Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jamaican Environmental Watchdog Breached Rules, Court Says

By Zadie Neufville, IPS News, November 28, 2011

When Jamaica's environmental watchdog agency approved road expansion and coastal improvement works inside the Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area without consulting the public, environmentalists took them to court and won.

Lobbying group the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) sought a judicial review of the National Environment and Planning Agency's (NEPA) decision to permit the construction of a four-lane highway within the Ramsar Wetlands - 13,000 hectares of cays, reefs and mangroves.

At risk, they contended, were more than 300 species of plants and animals, including six native species of cacti.

The project, slowed by International Monetary Fund (IMF) budget restrictions, also included boardwalk construction and coastal improvement work along a 2.5 kilometre section of the 14-kilometre roadway that links Jamaica's capital to the historic city of Port Royal.

This work required the removal of centuries-old sand dunes inside the Palisadoes/ Port Royal Wetlands, which scientists say are critical to the environmental and structural integrity of the tombolo.

JET charged that NEPA and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) board had breached local environmental laws when it approved the project without consulting the public on major changes to its original design.

The NRCA Act makes it a necessity for the public to be consulted on all developments requiring environmental permits and licences. The NRCA is lawfully responsible for approval, while NEPA issues such permits and licenses.

The court victory was bittersweet, however, as NEPA, the agency charged with protecting the environment, also claims absolution. In the Oct. 13 ruling, Supreme Court Judge Jennifer Straw wrote that while the Agency breached the legal standard for public consultation, NEPA and NRCA had upheld their responsibility to protect the environment by issuing adequate permits and licences.

In handing down her opinion, Straw noted that NEPA "fell woefully short and breached the legal standard of consultation and the legitimate expectation that all the relevant environmental information would be disclosed to the public before approval was given".

She continued, "The defendants did not breach their statutory duty in failing to require an environmental permit as conditions were attached to a previous beach licence granted in relation to the sand dunes."

NEPA's CEO Peter Knight celebrated the ruling as a vindication of the agency's commitment to its duties. The agency has repeatedly been accused of failing to adhere to its mandate to protect the environment and for overlooking its legal duties under pressure from government and investors.

"The court rulings, as we understand them, did not challenge our processes, but rather, they concluded that we did not adhere to the processes," Knight told IPS in a written response. He pointed out that the agency would appeal the ruling in relation to the public consultation.

Environmentalists pointed out, however, that Straw's ruling highlights a system in which large investors and power players can and do pressure governments and watchdog agencies like NEPA into approving environmentally unsound projects.

"Failure to meet public consultation requirements is a symptom of a much greater problem: the general lack of transparency in development decision-making," said Wendy Lee, executive director of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA).

This problem "is compounded by a failure to adhere to sustainable land use policies, physical plans where they exist and parish development orders", she added.

Work to elevate the Palisadoes Road began in August 2010 to "protect the airport and infrastructure inside the Kingston Harbour", Transport and Works Minister Michael Henry said then.

In recent years, extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Dean in 2007 have inundated sections, forcing closure of the airport and marooning Port Royal.

But the minister failed to reveal significant new additions to a project that had been approved in 2008. Both the National Works Agency (NWA), which is responsible for the 65-million-dollar project, and NEPA resisted calls for renewed consultations.

Here, Straw sided with the environmentalists.

"Since the new design would include the removal of the mangroves on the harbour side, as a result of the proposed rock revetment on the harbour side, there should have been disclosure and adequate time given for the consideration of this activity," she wrote.

And although the public consultation did take place, JET's executive director Diana McCaulay told the local media, "I think it is hard for any reasonable person to say that a public meeting that takes place after permits have been granted and after work has started is a reasonable way to proceed."

This is the second time that environmentalists have challenged NEPA/NRCA's public consultation process and won.

In May 2006, Justice Brian Sykes ruled that NEPA and the NRCA had breached the public consultation process when it failed to consider critical information, including a marine ecology report that had been missing from an environmental impact study.

NJCA, JET and other environmentalists had sought judicial review of the decision to grant a permit for the construction of phase one of the 1,918-room Bahia Principe Hotel in Runaway Bay.

Relaying his decision to rescind the permit, Sykes noted, "The difficulty for me was that it was known to both NEPA and NRCA that the (environmental impact assessment) was incomplete. How can you consult without giving the public full, complete and accurate information?"

Having been 'vindicated' by this latest ruling, Knight said that NEPA, which he said is driven by acts, regulations, policies, standards and guidelines, is working to improve its performance through increased "efficiency and effectiveness".

"From a policy perspective we are in process to finalise a number of policies," he said. "In the short-term we have taken steps to implement changes, which are already positively impacting our capacity. These include the reconfiguration of elements of the organisation structure."

But even as environmentalists savour their win, there is fear that Jamaican authorities may have lost the meanings of protected and preserved.

"Even when the public consultation process is ostensibly followed, damaging projects still go ahead despite strong objections from the public and environmental experts, and the damage is usually irreversible," said Lee.


A Global To Region Perspective: Raising Mountain Voice At Durban!

By K N Vajpai, Climate Himalaya - November 29, 2011

K N Vajpai Writes on the expected outcomes from Durban Climate Change conference in terms of growing momentum of action and alarm bells from new researches. His discourse is about the meager role played by the leaders from most vulnerable regions like Himalayas and Andes during this important global conference.

With the representation of about 20,000 delegates from about 200 countries there are many points of view coming up in ongoing Durban Climate Change conference and each country is trying to stick to a certain position. It sounds like a lot of conversation is going on behind the scenes.

In general in the Durban Climate Change Conference there are three major issues which are supposed to be discussed and agreed. These are: the next commitment period of Kyoto Protocol, the process on Kyoto Protocol in longer run on binding regime and the future course of actions decided at Cancun and as Bali action plans.

In setting up the larger picture, the important issues from regional perspectives are either not considered or will remain neglected during the conference of parties. There is a feeling that the marginalized communities from the mountain regions of the world will not be represented well here on many fronts. The core concern is about who can strongly represent and advocate the regional perspective from the major mountains of the world ranging from Andes to Alps and Rockies to Himalayas. Another aspect is that looking on specifics of problems and development on national perspectives, the developing nations from Hindu Kush Himalaya and Andes are more marginalized in comparison to other.

Looking upon the efforts of the regional agency, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) from Hindu Kush Himalayan region, it seems that the ball is rolling in solidarity. But, one can observe that there is not much encouraging response coming from national governments either and their delegations from Hindu Kush Himalayan countries (it has 8 focus countries) in joining the important side events like Mountain day and a show case on adaptation ‘Meeting of Minds’. For example India’s Environment Ministry will be organizing a separate side event with Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)- India with the presence of its Minister of State on the equity and effective climate agreement by presenting detailed case studies on low carbon economies. So, India has no plans to discuss mountain issues and perspective in general.

The Durban conference will revolve around two important aspects of; growing momentum of action and the alarm bells from new research and findings on climate change. What has not been achieved during Cancun are Institutional Arrangements, Technology Mechanism, Adaptation Framework, Green Climate Fund and Review Mechanism are supposed to be to be rolled on to operationalize.

Towards adaptation and climate friendly measures, the adaptation framework and technology mechanisms are the crucial aspects that need to be operationalized and diffused across the world by 2012. Similarly, the discourse will consider the arrangement of Green Climate Fund as an important adaptation and mitigation tool and for this purpose there will be consideration on the review mechanism of effectiveness of actions that starts from 2013 to 2015.

It is evident that there is a deadlock about how to slow down the global warming in terms of Green House Gas emissions and international actions, as the Kyoto Protocol expires next year. The Ministerial meeting that will take place during next week will look into the aspect of Kyoto Protocol for fixing the terms for 2nd commitment period. It is envisaged that what was not achieved during Cancun on Kyoto Protocol will be considered in Durban for 2nd commitment period about how to address deeper emission reduction targets by industrialized nations.

The issue is that US has never ratified Kyoto and blocked financing during October 2011 with Saudi Arabia. There will be dialogue on long term financing which was set 10 Billion USD per year for 2010-2013 at Copenhagen to help developing nations on re-forestation, clean technology and adaptation actions for climate change, which will come to an end in 2012 and there are no aspirational goals set yet given that it was set further 100 Billion USD annually in years to come till 2020. Further, it’s interesting to note that there is no roadmap available on how and from where this huge funding will come. Therefore, finalizing the funding mechanism would be a concrete step and way forward if at all agreed during Durban conference.

