international environmental rights lawyer and barrister, is proposing that ecocide be recognized as the 5th Crime Against Peace in the United Nations. This would place ecocide alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression, and therefore punishable in the International Criminal Court.

Criminalising ecocide is a preventative measure that will ensure company CEOs, heads of banks and heads of state will not conduct business, finance, or support activities that could result in ecocide, for if they do, they could face prison time.

The Eradicating Ecocide campaign, also suggests that ecocide be a crime of strict liability. This means that to convict someone of ecocide all that needs to be proven is that they caused it, regardless of whether they had intended to. In the case of Shell, it is unlikely that the company actually set out to destroy the Niger Delta. Rather, they set out to make profit and in the process abdicated their responsibilities in a monumental way.

The large-scale destruction of the environment is already illegal during wartime. The 1977 Environmental Modification Convention sets out the criteria for measuring the destruction; it must be of a certain size (over two hundred square kilometres), duration (over a season) and impact (involving serious or significant disruption or harm to human life, natural economic resources or other assets).

The Convention was agreed to by the member states of the UN in part due to the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, the devastating and long-term effects of which were clearly in excess of the wartime advantaged gained. By criminalizing such acts on an international scale a direct disincentive was put in place. As a result, environmental modification techniques have been used significantly less during wartime (e.g., chemical weapons).

Higgins’ suggestion is simple; that we ensure ecocide is criminal during peacetime as well as wartime. The campaign believes that this law is neither anti-corporate nor anti-profiteering. It is about stopping activity that is damaging and halting profits that arise from illegal plundering on a mass scale. It is about corporations taking responsibility.

Looking towards the future, this law has the potential to open our eyes to a new form of earth governance. One where the earth is not treated as an inert, lifeless entity to be commoditised, exploited, and traded. Instead the earth will be seen as a living, breathing being recognized for its intrinsic value and treated with compassion and responsibility. Our current business strategies put profit before all else at the grave expense of the world’s ecosystems.

However, in one bold move the criminalization of ecocide can ensure that the destruction of the earth is no longer profitable. This transformation has the potential to level the international playing field and ensure corporations can look towards more sustainable business opportunities.

Speaking up…

Since the Ecocide campaign began over a year ago more and more people are speaking out and taking action against a system that exploits the earth and its inhabitants.

For example, a group of teenagers (of the group iMatter) teamed up with a group of lawyers to take the United States government to court over its failure to protect the atmosphere. The aim of such lawsuits is to have the atmosphere declared a ‘public trust’ deserving of special protection, a concept previously used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines.

And at the time of writing this article, an international network of NGOs, businesses, and campaigning groups are speaking up against the numerous human and environmental rights abuses taking place in the Athabasca Tar Sands. These abuses include the polluting of the Athabasca River, the pollution of the air with toxins, and the gradual destruction of farmland.

Meanwhile, First Nations communities are suffering from unusually high levels of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases and their traditional way of life is being constantly undermined. Opposing voices include those of the Beaver Lake Cree (indigenous to Athabasca), the Co-Operative, Lush cosmetics,, Avaaz, Greenpeace and many more. These are but a few examples of people around the world standing up to the irresponsible destruction of our planet.

Furthermore, the Eradicating Ecocide campaign is also gaining momentum within literature circles. Higgins’ book of the same name, recently won the People’s Book Prize in the UK.

In lieu of this increasing awareness of ecocide, there will be a mock ecocide trial on 30th September in the Supreme Court of the UK. This experiment will see a fictitious CEO, responsible for causing ecocide, taken to court and tried before a jury. The mock trial will be live streamed around the world and information packs and DVDs will be disseminated to schools, colleges, and universities in the UK.

This is a day for everyone to engage with the debate, to ask questions about what ecocide is and to see what it would be like to have people prosecuted for environmental destruction. Should the environment suffer for the sake of profit? Who actually does this profit benefit? What does the natural environment mean to us?

As a Crime Against Peace the criminalization of ecocide would also seek to end the inevitable warfare produced by resource scarcity. Sir David King, ex-chief scientific advisor to the UK government, warns that the 21st century is to be a century of resource wars, where we will be fighting for the last remaining resources, in particular water and oil.

