Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is it time for Sustainable Development Goals?

By Alex Evans, Global Dashboard (September 6, 2011)

From MDGs to… SDGs? That’s one of the ideas swirling around in discussions ahead of the Rio 2012 sustainable development summit next year, anyway.

You can see the attraction. With less than a year to go, there are precious few concrete ideas on the table for what the summit might produce, especially in the area of “institutional framework for sustainable development”, one of two key themes for the event (sure, there’s much talk of a new World Environment Organisation, but colour me very unconvinced of the case for that). So might SDGs help to fill the gap?

Well, that would depend on what they cover. The government of Colombia has set out a proposal for SDGs that would cover various sectors – atmosphere, climate resilience, land degradation, sustainable agriculture, biotech, waste and so forth. This would mainly be about ‘reaffirming’ (that awful word – who, other than diplomats, ever ‘reaffirms’ anything?) commitments made at Rio 1992. But you have to wonder: important though delivery of existing commitments undoubtedly is, is ‘reaffirmation’ of stuff agreed 20 years ago really going to set any pluses racing outside the sustainable development priesthood?

Much more interesting, on the other hand, is the idea that SDGs could provide an institutional foundation for the nine planetary boundaries identified – and quantified – by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (see also this previous GD post). The core idea in the boundaries approach is to define a ‘safe operating space for humanity’ – and, of course, the global economy. So if you’re looking for a serious synthesis of environment and economic development, this is ground zero.

Of course, a host of questions would still need to be answered. One would be about what timeline the SDGs would span: 25 years, like the MDGs’ 1990-2015 timescale, or much longer than that?

There’s also the small question of which countries would be covered, and how. The MDGs were basically about developing countries (Goal 8 notwithstanding) – an approach that clearly wouldn’t be possible with SDGs, given the huge sustainability impact of consumptions levels in rich countries. So would the SDGs apply globally, but not to specific countries – leaving them open to the charge that they’re rhetorical aspirations, not serious engines of change? Or would they apply to individual states – opening up the issue of how to differentiate countries’ commitments?

Then, of course, we’d need to know how the SDGs would relate to the MDGs. Some (greens, especially) would like to see SDGs replace MDGs beyond 2015. But lots of developing countries would be deeply suspicious of any perceived dilution of focus on poverty reduction, or anything that looked like it might ‘pull the ladder up after developed countries’ by denying them space to develop – and large and influential aid donors might well agree.

And we’d need to figure out an institutional home for the Goals, too. It would be crucial for them not to be ‘owned’ by the environment priesthood – if SDGs became seen as UNEP’s baby, they’d be stillborn at birth. Instead, it might be interesting to set up a new, independent, scientifically based international institution to monitor planetary boundaries – kind of like a global Congressional Budget Office for planetary boundaries. (Normally, I’m adamantly opposed to creating new international institutions, given how many we have already – but here, I think there’s a compelling case.)

Finally, there’s the question of process. It’s almost certainly too late to define any set of SDGs in time for Rio. Instead, the best option now would be for Rio to provide a launch pad for a process to define a set of SDGs – perhaps leaving open, for now, how they might relate to post-2015 MDGs further down the line. This would create valuable time for some serious outreach, above all to developing countries – though not too much time, given that you’d want to have the SDGs finalised before the US slides back into Presidential election mode from 2015 onwards. 12-18 months would probably be about right – with the Goals signed off at a UN summit in, say, spring 2014.


Coastal erosion major threat to West Africa

By Julian Barbière, January 26, 2012

Coastal erosion is a major problem for Africa.

In northwest Africa, the coasts are economically important since a large part of the gross domestic product (GDP) is derived from coastal activities such as fishing, tourism and commerce.

This is one reason why populations are concentrated along the coastline, with a rate of urbanization slightly higher than the interiors. As a result, many capitals and major towns are coastal.

Along the northwest coast of Africa average rates of coastal retreat are between one and two meters per year.

However, more serious rates of up to hundreds of metres per year have been observed locally, especially when the process has been created by human activities.

Coastal erosion has devastating effects, inducing the loss of infrastructure such as roads.

It also threatens populations, who can no longer live close to the coastline, and the worry is it is expected to increase due to climate change and sea level rise.

This will bring other problems such as salinisation of water and soils, degradation of ecosystems and flooding. Such predictions were reiterated in the fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Moreover, recent studies indicate that sea level observations are already higher than the maximum limit of IPCC projections. This means that we can expect more than the one-meter sea level rise projected for 2100, a fact that the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet, as well as strong indications that the western part of the Antarctic ice sheet is also melting, strongly support.

Whatever the dispute about the rates and amounts of sea level rise, it is evident that coastal populations and ecosystems will need to adapt to these changes.

For human beings only three options are available to combat coastal erosion: retreat, accommodate or protect.

A very limited number of studies – conducted mainly during preparation of the Initial National Communications from Parties not included in Annex I of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – indicate that the costs of adaptation are likely to be lower than the impacts costs of doing nothing.

However, the cost of adaptation is already considered to represent between 5 and 10 per cent of the GDP of affected countries, which is a significant sum, especially for the economies of the least developed countries.

This debate is by no means over, since all the elements that could allow a significant cost-benefit analysis are not yet available. A limited number of adaptation options (mainly sea walls) were evaluated but indirect costs (expertise, manpower, technical help) have not been considered. Even the retreat option would have a cost – both economically and socially.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO is implementing the project Adaptation to Climate Change in Coastal zones of West Africa (ACCC) which is a tentative response to the problem of coastal erosion.

It operates on a sub-regional level and involves five countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. National components are developing pilot activities in selected sites – one per country – with the aim of reducing the threat of coastal erosion, while increasing biodiversity and strengthening the adaptive capacities of local communities and ecosystems.

The project also attempts to include climate change considerations in different development plans – for example, tourism strategy and master plans for coastal towns.

One of these pilot projects is taking place in Varela, Guinea Bissau, where extremely rapid coastal erosion is occurring. Activities on the site include cleaning the beach (mostly material left by a former tourist industry infrastructure), mangrove restoration and afforestation.

These activities are conducted with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and represent an opportunity to conduct awareness training with different levels of society, including women and the young.

At a national level, agreements have been made with the Ministry of Tourism to include climate change aspects, as well as integrated coastal management, in its strategy development.

The regional component implemented by IOC/UNESCO aims to develop training on a variety of related matters, these include climate change and coastal zone management, techniques for mangrove restoration and littoral dune afforestation.

A shared environment consisting of a website, network and database is being created. This enables exchange of experiences, and supports sub-regional activities to increase the opportunities for decision makers to act, and increase the design and implementation of integrated coastal zone management policies.

A ‘training of trainers’ programme has been organized, through the Sandwatch programme, which is supported by UNESCO in the Caribbean and Pacific islands regions, and seeks to teach scholars how to monitor beaches effectively

The ACCC project is one of the various sub-regional efforts to adapt to climate change in costal zones.

These include the West African Economic and Monetary Union, with its project on coastal erosion; the International Development Research Centre, with its programme on Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa; and Le Programme régional de Conservation de la zone Côtière et Marine en Afrique de l’Ouest, which is a consortium of NGOs focused on protecting the marine and coastal areas of West Africa.

The point of this ACCC project is to promote multiple adaptation responses to combat coastal erosion, since no single option can fit all circumstances.

The inclusion of stakeholders through sensitization campaigns and activity-integration is an important aspect of this project. By involving stakeholders the project benefits from a wide variety of experiences, as well as becoming a larger network.

The actions taken during this project are also expected to promote the development of biodiversity, since improving the marine environment improves the well-being of the wildlife that depends on it – including turtles and marine birds.


Monday, January 30, 2012

SDGs: a new generation of development goals?

By Neva Frecheville, WWF UK

One of this generation’s greatest tragedies – and oncoming catastrophes – is the failure to stem the accelerating rate of biodiversity loss. Biodiversity underpins the ecosystem goods and services on which humanity depends, and its loss represents a betrayal for the world’s poor as progress towards development is undermined.

As Rio +20 approaches, it now seems that the post-MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) agenda risks focusing on the environmental at the expense of the social. The end of the MDGs is now in sight and, despite significant progress in some areas, there is still a way to go to meet targets, particularly for the most vulnerable communities.

