Saturday, March 31, 2012

BRICS Summit-Delhi Declaration

Adapted from the document the BRICS members released to explain their agenda, International Business Times, March 29, 2012

Leaders of the 5 emerging economic powerhouses - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, met in New Delhi, India, on 29 March 2012 at the Fourth BRICS Summit. Discussions, under the overarching theme, "BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity" included the upcoming Rio+20 Summit, the concept of green economy and the upcoming Rio+20 Summit, the post MDG discussions, energy security, food security and nutrition and the volatility of commodity prices. Below is an excerpt of the document the BRICS members released to explain their agenda:

We affirm that the concept of a 'green economy', still to be defined at Rio+20, must be understood in the larger framework of sustainable development and poverty eradication and is a means to achieve these fundamental and overriding priorities, not an end in itself. National authorities must be given the flexibility and policy space to make their own choices out of a broad menu of options and define their paths towards sustainable development based on the country's stage of development, national strategies, circumstances and priorities. We resist the introduction of trade and investment barriers in any form on the grounds of developing green economy.

The Millennium Development Goals remain a fundamental milestone in the development agenda. To enable developing countries to obtain maximal results in attaining their Millennium Development Goals by the agreed time-line of 2015, we must ensure that growth in these countries is not affected. Any slowdown would have serious consequences for the world economy. Attainment of the MDGs is fundamental to ensuring inclusive, equitable and sustainable global growth and would require continued focus on these goals even beyond 2015, entailing enhanced financing support.

We attach the highest importance to economic growth that supports development and stability in Africa, as many of these countries have not yet realized their full economic potential. We will take our cooperation forward to support their efforts to accelerate the diversification and modernization of their economies. This will be through infrastructure development, knowledge exchange and support for increased access to technology, enhanced capacity building, and investment in human capital, including within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

We express our commitment to the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis that still affects millions of people in the Horn of Africa and support international efforts to this end.

Excessive volatility in commodity prices, particularly those for food and energy, poses additional risks for the recovery of the world economy. Improved regulation of the derivatives market for commodities is essential to avoid destabilizing impacts on food and energy supplies. We believe that increased energy production capacities and strengthened producer-consumer dialogue are important initiatives that would help in arresting such price volatility.

Energy based on fossil fuels will continue to dominate the energy mix for the foreseeable future. We will expand sourcing of clean and renewable energy, and use of energy efficient and alternative technologies, to meet the increasing demand of our economies and our people, and respond to climate concerns as well. In this context, we emphasize that international cooperation in the development of safe nuclear energy for peaceful purposes should proceed under conditions of strict observance of relevant safety standards and requirements concerning design, construction and operation of nuclear power plants. We stress IAEA's essential role in the joint efforts of the international community towards enhancing nuclear safety standards with a view to increasing public confidence in nuclear energy as a clean, affordable, safe and secure source of energy, vital to meeting global energy demands.

We appreciate the outcomes of the Second Meeting of BRICS Ministers of Agriculture and Agrarian Development at Chengdu, China in October 2011. We direct our Ministers to take this process forward with particular focus on the potential of cooperation amongst the BRICS to contribute effectively to global food security and nutrition through improved agriculture production and productivity, transparency in markets and reducing excessive volatility in commodity prices, thereby making a difference in the quality of lives of the people particularly in the developing world.


Lack of Quality Undermines Biogas Industry

By GVEP Blog

Biogas technology is an alternative energy source for cooking and lighting for farmers, who in Kenya make up 80% of the rural population.

However with the industry promoting a rapid uptake of biogas construction there is a growing concern among many stakeholders that an increase in the number of poor quality constructions is damaging faith in the technology.

At a recent stakeholder’s forum for Kenya’s biogas industry, a local contractor describes to me how many of his potential customers are unwilling to adopt the technology after experience with a failed plant and how so-called ‘quacks’ – untrained masons constructing low quality plants – are affecting consumer trust.

Financiers too, need to be assured that their investments will lead to a successful project. Family Bank in Kenya already offer a finance package for domestic biogas construction, yet the approval rate is low. A representative of the bank explained to me how their confidence in the industry would increase if recognised certification existed for reliable contractors.

As market concentration increases, service quality should improve as sub-standard providers lose out to competition. But until then stakeholders in biogas must promote quality as well as quantity if enough confidence is to be gained to expand this technology into a widespread and sustainable industry in Kenya.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Climate Change Threatens the Poor in Cities

By Manipadma Jena, IPS news, March 27, 2012

India, like other Asian countries, has focused its climate change adaptation strategies on rural and urban areas while neglecting the urban fringes, say experts.

Peri-urban areas are characterised by haphazard, accelerated expansion and are farthest from basic urban services and infrastructure, according to United Nations-Habitat’s ‘The State of Asian Cities 2010-11’. By 2020, of the projected 4.2 billion urban population of the world, 2.2 billion will be living in Asia, many in peri-urban areas, the U.N. report says.

"These are places where nobody is in charge," said Stephen Tyler of the United States-based Institute of Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), while in the Thai capital to attend the Mar. 12–13 Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum.

"Populations residing in peri-urban areas are most vulnerable to climate change because they have neither the modern infrastructure, clean water, and sanitation available in urban areas nor the ecosystems that rural folks fall back on," Tyler told IPS.

"Climate change exacerbates land and resettlement issues in Asia," said Youssef Nassef, coordinator of the adaptation programme with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and a delegate.

"In India, while the municipality’s administration area is demarcated, responsibility for peri-urban areas is fragmented. Where are the policy levers for peri-urban areas, for example, in India’s policy?" Nassef asks.

India is not alone in neglecting peri-urban areas. Last year’s devastating floods in Thailand provided a good example of such neglect.

"What is Bangkok and what is not Bangkok is the question being asked after the flood," said Jonathan Shaw, executive director of the Bangkok-based Asian Institute of Technology.

"Bangkok’s urban sprawl spreads seamlessly to its suburbs, yet the business district with large foreign direct investment got priority flood protection," Shaw said. "The flood manifested the fissures in the urban and peri-urban."

"People here think the political factor played a major role in flood intervention. While two-tonne sand bags were available to prevent flooding into Bangkok city, the suburban provinces got only small sandbags which failed to keep the water out," Shaw said.

Cities that are not socially sustainable can never be environmentally sustainable, said Marcus Moench, who heads ISET. "The vulnerability of any city is directly proportional to the quantum of marginalised populations and to the exposure."

"As India urbanises, we see more and more poverty pockets because it is urbanising in an unorganised way," ISET researcher Shashikant Chopde told IPS.

According to India’s federal ministry of urban development, by 2051, 48 percent or 820 million people of its estimated 1.7 billion will be living in 6,500 urban settlements.

For these new arrivals from ‘push migration’ dynamics with low-skill sets and earning ability, peri-urban areas are preferable to the crowded and expensive city cores.

In a report launched at the Bangkok forum, the Asian Development Bank (AsDB) said that by 2050 some 1.4 billion Indians will be living in areas experiencing negative climate change impacts.

India’s coastal region will become "further vulnerable to climate change impacts due to high urbanisation, rural–urban migration and dwindling agricultural productivity," says the AsDB report titled ‘Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific’.

"If migration is not carefully planned and assisted, there is a serious risk that it can turn into maladaption, i.e. leave people more vulnerable to environmental changes," AsDB report warns.

Chopde says that in India while many city slum dwellers are eligible, under the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, for low-cost safe shelters, clean water and sanitation, inhabitants on the city fringes are unable to avail of the schemes thanks to blurred administrative boundaries.

"This is because they are included neither under rural nor within urban local governance systems," says Chopde. "As cities grow, peripheral lands are becoming increasingly attractive to commercial developers, and once again, low-income informal settlements are pushed away to cities’ new outer periphery."

"If a city’s master plans are strictly followed, peri-urban areas could be developed for climate-smart farming, helping to prevent city water logging.

"Since much of the vegetable supply comes from a city’s fringes, livelihood security for peri-urban inhabitants and food security for city dwellers could be ensured." Chopde suggests.

Experts at the Bangkok meet said that the challenge of building climate resilient societies could no longer be the responsibility of governments alone.

Saleemul Huq, who heads the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said at a media roundtable here that countries need to "build social capital by training a wide cross-section of people to better prepare for climate change at a time of unprecedented urbanisation."

While there is no cookie-cutter solution, Anna Lindstedt, Sweden’s ambassador for climate change, stressed that planning and adaptation strategies should be context-specific and tailored to localities.

