Friday, September 30, 2011

Increasing pollution levels choking India’s lakes

By The Economic Times - India

Increasing pollution levels are threatening fresh water bodies worldwide, but the problem is assuming the shape of an environmental crisis in a developing country like India.

A study of lakes in Thane, Maharashtra, undertaken by environmental chemist Pravin Singare of Bhavan's College, Mumbai, and colleagues, shows how they are being contaminated by the byproducts of urbanisation and industrial boom, symptomatic of the slow death of most of India's water bodies.

Thane's burgeoning population, thanks to its proximity to Mumbai, and the metro's heavy industrial profile, are apparently choking its six lakes, with the unchecked discharge of sewage, pesticides and industrial effluents. The lakes are - Jail, Upavan, Masunda, Makhmali, Rewale and Kalwa.

The discharge of sewage results in large-scale outbreak of water-borne infections and diseases, epidemics and the growth of wild weeds, M.S. Kodarkar, secretary, Indian Association of Aquatic Biologists (IAAB), Hyderabad, told IANS.

"Classic examples" are lakes in Loktak (Manipur), Ropar and Kanjli (Punjab), Sukna (Chandigarh), Bhopal and the Pong dam (Himachal Pradesh), where the growth of water hyacinth, a wild weed, became instrumental in causing endemic diseases, according to a report by M.S. Reddy and N.V.V. Char, former secretary and former commissioner (Eastern Rivers), respectively, in the union water resources ministry.

Studies have shown presence of high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and manganese in Srinagar's Dal Lake which find their way into the fish consumed by people, posing health risks.

Some of the biggest polluters are hundreds of houseboats which dump waste into the lake. Pesticides used on floating vegetable gardens are also seeping into the waters.

"The lakes are primarily most easily accessible sources of freshwater," which bestows "a number of ecological, economical and socio-cultural benefits on its immediate environment", says Kodarkar, also a member of the International Lake Environment Committee.

Water bodies are known to recharge the groundwater table, act as a source of water supply, boost aquaculture (fisheries, prawns), regulate and control floods, condition climate, sustain biodiversity and provide nutrient-rich silt as manure.

In the larger context, South Asia, with over a fifth of the world's population, is facing a serious water crisis, warns Kodarkar. This region is "in the grip of flood and drought cycles and there is a need to have a long-term strategy for management of its water resources".

The presence of heavy metals like iron, copper, nickel and zinc, detected in Thane lakes above permissible levels, and also the alarming concentrations of mercury, arsenic and cadmium are wrecking their complex and fragile ecosystem.

Exposure to mercury and its compounds can damage the brain, kidneys and developing foetuses. Studies have found it may cause irritability, affect vision, hearing and memory. It also inhibits growth of aquatic plants, says Singare.

Arsenic poisoning through water can cause liver and nervous system damage, vascular diseases and skin cancer. Plants absorb arsenic easily and so they could be present in the food chain. In the recent past, arsenic was found in drinking water in six West Bengal districts.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

No Incentives for New Donors to take on Old Rules

By Peter Konijn, 28 September 2011

New donors, like China, India and Brazil, don’t buy in to the aid effectiveness framework constructed by the traditional donors under the auspices of OECD - DAC. The aid divide will not be bridged because the new donors have a different understanding of development and different use of aid, according to Mulakala in The Broker. Chanana argues that new and traditional donors have different interests and that the new donors have been excluded from the frameworks until recently and feel they are not respected.

The arguments put forward by Mulakala and Chanana are valid but lack an important dimension: the dynamics of the global power shift. To understand this dimension you need to think of new donors as emerging powers and traditional donors as declining powers.

The rise and decline of global powers is a messy and unpredictable process. The global governance system constructed by the declining powers is slowly disintegrating while a new system is not yet visible, let alone in place. This creates uncertainty and confusion.

For a long time the declining powers acted as if they were in a state of denial about the true nature of the global power shift. They expected the emerging powers to become ‘responsible’ stakeholders of the existing system and adopt existing rules. In the case of aid, the declining powers invited the emerging powers to become members of the OECD - DAC club and adhere to the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness.

Now the declining powers realize that the emerging powers have their own foreign agenda and approach that may be best pursued inside and outside the current system. Now they realize that emerging powers have a competitive advantage of not being bound by the aid framework. For example, by operating in its own way, Chinese aid in Africa has created a positive image: delivering badly needed infrastructure, quick on results and low cost. China’s aid is believed by many to be a better fit to the needs of African countries. Even Western diplomats concur that it takes the Chinese less time to built a road than it takes Western donor agencies to conclude an environmental impact assessment.

There is no reason why the emerging powers would want to give up on their competitive advantage of delivering aid in the way they do. It has been successful in bolstering trade and investment relations with developing countries. It provides them with access to resources and markets which used to be dominated by Western and local firms.

The global power shift changes the positions of all actors in the global arena. However the perception among some actors is much slower than the change itself. Stephen Ellis sees a need to decolonise the western mind i. Centuries of Western domination have generated an extraordinary self-confidence that translated into a belief that the West has a mission to civilise the rest of the world. This mission informs their approach to development and aid. In the words of Richard Dowden ii "There's still a narrative in our minds in the West that Africa is backward and Africans have got to become like us -- 'we have go to change them' -- I think that Africans feel that and the young African generation that's coming through are now very resentful of that." One of China's big advantages is that "the Chinese have no mission, no intention at all to change Africa," says Dowden.

The global power shift has created new leverage for recipient countries to negotiate with traditional and emerging powers alike. Again looking at Africa, the emergence of China, India and Brazil, has changed the long-established patterns of interaction between Africa and the EU. The eye-catching 2006 Forum on China Africa Cooperation changed the attitude of the EU. The EU felt it had to measure up to China. This gave African countries a stronger bargaining position.

The failure of the EU in 2008 to establish trilateral cooperation between the EU, China and Africa is illustrative in this respect. According to a diplomatic cable from the US state department, the EU angered many African countries when it proposed trilateral cooperation iii. It was seen as an attempt to reign in China’s assistance to Africa. African countries were angered because they were not consulted, but even more important because they saw no benefit to trilateral cooperation. On the contrary, they believe Africa will benefit from increased competition between traditional and emerging powers. Trilateral cooperation would lessen this competition and weaken their bargaining position. Thus trilateral cooperation is not in their interest.

The short-term power dynamics between declining and emerging powers, driven by a long-term global power shift, make any fundamental agreement on a common framework for delivering aid highly unlikely. Aid is an integral part of the geo-political strategies of emerging powers to strengthen their global positions. It helps to build their soft power in other developing countries. Emerging powers have no interest in accepting a framework that may limit their ability to pursue their geo-political strategy. They may adapt their language to pacify some of the criticism, but will not change track.

Most recipient countries hope to benefit from increased competition between declining and emerging powers, as we have seen earlier. So they are fine with addressing their aid issues separately. They will not push the emerging powers towards accepting the existing aid frameworks.

The declining powers were caught unprepared and struggle, amidst a profound financial crisis, to make sense of their position and role in the world. They will stick to the established aid framework because it represents a large investment of time and money and they see no alternative. They are not ready to accept new realities on the ground and adjust to them. It will take some time for them to come around and develop a new understanding and approach to development and aid.


UN expert calls on Cambodia to amend draft NGO law

Mark Tran, The Guardian

Special rapporteur Surya Subedi concerned law in its current form 'may hamper the legitimate work of NGOs in the country'

The UN special rapporteur on Cambodia has called on the government to change its draft law on NGOs, which is a source of much anxiety among civil society groups.

On Wednesday, Surya Subedi urged the Cambodian authorities to carefully review the current draft, expressing concern that "it may hamper the legitimate work of NGOs in the country".

Domestic and international human rights groups have strongly criticised the draft law, which they say threatens to impose severe restrictions on civil society's right to freedom of association and expression.

The statement from Subedi, currently professor of international law at the University of Leeds in the UK, will lend extra weight to such concerns.

"The government of Cambodia should not proceed with the draft NGO law in its present form," Subedi said in presenting his annual report on human rights in Cambodia to the UN human rights council in Geneva. "Of course, as a sovereign country, Cambodia is entitled to enact a law on NGOs, but the decision to adopt a law to regulate NGOs and associations is a critical initiative which requires careful attention, given its long-term implications for the development of Cambodian society - and in turn the country – itself."

Subedi acknowledged in his report that the overall human rights situation had improved in Cambodia, especially with the enactment of a number of key laws. He also noted that the government has accelerated a legislative programme designed to implement, among other things, key recommendations he made on the judiciary in his report last year.