Lessons have been learnt from the Millennium Development Goals. Admirable in intent, they focus too strongly on sectoral challenges and fail to make the most of opportunities for cross-cutting gains. Arguably, they also fail to address the politically tricky drivers of social injustice, inequality and environmental degradation, which fundamentally benefit the powerful nations of the world. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an opportunity for a world where people and nature can thrive.

Four principles must form the foundation of the post-2015 development framework:

There must be measurable targets and indicators for all countries, both in the developed and developing world.

The goals must be holistic and capitalise on synergies across sectors, acknowledging and best managing trade-offs.

The framework must target inequality both within and between countries, and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities.

The goals must be formed through an open, transparent, and accountable process. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development identifies that access to information and decision-making is the foundation of good environmental governance. A series of national consultations of vulnerable communities and people impacted by poverty are being run through 2012 – 2013 and the results must be carefully considered in the formation of the SDGs.

Recognition of the urgent need for sustainable consumption and production patterns is welcomed and the developed world has taken responsibility for its impact on the planet – but the Zero Draft as yet lacks the ambition or strategy to enable this change at an international level.

Not all MDG targets will be met by 2015, but a shared global framework for development enabled the world to come together with a common vision for the new millennium. The MDGs remain a valid set of objectives in their own right and it is essential that the post-2015 development framework is both integrated and complementary to their attainment. The absence of the social indicators central to the MDGs, primarily health, education and gender equity, is worrying. The environmental must be part and parcel of the social, supported by indicators for a green economy. Government, the private sector, and civil society all have a role to play in this. Sustainable Development Goals which respond solely to environmental issues risk both being sidelined and losing progress made, particularly for women and children.

Leaders must show ambition and political commitment in the run-up to Rio. But it is also important that they don’t get ahead of themselves, and in looking for an outcome that can be sold as a success, attempt to finalise the goals. This is the time to start an open and inclusive process, based on the core principles that will enable a smooth transition to the post-2015 development framework.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Green Economy: A New Dimension

By SM Golam Kibrea, December 15, 2011

The potential trade risks of a transition to a green economy — protectionism, conditionality, subsidies — are issues of long standing and not unique to the green economy. The urgency of the global challenges which a green economy transformation is intended to address, and the scale of the actions being taken by many countries to build green economies, does however bring renewed focus to these risks.

At the same time, the new greening of markets associated with a green economy may provide opportunities for many developing countries to find global markets for goods and services with low environmental impacts. This will, however, test the supply capacities of developing countries as reflected, for example, in domestic trade infrastructure.

The green economy offers an opportunity to improve both global trade governance and the domestic trade environment to ensure that trade contributes positively to a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

1. Policy options for green transformation and trade implications

As a growing number of countries adopt strategies and policies to promote a transition to a green economy, this will have implications for trade flows and trading opportunities. The following external and internal measures and pressures, not necessarily mutually exclusive, may serve as driving forces to a transition to a green economy via international trade.

2. Local regulations and rules. For example, some U.S. states have imposed recycling requirements on newsprint, which is likely to have significant implications for the forest industries of its trading partners.

3. Environmentally-driven consumer pressure from major customers: For instance, the Chief Executive Officer of one of Canada’s most competitive paper companies remarked that the pressures from his European customers have become so severe that he is now running his mills to European, rather than Canadian, standards.

4. National legislation and plans: For example, many Chinese business leaders expect to face much stronger environmental regulations and an environmental tax over the next five years under China’s 12th five-year plan. Many are building major changes into their long term trade and investment planning to accommodate the need for sustainable development.

5. Unilateral policy measures: Many countries seem committed to the use of trade measures to persuade other countries to change their domestic environmental practices, despite the fact that many measures may be contrary to GATT-WTO rules (see Table 1 and discussion).

6. International environmental, climate change agreements/conventions: The outcome of negotiations on climate change will have an influence on trade, e.g., by affecting the consumption of various natural resources which are traded and shifting demand for various low-carbon technologies.

Some countries have expressed concerns that a green economy transition could cause their export industries to experience declining demand or competitiveness. These concerns can be real and need to be addressed through pro-active policies at both national and international level.

Competitiveness and environmental standards are often considered enemies. There is evidence, however, that trade policy and environmental policy can act as complements in the development of conditions within which firms can innovate and become more internationally competitive. Germany and Japan have amongst the toughest environmental regimes in the world, yet both are among the most able to compete internationally. Their strategies are clear: innovate now and capture markets in the future. It should be stressed, however, that technological capacity is key to such success.

Environmental regulations, standards, labeling and certification:

Concern: There is a large body of environmentally-related rules and regulations. The regulations, standards and labeling may represent significant obstacles to market entry.

Suggestion: One type of standard with potential to promote a green economy dictates the energy efficiency of a product in use. But different countries all have different standards, meaning higher costs for exporters and less dissemination. An international harmonization of standards and labeling would be a solid step towards lowering entry barriers, but there is no obvious forum for such harmonization (Cosbey, 2010).

Unilateral border carbon adjustments (BCAs), air and sea transport levies:

Concern: The risks associated with environmentally-related border tax policies are that they may be disguised protection of domestic firms. Countries could face significant difficulties in establishing that the proposed border measure would be compatible with WTO rules. In particular, border tax adjustments or international transportation levies have the potential to impact negatively trade and the conditions of competition for developing country exporters, or to penalize them unfairly.

Suggestion: The solution may be regime design, ideally based on internationally agreed principles (Cosbey, 2010). Nevertheless, the issue of BCAs will likely remain on the table in the negotiations on climate change, in the trade negotiations of the Doha Development Agenda and in the multilateral trading system in the near term. Some have suggested that a firm Multilateral Environmental Agreement (with explicit reference to trade measures) can form the basis for origin-based charges on traded goods. This requires strong carbon monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). In the absence of a global agreement, MRV may be developed on a bilateral or regional basis.

Subsidies and domestic support mechanisms:

Concern: Recently, there have been a number of trade disputes related to 'green subsidies' and domestic support for green sectors. For example, the US government has petitioned in late 2010 to take China to WTO dispute settlement for its support to clean energy sectors. One question is whether environmental threats like climate change might provide a strong enough base to re-examine the WTO rules on domestic support to ensure that renewable energy can be promoted effectively.

Suggestion: In discussing specific subsidy-related rules of relevance to climate change, some have suggested the careful revival of an expired clause in the WTO subsidies agreement specifying that certain environmental subsidies were "non-actionable" (meaning that they are permitted) as a way of encouraging support for clean technologies (ICTSD, 2008). In this regard, developing countries have proposed that the environmental subsidies they provide shall be considered "non-actionable" under WTO rules.

Technology transfer and intellectual property rights:

Concern: Intellectual property rights (IPRs) have long been a tool to promote innovation and the dissemination of new ideas and inventions. The crucial issue is how they help or hinder developing countries’ gaining access to technologies and enhancing indigenous technological capacity for their development (Cosbey, 2011).

Suggestion: A global green economy package could promote the faster development of green technologies through collaborative arrangements that enshrine the sharing of technologies and the utilization of financing mechanisms like the green climate fund to acquire and place in the public domain IPRs for key climate-related technologies. These types of initiatives would be a solid step toward a green economy (ICTSD, 2008).

Liberalization of environmental goods and services:

Concern: Liberalizing trade in environmental goods and services (EGS) has been on the agenda of the WTO Doha Round since the beginning. Yet, very little has been achieved. Two particular areas of controversy involve "dual use" technologies that may be used to reduce emissions as well as meet other consumer needs, and agriculture products.

Suggestion: Any liberalization package will need to be complemented by a set of financial and technical assistance measures. The impact of trade liberalization for climate change mitigation efforts will only be as effective as the broader enabling framework within which it is put into play (ICTSD, 2008). Developing countries need to have the prospect of developing capacities to compete domestically and internationally in the EGS industry.


Countries may take measures to make trade policy respond better to social development and sustainable development objectives, including international commitments to poverty reduction, food security, quality jobs, and environmental sustainability. These measures may actually have positive impacts on green exports but some may raise concerns from trade partners. As suggested by UNCTAD (2011), the international community must agree upon the principles for the design and implementation of trade-related instruments in relation to a green economy.

In conclusion, this brief provides guidance on issues to be addressed to reinforce trade, green economy, and sustainable development complementarities.