There are many groups voicing around ideas like Occupy CoP 17 movement. They consider such meeting as merely circus, something that will not come up with realistic solutions.

Coming back to mountain agenda from Himalayan region it’s a matter of great concern that a collective and strong voice from the Himalayan region is badly missing in Durban to raise the issues of the mountains!


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Small island states "may disappear if no climate deal"

By Agnieszka Flak, Reuters November 28, 2011

Small island states may disappear under rising seas if an international agreement to tackle climate change is delayed for another decade, an official said on Monday.

The European Union is calling for a global deal to be reached by 2015 and implemented by 2020, but the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) said that would be too late to reverse rising sea levels that threaten to submerge the vulnerable states.

"We are not going to support this delay that many of the major countries are proposing because it's inconsistent with science," Selwin Hart, the group's chief negotiator on finance said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Countries agreed last year in Cancun, Mexico, that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions were needed to hold temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

"We have to take action immediately ... if we are going to achieve the below 2 degrees course," Hart said.

A legally binding pact to reduce emissions looks unlikely to be agreed in Durban and may take several years due to deep divisions between rich and poor states.

But Hart said countries should consider the small states in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Africa and elsewhere that already suffer severe droughts, rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes as a result of climate change.

"At the heart of any agreement should be the principle that no country is expendable. We cannot afford and should not ... it's morally and ethically indefensible to sign an agreement that will result in the demise of a single nation state," he said.

"We are not prepared to sign that kind of agreement. The consequences for some of the islands will be extinction."

He said his group hopes the meeting in Durban, which runs until December 9, would bring the parties together and see the major emitters listen to the plea of the most vulnerable nations.

"The current pledges will lead us to global warming of 3-4 degrees Celsius which is devastating for the islands and Africa and virtually for every vulnerable nation of the world," he said.

AOSIS is arguing for an agreement that would target emissions peaking by 2015-17 at the latest.

"We need to have an outcome that we can take back to our countries and say: This safeguards your livelihoods, this provides you with a fighting chance."


"God Wants Us to Live in a Garden, Not a Desert"

By Nastasya Tay, IPS Terraviva (November 28, 2011)

The European Union plan to save the Kyoto Protocol may meet its greatest obstacle in the developing world.

Abias Huongo, one of Angola’s negotiators, says developing country blocs of which it is part – including the Africa and Least Developed Countries groups – are not able yet to express support for a global legally binding deal.

“Our partners need to fulfill their responsibilities, and they are running away from their commitments,” he told IPS on the first day of the United Nations 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) - the annual international gathering convened to try to make progress on dealing with climate change in Durban, South Africa.

In a curtain-raiser press conference, the EU delegation – viewed as the most enthusiastic about a second commitment period – emphasised it was unwilling to commit unless the rest of the world agreed to a global climate deal.

“The problem is that Kyoto alone cannot tackle the climate challenges we all face,” the delegation’s Tomasz Chruszczow said, “We need 100 percent of global emissions covered by the framework, and 100 percent of those who are emitting.”

The EU wants to see an agreement finalised by 2015, and operational at the latest by 2020.

Durban represents a crucial decision-making point for the world’s fight against climate change – one which many civil society organisations and developing nations regard as a matter of life or death.

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” The words of Nelson Mandela were echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres at the opening plenary of COP 17.

In previous years, COPs have been plagued by frustration, mistrust and despair. But last year’s talks in Cancun managed to relieve some of the burden of post-Copenhagen disappointment.

This year, the more than 15,000 delegates have arrived on South Africa’s coast somewhat more hopeful about possibilities. But along with hope comes responsibility.

The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in December 2012, and in the absence of new commitments from developed countries, the globe will be left bereft of any legally-binding emissions framework.

Developing countries want Kyoto to succeed, Huongo said.

“We’re in Africa, and we don’t want it to die on our continent,” he added.

He said there would be discussions around a new legally-binding agreement, but outcomes remain opaque.

Huongo told IPS that the developed world must also be more flexible with its funding requirements to improve access to climate financing for the countries that need it the most. He said Angola also needs assistance with capacity building to combat its vulnerabilities.

Already, several countries – including Japan, Russia and Canada – have expressed their reticence at signing on a second time. National media reports that Canada is preparing to announce its retirement from the agreement after the COP 17 talks have been met with consternation.

Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists says this would be “the third slap in the face Canada’s given the international community”, after reneging on attempts to meet its commitments, and putting forward weak emissions targets at Copenhagen.

Meyer says Canada is attempting to avoid the scrutiny and criticism it would face if it left the Kyoto Protocol at COP 17, and is acting in bad faith by continuing to participate in the negotiations.

The developed-developing country divide is very much alive and kicking.

South African President Jacob Zuma referred to the plight of developing countries in his address at the opening ceremony, urging negotiators to strive to find solutions. But civil society groups including Greenpeace and Oxfam International said they were unhappy about the lack of ambition he expressed.

Faith groups of different religions gathered on the eve of the talks at a nearby stadium, to pray for concrete, fair and balanced outcomes from the negotiations. They were joined by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who called for the world to prepare itself for the battle against global warming.

Tutu criticised those countries refusing to sign the Kyoto. “God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert,” he told the crowd.

Figueres joined Tutu in addressing the rally, promising progress. “No matter what happens in Durban, it is going to be a step forward,” she said, “But let’s remember, it’s only a step… There will be another COP, and another one. This is a long process.”

The U.N. climate chief has emphasised the importance of looking beyond the Kyoto Protocol at the talks, highlighting the need to operationalise parts of the Cancun Agreements.

Amongst the concrete outcomes possible from Durban is the finalisation of the structure of a Green Climate Fund – a mechanism that will manage and account for climate funds, including the 100 billion dollars annually by 2020, promised by developed countries for adaptation and mitigation measures in developing nations.

Also achievable, Figueres believes, is making progress with the Adaptation Framework, also agreed in Cancun, and the improvement of technology transfer mechanisms, which will allow poorer countries to become more resilient with the onslaught of unpredictable and extreme weather events.

On the eve of the negotiations, unseasonably heavy rain left parts of Durban flooded, and resulted in the deaths of at least six people – a tragic, but possibly apt prelude to two weeks of discussions about climate change.

It is a message that developing countries want to make sure their richer counterparts hear: “We’re the ones who suffer.”


Durban highlights: Monday, 28 November 2011

By IISD Team

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban,South Africa, opened on Monday morning, 28 November. Following a welcoming ceremony attended by South African President Jacob Zuma and other high-level dignitaries, delegates gathered for the opening plenary meetings of the COP, COP/ MOP, SBI and SBSTA. During these opening plenaries, parties gave initial consideration to the various agenda items, referring many issues to informal groups for further consideration.

Following are Major Highlights

1. Green Fund and Kyoto: COP 16 President Patricia Espinosa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mexico, urged delegates to agree on, inter alia: full implementation of the Cancun Agreements; capitalizing the Green Climate Fund; and the future of the Kyoto Protocol, reaffirming the relevance of a rules-based system.

2. Adaptation Committee and Fast Start Finance: UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres stressed that two decisive steps must be taken in Durban: tasks from COP 16 must be completed; and key political questions from Cancun answered. She highlighted: launching the Adaptation Committee; operationalizing the Technology Mechanism in 2012; approving the Green Climate Fund; and providing more clarity on fast-start finance.

3. Adoption of the agenda: Parties agreed to proceed with their work based on the provisional agenda (FCCC/CP/2011/1) with a view to its formal adoption at a later stage following informal consultations on three agenda items proposed by India (on accelerated access to critical technologies, equitable access to sustainable development and unilateral trade measures).SYRIA supported having discussions on India’s proposals.

4. Second Commitment Period: Argentina, for the G-77/ CHINA, supported a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol as part of a balanced and comprehensive outcome for Durban, saying the Cancun Agreements should be fully operationalized.

5. Three Aspects: Switzerland’s Environment Group-EIG, outlined three important steps for Durban: agreeing on key elements of an international regime after 2012; launching a process to further strengthen the regime in the mid-term; and agreeing on the key elements of a shared vision, including a long-term global goal for emission reductions and a date for peaking of global emissions.

6. Youth on Kyoto: YOUTH said Durban should not be the “burying ground for the Kyoto Protocol.”

7. Emission Binding: The Gambia, for LDCs, called for a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and on Annex I parties to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. Saudi Arabia, for the ARAB GROUP, rejected attempts to marginalize the Kyoto Protocol.