However, the special rapporteur stressed there was still "a great deal of work to be done to strengthen the rule of law, to accelerate the process of democratisation and to enhance the capacity of parliament to hold executive to account".

As for the draft law itself, Subedi shares key concerns with civil society groups inside and outside Cambodia, particualrly regarding the complex and mandatory registration process and the lack of clear criteria on which registration applications will be considered.

Human rights groups last month called on donor governments to reassess their aid programmes to Cambodia if the draft law on NGOs was passed in its present form. Human Rights Watch and Global Witness, among others, wrote to William Hague, the foreign secretary, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, to sound the alarm. They said the foreign ministers should make it clear to Cambodia's government that, if the proposed changes are adopted, they will reassess their aid programmes. They also urged multilateral aid agencies to review their assistance.

One of Asia's poorest countries, Cambodia receives between $50m and $70m a year from the World Bank. It is looking increasingly to China for aid and development. China is Cambodia's biggest source of foreign direct investment, with stated plans to spend $8bn on 360 different projects during the first seven months of 2011.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Relevance of a ‘Green economy’ to Uganda: Addressing the Energy Challenges

By Kimbowa Richard

While the discussion around ‘green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development', has gained ground globally, it is less pronounced here in Uganda. Part of the problem is that the Conference seems ‘still far’ compared to other biting needs such as the mounting fuel, food and energy prices and the political debates that are preoccupying the mainstream media and public discussions.

But the potential of ‘green economy’ to alleviate these problems might be there, as long as we understand what it is in the Ugandan context, and how it might contribute to address some of these needs. The (good) intentions of ‘a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, for example transformation of economies into resource efficient, low carbon emission economies leading to the creation of green jobs and further eradication of poverty’, sound so attractive to both politicians and development practitioners.

This is because to the politician, the ‘ever niggling questions’ related to job creation amongst the youths, addressing environmental issues and resource efficiency might eventually have answers. To the development practitioner, the idea that green jobs will be secured leading further reduction of poverty is a smart strategy to achieve needed targets.

Green economy: Need for a poverty reduction focus

From the perspective of a Least Developing Country citizen (Uganda), I strongly share the views of the UNDP Administrator - Helen Clark (2011), that a ‘green economy’ which works for the world´s poor could be expected among others, to promote equitable access to energy and its efficient use; and build resilience to environmental and other risks.

Hence, putting ‘green economy’ intentions into practice will need to vary depending on among others, the geographical area, and the level of economic development. In this respect, I provide an example of how the green economy discussion can make sense to development practice (energy sector in Uganda) through context specific pro-poor interventions that are informed by identified sustainable development constraints.

Uganda’s energy sector: Potential for ‘green economy’ interventions

Although access to a reliable, adequate and modern energy services is inextricably linked to sustained progress and growth, over 90% of Ugandans rely on biomass consisting of fuelwood, charcoal and agricultural waste as their main source. In addition to its inefficiency, use of biomass burnt mainly in open three-stone stoves, exposes the users to health hazards from indoor smoke and fire hazards. In addition, unregulated charcoal production is one of the key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Uganda (Government of Uganda, 2011) with its negative impacts on forest catchment areas that are key to Uganda’s rain-fed reliant agriculture.

Unfortunately, since the 2006 decline in the Lake Victoria water levels (the main source of hydroelectric power that relies on two dams - the Nalubaale and Kiira dams near Jinja, with a combined 320MW of electricity) a chain of worrying events have come up that threaten to accelerate the above process.

The most recent ones (September 2011) being charcoal prices are reportedly overtaking cooking gas (LPG), power cuts expected to double despite heavy rains; and Uganda’s capital (Kampala) being hit by a shortage of (LPG)

This is being felt by households (rising cost of living as energy is a basic need), small scale enterprises (loss of revenue due to limited operations), heath centres (disruption of surgical operations and treatment due to power blackouts) and schools (postponement of lessons that require lights and electricity) alike.

Relevance of a ‘green economy’ to Uganda’s energy challenges

In these circumstances, a ‘green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development’ would make sense to many Ugandans, if there are practicable opportunities and options, that can promote equitable access to energy and its efficient use; and build resilience to environmental and other risks as ably noted by Helen Clark (above). What does this mean in practice Uganda’s context?

In this case, working towards a ‘green economy’ means addressing the institutional, policy and practical gaps that impede the adoption of decentralised modern energy services. I particularly suggest the following ‘first’ steps in this regard:

- Scaling up clean, affordable, decentralised and reliable (sustainable) energy options like efficient biomass, solar, LPG, wind power and others. Particular geographical areas of the country will exploit the best option that best suited them

- Promote energy efficient technologies in using hydroelectric power and its alternatives (biomass, electric, solar, small hydropower dams etc). This should be supported by set regulations and standards for importation that must be enforced. This will avoid counterfeits like solar equipment and electric lamps that have ended up being expensive and frustrating potential users.

- Develop and promote energy-related policies in food production, water use and transport, etc. For example, a requirement for new houses and building complexes in major urban areas to have water harvesting systems. This can provide the dual purpose of reducing reliance on the main water supply whose pumping is energy consuming, while reducing run-off that clogs drainage channels resulting in public health problems

- Green investments through private / public / public – private partnerships: Uganda (or East Africa if it the most viable market) should be assisted in attracting Green investments like Efficient Lighting for developing countries that can cut down household and other institutions’ electricity bills, while contributing to improved livelihoods, other social and economic objectives.

- Green jobs: Efforts to address the energy needs of Uganda’s Small and Medium Scale Industrial base need to be progressively tackled. For example, promoting locally made and tested improved cook stoves as a strategy to generate green jobs while conserving the remaining forest cover. In addition, eco-friendly brick making techniques are urgently needed to cut down on the immense quantities of tree logs used to burn bricks, in light of the intensifying construction industry in Uganda.


Clean-energy credits tarnished

By Quirin Schiermeier, Naturenews, 27 September 2011

As the world gears up for the next round of United Nations climate-change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, in November, evidence has emerged that a cornerstone of the existing global climate agreement, the international greenhouse-gas emissions-trading system, is seriously flawed.

Critics have long questioned the usefulness of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established under the Kyoto Protocol. It allows rich countries to offset some of their carbon emissions by investing in climate-friendly projects, such as hydroelectric power and wind farms, in developing countries. Verified projects earn certified emission reductions (CERs) — carbon credits that can be bought and sold, and count towards meeting rich nations' carbon-reduction targets.

But a diplomatic cable published last month by the WikiLeaks website reveals that most of the CDM projects in India should not have been certified because they did not reduce emissions beyond those that would have been achieved without foreign investment. Indian officials have apparently known about the problem for at least two years.

"What has leaked just confirms our view that in its present form the CDM is basically a farce," says Eva Filzmoser, programme director of CDM Watch, a Brussels-based watchdog organization. The revelations imply that millions of tonnes of claimed reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions are mere phantoms, she says, and potentially cast doubt over the principle of carbon trading. "In the face of these comments it is no wonder that the United States has backed away from emission trading," Filzmoser says.

The cable, written on 16 July 2008, was sent by the US consulate in Mumbai, India, to the US secretary of state, and summarizes a discussion of the CDM involving representatives of the consulate and the US Government Accountability Office, along with Indian officials and executives of large Indian companies. At the time, 346 Indian projects had been registered with the CDM's executive board. Today, more than 720 Indian projects have been approved and have gained some 120 million tonnes' worth of carbon credits, a large fraction of the 750 million tonnes issued since 2005 (see 'Cleaning up').

Yet on the evidence of discussions at the meeting, most of the carbon-offset projects in India fail to meet the CDM requirements set by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The cable also describes the UN's validation and registration process as "arbitrary".

Indian authorities were also criticized in the cable. All CDM projects must be validated nationally, then verified independently by an accredited firm. But the cable quotes R. K. Sethi, then chairman of the CDM's executive board and member-secretary of the Indian CDM authority in New Delhi, as admitting that the authority simply "takes the project developer at his word for clearing the additionality barrier".

"This will not invalidate carbon trading, but it does go to show that the CDM has serious flaws," says Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London. "In India and China, the multiple levels of governance which you need to have in place to make carbon trading work are simply not there."

Martin Hession, head of global carbon markets at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, and chairman of the CDM executive board, says that the critical remarks in the cable date from a time when "people were complaining a lot" about problems with the CDM. Controversies over whether specific projects reduce net emissions are still common, he says. But since 2008, the board has followed more stringent guidelines for verifying the eligibility of projects and for enhancing the overall efficiency of the scheme.

