Monday, April 30, 2012

Rio+20 should make sustainable land use a top priority

Luc Gnacadja, SciDevNet, April 18, 2012

World leaders must promote effective land use methods to mitigate drought, says Luc Gnacadja of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

Severe droughts in Africa are a stark reminder of global unfairness. About 13 million people still struggle to have enough food in the Horn of Africa, and about the same number, most of them children, suffer from hunger in the Sahel region, which stretches across Africa below the Sahara.

Droughts now hit these parts of Sub-Saharan Africa more frequently than the usual ten-year cycle, and more severely. And people living there are the least responsible for this climatic change.

Last year, the response of the international community to the Horn of Africa crisis was catastrophically late and slow. Tens of thousands of people may have been rescued if we had not waited for the food crisis across East Africa to escalate into famine in Somalia.

To make things worse, humanitarian relief eventually leaves communities that depend on agriculture even more vulnerable to the next drought. Food aid disrupts local markets — farmers lose income and a major incentive to grow crops when local people can get food for free.

This article is part of our coverage of preparations for Rio+20 — the UN Conference on Sustainable Development — which takes place on 20-22 June 2012. For other articles, go to Science at Rio+20

Now, the latest reports from early warning systems predict a crisis in both the Horn of Africa and Sahel again this year, when they have not yet recovered from the 2010 and 2011 droughts. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Protect and thrive

Farmers in the Maradi and Zinder regions of Niger know what to do. During the past 20 years they have protected trees on some five million hectares of farmland. Where they had no trees or only a few per hectare, they now have up to 120. These trees not only improve soil fertility but also provide about a million households with fodder, fruit and firewood.

A recent survey shows that the farmers who preserve trees are able to cope better with drought than other farmers in the same area. [2] Some of them even produced a modest cereal surplus in 2011.

This is just one example of highly successful sustainable land management on a grassroots level. Another is Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer in Burkina Faso who featured in the documentary film, The Man Who Stopped the Desert. He has combined tree and crop planting techniques to turn the barren land in his village into a 15 hectare cultivated forest within three decades. [3]

We should not wait until the next food crisis emerges — we need to disseminate this experience and scale it up to national and regional levels.

Drought is predictable. The tools and knowledge farmers need to cope with it are already there. What is missing is the political will and the lack of awareness about existing, sustainable land-use practices.

First steps are local

The first step is to empower local communities and foster farmer-to-farmer communication.

In 2004, the International Fund for Agricultural Development helped to create the first village committee in the Aguie district of the Maradi region in Niger to monitor regreening activities. The initiative is recognised at a national level, prompting the establishment of similar committees in neighbouring villages.

Today, these committees regularly meet to share experience in land management and protect trees from theft.

Then in 2008, several farmers from Senegal visited re-greened areas in Niger. On their return, they used what they learned to protect young trees on their farmland on about 40,000 hectares. Local authorities should encourage such experience sharing.

These successes should be communicated by local, national and international media — especially radio, which is the most accessible medium for farmers across Africa.

National and international strategy

But strategies that work on the level of individual farmers are not enough. We need to make sure that each drought-prone country has a national drought policy, based on the principles of early warning, preparedness, risk management and response. This effort is led by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the World Meteorological Organization.

Such policies would embrace insurance schemes, for example, allowing farmers and herders affected by drought to receive state subsidies.

Most importantly, we should empower smallholder farmers to become 'champions' in the race against the disastrous effects of climate change. In most African countries, the land that local people have been cultivating for generations is legally owned by the government. But farmers will preserve their trees if they have clearly defined rights to them. So governments in Africa need to recognise these rights in forestry and agriculture laws.

We know from numerous studies that building long-term resilience is much more cost-effective than ad-hoc crisis response. Still, it seems easier for donors to justify spending money to feed a starving child rather than supporting his or her father to grow enough crops.

With the global community discussing the green economy and sustainable development in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), it is unthinkable that we would continue standing by and allow tens of thousands of people to die of hunger.

We should act at local, national and global levels to give farmers the lead, and promote sustainable land use and re-greening initiatives.

The Rio+20 summit should make this a top priority. It is essential to averting the next food crisis in Africa, and meeting the global challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Environmental problems and migration in Africa

By Bogumil Terminski

In a sense, the implications of environmental hazards are affecting all of us, whether or not we are aware of it. The threats monitored in recent years call for far-reaching research on the relationship between environmental change, natural disasters, and forced migration. Sudden disasters, as well as gradual environmental problems become increasingly important security issue.

The natural disasters observed in recent years entail serious social consequences. Floods, earthquakes (and the tsunami waves that frequently accompany them), volcanic eruptions, and the effects of hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes force several million people each year to relocate. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council about 36 million people had to flee because of natural disasters in 2008, more than 16 million in 2009 and finally about 42 million in 2010.

Over the last decade, we have witnessed at least ten major disasters which had a significant long-term impact on the dynamics of long-lasting displacement. According to the estimates of international organisations, more than 1,7 million people were forced to relocate following the tsunami of December 2004. As a result of the raging Hurricane “Katrina” over the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005, over 300,000 people were displaced, while the disaster caused losses estimated at over 86 billion dollars. More than 1,5 million people have been displaced in the aftermath of destructive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile (February 2010).

Last year's earthquake in Haiti has deprived more than 1 million residents of homes (other data suggest as much as 1,8 million). Furthermore, Japan's March 2011 earthquake, with its magnitude over 9 and accompanying tsunami wave with its complicated repercussions, will probably have a significant impact on the dynamics of internal migration for Japanese nationals. According to the United Nations, a total of 590,000 were evacuated or displaced as a result of the quake and tsunami disaster, including more than 100,000 children. Another common cause of internal displacement, although rather underestimated in the literature, is the result of massive flooding, which occurs almost every year in the most populated Asian countries (Pakistan, China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam).

The foregoing examples represent only a small sample of the phenomenon of environmentally-induced displacement. Recalling them, however, helps us to grasp the importance of great natural disasters for significant spontaneous population exoduses. Watching television reports from areas devastated by natural disasters, we often do not realize the many subtle effects the local communities will have to deal with; demographic, social, economic, and health-related consequences of major natural disasters can be visible and palpable years after the imminent threat is gone.

Regional context

The causes of environmentally-induced displacement in Africa include:
a) natural disasters and industrial accidents, b) cyclical environmental processes, c) long-term environmental problems, d) irreversible climate change.

a) Natural and Industrial Disasters - Extreme temperatures - Floods (Nigeria, Kenya, Benin, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Sudan). Nearly 560.000 people have been internally-displaced by flood in Nigeria in September 2010. - Earthquakes (Algeria) - Volcano eruptions (Ethiopia) - Cyclones - Land Contamination following the exploitation of natural resources (e.g. environmental degradation in the Niger Delta): Oil-related environmental problems include gas flaring, oil spills, and dredging of canals. Oil tanker disasters may lead to contamination of local ecosystems and force thousands of inhabitants to migrate. Each of the above-mentioned disasters and risks may constitute a decisive factor in forcing people from their homes.

b) Cyclical environmental problems - Periodic droughts

c) Long-term environmental problems - Consequences of deforestation. Deforestation is one of the main consequences of the process of industrialization, especially of the extraction of natural resources (such as oil). Wasteful deforestation can lead to an irreversible imbalance in the natural environment (as in the Amazon Jungle), or the growing scale of the desertification of soils. Increasing the scale of deforestation in many countries (for example in China) have enormous environmental consequences, forcing many people to migrate. According to United Nations analysis Nigeria has the world's highest deforestation rate, Brazil loses the largest area of forest annually, and Congo consumes more bushmeat than any other tropical country.

Amazon deforestation currently is considered as one of the greatest environmental problems in last years. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped nearly 46 percent from August 2008 to July 2009. - Desertification. As Kofi Annan said in 2006, “If we don't take action, current trends suggest that by 2020 an estimated 60 million people could move from desertified areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards North Africa and Europe, and that worldwide, 135 million people could be placed at risk of being uprooted”.

According to Allen and Ober (2008) over 67 million people in the Sahel already exist under the effects of desertification. Desertification of soils appears to be one of the fundamental causes of hunger in many regions of the world. -Droughts. The problem of drought in many regions of the world seems to be particularly associated with the process of desertification.

We can define drought as an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. The so called Sahelian-drought, that began in 1986 took place in sub-Saharan Africa was responsible for deaths of between 100,000 and 250,000 of the region's inhabitants. The dry period in Sahelian Region was accentuated by two severe droughts in the early 1970s and 1980s. It is estimated that Sahel drought killed some 100,000 people and displaced millions in that time.

A direct consequence of the drought-induced famine was also a large scale of internal displacement and at least 0.5 million refugees in the region. A 2011 drought in East Africa was described as “the worst in 60 years”. - Land Degradation, Inappropriate Agricultral Practices: Human-induced soil degradation is now one of the leading causes of environmentally displacement. Environmental consequences of poor farming are currently visible in the vast majority of developing countries.