"The process of engaging diverse partners, of building a shared understanding of climate risks and urban vulnerability, of developing joint and separate interventions and building a shared platform for ongoing learning is more valuable to the resilience building effort than any other strategy itself," states ISET’s 2011 publication ‘Catalysing Urban Climate Resilience’.

The report discusses study-based climate vulnerability and resilience -building strategies of a network of cities in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand supported the by Rockefeller Foundation through Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network.

For India, the best bet is still community-driven development, says Bharat Dahiya, researcher on peri- urban areas at U.N.-Habitat’s Asia-Pacific regional office in Bangkok. "In India, self-help, voluntarily initiated by civil society, even if ad hoc in nature, is of crucial importance," Dahiya said.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Future We Want - A Feminist Perspective

Adapted from The Future We Want - A Feminist Perspective by Heinrich Böll Foundation (March 15, 2012)

The multiple crisis – the financial crash, hunger, climate change and resource scarcity – shows emphatically that neoliberal market globalization cannot fulfill its promises, namely to bring about the ideal allocation of worldwide resources and thus be a win-win game for all. This is also the reason why the growth-based concept of sustainability put forward at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro was doomed to fail, as it constituted an attempt to reconcile economic growth, protection of resources, and social justice. In an effort to salvage the concept of sustainability, which has lost credibility, the United Nations have proposed a Global Green New Deal based on a Green Economy as the new guiding principle for the Rio+20 Conference.

The Green Economy seeks a way out of the financial, climate, and energy crisis and, at the same time, tries to make the connection to the Millennium Development Goals and poverty alleviation. Taking a closer look from a feminist perspective at the papers on the Green Economy, one is struck by the fact how few gender aspects they contain. Twenty years after the Rio Conference they seem to be gender-blind. In 1992, the Agenda 21, the Rio Conference’s final document, recognized women as key actors for environmental protection and poverty alleviation and granted them rights to shape development and environmental policy and make decisions in that area. On this basis, a broad consensus on gender policy came about in the 1990s, namely that ecology and sustainability are not gender neutral, the analysis of gender relations is vital for understanding the relationship between nature and society as well as for resource management and for overcoming environmental crises, without gender justice, there will be no environmental justice, no sustainability, and no good life for all.

Two decades on, the Green Economy papers of the United Nations Environment Programme1 (UNEP) lag behind the Agenda 21. Neither do their various topics reflect gender mainstreaming nor is there an effort to take a feminist perspective into consideration. Climate change has been at the top of the global environmental agenda for years and was, for a long time, treated as if it were a gender-neutral issue. If, in a sustained effort, international gender networks had not tenaciously introduced a gender perspective, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would still be gender-blind.

In 2008, and only after 14 rounds of negotiations, did the UNFCCC secretariat call on the parties to implement gender-sensitive measures. However, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon assembled an advisory group on Climate Change Financing in 2010, he appointed 19 men. Following vehement protests, the high-level body was expanded to include then French finance minister Christine Lagarde. Germany has not taken up the gender message of the 1992 Agenda 21 either. When, in 2011, German political parties nominated 17 experts to the study group “Growth, Prosperity, Quality of Life,” there was not a single woman among them. These examples show that the glass ceiling is still very much in effect in the decision-making arenas of development and environment policy and that women’s expertise is largely being ignored, even though mainstreaming and participation are professed time and again.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Open Letter to the Secretary General for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), the Secretary General and Member-States of the United Nations

Adapted from Petition: Rights at Risk at the United Nations


We – the civil society organizations and social movements who have responded to the call of the United Nations General Assembly to participate in the Rio+20 process – feel that is our duty to call the attention of relevant authorities and citizens of the world to a situation that severely threatens the rights of all people and undermines the relevance of the United Nations.

Remarkably, we are witnessing an attempt by certain countries to weaken, or “bracket” or outright eliminate nearly all references to human rights obligations and equity principles in the text, “The Future We Want”, for the outcome of Rio+20.

This includes references to the right to food and proper nutrition, the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, the right to development and others. The right to a clean and healthy environment, which is essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, remains weak in the text. Even principles previously agreed upon in Rio in 1992 are being bracketed – the Polluter Pays Principle, Precautionary Principle, Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR).

Many member states are opposing prescriptive language that commits governments to actually do what they claim to support in principle and act as duty bearers of human rights, including the provision of finance, technology and other means of implementation to support sustainable development effort in developing countries. On the other hand, there is a strong push for private sector investments and initiatives to fill in the gap left by the public sector. This risks privatizing and commoditizing common goods – such as water – which in turn endangers access and affordability, which are fundamental to such rights.

Although economic tools are essential to implement the decisions aiming for sustainability, social justice and peace, a private economy rationale should not prevail over the fulfillment of human needs and the respect of planetary boundaries. Therefore a strong institutional framework and regulation is needed. Weakly regulated markets have already proven to be a threat not only to people and nature, but to economies and nation states themselves. Markets must work for people, people should not work for markets.

From the ashes of World War II humanity gathered to build institutions aiming to build peace and prosperity for all, avoiding further suffering and destruction. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out this collective will, and the United Nations organization was created to make it a reality. Alarmingly, this very institution is now being used as a platform to attack the very rights it should safeguard, leaving people without defense and putting the very relevance of the UN at stake.

We urge the UNCSD Secretary General and Member States to bring the Rio+20 negotiations back on track to deliver the people’s legitimate agenda and the realization of rights, democracy and sustainability, as well as respect for transparency, accountability and non-regression on progress made.

We call on the UN Secretary General to stand up for the legacy of the United Nations by ensuring that Rio+20 builds on the multi-generational effort to strengthen rights as the foundation of peace and prosperity.

We urge our fellow citizens of the world to stand up for the future we want, and let their voices be heard. To that end the Rio+20 process should be improved by adopting the proposals we submit below.

On Greater participation for MGs

We are concerned by the continuing exclusion of Major Groups from the formal negotiating process of the Rio+20 zero draft. Unlike in the Preparatory Committee Meetings and the Intersessional Meetings, Major Groups and other Stakeholders have not been allowed to present revisions or make statements on the floor of the meeting. Nor, we suspect will we be allowed to make submissions or participate fully in the working negotiation group meetings that are likely to follow. Despite the UN DESA having compiled a text that shows all the revisions suggested by Major Groups, these revisions to the zero draft have so far not been included in the official negotiating text.

We request that the Major Groups be given the opportunity to submit suggestions and wording which would then be added to the official text for consideration, indication of support or deletion, and potential inclusion by governments.

We appeal to the UNCSD Secretary General to urgently reverse this state of affairs and to ensure that Major Groups have a seat at the table and a voice in the room where the negotiations are taking place. Please ensure that at the very least, Major Groups are allowed a formal statement at the commencement of the next negotiating session and at every session where a new draft text is introduced.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nigeria villages sue Shell in UK court over oil spills

By The Times of India, March 24, 2012

Thirty-five Nigerian villages are suing Royal Dutch Shell PLC in a British court, claiming that the company's slow response to two spills in 2008 left their delta region soaked in crude oil that destroyed the environment and their livelihoods.

Shell, long the dominant oil company in crude-rich Nigeria, on Friday quickly denied the lawsuit's allegations and said the spills represented only a fraction of the damage done in a community where thieves routinely tap into its pipelines without concern for the environment.

The lawsuit, which was publicized in the British media long before it was filed on Friday, seeks unspecified damages and a legal order for Shell to clean the polluted waterways and marshlands of 35 villages around the town of Bodo in Nigeria's Niger Delta. There, the suit alleges Shell allowed 560,000 barrels of oil - or 88.9 million liters (23.5 million gallons) - to spill over weeks before finally stopping the flow from its malfunctioning pipelines.

The spills, estimated by experts from video footage of the damage at the time, came before any other spills or damage occurred in the communities, said lawyer Martyn Day, a senior partner of Leigh Day & Co., which is representing the villages.

Lawyers for the communities filed the suit in London, where the transnational corporation has one of its head offices, out of concerns of not being able to get a fair trial in Nigeria. Shell agreed to the jurisdiction of the suit.

The villages are part of a region of Nigeria's Niger Delta known as Ogoniland. Crude production in Ogoniland stopped in 1993, but pipelines and flow stations operated by a Shell subsidiary and the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. still run through villages and fields.

Villages and communities remain largely hostile to Shell and other oil firms because of environmental damage and the execution of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by Nigeria's former military regime in 1995. However, Day said the communities would have welcomed Shell's help during the 2008 spills.