"The CDM is much more transparent and predictable than the tenor of these remarks might suggest," he says. "We reject many projects in India and China because they fail to meet the required criteria, and we do in fact often get the message that project validation has become too stringent."

Others argue that the rules are still not rigorous enough. In some circumstances, the CDM may actually have encouraged the production in developing countries of the coolant chemical HFC-23, an extremely potent greenhouse gas (M. Wara Nature 445, 595–596; 2007). Critics have demanded harsher sanctions against validating companies found guilty of lax oversight, together with clearer conflict-of-interest policies and tighter rules on what qualifies as an additional clean-development project.

International Rivers, an environmental campaigning group based in Berkeley, California, is now calling on the CDM executive board to reject the 412-megawatt Rampur hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, India, which is awaiting CDM approval. The project could earn some 15 million carbon credits from 2012 to 2022, amounting to an estimated US$150-million windfall for the Shimla-based developer Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited, the group says. But the decision to finance that project was taken long before the CDM was even created, says Himanshu Thakkar, director of the Delhi-based South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, clearly invalidating its application.

The company stands by its claim that the project qualifies for the CDM, and says that the Indian government approved the investment proposal for the project in 2007, when the CDM was already in place. As Nature went to press, the CDM's executive board, which met in Quito, Ecuador, this week, had not yet decided whether to approve the Rampur project.

Despite the controversy, the European Union seems determined to continue its mandatory emissions-trading system, which it sees as crucial in tackling climate change. There's little doubt about the urgency of that goal: global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 45% since 1990, reaching an all-time high of 33 billion tonnes in 2010, according to a report released last week by the European Commission.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How human waste could power Nigeria's slums

By George Webster, CNN, September 26, 2011

(CNN) -- In the crowded slums of Lagos, Nigeria, untreated sewage mingles with the chaotic network of pipes that deliver water to the city. Those who can't afford a local borehole or a private vendor know better than to take their chances with the taps -- most preferring to go thirsty instead.

That's according to Olatunbosun Obayomi, a Lagosian microbiologist and inventor who has lived in the city all his life.

But now Obayomi thinks he's found a solution -- one that not only tackles the slums' sanitation issues, but creates free, clean energy in the process.

"With a cheap retrofit, household septic tanks -- the source of the sewage -- can be converted into biogas generators," said Obayomi, 29, whose concept has earned him a TED fellowship, a Nigerian Youth Leadership Award and growing international acclaim.

"The idea of turning waste into energy has been around for centuries. My innovation is simply applying the chemistry in a practical way by using the resources we already have," he explained.

In most homes in Lagos, toilet waste is stored in rudimentary septic tanks beneath the ground. Here it decomposes into a poisonous compound, before being sucked out by a tanker that deposits it all in a nearby lagoon.

"Unfortunately, the system of water pipes is very disorganized, and they often pass through the same place where the sewage is dumped," said Obayomi. "And it's not uncommon for poorly constructed septic tanks to leak directly into the drainage system."

But rather than attempt a wholesale overhaul of Nigeria's waste system, Obayomi's approach makes use of the existing septic tanks -- equipping them with new waste entry pipes that remove oxygen from the decaying process.

As he explained: "When excreta decompose with oxygen, it creates a useless, incombustible mixture that carries disease. But without oxygen, the germs die and the mixture produces a combustible gas."

This biogas -- a mix of carbon dioxide and methane -- can be stored in an adjacent underground chamber and used to power cooking stoves, heat homes or even generate electricity.

Opinion: Tackling climate change still a luxury in developing world

"Converting waste into biogas is a win-win strategy," said Sarah Butler-Sloss, founding director of the Ashden Awards, an organization that champions local energy innovations around the world.

"What makes it so elegant is that it resolves a life-threatening sanitation issue -- by treating harmful, waterborne germs -- while simultaneously creating a much-needed source of carbon-free energy," she said.

Butler-Sloss added that recent figures from the U.N. say 1.4 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, while 2.7 billion still prepare food on grossly inefficient and carbon-hungry open fires.

"We have seen similar projects in places like India and China -- where everything from domestic garbage to animal waste has been used to produce energy with great success ... Clearly this is the time to embrace domestically produced biogas, especially in the developing world."

It's a view shared by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Patrick Mwefigye is program officer for sustainable consumption and production at UNEP's regional office for Africa. He says that in areas where there is "little funding, capacity or infrastructure" for complex waste management, "we see the production of biogas as having great potential."

At present, Mwefigye says the gas is regularly produced in just a handful of African nations.

"In Rwanda, for instance, the prisons have been fitted with large biogas generators, so that they are almost entirely self-powering," he said.

But, although Obayomi's retrofitted biogas generator is relatively cheap to build -- requiring only low-tech materials such as plastic pipes, cement and sand -- and despite all the recognition it's attracted, only a prototype has been installed so far.

Yet Obayomi conservatively estimates that the average street in Lagos could produce 1,720 liters of biogas a day -- enough for an engine-powered water pump to serve the daily domestic needs of at least 50 families.

So what's the hold-up?

"Biogas generators tend to be constructed in situ," said Butler-Sloss, "And while the materials are relatively cheap, they're not mass-produced like solar panels or wind-turbines so, at present, it's difficult to scale-up."

Obayomi has a different take, however. For him, it's not an issue of resources or need, but attitude.

"Although I've been filmed by government TV and won these awards, no politician has approached me to build anything. In Nigeria there is a lot of talk but very little walk," he lamented.

There is also a problem of credibility, he said. In Obayomi's experience, the hardest place to be taken seriously as a Nigerian inventor is in Nigeria itself.

"It is a new concept for many Nigerians," he said. "There's still this feeling that unless an idea or a piece of new technology comes from the West, then it's not glamorous ... it's not valid."


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Transforming the World Economy at Rio Plus 20

By Peter M. Haas, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Political Science, USA

The next major global environmental conference will occur in June 2012, with the uninspiring name of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio Plus 20. It is aimed at promoting the shift to a green economy. After the first preliminary prepcom meetings (16-18 May 2010 in NY, 7-8 March in NY), the first intersessional (10-11 January 2011 in NY) and the failed UNCSD meeting in May 2011, discussions have been quite impoverished in terms of imagination and passion.

The formal agenda ( while still a bit preliminary, calls for efforts to accelerate the shift to a green economy and institutional reform arrangements. Unfortunately this is a seriously disjointed agenda, as each component appeals to different constituencies, and the combined benefits of the disjointed agenda are modest, at best.

While still a work in progress, the “green economy” appears to encompass cleaner economic production and a low or no carbon economy. It includes both hardware components involving new technologies, as well as software components (or policy components) involving policy changes (such as eliminating market biasing subsidies for polluting technologies). This is a noble prospect of trying to develop the next global large scale socio-economic system, promoting the broader transformative processes of creative destruction analyzed by Schumpeter, Polanyi and scholars of innovation. (Schumpeter 1942; Polanyi 1944; Dosi, Freeman et al. 1988; Nelson 2005)

Promoting green technology requires a massive effort. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2009 suggests that a 14% reduction in energy consumption from 2012 Kyoto limits by 2030 is needed to keep atmospheric carbon concentrations at 450 ppm. Such goals are not yet feasible with available technologies, and we still need a massive innovation push to create these green technologies.(Pacala and Socolow 2004; Weizsacker, Hargroves et al. 2009) Recent IPCC estimates suggest that the cost of transitioning to renewables over the next 20 years could run to 15 trillion dollars US. [Financial times 5/10/11, Fiona Harvey “Renewable Energy can power the world, says landmark IPCC study”, Monday 9 May 2011.] UNEP suggests the cost would be roughly 2% of GDP per year. While the industrialized North wishes to pursue this goal through technological change and industrial policy, the developing South is more skeptical, and is primarily focused on job creation and ensuring that there are no serious repercussions for their economies from such a major technological shift.

But technological innovation isn’t independent of social change, as Polanyi made clear. Not only does technological change have large scale political consequences, it rests on profound political and social foundations. Technologies are embedded in social structures. (La Porte 1991) Large scale technological change of this magnitude requires a common purpose, political support by a powerful network of actors, and an institutional landscape that reinforces economic forces as well as consolidating the social influence of those associated with the broader project. Previous global conferences such as the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) and the 1992 World Conference on Sustainable Development only succeeded when they were buffered from deeper geopolitical divides (as is the case, now) and resonated with domestic concern in the major powers. (Putnam and Bayne 1987; Willetts 1989; Haas 2002) Even 25 years after the Brundtland Commission Report, Sustainable Development remains more of a vague aspiration than a common project, and does not appear to yet satisfy the second condition.

