Saturday, November 30, 2013

As the Warsaw climate talks end, the hard work is just beginning

By Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, The Guardian (UK)

Delegates have been packed off and their homework is to prepare their country's emission reduction plan by early 2015

Weary delegates trudging home from an exhausting and sleep-deprived fortnight of climate change talks in Warsaw may be unwilling to acknowledge it, but the hard work is just beginning. Like schoolchildren after a packed day of lessons, they have been sent back to their national capitals to "do their homework".

By the first quarter of 2015, countries must come forward with their "contributions" to global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, that will come into force from 2020.

Those contributions – not the stronger "commitments" wanted by the developed countries – will be the centrepiece of any new worldwide agreement on climate change, scheduled to be struck in Paris in late 2015. They could take the form of curbs to the future growth in emissions, in the case of developing countries, and absolute reductions much tougher than those agreed up to 2020, for the developed contingent.

The contributions will be set at a national level and overseen domestically, but they will also be subject to "assessment" by other participants. The exact format of this assessment has yet to be established, but will involve attempts to judge whether the contributions are fair and equitable, and commensurate to the challenge of staying within the global carbon budget, set out starkly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in September.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told the Guardian: "If delegates leave here with a sense of how much is left to do, then maybe that will focus efforts in the coming 12 months, because without that sense we have all reason to be very concerned."

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: "We have seen essential progress. Now governments, and especially developed nations, must go back to do their homework so they can put their plans on the table ahead of the Paris conference. A groundswell of action is happening at all levels of society. All major players came to COP19 [the Warsaw talks] to show not only what they have done but to think what more they can do. Next year is also the time for them to turn ideas into further concrete action."

Publishing targets in the first quarter of 2015 do not leave long for the assessment process to take place. However, that timetable has been drawn up chiefly to take account of the realities of the US electoral timetable. The US government announced earlier this year that it would set its post-2020 targets in the first quarter of 2015. That is necessary to ensure that the decision does not get tangled up in the US congressional elections in autumn 2014 – they are likely to be touchy enough, without introducing the incendiary subject of climate change.

Other countries, led by the EU, are sympathetic to the need to adopt this timetable, even though it means time will be squeezed, and some countries may try to take advantage of this to let the clock run down on the Paris talks in December 2015.

There is little indication yet of what the future targets from most countries might look like. The European Union is most advanced on this, and the proposal likely to be put forward is for a 40% cut in emissions, relative to 1990 levels, by 2030.

Getting that agreed by all member states may not be straightforward, however. There was almost an open row in Warsaw between the European commission and the Polish hosts, who were accused by high-level EU officials of deliberately dragging out negotiations, and reopening negotiations in a way that enabled some countries to backtrack on issues that were previously agreed. Poland is notably hostile to tougher emissions targets, and attracted controversy early in the talks by giving a prominent role to the coal industry, that supplies 90% of the country's power.

The biggest factor at these talks was the strong influence of the self-styled "like-minded group of developing countries" (LMDC). That grouping comprises several oil-rich nations including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia and Malaysia; the coal-rich and fossil fuel-dependent China and India; and satellite nations including Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Thailand.

The LMDC first emerged just before last year's Doha conference, and in response to the Durban meeting in 2011 at which governments agreed to work on a post-2020 agreement. The only two countries to hold out on the "Durban platform" until the final hours were China and India.

At Warsaw, the efforts of the LMDC focused on attempting to reintroduce into the key texts a restatement of the separation of countries into "developed" and "developing" that was first set out in 1992 and enshrined in the 1997 Kyoto protocol, under which developing countries bore no obligations on their emissions and rich nations faced steep cuts.

The US, the EU and other developed countries regarded this separation as having been left behind at Copenhagen in 2009, which marked the first time both developed and developing countries signed up under a single agreement to curb their emissions.

They argue that this new arrangement is needed, as the world has moved on in 20 years: China is now the world's biggest emitter and second biggest economy, and combined emissions from developing countries are on track to overtake those of the developed world by 2020.