The most famous example of the demographic consequences of bad agricultural practices was the Dust Bowl. Environmentally induced displacement is a consequence of so-called `Slash-and-burn agricultural technique`, a primitive form of economy practiced in many parts of the world to this day. The major causes of land degradation include: land clearance, agricultural depletion, overdrifting, urban sprawl and land pollution.

d) Irreversible climate change. - Rising sea levels are likely to become one of the main causes of forced migratory movements in this century. Low coastal zones (with a coast equal to or lower than 10 meters) account for only two percent of the earth's mass, but up to ten percent of the world's population and thirteen percent of its urban population.

The 2007 report, Environment and Urbanizations, says that 634 million people live in coastal areas within 30 feet (9 m) of sea level. A rise in sea levels is not limited to small island states (atoll states). Rather, about 60 percent of the world's biggest cities with more than five million people are located in low-lying coastal areas. (Eleven of the world's fifteen largest cities are on coastal plains).

Indeed, over 70 percent of the world's population lives on coastal plains. t is estimated that even a rise of just 20 centimetres could create over 750,000 environmentally induced displaced people in Nigeria. This problem may also touch other African countries like Niger, Senegal, the Gambia, or Egypt. Rising ocean levels will eventually pose a problem for the western hemisphere as well (the United States, Argentina, Chile) and even European countries (Great Britain).

International cooperation to protect environmentally displaced people in Africa.

1.The Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region (so-called Great Lakes Pact) adopted in December 2006 by 11 states was the first attempt to conceptualize the internal displacement in this particularly affected area.

The document mentions four categories of factors shaping the regional scale of internal displacement: (1) political conflicts, (2) humanitarian, (3) social and (4) environmental catastrophes.

According to the article 20 (b) State Parties undertake actions to “promote relevant policies to guarantee access to basic social services by the populations affected by conflicts and effects of natural disasters”. The Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (commonly known as the Kampala Convention) was adopted in October 2009.

The document has to be ratified by 15 out of 53 African Union countries to enter into force. As the preamble of the AU convention states: “Member States are determined to preventing and putting an end to the phenomenon of internal displacement [...] especially persistent and recurrent conflicts as well as addressing displacement caused by natural disasters, which have a devastating impact on human life, peace, stability, security, and development”. The analyses of environment-degradation-displacement relations, contained in the document are in fact much more detailed and exhaustive.

The definitions of IDPs in the Guiding Principles, Great Lakes Pact of 2006 and Kampala Convention of 2009 to large extent converge. As S. Ojeda noticed, by defining the term in the same manner the authors “clearly wanted to include the widest scope of application possible”.

According to the document State Parties shall: a) take measures to protect and assist IDPs due to natural or man-made disasters, including climate change, b) be liable to make reparation to IDPs for damage when a State Party refrains from protecting and assisting IDPs in the event of natural disasters, c) adopt measures to prevent and put an end to the phenomenon such as displacement caused by natural and man-made disasters.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shell Nigeria oil spill '60 times bigger than it claimed'

By John Vidal, The Guardian, April 24, 2012

As the company faces a lawsuit by residents, an assessment by a US oil spill consultancy casts doubt on Shell's estimate of the Nigerian leak

A Shell oil spill on the Niger delta was at least 60 times greater than the company reported at the time, according to unpublished documents obtained by Amnesty International.

According to Shell, the 2008 spill from a faulty weld on a pipeline resulted in 1,640 barrels of oil being spilt into the creeks near the town of Bodo in Ogoniland. The figure was based on an assessment agreed at the time by the company, the government oil spill agency, the Nigerian oil regulator and a representative of the community.

But a previously unpublished assessment, carried out by independent US oil spill consultancy firm Accufacts, suggests that a total of between 103,000 barrels and 311,000 barrels of oil flooded into the Bodo creeks over the period of the leak. Accufacts arrived at the figure following analysis of video footage of the leak taken at the time by local people. This suggested that between one and three barrels of oil were leaking every minute. A similar method was used by spill assessors to gauge the scale of the BP Deepwater spill underwater in the gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"The difference is staggering: even using the lower end of the Accufacts estimate, the volume of oil spilt at Bodo was more than 60 times the volume Shell has repeatedly claimed leaked," said Audrey Gaughran, director of global issues at Amnesty International.

"All oil spill incidents are investigated jointly by communities, regulators, operators and security agencies," said a Shell spokeswoman in London. "The team visits the site of the incident, determines the cause and volume of spilled oil and impact on the environment, and signs off the findings in a report. This is an independent process – communities and regulators are all involved. This is the process that was employed with the two spills in question, and we stand by the findings [of 1,640 barrels]." Shell has argued the community prevented the company being allowed near the pipeline to repair it.

The amount of oil spilled by Shell at Bodo will be key to a high court case expected to be heard in London later in 2012. Shell is being sued by nearly 11,000 Bodo inhabitants, who say their lives were devastated by the spill which destroyed their fishing grounds, caused long-lasting ill health and polluted fresh water sources. The community, represented by the London law firm Leigh Day, is thought to be seeking more than $150m (£93m) to clean up the creeks, which, even four years after the spill, remain coated in oil.

Oil spill compensation in Nigeria is based largely on the amount of oil spilt. But negotiations over the Bodo spill broke down earlier in 2012 in London when the gap between what Shell was offering and what the community wanted could not be bridged. Neither party can agree on when the 40-year-old pipeline started to leak.

In a letter to Amnesty International, Shell wrote: "The court will decide what the volume of the spill was. We suggest you might be better to wait for the authoritative view on the volume of the spill and publish at that stage rather than risk misleading the public with Accufacts estimate."

But this was dismissed by Amnesty's Gaughran: "Even if we use the start date given by Shell, the volume of oil spilt is far greater than Shell recorded. More than three years after the Bodo oil spill, Shell has yet to conduct a proper cleanup or to pay any official compensation to the affected communities. After years of trying to seek justice in Nigeria, the people of Bodo have now taken their claim to the UK courts."

"The evidence of Shell's bad practice in the Niger delta is mounting," said Patrick Naagbanton, co-ordinator of the local oil watch group Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD). "Shell seems more interested in conducting a PR operation than a cleanup operation. The problem is not going away; and sadly neither is the misery for the people of Bodo."

Amnesty and CEHRD have repeatedly called for an independent process to investigate oil spills in Nigeria, and an end to the system that allows oil companies to have such influence over the process.


Friday, April 27, 2012

American Land Grabs Mirror Africa’s Colonial Past


While Africa may have celebrated the demise of colonialism, it seems the continent is sliding back to those days, as investors continue to push murky land deals.

In 1884, European and American politicians, at a meeting in Berlin, gathered to divide the African land amongst themselves and plan the future exploitation of the continent. In the second half of the 19th century, after more than four centuries of contact, the European powers finally laid claim to nearly all of Africa.

The land grab of Africa is not over. With world food security under threat, some governments have promoted land acquisitions abroad as a way to secure affordable food for their people, and Africa, again, presents a solution.

American speculators and academic capitalists began grabbing African lands in 2008. The continent has lost a significant percentage of its land over the last few years, a resource that is central to the livelihoods of millions of its people.

According to researchers at the California-based Oakland Institute, Harvard and other major American universities have been working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which have already forced thousands of people off their land.

Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, DR Congo, Mozambique, Libya, Mali, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Madagascar have all been target of land deals by American speculators.

While some analysts argue that these land agreements can help African countries create jobs, increase export earnings and use more advanced technologies, others argue otherwise.

According to Oakland, the US universities exaggerated the benefits of the deals for the communities involved. The deals, most of which are characterised by a lack of transparency, pose profound implications to the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms.

Some observers argue that these land agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals, essentially, benefit corrupt leaders and foreign investors.

Even where some of these land investments have relatively been profitable, analysts argued that it is often difficult to see how they contribute to poverty reduction. The jobs created are few, short-lived and low-paid – and public revenues are limited by tax exemptions.

The land grab by these universities may lead to insecurity in the global food system. The majority of Africa’s poor still depend on subsistence farming, and these land agreements are forcing poor villagers off their lands and marginalising family farming. Land is up for grabs across the Global South, and US universities are getting in on the action.

But just like the Berlin Conference, these land investments by American universities in Africa, researchers say, often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems.

Therefore, Africa’s civil society groups have important roles to play – by demanding greater transparency from their governments and investors. It stands to reason that if land agreements and deals are properly managed, agribusiness can bring many benefits to Africa – including increased food production; access to improved agro-skills and development in rural communities, which, in turn, will curtail one of Africa’s most pressing issues- the tide of urban migration.

Indeed not every African land deal with a foreign nation is a “land grab” – much, many would argue, depends the terms of the lease and whether it reflects the free, prior and informed consent of local landholders. Needless to say that if these land deals are executed properly, they can generate improved agro-skills and development in rural communities, and increased food production in rural areas; and ultimately address the tide of rural-urban migration, one of Africa’s most pressing issues.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rio+20 Preparatory Meetings – Road to the Earth Summit or Road to yet-another- Business-Summit?