The institutional part of the Rio Plus 20 agenda remains disconnected from the broad ambitious purpose for the conference. Discussions have revolved around UN restructuring -- largely ECOSOC reform and UNCSD reform -- that are tired old debates that are unlikely to yield any kind of systemic results.

Institutional reform talks have also focused heavily on UNEP’s future. To some extent this is a matter of the tail wagging the dog, as UNEP is best positioned to work on environmental problems, rather than the broader scope of Sustainable Development and the green economy. Discussions about UNEP’s future have followed a tortuous path for nearly 14 years. At a meeting in Espoo, Finland in November 2010 these ideas for UNEP’s future role in environemtnal governance were summarized. [UNEP/CGIEG.2/2/2]

- Focus on scientific matters
- Cluster existing MEAs
- Upgrade UNEP to a UN agency (UNEO)
- Streamline UNEP with other bodies (such as UNDP)
- Create a new centralized World Environment Organization (WEO) responsible for
all MEAs and able to advocate for environmental protection at WTO

Serious discussions about promoting a green technological transformation need to go well beyond UNEP, and tinkering with existing UN arrangements, to think much more seriously about ambitious new plans to foster political support for what are emerging as good economic policy ideas. UNEP can play a role in the broader constellation of institutions for monitoring environmental quality particularly with an eye to generating early warning signals of loss of resilience, and coordinating scientific assessments of sustainability.

But the core reality is that we need a political realignment to promote creative destruction. Before meaningful support for such large scale changes, and the UN conference can occur, we must stimulate the involvement of organized networks of actors engaged in the green economy project, including Finance, Development and Trade Ministries; as well as a wide variety of non-state actors including clean energy firms, manufacturing, insurance, and investment capitalists. The eventual formal institutions coming out of Rio could help support and disseminate new breakthrough technologies, as well as overseeing or coordinating BEP and BAT sectoral codes.

Without building the social capacity for sustainable development, governments will be unresponsive and policy proposals are likely to go unheard.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Palau seeks UN World Court opinion on damage caused by greenhouse gases

By UN News Centre, September 22, 2011

The Pacific island nation of Palau announced plans today to seek an advisory opinion from a United Nations court on whether countries have a legal responsibility to ensure that any activities on their territory that emit greenhouse gases do not harm other States.

President Johnson Toribiong told the General Assembly’s annual general debate that, along with the Marshall Islands, Palau will call on the 193-member Assembly to urgently seek an advisory opinion – which would be non-binding – from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court.

Palau is one of several Pacific island countries that have repeatedly spoken out at the General Assembly about the impact of climate change, with rising sea levels resulting from the emissions of greenhouse gases threatening to swamp their islands.

Mr. Toribiong said it was vital that urgent action is taken to combat climate change, given the immediacy of the threat.

“The case should be clear,” he said, referring to Palau’s plan to seek an ICJ advisory opinion. “The ICJ has already confirmed that customary international law obliges States to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control respect the environment of other States,” he said.

“Similarly, Article 194(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control do not spread and do not cause damage by pollution to other States. It is time we determine what the international rule of law means in the context of climate change.”

In his address Mr. Toribiong also warned about the damaging effects of over-fishing in the waters around his country and that of other Pacific nations.

He said a regional meeting to be held in Palau in December will consider whether to establish a special zone to conserve tuna.

“For too long, the exploitation of tuna has overridden its conservation. This imbalance is not sustainable and must be reversed through the creation of a tuna conservation zone.”


Suriname Establishes Govt Agency for Climate Adaptation: An Emerging Trend?

By Rachel Cernansky, Boulder, Colorado

The tiny South American nation of Suriname has recently joined its neighbor Guyana in creating an agency dedicated to dealing with climate change. Suriname, the continent's smallest country, is a low-lying nation on the northern coast of South America, with the majority of the population concentrated along the coast where the capital is located.

More importantly, Suriname counts itself as one of the five nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The newly-created agency, the Climate Compatible Development Agency, will consolidate and streamline climate change-related efforts by the various departments within Suriname's government, Reuters AlertNet reports, rather than continue to operate on a piecemeal basis.

"We owe it to our children to prepare ourselves for the effects climate change will have on our country," President Desi Bouterse said, according to Suriname news agency DevSur.

"The establishment of the Climate Compatible Development Agency puts us in the fraternity of developing countries that are signaling their seriousness regarding adaptation," said Agency Director John Goedschalk, a U.S.-trained economist trained to lead the agency.

The agency will be tasked with a variety of responsibilities:

1. To coordinate the country's policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation,
as well as forest conservation. Climate Compatible Development Strategy
2. To help Suriname win international funding for efforts related to those policies.
3. To lead the country's Climate Change Fund.
4. To support a Climate Compatible Knowledge Institute.

Local Approach to a Global Problem

Goedschalk sums up the situation that a lot of developing countries are in:

"Despite the fact that we do not contribute (substantially) to climate change,
west and to be impacted heavily by its effects. Our entire economic zone is
located within our coastal areas, so when sea level rises we stand to lose a whole

Demerara Waves reports that one of Goedschalk's first goals will be to accelerate the first carbon assessment program in Suriname. "We will introduce a strategy that is climate change compatible and goes parallel with Government's development initiatives," he said.

AlertNet reports that hydrology professor Sieuwnath Naipal recognizes that the agency comes with significant challenges—Goedschalk "will need adapted policies, technologies, money and most of all political will locally and internationally"—but said the fact is, "sooner or later all countries have to make the transition."

That fact is a universal one, and is applicable on a level well beyond Suriname. It will be interesting to see what efforts sprout up from other countries facing the same challenge.

And with the development of the Green Climate Fund on the agenda for the UNFCCC's upcoming meeting in Durban, now just a few months away, it will be especially interesting to watch agencies form that will be able to use, efficiently and appropriately, any international funding made available to countries facing climate change-related challenges.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Oxfam warns of spiralling land grab in developing countries

By John Vidal, The Guardian

Many of world's poorest 'being left worse off by unprecedented land deals', despite claims by governments and speculators

The scale of the rush by speculators, pension funds and global agri-businesses to acquire large areas of developing countries is far greater than previously thought, and is already leading to conflict, hunger and human rights abuses, says Oxfam.

The NGO has identified 227m ha (561m acre ha) of land – an area the size of north-west Europe – as having being reportedly sold, leased or licensed, largely in Africa and mostly to international investors in thousands of secretive deals since 2001. This compares with about 56m ha identified by the World Bank earlier this year, again predominantly in Africa.

The new land rush, which was triggered by food riots, a series of harvest failures following major droughts and the western investors moving out of the US property market in 2008, is being justified by governments and speculators in the name of growing food for hungry people and biofuels for environmental benefit.

But, says Oxfam, "many of the deals are in fact 'land grabs' where the rights and needs of the people previously living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living".

"Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive," said Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking.

Oxfam expects the land grabbing to increase as populations grow. The report said: "The huge increase in demand for food will need to be met by land resources that are under increasing pressure from climate change, water depletion, and other resource constraints, and squeezed by biofuel production, carbon sequestration and forest conservation, timber production, and non-food crops."

While some investors might claim to have experience in agricultural production, many may only be purchasing land speculatively, anticipating price increases in the coming years, a practice known as 'land banking'.

In addition, developing countries are under pressure from the IMF, the World Bank and other regional banks to put farmland on the international market to increase economic development and improve the balance of payments.

Much of the land grabbing has being driven by the expansion of sugar cane and oil palm for biofuel production. "Thousands of people have been persuaded to part with their land on the basis of false promises in Indonesia, or have been evicted from their lands and their homes in Uganda, Guatemala and Honduras," says the report.

Most of the land deals done in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique Senegal, and Tanzania have been to grow crops for export commodities, including cut flowers as well as biofuels. In Mozambique, where approximately 35% of households are chronically food insecure, only 32,000 ha out of the 433,000 approved for land deals between 2007 and 2009 were for food crops.

The report said: "Unrestricted export clauses in contracts, together with small-scale food producers losing their key productive asset, may well worsen rather than improve food security. Moreover, investors' short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation practices, undermining food production in the long-term.

Stocking called on the EU to scrap the incentive offered to investors to grow biofuel crops, and organisations like the World Bank to ensure that local people are consulted on land deals.

"Governments should avoid pandering to investors' wishes, and prioritise existing land use rights – not just where legal land title or formal ownership rights are held," said the report.

Stocking said: "Land investment has great potential to help people work themselves out of poverty, but the current rush for land is leaving people worse off. Global action is crucial if we are to protect local people from losing what little they have for the profits of a few, and build towards a tomorrow where everyone has enough."