1. Identify and address trade-related obstacles to a green economy
2. Ensure trade rules enable the transition to a green economy, e.g. ensure trade rules provide policy space for development and for the technology diffusion and acquisition necessary for a low-carbon development trajectory
3. Discuss and resolve issues of regulation, standards, labelling and certification to ensure they do not constitute unjustified non-tariff barriers to trade
4. Discuss and resolve issues of unilateral border carbon adjustments
5. Discuss and resolve treatment of green energy and industry subsidies
6. Conclude and implement effective Doha Round agreement on environmental goods and services
7. Embrace green trade opportunities by pro-active trade promotion and facilitation programs
8. Ensure access to affordable trade finance, particularly for the poorest countries, and particularly for sectors and activities related to a green economy
9. Finance green technology transfer and public procurement of key patents on latest generation green technologies to put them in the public domain
10. Provide Aid-for-Trade on promotion of environmentally friendly technologies and green commodity production.

These issues may require the further attention of all parties and stakeholders. Many questions remain unanswered and will need to be discussed in effective multilateral forums. Further research and policy deliberation would assist in filling knowledge gaps and contribute to preparation of countries for the Rio +20 conference and, eventually, a successful transition to a green economy.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Third World Network calls for clearer ‘green economy’ principles that reflect the submission of developing countries in final Rio + 20 text

Adapted from the preliminary comments of TWN on the zero draft of the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)

The zero draft of the outcome document for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) is clearly an attempt by the Secretariat to produce a document that can be widely accepted in time for adoption in June, with the hope that its generality will not give rise to difficult intergovernmental negotiations. The desire of the UN and some governments, including Brazil as host country, to attract heads of States and Governments to attend the Conference is a driving factor and the draft is premised upon the Rio+20 conference being at a Summit level as seen in para. 1. The actual time allocated for negotiations of the document is very limited, compared to the 1992 Rio Summit and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development that produced the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. Thus what is presented in the zero draft looks like a compromise text that tries to please everyone with something of concern to them.

The main outcomes of the internationally agreed sustainable development agenda under the UN auspices are reaffirmed throughout the document but the implementation aspect of the zero draft is weak. This is disappointing since the failure of implementation is clearly evidenced by the multiple crises facing the world as we head towards Rio+20. The outcome of the 2009 UN conference on the impacts of the financial and economic crisis on development is surprisingly absent from the zero draft.

In view of the positions and proposals submitted and articulated by the groupings of countries in the preparatory process so far, the overall thrust of the zero draft favours an outcome along the lines of the Green Economy Roadmap of the European Union (with some caveats regarding what the GE should not be in para. 31) and the Sustainable Development Goals proposal of Colombia/Guatemala (paras. 105-110).

Section III on “Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” attempts to capture the unresolved debate on the topic that has dominated the Rio+20 preparatory process so far. Para. 31 is designed to allay the repeated concerns of developing countries but this section essentially promotes the European Union’s proposal and roadmap.

The zero draft suffers from the same lack of common understanding of a “green economy” that is characteristic of the inter-governmental debate so far. Para. 26 views “a green economy as a means to achieve sustainable development, which must remain our overarching goal” (emphasis added). Para. 27 states that “green economy is not intended as a rigid set of rules but rather as a decision-making framework to foster integrated consideration of the three pillars of sustainable development in all relevant domains of public and private decision-making.” Then para. 30 states that “a transition to a green economy will require structural adjustments which may involve additional costs to their economies” while para. 30 refers to “transformation to a green economy” and para.32 acknowledge that “countries are still in the early stages of building green economies” with para. 42 setting out the types of support needed “to make significant progress towards building green economies” (emphases added). All these imply that green economy is a goal and this is reinforced by the detailed actions proposed in section III. As discussed above, it is unclear how the detailed proposals in this section interface with the Sustainable Development Goals proposals. Given the uncertain and possibly far-reaching implications of these proposals any follow-up if agreed to must be driven by Member States through the General Assembly and not be left to the Secretary-General as proposed in paras. 33 and 43.

A clearer set of principles of green economy in the context of SD and poverty eradication is needed and the list of what it is not should be more comprehensive along the lines of the submission of developing countries.


Friday, January 27, 2012

A Milestone Birthday for Planet Earth

By Peter Bosshard, January 25, 2012

Milestone birthdays are opportunities to take stock of our family, health and financial situation. So how is Planet Earth doing 20 years after the Earth Summit, the historic UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro? The planet’s economic output has more than doubled since 1992. Some members of the global family are doing extremely well, but the number of hungry people is increasing. And the planet’s health is steadily deteriorating, with vital ecosystems nearing the point of collapse.

We can celebrate milestone birthdays with empty rhetoric, or we can use them to change course. Twenty years ago, governments adopted resolutions that aimed to bring the global community into social, environmental and economic balance. They resolved to follow basic rules of global housekeeping such as the precautionary principle, the internalization of environmental costs, and the polluter-pays principle. They prepared a specific roadmap of global change in the Agenda 21. And most of them made binding commitments by signing the conventions on biodiversity and climate change.

Looking back, we have failed to live up to our resolutions and commitments as a global community. We can’t relive the past, but as we prepare for the Rio+20 summit in June, we have another chance to take stock and change course. Unfortunately world leaders have so far not risen to the challenge. The draft document for the Rio+20 summit, which governments are currently discussing in New York, is devoid of substance and ambition. Entitled, The Future We Want, it contains no honest analysis, few specific recommendations, and no binding commitments. Instead, it tries to hide its lack of ambition with vague concepts such as a new Green Economy.

In the water sector – the area I know best – there are indeed measures that could improve the planet’s economic and ecological health at the same time. We could start by dramatically improving the water efficiency of our existing infrastructure and agriculture. We could safeguard vital ecosystems and the services that they provide by protecting free-flowing rivers and restoring environmental flows. We could phase out public funding for unsustainable agricultural practices, polluting industries and destructive dams. And we could redirect development aid towards the decentralized, small-scale technologies that strengthen the food, water and energy security of the poorest without destroying the environment.

Unfortunately, the language of the Rio+20 draft document is so vague that it can easily be abused by the money lenders, consultants and contractors that benefit from the current course of action. Under the motto of the Green Economy, the World Bank proposes to build more large multipurpose dams that would clog the arteries of the planet while bypassing the poor. As the World Commission on Dams found ten years ago, these complex projects have the worst track record among all dams in terms of economic viability, poverty reduction and environmental protection – the main pillars of sustainable development.

Milestone birthdays rarely come at a convenient time. When economic strife and political drama dominate large parts of the world, it requires a lot of courage to take a long-term view. Yet we are living beyond our means and drawing down the natural capital on which the poorest people and future generations depend for their livelihoods. As a recent UN report (pdf) found, “natural systems that support economies, lives and livelihoods across the planet are at risk of rapid degradation and collapse.” Once these ecosystems have reached their tipping point, no other planet will bail us out. Will we find the courage for an honest assessment and change of course at the Rio+20 summit?


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Peru's vanishing fish stocks 'devastated' by growing fishmeal demand

By The Ecologist

Soaring global demand for fishmeal primarily for animal feed or fish farms, including salmon, is wrecking havoc on the once abundant fish stocks of the southern Pacific

The fish stocks of the southern Pacific and in particular Peru are being plundered by widespread cheating and overfishing, according to a new investigation.

Peru is the world’s second largest fishing nation after China, with the majority of its catch converted into fishmeal, a feed for farmed fish and pigs. More than a million tons a year exported mostly to Asia, in a trade worth $1.6 billion.

An Ecologist investigation in 2008 linked fishmeal produced in Peru to salmon farms in Scotland - highlighting a host of unreported environmental and social costs linked to the industry.

The new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) uncovered rampant fraud, with many fishing companies cheating their quotas and leaving species like anchoveta and jack mackerel severely overfished.

The findings fit into a larger picture of overfishing and scant control in the southern Pacific, say the ICIJ, driven in part by Asian and European fleets that have depleted other oceans and now head south to waters off Peru and Chile.

You can watch the investigation by the Ecologist Film Unit below or read the original investigation, 'How our growing appetite for salmon is devastating coastal communities in Peru'.

The Green Economy, Boon or Menace?

By Emilio Godoy, IPS (January 20, 2012)

The development of the green economy is the subject of pitched debate among specialists. While some believe it will deepen social inequalities and increase corporate control over natural and biological resources, others highlight its potential role in protecting the environment and creating employment.

"The green economy does not challenge current systems of production, such as the agro-alimentary industry, nor does it aim in any way to change patterns of consumption," stressed Silvia Ribeiro, the Latin America director of the non-governmental Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group).