By Isis Alvarez, Global Forest Coalition, Colombia

The second round of ‘Informal-Informal’ negotiations on the Zero Draft of the outcome document for the forthcoming Earth Summit took place 19-23 March 2012, in New York, and was followed by the Third Intersessional Meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20), on 26-27 March.

Negotiations initially started out with a Zero Draft of close to 20 pages; as of today it is closer to 200 pages. The‘Green Economy’ is one of the main issues being discussed, and the whole third section of the document is devoted to this one theme.
The major groups have been working hard to introduce the issues of most relevance for civil society in all sections, and different thematic areas within the draft.

However, negotiations seemed to have taken their own(and predictable) path so far.

The proposal to include the term ‘food sovereignty’ didn’t make much headway. ‘Food security’ is the preferred term for these negotiations, which could also imply the ‘empowerment’ of agroindustry and its potential expansion. This would certainly exacerbate already existing pressures on forests and other natural resources,
this time under the banner of ‘sustainable development’.

It did not take long for the real intentions of governments and their ‘associates’ to emerge, giving a strong indication of just how the final document could be worded. On 24 March, for example, most participants were shocked to witness the fact that the human rights-based language throughout the document was put at risk
following a proposal from some of the major powers to put square brackets indicating a lack of consent) around text on the principles agreed in Johannesburg ten years ago, and to bracket and delete language relevant to helping to generate ‘real’ sustainable development (which must of course incorporate human rights).
Paul Quintos of IBON Foundation gives noteworthy examples of such proposed changes.

These included:
- “Right to food and proper nutrition”
- “Specific attention must be paid to challenges faced by poor smallholders, women and youth including their participation in decision-making…”
- “Promoting access to land particularly for women, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups”
- “Regulating financial and commodity markets to address price volatility”
- “Right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”
- all references to the right to development.

The Women’s Major Group also highlighted the US’s intention to delete a proposal to raise the proportion of leadership positions undertaken by women to 40%, and to delete references about sexual and reproductive health and rights from the text.

Moreover, as the ecosystems approach was deleted, leaving nothing more than support for ecosystem service payments in the text, it seems that market-based approaches may well continue to dominate the ‘sustainability’ agenda. These tend to impact negatively on the most vulnerable people around the world, particularly because they are based on the use of capital assets, such as property rights, favoring wealthy investors and elites. Indigenous peoples and local communities seldom have access to such assets, as was pointed out during the Women’s Major Group side event ‘Women’s Critical Perspectives on the Green Economy’. This means that they are considerably less likely to benefit from any such mechanisms; and worse, because such mechanisms lead to increased land-grabbing, they are also highly likely to suffer escalating negative impacts. At this point it is hard to believe that further negotiations have any chance of leading to an agreement that is genuinely focused on reducing poverty for many, as opposed to increasing profits for a few.

To sum up, some of the outcomes of the second round of negotiations are:

• Weakened rights-based language throughout the document.
• Rejection of a specialized UNEP Agency.
• Rejection of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.
• A large number of market-oriented proposals in the forest text and a deliberate attempt to divide forests from biodiversity, making it clear that many negotiators still fail to recognize the fact that forests are ecosystems.
• A proposal to focus on ‘sustained growth’ (seemingly disregarding ‘sustainable development’, and not considering the impacts of climate change on vulnerable areas and peoples).
• A push for a ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SEFA) Initiative (see elsewhere in this publication for more detail about this initiative5) and other corporate-driven and unregulated approaches.

The next round of negotiations will be held in New York, 23 April-4 May 2012. This is likely to see a continuation of the battle between developing countries, struggling for their ‘right to develop’, and developed countries, who want to maintain ‘business-as-usual’. Organizations will continue to challenge proposals that threaten to increase inequality worldwide whilst benefitting big transnational corporations and promoting neocolonialism. In this light, it is important to ponder whether we will be better off with a weak agreement in Rio or no agreement at


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Africa Consensus Statement for Rio + 20

Adapted from the Africa Consensus Statement for Rio + 20 On the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication: 21. We reiterate the need to define the green economy as a tool for achieving sustainable development, and to assess the opportunities and challenges related to this concept, as well as the means of implementation needed to achieve a smooth transition to a green economy in our countries. 22. We note that the combined stream of economic, social and environmental crises that have plagued the global economy in recent years points to a need to reorient the current development models towards a more efficient, inclusive and sustainable economy by enhancing the resource efficiency of national economies, and decoupling economic activity from environmental degradation. In this context, we recognize that the transition to a green economy could offer new opportunities for advancing the achievement of Africa’s sustainable development objectives through economic growth, employment creation, and the reduction of poverty and inequalities, in accordance with the principles and recommendations of the 1992 Rio Summit and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. 23. We confirm that through a consultative process, African countries have already begun to identify opportunities and challenges in the region’s transition to a green economy. 24. We emphasize that, for Africa to benefit from this transition, the promotion of a green economy in the region should be underlined by national objectives, social, economic and environmental development imperatives and the attainment of internationally agreed sustainable development commitments, including the MDGs. In this regard, we call on the international community to put an international investment strategy in place to facilitate the transition towards a green economy. Furthermore, there is a need to foster better understanding of the green economy in the context of Africa, as a way to protect and sustain natural capital, improve resource efficiency, including innovative financing, and sustainable consumption and production, and enhance contributions to sustainable development. 25. We emphasize the need to ensure the sustainable management of lands as part of the green economy efforts. We are aware that managing a green economic transformation will require an enabling environment, including policies and institutional frameworks that imply a critical role for the State, through public investment, fiscal and social policies, regulations, public procurement, public-private partnerships, sustainable livelihoods, and market creation at national, regional and global levels, as well as the facilitation of an active participation of non-State actors. We recognize the African private sector as a critical player in the region’s transition to a green economy. We encourage the private sector and other major groups, including women, youth, farmers, trade unions, academia, civil society, scientific and technological community and non-governmental organizations to play their rightful role in the context of sustainable development. 26. We note that, Africa, being at the early stages of industrialization, has an opportunity to pursue sustainable industrial growth that limits the environmental, social and economic costs of industrialization, and increases the efficient use of energy and material input, thereby enhancing international competitiveness. Therefore, there is a need to remove all obstacles to the full implementation of this process. The African Ten-Year Framework of the Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production, as endorsed by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment(AMCEN) and the African Union, and the subsequent activities on developing national local sustainable consumption and production action plans should be used and supported to contribute to the promotion of sustainable industrial development and the green economy. 27. We strongly urge the international community to support African countries to enable them to benefit fully from the sectors in which they have a comparative advantage. We fully recognize that forest ecosystems are important for the people as well as for adapting to and mitigating climate change. We therefore request the international community to support countries in the sustainable management of their forests through the effective and efficient implementation of the mechanisms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 28. We note that without protecting, restoring and managing our land sustainably, we will miss biodiversity, climate change, forests and MDGs targets; we will not alleviate rural poverty and hunger, ensure long-term food security, or build resilience to drought and water stress. These will have implications on social and political stability, including geopolitical conflicts and migration. 29. We therefore stress that the time has come for the international community to commit itself to a land degradation neutral world by setting sustainable development goals on land use, with targets towards achieving zero net land degradation. 30. We call for making sustainable land-use in agriculture, food security, energy and forestry a cornerstone of the green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication. 31. We further call for enhanced implementation of UNCCD, supported by a globally agreed strong and effective science-policy interface, and improvement of the financing framework for implementation. 32. We reiterate that the green economy should not be used as a trade barrier or to impose conditionalities on developing countries; neither should it be used by developed countries as a pretext for not fulfilling their pledges and commitments towards developing countries. The green economy should be based on the Rio principles, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and respect the policy space of each country. 33. We emphasize that transitioning to a green economy, including the scoping thereof, should be accompanied by adequate means of implementation, including new and additional financial, technological and technical assistance to developing countries, in Africa, especially. At the regional level, countries need to develop their own marketing mechanisms. Furthermore, all parties, in particular, developed countries, should refrain from using unilateral measures or initiatives in this framework. 34. We further emphasize that the transition to a green, efficient and inclusive economy in Africa would require increased investments, access to technologies and capacity-building. This calls for the development of a new generation of physical and institutional infrastructure. To this end, we are of the view that an agreement on the Global Ten-Year Framework of Programmes to promote sustainable consumption and production would be a useful contribution, by Rio+20, to support the transition to green economies and help developing countries with financial and technical support, appropriate technology transfer, capacity-building and market access. 35. We are pleased to note that several African countries have already begun to identify opportunities and challenges in the region’s transition to a green economy through different regional support programmes. We are further gratified that over the years, innovative policies and practices on sustainable forms of farming, renewable energy development, ecosystem-based adaptation, resource efficient production and the enhancement of natural capital have been successfully implemented in some countries. We welcome the exchange of experiences and best practices in these areas, and call for the scaling up of these practices. We underscore the need for mechanisms to regulate the use of land for commercial purposes, with equity and judicial considerations of communities in mind. Source