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Solar Sister: empowering women with light and opportunity

By Making It Magazine

Katherine Lucey, the founder and CEO of Solar Sister, introduces a social enterprise that provides women with training and support to create solar micro-businesses.

More than 125 years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, 1.6 billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – still rely on kerosene lanterns and candles for light. They spend up to 40% of their family income on energy that is inefficient, insufficient and hazardous. Widespread use of kerosene has an adverse impact on local air quality as well as on global climate change. Poor lighting, smoke, and rudimentary lanterns are responsible for large number of infections and burn injuries.

Solar Sister is a social enterprise that is tackling the problem of energy poverty with an innovative market-based approach that empowers rural women in Africa with economic opportunity. Using an Avon-style business model that deliberately reaches out through women’s social networks, Solar Sister solves the problem of ‘last mile’ access to clean energy and brings solar technology right to the doorstep of rural households.

Using a micro-consignment business model, the women are provided with a ‘business in a bag’ that includes inventory, sales training and marketing support. The women are empowered to bring access to a portfolio of clean energy technologies including solar lamps, solar cell-phone chargers and radios and clean cookstoves. Clean energy provides light and power that saves lives, provides connectivity, improves public health, provides livelihoods and combats climate change. The women become their own bosses and beacons of light, hope and opportunity for their communities.

Solar Sister is a market-based programme, with revenues from sales of solar lamps providing the engine for economic growth. Solar Sister is a social business, using the power of the market to achieve a social goal of distribution of clean energy technology. It is the emphasis on “opportunity” rather than “aid” that attracts and rewards women who are motivated to build successful businesses that benefit the whole community by providing access to breakthrough technology.

Today, even though portable solar LED lighting technology is an affordable solution; lack of access has kept the products from being adapted by rural households living in the dark. Ingenuous clean energy products for the base of pyramid markets are not much good if the poor can’t use them. Solar Sister’s sales proposition is simple: at a starting cost of about US$20 for a solar lamp, customers get a lighting source that is eight times brighter, cleaner and safer than piecemeal kerosene – the cash expense is paid back by the cost savings of buying kerosene in two and a half months. This translates into brighter light for families, and savings of more than US$100 a year on fuel.

Solar Sister reaches out to the women who would otherwise not have an opportunity to become entrepreneurs and provides them with a holistic package of working capital, business training and marketing support. Women represent 70% of the rural poor most affected by energy poverty. But more importantly, women are primarily responsible for energy usage at the household level. Clean energy technology will not be adapted on a widespread basis if women are not part of the solution.

Solar energy can provide connectivity as well as lighting, and some of our best selling products are solar lamps that also provide power to charge mobile phones. The phenomenal success of mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa is possibly the most important development story of this century. Having access to the energy to power those phones is a correlating opportunity that the Solar Sister entrepreneurs are able to meet. One customer not only charges her own phone, but has set up a micro-business charging her neighbour’s phones as well, earning a steady daily income.

A founding story of Solar Sister is that of Rebecca, a rural farmer in Mpigi, Uganda, who chose to put a solar light in her chicken room. Rebecca knew that chickens only eat when they can see, and by increasing the hours of light, the chickens ate more, and were healthier. They laid more eggs, improving the economics of her operation and providing income that allowed her to buy seeds, and eventually a goat, pigs, and even a cow.

From the simple improvement of a single light, Rebecca built a farm and eventually a school where she teaches children to read and write, and also how to do small plot farming. With a little bit of light and opportunity, women like Rebecca have the power to improve their own lives.

The strength of Solar Sister’s enterprise solution comes from the women themselves. It is their own ingenuity and commitment that builds their business – we are just offering them the opportunity to help themselves. Even small amounts of electricity can dramatically improve the lives of women living with acute energy poverty. Creating economic opportunities for women in turn has a multiplier effect on social and economic progress of their communities, and our world.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A push to farm smarter – not bigger – to feed the world's hungry

By Sara Miller Llana and Ben Arnoldy, The Christian Science Monitor / September 20, 2011

With famine in Africa and food prices at record highs, governments and agencies around the globe are looking to educate small farmers about more efficient, sustainable agriculture practices.

For more than 30 years, Porfirio Bastida never considered changing the way he farms his 1.2 acre cornfield in Texcoco, in the central Mexican highlands.

But rainfall patterns were changing and water seemed to be scarcer. Each year, he says, he was investing more and harvesting less.

So he joined forces with a nearby research institute called the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It helped him switch from the practices he'd employed his whole life to conservation-agriculture techniques: rotating crops, not tilling, leaving residue from the previous harvest to act as a sponge atop the land.

“The land gives to us, and we have to give something back,” says the wiry farmer, in dark pants and honey-colored imitation-crocodile boots. The practices, he says, are not only good for the environment. He has doubled his production in three years, he says, and is investing half. “Many are abandoning their land, but for me, this land is sacred. … I am happy to have this little piece of land and conserve it.”

CIMMYT, in partnership with the Mexican government, has reached 3,500 farmers throughout Mexico in the past year alone. While many of the practices they are instilling are not new, aid groups and governments around the world are revamping similar efforts after decades of focusing on different development goals.

The new focus on boosting small farmers is fueled by record-high food prices and renewed attention to hunger with more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa suffering from drought and famine. Many aid experts also now see the small farmer as the long-term solution to hunger, with the global population estimated to reach 9 billion people by 2050, requiring a 70 percent increase from current food production.

"Food prices and volatility have drawn political urgency to the issue," says Lisa Dreier, the director of Food Security and Development Issues for the World Economic Forum USA. "And with drought-and climate-related events, people have become more aware of the fact that a more sustainable approach to agriculture is needed."

Boosting the small farmer

The United States is rolling out agricultural partnerships around the globe, particularly through its $3 billion Feed the Future Initiative, led by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It began in 2009 and works with 20 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. One of its stated goals is "to leverage $70 billion in private investment in agriculture that improves sustainable market opportunities and linkages with smallholder farmers."

The United Nations recently called upon governments to invest some $2 trillion to help small-scale farming. The World Economic Forum has launched a new initiative called "Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture," which works with the private sector to invest in small, sustainable practices. And the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, is promoting agroecology, the study of how agriculture can best fit within ecosystems and efficiently use of natural resources, a push he says has been well-received by governments and agencies around the globe.

“This is a very important victory, and a significant shift away from the oversimplified discourse that hunger and malnutrition shall be effectively combated by seeking to increase production at all cost, whatever the social and environmental conditions,” he says in an email.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rio + 20: UNEP's Angela Cropper urges leaders to 'Seize the Moment'

By Angela Cropper

Angela Cropper, Former Deputy Executive Director, now Special Advisor to the Executive Director, UNEP views the Rio+20 Conference as a golden opportunity for political leadership, given the dire, urgent and complex economic, social and environmental issues that confront the world. The requirement for such leadership and commitment on macro sustainable development issues is more pressing than the need for long lists of sectoral ‘to dos’, which mostly already exist on paper as outcomes of global summits and sectoral processes.

She notes that we know what needs to be done, adding that we need to examine why implementation lags so far behind such resolutions of mind and what would enable this Conference to elevate its ambition and make good use of the opportunity before it. How might it remove some of the impediments to sustainable development? What kind of outcomes would position the world to deal with some of the urgent, if complex, problems it faces?

Angella makes 10 proposals, 4 of which are reproduced here:

Shape the approach to economic growth to serve social objectives and recognize environmental limits and imperatives.

The Conference will meet at a propitious moment, as the world now much better understands the issues of sustainable development and how the economy, the environment and human well-being are inter-related and mutually supportive. But this understanding is not put into practice: environmental imperatives and human well-being objectives are invariably traded off as optional and secondary to economic growth. This impedes sustainable development which unifies economic, social and environmental objectives — as opposed to adding on environmental and social considerations only where the economic bottom line remains unaffected.

The Conference could set this relationship properly on its feet, putting economic growth at the service of the social objectives which governments have long enunciated over time and recognising and respecting resource and environmental constraints. This will require qualitatively different attention to decisions about policy, investment, and other development interventions, so that environmental and human wellbeing outcomes are not sacrificed in the preoccupation with, and pursuit of, economic growth.

Commit to transforming land management and food production and consumption systems to ensure national and global food security.

This is essential for many reasons: avoiding a new wave of converting forests and wetlands in response to the pressures for world food security; ensuring that existing agricultural land is used sustainably; addressing the multiple pressures that lead to processes of land degradation and desertification; and addressing the needs of the estimated two billion people who subsist in threatened ecological systems and are at the bottom of the human well-being ladder. The Conference could commit to increased investment in alleviating such processes and to the national policies and actions required.