Ribeiro told Tierramérica that some of the most troubling aspects of the green economy include "the massive use of biomass for fuel production, and the use of new technologies like synthetic biology, which can generate high levels of toxicity."

In its study "Who Will Control the Green Economy?", published Dec. 15, 2011, the ETC Group argues that the development of a green economy will primarily benefit large corporations, unless changes are made to the current models of production and consumption of goods and services and international governance.

It reveals that large transnational corporations in the energy, pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries are already forming alliances to exploit biomass and grab control of natural resources like land and water.

The study takes a specific look at a range of different sectors, including synthetic biology, bioinformatics and genome data generation, marine and other aquatic biomass, seeds and pesticides, plant gene banks, fertiliser and mining industries, forestry and paper, the animal pharmaceutical industry and livestock genetics.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines the green economy as "a system of economic activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that result in improved human wellbeing over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities."

The green economy will be a central theme at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), taking place Jun. 20- 22 in the southern Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the first Earth Summit held in the same city in 1992.

The objective of the conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges

Rio+20 will focus specifically on two themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

UNEP has actively promoted the green economy since 2008, although it acknowledges the validity of some of the concerns raised around it.

"The green economy is an imperative. One of its goals is social equity and human wellbeing. The environment is recognised as a source of wealth," U.S. economist Steven Stone, chief of UNEP's Geneva-based Economics and Trade Branch, told Tierramérica.

Stone visited Mexico last week for the presentation of a national prospective study on the green economy, co-produced by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and Tecnológico de Monterrey, a private university.

"The real question is whether those who do the greatest damage to the environment are truly contributing to what needs to be done," commented the director of the School of Economics at the public National Autonomous University of Mexico, Roberto Escalante.

"That is why there is a risk that greening the economy will deepen existing inequalities, so that those who have the least will bear the greatest costs of the environmental impacts," he told Tierramérica

Escalante is conducting a research study, which he expects to complete during the first quarter of this year, on the effects of agriculture and deforestation on the environment, commissioned by SEMARNAT.

In the run-up to Rio+20, civil society organisations in Latin America are promoting a reworking of sustainable development with an emphasis on social and ecological aspects and a new economy to confront poverty and the concentration of wealth.

The World Economic and Social Survey 2011, published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, recommends the investment of 1.9 billion dollars annually in green technologies over the next 40 years to combat the effects of climate change.

UNEP believes green investment should contribute to reducing the energy and water demands and carbon footprint of the production of goods and services.

"There are many alternatives, and the most convincing is the peasant farming economy, which already accounts for 70 percent of world food production," noted Ribero, whose organisation focuses on the environmental, social and economic impacts of new technologies.

The ETC Group study calls for the establishment of antitrust regimes to prevent monopoly control over resources and highlights the central importance of agriculture and food sovereignty.

It also emphasises the need for greater international awareness around the proposed "techno fixes" which "are not capable of addressing systemic problems of poverty, hunger and environmental crises."

"One of the key issues is the value of nature, which is not taken into account," said Stone. "It is not included in economic calculations. These services need to be valued with limits and regulations."

For his part, Escalante, whose research aims at offering alternatives for low-carbon agricultural production, advocates the use of new technologies, the participation of university institutions, and the formulation of integrated public policies.

"Environmental issues are essentially financial issues. This will be a key subject of discussion at Rio+20. A new vision should prevail, incorporating the prices of the environment in the world of the economy and establishing a scheme that guarantees equity," he stressed.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sustainability Agenda in Retrospect and in Prospect

By Yamei Shen, UN Chronicles

At a time when mega crises in economic activities, social life, and natural environment are becoming “the new normal” for mankind, it is only wise to search for a way out of this new normal by taking an integrated approach, revealing the essential value of sustainable development in combining economic, social, and natural considerations.

Since the adoption of Agenda 21 in 1992, the United Nations has been pursuing sustainable development in the economic, social, and environmental fields, and at the local, national, and international levels. Due to efforts of the past two decades, the United Nations has been successful in spreading the concept of sustainable development far and wide, carrying out various forms of relevant activities on a regular basis, and establishing numerous international political commitments. As countries become increasingly interdependent, the desire for sustainable development has become stronger in a concerted way. It would be fair to say that an era of sustainable development is being ushered in right now.

However, while achievements are encouraging, the overall development work of the United Nations is still fragmented. For example, institutional capacity building has yet to be enhanced. Many Member States have incorporated sustainability in their overall national development strategy, making sustainability a critical merit of economic efficiency. Nevertheless, the monitoring and evaluation of these countries’ progress in sustain- able development by the United Nations is quite soft and lacking in clear-cut standards, especially in setting up reasonable authentication regimes and employing appropriate legal tools.

As a result, the sustainability agenda is still vulnerable, and at times the sustainable development goals seem elusive. For instance, according to estimates by the World Bank, due to the serious fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis, the world population stricken by poverty will increase by 263 million by 2015. This anticipated trend is in stark contrast to the poverty alleviation goals set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


In 2007, when Ban Ki-moon assumed his first term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, his strategy was to focus on specific areas of sustainability. His priorities included reaching a global pact on climate change, campaigning for nuclear disarmament, and achieving the MDGs.

In order to expand global outreach of the MDGs, under Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations initiated some innovative action plans, including the bold global effort Every Woman Every Child. It also established the High-level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis in 2008, and in August 2010, set up the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, whose aim was to provide a final report on poverty alleviation while protecting the natural system by December 2011.

During Mr. Ban’s first term, environmental cooperation of various types did bear some fruit. The United Nations responded swiftly to the global H1N1 pandemic, floods in Pakistan, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the catastrophic earthquakes in Haiti and Japan. In July 2011, the UN Security Council even issued the first-ever Council statement recognizing climate change as one of the most important challenges to international peace and security. Although many questions remain as to whether the UN could have the adequate means, resources, and expertise to tackle the issue of climate change, the statement is significant and a major step forward, considering the fact that the Council failed to arrive at this same consensus in 2007.

However, since early 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has implied, on more than one occasion, that during his second term efforts will be redirected to include a broader agenda for promoting sustainable development. This shift of focus could be attributed to what was learned in the past few years.

Mr. Ban’s initial optimism in climate change work was seriously dampened by the failed 2009 Copenhagen Summit. The Summit was hailed by some scholars as “the last chance for human self-salvation”, and yet it witnessed protracted wrangling between developing and developed countries on issues of emission reduction targets, financial aid, technological assistance, etc. The Summit also revealed that it was difficult to forge political consensus in the near future.

Ironically, the greatest contribution from the United Nations to the area of sustainable development during Ban Ki-moon’s first term was that it tested the approach of seeking a single grand deal on climate change. When that failed, it learned to reconcile with reality and is now exploring new intervening strategies for sustainability.

The onset of the international financial crisis in late 2008 further exposed the danger of unsustainable economic growth. At face value, the three dimensions of sustainable development, i.e., economic, social, and environmental, unfold along different trajectories. Deep down they correlate substantially with each other. Therefore, it is far from enough to merely manage financial flows with ethics and responsibility, and a massive scale of counter-cyclical fiscal stimuli could only play a transient role in shoring up the economy. There is a pressing need to conduct fundamental and structural policy reforms with an economic growth pattern, social welfare, and environmental sustainability.

In the Chinese ideogram, “crisis” is a combination of “risk ” and “opportunity”. While growing uncertainties and fears of a prolonged recession have made the global development agenda more difficult to achieve, the economic down- turn, in parallel with climate change, offers a real opportunity for achieving sustainable development, albeit against strong odds.


Poverty alleviation, environmental threats, and human rights have been widely suggested as challenges to the United Nations for the next five years.

It is natural that pursuing sustainable development will raise the cost of economic growth. In the future, it will be feasible to pursue small steps in separate fields, rather than aiming for one sweeping pact.

Firstly, Governments shoulder a primary responsibility to lead the process of sustainable development. Indeed, efforts could be tried in a bottom-up way to get everyone on board, and to create extensive partnership among Governments, businesses, and civil society. However, national Governments must contribute more to strategic planning work in general, and to proactive policies regarding employment, social welfare, and environmentally friendly economic growth.