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Water: The Bloodstream of the Green Economy

By The Stockholm Water Front, April 2012 Key messages to the 2012 Rio+20 Summit from the Stockholm International Water Institute The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), to be held June 12-23, provides an opportunity for global leadership to harness economic activity at all levels to catalyse sustainable development and eradicate poverty. The Stockholm International Water Institute strongly urges that the following points are emphasised in the outcome of Rio+20: 1. Set sustainable development goals for water, food and energy The foundation for a resource efficient green economy must be built upon water, energy and food security – and these issues must be addressed in an integrated and holistic manner. The outcome of Rio+20 should explicitly: • Recognise the strong inter-dependence between long term sustainable energy supply and sustainable water resources management. • Recommend that the Sustainable Development Goals should include targets to increase total food supply chain efficiency from field to fork, to increase water efficiency in agriculture, and to increase water use efficiency in energy production. 2. Integrate water in climate adaptation and mitigation policy and implementation at all levels Our ability to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change requires an improvement in the management of water as a natural resource, an economic asset and as a hazard. It is therefore critical that the cross-cutting nature of water is fully acknowledged and that water management is fully integrated into climate adaptation and mitigation measures. The outcome of Rio+20 should explicitly: • Emphasise the vital importance of integrating water resource management in national climate adaptation and mitigation plans and measures; and in this acknowledge that support to climate interventions need to be site specific and built upon local knowledge and capacity. • Recognise the vital importance of addressing water comprehensively through the establishment of appropriate policy measures and programmes at local, regional and global levels, including within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 3. Call for more effective cooperation on transboundary waters Increasing population, economic growth and climate change will likely intensify tensions over transboundary water resources around the globe. Multi-country dialogue and cooperation over transboundary waters is an effective vehicle to promote improved relations between nations and opens opportunities for more productive water management. The outcome of Rio+20 should explicitly: • Recognise the importance of increasing efforts to advance cooperation on transboundary waters as a means to promote development, poverty reduction, regional integration and the advancement of peace and stability, fostering trust and coinvestments. 4. Establish good water governance as a prerequisite for sustainable development Forming transparent and participatory governance processes is critical to ensure the sustainable and equitable use of water resources and to expand the delivery of clean water supply and sanitation services to all people. The outcome of Rio+20 should explicitly: • Recognise the importance of transparency, accountability and integrity as part of the efforts to improve water governance and prevention of corruption. • Emphasise that availability and public accessibility of information is central for improved water governance. This also includes transparent budgets, which enables stakeholders to identify priority areas, potential funding gaps and track resource allocations. • Encourage countries to set up procedures for local stakeholder participation in planning, budgeting and implementation of reforms related to water resources and water supply and sanitation. Source

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rio Plus 20 Summit Issues Hotly Debated

By Martin Khor, South Centre, South Bulletin 61 Article The second half of March 2012 saw intense debates at the United Nations on the issues in a draft of a declaration or plan of action to be adopted by heads of states at the UN summit on sustainable development in June. Some of the major issues are discussed below. The biggest United Nations event this year is the summit on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro in June, and more than 127 heads of government have already signed up to speak at the conference. Whether all the political leaders will eventually turn up depends on whether they think it worthwhile. Hopefully, they should. The world is facing multipAle crises, including the worsening of environmental problems such as global warming, water scarcity and biodiversity loss. There are social problems including the persistence of poverty, the widening of inequality, and the loss of effectiveness of modern medicines as bacteria get immune to antibiotics. Then of course there’s the global financial and economic crisis and its aftershocks. A period of great uncertainty lies ahead, with slowdown inevitable in both developed and developing countries. These issues are all part of the business of sustainable development, which has three pillars (social, economic and environmental) and the promise of financial and technology support to developing countries. In the second half of March 2012, the UN in New York hosted a meeting known as “informal” negotiations to piece together a plan of action that the Summit is to adopt. The latest draft has 206 pages. It has to be brought down to a tenth or a fifth of its present length. At the end of the first reading, the key issues to be addressed by the summit have become clear. Each issue is still hotly contested, mainly along North-South lines. The Green Economy Issue First is the divisive issue of the “green economy.” Developing countries are uncomfortable with this concept, as it can mean different things to different people. Their fear is that this term, if accepted too generally at a Summit level UN meeting, may pave the way for environmental issues to be used as the basis of trade protectionism or new conditionality for aid and loans. Officials of these countries fear their products and services will be hit in Western markets. Indeed the present draft contains one country’s proposal to get the World Trade Organization to change its rules so that countries can use trade measures on a product on the basis of how it is produced. In other words, the pollution or emissions produced while making the product can become the basis for additional tariffs to be placed on the product. This is presently not allowed, or at the least is greatly discouraged, in WTO rules. The European countries want an elaborate Green Economy road map, with goals and targets on various sectors and issues, to be adopted by the summit. Developing countries on the other hand want to restrict the green economy text to broad principles, and to get this concept to be defined as closely to sustainable development as possible. Sustainable Development Goals The second major issue is closely related to the first. Most countries have agreed that the Summit will set up “sustainable development goals” (SDGs), which in a way would be an alternative to the green economy road map idea. Developing countries are more comfortable with SDGs, since there is already an understanding on sustainable development, with its three pillars and the promise of finance and technology support to developing countries. Developed countries are now keen to put in as many SDGs as possible and to have the goals, indicators and targets with deadlines mentioned in the Summit text. They mainly have environmental goals in mind, such as addressing climate change, resource use, and pollution. Developing countries argue that the economic and social goals such as sustained economic growth, poverty eradication and reform of the global financial system must also be included. Since there are only less than 20 negotiating days left, it is most unlikely that agreement can be reached on the specifics of the SDGs. So it is more likely that the summit will not settle on details but instead launch a process of one or two years for the UN General Assembly or a working group under it to work out the goals, indicators and deadlines for reaching them. The Question of Institutions A third issue is the institutions that will follow up on the plans, continued discussions and activities after the summit. This is in fact the most important issue, because a conference, including one at summit level, is ultimately only as good as its long-term influence and effects. The present institutions dealing with sustainable development are too weak. Many countries are proposing or considering setting up a new Sustainable Development Council operating under the UN General Assembly. It would be an upgraded version of the present Commission on Sustainable Development (which had been set up after the Rio Summit of 1992) which is widely seen as being too weak in design and structure. The CSD meets for only two weeks in its annual session (and a few more weeks in between) and that is insufficient to cope with the dozens of social, economic and environmental issues that form 1992 Rio Summit’s Agenda 21, and which are the content of sustainable development. The new Council could meet much more regularly, even throughout the year (like the Human Rights Council or the WTO), and it would have a stronger secretariat. That, in any case, is in the proposal of some countries, and this is also supported by the Rio Plus 20 secretariat in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). However, a few other countries do not want a new Council but prefer to reform and strengthen the existing Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). That would be fine if it could be done, but others point out that ECOSOC reform has been going on for years with little positive result. Only a new Council, designed anew, can be up to the enormous tasks that the summit will assign. Europe and many African countries also want to upgrade the present UN Environment Programme to be a specialised UN agency (like the WHO and the FAO). They argue that the present mandate of UNEP is too weak and narrow in scope to address the many environmental problems. But countries like the United States and Russia have made known their opposition to setting up a new UN entity, that entails more costs for member states like them. Many developing countries would also rather enlarge the authority and institution of sustainable development rather than just the environment. So the ultimate agreement may be to strengthen the mandate and governance of UNEP and its work, but not to convert it to a specialised agency. Means of Implementation A fourth major issue that has emerged in the March 2012 negotiations is the “means of implementation”, usually defined as the provision of finance and technology to developing countries to enable them to undertake sustainable development activities. In the original Rio Summit of 1992, this was also a major area of negotiations. The final understanding was that developed countries commit to finance and technology transfers to developing countries in recognition of their historical responsibilities and their higher economic level. At and since the 1992 Summit, developing countries have made the implementation of this commitment a centre piece of their proposals for the framework of sustainable development and environment agreements, including at the CSD, and the climate and biodiversity conventions. During the March negotiations, the G77 and China have made a re-commitment by the developed countries to providing the means of implementation their major demand. However, this time there has been visible resistance from developed countries. Most of the G77 and China proposed text on this issue has been rejected by the developed countries, to the great disappointment of the developing countries. Thus, the fight over the means of implementation issue is likely to be another major bone of contention on the road to Rio 2012. Source

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How Ethiopia's Plantations are Killing Vital Waterway