8. Second Commitment Period: China, for the BASIC countries, said defining a second commitment period should be the main priority for Durban.

9. REDD+ Voluntary: Papua New Guinea, for the Coalition for Rain Forest Nations, supported an agreement on a second commitment period, the introduction of a REDD+ mechanism on a voluntary basis, and eliminating loopholes in the rules on LULUCF.

10. More Practical NWP: On the Nairobi work programme, the EU supported making it more relevant for practitioners and a COP decision to enhance its work.

11. Bunker Fuels: On emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport (bunker fuels), CUBA, ARGENTINA, BRAZIL, CHINA, INDIA and SAUDI ARABIA, said work to address sectoral emissions under the IMO and ICAO should be guided by the principles of the UNFCCC.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Western nations ‘used bullying tactics’ at climate talks

Think to Sustain, November 27, 2011

Leading figures in western governments have been accused of using bullying tactics with developing countries during climate change summits.

The criticisms will cast a shadow over the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, which begins November 28, 2011, in the latest attempt to stabilise greenhouse gas levels around the world.

A new report, published by the World Development Movement, contains previously unpublished testimonies from insiders at both the Copenhagen and Cancún climate summits in 2009 and 2010. Officials of developing countries complain of divide-and-rule tactics and threats to withhold vital funds unless agreements are signed.

In one section the report criticises threats by richer countries to withdraw funds to help poorer nations cope with climate change if they failed to sign up to the accord. It says: “The US and the UK openly stated that climate finance would be limited to those that signed up to [it]. Ed Miliband, the UK minister, was blunt about linking the funding of developing countries with accepting the accord. The concerns he raised must be duly noted, he said, ‘otherwise we won’t operationalise the funds’.”

The authors add: “The US said they would deny climate finance to Bolivia and Ecuador because they had objected to the Copenhagen accord proposal. The EU’s Connie Hedegaard had also suggested that the small island-state countries “could be ‘our best allies because they need finance’.”

One diplomat from the tiny Polynesian island of Tuvalu said at the time: “Can I suggest that it looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future? Mr President, our future is not for sale.”

It is a standard tactic at UN climate meetings for rich countries to try to divide and rule developing countries’ negotiating groups. Developing countries admit they are bamboozled by the tactics and are often unable to keep up with the negotiations.

One diplomat told the report’s authors: “At one point in Copenhagen there were 26 meetings taking place simultaneously. How can a developing country delegation of two people possibly hope to cope? These numbers are life and death. There is no intention to agree a fair scenario, whether voluntary or by obligation. It’s so clear: we only need your signature here, we have figured out everything, we have designed the role of your country, there is no more time, please sign here now.

“Developed countries sit down and delay, and just repeat inanities, and then they go out and tell the media that the developing countries are blocking the negotiations, and all the world believes it, even developing countries!”

Another diplomat said: “There is the small stuff, like travels, scholarships, jobs, but the favours are also small stuff, or so it seems, until the implications come in, especially for developing countries’ interests in general. And then there is always the threat to cut off funding for a project, or something, if one gets too aggressive.”

In Cancún last year the rich countries created a new system of meetings. “It created confusion, it was so hard to challenge this and to say procedurally this is wrong. Procedures were totally ignored. If this would happen in Fifa the whole world would be scandalised!” WDM was told.

Bolivia felt particularly aggrieved by UN tactics in Cancún, where its representatives lobbied for deeper cuts in emissions than richer countries were prepared to accept.

According to a Bolivian diplomat, their delegation agreed to participate in a side-meeting on condition that no plenary meeting took place at the same time.

The diplomat said: “Three minutes after they left the hall, an official plenary [to adopt the outcomes of the Kyoto protocol] started. It was a deliberate trick! We could only lodge reservations, and run to try and find our senior negotiators and get them back in to the room.”


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Silent forests and famine in east Africa

By Think to Sustain

This article was written by Nobel peace prize winner Wangari Maathai in September, shortly before her death. It addresses some of the main issues she and the Green Belt Movement were intending to raise at the UN climate summit, which starts in Durban, South Africa, on Monday

In 2011 the worst drought in 60 years engulfed the east of Africa, forcing millions into a desperate struggle to survive. Poor governance intensified the consequences: a drought, not unusual for this part of Africa, became a famine, in which untold human suffering was guaranteed.

Governments could have planned for the drought (after all, some regions haven’t seen good rains for four years) and helped their people adapt to the realities of global warming. They didn’t.

This is the International Year of Forests. What we know is that intact forests are essential to stabilising local climates and securing the livelihoods of Africa’s farmers, herders and entrepreneurs. However, some governments, institutions and organisations are aggressively promoting the planting of exotic species of trees at the expense of indigenous ones as a solution to both drought and climate change. It is not.

One of the most important environmental benefits indigenous forests provide is regulating climate and rainfall patterns; through harvesting and retaining rain, these forests release water slowly to springs, streams, and rivers; this reduces the speed of water runoff and with it, soil erosion. Indigenous forests and trees also play an important role in spiritual and cultural life.

Exotic trees, like pine and eucalyptus, cannot offer these environmental benefits. They eliminate most other local plants and animals. Like invasive species, they create “silent forests” that are devoid of wildlife, undergrowth and water. Tragically, exotic tree plantations in the tropics have taken the place of indigenous forests, often through “slash and burn” practices that destroy biodiversity and turn what used to be forest into agricultural or grazing land.

Through the Redd+ initiative (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), the international community has committed itself to protecting and rehabilitating indigenous forests. Redd+ is intended to save the world’s remaining indigenous forests, whose destruction is responsible for about 17% of climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) pumped into the atmosphere each year. It also seeks to bolster the capacity of communities to mitigate and adapt to the negative effects of climate change (including drought and floods).

For governments and private enterprise to support Redd+, and at the same time welcome the planting of exotic trees at the expense of indigenous forests, is a contradiction. This is especially true for countries like Kenya, where indigenous forest cover is less than 2% and mainly remains in watershed areas. Establishing plantations of exotic trees in watershed areas and on private farms is bad environmental, economic, and social policy. In the long run, communities will be without reliable rainfall, rivers, productive soils, and food.

In Kenya and other tropical countries more than 60% of the population still live in rural or forested areas. These communities will become poorer and more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – and the nation will experience more severe and regular droughts that in turn will challenge livelihoods, food security and industry – since Kenya (like Brazil and, increasingly, China and India) relies on hydropower.

The benefits provided by indigenous forests and trees are worth trillions of US dollars each year. No market value is given to clean drinking water, clean air and food that sustains life, unlike the dollars that can be assigned to timber sales. The lure of money obscures the real value of essential environmental services and livelihoods of local communities as they are sacrificed for short-term economic gains.

Environmental damage can take a long time to take root. Some years back Kenya imported a eucalyptus clone from South Africa. In South Africa now the government’s Working for Water programme has as its main objective the removal of eucalyptus and other invasive species from sources of water. Today we are seeing that many rivers in Kenya have less water than they used to, or have dried up altogether.

Governments must demonstrate a commitment to standing forests and the rehabilitation of degraded forests. This can be done only if national laws that encourage continued deforestation and forest degradation are reformed; and if communities are supported to plant appropriate trees. If none of this happens, considerable financial resources will be invested without achieving reductions in poverty and other development gains. As the world can see in the east of Africa, there is no time to waste.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Call for improvement in the lives and livelihoods of farmers while reducing the footprint of farming

By Rio + 20 Secretariat

The Farmers Major Group Submission to the Rio +20 zero draft document makes several calls to action in relation to agriculture and green economy

One of them is the need to use a knowledge-based approach of best practices that sustain production and minimize the negative impacts of farming activities on the environment.Committing to increasing support for participatory approaches to farmer-to-farmer training, and participatory extension systems. Modern extension services must increase their capacity for two-way information sharing – between experts in research and farmers themselves who have essential information on farming. Research and extension should be functionally linked and there should be pluralism in the approaches to implementing this form of education. Mobilisation of the scientific, donor, business, NGO, and farmer communities are needed to improve knowledge sharing. Recruiting, training, and retaining young people to farming and agricultural sciences is essential.

They also call for development of new approaches to reward farmers for ecosystem services that also foster sustainability and address poverty by enabling smallholder farmers to break the subsistence cycle and include women farmers in these approaches.