However, the illegality of ecocide would ensure we source our energy in an environmentally benign and sustainable fashion. Furthermore, if countries are encouraged to produce energy locally their energy security will be bolstered and they may avoid the conflict produced by resource depletion.

The long-term hope is that such a legal framework at the international level can then filter down into national governments and local communities thereby ushering in and bolstering the new wave of ecological justice.

Social and environmental responsibility need to guide business and not be an added bonus. The criminalization of ecocide will send out a global message: that across the board we do not accept the large-scale destruction of the environment. Some things must come before profit.


5 Reasons Capitalism Has Failed

By Bob Burnett, AlterNet

The modern world is ruled by multinational corporations and governed by a capitalistic ideology that believes: Corporations are a special breed of people, motivated solely by self-interest. Corporations seek to maximize return on capital by leveraging productivity and paying the least possible amount for taxes and labor. Corporate executives pledge allegiance to their directors and shareholders. The dominant corporate perspective is short term, the current financial quarter, and the dominant corporate ethic is greed, doing whatever it takes to maximize profit.

Five factors are responsible for the failure of global corporate capitalism. First, global corporations are too big. We're living in the age of corporate dinosaurs. (The largest multinational is JP Morgan Chase with assets of $2 Trillion, 240,000 employees, and offices in 100 countries.) The original dinosaurs perished because their huge bodies possessed tiny brains. Modern dinosaurs are failing because their massive bureaucracies possess miniscule hearts.

Since the Reagan era in the US, global corporations have followed the path of least resistance to profit; they've swallowed up their competitors and created monopolies, which have produced humongous bureaucracies. In the short-term, scale helps corporations grow profitable, but in the long-term it makes them inflexible and difficult to manage. Gigantism creates a culture where workers are encouraged to take enormous risks in order to create greater profits; it's based upon the notion that the corporation is "too big to fail."

Second, global corporations disdain civil society. They've created a culture of organizational narcissism, where workers pledge allegiance to the enterprise. Corporate employees live in a bubble, where they log obscene hours and then vacation with their co-workers. Multinationals develop their own code of ethics and worldview separate from that of any national state. Corporate executives don't care about the success or failure of any particular country, only the growth and profitability of their global corporation. (Many large corporations pay no U.S. income tax; in 2009 Exxon Mobil actually got a $156 M rebate.)

Third, global corporations are modern outlaws, living outside the law. There is no invisible hand that regulates multinationals. In 1759 Philosopher Adam Smith argued that while wealthy individuals and corporations were motivated by self interest, an "invisible hand" was operating in the background ensuring that capitalist activities ultimately benefited society. In modern times this concept became the basis for the pronouncements of the Chicago School of Economics that markets were inherently self regulating. However, the last five years have demonstrated that there is no "invisible hand" -- unregulated markets have spelled disaster for the average person. The "recovery" of 2009-10 ensured that "too big to fail" institutions would survive and the rich would continue to be rich. Meanwhile millions of good jobs were either eliminated or replaced by low-wage jobs with poor or no benefits.

Fourth, global corporations are ruining our natural capital. Four of the top 10 multinational corporations are energy companies, with Exxon Mobil leading the list. But there are many indications that our oil reserves are gone. Meanwhile, other forms of natural capital have been depleted -- arable land, water, minerals, forests, fish, and so forth. Multinational corporations have treated the environment as a free resource. When the timberlands of North America began to be depleted, lumber corporations moved to South America and then Asia. Now, the "easy pickings" are gone. Global corporations have ravished the world and citizens of every nation live with the consequences: dirty air, foul water, and pollution of every sort.

Fifth, global corporations have angered the world community. The world GDP is $63 Trillion but multinational corporations garner a disproportionate share -- with banks accounting for an estimated $4 trillion (bank assets are $100 trillion). Global black markets make $2 trillion -- illegal drugs account for at least $300 billion. In many parts of the world, a worker is not able to earn a living wage, have a bank account or drive a car, but can always obtain drugs, sex, and weapons. And while the world may not be one big village in terms of lifestyle, it shares an image of "the good life" that's proffered in movies, TV, and the Internet. That's what teenagers in Afghanistan have in common with teenagers in England; they've been fed the same image of success in the global community and they know it's inaccessible. They are angry and, ultimately, their anger has the same target -- multinational corporations (and the governments that support them).