By Survival International, April 10, 2012 New photographic evidence proves that Ethiopia's controversial plantations scheme is killing the Lower Omo River, on which the government is building a massive hydro-electric dam to divert the natural flow to feed the plantations. New photographic evidence proves Ethiopia's controversial plantations scheme is killing the Lower Omo River, a lifeline for 100,000 tribal people. The River, in south west Ethiopia, is home to eight different tribes whose population is about 200,000, and who have lived there for centuries. However, the future of these tribes lies in the balance, as a massive hydro-electric dam, Gibe III, is under construction on the Omo. The Omo River downstream from the notorious Gibe III dam is now being diverted into a newly-dug irrigation canal, one of several which will feed a massively ambitious plantations scheme for state and private investors. These man-made canals are key to Ethiopia’s plantations plan, which is already having a hugely negative impact on UNESCO’s Lower Omo World Heritage Site. Bulldozers are flattening land near the heritage site, destroying villages and forcing local communities to give up their pastoral way of life. The government has revealed virtually nothing about the plantations program, but an official map obtained by Survival International shows the enormous scope of the project. One local person, speaking to a Survival International’s researcher who recently visited the area, said, “I’ve never seen the river this low. During the dry season, like it is now, you can usually cross by foot, and water reaches your knees. Now I could cross without my feet getting wet.” The Gibe III dam, 200 kms upstream, will interrupt the river’s natural flow and deprive thousands of tribes people of their most valuable agricultural land by stopping the annual flood. The flooding of the Omo River feeds the rich biodiversity of the region and ensures tribes such as the Bodi, Mursi and Dassanach can feed their cattle and produce beans and cereals in the fertile silt left behind. There was a flood last year, but most Bodi and Mursi were not able to use it for cultivation because of the irrigation project. There will be no flood this year, as the dam reservoir starts to fill, nor in succeeding years. The people have been told they will be given food aid in compensation. Indigenous communities are also suffering from violent human rights abuses, as plans are implemented forcibly to resettle those who stand in the way of the government’s plans, and to take away their cattle. Fear is growing as violence becomes commonplace and reports of beatings, rapes and arrests spread among tribes close to the Omo River. As recently as January 2012, Survival International received reports of three Bodi men being beaten to death in an Ethiopian jail. The government is also ordering families to sell their livestock. One man told Survival International, “My money is my cattle. My bank account is my cattle.” Two UN bodies have already asked Ethiopia to provide evidence that tribes are being consulted, and that current developments are not damaging the area’s cultural and natural heritage. However, Ethiopia has ignored such calls. Infact, Kenya has recently finalized a deal, which will see it importing electricity generated from the Gibe III dam. Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said on March 28, “Ethiopia’s government is destroying the Lower Omo Valley and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of indigenous people – all in the name of ‘development’. However the human cost cannot be ignored. Re-directing a water lifeline is irresponsible and reckless.” Source

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Rio+20 Earth summit must back peasant farmers on land rights

By Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab, April 17, 2012 The Rio+20 Earth summit must back peasant farmers on land rights Governments in the global south are claiming farmland is 'empty' and 'unused' – and flogging it off to foreigners who promise investment. The June summit in Rio needs to call a halt to this The agenda for the upcoming Earth summit in Rio this June has a glaring hole: land rights. I have spent the last two years investigating the global epidemic of land grabs for a book. Saudi sheikhs, private equity whizz-kids, Indian entrepreneurs and Chinese billionaires all believe, with financier George Soros, that "farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time". They are satisfying their newfound land lust from Mali to Mozambique, Cambodia to Kazakhstan, and Paraguay to Papua New Guinea, usually seeking out unfenced "customary" land to grow grains, sugar, vegetable oils and biofuel for sale on the world's booming commodity markets. This unprecedented corporate privatisation and enclosure of the world's common lands – its pastures, fields and forests – is being done in the name of development. But much of it will destroy development and impoverish the poorest. Tuesday, the International Day of Peasant Struggle, is a good moment to call on the Rio Earth summit to declare a halt. Most investors are trying to bring capital-intensive prairie farming to African plains that the World Bank calls "the world's last large reserve of underused land". Peasants are being replaced with tractors. Next month, the UN committee on world food security will probably agree voluntary guidelines on "responsible" land grabbing. But I hold out no hopes for their success. As one British venture capitalist, with a 100,000-hectare stake in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, candidly admitted at an investor conference last year: "Industrial-scale farming displaces and alienates people, creates few jobs and causes social disruption." The trouble is that most of the grabbers care little for people like Omot Ochan, who I met in a forest clearing in Gambella, the poorest corner of Ethiopia. "All round here is ours. For two days' walk," Ochan said. "When my father died he said don't leave the land. We made a promise. We can't give it to the foreigners." But Gambella is being taken over by Arab and Indian land grabbers, and Omot Ochan is being forced out. "We used to sell honey," he told me. "But two years ago, the big farm began chopping down our forest, and the bees went away. We used to hunt, but after the farm came the wild animals disappeared. Now we only have fish." Behind us, trucks owned by Mohammed al-Amoudi – Saudi Arabia's second richest man and a friend of the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi – were digging a canal that would drain the nearby wetland. So the fish would soon be gone too. I met Malian herders whose cattle pastures are being fenced in for Chinese farms; Paraguayan tribes ejected from their land by Brazilian ranchers; Liberian peasant farmers giving ground to Malaysian palm-oil princes; and Cambodian rice farmers shunted aside by their own senators, who are shipping sugar to Tate & Lyle. In Kenya, angry locals told me how they had lost the rich resources of the Yala swamp, on the shores of Lake Victoria, to an evangelical American who made his fortune managing privatised prisons. I discovered that the government of newly independent South Sudan handed out a tenth of its land to foreigners before even raising the flag for the first time last year. Not far from the capital, Juba, a British investment banker, Leonard Thatcher, claims control of more than half a million hectares, in a deal done with an aged chief whose people have denounced the deal. Post-imperial governments across the world spent half a century putting communally owned land in state hands. The land was being held in trust for the people, they said. Now those governments are claiming the land is "empty" and "unused" – and flogging it off to foreigners who promise investment. After decades of under-investment in African agriculture, governments seem willing to accept any kind of investment. Some say this is necessary to feed the world? I don't believe so. I agree with the World Bank report which noted in 2009 that "there is little evidence that the large-scale farming model is either necessary or even particularly promising for Africa". And with the Ford Foundation's Pablo Farias, who recently called for the Earth summit to "endorse community land rights", noting that "when land rights of rural communities are recognised, far more sustainable land uses evolve". This is about both practicality as much as equity. What sense does it make to grab the land of the poorest and hungriest, in the name of feeding the planet? We need to invest in peasant farmers, not dispossess them. An Earth summit that declared in favour of the land rights of peasant farmers would be a victory indeed. Otherwise, we face a new tragedy of the commons. Source

Caribbean to Take Strong Stance at Rio+20 Summit

By Peter Richards, IPS News, April 18, 2012

The mandate will be very clear. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) delegates are going to Brazil in June for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development determined to show that it will not be business as usual.

The region is expected to finalise the details of its position on Friday when trade and economic ministers meet in Guyana for a special meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the second highest decision-making body within the 15-member regional grouping.

The Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat says Friday's meeting will provide the "last ministerial platform for environment and sustainable development ministers to frame a regional strategic approach" for the Jun. 20-22 gathering in Rio de Janeiro.

The ministers are hoping that by the time their leaders arrive in Brazil, they will be armed with a "foolproof strategy on how CARICOM is going to help shape the future we want for our children and their children".

The Guyana meeting follows a four-day regional tourism conference in Georgetown where delegates were told that increasing global temperatures due to the burning of fossil fuels could kill off forests in the Caribbean (and elsewhere) and cause a rise in sea levels that would destroy most of the beaches in the region.

Former Guyanese president Bharrat Jagdeo said a World Bank study has already indicated that 10 or 15 of the countries most vulnerable to changing climate conditions are in the Caribbean.

"We already know that a disaster could have a systemic impact in our societies, having seen hurricanes and floods wipe out the equivalent of 60, 75, 80 percent of gross domestic product. We know how this has affected the product that we offer," he told more than 200 delegates attending the four-day event here.

"Right now we are in a global situation where we have had failures, lots of failures in Copenhagen, in Cancun and at Durban," he said, referring to previous climate change conferences and blaming the developed world for failing to "come up with an agreement that would lead us on a path to sustainability".

Jagdeo is currently travelling with a delegation of ministers from the Democratic Republic of Congo promoting an agreement that seeks to preserve the "rainforest of this world and to allow developing countries to take greater ownership of their forest". They are hoping it will be signed in Rio.

CARICOM says the Rio de Janeiro conference hopes to "secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges".

"The Rio Conference has the potential to be transforming for its member states, but that depends largely on the political commitment of both developed and developing countries. Regrettably, such commitment may waver in the face of global economic and geopolitical realities," the CARICOM Secretariat said in its statement.

With seven European countries, including France, the second largest economy in Europe, gearing up for elections later this year, there is uncertainty surrounding the dialogue on new avenues of climate financing.

"Such dialogue may not necessarily be in favour of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as those which comprise CARICOM. Arriving at any consensus on new envelopes of financing will be a sticking point," the bloc said.

It is against this background that the regional bloc says Friday's meeting will have to shape the agenda for the region.