The Farmer's submission also calls for action to ensure small scale food producers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, peasants and the rural poor are provided with enhanced access to information as a basis for decision-making; access to justice; and free, prior and informed consent for both policy development and implementation actions on the ground, including issues that pose a threat to local food security and tenurial rights such as land-grabbing.

In relation to Agriculture and the Green Economy, the submission notes that all three aspects of sustainable development – social, economic, and environmental – remain equally important. The goal must be to: continuously improve agriculture around the world through knowledge sharing to improve the lives and livelihoods of farmers while reducing the footprint of farming.

The social aspect

Achieving Millennium Development Goal #1 of alleviating poverty and hunger demands a focus on agriculture to:
- Develop policies with farmer-centered approaches;
- Understand, analyze, and appreciate the knowledge of farmers at the local level;
- Focus research on farmers’ needs and involve participatory processes with farmers;
- Popularize new policies, extension programs, practices and technologies to beneficiaries in their languages and considering the farmers’ level of education;
- Ensure that investments made in agriculture must be beneficial to local communities;
- Develop special, culturally-sensitive programs for women smallholder farmers and indigenous communities;
- Engage youth in current social and economic transformations, including farming;
- Increase access to health and social services in remote areas;
- Fight against all kinds of social inequalities.

The economic aspect

Considering the fact that farmers feed the planet and contribute to the world economy, it is shocking that they are the first victims of food insecurity and chronic poverty. Accordingly, policy makers must:

- Empower farmers in organizational frameworks and encourage them to organise in marketing groups;
- Evaluate agricultural improvement not only in terms of production but also in terms of farmers’ income indicators;
- Analyze and take care of their decisions’ impact on local farmers;
- Consider the impact of the agricultural sector on national economies, and allocate budget to this sector matched with its real value;
- Reduce administrative costs of agricultural programs so that beneficiaries can benefit from them;
- Ensure international and regional markets don’t impede local ones;
- Develop infrastructure in rural areas where agriculture is done.

The environmental aspect

It is vital to safeguard our natural resources such as land, water, air, forests, animals and others. So, human beings have to:
- Control exploitation of natural resources;
- Increase resource efficiency, particularly of nutrients and water;
- Create a better collaboration with farmers, the scientific world and environmental policy makers;
- Use practices which improve our biodiversity, soil quality, and watershed management;
- Encourage breeding and production of underutilized crops;
- Foster sustainable and humane livestock management and encourage good animal husbandry;
- Focus research on new practices which address climate change, sequester and store carbon in the soil and reduce releases from waste materials and energy sources;
- Clearly explain environmental issues in easy terms understandable by a farmer;
- Regularly inform farmers on weather conditions to allow them to plan their farming activities accordingly;
- Respect equity and equality principles on natural resources use and benefits.


Friday, November 25, 2011

A meaningful Durban treaty would be a triumph of weak over strong

By Think to Sustain

With only days to go before the start of the next big round of climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, the stage is now set for a titanic clash between nations battling it out over the shape of any new UN global warming treaty.

The stakes could not be higher. Scientists say that the window for keeping the world’s temperature rise within a tolerable 2C limit is closing rapidly, yet despite the recession global carbon dioxide emissions rose by a record-breaking amount last year . For the climate negotiations to have any impact, countries must converge quickly on an agreement to peak and reduce global emissions – within the next few years at the latest.

But to see this primarily as a battle between developed and developing countries, as many commentators seem to, is to miss the bigger picture of shifting geopolitical and environmental realities in today’s world. This is not solely about rich versus poor. Instead, Durban will mostly be a confrontation between the strong and the weak – and without the protection of binding international environmental law, the weak know they will surely lose.

This is why a new legally binding, ambitious treaty is a central demand of geographically vulnerable nations like Bangladesh, least developed African countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda, and small island states such as the Maldives, for whose president I act as climate advisor. These nations know that letting the biggest polluters decide the rules will compromise their fundamental right to survival – and they are therefore preparing for a showdown in Durban.

When the UN climate system was first set up back in the late 1980s, the industrialised world contributed by far the most global greenhouse gases – and therefore the 1992 Climate Convention and 1997 Kyoto Protocol understandably envisaged emissions curbs for rich emitters only. Today, carbon emissions from OECD countries have declined by 6% since 1990, while the majority of greenhouse pollution now comes from the developing world – in particular China, India and Brazil.

To point this out is not to criticise these countries, nor to undermine their legitimate rights to development.

Nor are China, India and Brazil holding back in greening their economies. However, these countries are loath to make any meaningful commitments on the international stage that might constrain their energy options, and will be vociferously resisting the adoption of any legally binding targets of their own.

Instead, China, India and the more powerful members of the developing world are still insisting that the only outcome from Durban that matters is another round of the Kyoto Protocol for industrialised countries only. Climate-wise this makes little sense, because with the US on the sidelines and the recent inauspicious exits of Japan, Russia and Canada, Kyoto covers a dwindling 15% of global emissions. The sad truth is that Kyoto is being used as a negotiating ploy to delay the eventual adoption of a truly worldwide treaty on carbon emissions – which is the only way to comprehensively tackle climate change. (That treaty could still be Kyoto – but only if the big guys all sign up.)

So these are the real battle lines of Durban: on the one side stands an obstinate cabal of big emitters, developed and developing, who have little in common except an opposition to the prospect of any legally binding targets being inscribed in a new treaty. Step forward India, the United States, China, Japan and Canada.

On the other side stands a growing informal alliance of vulnerable countries, small island states, the European Union, several Latin American nations like Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile, plus Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland, who have been meeting under the banner of the Cartagena Dialogue, and are all keeping the flame alive for meaningful progress.

These are the countries pointing out that a treaty implemented after 2020 will be too late to save the world from the threat of global warming – instead they want a 2015 timeline, with ambitious action in the meantime.

Whether this informal grouping of progressives can survive the strong-arm tactics of the powerful nations will be the real story of Durban.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

REDD+ and adaptation: are we asking too much of REDD+?

By REDD-net

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is expected to do many things; reduce emissions from the forest sector and land use change, and contribute to social development objectives and biodiversity conservation. Elements of the social development and biodiversity conservation goals are established as safeguards at the international level, and are also being pursued at the national level as countries develop their REDD+ strategies and implement REDD+ pilot projects. It is widely recognized that achieving multiple benefits from REDD+ is important to ensure the political sustainability and environmental integrity of the mechanism, and for the case of REDD+ projects, to reduce the risk associated with investments in these projects.

But why should REDD+, developed as a climate change mitigation instrument, be linked with adaptation? Are we asking REDD+ to achieve all things for all people? Might this hinder the achievement of mitigation goals?

In research and policy communities, climate change mitigation and adaptation are largely separate issues, however at the local level there is little distinction. ‘Mitigation’ projects will influence the capacity of local people to adapt to climate shocks and stresses, while ‘adaptation’ projects often have unintentional impacts on the mitigation potential of forests. At the local level, the separation between mitigation and adaptation is fairly meaningless.

This then begs the question, why is adaptation important in the context of REDD+? The main reason is that shocks and stresses associated with climate change are already being felt in many communities in developing countries, and in many cases adapting to these is their primary concern. Local communities’ ability to do this (adaptive capacity) depends on a number of types of assets, and processes, including institutions, governance, innovation and knowledge. There is therefore increasing attention being given to building adaptive capacity at the local level to assist communities in the face of climate change, and enable them to meet their development needs and objectives.

If local level adaptive capacity is integral to achieving long-term social development objectives, and REDD+ should be designed in a way that contributes to social development objectives, then surely local level adaptive capacity is also important for REDD+. Recent REDD-net research highlights this importance, and suggests how REDD+ can best be designed to contribute to local level adaptive capacity. It highlights key features of the policies and measures, benefit sharing mechanisms and governance systems used to implement REDD+ that can contribute to both REDD+ objectives and the adaptive capacity of local communities. REDD-net will convene further discussions on this topic, including drawing on practical experience from field implementation of REDD+, alongside COP17 in Durban.

So, it would seem that we’re not asking yet another thing from REDD+. Contributing to adaptive capacity at the local level is an important way of ensuring that REDD+ meets the development needs of local communities now and in the future, as the climate changes and development pressures change. It would appear then that fostering synergies and minimising tradeoffs between REDD+ and adaptation is imperative for the long-term sustainability of REDD+, at both the project and national policy levels.


Ethiopia's green revolution on plastic bags and energy

By The Africa Report, November 24, 2011

Ethiopia announced on Monday that it was banning the importation of plastic bags as part of the country's green growth initiatives. The country also launched a series of geo thermal, wind and hydro power projects.

The Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority confirmed that parliament had approved a bill to ban the importation of plastic bags into the country.

The initiatives, announced ahead of the climate change summit in Durban, South Africa follow Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's call for discussions on sustainable development to be speeded up.

Meles who has been elected twice by the African Union Commission as Africa's spokesperson on climate change negotiations said it was high time Africa focused on a green economy.

"Now, implementing this decision has started, which means plastic bags will no longer be imported and manufactured in the country," said the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority.electricity,

Ethiopia is among the first countries in Africa to take such measures to prevent the adverse effects of environmental degradation, as plastic bags are not easily degradable.

Environmental activists welcomed the decision, saying that it will play a significant role in keeping the environment clean and safe.

"The decision is good, especially if it is going to be implemented accordingly," said Solomon Metaferia. He said that there should be a strong monitoring method to make the law a reality and meaningful.

Environmental activists say that tens of millions plastic bags imported into the country annually adversely impact the food chain as some livestock tend to consume them.

But some argue that while the safety measure outweighs the practical side of the use of plastic bags, there needs to an be alternative.

"I use these plastic bags for shopping and to carry different things around, mainly because they are a lot cheaper and easy to handle," says Mengistu Mesfin, a resident of Addis Ababa, the capital.

"The ban is a good decision but we need to have an alternative. I wonder if there is one" Mesfin added.

Environmental activists on the other hand do not believe the government's move is enough to prevent unsafe practices. They want the government and concerned bodies to educate the public about the dangers of using plastic bags for the environment.

"We need to educate the public beyond implementing such a law. We have so many plastic bags in each of our houses, which might take years to clear," said Selamawit Lakewe, an environmental activist.

However, a number of Ethiopians interviewed by The Africa Report were not aware of the new law.

Early this week, the Horn of Africa country launched six wind power projects and one Geo Thermal Power plant with an electricity capacity of 1,015 megawatts as part of its move to become Africa's top green power exporter.

It is also undertaking a multi-billion 5,250 MW capacity hydro power project over the Nile River as part of a move to supply power to its neighbours.


E. Africa's first solar-panel plant supports Kenya's clean energy push

By Ilona Eveleens, Alertnet ( 23 November 2011)

Africa may be a continent blessed with large amounts of sunshine, but for most of its rural inhabitants, once the day ends, so does the light. Families spend their evenings in the dark or turn to polluting oil lamps, simply because they have no access to electricity.

In Naivasha, a town 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Haijo Kuper is trying to change that.

Netherlands-born Kuper is managing director of Ubbink East Africa, the first solar-panel manufacturing plant in East Africa. The firm, which recently began operating in Naivasha, is a joint venture between Dutch company Ubbink, which works on energy efficiency and solar power, and Kenya’s Chloride Exide, which produces solar and power back-up equipment and batteries.

As with many African countries, Kenya’s progress in expanding its national power grid has been slow, in part because of the expense.

Solar power has long been viewed as part of the solution – but, here too, cost has been an obstacle. The equipment that converts the sun’s free energy into electric power requires an investment that is still out of reach for the more than one-third of Africans who live on less than two dollars a day.

The Kenyan government - concerned about power shortages and the effects of climate change - has moved to spur growth in the renewable energy sector with a feed-in tariff that pays producers a set rate for electricity they want to sell. It has also mandated the use of solar power in new-build homes, as well as cutting taxes on imports of solar-power materials and equipment.


The East African nation has one of the highest rates of solar panel systems installed per capita in the world, and uptake of solar panels is outpacing connections to the traditional electrical grid.

The price of solar energy systems has dropped 75 percent in the past decade, while demand has gone up 15 percent a year over the same period. Experts expect this trend of lower costs and spreading use to continue.

It is certainly proving beneficial for small farmers and rural residents, many of whom are beyond the reach of the national grid.

A growing number of rural farmhouses across Kenya now have a small solar panel on their thatched or corrugated iron roofs. Even the smallest panel can charge a mobile phone and power two light bulbs simultaneously, helping families save on the expense of buying kerosene for lamps. What’s more, the light from a solar-powered bulb is about 15 times brighter.

Farmer Frederick Kaveta, 34, has a solar panel on the corrugated roof of his home in Ukumbani, southwest of Nairobi. For him, it brings both economic and health benefits.

“We used oil lamps in the past at night for the children to do their homework. (But) the price of the oil has gone up, and the lamps smoke badly and make us cough,” he explains. “The solar light is healthier and I save some 500 shillings ($5) a month because I don’t need to buy oil. With 500 shillings, I can buy two or three meals for my family of four.”


The increased availability of solar energy has implications beyond the convenience of night-time lighting. As it becomes more affordable, rural entrepreneurs are starting businesses that take advantage of the new power source and provide much-needed services.

For example, renewable-energy backers say solar-powered grain mills could replace ones that run on pricey, polluting diesel fuel. And farmers and cattle herders who use mobile phones to keep up with produce and livestock prices can save time if a solar charging point is installed in their villages, cutting the need to walk long distances to town to charge their phones.

Solar-powered rural internet cafes could also mean that school children need not be disadvantaged compared with their peers in urban areas connected to the electricity grid.

Kuper’s solar-equipment manufacturing company keeps its costs low by importing broken solar cells from a firm in the Netherlands, which are reworked into smaller units. Ubbink’s staff of 35 Kenyan workers - most of them young, and trained both in the Netherlands and Kenya - assemble the solar panels locally.

“We cut them here into the right size to fit in our panels,” says Kuper on a tour of the small and tidy plant. The cutting is done by laser and by hand, while machines frame and cover the panels.


The retail price of a panel that can power several light bulbs and charge a mobile phone is 3,000 Kenyan shillings ($30). Ubbink East Africa, which targets mainly rural households, has sold 10,000 panels in the past year, and aims to triple this number in 2012.

“Chloride Exide - known for its batteries - already has a wide distribution network which will help us to reach customers in all corners of Kenya and beyond,” Kuper says.

He hopes the firm will be able to expand its sales to neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania, and eventually throughout East Africa.

The 37-year-old sees solar panels as a key technology for putting East Africa on a more sustainable and lower-carbon development path.

“The Western world made big environmental mistakes and now has to clean up its act. I believe Africa should avoid making the same mistake and invest in clean and durable energy,” he says.

Eyeing the factory’s roof, he adds that he plans to make sure change starts at home.

“We will soon give the right example. I want to put the whole roof under our own solar panels,” he says. “A lot of our energy needs can be covered by it - just one or two high-tech machines will stay on the grid.”


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fish and rice flourish together in paddies

By Jan Piotrowski, Nature, November17, 2011

A traditional farming technique that cultivates rice and fish side-by-side could help small farmers earn more money from their crops and reduce the impact on the environment, according to a study.

When fish were introduced into flooded paddy fields, farmers were able to grow the same amount of grain as in conventional rice monocultures — but with more than two-thirds less pesticide and a quarter less fertiliser, found a six-year long study conducted in China.

These rice-fish co-cultures could lessen the environmental impact of agricultural chemicals and help make rice farming more profitable, said the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science this week1.

"In areas where land and water are limited for developing both rice and fish production, it is important to conduct RF [rice-fish co-culture]," Xin Chen, lead author of the study and a professor at Zhejiang University, China, told SciDev.Net. She added that the technique should be combined with modern techniques such as irrigation, and the use of machinery.

The fish used in the study were an indigenous carp species that is considered a delicacy, so farmers could sell them. They could also make large savings on fertilisers and pesticides, which typically represent 60–70 per cent of the total cost of rice production.

Fish significantly lower the risk of rice sheath blast disease and reduce the amount of weeds and harmful pests such as the rice planthopper. This invasive insect has the potential to devastate entire rice fields — an outbreak in Thailand last year destroyed four per cent of the country's harvest.

By regulating the amount of nitrogen in the ecosystem, the practice also minimised the need for applying fertiliser.

Rice plants also provided shade, thus keeping the water cool and allowing fish to remain active even during the hottest months. And insects attracted to the plants provided extra food for the fish.

Zainul Abedin, a farming systems specialist at the International Rice Research Institute, in the Philippines, said: "This is an extremely useful tool for poverty reduction and food security that can be used across tropical regions."

The practice can generate twice as much income compared with growing just rice, because of refinements of the thousand year-old technique, made possible by new research, he added. The findings reveal how the system works, hence making it possible to improve it.