We live in interesting times. The good news is we're witnessing the failure of global corporate capitalism. The bad news is we don't know what will replace it.


Ten Practical Consequences of Acknowledgement Climate Change Is An Ethical Problem.

By Donald A. Brown, Associate Professor (Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law - Penn State University)

If climate change is an ethical problem, then:

1. Nations or sub-national governments may not look to their domestic economic interests alone to justify their response to climate change because they must also comply with their duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others to prevent climate-change caused harms.

2. All nations, sub-national governments, businesses, organizations, and individual must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to their fair share of safe global emissions. Although different theories of distributive justice would reach different conclusions about what "fairness" requires quantitatively, most of the positions taken by opponents of climate change policies fail to pass minimum ethical scrutiny given the huge differences in emissions levels between high and low emitting nations and the enormity of global emissions reductions needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. Any test of "fairness" must look to principles of distributive or retributive justice and must be supported by moral reasoning.

3. No nation may refuse to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to its fair share of safe global emissions on the basis that some other nations are not reducing their emissions to their fair share of safe global emissions. All nations must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to their fair share of safe global emissions without regard to what other nations do.

4. No national policy on climate change is ethically acceptable unless it, in combination with fair levels of greenhouse gas emissions from other countries, leads to stabilizing greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations at levels that prevent harm to those around the world who are most vulnerable to climate change. This is so because any national position on climate change is implicitly a position on adequate global atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration stabilization level and all nations have a duty to prevent atmospheric greenhouse concentrations from exceeding levels that are harmful to others.

5. Because it has been scientifically well established that there is a great risk of catastrophic harm from human-induced change (even though it is acknowledged that there are remaining uncertainties about timing and magnitude of climate change impacts), no high-emitting nation, sub-national government, organization, business, or individual of greenhouse gases may use some remaining scientific uncertainty about climate change impacts as an excuse for not reducing its emissions to its fair share of safe global greenhouse gas emission on the basis of scientific uncertainty. The duty to prevent great harm to others begins once a person is on notice that they are potentially causing great harm, not when the harm is absolutely proven.

6. Those nations, sub-national governments, organizations, businesses, and individuals that are emitting greenhouse gases above their fair share of safe global emissions have obligations, duties, and responsibilities for the costs of adaptation or damages to those who are harmed are will be harmed by climate change.

7. Given the magnitude of potential harms from climate change, those who make skeptical arguments against the mainstream scientific view on climate change have a duty to submit skeptical arguments to peer-review, acknowledge what is not in dispute about climate change science and not only focus on what is unknown, refrain from making specious claims about mainstream science of climate change such as the entire scientific basis for climate change has been completely debunked, and assume the burden of proof to show that emissions of greenhouse gases are benign.

8. Those nations or entities that have historically far exceeded their fair of safe global emissions have some responsibility for their historic emissions. Although the date at which responsibility for historic emissions is triggered is a matter about which different ethical theories may disagree, at the very latest nations have responsibility for their historical emissions on the date that they were on notice that excess greenhouse gas emissions were dangerous for others, not on the date that danger was proven.

9. In determining what is any nation's fair share of safe global emissions, the nation must either assume that all humans have an equal right to use the atmosphere as a sink for greenhouse gases, or identify another allocation formula based upon morally relevant criteria. All nations have an ethical duty to explain why any deviation from per capita greenhouse gas emissions is ethically justified.

10. Some economic tools frequently used to evaluate public policy on climate change such as cost-benefit analysis that don't acknowledge responsibility for allocating the burdens for reducing the threat of climate change on the basis of distributive justice are ethically problematic.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Rapid industrial development around the Amazon forest poses a significant threat to the native population.

By Mario Osava

Biofuels are an alternative energy source that can drive local development by generating jobs, know-how and technology. But they can also cause social damage, as locals fear in the case of industrial-scale exploitation of babassu palm trees, which grow abundantly in the wild in central and northern Brazil.