"CARICOM ministers will need to establish and agree on clear regional priorities as well as a concrete approach on how they intend to engage their counterparts at the Rio+ 20 Conference. The issue of our approach to developing the green economy has to be at the top of the agenda.

"The concept of green economy focuses primarily on the nexus between the environment, the economy and the social realities facing the Caribbean region. The underlying challenge for CARICOM is to determine how its focus on a green economy, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, can foster regional development and a better quality of life for its peoples," the regional grouping added.

Grenada is the only Caribbean country participating in a project by the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development (UNDSD) on "Integrating Climate Change into National Sustainable Development Strategies and Plans in Latin America and the Caribbean".

The pilot project also involves Guatemala and Bolivia. Authorities in Grenada say that under the project, three critical areas have been identified for adaptation to potential impacts from climate change in the country.

They are management of water resources; renewable energy options for use after natural disasters; and coastal ecosystems' restoration and management.

In addition, a selection has been made for an all-encompassing project to build a "Green Economy for Sustainable Development in Carriacou and Petite Martinique", two of the outlying islands that make up Grenada and the Grenadines.

A government statement said that the island "hopes to showcase its efforts to address climate change impacts, using a systematic stakeholder driven approach, at the upcoming Rio+20 meeting" where it is hoped that "developing countries like Grenada are also expected to receive support that will allow them to find a green path for development, and to improve international coordination for sustainable development".

CARICOM is hoping that at the end of the COTED meeting, members will have adopted "an approach to developing a green economy and be ready to articulate what it considers the minimum architecture for the green economy framework to guide us in the next decade.

"In preparing for Rio+20, CARICOM Environment Ministers will also need to address the structural issues that impact its poverty alleviation and eradication efforts within the Caribbean region. The region needs appropriate financing mechanisms, policies, regulations and governance framework to be able to implement any sustainable development strategy that it develops.

"The anticipated outcome from the Special COTED therefore cannot be any 'urging', it must be a decision for a clear regional agenda for sustainable development.

"If we fail to set our own agenda, then someone else will do so through their own country development assistance programmes. The region is only too familiar with the notion that 'one size doesn't fit all'," the CARICOM Secretariat said, adding "Therefore, it cannot be business as usual."


Friday, April 20, 2012

Western Ghana’s Fisherfolk Starve Amid Algae Infestation

By Jessica McDiarmid,IPS news, Aprial 18, 2012

Sam Kojo stands in a thigh-high pile of brown seaweed that blankets a beach in western Ghana. Behind him, a decomposing mound of Sargassum stretches down the shore past the fishing village of Beyin.

"Ever since I was born, I have not seen this," says Kojo, holding a clump of the seaweed in his hand. He has been fishing since he was 10 years old, but since the weed began washing in about three months ago, he has been unable to work.

"We have a big problem because when we cast our nets, all the weeds would come inside the net and we would catch nothing," says Kojo, through a translator. "So we decided not to continue fishing."

Sargassum is the algae after which the Sargasso Sea - an elongated region in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean - is named due to the large accumulations there. In the past year, it has been showing up in unprecedented quantities on beaches from the Caribbean to West Africa, wreaking havoc on tourism and fishing industries.

It started collecting on the beaches of western Ghana about three months ago, locals say. And in Beyin, it is bringing this small fishing village of a few hundred people to its knees.

Kojo says that with the boats kept ashore, people are going hungry and families can no longer pay their children’s school fees. He says theft is increasing along with the desperation.

His son Raymond says they saw the Sargassum floating on the water a few days before it hit the shores.

"For months now, we haven’t gone to sea," says Raymond. "We’re hungry. Here, there are no other jobs."

Beyin has a fledgling tourism industry. It serves as the launch point for trips to Nzulezu, a stilt village in the area that draws several thousand visitors a year. But fishing remains the main source of income.

Ernst Peebles, an associate professor of biological oceanography at the University of South Florida, says in an email that mats of Sargassum accumulate wherever ocean currents take them. The influx in Africa and elsewhere probably does not reflect increased local growth of Sargassum.

"More than likely, it is an indication that oceanic currents or eddies are closer to shore than usual. Persistent onshore winds can also help create such accumulations," he adds.

In 2011, the eastern Caribbean was ridden with Sargassum, which plastered beaches at popular tourist destinations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St. Martin. Some resorts closed down while tonnes of the algae were removed. In some areas people were warned not to swim due to the risk of getting tangled in the weeds. Sierra Leone, northwest of Ghana, also experienced an influx in 2011.

Brian LaPointe, who has studied the algae since the 1980s, said Sargassum circulates continuously between the Sargasso Sea, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, where it is picked up by the Gulf Stream current and can move east to the Azores, and even to West Africa.

Scientists are not sure what has led to the recent increase in the amount of Sargassum in circulation, said LaPointe, an expert at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University in the United States.

"This is a very widespread phenomenon," says LaPointe. "Almost every corner of the North Atlantic is reporting really large amounts of Sargassum."

Nutrient levels in the ocean, particularly near shore, are increasing due to human activities such as fertilisation and the dumping of sewage, which in turn lead to faster algae growth.

The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may also play a role, says LaPointe, by further increasing nutrients the algae feed on. Hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spewed into the water after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on Apr. 20, 2010.

"Last year, following the Deepwater Horizon spill, is when we saw this mass influx of Sargassum to a number of areas."

LaPointe also points to a 2010 temporary change in currents in the Gulf of Mexico. A current "short circuited," creating the Franklin Eddy, which meant outflow from the Gulf virtually stopped for months.

A blessing for those scrambling to contain the oil spill, the eddy also may have served as a "big incubator" for Sargassum, says LaPointe.

About six months after the eddy broke down, reports of large amounts of Sargassum began coming in.

"This could contribute more Sargassum not just to the west of the Atlantic, but the Azores and Africa as well," he says.

LaPointe is working with researchers at the University of South Florida to monitor Sargassum movement via satellite imaging, in order to alert local managers of an imminent landing.

Back in Beyin, Ghana, the shore at Tenack Beach Resort is piled high with foul-smelling Sargassum, interlaced with the usual debris: plastic bags, flip-flop sandals, bottles, and other rubbish.

Hotel manager Nana Awuku says customers have complained about the seaweed.

"We tried to clean it but this is beyond us," says Awuku. "It has to be tackled at a national level."

He is quick to point out that, while Sargassum is affecting the resort, it is the fisherpeople who are really suffering.

"The bulk of the people in this area rely on the sea for their livelihood, which is fishing," says Awuku.

Some fishers with deep-water boats are going far out to sea to get beyond the algae, but the added cost of fuel for the longer trip is crippling.

Kofi Agbogah, deputy director and programme coordinator at the Coastal Resources Center in Takoradi, a city about 160 kilometres from Beyin, calls the algae a "food security issue." The centre studies a more common form of green algae that is also damaging local fishing.

"If fishermen cannot fish because of the presence of this green algae, or brown algae, it means that their children are going to go hungry, their pockets are going to be empty, their wives cannot go to the market."


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Water scarcity to drive conflict, hit food and energy, experts say

By Laurie Goering, April 16, 2012

Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource and shortages could drive conflict, hit food and energy production and threaten growth in renewable energy technology, experts warned at a water security conference on Monday.

And climate change – which appears to be bringing more extreme weather events such as droughts and floods – is likely to make the situation even more difficult, they said.

“Climate change will hit more people through water than in any other way,” said David Grey, a University of Oxford water expert, pointing to record floods in Thailand, Pakistan and Australia and record droughts in Somalia, Russia and the U.S. state of Texas in just the past two years.

But cutting waste in water use, particularly in irrigation, as well as making good use of mobile phone technology, gathering better data and putting in place better water use policies all could help stem conflict, improve safety and ensure better water security, particularly for the world’s poorest people, the experts said.

“The scale of the challenge, and therefore the scale of the opportunity it presents, is unprecedented,” said Ian Walmsley, pro-vice chancellor for research at the University of Oxford.

Worldwide, farming accounts for 70 percent of the world’s freshwater use each year. But in agricultural breadbaskets like central India, the northern China plains, and the central western region of the United States, much of the water is drawn not just from rain but from deep aquifers that are quickly being depleted.

Peter Gleick, a leading water expert and head of the U.S.-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, likened the issue to drawing down a bank account. The situation could present huge problems in the future as the world tries to increase food production by at least 70 percent by 2050 to meet growing demand, experts said.

“A substantial amount of our food production worldwide comes from non-renewable groundwater resources, and in the long run that is not sustainable,” Gleick said.

Renewable energy production also is threatened by water shortages, he said. Huge solar energy arrays are planned in the western United States, but many of the best places to locate them also suffer severe shortages of the water needed to cool them.

Conflicts over access to water are as old as recorded history, Gleick said – his institute has created a map of 225 water conflicts dating back 5,000 years – but today “the risks of water-related conflicts are growing,” as shortages loom in many parts of the world.

Those shortages will hit the poor hardest, warned Letitia Obeng, chair of the Global Water Partnership, an organisation that aims to improve water management, and which is backed by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the Swedish development agency.