"The communities were absolutely desperate to bring Shell to get the leak capped," the lawyer told The Associated Press on Friday.

Shell, however, has said only 4,000 barrels of oil - or 635,000 liters (168,000 gallons) - spilled in the two leaks. The company now blames many of its spills on "bunkering" in the delta, where thieves drill or saw directly into pipelines to steal the crude oil inside. The stolen crude either gets shipped out in the country's thriving black market oil trade or is refined into crude diesel or kerosene in makeshift refineries.

In a statement Friday, Shell blamed the threat of a lawsuit for "preventing us from gaining access to the area and cleaning up the pollution caused by others since 2009."

Compensation for the spills was "severely delayed because of internal rifts between members of the Bodo community and lawyers representing factions within the community," the statement quoted Mutiu Sunmonu, the managing director of Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, as saying.

The lawsuit comes amid new international attention to spills in Ogoniland and across the Niger Delta, a region where some environmentalists say much as 2.1 billion liters (550 million gallons) of oil have spilled during more than 50 years of production. That would be at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year.

Today, oil stains coastlines and brackish creeks in the delta. Large plumes of dark smoke also rise in the air from the makeshift refineries' massive blazes to cook stolen crude oil.

A report released in August by the United Nations' environmental program estimated it could take as many as 30 years to clean Ogoniland alone. The report suggested the Nigerian government and the oil industry set up an initial $1 billion trust fund for the cleanup - something that has yet to be done.

That report sparked a $1 billion lawsuit in U.S. federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court currently is considering another lawsuit by 12 Nigerians against Shell claiming that the company aided a brutal government crackdown in the Niger Delta in the 1990s.

The U.K. court will use Nigerian law to rule on the lawsuit filed on Friday, barring any pretrial settlement.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Global land deals suck rivers dry

Beth Walker, China Dialogue March 22, 2012

The current surge in land acquisitions by foreign countries and private companies could lead to regional tensions over water rights, warns a new report by the Stockholm International Water Institute published last week.

Land acquisitions in Africa, south-east Asia and South America have sharply increased since 2008, driven by food security concerns, growing demand for biofuels, and financial speculation. The World Bank estimates that nearly 60 million hectares of land in Africa were leased in 2009 – and over 200 million hectares leased in developing countries overall in the past 10 years.

“Land investment is a water investment”, the report argues. “Water is often presumed to be included without explicitly being mentioned in land lease agreements”. Governments are signing away water rights for decades to large investors, with little regard for how this will impact users at a national level – from fishermen to pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on customary access to water – but also at the international level for countries that share river basins. And since the details of these agreements are not publically available, according to the SIWI report, it is hard to gauge the long-term implications.

And many of the largest land leasing countries are located in trans-boundary water basins, such as the Mekong, Nile and Niger River Basins, and so these deals will have implications for shared water resources, and regional relations. For example, the Ethiopian government has leased 10% of its agricultural land to foreign investors, and South Sudan and Sudan are quickly following suit, setting off alarm bells in downstream Egypt. In the Mekong River Basin, 41% of agricultural land in Laos, and 8% in Cambodia have been leased. And unlike the controversial case of the Xayaburi dam in Laos, now put on hold, the water used by foreign land concessions in Cambodia and Laos has not been a topic in regional dialogues at the Mekong River Commission.

India and China are both major players in these land acquisitions. Facing water shortages and increasing food demands at home, both countries are investing in land to gain access to water resources which is scarce at home. Other big actors are some of the water-short countries in the Middle East, but even European and US companies are making investments.

The rise of large-scale land acquisitions has received much attention from media and researchers. But less attention has been paid to water. Water allocation for irrigation or other use on land leased by foreign parties will have lasting implications for water resources at an international level; and this issue will need to feature in the discussions over water-sharing and river basin management going forward.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

If Rio + 20 is to deliver, accountability must be at its heart - Open letter

Adapted from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

An Open Letter from Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council to States negotiating the Outcome Document of the Rio+20 Summit

As independent experts of the Human Rights Council, we call on States to incorporate universally agreed international human rights norms and standards in the Outcome Document of the Rio+20 Summit with strong accountability mechanism to ensure its implementation.1

The United Nations system has been building progressively our collective understanding of human rights and development through a series of key historical moments of international cooperation, from the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in December 1948 to the Millennium Declaration in September 2000 that inspired the Millennium Development Goals to the and the World Summit Outcome Document in October 2005. Strategies based on the protection and realization of all human rights are vital for sustainable development and the practical effectiveness of our actions.

A real risk exists that commitments made in Rio will remain empty promises without effective monitoring and accountability. We offer proposals as to how a double accountability mechanism can be established. At the international level, we support the proposal to establish a Sustainable Development Council to monitor progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed by 2015. We recommend building a mechanism based on the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council inaugurated in 2007 to provide a peer review of the human rights records of all 193 Member States of the United Nations every four years. At the national level, we recommend establishing participatory accountability mechanisms through which people’s voice can be reflected and independent monitoring can be conducted.

Rio+20 should ground global commitments in human rights. It should enable citizens to monitor the commitments of their Governments. And it should put accountability, the foundation of a human rights-based approach to development, at the core of its commitments.

Because it is urgent to shift our development paths, because progress on sustainable development has been too slow and too modest, and because the diagnosis of what is required is agreed largely upon across the international community, one of the most important contributions of the Rio+20 Summit will be strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development. Human rights norms should be integrated into this framework; and indeed, they will make the framework stronger.

The scientists working on the issues discussed at the 1992 Rio Summit – climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the exhaustion of natural resources, the limits of the planet – are now calling for a “constitutional moment” similar to the post-World War II period when the United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions were created. According to the International Council for Science that represents science bodies in 140 countries, “stark increases in natural disasters, food and water security problems and biodiversity loss are just part of the evidence that humanity may be crossing planetary boundaries and approaching dangerous tipping points. An effective environmental governance system needs to be instituted soon.”2These leading scientists call for new institutions – for example an environmental equivalent to the Security Council – endowed with sufficient powers to keep us from approaching undesirable tipping points.

We share their concern that we are fast approaching these tipping points and that, in fact, some have been passed already. We are concerned that few States are ready to enter into new binding international legal agreements, when there is broad consensus among scientists that new enforceable international norms are required. We support the proposal to establish a Sustainable Development Council to succeed the Commission for Sustainable Development and to monitor progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed by 2015. We believe, however, that a key set of principles and conditions should be established if this Council and these goals are to be effective. Below are three proposals for a more ambitious Rio+20 Summit.

Proposal 1: Frame Rio+20 in all human rights
We call on States to integrate in the Rio+20 Outcome Document the second recommendation of the report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability that “Governments should respect, protect and provide for [or fulfil] human rights.” The Rio+20 Outcome document should integrate specific references to all human rights, which are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, complementing the two existing references to the right to food3 and the right to safe and clean drinking water4. We further call on States to integrate a gender perspective in the Rio+20 process to ensure that commitments on gender equality and gender mainstreaming translate into action. This would ensure that Member States commit to full coherence between Rio+20 commitments on the one hand, and their solemn human rights obligations on the other.5

Proposal 2: Define commitments and measures of success in a participatory way
In the context of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals that should complement and strengthen the MDGs in the post 2015- development (para. 108 of the Zero Draft), we call on States to define the indicators and measures to evaluate implementation of the commitments emanating from the Rio+20 Summit through an inclusive, transparent and participatory process with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society.

Some groups, particularly the poorest in the global South and those whose livelihoods depend on access to natural resources, including local communities, subsistence farmers and indigenous peoples, are most severely affected by current global crises (e.g., climate shocks, price volatility of food and energy, desertification, loss of biodiversity) and their consequences. Often, these individuals know which solutions will work best for them. Only by listening to them and by accepting accountability and implementation responsibilities will we be able to make significant progress towards more sustainable modes of production and consumption.

Where clear mechanisms for engagement of civil society have been established at global level, such as in the Rome-based Committee on World Food Security,6 international cooperation has proven to improve significantly. Participatory mechanisms at the national level can also yield benefits: such mechanisms enable States to gain from the experiences and insights of a larger pool of those concerned with the many dimensions of sustainable development, and result in more innovations and better knowledge dissemination. Such mechanisms ensure that policies and programmes empower the poor and are truly responsive to the needs of marginalized groups, which is vital to poverty alleviation7.