Paul Kiepe, the Africa Rice Center's representative for East and Southern Africa told SciDev.Net: "As fish catches are becoming smaller, [this approach] will be increasingly important for ensuring that food production provides people with enough protein".

But Kiepe stressed that many farmers do not have the right knowledge and tools to make the system work yet.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Officials from various countries discuss upcoming U.N. climate talks

By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post November 20

Officials from the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases met in Arlington County this week in an effort to ensure that upcoming U.N. climate negotiations in South Africa deliver at least modest results, but they left without a concrete answer.

The two-day meeting in Crystal City of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which ended Friday afternoon, is not a formal part of the the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. But it brings together countries key to any major agreement on curbing the world’s carbon output — major emitters, such as the United States, members of the European Union, China and India, and smaller developing nations, such as Ecuador and Barbados.

At the moment, countries are divided on two central questions: Should they embark on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, the current international climate pact? What sort of agreement should the world pursue by 2020? Nations that signed the 1997 agreement said they would abide by the treaty for a five-year period, from 2007 to 2012.

The Kyoto Protocol covers less than a third of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions, because the United States failed to ratify it and because it did not impose binding targets on major emerging economies such as China and India. Japan, Russia and Canada have already announced they will not agree to a second commitment period.

“We are asking for a new global comprehensive framework, in which all countries are involved,” said Kenji Hiramatsu, Japan’s director general for global issues.

E.U. officials, meanwhile, have said they are willing to sign onto a second Kyoto commitment period, but only if all the other big emitters — including the United States, China and India — agree to begin negotiating with an eye toward forging a new, legally binding treaty at the end of the decade.

Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate action, said that, when a future climate pact is being considered, “it only makes sense if these major emitters are willing to say, if not what, [then] when are you willing to say you’re willing to commit.”

But representatives from the largest developing countries have continued to resist the idea of endorsing a treaty that would impose mandatory obligations on them. On Friday, two senior Chinese officials declined to answer questions on the subject. U.S. officials argue they cannot commit to a future binding agreement without knowing what it would entail.

Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, told reporters Friday there are “a number of countries who have a view it’s premature to decide about what the legal form of an agreement would be until you have a much better sense about what the content would be.”

Stern, who worked on forging the Kyoto Protocol when he served under President Bill Clinton, said he and his colleagues had no interest in backing a global climate agreement that could not garner sufficient political support on Capitol Hill.

“I’m quite aware of what can happen when you agree to something that’s unsustainable,” he said. “We don’t want to do that this time around.”

Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political arm of a liberal think tank in the District, said other nations were right to lobby the Obama administration to do more.

“Our allies should push the United States to play a bigger leadership role in efforts to achieve worldwide reductions in greenhouse gas pollution,” he said. But he noted that the administration has imposed tougher fuel efficiency standards on U.S. vehicles and is moving to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. “The administration is still moving forward” on climate, he said.

Hiramatsu warned that the global community should keep its expectations low when it comes to the climate negotiations that begin Nov. 28 in Durban, South Africa.

“I don’t think this will be a big breakthrough year,” he said. “The important thing is to press the process ahead, and have some clarity as to where we’re heading.”


Monday, November 21, 2011

Rich nations 'give up' on new climate treaty until 2020

By Fiona Harvey

Ahead of critical talks and despite pledge for new treaty by 2012, biggest economies privately admit likelihood of long delay

Governments of the world's richest countries have given up on forging a new treaty on climate change to take effect this decade, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment through global warming.

Ahead of critical talks starting next week, most of the world's leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.

The eight-year delay is the worst contemplated by world governments during 20 years of tortuous negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions, and comes despite intensifying warnings from scientists and economists about the rapidly increasing dangers of putting off prompt action.

After the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 ended amid scenes of chaos, governments pledged to try to sign a new treaty in 2012. The date is critical, because next year marks the expiry of the current provisions of the Kyoto protocol, the only legally binding international agreement to limit emissions.

The UK, European Union, Japan, US and other rich nations are all now united in opting to put off an agreement and the United Nations also appears to accept this.

Developing countries are furious, and the delay will be fiercely debated at the next round of international climate talks beginning a week on Monday in Durban, South Africa.

The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents some of the countries most at risk from global warming, called moves to delay a new treaty "reckless and irresponsible".

Postponing an operational agreement until 2020 would be fatal to hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to scientists, economists and green campaigners.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), and one of the world's foremost authorities on climate economics, told the Guardian: "If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to [holding temperatures below 2C] will be closed forever."

Lord Stern, author of a landmark review of the economics of climate change, said aiming for a 2020 deadline was "pessimistic and risks introducing lethargy" to the process: "It's not fast enough - this is a collective failure, and [leaving agreement to] 2020 is taking considerable risks with the planet."

However, he said he was hopeful that countries and companies would continue to try to cut carbon in the absence of a deal in the short term.

Sir David King, former UK chief scientist, said: "[A date of 2020] for an agreement is absolutely to be expected, and I am not at all dismayed by that."

He believes individual countries and industries taking action even without a global deal provides the best chance of cutting emissions.

Scientists say the only way to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change is to hold temperatures to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

The new delay comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned on Friday of mounting evidence that global warming was leading to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, and fiercer storms.

Although the world's major economies made pledges to limit their emissions at the Copenhagen talks, there is little sign these are having an effect.

Last year, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels rose by more than five per cent despite the worst recession for 80 years, according to the IEA.

Voluntary pledges by individual countries might never be enough to effect the massive changes needed. Birol said: "Our analysis shows [what happens] if you do not change investment patterns, which can only happen as a result of an international agreement."

Scientists warn that even if current pledges are met, they would not be enough to hold the global temperature rise to 2C, so more ambitious cuts are needed. Participants in the talks say there is little chance of that happening.

Connie Hedegaard, Europe's climate chief, said the EU's roadmap was to aim for an agreement to be drawn up "by the first COP [UN meeting] after 2015," which would be December 2016, and this could then come into force in 2020.

A Japanese official told the Guardian that Tokyo was aiming for an agreement to come into force in 2020, which was "realistic", though he later said Japan was aiming for agreement "as soon as possible". The UK's negotiators are now fixed on 2020, and the US is understood to expect a similar trajectory.

Christiana Figueres, the UN's top official on climate change, did not disagree with this roadmap. She said: "Making an agreement is not easy. What we are looking at is not an international environment agreement - what we are looking at is nothing other than the biggest industrial and energy revolution that has ever been seen."

Ruth Davis of Greenpeace said: "Failing to agree a plan to tackle the climate crisis in Durban would be a disaster, but agreeing on a plan to do almost nothing for a decade would arguably be worse. Leaders in Durban must ... agree to sign a binding global deal no later than 2015, which will re-establish the link between climate science and the pace and scale of action. Otherwise we risk sliding rapidly from climate crisis to climate catastrophe."


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brazil Commits to Quality Food for All

By International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth / UNDP

Representatives of the Brazilian federal and municipal governments and of indigenous, black and riverbank communities andother groups that make the population of this country so diverse assumed a commitment to fight for “the human right to an adequate diet.”The declaration approved at the end of the Nov. 7-10 Fourth National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security, held in Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, states that ethnic and traditional communities must be given access to land to farm through the government’s agrarian reform programme, and to the natural resources on their territories

The meeting, which drew 2,000 delegates, including some 400 guests from other nations, discussed Brazil’s successes and pending challenges in the field of food security.The conference’s conclusions are directed towards different audiences, according to Renato Maluf, president of the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA), made up of representatives of government and civil society.

The targets of the message include “those involved in social mobilisations, the government at all three levels – federal, provincial and municipal – and even those who know nothing at all about the right to food…We are also addressing the world at large,” Maluf said at the closing of the conference.

The declaration states that the planet’s seven billion people have “a right to an adequate and healthy diet every day, and to protection against hunger and other forms of food and nutritional insecurity.”It also calls for a strengthening of the agencies involved in that struggle, like the United Nations and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Brazil’s Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger, which presented the declaration in conjunction with CONSEA, said through spokespersons that the behaviour of corporations, monoculture farming with the intensive use of pesticides and fertilisers, and the use of transgenic crops “have obvious effects” in terms of the loss of food sovereignty and contribute to obesity and other chronic health problems.

“It is indispensable to come up with policies that gradually reduce the use of agro-toxins and immediately eliminate the use of the ones that have already been banned in other countries, which pose a serious threat to human health and the environment,” the Ministry added.