Increasing water insecurity in rural areas, she warned, is likely to bring worsening food security and more migration to cities, which in turn will have problems supplying enough water to their inhabitants. That is likely to lead to growing conflict and, in extreme cases, failure of fragile states, she said.

The link between water availability and economic success is particularly stark in Africa, which relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, she said. In Zimbabwe, for instance, economic growth – which has been hugely variable – almost exactly matched rainfall levels from 1979 to 1993, she noted.

Around the world, “livelihoods are being destroyed by water or its absence,” she said. “Whether you live in Pakistan or the United States, the risk of extreme weather and water-related issues is increasing every year.”

The good news is that extreme events – like the extreme floods and droughts around the world in recent years – often “are a stimulus for action. They provide the policy window for change to take place,” said Jim Hall, an expert on water and risk at the Oxford Environmental Change Institute.

After more than 5,000 people died or went missing during Typhoon Isewan in 1959, for instance, Japan began investing in flood control measures. By the early 1960s, deaths from flooding in the country had fallen to small levels, according to figures from the Japan Water Forum.

Building capacity to deal with an anticipated surge in extreme water events – such as floods or droughts – will be crucial, experts at the conference said. Both the U.S. state of Texas and Somalia suffered extreme drought last year, noted Eric Wood, a Princeton University water expert. But only in Somalia – a nation without strong institutions and ability to react – did the drought bring widespread famine and deaths.

To effectively address coming water shortages, irrigation – a major source of water use worldwide – will need to be made much more efficient, and a share of fresh water must be protected to keep ecological systems functioning as human needs grow, experts said. How much groundwater remains – and how fast it is disappearing – needs to be much more accurately measured and monitored.

Ensuring a mobile phone is within reach of most people on the planet – something the world is already on the way toward – could dramatically improve early warning about floods, drought and other climate-related extreme weather events, the experts said.

“One thing is clear: We can’t continue to do business as usual,” Obeng noted.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Some Improved Cookstoves may Emit More Pollution than Traditional Mud Cookstoves

By Americal Chemical Society (ACS)in Think to Sustain, April 16, 2012

Real-world comparison done in a village in India shows that some improved cookstoves may at times emit more of the black carbon than traditional mud stoves.

The first real-world, head-to-head comparison of “improved cookstoves” (ICs) and traditional mud stoves has found that some ICs may at times emit more of the worrisome “black carbon”, or soot, particles that are linked to serious health and environmental concerns, than traditional mud stoves or open-cook fires.

The report, which raises concerns about the leading hope as a clean cooking technology in the developing world, appears in ACS’ journal ‘Environmental Science & Technology’.

Abhishek Kar, Hafeez Rehman, Jennifer Burney and colleagues explain that hundreds of millions of people in developing countries in South Asia, Africa and South America are exposed to soot from mud stoves and 3-stone fires used for cooking, heating and light. The particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and have been linked to health problems similar to those associated with cigarette smoking. In addition, black soot released into the atmosphere is a major factor in global warming.

Aid agencies and governments have been seeking replacements for traditional cookstoves and fires to remedy those problems, with ICs as one of the leading hopes. Until now, however, there have been little real-world data on the actual performance of ICs - which have features like enhanced air flow and a battery-powered fan to burn wood and other fuel more cleanly.

The researchers measured black carbon emissions from five IC models and traditional mud stoves. They did the test in real homes as part of Project Surya, which quantifies the impacts of cleaner cooking technologies in a village in India.

Forced draft stoves burned cleaner than any other IC. However, black carbon concentrations from all ICs varied significantly, even for the same stove from one day to the next. Surprisingly, some natural draft stoves occasionally emitted more black carbon than the traditional mud cookstoves.

The researchers acknowledge funding from private donors, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Vetlesen Foundation and the Alderson Foundation.

Check the following link to read/download the Full Report – “Real-time Assessment of Black Carbon Pollution in Indian Households Due to Traditional and Improved Biomass Cookstoves”:


Mexico poised to pass landmark Climate Change Act

By staff, businessGreen, April 16, 2012

Latin American country poised to become second nation to pass binding Climate Change Act after UK

Mexico is set to become the second country in the world to pass a far-reaching Climate Change Act that will impose binding emission reduction targets on successive governments.

The country's House of Representatives approved the proposed law late last week, voting by 280 votes to 10 in favour of the bill with one abstention.

The legislation is now expected to be approved by the country's Senate, making Mexico the second country after the UK to pass a dedicated Climate Change Act and the first developing economy to deliver legally binding emission reduction targets.

The bill is broadly similar to the UK's Climate Change Act and will require future government's to meet periodic emission reduction targets with the end goal of cutting carbon emissions 50 per cent by 2050.

It includes additional targets requiring the government to cut emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and ensure that 24 per cent of electricity is generated from renewable sources by 2024.

The Act will also provide the government with the power to introduce new renewable energy incentives, phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and potentially introduce emissions trading mechanisms.

The move was welcomed by green group WWF, which predicted that the new law could help establish Mexico as a template that other emerging economies can follow.

"This is great news from Mexico and a really important step in the fight against climate change," said Keith Allott, head of climate change, WWF-UK.

"It's all the more significant because Mexico is set to become one of the world's biggest economies, but is not a rich country, with some 40 per cent of the population living in poverty. Yet its government and Congress can see that ending poverty and growing the economy will be that much harder unless they cut greenhouse gas emissions and embrace renewable energy.

"It also shows once again the global significance of the UK and Scottish Climate Change Acts; the UK has taken a bold lead on this issue and other countries are now following us," concluded Allott.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Indonesian Farmers Burned in Biofuel Drive

By Kanis Dursin, IPS News, April 16, 2012

Dreams of sending his children to quality schools have vanished for 40-year-old farmer Muslikin, as the father of three now struggles to repay the bank loan he took out to finance his jatropha plantation in 2006.

"Much as I would like to send my children to quality schools, I still have debts to pay," said Muslikin, a resident of Gundi village, Godong district, Grobogan regency in Central Java, an hour’s flight east of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.

Back in 2006, when jatropha was being widely promoted by the agro-industry as one of the best options for future biodiesel production, Muslikin converted his two-hectare paddy field into a jatropha plantation and took out a bank loan worth about 3,000 dollars to buy saplings and fertiliser.

Less than two years later and before he was able to repay his debt in full, Muslikin cut down all of the trees and turned the land back into a paddy field.

"Jatropha was touted as a new road to economic prosperity, but it turned out to be a bust," said Muslikin, adding that companies promised to buy jatropha fruits between 67-78 cents per kilogramme and to employ farmers with two or more hectares of jatropha plants.

"None of these promises were fulfilled, with investors offering to pay between 11-17 cents only for a kilogramme of jatropha beans," said Muslikin.

Depending on the type of seedling and soil, one hectare of jatropha can produce up to 3000 kilogrammes of jatropha beans annually so that, with a price of 67 cents per kilogramme, Muslikin would have earned 4,000 dollars annually, compared to the 2,778 dollars he earns per year cultivating rice.

To repay his outstanding loan of 1,889 dollars, Muslikin sells rice harvested from his plot, putting a strain on his household income. "I used to buy new clothes and shoes for my children twice a year and eat meat almost everyday. Now, I buy them new clothes and shoes once a year only and eat meat just on Saturdays and Sundays," he said.

Failed national plan

Muslikin was one of tens of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, of farmers who heeded government appeals to plant jatropha curcas as Indonesia – an oil-producing country that has now become a net oil importer – sought to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, whose price has been rising steadily since 2005.

In 2006, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set an ambitious target of increasing renewable energy use to account for 17 percent of total national consumption and reducing fossil fuel use from its current 55 percent to around 20 percent by 2025.

The President established the National Biofuel Development Team tasked with formulating the country’s biofuel development blueprint and drafting biofuel production programmes to be carried out by related government institutions.

Yudhoyono also launched the Energy Self-Sustainable Village programme in 2007, a national campaign aimed at tapping local energy sources of biofuel and non-biofuel – geothermal, micro hydropower, solar, wind, and coal liquefaction – to meet energy needs of local households and small businesses.

These programmes sent farmers around the archipelago rushing to plant jatropha, a drought- and pest-resistant tree that produces seeds containing an average of 34.4 percent oil, one of the highest among biofuel crops.

"The number of farmers planting jatropha curcas is difficult to know, but we estimate that around 400 million jatropha saplings and seedlings were planted across the country from 2005-2008," said Abbas Hadisunyoto, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Jatropha Curcas Farmers.

"In Lampung province alone (on Sumatera Island), farmers planted around 40 million jatropha saplings and seedlings among oil palm and rubber trees," said Hadisunyoto, who once served as a member of the Lampung Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD).

Aside from Lampung, jatropha trees were widely planted in Central Java, West Java, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara, and East Nusa Tenggara provinces. Authorities say Indonesia has around 50 million hectares of "neglected" land that could be developed into jatropha plantations.