Proposal 3: Accountability mechanisms for Rio+20 commitments
Given the nature of the issues at stake, many of which have an international dimension, we propose that accountability should be established at both international and domestic levels.

3A: An international review mechanism
We call on the proposed Sustainable Development Council to monitor, on the basis of agreed indicators, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals in a similar process to the Universal Periodic Review inaugurated by the Human Rights Council.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process involving a peer review of the human rights records of each United Nations Member State every four years. This State-driven process conducted within the Human Rights Council provides an opportunity for States to explain how they are working to improve the human rights situation in their countries.8 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights treaties ratified by the country forms the baseline of the review and the UPR culminates with recommendations to the State under consideration, which it may accept or reject.

The success of the UPR largely rests on the fact that, beyond “national reports” prepared by the State concerned, the Human Rights Council considers as well “compilations of United Nations information” prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, drawing from information emanating from the United Nations human rights monitoring mechanisms and other United Nations entities, and “summaries of stakeholders’ information” based on information provided by non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions and other actors (e.g., regional organizations, research institutions). In other terms, the UPR is a peer review process grounded in State reporting and in independent monitoring, which helps to ensure equality of treatment between States and quality of the process of review.

The UPR has provided a framework for exchange and dialogue at the national level across State structures as well as between the State and civil society. It also provides an opportunity for States to share best practices and has stimulated bilateral cooperation and exchanges.

We encourage States to consider creating a similar mechanism for the commitments to be made in Rio. Given the many international dimensions of sustainable development, specific focus should be placed on the duty of international assistance and cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character and on the extraterritorial human rights obligations of States.

Proposal 3B: National accountability mechanism
We call on States to establish national-level accountability mechanisms to ensure commitments made in Rio+20 are fulfilled. These mechanisms should include independent monitoring that enables civil society participation not only in defining the indicators to measure progress, but also in providing information to evaluate implementation.

Countries that have established independent bodies to assess the enjoyment of human rights (e.g., the South African Human Rights Commission) or national institutions with balanced representation that includes both government officials and representatives of civil society to address other major issues (e.g., the Brazilian National Council on Food and Nutrition Security) have seen the concrete benefits of enabling people to hold public authorities accountable for failure to take action. In countries where such mechanisms already exist, we call on States to provide authority and resources for these bodies to monitor the implementation of the Rio+20 commitments. While some States may be wary of such mechanisms, viewing them as creating additional burdens, the reality of our experience is that empowering people contributes to lasting success.

Institutions in which civil society has a voice and include mechanisms that ensure an independent monitoring of progress towards agreed targets enable States to better understand the nature of the challenges faced, and to change policies that do not produce results. Conversely, policies not informed by the views of those they seek to serve or not monitored often are inefficient and short-lived. We strongly believe that we cannot work for the people without the people.

National accountability mechanisms would enable a structured dialogue at national level between governments and their constituencies, which would coordinate with the international human rights system and feed into the international review mechanism. Collective learning and the dissemination of best practices would be encouraged at domestic and international levels.

We call on States to capitalize on the remaining months of the “Race to Rio” to agree on the above mentioned proposals. We need action now. We stand ready to assist States to take the necessary steps towards a world that each human being deserves – and more accountable governance, we believe, is key to achieving that objective.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chilean Community Wins First Round Against Brazilian Billionaire

By Marianela Jarroud, IPS News, March 20, 2012

Plans to build a massive thermoelectric power plant complex near an area of rich marine biodiversity has sparked fierce opposition from the small northern Chilean farming town of Totoral, which has now scored its first victory in court.

Behind the Castilla thermoelectric project is the energy company MPX, a subsidiary of the EPX Group owned by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista, the seventh wealthiest man in the world according to Forbes magazine.

Located 810 km from Santiago in the arid Atacama region of northern Chile, the complex would be the largest thermal power generation facility in South America.

The 4.4-billion-dollar project comprises eight thermoelectric plants: six coal-fired plants that would produce 300 MW of electricity each, and two run on oil with an individual capacity of around 127 MW.

As a whole, the complex would contribute an additional 2,100 MW of power to the Central Interconnected System, which supplies electricity to 90 percent of the Chilean population and is currently controlled by an oligopoly made up by the companies Endesa, Colbún and AES Gener.

The project’s supporters insist that its location in a rocky area spanning 240 hectares is fully acceptable, since it is officially classified for industrial use area under current zoning regulations.

But its fervent opponents point to the threat it poses to the rich marine life in the waters off Punta Cachos, near Totoral. Moreover, the farming community itself could also be seriously impacted by the pollution created through thermoelectric power production.

Punta Cachos "is an area of great marine biodiversity," said Alex Muñoz, executive director of the Chilean branch of the conservationist organisation Oceana.

It is home to populations of Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) and Guanay cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvilii), among other birds, and a colony of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), "as well as one of the few seagrass prairies in Chile," Muñoz told Tierramérica.

To cool the power plants’ generators, Castilla will suck up millions of liters of seawater daily, which will then be returned to the Pacific Ocean at far higher temperatures.

Hotter water "alters the normal functioning of marine ecosystems, causing imbalances that threaten the conservation of biodiversity and the various marine resources that support the livelihoods of local communities," warned Muñoz.

In addition, thermoelectric plants emit particulate matter such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals like mercury that are extremely harmful to human health, stressed environmental activist Sara Larraín, director of the non-governmental organisation Chile Sustentable (Sustainable Chile).

Muñoz explained that "when coal is burned, mercury is released in the form of gas." Once it is the atmosphere, it condenses and settles into the sea, contaminating marine life.

"The consumption of fish or seafood contaminated with mercury can have serious effects, such as alterations in the brain development of fetuses and the cardiopulmonary health of adults," added Muñoz.

The World Health Organisation classifies mercury as one of the top 10 chemicals of public health concern.

The Castilla project includes the construction of a port for unloading coal, a series of road networks and storage facilities, and a 100-hectare site for the disposal of ash, also a source of contamination.

The General Law on Electrical Services, passed in 1982 during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), "handed electric power development over to the private sector," Larraín told Tierramérica. As a result, since then, it is the private sector that "decides what will be done, where, and with what technology," she said.

The inhabitants of Totoral are the main opponents to the Castilla project. Although they have the support of a few environmental organisations, it is still a highly unequal battle.

Nevertheless, the community’s perseverance has earned its first reward. On Mar. 6, the Court of Appeals of Antofagasta passed a ruling on a suit filed against the plant.

The court ruling stated that the environmental permit for the construction of the Castilla complex was based on a report produced through illegal and arbitrary means, and should therefore never have been granted.

The battle will now continue in the Supreme Court of Justice. The company and the State Defense Council each filed an application for judicial review of the court ruling on Mar. 14, which should reach the supreme court in four or five working days.

Larraín said she was optimistic that the ruling of the Court of Appeals of Antofagasta, which has brought construction work to a standstill, would be respected.

"Chile has enormous comparative advantages for the production of a good part of its energy from non-conventional renewable sources, like wind, solar and tidal power," maintained Muñoz.

For his part, Minister of the Economy Pablo Longueira claimed that the court-ordered halt in construction "is doing enormous damage to the country," which needs to increase its power generation capacity in order to keep growing.

"Today the biggest problem we are facing for economic growth is energy, the cost that Chile has to pay for this input for the entire basic economy, and also water resources," said Longueira.

As far as Larraín is concerned, however, it is "absurd" for Chile to continue depending on "dirty, expensive imported fuels, instead of using its own alternatives."

In a 2010 interview with the Chilean magazine Qué Pasa, Batista defended the Castilla project.

"If the authorities decide we shouldn’t go ahead with the project, I would recommend that all of the women in the world stop drying their hair, and that people to stop using cell phones and driving cars," said the Brazilian tycoon. "This is important for the Chileans."


Friday, March 23, 2012

Anxious wait for scientists on Rio+20 talks

Aisling Irwin, 19 March 2012, SciDev Net

Science campaigners find out today whether they have managed to get more attention paid to science and technology in negotiations leading up to the Rio+20 summit later this year (20-22 June).

National delegations begin informal discussions in New York today (19–23 March) on the text that will form the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

The international science and technology community has been pushing hard to get agreements on matters it regards as crucial to a successful outcome at the meeting in Brazil in June, which at least 118 heads of state and government have already pledged to attend.

Rio+20 seeks to find a path to sustainable development by developing a green economy, and a conducive institutional framework.

Top of the science community's campaign list is the injection of a sense of urgency about environmental and developmental problems into the text, and an acknowledgement that there are 'planetary boundaries' — an idea that has been gathering momentum in many quarters but is not contained in the current draft.