Brazil is considered the world leader in pesticide use: Brazilians consume an average of 5.2 litres of agrochemicals each per year, according to reports presented at this week’s conference.

The declaration also highlights the strategic role of family agriculture in achieving food security, along with the sustainable use of natural resources. In addition, it identifies food security and sovereignty as a cornerstone of socioeconomic development.

According to official statistics, family farms account for 75 percent of the labour power in the Brazilian countryside, and produce 70 percent of the beans, 87 percent of the cassava and 58 percent of the milk consumed in Brazil. In practice, it is family farming that guarantees food security in this country of 192 million people.

During the Conference, which had the backing of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a Centre of Excellence Against Hunger was launched with the support of the World Food Programme (WFP) to share this country’s positive experiences in the fight against hunger with other developing nations.

One of Brazil’s central achievements is the Zero Hunger programme, implemented by the government of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and continued by his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, who both belong to the leftwing Workers Party.

The programme, which forms part of the country’s broad anti-poverty efforts, has combined emergency assistance with job creation and family income support policies, and has led to a 61 percent reduction in child malnutrition.

Another key initiative, the school meals programme, feeds 47 million children a day while fomenting family agriculture, as by law 30 percent of the food served in the meals must be bought from local family farmers.

“Countries have a right to food and development, and if we have discovered a formula that has worked in Brazil, why can’t it work in other countries that are in a similar situation…adapted to their reality,” the Foreign Ministry’s coordinator of international action against hunger, Milton Rondó Filho, told IPS.

“We’re talking about a virtuous circle of local development, which we hope can be replicated in other countries,” he said.

A success that FAO director-general elect José Graziano da Silva attributed, in an interview with IPS, to the “decisive” participation of the state.

“If President Lula had not had the political will to get the entire public apparatus involved in its implementation, we would still be in the phase of doing charity, in the fight against hunger,” said Graziano, a former minister of food security and the fight against hunger in Brazil under Lula.

But Graziano also stressed the popular support for the programme and the participation of the private sector – such as the country’s supermarket chains – which he said played a “vital” role in the success of the efforts against hunger. That participation was highlighted during this week’s conference in Salvador.

The final declaration was approved in a plenary session by all of the 1,626 Brazilian delegates at the conference, who had been elected in more than 3,000 municipalities by a total of 75,000 voters.

Like Graziano, Maluf says this cooperation and involvement has been crucial to the strong performance of programmes like Zero Hunger.

“All of us are in favour of strengthening the role of the state, but we understand that poverty cannot be defeated without the participation of everyone,” Maluf told IPS.

This participation is as varied as the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity represented at the conference.

Many of the traditional communities that elected and sent delegates have specific names, such as “quilombos” (black communities originally established by runaway African slaves); “babassu coconut quebradeiras” or breakers (women who gather and break the fruit of the babassu palm tree); ribeirinhos (riverbank-dwellers); “fathers and mothers of candomblé” (the priests of candomblé, an African-Brazilian religion), and small-scale fishers.

A doctor who was a delegate from Pernambuco in the Northeast asked to address the conference to request that the speciality of nutritionist be incorporated in the public health system, while a peasant farmer from the central state of Tocantins demanded enforcement in his state of the law stipulating that one-third of government food purchases be from family farms.

Another delegate called for the modernisation of the tanks being built in the rainwater collection programme in the semi-arid Northeast.

“Brazilian society is still highly authoritarian and conservative, with a very stingy elite that has a history of social inequality – one of the worst levels of inequality in the world,” said Maluf.

“What these programmes have done, besides their specific positive impact, was to revive the debate on social policy in Brazil, which was dormant,” he added.

Despite the strides made, there are still pending challenges in the fight against hunger in South America’s giant. Although some 48.7 million Brazilians have been pulled out of poverty since 2003 according to a study by the Getulio Vargas Foundation, around 16 million still live on less than 41 dollars a month.

These people, the poorest of the poor, are the targets of the Brazil Without Misery programme launched by Rousseff, which aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2014.


FAO Says Traditional Crops Key to Facing Climate Change

By Think to Sustain

Traditional food crops and other plant varieties worldwide are in urgent need of protection from climate change and other environmental stresses, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on November 14, as it observed the tenth anniversary of the international treaty to protect and share plant genetic resources.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called on countries to develop specific policies to conserve and make wider use of plant varieties for generations to come. He lauded the injection of $ 6 million made available through the treaty to help farmers of traditional crops adapt to climate change.

"The conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are key to ensuring that the world will produce enough food to feed its growing population in the future," Diouf said.

Diouf pointed out that the global gene pool of more than 1.5 million samples of plant genetic material governed collectively and multilaterally by signature countries under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture "constitutes the basis for more than 80 percent of the world's food derived from plants and it is possibly our most important tool for adapting agriculture to climate change in the years to come."

The Treaty's Benefit-sharing Fund is being used to support farmers and breeders in 21 developing countries to adapt key crops to the new conditions brought on by climate change, floods, droughts, plant pests, plant diseases and other factors.

"The effects of climate change on agriculture do not respect national borders, they cover entire agro-ecological zones," said Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty. "For this reason, this portfolio of projects is taking a pioneering approach in generating a global knowledge base. Some of these projects will help us to establish clear priorities and action plans across borders for future actions."

Peru's Potato Park

One such project is based in a potato sanctuary in Peru, where community members combine traditional knowledge with efforts to conserve native varieties, improve agricultural production and ensure food security.

"When I was a little girl, native potatoes were cultivated in the lower lands. Today, lower zones are much hotter than before and it is not possible to cultivate potatoes anymore. As a result, we need to cultivate them much higher in the mountains," said Francisca Pacco, Potato Park Guardian.

During a recent knowledge-exchange session with visitors from Ethiopia, Pacco and other Potato Park residents showed how they used local knowledge of wind patterns, native plants and other factors to change the locations and timing for local potato cultivation. With support from the Benefit-sharing Fund, Potato Park residents are also increasing income-generating activities.

Recognition of Farmers' Work

"Farmers are the key actors in the conservation and sustainable use of food crops and they struggle with all the changes that are happening. If we work hard with a solid scientific basis and the integration of farmers, we will see results in two years when these projects will be over," said Zoila Fundora, a Cuba-based expert from the panel that evaluated the new projects approved.

"The fund helps farmers, in a very practical way, to adapt to climate change and contributes to food security by recognizing that one part of the solution is in the huge diversity of crops," said David Cunningham, a panel expert from Australia.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rwanda Report Shows Successes and Challenges of Post-Conflict Sustainable Development

By UNEP News Centre

A major report released today on Rwanda's post-conflict sustainable development urges the country to build on its rehabilitation efforts and seed more opportunities for a transition towards a green economy.

The report, Rwanda: From Post-Conflict to Environmentally Sustainable Development, was unveiled in Kigali by the Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Mr Stanislas Kamanzi, at the start of a regional meeting with East African senior policy makers exploring how to leverage support for a shift towards an environmentally sustainable, climate resilient, low-carbon, resource-efficient future.

Following a consultative process with the Government of Rwanda, the 380-page UNEP report provides a critical analysis of the most pressing environmental issues facing the country and proposes an integrated package of almost 90 projects and interventions, totaling US$147 million, that would help the country accelerate its sustainable development agenda.

Key findings include that Rwanda has lost 60 percent of its natural forest area since independence, driven mainly by the needs of a fast-growing population for land, timber and firewood. However, recent reforestation efforts have helped raise forest cover to around 20 percent of the country's surface area.

In particular, the report recommends the Rwandan government reinforces its policies and investments in areas such as large-scale ecosystem rehabilitation, renewable energies, sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, environmental management capacity building and regional environmental cooperation, including participation in natural resource trade initiatives.

With over 10 million people in an area of 26,000 square kilometers, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries striving to unlock a downward-cycle of natural resource over-exploitation. However, it has made remarkable progress following the aftermath of the 1994 genocide and is now considered an inspiration for African development.

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Mr Achim Steiner, said the shared lessons from implementing the report's recommendations would help reverse declining environmental trends and showcase a real-life pathway to a green economy.

"Rwanda provides an exceptional case of a country's willpower to overcome a traumatic conflict legacy, restore degraded ecosystems and lift people out of poverty and there is growing interest from development partners and other countries in Rwanda's pioneering model," said Mr Steiner.