Help Least Developed Countries onto a ‘fast runway’ for Sustainable Development.

The Conference could take global leadership on behalf of the world’s 48 most disadvantaged countries, and set the stage for a transformative moment in the Global Partnership for Development. It could decide on global affirmative action to help them overcome impediments over domestic investible resources, access to modern technologies on affordable terms, and technical capacity for designing accelerated economic transformation and the institutional framework of policies, legislation, regulation, fiscal measures that will be required. This would also include establishing and harmonizing a public/private investment and financing platform.

Commit to an energy compact to expand access, efficiency, and investment in renewables.

The Conference could catalyze a new global energy mix by relating energy demand (access, saving and efficiency) and supply (including incentive policies, subsidies, investments and the deployment of renewable energy sources). This could be an important lever for simultaneously addressing economic, social and environmental aspirations in the context of climate change targets and sustainable development.


Rio 2012 Policy Priorities: 5 themes of change to secure a greener, fairer economy from the Green Economy Coalition

For the Green Economy Coalition, a green economy has two transformative ideals. It is one that invests explicitly in people, prosperity and wellbeing and it invests in our natural systems in order to protect and restore them. They have identified five themes of change to bring about this vision for a greener, fairer economy.

1. Investing in natural capital: a green economy is one that invests in, protects and restores our ecosystems and biodiversity in order to secure their services for people today and for future generations. This means valuing the services that natural capital provides to people and the economy; driving investment towards managing our global ecosystems, particularly those that the poor depend on; and ensuring that communities are able to manage, own and protect their natural capital.

2. Investing in people: a green economy is one that allocates environmental benefits and costs fairly to achieve a more just and equitable society. This means committing to transparent and affirmative action for inclusive growth on the part of all governments; ensuring the participation of young people, women, poor and low-skilled in a new economy; and investing in re-skilling workers and communities as we undergo a transition to a low-carbon economy.

3. Greening high impact sectors and services: a green economy is one that is driven by green economic services and industries that provide decent work and employment prospects. This means promoting equitable ownership and workers’ rights in emerging industries; tighter regulation and standards on the part of businesses and governments; and creating the incentives for innovation across the consumption-production value chain.

4. Driving investment and financial flows: a green economy is one that will drive investment and financial flows towards restoring our environment and generating a better quality of life for all. This means reforming subsidies, taxation and public sector financing to meet environmental and societal needs rather than just GDP growth; driving investment towards new private sector markets; and putting an end to short-term market speculation.

5. Improving governance and measurement: green economic governance will redefine ‘progress’ in light of environmental and societal needs; and make governments, businesses and consumers more accountable for their actions. This means introducing new metrics, beyond GDP, that measure well being and environmental health; generating long-term national action plans for an economic transition; and reforming corporate accountability standards to ensure that bad practice is penalised and good practice is rewarded.

Read the full Green Economy Coalition's 4 pager:Our emerging policy priorities for Rio 2012

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rising Demand for Renewable Energy could Drive More Land Grabs

By Think to Sustain

An IIED briefing paper discusses the potential social impacts of biomass plantations in developing countries and calls for greater public scrutiny and debate about the issue.

Rising demand for the dominant form of renewable energy worldwide - wood - could drive yet more acquisitions of land in developing countries where food insecurity is rising and land rights are weak, say researchers at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED).

In a briefing paper, titled “Biomass Energy: Another Driver of Land Acquisitions?” published August 30, they warn that this new trend needs greater public scrutiny and debate.

Wood accounts for 67% of global renewable energy supplies, and many countries in the global North are increasing their use of it both to reduce their reliance on costly fossil fuels and to mitigate climate change.

Such countries are setting ambitious targets for using renewable energy, including biomass, but with demand for wood set to outstrip supply by up to 600% in some countries, and high tree growth rates in the tropics, investors are beginning to look South.

New tree plantations in developing countries that will be harvested to export wood could spell good news in terms of jobs, investment, climate change and conversation - if they are managed well.

But there is also a risk that plantations will displace poor and marginalized communities from land they have tended to for generations but have no formal claim over.

The paper, aimed at policymakers in both developed and developing countries, warns that rising demand for wood could harm food security and the livelihoods of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people if governments lease large areas of land for fuel wood plantations.

"All eyes are turned to food and biofuels, but tree plantations for biomass energy may soon become an important driver in the global land rush," says Dr. Lorenzo Cotula, a senior researcher at IIED and co-author of the paper.

Duncan Macqueen, also a senior researcher and co-author adds, "Wood is a vital renewable energy source, and countries in the South should develop it for local energy security, not export it to fuel Northern energy deficits at the expense of their own people."


Green Embassy: Shredded Documents Help Girls Stay in School

By Karin Rives, IPP Digital (US)

Small, everyday changes sometimes have a huge impact on the environment — and on people’s lives.

Consider the case of the shredded government documents from the United States Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, which are now recycled into affordable sanitary pads for girls and women in refugee camps. Having access to such pads helps girls attend school when they have their monthly periods, whereas before they often stayed home on those days.

The production of the pads, meanwhile, has created jobs for some 220 people, mainly refugees living in and around the camps.

Until recently, the embassy and other U.S. government agencies in Kampala burned shredded paper in a central incinerator, a practice that wasted a useful product and contributed to air pollution. Recycling opportunities are scarce in Uganda, but the embassy’s interagency Green Task Force got wind of the MakaPad project and soon had a deal with the organization that runs the sanitary pad production.

“During our April Earth Month celebration we had the MakaPad inventor and a representative from the United Nations High Commission[er] for Refugees give a presentation, and it made quite an impression on our staff,” said Danielle Tedesco, an environment officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development and co-chair of the Green Task Force. “They really hadn’t understood what a difference a small step can make in the lives of so many people.”

At the same April event, the embassy kicked off a glass recycling program that quickly took off. Six 230-liter recycling drums on the embassy grounds now fill up every month as employees bring glass from home or grab bottles they find along the way.

The small, woman-owned company just outside Kampala that picks up the glass, Bajjo, melts the glass and manufactures a variety of products that are sold in Uganda and exported abroad. More than 20 people have found employment at Bajjo, and the company is growing, Tedesco said.


The embassy in Kampala recently joined the League of Green Embassies, an initiative by the U.S. Department of State and several other government agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of embassies worldwide. This step has further boosted efforts to implement embassy policies and programs that address waste streams and help staff save energy and water.

The Green Task Force is drawing new members, including a growing number of Ugandans who work at the embassy as well as employees from the U.S. Peace Corps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All embassy offices recently appointed “green wardens,” staffers who make sure that computer monitors, printers and lights are turned off at the end of the day and who remind colleagues to recycle empty bottles and paper. Plans are also in the works for an embassy community garden, a compost pit, a carpooling program and an energy audit.

“There is a lot of energy on the Green Task Force and, as with any team, you have the idealists who want to do somewhat advanced projects and then you have the realists who bring them down to earth and say, ‘That’s a great idea, but how can we make that a reality?’” Tedesco said. The gradual approach tends to win, she said, because budgets are very limited and it’s important to get everybody on board and engaged.

By making embassy operations more environmentally friendly, the Green Task Force wants to show the city of Kampala and their host country that Americans care. With the United States known as the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the embassy has an opportunity to lead by example, Tedesco said.

“We always talk about what we can do and what message we can send to our audience to not only educate, but also to change behavior,” she said. “We know that this is a challenge all over the world, but we want to walk the talk.”


Nepalese lawmakers ‘aiding’ timber smugglers

By MANOJ BASNET, The Kathmandu Post

Red sandalwood worth millions of rupees is smuggled every year to Chinese markets through the Araniko Highway under the protection of political parties, police said.

A source said that the illegal act is being carried out under the protection of UCPN (Maoist) lawmaker and assistant in-charge of the party’s Sindhupalchok district, Raj Kumar Shrestha.

Earlier, Maoist cadres close to party leader Agni Sapkota accused Shrestha and his wife Devi Khadka of involvement in the smuggling.

However, the couple instead accused Sapkota of involvement in the timber smuggling and filed a complaint in the Maoist central committee demanding investigation into it. Following the complaint, a three-member probe committee led by Amik Serchan has been formed to probe the allegation. Khadka is a Maoist lawmaker from Dolakha.

“Timber is being smuggled under the protection of political parties,” said a police source.

The source added that around 50 people including Maoist Sindhupalchok district member Bhim Prasad Parajuli and Nepali Congress cadre Rudra Timalsina are involved in the act.