'Planetary boundaries' is an idea that was showcased by Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in Nature in 2009, and refers to limits to the use of nine of the Earth's resources, ranging from activities that generate carbon dioxide to land use, the loading of atmosphere with aerosols and the use of oceans.

Rockström has proposed a numerical maximum for each of these, beyond which the system may be in danger of collapsing, putting human communities at risk.

"Planetary boundaries puts in this idea that the planet has limitations and we can't go on using its resources indefinitely," said Peter Bates, science officer at the International Council for Science (ICSU) — which, together with the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, has been running the science and technology Major Group, which has been a formal part of discussions.

"We are hoping to get it into the opening paragraph. The draft is quite weak on the urgency."

But the idea is controversial among scientists, some of whom have questioned the rigour of the underlying data and the basis for the figures that have been suggested for each 'boundary'.

"It's a compelling idea, I would support the concept," said David Molden, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal, and former head of the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka.

"But there is a danger, with some boundaries, of putting one figure on their use. It's not like those numbers have been around for a long time and debated; it's a new idea.

"For example you can extract less water, if you manage it poorly, than you can if you manage it well — so the boundary is a not a strict, 'one number' kind of boundary."

The Major Group is also pushing for independent science advisory bodies for the UN, regional and national governments; and for a global mechanism for coordinating interdisciplinary and international science on sustainable development.

"People feel that science is functioning. But with the correct mechanisms in place they could get more out of the science," Bates told SciDev.Net.

The group also wants to see national governments agree to spend more on international sustainable development research.

And it wants Rio+20 to agree to develop scientifically sound, integrated indicators which go beyond GDP (gross domestic product) — to include environmental and social dimensions, and possibly the creation of a global task force to move this forward.

The first draft of the agreement — the 'zero draft', issued in January — has attracted widespread criticism for being too mild, although the UN has responded by saying it was deliberately written as a template on which further language could be built.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coral reef fish saviours?

By Dave Armstrong, 20 Mar 2012

Users of natural resources can be the guardians of their fauna and flora, despite the hostility we show towards those who strip the planet bare. In collaboration with several governments and others, co-management schemes have been evaluated by the Wildlife Conservation Society and an international mix of universities from Dar-es salaam to Townsville.

Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia and PNG (Papua New Guinea) were the countries chosen to investigate various ideas of how co-management works. Underwater visual censuses of reef fish and interviews with more than a thousand "end-users" comprised a great deal of lengthy research.

Co-managed fisheries proved quite successful in most examples studied with an 88% reported compliance with regulations. Only 54% saw their livelihood benefiting which means a large minority had some grouch. The achievement most notable to us might be the greater standing biomass of fish where such schemes operated. Exploitation still remained the aim of the schemes. There was a lot of potential for local elites to benefit more from schemes, but poorer people seemed to benefit less, whatever the management arrangements. This problem basically comes down to the politics of redistribution of power. Microcredit loans to the disadvantaged would be one example of poverty reduction strategy, so obviously needed in these situations.

Although compliance was reportedly good, graduated sanctions had to be applied to achieve this. Exclusive rights fisheries seemed to be the weakest systems at establishing the trust and cooperation needed for compliance. Marriage too played a part. If you were a member, you might find a bride more easily if her father wanted fishing rights! Patrol boats were rare in most countries, so motorised pirates could fish with impunity before the members of a scheme could paddle out to stop them. There is a need to improve livelihoods and management and strengthen local institutions but this policy would reverse some current fishery management policies and requires new partnerships between civil groups and their donors, government social policy and donors.

In effect the extensive study in many differing communities showed:

a) Social and ecological goals were met by these schemes

b) Wealthy members benefit more by co-management

c) Overexploitation becomes a problem when markets are nearby, but users' needs for the fish was a factor in avoiding overexploitation; and

d) The institutions established were very influential on livelihoods and how compliant people were, but seemed to have little effect on the ecology.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Governments agree on voluntary rules to control land grabs

By Sophia Murphy, March 16, 2012

Three years of negotiations on guidelines to govern the tenure of land, fisheries and forests (commonly referred to as the Voluntary Guidelines, or VG) came to a successful close on Friday, March 9 in Rome. Under the auspices of the newly reconfigured Committee on World Food Security (CFS) (housed at the FAO with a secretariat shared among the FAO, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agriculture and Development, or IFAD), the negotiations were contentious and important.

Ninety-six governments, accompanied by U.N. agencies, civil society organizations, farmer organizations and private sector representatives worked through three rounds of negotiations over as many years to come to agreement. The talks were chaired by the United States, whose negotiators earned the praise of the participants for their commitment to finding agreement across often significant divides. The conclusion of the VGs (see the FAO press release) marks an important step towards providing some protection for small-holders and communities around the world, who have found their productive assets (arable land, or fishing waters, or forests) under siege by a wave of investor interest from private companies and wealthy food importing countries.

The problems are serious and urgent. A number of CSOs have documented the issues—including GRAIN, who have documented the problem since it exploded in 2008 (most recently here); Oxfam, who published a detailed report last year as part of their GROW campaign; FIAN, who led the CSO input into the negotiations; and, the Oakland Institute who have a series of reports on land investments in Africa. IATP wrote about land grabs in 2009, in an article that was then published in a book, which has been revised and updated for re-release later in 2012. In an overview paper co-authored by IATP and GDAE on what needs to change to avoid another food crisis, a freeze on land investments until stronger laws are in place was one of the three top recommendations.

No one is going to be wholly satisfied with the outcome. Land grabs, as they have been popularly named, have exploded since the 2007-08 food price crisis. The estimated number of acres involved is now well over 200 million acres—an area approximately the size of Western Europe—much of it in the world’s poorest countries, home to some of the hungriest people, in places where food aid deliveries are not uncommon. And they are guidelines, not law. They will not end the documented abuses of communities’ rights. It is only a beginning.

But the VGs are important. They represent the first negotiated agreement on what should be going on, and thereby create an international standard. They were negotiated under the auspices of the CFS—a newly recreated multilateral forum to focus on food security issues that is still proving its worth, particularly to sceptical donor countries. It matters that the CFS succeeds, and it is heartening that it did. It matters because it is one of the most exciting experiments in serious engagement with civil society to set policy that exists in the U.N. system. And it matters because the CFS has a comprehensive mandate—which is the only way governments will be able to transform agriculture and food systems to eradicate hunger and ensure sustainable production for our children and their children.

The CFS is expected to adopt the VGs in May. Then for part two: laws with an enforcement mechanism. National laws, because that is where it really counts. And multilateral rules, too. Not multilateral rules premised on giving all firms equal rights to all countries’ resources. Private companies should make their case to each national government and work within that national government’s laws (and the laws of the state in which they are headquartered). Rather, multilateral rules must reinforce and uphold existing international norms, including the right to food, the principle of prior and informed consent, and the laws set out in international labor and environment conventions. The multilateral rules should provide a strong framework to guide national laws and discipline foreign investors.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Rio+20 capable of a constitutional moment?

Bill Gunyon, OneWorld Guides, March 18, 2012

The weaponry of the memorable phrase was deployed this week to turn heads towards the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference. Social and natural science research commissioned by the organisers concludes that “navigating the Anthropocene” requires a “constitutional moment” at Rio+20 if environmental disaster risk is to be reduced.

Post-1945 reforms which saw the founding of the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions have been invoked to illustrate the envisaged scale of this constitutional awakening.

I don’t think it’s any secret that many earth scientists feel that these post-1945 institutions need picking up and dropping from a great height. Many non-scientists also perceive the Anthropocene more in terms of survival than mere navigation.

However, given the political context of Rio+20, it’s inevitable that the recommendations of the Earth System Governance Project don’t match the rhetoric. But the scientists are right to focus on the institutional framework for sustainable development.

This is the boring bit of Rio+20. Most people prefer to talk about new approaches to GDP, low carbon development and how to feed the world in a changing climate.

The problem with these areas is that any agreement at Rio will be non-binding – there’s nothing to stop governments from going home and claiming that their unique circumstances oblige them to delay reforms. It’s much harder for an individual country to play this game on global governance issues.

There are two further reasons for optimism that institutional reform might prove to be the soft underbelly of the hardball politics expected to rule at Rio+20.

First, the US submission is uncharacteristically sympathetic to the pursuit of sustainable development through reformed UN agencies and multilateral institutions.