Arguments over either keeping or redrawing this "firewall" between developed and developing countries are likely to dominate the negotiations in the run-up to Paris. Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change, told the Guardian: "This is now the major faultline at the talks, and [the countries' insistence] on deciding who does what in a new agreement based on unchanging 1992 categories is more pronounced than at Durban and poses the biggest challenge to the negotiations over the next two years."

The Indian environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said after the talks that as far as he understood, "the firewall exists and it will continue to exist".

The acrimony over the Polish role must also call into question the UN's inclination to hosting the talks in countries that have a history of hostility to tackling climate change, in the hope that the prestige of holding the talks would persuade governments to take a more constructive stance.

That was hardly apparent in Warsaw, when the COP19 president, Polish environment minister Marcin Korolec, was demoted to a mere envoy in the middle of the talks – timing that did not show a great deal of respect for the UN process.

Last year's choice of Doha in Qatar also surprised many, and few failed to note the irony of the country with the highest per capita emissions taking on the role. In 2008, the talks were also held in Poland, in the city of Poznań, and some would argue it produced insufficient progress for Copenhagen to work the following year.

Next year's hosts will be Peru, and the disruptive element there is likely to come from the same source as in this year's talks – the LMDCs, many of whom are South American.

Peru, perhaps mindful of its role as next year's COP president, is not formally a part of the like-minded group. But with so many of its close neighbours and political allies, forming the core group, it must throw a deep shadow over the next round of talks.

As negotiators return to their national capitals to do their homework, the outlook for the next exams is for a tough test of everyone's resolve.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ensuring food security: Key resources - SciDev.Net

By Michael Hoevel, SCiDev Net

From nutrition to gender issues, Michael Hoevel scans the best online resources relating to food security.

Addressing food security requires looking at multiple phenomena simultaneously — from hunger, livelihoods and nutrition to climate change, gender and market access. The resources below provide experience, information and recommendations from a range of experts around the world.

Food security and agriculture
The three UN agencies dealing with food and agriculture issues have some great resources on food security. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has condensed relevant statistics on its Hunger Portal, as well as in its yearly State of Food Insecurity in the World reports, produced with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The Trade and Environment Review 2013, published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), looks in detail at the relationship between purchasing power and food insecurity, among other issues, including sustainable resource management and climate change adaptation. For future food security projections and trends, see the FAO’s World Agriculture: Toward 2030/2050 report.

In the run-up to this year’s G8 summit, the Irish government hosted a conference on the connections between climate change, hunger and nutrition, and produced a helpful outcome document calling for greater participation to policy processes by those affected by climate change. The UK government, in its role as chair of the G8 summit, partnered with Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation in June 2013 to host a conference on Nutrition for Growth, the website of which has a series of useful resources and media links.

Many think tanks and research organisations provide compelling insights through their work. The CGIAR consortium oversees global agricultural research via programmes that cut across disciplines, which are run by its 15 research centres. These centres include the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), whose Food Security Portal compiles relevant data, news and tools for food price analysis. The Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative managed by IFPRI, compiles, analyses and publicises data on institutional developments, investments and capacity in agricultural research and development.

The CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security has created an online resource, Big Facts, with calls to action, visuals, statistics and references on topics related to climate change and food security. A 2012 Montpellier Panel report, Growth with Resilience: Opportunities for African Agriculture, looks broadly at agriculture’s role in supporting green growth, food and nutrition security, ecosystem services and climate change mitigation and adaptation, among other topics.

Other organisations of note include:

> ONE — a campaigning organisation that advocates for further investment in agriculture to fight poverty
> the Meridian Institute — a US-based non-profit organisation that convenes agricultural groups to address agricultural policy issues through its agriculture and food security programme
> the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC) — an organisation that promotes the role of trade in creating more sustainable agricultural systems, whose policy briefs cover a wide range of global agricultural trade issues
> Future Earth — a 10-year global consortium looking at agriculture as part of a broader system of challenges to be addressed through science and technology
> the Chicago Council on Global Affairs — an international policy organisation and a major influence on US policy for agricultural development
> Oxfam’s Grow.Sell.Thrive. website — an information portal and chat forum on market-systems approaches to food security, gender and smallholder livelihoods

Hunger and nutrition
The UK Government’s Foresight programme report on global food and farming has a dedicated chapter on hunger. Comprehensive books on the subject include Sir Gordon Conway’s One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World? and its fast-moving blog, which looks at the causes of hunger and phenomena such as climate change, gender and market access. Calestous Juma’s book The New Harvest focuses on the role of science, technology and leadership in transforming African agriculture.