Sowing the seeds of crisis

Recently, the Dutch investment company Waterland International established a consortium called PT Waterland International Asia, a jatropha biofuel producer operating in Central Java, Sumatra, Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara, and Sumba in East Nusa Tenggara.

Waterland’s operations, however, have come under the fire from activists with Friends of the Earth Netherlands, who allege that Waterland’s jatropha plantations on Java, particularly in Central Java, were exploiting local poor and uneducated farmers and compromising their food security.

"Jatropha cultivation on Java leads to the exploitation of farmers and comes at the cost of food production for the local population," the non-governmental organisation said in a report entitled ‘Biokerosene: take-off in the wrong direction’ released in February.

Arief Zayin, co-author of the report, said the country’s biofuel campaign could trigger land and food crises as many farmers converted agricultural lands into jatropha plantations.

"Lands that were previously cultivated as agricultural lands are now planted with jatropha," said Arief, who is also director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Central Java.

Waterland called the report misleading and claimed it was written to justify the Friends of the Earth Netherlands’ fight against biofuel, particularly bio-jet fuel.

"What Friends of the Earth does not meantion is that we are not operating on agricultural lands but on government forest designated as reforestration areas where agricultural farming is limited or strictly bound by rules," a company spokesperson told IPS.

It also said that its plantations were located on hilly lands and thus the jatropha trees have effectively prevented "soil erosion" and reduced "the risks of landslides."

The company said that they pay 14 cents per kilogramme of jatropha fruits, including the seeds, husks, and fruit cells. "We use those waste by-products to produce biofertiliser," the company said.

Farmers lose

Still, the jatropha rush proved to be short-lived. By late 2008, the biofuel campaign had lost its steam, with farmers cutting down their plants due to low selling prices of jatropha fruits.

"Between 80 to 85 percent of 400 million saplings and seedlings planted from 2005 to 2008 have been uprooted, not merely cut down," said Hadisunyoto.

According to Al Hilal Hamdi, former chairman of the National Biofuel Development Team, the country’s jatropha-for-biofuel programme was practically non-existent.

"The programme has almost come to a complete halt, with activities limited to seed research and development, as well as small initiatives by some NGOs," said Hamdi.

Hamdi said given the size of land that can be converted into jatropha plantation, the commodity promises huge potentials.

"However, the government has to help farmers with quality seedlings, price incentives, and production facilities," he said, adding that it should also hire people who can teach farmers how to cultivate the plant properly.

Hadisunyoto said interest in Indonesia’s jatropha has returned, with some companies from Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea making inquiries with his organisation.

"We are discussing some cooperations with companies from those countries and now I am going around telling farmers to cultivate jatropha again," Hadisunyoto said.

But Muslikin swears he will not give jatropha a second chance. "Jatropha is history for me. I am not stupid as a donkey that can fall into the same trap," he said.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

UN eyes new set of MDGs beyond 2015

Jennifer A. Ng, Business mirror, April 11, 2012

THE United Nations has already begun the process of drafting a new set of international goals for eliminating poverty and other deprivations, three years and seven months before the deadline to achieving the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director general and representative for Asia and the Pacific of the UN unit Food and Agriculture Organization, disclosed that the new set of MDGs may focus on the ill effects of climate change as well as the need to achieve food security.

“Consultations [for drafting the new set of MDGs] have already started. We realize that there is a need to look at emerging issues such as climate change and food security. There is a need to look at a new direction,” said Konuma at the sidelines of the Asian Irrigation Forum which kicked off in Pasig City on Wednesday.

“At this stage, discussions center on the general content of the global agenda [new set of MDGs],” he stressed.

The FAO official said he hopes that the new set of development goals may be introduced by 2015.

The UN-sponsored MDGs, which provide concrete and numerical benchmarks for tackling extreme poverty, were adopted by governments all over the world including the Philippines in the year 2000.

The Millennium Declaration called for achieving the international goals by 2015.

The eight MDGs call for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and empowering women, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a partnership for development.

Konuma also disclosed that the new set of MDGs will be included in the agenda of the the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) meet which will be held in Brazil this June.

The UN noted in an annual report released in July 2011 that the “time has come to look at the future of the international development agenda as the 2015 deadline [for the MDGs] is approaching.”

“Not all MDGs are expected to be achieved by 2015, but even if they were, much further progress would be needed to achieve higher levels of sustainable development beyond 2015 [to eradicate, rather than halve, poverty, for example, as called for in the Millennium Development Goals agenda],” the report read.

The UN noted that several core values and objectives of the Millennium Declaration did not receive “sufficient emphasis” in the MDGs agenda. These include environmental sustainability, food and nutrition security, addressing demographic pressures, human rights and good governance and ensuring peace, security and sustainable global development.

The UN said the consideration of a new development agenda beyond 2015 would need to start with a “thorough, broad-based and inclusive review of the present agenda and its underlying as well as assessment of what has worked and what has not. Such a review would need to be put in the context of the global development challenges ahead.”


Friday, April 13, 2012

The Business of South Africa’s Garbage

By Kristin Palitza, IPS News, April 11, 2012

Nokwanda Sotyantya sits among heaps of garbage and patiently sorts through it, separating cardboard, plastic, glass, paper and metal, piece by piece. The recycled piles of trash are then weighed and sold to packaging manufacturers in South Africa that reuse the materials to create new products.

Sotyantya belongs to the country’s first group of small business entrepreneurs who have benefited from the government’s move towards a green economy. It is a strategy aimed at creating environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic growth; the government wants to create 300,000 jobs within a decade in this sector.

For 48-year-old Sotyantya, who is a member of a local recycling cooperative and lives in Imizamo Yethu, a slum outside of Cape Town, the move towards a green economy has turned her life around. Previously unemployed and struggling to survive, she says she now earns an average of 250 dollars a month from her work – enough to care for herself and her four children.

"The more people become aware of the benefits of recycling, the more rubbish gets dropped off at the Hout Bay waste centre. For me, that translates into more money," Sotyantya explains.

The Hout Bay Recycling Co-op to which she belongs is based at the municipal waste drop-off site in Hout Bay. Here Sotyantya and other members of the cooperative sort and sell the recycled material.

Her cooperative of six formerly jobless, poverty-stricken men and women currently recycles 25 tonnes of waste each month. And this number is slowly increasing.

The cooperative received a boost when Thrive, a social enterprise incubator that helps green start-ups to become viable, competitive businesses, decided to help the cooperative improve its business strategy and management expertise.

"We focus on creating jobs that help to minimise waste, increase renewable sources, protect and restore local biodiversity, reduce energy and water demands and create a local food network," explains Thrive managing director Iming Lin.

It is much more than developing traditional business models, she adds; it is about incorporating social, environmental and economic benefits.

Although it has only been operating since July 2011, Thrive’s work has not gone unnoticed. The SEED Initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledged the organisation’s work by selecting it for one of its 2011 sustainable development awards that are annually presented to 35 African grassroots entrepreneurs in the green economy.

"On this continent, companies and countries, from small communities to heads of state, are suddenly realising the importance of the green economy," says UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall.

Economic development and environmental and social sustainability cannot operate in isolation, he says.

"Going green doesn’t mean it’s nice and fluffy. There are some hard economic figures behind it, too."

Creating a green economy is no longer an option, but a requirement, Nuttall says. "We are living in a world of seven billion people increasing to over nine billion by 2050. If we don’t change the way we consume goods and services and think about the environmental limits, then we’re in trouble."

"But it’s a world of opportunity too," Nuttal says, adding, "there are more and more examples of small businesses solving big problems and creating livelihoods."

It is an opportunity that the South African government wants to seize over the next few years. In November, it signed a Green Economic Accord that stipulates active national investment in the green economy.

"The green economy can create large numbers of jobs, provide a spur for industrialisation and help create a sustainable future for this and the next generations," said Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel after the accord was announced.

The agreement is part of a plan to shift towards a lower carbon-intensity economy, while creating jobs and promoting industrial development.

But government alone cannot manage and fund South Africa’s transition to a green economy, says Patel. The business sector, trade unions and civil society organisations must also play a role.

That is why organisations like Thrive have started talking to and collaborating with different government departments, such as environmental affairs, trade and industry, solid waste or public works, to jointly develop ways of giving the local green economy a jolt.

"Social enterprises are a growing model. We want to develop donor-independent, viable, scalable business models that link the economy and the environment and that can be rolled out in multiple communities or even nationally," says Lin. "Government has been very supportive of what we’re doing."

Apart from supporting the recycling cooperative, Thrive is trying to get a number of other innovative green economy businesses off the ground.

One of them is TrashBack, a bicycle recycling collection scheme that picks up re-usable material from restaurants, businesses and residential housing complexes, which are currently not serviced by the municipality. For every eight clients – or 4,800 kilogrammes of garbage – TrashBack can create one full-time job, says Lin.

"We want to show people how it all links into each other: waste, water, food, jobs and better livelihoods for all," says Lin. "We can’t afford not to have a green economy."