Secondly, while it is vital to maintain global unity in the pursuit of sustainable development, the United Nations needs to refrain from imposing a single model on each and every country of the world. Countries need to independently choose the path of sustainable development suited to their own national conditions. And in that process, it is natural that countries will not be immune from practical and cost-benefit calculations, including how much it will cost to upgrade traditional industries to a “green” level, how deep the green mode can soak into modern production and lifestyle, and what competitive edge the green economy will bring for them. Special attention needs to be given to vulnerable countries, including the least developed countries and small island States, to address their concerns.

Thirdly, it is important to coordinate the different dimensions of sustainability, without allowing one dimension to override and squeeze out another. For example, developing countries are facing enormous risks and challenges in achieving the green economy transformation, due to their relatively limited resources and expertise in this field. If new bargaining politics such as “green assistance” or “green barriers” were imposed prematurely from outside, it would create new hurdles, add more frustrations and prove counterproductive to their overall efforts.

Fourthly, the United Nations work on sustainable development needs to be strengthened. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development needs to prepare an institutional framework on sustainable development for the Rio+20 which will be held in June 2012. Previous pledges of financial aid from developed countries to developing ones on various issues of sustainability, such as climate change and a green economy, need to be honoured. The United Nations should focus on achieving goals already set regarding the MDGs and climate change, which is always more fundamental, important, and practical than delineating new, elusive frontiers to conquer.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What the smog can’t conceal

Chu Long, Chinadialogue (January 19, 2012)

The air quality crisis confirms China’s once-bold environment ministry has become sluggish, weak and bureaucratic, writes Chu Long.

Since the autumn, a series of polluted “hazes” in cities across China – and discussion of that now ubiquitous term for fine particulate matter, PM2.5 – have attracted widespread public attention. So too has the official response: while urban air pollution fast became a focus of public anger, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), which is responsible for monitoring air quality, took the opportunity to show its sluggish and bureaucratic side.

In Beijing, the gulf between reported air quality and the reality experienced by city residents became a sharply divisive issue. At the same time, air quality data from unofficial sources spread rapidly via new modes of communication. That people now disregard government data points to the dissatisfaction they feel regarding the state’s environmental protection apparatus.

But a few recent events began to mollify people. First, premier Wen Jiabao stressed that environmental monitoring data must tie in more closely with people’s actual experience. Then, vice-premier Li Keqiang called for preparations to start for the monitoring of PM2.5, which specifically are particulates measuring 2.5 microns in diameter. Finally, the MEP joined the table: at the Seventh National Conference on Environmental Protection, minister for environmental protection Zhou Shengxian announced a detailed timetable for the monitoring of PM2.5 and ozone.

In 2012, China will begin monitoring these two pollutants in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei province, the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta and other key regions, municipalities and provincial capitals. By 2016, the entire country will monitor PM2.5. Zhu Jianping, deputy director of the MEP’s environmental monitoring department, said that this plan presents no technical problems: in principle, monitoring PM2.5 is no different from monitoring the larger particulates known as PM10. The monitoring sites can be located alongside PM10 monitoring sites, meaning there is no need to establish a new network – PM2.5 measuring equipment can simply be added to existing stations.

So, why did it take so long? People find it difficult to comprehend how, if there’s no technical obstacle to measuring PM2.5, the ministry has only responded now. And why choose to proceed incrementally, dragging the process out to 2016? To date, the MEP has taken no effective measures to prevent a further deterioration in air quality. Air pollution is already being blamed, at least in part, for rising lung cancer rates in Beijing. How will there be time to tackle the problem if the country follows the ministry’s timetable?

As environment officials dithered over their response to the crisis, several Chinese NGOs, including Green Beagle, launched their own air-quality monitoring projects. The newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily took the opinion that while pollution monitoring by civil-society groups may not be as scientific as government monitoring – officials use machines that cost 700,000 yuan (US$110,000) a piece; the model used by the NGOs costs 25,000 yuan (US$4,000) – it would be a mistake to underestimate the power and momentum of civil society in this field.

If the government again neglects the issue of air-quality monitoring, it is bound to provoke an even greater public outcry and a more intense challenge. For this reason, the MEP must take off its mask of arrogance, listen to public opinion and strive to improve its service through a better relationship with the public.

Three years have passed since the sub-ministerial State Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) was promoted to ministry level and became the MEP. China’s environmental pollution has only worsened in that time. Currently, one-tenth of the country’s soil is affected by heavy metal pollution; 26% of its “key environmental protection cities” have air that does not meet standards; one-fifth of the country’s water is classed as worse than grade five, the lowest grade in quality; and many other key environmental indicators have deteriorated since 2008. As one MEP official said: “Although there has been some local improvement, there has been no halt in the general decline of the overall environment.”

The ministry’s impact is still weakening. In 2011, Luliang Chemical Industry illegally dumped 5,000 tonnes of chromium waste in Qujing, in the south-western province of Yunnan, causing severe pollution. The MEP forced the company to close, but soon the factory resumed production, in clear violation of the government order. The ministry’s punitive measures could not achieve their desired result and they had no way to effectively sanction this company.

It is a shame that it has come to this, because the main environmental arm of the state was once one of the most pioneering and innovative government bodies, which earned a lot of public trust. From its series of crackdowns, known as “environmental storms”, to the enforcement of regional planning restrictions – when it refused to approve projects for law-breaking local governments until changes were made – SEPA used to pursue its policies to the end, drawing the attention of the entire nation to the importance of China’s pollution problems.

There was significant momentum behind the “environmental storms”, but they never became a regular part of the system. At the time, observers and officials stressed that relying on occasional crackdowns to protect the environment wouldn’t work in the long term. China needed to strengthen its laws on environmental supervision and management, its standardisation and so on. Now China faces a situation where environmental measures are neither systematised nor implemented through crackdowns. The environment will continue to suffer the consequences.

Over the past few years, the pursuit of economic gain by special interest groups has grown more intense. These interest groups have all grabbed a firm hold of economic and political power, to the extent that they are now outside the scope of the MEP’s jurisdiction and supervision. Just look at the way the pollution incidents involving, for example, PetroChina, CNOOC and Zijin Mining Group, unfolded. Before the incident, the MEP could not take part in decision-making; during the course of the project in question, it could not carry out any meaningful supervision; and after the incident, it could not implement punitive measures. Yet MEP officials often end up resigning in the aftermath of these disasters.

Some say that since interest groups hold the reins of power and the MEP is weak, it is difficult to achieve anything. I disagree. Interest groups are a fact of life. Local governments will always be powerful. But isn’t it the responsibility of the central authorities to surmount these difficulties and implement policy according to China’s guiding principle of “scientific development”? Exactly as the central government has tried to regulate house prices, can’t they work to break the blockade formed by special interests and local government? Can’t practical difficulties be overcome by determination? In Wen Jiabao’s words, can’t one “offer up one’s life for one’s country, accept hardship and forgo personal gain”?

If a government body can only show initiative and responsibility when it is small, weak and non-bureaucratic, then perhaps the MEP should be dismantled and demoted back to agency status! Here I joke, of course, but the fact remains that interest groups have been allowed to grow powerful and the MEP seems powerless. There is a serious lack of momentum behind environmental protection in China's current political structure.

It recently emerged that the boundaries of the Yangtze River’s last remaining ecological conservation area have finally been “adjusted”. This seems to confirm that there is no way to stop those forces that put profit before nature. The ecological deterioration of the entire Yangtze River system looks inevitable. But reinvigorating China’s environmental movement could reverse the trend. Every nation experiences environmental pollution as part of its development path. Time and again, the solution is to take on those who profit from pollution. The victims of pollution, the Chinese public, already know this and have started to take action. They are fighting back against polluting interest groups, as we saw in protests against petrochemical plants in Xiamen and Dalian.

This is good news for the environment and for society. Only if the public becomes a stakeholder able to restrict the polluting actions of local government, big business and other interest groups, rather than just waiting passively for the MEP to take action, will environmental protection and social stability in China have a chance. And only then will “scientific development” policies be genuinely implemented.

Just waiting won’t bring China clear water and blue skies. Action is required. Whether the MEP dares to do something, or is capable of doing something, will finally show whether it’s at the vanguard of scientific development, or simply a redundant, bureaucratic organisation.


Flood-tolerant rice leads Guyana farm adaptation push

By Johann Earle, AlertNet (January 23, 2012)

George Griffith is pleased with his harvest. Improved farming techniques and a different variety of rice have helped the 70-year-old farmer reap 103 bags of rice from his two-and-a-half acre (one hectare) field in this coastal village. That is an increase of at least 12 percent from his previous crops.