For a more ethnographic take on hunger, Roger Thurow’s book The Last Hunger Season documents a year in the life of four Kenyan smallholder farms transitioning from food insecurity to security through better access to credit, extension and inputs offered by NGO One Acre Fund. And Benny Dembitzer’s The Attack on World Poverty is an overview of the links between food, global poverty and nutritional insecurity.

For a comprehensive overview of global and regional programmes on food security and nutrition, the coalition of agricultural development organisations Farming First has created an online directory of food and nutrition security initiatives, which also links to each initiative for more information. Farming First also publishes an infographic on the story of agriculture and the green economy, and the Farming First TV channel of expert interviews on the subject.

IFPRI’s 2013 Global Hunger Index measures national, regional, and global hunger based on three indicators, making recommendations focusing on resilience. The Scaling Up Nutrition website is a global multi-stakeholder movement to mobilise policies and funding to deliver improved nutrition. A 2011 Montpellier Panel briefing paper gives a short overview of the movement and the evidence base that supports it.

A recent scientific review by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) and the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) documents the scope for fertilising crops with micronutrients to improve nutrition and health, a relatively novel approach with particularly strong results for certain micronutrients, crops and regions, for example zinc fortification of wheat crops in Turkey.

Market access
A 2011 report from the FAO High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) outlines the threat that price volatility poses for food security and how it can be addressed through trade and policy instruments. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs 2103 report Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business urges the US government to focus its global food security strategy on prioritising science, increasing global trade flows for agriculture and food, and incentivising greater agricultural business activity in low-income countries. Another report from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute and the London-based advocacy initiative Agriculture for Impact, Leaping & Learning: Linking Smallholders to Markets, offers a comprehensive review of efforts to help African farmers access markets for agricultural inputs, such as fertilisers.

The website from the 'Making the Connection' conference, organised last year by several international organisations, hosts comprehensive information on agricultural value chains for smallholders. And a guide [check link website was down 7/11/13] prepared by the German aid agency GIZ outlines how to help farmers engage with value chains.

The proliferation of mobile phones and other communication technologies (ICTs) could potentially improve future food security by improving the affordable and reliable collection of data and provision of services. A 2011 report by Vodafone and management and technology consultants Accenture looks at the role of mobile phones in driving efficiency and sustainability in the food and agriculture value chain. And a recent report by the financial services company Rabobank focuses on the contribution ICTs make to improving food security.

Gender issues in farming
The 2010-11 Women in Agriculture Closing the Gender Gap for Development report from the FAO is arguably the most comprehensive on the subject, and is the basis for the ‘Female Face of Farming’ infographic co-produced with Farming First.

The 2010 Chicago Council’s Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies report and the Montpellier Panel briefing paper Women in African Agriculture: Farmers, Mothers, Innovators and Educators also outline the gender gap in agriculture and offer recommendations for how to bridge it. The fellowship programme African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) maintains a resources list containing academic literature on gender-sensitive approaches to agricultural research and development.

Food waste
The FAO’s 2011 report Global Food Losses and Food Waste is a comprehensive review of the extent of the problem, its causes and prevention measures. Tristram Stuart’s book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal also discusses this challenge, from a consumer’s point of view, and his blog lists key facts. The website Food Waste News provides news, videos, facts and infographics on food waste.

The 2011 World Bank-led report Missing Food: The Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa examines the scale of the food waste problem on this continent and technologies available to tackle it. The African Postharvest Losses Information System (APHLIS) has tables and maps of losses, and reviews and guidance on quality maintenance and loss reduction. For Central America the SDC Agriculture and Food Security Network programme POSTCOSECHA provides similar information and recommendations on technologies and training to address losses.