Some 400,000 women and their families living on the eastern edge of the Amazon jungle depend on the babassu palm (Orbignya phalerata) for a livelihood. The women are known as quebradeiras ["breakers"] because they collect and break the coconuts.

These subsistence-level households sell the coconut kernels, from which the oil is extracted and used as vegetable oil and in the soap and cosmetic industries, for cash. They also use the starch-rich fruit to produce a kind of flour, and the rest of the coconut is used for animal feed and charcoal.

The traditional quebradeira communities also use the leaves of the tall babassu palm tree for roof thatch, woven house walls, and basket-making, while the trunks can be used as building materials.

The Interstate Movement of Babassu Coconut Quebradeiras (MIQCB) has warned of the threats to the members' livelihood from the pig iron and ceramics industries, which use the coconut shells and husks to make charcoal on a larger-scale, and pose unfair competition by hiring poorly-paid coconut breakers, said MIQCB adviser Luciene Figueiredo.

Milking a fruitful industry

These industries burn the entire coconut, she said, wasting the kernels - of which there are three to five in each coconut - and the nutritional potential of the fruit, while causing air pollution, Figueiredo said.

The government of the central state of Tocantins has banned the use of babassu coconuts in industrial furnaces, but the other three states where MIQCB members are active have not done so, she complained.

The burning of the kernels produces acrolein, a toxic fume. For that reason, the use of vegetable oil as motor fuel before it is turned into biodiesel is prohibited, said Marcelo Rodrigues, a chemical engineer at Tecbio, a biofuel technology company.

Tecbio itself is posing a threat to the babassu subsistence economy. The firm, based in Fortaleza, the capital of the northeast state of Ceará - near the areas where the babassu palm tree grows wild - has developed and is trying to sell a system of industrial processing that would replace the quebradeiras.

The coconut breakers do their work manually, breaking the hard-shelled coconut with an upturned axe blade and a wooden stick used as a hammer. Several small machines have been invented to make the work less dangerous, but none of them have been approved by the quebradeiras themselves.

Tecbio, founded by Brazilian biodiesel inventor Expedito Parente, has designed a plant to produce ethanol from the babassu coconut. According to the company's literature, it will produce 80 litres of ethanol per ton of babassu coconut.

The company has also developed a machine to produce compact briquettes from the coconut shell, whose density increases the heating capacity, Rodrigues said, adding that "a large company" has expressed an interest in the charcoal substitute.

Protection of tradition

The babassu coconut kernels can also be used to produce biodiesel and bio-kerosene as aviation fuel that has the advantage of functioning well at low oxygen levels, he explained while attending the All About Energy 2011 fair on renewable energy sources held in Fortaleza.

The quebradeiras have been recognised as one of the "traditional populations" that enjoy protection under Brazil's environmental laws. These groups also include the seringueiros - Amazon jungle rubber-tappers - and small-scale fishing communities.

The Brazilian government guarantees the coconut breakers a minimum price for their kernels.

The quebradeiras have been organised in the MIQCB - which includes associations, cooperatives and working groups - for 16 years. Most of the women harvest and break coconuts, but several hundred work in 26 plants that produce vegetable oil and soap.

The movement is fighting for the conservation of threatened groves of babassu palm. The country's vast fields of soy have reached the southern part of the state of Maranhão in northern Brazil, and are still expanding. There are also growing plantations of eucalyptus, used to produce charcoal and paper pulp, which are crowding out native forests.

Under Maranhão state law, it is illegal to cut down babassu palm trees. But the legislation contains so many loopholes that it has ended up fuelling rather than curbing deforestation, according to environmentalists.

Another ongoing struggle waged by the quebradeiras is regaining free access to groves of babassu palm trees on private land, and preserving access to trees on public land.

Leaving locals shy of resources

The women plied their trade freely in Maranhão until 1969, when approval of a law formalising rural land ownership fomented the occupation - legal or illegal - and the fencing off of land by private owners.

Since then, the MIQCB has successfully pushed for passage of several municipal laws that have guaranteed the quebradeiras access to babassu palm trees on both public and privately-owned land. But some states have only granted the women legal access to trees on public land, leaving authorisation to harvest coconuts from babassu groves on private land up to the owner.