"The ongoing metamorphosis of Rwanda's economy offers a unique opportunity to catalyse green investments, to enhance sustainability, create green jobs and promote environmentally efficient technologies," he added.

Speaking at the launch event, Minister Kamanzi welcomed the scientific assessment which he said underlines the intrinsic relationship between ecosystem services and the achievement of national development goals as outlined in Rwanda's Vision 2020.

"We see the environment as the heart of our economy and need to ensure that it can sustain the economic growth achieved in recent years," Mr Kamanzi said.

"The damage to the Congo-Nile and Byumba highland ecosystems is highlighted not only as a threat to biodiversity but to livelihoods and Rwanda's economic future because it must sustain hydropower, agriculture and drinking water supplies, as well as providing climate regulation and carbon sequestration services.

"For Rwanda and other countries in the region, the time has come to capitalize on green economy thinking and translate our policy targets into on-the-ground action to create jobs, combat poverty and accelerate sustainable development across the region," the Minister said.

More than 40 legal and technical experts from Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as Rwanda, are attending the workshop which is aiming to enhance capacity in East African countries to use the green economy as a driver for sustainable development and poverty reduction, and to identify actions, opportunities and challenges for integrating green economy in policies and legislations at national and regional levels.

One of the enabling frameworks needed for the green economy is having effective laws and related governance structures to support it. Strengthening the regulatory and governance frameworks will complement measures already being taken by governments and the private sector.

To further support Rwanda in its efforts to accelerate a sustainable growth path, UNEP used the workshop to release another new report, Mainstreaming Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production in Policies and Strategies of Rwanda.

This report was prepared by UNEP in collaboration with Rwanda's Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).

The report reviews existing policy and strategy frameworks of resource efficient and cleaner production (RECP) and identifies areas for mainstreaming RECP into the country's national policies and strategies.

In particular, the report identifies strategic entry points for mainstreaming in four main areas: institutional and policy integration, economic and fiscal incentives, capacity building and support to small and medium-sized enterprises and information and public education.

The two-day workshop, organized by UNEP and REMA, is expected to take these findings on board as they examine how regulatory instruments can contribute to reducing poverty and promoting the transition to a green economy in East Africa.

Earlier this year at the UN Forest Forum, Rwanda launched a landmark Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative aimed to reverse by 2035 the degradation of the entire country's soil, water, land and forest resources. Next week, an intensification of Rwanda's tree planting programme is due to begin with the target of planting 68 million trees over the next 12 months to reach the government's goal of raising forest cover to at least 30 percent of its land area by 2020.

As part of the One UN presence, UNEP stands ready to assist the Government of Rwanda in mobilizing resources to implement the post-conflict assessment's recommendations and with broader ongoing environmental initiatives.


Climate vulnerable countries unite in Dhaka ministerial Forum pledging firm common stance ahead of COP17 in Durban

By Climate Vulnerability Monitor

Nineteen of the most vulnerable countries to climate change have today agreed to present a unified front filling the leadership vacuum ahead of COP17 in Durban as they signed the Dhaka Declaration of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, following a major ministerial meeting held in Bangladesh. Inaugurated by the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki moon, participating countries insisted on urgent adoption of a comprehensive and legally-binding global agreement capable of fully attaining the objectives of the UNFCCC.

The Forum’s Declaration called on Durban to ensure securing of a second term of the Kyoto protocol without a gap between the first and the second, and a legally-binding agreement on greenhouse gas emissions cuts. It also included committing the group of vulnerable countries to low carbon development and called for a new global Climate Vulnerability Monitor on low-carbon development.

José María Figueres, trustee of DARA, the international organisation that supports the CVF, and former president of Costa Rica commented:

“Vulnerable countries are insulted by the finance default. I call on all countries present to occupy Durban.“

The Dhaka Declaration also reaffirms the commitment by climate vulnerable countries to focus on adaptation, particularly in the short term in order to minimise immediate danger, and calls on developed countries to support the implementation of schemes. Similarly, the declaration recognises an urgent need for technology transfer from the international community as a means of ensuring fuller and more pragmatic technological developments.

Sheik Hasina, Honorable Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Bangladesh, addressed the delegates:

“Climate change caused over 300,000 additional deaths last year. We the vulnerable countries suffer the most for our limited coping capacities. Bangladesh and other vulnerable countries could not wait for international response to climate causes…we are implementing 134 climate change adaptation and mitigation action plans.”

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who inaugurated the conference said:

“Governments [of major emitters] must lead the way to catalyze the $100 billion dollars per annum from public and private sources that was pledged to 2020. Durban must complete what was agreed last year in Cancún.”

The 19 signatory countries who adopted the declaration were: Afghanistan, Bangladesh (chair), Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Madagascar, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Women call for a ‘Sustainable and Equitable Economy’ instead of a ‘green economy ‘

Source: Rio+20 secretariat

The Women's major group has submitted its input for the zero-draft for Rio+20. The submission was developed over the last 6 months by over 70 women's organizations from over 40 countries worldwide.

Driven by a vision of an equitable and sustainable world, women are critical about the use of the term ‘Green Economy’. They are concerned it is too often separated from the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. Women are further concerned that it will be used and misused to green-wash existing unsustainable economic practices that lead to inequities and infringe on the rights of effected peoples and future generations, because it does not fundamentally and adequately question and transform the current economic paradigm. Below is an excerpt from their submission:

In particular, the current economic system:

• Harms women and the environment: while the wealthy consume more and more natural resources and are responsible for increasing levels of environmental damage, those living in poverty are suffering from degradation of their agricultural land, forests, water supplies and biodiversity, and of alteration of weather cycles due to climatic changes.

• Is inequitable and unsustainable: social and economic inequities are inherent in the present economic system and are increasing in many countries both in the North and the South; with especially adverse consequences for women and children.

• Uses performance indicators that are socially and environmentally blind: our (failing) economies are currently managed so as to achieve and celebrate growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and do not promote human and environmental welfare.

Most governments state that their objectives are progress and development, yet at the same time use economic tools which do not help attain these objectives, but instead have lead to concentration of wealth and increased inequities. Governments at Rio+20 should renew support for the objectives of equitable and sustainable development, and should commit to choosing the right economic tools. In a sustainable development framework, the economy has to fulfil social progress taking into account environmental limits.

We support the transformation from the current economic system to a sustainable and equitable economic system that ensures gender equality, human rights and environmental justice and supports sustainable livelihoods and poverty eradication.

Recommendations regarding ‘Green Economy’ in the context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

- Use the term ‘Sustainable and Equitable Economy’ instead of ‘Green Economy’
- Principles of a Sustainable and Equitable Economy:
• Promotion of social equity, gender equality and intergenerational equity
• Democracy, transparency and justice
• Application of the precautionary principle
• Ethical values, such as respect for nature, spirituality, culture, harmony, solidarity, community, caring and sharing
• Global responsibility for the global common goods
• Environmental sustainability
• Common but differentiated responsibilities

- Sustainable and Equitable Economies have economic policies aiming at:

• Poverty eradication and gender equality: with fairer distribution of resources and rights, and assurance of human security of all
• Ending violence against women through legislation, support services for women, affordable access to justice for women, and information about rights and norms
• Prioritizing peace promotion and conflict prevention
• Preventing toxic and radioactive harm on women’s and children’s health, and ensuring safe waste reduction, reuse and recycling policies
• Providing women, adolescents and girls universal access to sexual and reproductive health
• Sustainable agriculture, food security and food sovereignty and recognition of women’s role in food production
• Assuring access to clean, efficient and safe energy and technologies for all, especially for women
• Safe water and sanitation for all, particularly for poor rural and urban women and girls
• Conserving biodiversity, women’s access to natural resources and respect of their environmental rights
• Necessary and equitable measures for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
• Measures against land grabbing – protecting women’s (continued) access to (communal) land and commons
• Phasing out GMO's as women in many countries are the majority of the ‘seed keepers’

- Measure and operationalize progress through:

• Policies that recognize and promote women’s economic contributions
• Indicators that go beyond the ‘GDP’ (Gross Domestic Product), including indicators to show gender impacts
• Financial sector re-regulation and reform, encouraging long-term perspectives
• Fiscal sector reform, including new taxation to redistribute wealth, such as a financial transaction tax, and taxing of non-renewable and unsustainable resource exploitation
• Investments in women’s leadership, education, skills and entrepreneurship
• Investments in health care, child-care and social protection floor

Read the full Global Women's Submission for the Rio+20 zero-draft document from here