The second area of hope lies in the content of the relevant section of the zero draft of the Rio+20 outcome document. Of course it’s vague and toothless, offering constitutional tinkering rather than vision.

But the text does open doors on more topics than might have been expected. It’s much easier for negotiators to amend sentences than introduce new ones.

Take this statement for example: “we recognize that sustainable development must be given due consideration by the International Financial Institutions.” This doesn’t say anything useful but it puts the IFIs into play.

For these reasons, it’s worth investing time in what the scientists call “earth system governance.” Here’s the most important extract from the recommendations contained in the Policy Brief published by the conference:

Environmental goals must be mainstreamed into the activities of global economic institutions, while global trade and investment regimes need to be embedded in a normative context of social, developmental and environmental values. Discriminating in world trade law between products on the basis of production processes is critical, if investments in cleaner products and services are to be encouraged. Such discrimination should be based on multilateral agreement to prevent protectionist impacts

I haven’t been able to read the full research paper published in Science and I wonder if it clarifies the how of these ideas. The stuff about world trade is not just a hot potato, the spud is on fire.

I won’t digress here except to mention that a panel debate on Day 3 of the conference - Realizing green economies: Harnessing trade for sustainable development across multiple levels of governance - is well stocked with relevant speakers.

Let’s stick with the recommendations on mainstreaming goals and embedded values. The only way to do this properly is to rewrite the mission statements, or equivalent guiding principles, of the target institutions. That would be radical on the scale that the science community demands.

Take the IMF as an example. The current Rio+20 outcome document will result in a few progressive corporations, and maybe even countries, experimenting with internalised environmental costs and broader indicators than GDP. Others in time will follow. Last of all will be the IMF.

It should be the other way around because the power of the IMF over national economic management compels its methods to be followed. That is unfortunate because the IMF knows no other measure of progress than conventional macro-economic growth. That is its trademark obsession, as evidenced in every press release about every country visit.

Poor countries jeopardise critical short term financing if their GDP targets are missed. Rich countries live in fear that a negative IMF report about GDP growth will provoke the rating agencies into a downgrade. Obsessed with its triple A rating, the UK government is about to dump years of environmental regulations “to put fewer burdens on business.”

We need triple A ratings for social and environmental indicators which are worshipped by governments no less than their financial ratings.

Despite the element of timidity, there is much of value in the conference Policy Brief, Transforming Governance and Institutions for a Planet under Pressure. I’m not sure why some of its recommendations have been omitted from the formal Rio+20 submission on behalf of the scientific community.

For example, there’s no mention of the suggestion that majority voting should be introduced for aspects of international environmental agreements.

I mention this because responsibility for the submission lies with the International Council for Science which is also the underlying scientific sponsor of the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference.

We should also remember that time is passing by. This week’s “constitutional moment” was in fact a recycled press release dating back to the November publication of the Policy Brief. The only “news” was that the background research has attained its formal academic publication in Science.

The designated Major Groups (of which the Science and Technology community is one) will be meeting on the weekend immediately before Planet Under Pressure 2012, in order to prepare for the 3rd intersessional negotiations for Rio+20 starting on March 26.

Nonetheless, the process of pulling together the views of social and natural scientists through research which is itself peer-reviewed will be admired and envied by the other Major Groups.

Extracting an equivalent concise summary of recommendations on governance from the global NGO community has been like telling an infants’ class to sit still.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Caribbean Mobilises Funds for Ten-Year Climate Plan

By Peter Richards, IPS News March 16, 2012

Failure to adapt to climate change will derail the development aspirations of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom), researchers warn, siphoning off an average of five percent of 2004 gross domestic product regionwide by 2025.

The predicted costs could rise to as much as 75 percent by 2100 for smaller nations, says the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

Meeting in Suriname last week, Caricom leaders acknowledged the severity of the threat, adopting a common strategy dubbed the "Implementation Plan for the Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change".

The problem now is how to pay for it.

The CCCCC, which drafted the plan at Caricom's request, noted that "these concerns will require both adaptation and mitigation actions, which will necessitate significant and sustained investment of resources" that Caribbean countries will be unable to raise on their own.

"These climate challenges are compounded by the fact that Caricom states are relatively small, have an exceptionally high level of external debt - in some instances above 100 percent of GDP - and depend heavily on expensive imported fuel," Dr. Kenrick Leslie, CCCCC's executive director, told IPS.

He noted that fuel prices "reached 147 dollars per barrel in 2008, with 21 percent of GDP, or four times the food import bill of four billion dollars, being expended on this product in 2010.

"This means that Caricom states do not have the necessary resources to implement adaptation programmes," he said, adding "given the scale of these costs, (it) will mean that the economies of the Caricom states are in perpetual recession."

Leslie said that socioeconomic development and adaptation measures, such as replanting of mangroves, better land use planning, and building coastal defence structures against rising sea levels are closely intertwined.

"Adaptation is increasingly described as climate resilient development or development under a hostile climate. It is the ability of states to withstand the vagaries of a changing climate, or even if impacted negatively, how quickly they are able to response and rebound," he said.

Leslie added "how quickly Grenada was able to rebuild and return to some semblance of normalcy after Hurricanes Ivan and Emily (in 2004 and 2011) was a reflection of her resilient development."

The regional framework plan provides a road map for Caribbean action on climate change over the period 2011 to 2021.

"It is a live document and will be subject to review and possible revision biannually to ensure that it continues to reflect the priorities for the Caribbean region in responding to climate variability and climate change," Leslie said.

When they adopted the "Liliendaal Declaration" at their summit in Guyana in 2009, regional leaders made a number of declarations on climate change and the environment which they felt could only be delivered by transformational change.

These include long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations to limit warming below 1.5 degrees C of pre- industrial levels; and the need for financial support to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to enhance their capacities to respond to the challenges brought on by climate change and to access the technologies that will be required to undertake needed mitigation actions and to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

In the declaration, the regional leaders "expressed grave concern" that their efforts to promote sustainable development and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were under severe threat from the devastating effects of climate change, extreme weather events and sea level rise.

"Dangerous climate change is already occurring in all SIDS regions including the Caribbean, requiring urgent, ambitious and decisive action by Caricom states and by the international community," it said.

The regional framework is guided by five strategic elements and some 20 goals designed to significantly increase the resilience of the Caribbean social, economic and environmental systems.

They include mainstreaming climate change adaptation strategies into the sustainable development agendas of Caricom states, promoting the implementation of specific adaptation measures to address key vulnerabilities in the region as well as promote actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fossil fuel reduction and conservation, and switching to renewable and cleaner energy sources.

The strategies also seek to encourage action to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems in Caricom countries to the impacts of a changing climate and promoting action to derive social, economic, and environmental benefits through the prudent management of standing forests.

The plan acknowledges that building a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy is an integral element of the wider sustainable development agenda and that addressing climate change without addressing the existing underlying sustainable development and growth challenges faced by the region will not deliver resilience.

So far, a Memorandum of Understanding and Joint Concept Note has been signed with Norway to deliver financial resources of up to 250 million dollars by 2015 to commence and partially support the implementation of the strategy.

But greater financial and technical assistance will be required.

"Caricom countries now have an opportunity to attract climate change finance to support their initiatives to build the resilience of their economies and achieve low-carbon climate resilient development through initiatives such as the Fast Start Funds under the Copenhagen Accord," the document says.

In the main, the plan is being financed through development partners' support, including a combined 11.4 million dollars from the Barbados- based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCAA) of the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

Eight million dollars were also acquired at the recently concluded VII UK/Caribbean Forum in Grenada for early implementation of priority actions identified in the plan.

Leslie said that the implementation plan will work within the ambit of individual countries' plans, programmes and projects, "thus allowing for greater synergies, sustainability and ownership by the countries of Caricom.

"In this way, it is working with governments to ensure that climate change and climate variability are integrated within countries development plans and programmes and becomes a part of the national budgetary cycle," he said indicating that the "Three-Ones" approach will be utilised in executing the plan.

The essential feature of that approach "is that it works with the organisations that are already in place utilising existing resources more effectively.

"This model was adopted as it was successfully used in the Pan Caribbean Partnership (PANCAP) to deliver transformational change with limited resources (as it relates to the HIV/AIDS epidemic). Over the 10-year period of the programme, the PANCAP has been declared an international best practice example by the United Nations," Leslie added.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

No boundaries for climate change

By Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, March 9, 2012

A 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary, Sun Come Up, features the plight of the world’s first climate change refugees. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands in Southeast Asia began evacuating to the bigger island of Bouganville in early 2009, because of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Coastal erosions and inundations have wiped out vegetable and fruit gardens and polluted fresh waters.