The MIQCB's goal is a national law guaranteeing free access to the trees. A bill to that effect was introduced in the lower house of Congress in 2007, but it is not expected to be voted on any time soon.

However, the bioenergy boom could change things, with new and powerful actors fighting over babassu palm trees.

Demand for energy biomass is growing fast, said Laercio Couto, a retired professor from a state university - who now works as a consultant for large companies.

Europe and Japan are signing long-term contracts for importing millions of tons of biomass in pellets, to replace fossil fuels, he said.

One large Brazilian pulp company, for example, is planting eucalyptus trees in Maranhão to meet the demand, making use of its experience in the monoculture tree plantations to expand its business into the field of energy, Couto noted.

The retired professor has developed a technology for the intensive planting of eucalyptus, to cater to the needs of the growing bioenergy market.

In response to the demand for biomass, a sugar cane genetic improvement company in São Paulo is now trying to develop varieties that produce more fibre and less sucrose - running counter to past research.

It is difficult to escape the bioenergy fever.

Babassu palm trees grow on 185,000 square km of land in four Brazilian states, an area equivalent to half of the territory of Japan. The trees are most heavily concentrated in the south of Maranhão, in the transition zone between Brazil's semiarid northeast and the Amazon rainforest.

They proliferate and become dominant in deforested areas, because they grow faster in shade-free places. Thus, harvesting the babassu coconuts is more similar to farming than other activities involving more widely dispersed wild-growing trees or vegetation, such as rubber-tapping in the Amazon jungle.

The challenge is to incorporate the quebradeiras into larger-scale mechanised harvesting systems, enabling them to benefit from a leap in productivity and profits as the bioenergy industry grows.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

U.S. Contributes to Multilateral Effort To Combat the Dangers of Unclean Cookstoves

By Krysten Carrera / August 19, 2011 in DIPNOTE

Typically, cooking at home involves an electric or gas stove, a microwave, or an oven. For nearly 3 billion people mostly in developing countries, however, old and inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated kitchens are the only available options. These traditional cookstoves burn solid fuels such as firewood or coal, making them great for cooking, but also terribly unhealthy for members of the household exposed to the resulting smoke.

In fact, exposure to smoke from unclean cookstoves causes nearly two million premature deaths annually and is a major contributor to preventable noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as chronic respiratory illnesses and lung cancer. Women and children typically receive the greatest exposure to deadly cookstove smoke.

To tackle this pressing issue, the U.S. government has taken on a leading role in the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership aimed to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving market for clean and efficient cookstoves. Other national governments, UN organizations, private corporations, NGOs, and actress Julia Roberts are also stepping up to address this issue. Announced by Secretary Clinton in September 2010, the Alliance is led by the UN Foundation and is an unprecedented attempt to create large-scale, sustainable solutions to the risks of cookstoves. The Alliance's "100 by 20" goal is for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient cookstoves by 2020, and the United States has pledged more than $50 million over five years to support this initiative. In terms of international collaboration, the Alliance is an historic achievement.

"Never before have we pulled our resources and our expertise behind a single global campaign," said Secretary Hillary Clinton in a September 2010 speech, "and never before have we had the range of global partners and coordination that the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves brings with it."

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a perfect example of what private and public organizations can achieve when they work together to combat NCDs, which kill over 35 million people worldwide every year. Such multilateral engagement will be featured as a critical strategy in managing the global disease burden of NCDs at the UN General Assembly high level meeting in September 2011.


Secretary General’s Report (August 9, 2011) on the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation: The case of Urbanisation as a Priority Sector

Adopted from the Report of the Secretary-General: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development

By 2030 all developing regions, including Asia and Africa, will have more people living in urban than rural areas with the expectations of 69 per cent of population living in cities by 2050.

This trend has both its advantages and disadvantages. Cities offer human beings the potential to share urban spaces, participate in public and private events and exercise both duties and rights. These opportunities in turn make it possible to cultivate societal values and define modes of governance and other rules that enable human beings to produce goods, trade with others and get access to well-being. On the other hand, the urban divide can be so wide that the rich live in well-serviced neighborhoods, gated communities and well-built formal settlements, whereas the poor are confined to inner-city or peri-urban informal settlements and slums.