Ensuring food security: Key resources - SciDev.Net

Friday, November 22, 2013

'Landing zone' in sight for loss and damage?

By Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters

If there's no deal on setting up a new body to help poor nations deal with climate losses and damage here at the U.N. climate change talks in Warsaw, will there be anything substantial to call a success? That's one of the arguments the poorest countries are hoping will spur richer nations to give ground and agree to create a new mechanism for loss and damage.

The South African minister co-chairing the discussions told the conference on Thursday night she hoped to find a "landing zone" on loss and damage, and ministers were meeting on the issue on Friday.

Some 130 developing countries have called for a separate mechanism to produce new expertise, coordinate activities and help vulnerable countries cope with the aftermath of extreme weather events and address more gradual impacts, such as loss of territory, land spoiled by saltwater intrusion and creeping deserts.

But many rich countries and regions - including the United States, Norway and the European Union - have said they want to deal with the issue under work on climate change adaptation, fearing a new body could lead to fresh demands for financial reparation from the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The European Union proposed a group or taskforce that would be led and coordinated by the Adaptation Committee of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - similar to what the United States said it wants. Norway suggested a four-year working group, also under the Adaptation Committee.

U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern explained this week why the United States thinks loss and damage should be dealt with by the UNFCCC's adaptation experts.

"If you look at what's involved in loss and damage, there is a lot of it that is exactly the same kinds of things people have been focusing on in adaptation - it's...(disaster) preparedness, risk reduction and dealing with impacts and the like," he said.

"There are some slow-onset events, like sea-level rise, that at least some countries regard as over and above, or beyond what people have traditionally talked about as adaptation. But it is essentially within that sphere. So that's the main reason why we think they should be linked."

But Friday he said that “I hope we come away with something good on this."

"We are for (an entity of some kind) under the broad rubric of adaptation… We are not trying to create a third pillar of climate change but we are quite supportive of the general concept of having some intensified focus as embodied in a new entity.”


Climate and development expert argue that losses and damage occur when people are not able to adapt to the impacts of climate change, or when adaptation has reached its limits, and should therefore be handled separately.

Tony de Brum, head of delegation for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told the conference his Pacific island nation has been hit by both drought and floods this year. "Mine is a country where the ocean is rising faster than anywhere else in the world, where the coral beneath our feet is being eaten away, and where the window of opportunity to secure our long-term survival feels like it is closing before our eyes," he said in a speech.

"What were once distant threats are quickly becoming our new reality. However valid our concerns, we are continually directed to the next door down the hall and, it seems, all the doors are closed. For this reason, we cannot proceed a step beyond Warsaw without a real and meaningful outcome on loss and damage," he added.

Speaking to Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the talks, he conceded there may be a need for a compromise that would allow vulnerable countries to feel progress is being made, while richer states "are not tied to anything they can't swallow".

Saleemul Huq, who works closely with negotiators from least developed countries and is director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said he thought wealthy governments might sign up to an independent loss and damage mechanism if developing states promised not to talk about financial compensation - even though many of them are keen to do so.

"I think (an agreement) is within reach. We need to leave Warsaw with something that both sides can spin as a win," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We're willing to say it's not about compensation... There's not much else here (at Warsaw). This could be the one thing they can succeed on."

'Landing zone' in sight for loss and damage?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

UN talks locked on 'loss and damage'

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News

UN climate negotiations are bogged down in a dispute over who will take legal responsibility for the loss and damage caused by climate change.

Rich countries say they will strongly resist this move.

Secretary general Ban Ki-moon opened the ministerial segment of the talks in Warsaw, Poland with a warning that the world was facing the wrath of a warming planet.

Mr Ban called on delegates to respond with wisdom, urgency and resolve.

He told delegates that climate change threatens current and future generations, referring to the recent disaster in the Philippines as an example of the extreme weather the world can expect more of.

He had recently visited Iceland and was told that it may soon be a land without ice thanks to rising temperatures.

He called on the negotiators to speed up their discussions that aim to secure a new global treaty in 2015.

However talks here in Warsaw are on familiar territory, the old divide between rich and poor countries over who has responsibility for curbing warming and critically, who will pay for the damage caused by climate change.