The Carteret Islands will be submerged by 2015, experts say. Many other small islands States are also threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change.

The climate crisis is perhaps the most far-reaching and detrimental global crisis facing our world. Effects of climate change include an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts, and increasing water shortages. It threatens the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, such as the right to water and food, the right to health and adequate housing, the right to self-determination and the right to life itself.

“Thinking about climate change from a human rights perspective offers us an opportunity to reappraise the most pressing needs of a highly inequitable global society,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay at a two-day expert meeting on climate change and human rights.

“Mitigating climate change while furthering development poses the greatest challenges where resources or, the political will to fulfil basic human rights are lacking.”

Developing countries and marginalized communities, in particular, given their limited capacities, suffer from poor resilience and inadequate response to climate change. As a consequence, climate change is set to hit the poorest countries and communities the hardest.

“Many of the least developed countries and small island States, which have contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions, will be worst affected by global warming,” Pillay said.

For Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, “climate change impacts have no boundaries. They do not need visas or travel documents. One country’s pollution devastates and can destroy a nation thousands of miles away.”

In the Pacific island nations, life is getting more difficult and more expensive and in the long run evacuation may be inevitable, said Naidoo.

“The future of their inhabitants, statehood and ancient cultures is uncertain,” he pointed out. Naidoo stressed that countries that contribute the most to climate change have a moral obligation to help poor nations adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Governments must reduce emissions by at least 80 per cent, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body for the assessment of climate change.
“Failing to do so is practically admitting that our political leaders are sleep walking us into a crisis of epic proportion, putting the future and lives of our children and grandchildren in jeopardy and great danger,” Naidoo said. “States have the human rights obligations to protect their citizens and to cooperate to solve the climate change crisis.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is the most important issue facing the planet,” and that the status-quo in our approach cannot continue,” said Mary Robinson, Former High Commissioner for Human Rights and Founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice.

Robinson said that “what is really needed is a linkage between human rights and climate change environmental communities.” She added that Rio-20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled on 20-22 June 2012 in Brazil, will offer “a real opportunity to develop that linkage.”

The UN Human Rights Council expert meeting addressed the adverse impacts on climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights and examined international cooperation and respect for human rights in all climate change-related situations and ways to forge stronger cooperation between human rights and climate change communities.

The two days meeting was held on 23-24 February 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. A Summary Report of the meeting will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2012.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

As the Dust Settles on the Limpopo River

By Fidelis Zvomuya, IPS News March 15, 2012

Chapita Ramovha remembers the days when the Limpopo River lapped at the foot of his village in south Zimbabwe. He says that back then residents of Makakavhule village had to build high walls to protect their homes from flooding. "The Limpopo River was a marvel to watch, a beauty of nature, a source of food and income for us who lived along it," the subsistence farmer recalls.

But now, when he looks out across the landscape, he sees only a vast, sandy plateau that is devoid of natural life. "Dust," laments Ramovha, who has lived here since 1942. "It is nothing but a dust river."

Previously, agriculture and tourism flourished here along the Limpopo River. The area was well known for its beautiful lakes and vast fields, which produce the local agricultural yield. "But that livelihood is now being threatened by a severe water shortage that dramatically illustrates a broader regional crisis," Ramovha says.

The Limpopo River Basin is one of the most water stressed and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, extreme droughts occur in the basin every 10 to 20 years.

The basin has a catchment area of around 413,000 km² that covers four countries - Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe - affecting a combined population of 14 million people, most of whom are subsistence farmers. About 244,000 hectares are under irrigation and an estimated 234,000 hectares are under crop production here, while 1.7 million hectares are used for pasture.

However, due to bad environmental management, only craggy stumps of trees line the riverbank. People have cut down the trees that once used to create jagged coves along the river, which has long been home to crabs, fish and wild animals.

"But at the few water holes on this part of the river you can hardly catch a frog. The river is gone, siltation has taken over. The rains are no longer reliable. They come late and sometimes don’t come at all," Ramovha says.

He says the daily temperatures have increased substantially within the region and have killed many of the catchment’s once-lush grass beds, depriving livestock and game of their natural feed and habitat.

Timothy Chauke, a farmer and a contracted field research assistant for the Agriculture Research Council’s Limpopo Basin project on data gathering, says the drought has become the most common and devastating of all environmental issues affecting the basin.

Chauke, who is a livestock and crop farmer, says the impact is being felt in economic, social and environmental terms here.

"Variable and erratic rainfall means that the rainy season often does not start when expected and can be episodic, with an entire season’s rainfall occurring in the space of a few days."

He says over the years he has seen reduced grazing quality and crop yields, and this has resulted in a decline in the quality of living and income.

"Food insecurity is now high. Cases of malnutrition and famine are on the increase. My farm productivity has been reduced from five tonnes per hectare of maize to less than three. Our natural environment has been destroyed, and as a result this is affecting productivity," Chauke says. He adds that his input cost has also increased over the years.

Most of the farmers IPS interviewed along the Limpopo River say the water levels have drastically gone down as a result of a rise in daytime temperatures.

During what is meant to be the rainy season in the area, drought is killing off the crops. The resultant dust and sandstorms have increased soil erosion and air pollution, while reducing soil productivity.

"We are faced with poor soils and limited water resources. Most of the rivers that feed the Limpopo are able to provide water only for short periods of time each year," Chauke says.

Pollution and competition for water in areas along the river create significant stress on the available resources. Poverty is widespread and people are extremely vulnerable to the effects of drought or crop failure here. Each of the 24 tributaries that feed the basin has communities with an average annual per capita income of less than 200 dollars.

Starvation and malnutrition have become common. About one million people in the basin currently rely on food aid.

Addressing the Third International Forum on Water and Food in December in South Africa, Dr. Simon Cook, a scientist with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and head of CIGAR’s Challenge Programme for Water and Food (CPWF) Basin Focal Projects, said climate change is expected to exacerbate Africa’s struggles with strained water resources and food security.

Cook says research confirms that rising global temperatures are expected to increase flooding in some areas, cause a decline in agricultural production, threaten biodiversity and the productivity of natural resources, increase the range of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, and exacerbate desertification.

As part of a five-year global research project, scientists from the CPWF examined the potential effects of higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns caused by climate change, on, among others, the continent’s five river basins. In the process, they say, some unsettling scenarios have emerged for parts of Africa.

During a telephone interview with IPS, Cook says of concern are the projected changes in the Limpopo Basin, which include rising temperatures and a decline in rainfall.

Cook says there is a need for researchers to ask whether current agriculture development strategies in the Limpopo, which are predicated according to current levels of water availability, are in fact realistic for a future that may present new challenges and different opportunities.

In a recent press statement CPWF ‘s director of the Water and Food programme, Alain Vidal, says the new insights regarding the effect of climate change on river basins may indicate a need to revisit assumptions about water availability.

Vidal says the Limpopo River, like many rivers around the world, is heavily affected by higher global temperatures.

"In some parts of the Limpopo even widespread adoption of innovations like drip irrigation may not be enough to overcome the negative effects of climate change on water availability," Vidal adds.

"But in other parts, investments in rain-fed agriculture such as rainwater harvesting, sand pits and small reservoirs might be better placed, as there could be sufficient rainfall for innovative strategies to boost production. The key is to obtain the data needed to make an informed decision."


Friday, March 16, 2012

Water under pressure

Natasha Gilbert, (March 13, 2012)

A UN analysis sets out global water-management concerns ahead of Earth Summit.

Water should be at the top of the agenda for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, a United Nations report urges.

The fourth World Water Development Report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), launched at the World Water Forum in Marseilles, France, on 12 March, notes that industry, agriculture and booming urban populations are putting Earth’s water supplies under unprecedented pressure (see graphics). Hundreds of millions of people do not have access to clean water, leaving them at risk from waterborne diseases. Without prompt action to improve water-management policies, the report says, a global crisis looms.

Although the document contains a plethora of facts and figures, its authors argue that a lack of reliable data on water quality and usage has become a stumbling block for efforts to strengthen policies and enforce regulations. “You cannot properly manage something that you don’t know about,” says Olcay Ünver, coordinator of the UN World Water Assessment Programme. But closing the knowledge gap will be expensive: building a gauging station to measure a river’s flow can cost more than US$1 million, for example, and the expense of ongoing operation can be difficult for poor countries to justify. The report recommends increasing the use of remote-sensing technologies to monitor water quality, but notes that these will never completely replace information gathered on the ground.