This physical divide takes the form of social, cultural and economic exclusion. The urban divide is the face of injustice and a symptom of systemic dysfunction. Cities need to be vehicles for social change: places where new values, beliefs and ideas can forge a different growth paradigm that promotes rights and opportunities for all members of society. The concept of an “inclusive city”, or “a city for all”, encompasses the social and economic benefits of greater equality and environment protection, promoting positive outcomes for each and every individual in society.

For this to be achieved, local city authorities, but also broadly authorities at the national level, need to address key challenges of today’s urbanization, by promoting integrated land-use planning, expanding access to basic services, encouraging sustainable buildings and implementing sustainable transport. They need to anticipate expansion with sound planning policies and related actions that control the speculation associated with urban sprawl. Cities must also grant rights to the urban poor, along with affordable serviced land and security of tenure, if further peripherization is to be avoided.

This also means reduction of people living in slums. Over the past 10 years, the share of the urban population living in slums in the developing world has declined significantly: from 39 per cent in 2000 to 33 per cent in 2010. On a global scale, this is cause for optimism. However, in absolute terms, the number of slum dwellers in the developing world is actually growing and is expected to rise in the near future. Informal settlements in the developing world are growing, and the number of urban residents living in slum conditions is now estimated at some 828 million, compared to 657 million in 1990 and 767 million in 2000.

Policy reforms to prevent future slum growth through equitable planning and adequate economic policies are necessary. The spatial divide of slums, which are often physically isolated and disconnected from the main urban fabric in developing country cities, does not just reflect income inequalities among households; it is also a by-product of inefficient land and housing markets, ineffective financial mechanisms and poor urban planning.

It is therefore necessary that laws and regulations benefit the urban poor, especially women. Empowering the poor and lifting them out of poverty is essential for taking advantage of the urban dwelling.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD / Rio+ 20) can be a good forum to pave the way to this urban inclusiveness especially by considering the following strategic steps: assessing the past and measuring progress (understanding the specific factors which contributed to the current situation and assessing future policies and practices to monitor progress and evaluate performance.); making institutions stronger and more effective; building new linkages and alliances among the various tiers of government (combining policies and resources among public and private sectors as well as civil society); demonstrating a sustained vision to promote inclusiveness (i.e. a workable plan with clearly defined funding sources and accounting mechanisms); and ensuring the redistribution of opportunities (by promoting cities as the primary locus for innovation, industrial and technological progress, entrepreneurship and creativity).

This strategic framework for inclusive and sustainable cities can be enhanced by considering the following policy catalysts: improve quality of life, especially for the urban poor by creating conditions for improved access to safe and healthy shelter, secure tenure, basic services and social amenities such as health and education; invest in human capital formation which is a condition for socioeconomic development and a more equitable distribution of the urban advantage; foster sustained economic opportunities that can stimulate sustained economic growth for poor and underprivileged populations through promotion of labor-intensive projects; enhance political inclusion by engaging citizens in decision-making; promote cultural inclusion such as social capital, tradition, symbols, meaning, sense of belonging and pride of place, on top of use of local cultural resources by local communities.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Green Economy to Eradicate Poverty in Asia Pacific

Adopted from the Asia Pacific Youth Position Paper towards Rio + 20, Kathmandu Nepal (12 August 2011)


The Asia Pacific region is more vulnerable towards the impact of climate change; therefore, urgent adaptations and actions to protect the environment have become an utmost priority. Youth of today should own the responsibility and promote the concept of green economy to tackle the issues of the region. Poverty eradication and environment conservation are the ingredients of Green Economy.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “Greening the economy refers to the process of reconfiguring businesses and infrastructure to deliver better returns on natural, human and economic capital investments, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions, extracting and using less natural resources, creating less waste and reducing social disparities.”

A question always arises who has the ownership right of ecosystem services? Neither the government nor the rich has complete right, the major possession of natural resources lies with the local communities including the vulnerable and marginalized inhabiting in the mountains and remote areas, actually deserve to benefit from the ecosystem services, both tangible and non-tangible benefits. As per the Polluter Pays Principle “Polluter has to pay for the damages caused by him/her to the environment and not the ignorant.” Mankind enjoying the luxury of nature in several forms of services has been posing great threat to the environment and never realized the extinction of species, disappearance of resources and is presently responsible for climate change. Green economy is the best solution to food crisis and so to alleviate poverty. Green economy is the stair-case to achieve sustainable development.