Kavre District Forest Office has issued an arrest warrant against Timalsina based on the statement of a detainee who was arrested with 20 logs of red sandalwood a few weeks ago. Acting on a tip-off, police confiscated 1,400 kg of red sandalwood hidden by Shrestha’s group in a village near Tatopani checkpoint. Police however is yet to arrest the smugglers.

The chief of Sindhupalchok District Police, Basanta Kumar Lama, said that police would arrest the smugglers once it got the request from the concerned forest office. “DFO Kavre has asked police to arrest Timalsina and we have launched a manhunt,” he said


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kampala short of cooking gas

By Anthony Wesaka, Saturday Monitor (September 17, 2011)

Uganda’s ever increasing power outages and the recent shoot in the prices of charcoal has exerted pressure on cooking gas thus creating an artificial shortage in the market.

A mini survey conducted by Saturday Monitor, around Kampala indicated that most shell outlets, one of the biggest dealer in cooking gas had run out of the commodity.

Mr Ronald Lwanga, the manager of the Bugolobi service bay and gas station, told Saturday Monitor “Yes there is a shortage of cooking gas caused by increased demand and reduction in supply.”

He said although the station was supplied with cooking gas last week, the commodity had already run out, which suggest that more people are resorting to using gas.

Ugandans have adapted the use of gas as an alternative as opposed to charcoal and electricity whose price have sky rocketed and the continued load shedding respectively.

To back up this, Mr Lwanga, told Saturday Monitor that the station’s sales had increased by about 20 per cent in August.

The station used to sell about 20 gas cylinders every month, however, in August sales increased to about 45 cylinders.

When contacted about the matter, Mr Ivan Kyayonka, the Shell Uganda country director confirmed the shortage but attributed it to a delayed delivery at the Mombasa Port.

He said: “Yes there is a supply shortage resulting from congestion at the Mombasa Port.”

Other players including; Total Uganda also reported shortages but promised that supply would soon stabilise.

Mr Mamadou Ngom, the Total Uganda managing director said: “Our customers should stay calm as we expect supply to arrive anytime from today (Thursday). We have two trucks coming in with supplies.”

However, when contacted, Mr Peter Ochieng, the Kobil Uganda managing director, told Saturday Monitor that Kobil had not experienced any shortages as it had enough gas both at its stations and depots to service its customers.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Does green matter?

By Sudhirendar Sharma, Climate Himalaya

Why is the developed world, that is obsessed with the idea of `greed economy’, thrusting its new capitalist variant – green economy – on the growing economies? Is it a calculated move to pin down the growing differences between the north and the south with a green business model?

Henk Manschot, a Professor of Ethics and Sustainable Development at the Kosmopolis Institute in the Netherlands, shocked a global gathering at a conference in the Hague late last year when he revealed how `global footprint’ increases as people move up the human development index. As people consume resources to go up on the index, their ecological footprint stretches on additional hectares of land on the planet. `If the resource poor billion plus were to gain improved access to basic services such as health, education and portable water, the planet will run out of its hectares,’ warned Manschot.

The warning is imminent although there is no international consensus on how to reach out to the deprived billions. While global food security has yet to be achieved, the outlook for freshwater scarcity and improved sanitation looks bleak. Collectively, these crises are severely impacting the possibility of sustaining prosperity to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for reducing extreme poverty. Top it with growing fossil fuel and energy demand and the cup of woes will spill over like a never-before tsunami of unprecedented nature. The signs are ominous!

Forty years since Stockholm and twenty years following the Rio Summit, the world has slipped backwards on its race to alleviate poverty and on its efforts to reverse the ecological decline. Conversely, obsession with capitalist model of development has acerbated social instability, economic insecurity and job losses. While some of the biggest western-style economies are dragging the global economy with their sovereign debt dramas, the developing world’s obsession with economic growth is leading to deepening of the ecological crises.

To pull the planet from the current mess, world leaders will get back to the drawing board yet again. Knowing well that none of their previous commitments to sustainable development have worked, the congregation at Rio in June 2012 will carve out a new global agenda for survival of mankind. Though global climate negotiations have already hit a road block, the leaders are taking a detour to charter a `green economy’ pathway aimed at getting the planet back on track. While `green’ as a color seems promisingly soothing, its contents are fuzzy and somewhat contentious.

In its simplest expression, a green economy is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive. In a green economy, growth in income and employment should be driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The crucial question remains: isn’t `green economy’ pathway more appropriate for the debt-ridden western economies that have the onus of generating more jobs for their disgruntled youth?

Why is the developed world, that is obsessed with the idea of `greed economy’, thrusting its new capitalist variant – green economy – on the growing economies? Is it a calculated move to pin down the growing differences between the north and the south with a green business model? If fine print on two major studies, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and Green Economy Report (GEC), commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is anything to go by, it is a new way of measuring and valuing natural resources.

Reportedly drafted by an investment banker on sabbatical from Deustsche Bank, these reports have defined the contours of a green economy.

Providing precise measuring and valuing techniques, the reports attach a price tag to all ecosystem services from agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors such that these can be traded in the emerging green markets. On offer on other shelves would be eco-efficient’ technologies that the developed world will barter in exchange for carbon credits that will accrue from such transactions.

It has been estimated that transition to green prescription will cost the global economy an average annual investment of no less than US$ 1.3 trillion. How will such an investment ever get made? One would doubt if the proposed green prescriptions will deliver a greenwash on the old `greed economy’ by innovative market mechanisms that will trade emissions for carbon credits and green technologies. Developing countries are already being lured into such a system, as the Rio+20 summit prepares itself to firm up new institutional mechanisms for a green deal.

Back home, India government’s intentions on switch to a green economy is an eyewash. Whereas it has been acknowledged that nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions is attributed to land use changes (agriculture and deforestation), the National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill 2011 is hinged on the inevitability of urbanization a’la land use change. Cities not only account for 75 per cent of energy consumption but 75 per cent of carbon missions as well, and for the first time in history more than half of the world population lives in urban areas.

Bolivia, perhaps the only country that is vocal on the ambiguities of a green economy, has charged green capitalism as a distraction from the real issues that the world needs to address to realize sustainable development. It has warned that the new forms of mercantilism and speculation being proposed could further despoil nature while entrenching existing injustices. Can the same bankers, who have not been able to manage the largest financial crises, be believed to manage the planet? Your guess is as good as mine!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Taking poor and poverty seriously in Pakistan

By Riaz Missen, Pakistan Observer

Unusual and unexpected rains have rendered five million people homeless in 22 out of 23 districts of Sindh. The lack of response from home and abroad to the plight of the people is somewhat that needs a lot of soul searching. It is for sure that the flood victims of Sindh are little responsible for climate change that has send heavy rains on them. Most of them were already living at the subsistence level. They were already easy preys to hunger and diseases. Like millions across the country, they had been left with meager resources due to inflation and low GDP growth.

Many of the victims of erratic rains should have made their two ends meet with great difficulty in a society where feudalism is a reality and social injustice an undeniable fact. After rains they have been deprived of whatever valuable they had been left with. Women and children are exposed to extraordinary health hazards. The plight of these poor souls is not going to end when the rainwater recedes: there are no homes to shelter, no crops to cash on and no livestock to sell in the market.

Beyond Sindh, the situation is not that different as well. Statistics of this year (2010) have revealed that the residents of the twin-cities (Islamabad and Rawalpindi) are consuming 30% less meat than the previsions year. The apparent and visible reason is the shortage of animals which are being exported to Afghanistan and Middle East. Going into the in-depth and rigorous analysis of the situation one finds the reason in the depreciation of rupee against dollar. Down the line is the fiscal deficit that urges the government to print currency without any sovereign guarantee.

One way to get out of the grave situation is certainly the austerity measures as well as expanding the tax net but, certainly, lack of political will has been a problem of successive governments both democratic and dictatorial.

Poverty and poor have existed in Pakistan since 1947. More and more have joined this list since then. A UN Development Program report of 2003 has pointed out that at the time the country was growing at 10% rate (GDP), inequalities were as numerous as now. The wealth was being pushed into the hands of the few families through import/ export quotas, exchange rate manipulations and the regressive taxation system. When GDP growth fell to the average 4%, the population had increased three fold. What is a worrisome fact is that poverty is not natural.

It is essentially man-made disaster that is ultimately reducing the chances of peace and stability in Pakistan. After all, one can’t expect the desperate and hopeless youth, that now constitutes 65% population of the country, have no proper skills and talent to become the useful citizens because we spend less on education and persisting energy crisis has taken toll of businesses and industries. Flash floods of 2010 and heavy rains have added more poor to Pakistan.