“The land of itself is fertile, very fertile, (but the harvest) has a lot to do with the preparation of the land,” he said.

Preparation and adaptation are the key words as Guyana’s farmers seek to increase their incomes while adapting to unpredictable weather conditions. The pressures of a changing climate are forcing a rethink of agricultural practices by individual farmers and the government.

Griffith, for instance, has been able to maximise his production using a new variety of rice, and minimise losses from climate-related flooding through adaptive measures in the field.

At his farm, Griffith must deal with flooding caused by heavy spring ocean tides as well as increasingly heavy rainfall. Efforts to improve drainage have helped address the problem, but now Griffith also maintains protective banks around his fields to keep out excess water.

“Even if there is flooding, it would not override the banks,” he said.

Because there are two crops every year, maintaining the banks is an ongoing task.

“You have to ensure before the crop is put in that these necessary facilities are in place,” he said.


To deal with wetter conditions, Griffith also is trying out a rice variety called GRDB 10. It is specially adapted to wet conditions and can survive for a few days underwater, which means that the farmer need not wait for the land to be completely drained before planting. An additional advantage of a rice plant that can endure being underwater is that it does not face as much competition from weeds and other plants, which are killed by standing water.

“When you grow it through the water you eliminate these things and the rice is clean, free from these different weeds,” Griffith said.

The farmer points out that the key to using the variety successfully is having very level land, where the water can be evenly distributed.

Getting such crop transitions is crucial for Guyana’s rice and sugar industries, which are key contributors to the South American nation’s food security, large employers and a major source of foreign exchange for the country.

A recent report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN-ECLAC) noted that climate change will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of a large part of Guyana’s population unless the country adapts.

The report listed a variety of climate change factors that are likely to affect Guyana’s agriculture, including temperature changes, drought, increased rainfall intensity, an increase in sea level and temperature, and the risk of salt water intrusion.

Higher temperatures are associated with sterility in rice flowers, which prevents grains from developing. The ECLAC report warns that a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius would result in a 10 percent reduction in yield.

Dharamkumar Seeraj, general secretary of Guyana’s Rice Producers Association, said that his organisation began researching new, better adapted varieties of rice, such as GRDB 10, about five years ago.

The new varieties are adapted to withstand floods as well as dry conditions, according to Seeraj.

“Right now we have some strains that we are testing under flooded conditions and these have demonstrated the ability to stay under water for between seven and nine days. They go into a state of hibernation, more or less,” Seeraj said.

Seeraj is worried by projections about long-term climate change, but his biggest concern for the moment is increasing extreme weather, such as heavy downpours associated with La Nina weather patterns.

Speaking to local media recently, Jagnarine Singh, general manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board, said rice yields are already rising in the country as a result of the adaptation efforts.

“Even in the first crop (of 2011), we have been seeing that the yields are higher and this is because of the new practices that the farmers have been employing, our technology transfer programmes and new varieties,” said Singh.


Sugar producers also are having to adapt to changes in weather patterns, according to the ECLAC study, as increased rainfall reduces the number of days available for planting and harvesting sugar cane. Flooding from more intense rains also impacts production by increasing drainage time in coastal areas.

Gavin Ramnarain, head of agricultural research at Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco), the state-owned sugar company, said that the corporation’s priorities are cultivating flood-tolerant, high-yielding cane varieties, improving drainage systems, and diversifying income-generating activities for sugar farmers.

“Guysuco has begun to modify the design of the drainage system to increase discharge capacity as one of our adaptive mechanisms,” he said.

Ramnarain said that the company is working closely with the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority to widen sluice doors and increasing the capacity of drainage systems where possible.

However, Ramnarain noted that effects of climate change will necessitate additional drainage structures and efforts to offset the anticipated increase in surface runoff.

Guysuco, for instance, is increasing the height of dams around farmland, and levelling fields so that water will drain faster.

Seeraj, of the Rice Producers Association, agrees that his industry must also work in a more climate-smart manner.

“We know (climate change) is happening. … The world has awakened to the fact they we must take measures to (deal with it),” he said.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Why Development Aid Is Not Enough

By Erik Solheim, Project Syndicate | Op-Ed (January 16,2012)

Poverty is not only about not having enough money. It is also about exploitation and oppression, and about armed conflicts and wars that make it impossible to run a business, visit the doctor, or send children to school. In short, poverty is about politics, and the need to devise political solutions to its underlying causes, which involves more than providing money.

The world has changed greatly since 2000, when the international community adopted the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There has been a major shift in geopolitical power, with countries previously regarded as poor enough to receive aid transformed into emerging-market drivers of the world economy. Power has also shifted in the global political arena, with the global financial crisis catalysing the emergence of the G-20.

If the fight against poverty is to be based on our traditional carbon-heavy growth path, the climate consequences will be devastating, even if the richer parts of the world were to get rid of all emissions today. The result would be floods, drought, dramatically reduced food production, and a great loss of our precious biodiversity. All of this would obviously lead to a dramatic increase in poverty around the world, but, as always, the poorer countries would be the hardest hit.

Yet not to fight poverty is perhaps a worse option still. Not providing proper access to energy would mean not only denying a billion people their basic needs and rights, but also that more wood will be chopped down for firewood, resulting in deforestation and desertification.

Rich countries’ engagement in the fight against global poverty has always been based on justice and a moral imperative. But our experience during this first decade of the twenty-first century has made it clear that fighting poverty is also necessary for a secure future.

As Norway’s minister for both the environment and development since 2007, I meet with other countries’ ministers with both portfolios, and it has come as a shock to see how the two groups lead such separate lives. Each has its own important agenda, its own analysis of the challenges ahead, its own strategic plans, and literally its own language. While each recognizes the importance of the other’s agenda, unless they talk and act together, neither group’s goals will be achieved.

Meanwhile, global climate negotiations – now the most important forum where development and environment experts and decision makers meet – have proven that the era of Western global hegemony has passed. The so-called developing world contains something that we want: huge untouched rainforests that are vital to our future existence.

These countries are able to choose a different technological path to growth, one based on low-carbon strategies and green principles. It is a path that we desperately need them to choose, but one that also means greater negotiating power for poorer countries than we have ever seen. It will be challenging, but maybe also healthy for our common future.

The amounts needed for development, peacekeeping, and climate adaptation and mitigation will be enormous, and we have been debating for years the appropriate level of aid. But, although aid is important, public funding from the developed countries can never be enough, even if we were to fulfill all our pledges.

Over the last decade, innovative financing has become the new buzzword, and not just for development. As part of the climate negotiations, new mechanisms for mobilizing funds are being suggested, with levies on air travel and taxes on financial transactions perhaps the best known. Such funding schemes’ great innovation is that the richest people would pay, regardless of their own country’s economic position.

But the most important of all financial flows are the illicit funds that pour out of so many developing countries, which the Tax Justice Network estimates to be around ten times the development aid that they receive. Much of this money comes from cross-border financial transactions linked to illegal activities, with profits from organized crime and the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and human beings accounting for a substantial proportion. Moreover, while large sums disappear through fraud, corruption, bribery, smuggling, and money laundering, the largest share of illicit financial flows is related to commercial transactions, often within multinational companies, for the purpose of tax evasion.

These flows are made possible mainly by tax havens, so the fight against global poverty should also be a fight against them.
Tax havens make economic crime more profitable, and the only way to fight them is to adopt global agreements on transparency in financial transfers, which should also cover companies on a country-to-country basis.

We must be careful not to fool ourselves into believing that the MDGs can be achieved through development aid alone. The wider politics of poverty must be placed at the top of the international agenda, along with the three factors most critical to development: climate, conflict, and capital.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Farms in cities

By Arun Chaturvedi, Dipak Sarkar (DowntoEarth)

A case for urban agriculture in India

India is perhaps among the few developing countries where urban agriculture is not a priority. The FAO’s final report on urban and peri-urban agriculture does not even mention India. Urban planners tend to exclude agriculture from their sights. But in many cities across the world, especially those in Asia and Latin America, agricultural use of land is accepted and formalised.

In India, agriculture practised on the fringes of a city gets noticed when it is affected by the urban sprawl. The expansion of the city is often seen as encroaching the fertile soil of surrounding regions. But studies have also shown how agricultural land deters (even though temporarily) unwanted urban expansion. As long as remuneration from cultivation offsets the sale price to estate agents and land speculators, the cultivator does not dispose of land. In cases where ownership of land does change, the new owners tend to hold on to agriculture because of the benefits that accrue due to non-taxation of income from agriculture. But since these sites are on the outskirts of cities and far from the usual agro-infrastructure, their economic and environmental effects and links to other sectors are never analysed.