According to the User Pays Principle “one has to pay for deriving benefits from the ecosystem, it may be the government, private sector, public or any other stakeholder”. Earth is not the premise to dump all the waste and extract all the resources, this way we are ruining our own future leading to low GDP resulting into low economy growth.

Green economy aims to profit the people and the planet. It acts as a fulcrum to maintain a balance between the sustainable development of mankind and GDP growth. Due to expanse of urbanization the demand and supply curve of availability of resources has shown an abnormal growth, with more demand of resources (natural and manmade) and less availability with increasing span of time.

Green economy is the best option to bridge the gap between scarcity of resources and growth and thus eliminating social inequity.


Poverty: Barring a few outliers, the Asia Pacific region has seen a significant amount of economic growth in the recent past. However, there still exists a wide divide between poor and rich and social inequity which hampers the overall development of the nations.

Climate change and natural disasters: Changing climate is exacerbating the pressure on natural resources and the region is witnessing its impact in the form of glacier melting, floods, droughts, sea-level rise, loss of biodiversity etc.

Over exploitation of natural resources: To accelerate the development, people are exploiting the natural resources in an unsustainable manner, which is having multiple impacts like environmental pollution, degradation of ecosystems setting.

Unsustainable production and poor waste management: Production of non - biodegradable products, usage of unsustainable processes and poor handling of waste poses threat to the environment.

Lack of access to clean and renewable energy technologies: Access to a reliable and adequate source of energy is inextricably linked to sustained progress and growth. However, the most common source of energy production in the region is biomass, fossil fuel burning which poses considerable risks to the environment in the short and long-term. Despite of availability of renewable resources, lack of technology has compelled people to use the resources in unsustainable ways. There needs to be strong mechanism to promote renewable energy like hydropower and other alternative energy resources.

Unsustainable urban development: More Asia Pacific cities have become the focal points as major producers, consumers and distributors of goods and services. However, many cities tend to lack sustainable services such as water, air and transport systems. Migrations levels are high in cities, creating more slums, increasing pressure on limited resources and increasing pollution.

Inefficient governance and political instability: There is lack of good institutional framework in the Asia Pacific. The current governance system is a centralized system with topdown approach. Voice of community and other vibrant groups including youth is generally not audible to decision makers to make strategic policies as per the need of the community.

Lack of priority given to research and development: Asia Pacific region is more vulnerable to climate change impacts, but the development activities have been practicing without basic findings of research. For example, the Himalayan region was presented as data lacking are (white spot) by 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC.

Quality of Life: Currently, happiness, mindfulness and wellbeing of society that reflects the true quality of life is not taken into account.

Lack of evaluation of ecosystem services: Ecosystem provides number of services with tangible and intangible benefits. Mountain ecosystems are sources of exhaustive number of services, which are not valued by consumers and providers.

Low literacy level: Marginalized communities do not have access to the basic education and those getting are generally ignorant of the environmental issues because of the curriculum. Brain drain is another issue which is hampering the development in the region.

Unemployment and lack of opportunities: People are not getting enough opportunities to get jobs and vocational trainings or skill development opportunities.

Food security in the HKH region: Majority of the HKH communities are highly dependent on livestock and rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods and due to changing hydrological
regimes they are highly vulnerable.

Gender issues: Women are worst hit as men have to migrate out for work due to scarcity of resources in the mountain region.

Melting of glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) range: Melting of glaciers has contributed faster to sea-level rise in the last 350 years. It also contributes to catastrophic floods known as glacial lake outburst (GLOFs) causing heavy loss of life and property.

Health issues: Due to less accessibility to resources, infrastructure and other health facilities the mountain communities are likely to be vulnerable to various diseases.


• Government, industries and people are the stakeholders of any system that has to work in a team to promote green economy.