The dictators who have ruled the roosts have managed the flow of wealth to few hands and did not have brains to contemplate that the concentration of resources in few hands would some time create crisis of human conditions in Pakistan. Imagine that this process of creating inequalities affected politics as well. So when there is democracy, the same affluent lot holds reins of power with little concern to revise the policies of the past. The people are poor because they have little access to health facilities and they have not enough food to consume.

The unhygienic working and living environment squeeze their chances to live long. So, it is quite natural that the people occupying the lower rungs of society die more due to dangerous but preventable diseases. The number of deaths among the poor segment of the society is high because they are discriminated by the decision-makers in terms of the provision of the basic necessities of life. Imagine that when the major burden taxes (75 % in the form of indirect taxes) is placed on the shoulders of the low and middle income groups, the amount spent on health, education and other basic amenities of life merely constitutes 3%. The stories of corruption of billions and evasion of direct taxes are numerous. Those who evade taxes also ensure that justice system remains paralyzed.

Among the poor and downtrodden, the children and women suffer the most. The fact of the matter is that 40 % women are anemic and 80% are exposed to danger of death due to not having access to the reproductive health facilities. So the maternal morbidity associated with pregnancy is among the highest in Asia. Infant mortality rate is also high because their mothers consume less iron in the time of pregnancy and because they are not vaccinated in time.

“The burden of poverty is getting heavy on women in the form of increased incidence of violence against them,” says Samina Ijaz, of CPDI. Revealing heart-rending facts about six poor districts of Punjab where she is coordinating a Gender Justice program, she grimly observe that many incidents of honor killings occur because husbands, fathers and brothers expect cash money in return of settlements with the family of the accused males.


Weather forecast staff unqualified, Ugandan MPs told

By Petride Mudoola, The New Vision

MEMBERS of Parliament have raised concern over lack of qualified personnel in the meteorology department.

Manafwa Woman MP Sarah Netarisire said the legislators had received reports from experts at Makerere University that the current staff at the department are not sufficiently skilled in weather predictions.

Netarisire, who is a member of the agricultural committee of Parliament, disclosed this during the launch of the Parliamentarians Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The function was at Hotel Africana last Wednesday.

She observed that: “Lack of qualified personnel within the meteorology department has contributed to contradictory reports regarding weather predictions. The forecasters claim the country will experience drought, but it does not happen. They say there will be el-nino, but it does not take place.”

Netarisire said meteorology experts from Makerere made the disclosure while appearing before the committee recently.

She cited the recent landslides, triggered off by torrential rains, that hit Mabono village in Bulambuli district, claiming lives.

The rain also destroyed properties worth millions of shillings in Bugisu and Karamoja sub-regions.

Meteorology department’s public relations manager Khalid Muwembe said they were not aware of any unskilled personnel in the sector.

“Majority of the workforce in meteorology is recruited by the Government. If there is anything to the contrary, then the Ministry of Public Service is to blame,” Muwembe said.

A meteorologist, who preferred anonymity, attributed the inaccuracy in predicting weather to the fact that Uganda has no local training centre.

As a result, he said, meteorologists undergo training outside the country.

“I is quite difficult to copy the weather knowledge attained from a foreign land to best suit with the native,” he observed.

There is only one centre in Kenya for training meteorologists in Africa and it was established by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

Additionally, most of the equipment in place is out dated and cannot accurately predict weather patterns.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maldivian president urges legally binding emission cuts

By Asian Tribune (September 14, 2011)

Maldives President - Mohamed Nasheed reiterated the call for legally binding green house gas emission cuts to arrest global warming, delivering the key note address at a ceremony hosted by former Irish President Mary Robinson.

He urged all countries to be more responsible in carbon emission and also cited his plans to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2020.

The Maldives should stop using fossil fuel, which causes collateral damage to the environment, and instead start making use of other possible resources such as solar power, wind and the ocean as our main sources of energy, he told the delegates of the conference organized by the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice (MRFCJ) in the UK.

The MRFCJ works to secure global justice for the victims of climate change, especially the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised, across the world.

Nasheed also expressed concern over the fact that water is contaminated in more than 70 out of nearly 200 inhabited islands in his country due to sea salt intrusion into fresh water lens.

And the state has doubled its expenses to provide water desalination system to all the islands, he added.

President Naseed is a staunch campaigner against climate change whose country stands barely 1.5 metres on average from the sea level.

A strong advocate for legally binding emission targets, Naseed is to take it up at the upcoming eight member South Asian grouping (SAARC) in November this year.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rio+20 must 'unenvironmentalise' green issues, says G77 negotiator

By Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent of The Guardian

Focus should shift to economics to make notion of sustainability more widely accepted, says senior organiser for Brazil

Next year's Rio+20 United Nations summit must "un-environmentalise" the world's approach to sustainability so that it can reach out beyond the converted, according to a senior organiser in the host nation.

André Corrêa do Lago, the chief negotiator for Brazil, said the once-in-a-generation gathering should focus on economic opportunities so the principles of sustainability are accepted beyond the "usual suspects" of environment ministries and green NGOs.

The effort to broaden the principles of the original 1992 Rio Earth summit are likely to prove controversial. Supporters say the world needs a new, more inclusive approach to sustainability that emphasises the benefits to humanity because current efforts to protect nature are failing. Critics warn the increased emphasis on technology and markets will simply greenwash destructive levels of consumption and development.

The first Rio summit 20 years ago is seen as one of the most ambitious gatherings in the history of the United Nations. More than 100 heads of state signed up to a raft of actions, including efforts to halt the deterioration of the ozone layer, tackle climate change and reduce the loss of biodiversity. These issues have taken centre stage in international negotiations for the past two decades.

The follow-up in June 2012 will also try to set the global agenda for the next 20 years, predicted do Lago, but he said the outcome would take a different shape.

"There is fatigue of conventions. We have enough," he said. Instead, he anticipates measures on water, energy and sustainable cities, and more discussion on technology and work on how to develop a "green economy", while eradicating poverty.

The shift partly reflects a change in the global balance of power. Twenty years ago, the west – particularly the US – dominated the world economy and political agenda. Today, such older industrial powers are struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis while fast developing nations, like China, India and Brazil are in the ascendant.

But a gap has opened up as the former group lose influence, while the latter are reluctant to accept more responsibility.

"I think that this conference may symbolise a moment in which these large emerging economies have more clout. There is no doubt about that," said de Lago, who is also chief climate negotiator for the G77+China UN grouping of developing countries. "This is misinterpreted by some developed countiries as a moment when we must assume more obligations. China, India, South Africa and Brazil are fully conscious that we are developing countries. We are convinced that we cannot be compared to countries that have financial and technical circumstances that are more important than ours."

Disputes between developed and developing nations are partly to blame for the dire progress in UN climate negotiations, which were also started by the 1992 summit. After the acrimony of talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and the weak outcome of Cancún last year, there is a danger that another poor result in Durban this winter could undermine the entire UN negotiating process and turn the follow-up Rio summit into a crisis meeting to rebuild the multilateral framework.

The Brazilian diplomat said he remained hopeful of a climate deal this year – particularly if developing nations can find common ground with Europe – but admitted a bad outcome could contaminate next year's gathering.

"Durban will have an impact on Rio. If it goes well, people will arrive in Rio trusting the multilateral system. If it fails, people will arrive maybe with the necessity of regaining trust in the multilateral system."

Even if the hosts can stick to their desired agenda, the emphasis on technology and "ecological service payments" has already alarmed many environmental commentators, who feel core values are being diluted and losing out to pressure from big corporations.

The Brazilian said the change of focus was a sign of the times. In 1992, environmentalists, he said, were the outsiders who were very vocal because they had to make their voices heard. But now, their views were mainstream and the priority was to for them to become a majority.

"It is like an election strategy. There is now a core of 30% that is sure to vote for you. Now, we must go for the others to get over 50%," said do Lago. "We need to get the people who make the big decisions to take environmental factors into account."

A furious debate looks likely to ensue between those calling for traditional protection for nature and those looking to collaborate with companies, markets and accountants in the creation of a green economy.

One NGO that has shifted is the US group Conservation International.

"Anyone honest would have to say we are totally failing. We need to recallibrate the development model," said Peter Seligmann, the founder of Conservation International, during a visit to Beijing last week. "We had the wrong mission. We can't just protect biodiversity. We must show it is essential for humanity."

His organisation – which was always close to major institutions – is now devoting the bulk of its resources to developing a green economy.