Recently there has been a lot of discussions on urban encroachment on good quality agriculture land. According to eminent agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan, conservation of prime farm land for agriculture, soil health and rainwater harvesting are areas that require attention for attaining food security.

The need to conserve fertile and finite soil resources has also become a major issue in the political war over special economic zone (SEZs) in the past two or three years. There are some who who believe SEZs are a response to market-driven demand for land. They hold the SEZs essential for the economic improvement of the people living in abject poverty. Then there are agricultural scientists and environmentalists who demand legislation to prevent loss of prime agriculture land along the lines of laws that prevent diversion of forestland. The problem is that while forest is in the concurrent list, land is a state subject and states do not seem to support such legislation.

Most people fail to realise that urban encroachment on good agriculture land is a reality we have to live with. It is also true, as pointed out in various studies, that urban expansion is more towards good land, because historically urbanisation started in areas with good agriculture production.

The earlier growth of towns was linked to the feasibility of surplus food production in surrounding regions, necessary to sustain town dwellers involved in non-agricultural occupations. The towns were the service centres for their hinterland and balanced rural-urban relationship was necessarily maintained for their survival. But gradually the “happy” living conditions of towns pulled the working population of the hinterland and the increasing numbers swelled the city size in all directions. This trend has intensified.

It would also be futile to expect government to bring out legislation for a blanket ban on conversion of good agriculture land for urban land use. Already rigid forest laws have become a bone of contention between the forest and mining/infrastructure lobbies. And then there is the question of what defines a prime agriculture land. In the case of SEZ, the government has been considering treating any irrigated area with double or triple cropping as prime agriculture land. But this way of thinking has been challenged: there are scientists who believe any area with very good quality soil should be off limits even if the area in question might not be currently irrigated. These scientists believe introduction of irrigation can increase the productivity of these areas.

Today there is very little scope to feed the increasing population by increasing the area under the plough. The net sown area in India has almost plateaued at 140 million hectares in the past three decades. It is also an established fact that more marginal land is being brought under cultivation in forest fringes.

The problem is getting worse as cities plan new developments through formal Metropolitan Regional Boards or such other agencies covering large areas. The Nagpur Metropolitan Plan, currently being prepared, covers almost half the geographical area of the district around a distance of 30-40 km from the present city master plan area. More than 50 per cent of the area in question has fertile soil. If the plan takes shape, a large part of the area under Nagpur Mandarin (the famous Nagpur orange) shall be devoured by urban amenities.

Therefore, the solution to prevent conversion of good land has to be market-driven and with a scientific rationale. Can agriculture be used as a deterrent to urban encroachment on good agriculture land? It can, if agriculture is economically viable to offset the market value of urban utilisation. This can be achieved if agriculture is officially recognised as one of the urban functions and included in city master plans.

Agriculture as an unorganised activity is carried out in urban areas of India as evident in vegetable production in drains and waterbeds of rivers and in the presence of unauthorised dairies. In developed countries, agriculture is gradually being accepted as an important function to grow healthy food and save transport costs. Supportive city policies are being advocated for all dimensions of the local food system and economy.

City agencies in the developed countries have accorded importance to framing urban agricultural policies. For instance, the Chicago City Council is currently considering an ordinance that would affect the legal circumstances of urban agriculture in Chicago. In many other US cities policies and practices for urban agriculture that provide as many people as possible with opportunities to grow significant quantities of healthy food in their neighbourhoods, backyards and on vacant lots are being considered. One of the main advantages being cited is to advance ecological sustainability and local economic resilience. Such practices assume even more significance in the age of climate change. Mixed and integrated land use systems envisaged in the US cities call for a new view of zoning and land use approaches—they call for neighbourhood-based food and energy production, nutrient recycling and water conservation.

There is, in fact, an official document that mentions urban farming. One of the points in the National Land Use Policy guideline and action points is that urban policy must be restructured so as to ensure that highly productive land is not taken away. Town planning should also provide for green belts. Urban agriculture can be used to implement these guidelines in a holistic manner.

The importance and requirement for urban agriculture will only grow in the coming years as transportation costs and distances increase. Perhaps its integration in urban planning, linked through the green belt requirements of the city, can provide the much needed solution to the problem of loss of good quality agriculture land through urban encroachment while providing fresh food and vegetables to the people.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Malawi farmers ease climate woes with fertiliser trees

By Karen Sanje, Alert News

Smallholder farmers struggling with climate change in this southeast African nation are turning to trees to help their crops grow.

Many are intercropping trees with maize to provide moisture-preserving shade for the growing corn, while others bury tree leaves in the ground to make the soil more fertile and help retain moisture at planting time.

Research has found that such “fertiliser tree systems” can as much as double yields of maize, a staple crop here.

“These trees have the potential not only to enrich the soils but also to help keep moisture in my field even if the rains rarely come,” said Killar Kawelama, a farmer in Balaka in southern Malawi.

He learned the technique from an agricultural field officer working for a climate change adaptation programme sponsored by the aid agency Oxfam UK.


Kawelama digs planting holes in his field between April and June each year and buries fresh or dry leaves in them from Gliricidia sepium trees that grow close to his house. The fast-growing trees, native to Mexico and Central America, grow well in a large range of conditions.

When the rains come around September and October, he opens part of each hole and plants his seeds.

The leaves decompose in the ground, and the resulting compost boosts the soil’s fertility and traps moisture around the maize plants like a sponge, enabling the crop to grow more vigorously.

“Plants growing in such an environment are more likely to give a farmer a better yield as they don’t wither easily because of (lack of) moisture,” said Kufasi Shela, chief land resource conservation officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

Unlike Kawelama, Bettie Lungu of Mzimba in northern Malawi uses Tephrosia vogelii trees, which she plants in rows 1.5 metres (about five feet) apart.

The trees, which increase fertilising nitrogen in the soil, do not grow taller than the maize crop, so they do not stifle the growth of the maize, according to Mahara Nyirenda, an agriculture coordinator for the Development Fund of Norway.

“The leaves falling from the trees cover the ground. When it rains, this layer traps the raindrops, preventing them from accumulating into runoff. They also aid percolation into the soil,” Nyirenda said.

When it is sunny, the tree canopies shade the ground and the fallen leaves help keep the moisture in the soil, he added

A recent paper by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre reported that nearly 150,000 smallholder farmers in Malawi are using fertiliser tree systems. Several species of tree are used, though the most popular is Gliricidia sepium


Killar Kawelama is very happy with the results.

“Things have changed a lot since we started using the practice of burying leaves from these trees,” he said.

When Kawelama used chemical fertilisers, he would harvest 20 sacks of maize, each weighing 50 kg (110 lbs). Since switching to tree fertilisers his crop has declined slightly, to 18 sacks.

“But I am better off now because I am saving over 24,000 Malawian Kwacha (about $150) which I used to spend on chemical fertilisers,” he explained.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Norway pledges $300 million/year to green world's power

By Ben Garside, Reuters (January 18, 2012)

Norway will spend NOK 1.8 billion ($300 million) a year to devise ways to help some of the world's poorest people get better access to energy and to develop a new market-based system to limit emissions from global energy production, a foreign ministry official said Wednesday.

The Nordic nation expects to launch a plan by June that will see several richer states give money to nine poor countries to invest in new and more efficient power plants.

The government hopes the scheme will be eventually used as a worldwide example for attracting private sector cash via a new type of carbon market.

The Energy+ Partnership will see Norway, UK, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands and South Korea give money to Bhutan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, Senegal and Tanzania.

The cash will depend on how well the recipient countries can prove they are increasing public access to energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions compared to unchecked levels, according to a policy document seen by Point Carbon News.

Norway has already started working with Ethiopia and the Maldives, and in February will meet with officials from Kenya and Liberia, said Terje Kronen, an official from Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"We are also looking into (including) India and South Africa (as recipients)," he said, adding that rich countries will source cash from their overseas aid budgets rather than use money pledged under the U.N. to help poor nations limit emissions and tackle the effects of climate change.

The Energy+ Partnership is due to be launched at the Rio+20 summit in June, where world leaders will discuss global measures to provide universal access to energy - a goal the International Energy Agency said will cost at least $48 billion a year.