• Existing policies and programmes should be properly implemented with continuous monitoring and evaluation mechanism. Government should further carry out SWOT Analysis to assess the gaps and missing links of the present policy reforms. Sustainable Development strategies need to be prioritized and mainstreamed in the government policy framework to strengthen existing environmental laws and policies such as Air Act, Water Act, Forest Conservation Act, CBD, Waste management act, Act to safeguard the rights of local communities, Costal Zone Regulation Act and implement new acts to ensure green growth of the economy.

• Government should provide several carbon market mechanisms such as Payment for Ecosystem Services, REDD, REDD+, etc to create green jobs for the unemployed and marginalized communities inhabiting the mountain regions.

• Further assessments such as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Mountain Risk Engineering, Tourism Impact Assessment is recommended to restore and increase the resilience of the mountainous regions in the HKH region and to reduce the vulnerability of the communities therein.

• There is need for a monitoring, and verification system to indicate and measure sustainability with respect to the GDP of the economy.

• Industries need to use clean and green technologies to increases their carbon credits and decrease their emissions to provide increasing employment opportunities through green jobs.

• Life-cycle analysis should be mandatory for every industrial product. Implementation of 5Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, residual management) is another tool for waste management. Cradle to grave approach should be adopted.

• Techniques like organic farming should be used to ensure healthy and productive agriculture to address issues of food security and also micro financing should be introduced for the welfare of local people.

• Trainings and workshops to be conducted for local people, tourists and corporate is further recommended to aware them of the guidelines as well as their individual responsibilities to protect the environment.

• Youth involvement needs to be initiated in the policy formulation processes to get better policy reforms what impacts the youth in future.

• There is a need to establish a youth network to share the problems and good practices.

• Regional and global cooperation is needed for knowledge and technology transfer taking into consideration the intellectual property rights.

• Establishing indicators to check country development need to be incorporated such as Genuine Progress Index and Gross National Happiness (GNH).

• Entrepreneurship and skill development of the local community should be promoted to build the capacity of local communities.

• Seed funding should be made available to carry out R&D activities for developing low carbon technologies and in turn generating more green jobs.


Kumasi Consensus: West African Youth Position Paper for Rio+20


There is convincing evidence that a swift transition to a Green Economy can bring about lasting solutions to current problems and mitigate the effects of climate change. As a consequence of the learning and sharing at the gathering of 47 young people from five nations of West Africa meeting, representing 16 community/environment NGOs and businesses in Kumasi, Ghana, August 10th to 15th 2011, the Kumasi Consensus has agreed the following resolution.

We, the youth of West Africa, resolve to:

1.Assist the acceleration of forward momentum towards a green economy by campaigning towards energy innovations for a low carbon future that will help to eradicate poverty, create green jobs and build a sustainable future.

2.Campaign towards an institutional framework for Sustainability.

3.Re-double our efforts towards the achievement of MDGs by 2015

4.Powerfully engage with the UNFPA Campaign to put “Youth at the heart of Development” in the Post-2015 International Development Agenda;

5.Break the chain of corruption by increased accountability, transparency and responsiveness at a local and district level and a federal/national system of youth-led community governance by 2015

6.Commit our efforts to a regional campaign for national governments to mainstream peace and Green Economy education for sustainability in the curricula at all academic levels in order to achieve a culture of peace and harmony with nature and each other.

7.Create a borderless West Africa without national, ethnic, religious or other artificial divisions, delivering a peaceful, nuanced milieu that will encourage the collaborative building of a sustainable green economy by 2015

8.Individually and collaboratively to take action to progress this agreement by starting green businesses and social enterprises in our communities and regions, planting trees, cleaning up litter and maintaining uncontaminated water courses. And we further commit to raising awareness, educating and advocating for a green economy in our families, schools, colleges, faith and community groups, our elected officials, and private sector companies.

9.Using green technology, drive a united, resurgent West Africa to a position where, by 2015, its countries sit in the top half of the UN Human Development Index and ensure well-being for all of its peoples;


- representatives of the following organizations commit to this consensus document:

Young People We Care (Ghana) Peace Child International

YMCAs (Liberia) Dream Environment (Ghana)


Treasureland Health Builders (Nigeria)

YONSU Enterprises (Ghana) Evergreen Clubs of Ghana (ECOG)

International Youth Peace Tourism & Development Initiative (Nigeria)