The report also focuses on the burgeoning demands of agriculture. Food production already consumes more than two-thirds of the world’s extracted water, and food demand is expected to rise by 70% by 2050, owing to population growth. Research into improving crop yields and drought tolerance will help nations to meet needs while using water more efficiently.

The report concludes that policy-makers must balance the requirements of agriculture and industry with the need for sustainable sources of clean drinking water by developing integrated policies that satisfy all three sectors. Michel Jarraud, chairman of UN-Water — a grouping of 28 UN organizations including UNESCO — says that the group will tell leaders at the Rio summit that “the challenges, risks and uncertainties blocking the road to sustainable development require a collective response by the whole international community”.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tapping geothermal power in Kenya's Rift Valley

By Rio+20 - The future We Want

There is clean energy in the ground in Kenya — a lot of it — and Kenya has already moved to start tapping the Rift Valley’s vast steam reserves. The government hopes to generate about 27 per cent of the country’s electrical power from geothermal sources by 2031.

Kenya, the first African nation to drill for geothermal power, and other developing countries are benefitting from a programme guided by scientists from another country with ample geothermal expertise, Iceland. Since 1979, the United Nations University Geothermal Training Programme, a partnership between the university and the government of Iceland, has been operating in Iceland to boost geothermal projects worldwide.

Geothermal energy is fuelled by the internal heat generated and stored in the earth. Many developing countries have significant geothermal resources. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Indonesia and Kenya have initiated successful medium- to large-scale geothermal power development projects, among more than 20 countries worldwide already generating electricity with geothermal energy. More than 70 countries use geothermal resources to some extent for heating.

‘Geothermal energy is the future’

In Kenya, the Olkaria geothermal power plants operate in the Rift Valley, 105 km northwest of the capital, Nairobi. They are expected to become the largest power generation complex in Kenya and to eventually increase the share of geothermal power in the country’s supply mix to about 25 per cent.

Anna Wairimu Mwangi, a geophysicist from Kenya and a graduate of the UN University Geothermal Training Programme, is confident that her country is heading in the right direction. “I think geothermal energy is the future,” says Ms. Mwangi. “It is a resource that is renewable.”

Currently, about 1.5 billion people worldwide have no access to modern energy services. One of the main challenges in achieving an energy-sustainable future is to phase out inefficient fossil fuel consumption and make a smooth transition to clean energy.

Sharing knowledge

Since Iceland has been one of the pioneers in using this unconventional source of energy, its scientists and engineers have led the development of the partnership. Their goal is to help developing countries by offering tailor-made training courses for professionals in advanced geothermal technology.

“This is a place for exchanging ideas and knowledge,” says Ingvar Birgir Fridleifsson, director of the partnership. “Capacity building in renewable energy technology is essential, especially in developing countries, because that is where the biggest increment in energy use will occur.”

As of 2011, 482 professionals from 50 countries had graduated from the geothermal training programme, with enough understanding and practical experience to conduct independent projects back home. The graduates from Kenya are now among the leading specialists contributing to geothermal development in the Rift Valley.

“These projects,” said Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga during a ceremony in Nairobi, “mark the beginning of Kenya’s journey to transform its energy sector and put the country on the path to green economic growth.”


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mesoamerica Ignores Its Water Footprint

By Emilio Godoy, IPS News, March 12, 2012

It takes 1,600 litres of water to produce one kilo of bread. This is the type of calculation used to measure a water footprint, the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services consumed by people and communities.

A water footprint can be applied to countries as a whole, or to specific industries or economic activities, such as mining or agriculture. The countries of Mesoamerica, however, have made no attempt to calculate this indicator, beyond a few isolated initiatives.

The region, made up by the southern states of Mexico and the seven countries of Central America, is generally rich in freshwater, but is extremely vulnerable to changes which, in the medium to long term, could diminish its availability.

Waste, pollution and lack of governance pose serious threats to the supply of this precious resource, sources consulted in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador told Tierramérica.

Non-governmental organisations from the region plan to denounce this situation at the 6th World Water Forum, taking place Mar. 12-17 in Marseille, France.

In Mexico, poor water management "is reflected by pollution and inequality in its distribution between different uses, between urban and rural areas, and between cities," said Claudia Campero, Latin American regional coordinator for the Blue Planet Project, a global initiative based in Canada that works with partners around the world to protect the right to water.

Some 500,000 agricultural irrigation users consume 32 million cubic metres of water annually in this country of 107 million people, according to the National Water Commission of Mexico.

At the same time, however, 30 percent of Mexican households do not have piped water and 15 percent receive water through other means only every three days, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

Access to drinking water is a basic human right, recognised by the United Nations through a General Assembly resolution in 2010. The UN has also declared it to be a legally binding right, which means that all member countries are obliged to incorporate it in their constitutions and national legislation.

Mexico must now reform the National Water Law in order to adapt it to the changes made in its constitution. Guatemala and El Salvador do not even have this type of legislation.

In Guatemala, agriculture accounts for 40 percent of the freshwater consumed, households use another nine percent, and other sectors, including industry, make up a combined share of three percent. The remaining 48 percent goes to so-called non-consumptive uses, primarily the generation of hydroelectric power, according to the Secretariat of Planning and Programming of the Presidency.

Although the country’s freshwater supply is sufficient in general, the Corredor Seco (Dry Corridor) area of central and eastern Guatemala is characterised by recurring droughts in the Northern hemisphere summer months and semi-arid soils with low crop yields. Unsurprisingly, the region has been repeatedly hit by food crises and suffers high rates of malnutrition, sometimes even fatal.

Some efforts have been made to improve water management in the country, said Ever Sánchez of the non-governmental Water and Sanitation Network of Guatemala.

"A specific government department was created to foster better interinstitutional coordination and develop a water policy," he reported. Nevertheless, serious problems persist in the management of household and industrial wastewater and solid waste.

El Salvador is the only country in Central America with a shortage of water, according to the report "Situación de los recursos hídricos en Centroamérica: hacia una gestión integrada" (Water Resources Situation in Central America: Towards Integrated Management), published in April 2011 by the Global Water Partnership (GWP).

With access to 1,700 cubic metres of water per person per year, El Salvador is very close to the water security threshold of 1,500 cubic metres per capita.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of consumption, and no water-saving mechanisms have been established in the sector, says the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), an NGO that forms part of the National Forum for the Defense of Sustainability and the Right to Water.

The agricultural sector is also one of the biggest polluters of rivers and lakes, where the residues of chemical fertilisers and pesticides end up. In addition, only five percent of industrial wastewater undergoes any kind of treatment, said the president of UNES, Ángel Ibarra.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador has not moved beyond the stage of formulating proposals, such as the National Water Resources Policy, which have yet to be followed up with any concrete measures.

Policies in the region tend to follow "a mercantile model that does not tackle environmental problems or inequality, and which promotes the entry of private enterprise in the construction of infrastructure, administration and management," said Campero, who will be attending the World Water Forum in Marseille.

In the absence of an intergovernmental mechanism within the United Nations system, these international conferences organised every three years by the World Water Council have gained significant prominence, bringing together governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs and private companies.

The 12 priorities for action established for the 6th World Water Forum include guaranteeing access to water for all and the right to water; preventing and responding to water-related risks and crises; adjusting pressures and footprints of human activities on water; and promoting green growth and valuing ecosystem services.

An estimated 900 million people in the world do not have access to clean water.

"There are no public policies to protect the resource and to recover or treat it," stressed Ibarra, who participates in an alternative forum of civil society organisations whose goal is "for the governments of Latin America to delegitimise the World Water Forum."

They believe that the issue of water should be discussed instead at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, better known as Rio+20, taking place this June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"We civil society organisations are going to call for the creation of a United Nations agency and an international convention aimed at the sustainability of water resources," said Ibarra.

For his part, Rubén Pérez of the Guatemalan Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering hopes that the World Water Forum will address the need to treat wastewater and guarantee sanitation services.

In Guatemala, less than five percent of wastewater is treated. And the second leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality is contact with unsafe water.

The World Water Forum should also emphasise the urgent need to guarantee water resources in order to combat food insecurity in places like the Corredor Seco in Guatemala.

"How is it possible that more than 50 percent of the country’s children are malnourished? Food and water are inseparable," declared Pérez.