Norway, whose vast offshore oil reserves have helped it to become one of the world's richest countries, wants the effort to mirror the REDD+ Partnership on halting deforestation in the developing world.

The Energy+ plan is intended to help drive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, where renewable energy and energy efficiency measures account for around 9 percent of worldwide abatement potential.

The policy document said Energy+ cash will help the poorer countries develop the energy section of their country-wide U.N. pledges to cut emissions, known as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions.

It will also develop practical examples "in establishing new carbon markets."

Last month's U.N. climate negotiations in Durban opened the door for the emergence of several new carbon market mechanisms, but investors expect little progress on them without more government backing.


Governments want to drive deeper emissions reductions by developing new markets across entire sectors rather than the existing project-by-project approaches in the U.N's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation.

Norway's Kronen insists that finance from hosting CDM offset projects can still be used to develop cleaner energy sources alongside Energy+ cash.

"Many partner developing countries see results-based financing of reduced/avoided GHG emissions as a new and better way to benefit from climate financing," said Norway's Kronen.

He added that some of these countries had been able to develop very few CDM projects and saw the costs involved as too high for too small a result.


India oppose replacing of MDGs with sustainable development goals

By Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times - New Delhi, January 18, 2012

The United Nations has proposed replacing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which could have norms for green economy, energy efficiency energy appliances, water efficiency, protecting endangered species such as tigers and

A zero draft circulated by UN is expected to be finalised in June in Rio, Brazil, where over 100 head of states including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are likely to participate in an Earth Summit.

Although India's concerns regarding carbon tax and technology dependence on the developed world has found place in the zero text many issues raised by India are missing.

India negotiators, who will discuss the text thrice before, PM Singh and others deliberate, say that there was unanimity of setting up a Sustainable Development Council in UN but many other issues remain to be worked out.

The SDGs targets on range of issues including reducing emission for per unit of GDP, preserving bio-diversity, provide quality education, ensure food and clean drinking water to all and gender equality would be applicable after 2015 will have to be met by 2030. The nations will decide these targets between 2012 and 2015 and also setup a mechanism to monitor the progress.

The developed and the developing world are already at loggerheads over the UN’s 128 page draft called ‘The Future We Want’, which seeks major policy shifts to meet the proposed goals with some financial assistance from the rich nations.

The UN has incorporated some elements of the position taken by India and other developing countries such as that green economy should not result in creation of new green barriers such as carbon tax, impose new conditions on aid and finance and increase dependence of the developed countries on rich nations for cleaner technologies.

What remains missing from the UN draft is India’s strong opposition to defining and aiming for quantitative targets towards sustainable development. India believes that the target should only be for the developed world and not the developing world, which has to deal with poverty eradication and providing livelihood avenues to its large deprived population.

“We are against mandatory SDGs for all nations,” said a senior government official. India believes that the principles of Rio summit in 1992 clearly say that rich nations have obligation to reduce global poverty and achieve sustainable development goals. The developing countries have to take voluntary actions depending on their domestic resources to meet the “aspirational” target.

Considering the clamour expected before the Rio conference, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan will be calling a meeting of officials from different government departments to discuss the strategy for first round of negotiations on zero draft starting from January 25 at UN headquarters in New York.

After January, there would be two more rounds of officials negotiations before ministers discuss a draft for consideration of head of states meeting in Rio from June 20 to 22. Government said PM Singh is expected to visit attend the conference after attending a meeting of G20 nations in Mexico on 18th and 19th June.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resilient homes to help coastal Bangladeshis withstand cyclones

By Syful Islam, AlertNet

Rizia Akhter doesn’t look forward to what the coming storm season may bring, but for the first time in years she feels secure.

Akhter, 45 and a single mother of five children, lost her home in Ardasha Gram village when cyclone Aila struck Bangladesh’s southwest coastal region on May 25, 2009. The storm killed at least 300 people and destroyed 4,000 kilometres of roads and embankments. More than 87,000 people in the region lost their houses, possessions and livelihoods.

But Akhter is now one of 43 families in her village living in a newly constructed house - one that has been built to withstand the increasingly strong storms that experts say may be linked to climate change.

“When the warning about Aila was given, we didn’t understand how devastating the storm would be. We were not even sure whether the cyclone would hit or not. So we stayed at home. Within a few minutes of the cyclone hitting, a water surge washed out our house,” Akhter said.

The home that Akhter lost was made of iron sheets. Following the cyclone, her family had to live in a hut made of bamboo, straw and plastic sheets.


But her new house is built of wood, with brick roof tiles. Most important, it stands on four concrete pillars two metres tall to protect it from rising waters.

“The height offered is enough to deal with the expected rise in sea level and growing storm surges,” said Aminul Islam, assistant director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bangladesh, which built the new houses in partnership with BRAC, a Bangladesh-based non-governmental development organisation.

The 170 square foot (15 square metre) homes are designed to withstand winds of up to 240 kph (150 mph).

Akhter and one of her daughters survived the 2009 cyclone by grabbing hold of a piece of iron roof sheeting that was floating past. She believes that if her family had been living in a sturdier elevated house, like her new one, they would not have been washed out and their lives endangered.

The Disaster Resilient Habitat (DRH) project aims to build safer settlements in Bangladesh coastal villages affected by cyclones or tidal surges, so that families can survive future cyclones.


Community participation was an important element in designing the houses, and architects from BRAC University consulted with villagers before coming up with a design.

“The project’s innovative approach ensured that solutions came from within the community rather than being imposed from the outside,” Islam said.

One villager, Fatema, said that community members had originally asked that the walls and roofs of the houses be built with brick and iron rods to make them more resilient, because they feared the wooden walls and brick-tile roofs would be less strong.

But Ainun Nishat, vice chancellor of BRAC University and a climate change expert, said that even as built the new houses should be able to withstand 150 mph winds, and that using local materials such as wood helped keep costs low so that the structures could be replicated in the future.

The fact that much of the area devastated by Aila is still covered in saltwater also posed a challenge to other types of construction, according to Nishat.

“Had we built the walls and rooftops with (local) bricks made of salt water and mud, there was a significant chance of the structures being ruined within five or six years” because of the salt content in the bricks, he said. Bricks used for the roofs were brought from a distance away, workers said.

The project has also focused on creating local jobs, a key element because many livelihoods were wiped out by the cyclone.

“The whole process of developing the DRH concept offered employment opportunities for different sections (of society), including the families targeted,” said the UNDP’s Islam.

The $1,750 cost of each home was covered by UNDP, while the new residents helped with the construction.

Many in the area have to travel significant distances to find work in brick-making, while for those who want to stay closer to home, like Rizia Akhter, there is little employment available other than fishing or cutting mud to build embankments as a protection against storm surges.

The UNDP now plans to expand the construction of storm-resistant houses to villages affected by Aila in the Dacope sub-district of Khulna district.

“These villages are getting cyclone-resistant homes which will have solar energy, rainwater harvesting and (cyclone) early warning systems, and livelihood support,” said Islam. The additional homes are due to be ready in March, and the UNDP is seeking donors to underwrite further expansion of the programme.


Although Bangladesh’s 16 coastal districts have more than 2,800 storm shelters, which have dramatically decreased deaths from cyclones in recent decades, a growing number of the shelters are now unusable, according to officials from the Ministry of Disaster Management. Adequately protecting the coastal population will require building 2,500 new shelters, they said.

Some of the existing shelters also are located too far from villages to be of much use in a sudden disaster, NGO worker say. Part of the problem is that cyclone warnings are often disregarded because they have not always been accurate in the past, and the delay in seeking shelter can cost lives.

Gareth Price-Jones, Bangladesh country director for Oxfam, said storm-resistant houses will help save lives as long as they are adapted to villagers’ way of life. According to Price-Jones, mobilising the community to assess disaster risks, agree on the most vulnerable households and design practical action plans is crucial.

“The key issue that has arisen in the past is that these kinds of structures have not been genuinely owned by the community. Too many ... have sat unused after initial success in the past. (But) it looks in this case as though the community has been very much involved, which is a really positive sign,” he said.

Nevertheless, the wider problem of worsening extreme weather events, including cyclones, remains.

“Without a serious global effort to address climate change, then it’s almost inevitable that these communities will see increased risks, decreased resilience and deterioration in their living conditions over the next few years,” Price-Jones warned.