Many developing countries are working hard to adapt to climate change often with aid from richer countries.

But campaigners say those funds alone are not enough, because weather events are becoming more extreme and often overwhelm the steps poorer countries have taken.

This was exactly what happened in the Philippines says Dr Saleemul Huq, the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

"The Philippines is adapted to typhoons, the people have shelters and they went to them," he said.

"In normal circumstances you would have heard nothing about it, but in this case they died in the shelters because it was a super typhoon of unprecedented magnitude.

"That's loss and damage, you can't adapt to that."

At last year's UN talks in Doha the parties agreed that by the time they met in Poland, an "international mechanism" to deal with loss and damage should be established.

It has re-opened old wounds of division between rich and poor. The wealthier countries are fighting hard to have any legal responsibility for compensation diluted or removed. But according to Harjeet Singh from Action Aid, this time they won't get away with it.

"There is a lot of pressure on the rich countries, they recognise there is a challenge, but they are keeping their eyes closed, I don't think that will work anymore, they have to deliver," he said.

But not everyone is so sure about that. Many campaigners fear that the influx of politicians will mean a compromise deal will be done.

"I don't think we're likely to see some grand scheme materialise that addresses [loss and damage]," said Paul Bledsoe, an expert on energy and climate with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"I think reparations is the right word, in my view it's what's being sought, on issues like slavery or war reparations, historically they have a very difficult time occurring."

Mr Bledsoe believes the most likely outcome is that the richer nations will increase their commitments on finance in return for kicking the legal mechanism into the long grass.

The scale of the monies needed to help countries adapt to climate change was underlined here in Warsaw with a report that Africa would need $350bn annually if global warming rises to between 3.5 and 4C.

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) report says that Africa is already facing costs of between $7-$15bn a year by 2020.

But if action to cut carbon emissions is delayed, then the total costs could reach 4% of Africa's GDP by 2100.

UN talks locked on 'loss and damage'

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Planet At The Limit - GEF

Climate change is a reality affecting all of us. Time is no longer on our side and we need to act now.

This is the main message of the new GEF documentary, a film that presents the reality of climate change but also highlights the work the GEF supports to mitigate or reverse global warming and help people adapt to the impacts of a changed climate. The film illustrates the linkages to climate change in the work GEF supports in other environmental focal areas, demonstrating synergies across the various fields of GEF investments.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Using improved plumbing technology can protect public health, say experts

By Akriti Shrivastav

Lack of training of plumbers may put people’s lives at risk, says Indian Plumbing Association that hosted the Tenth World Plumbing Conference in Delhi

Improvement in plumbing technology and services can improve public health and the environment in future, said experts on plumbing, attending a two day event in New Delhi, ending November 15—the 10th World Plumbing Conference. The meet deliberated on different aspects of plumbing, sanitation and water safety in the country and abroad.

The conference outlined objectives of achieving professional standards of plumbing, betterment of the quality of technical plumbing education and training. “The theme of this year’s conference is environment, health and hygiene because a plumber protects the health of millions,” said Gurmeet Singh Arora, chairperson of Indian Plumbing Association (IPA), Mumbai Chapter.

A lot of water goes waste in leakages from taps and pipelines if plumbing is not done right, the experts said. “Just by tightening of leaking taps in 1,666 households in Mumbai, we saved 414,000 litres of water between 2007 and 2008,” said Aabid Surti, chairperson of Drop Dead Foundation, a non profit based in Mumbai. Surti said that the event allowed him the opportunity to propagate his idea of saving every drop and understanding its importance.

Sudhakaran Nair, president of IPA, said 75 per cent of plumbers in India are working in the unorganized sector and lack training. It causes high levels of unsafe installations which may put lives of many people at risk. “Unless there are stringent regulatory and administrative checks, we cannot ensure sanitation which is linked to the health of the people,” added Nair. IPA hosted the triennial meet.

The experts also voiced their concerns on the non-existing coordination between different government agencies at the centre and the state governments. The most highlighted issue was the inactivity of the global plumbing industry with regard to various alarming global problems and initiatives that could be taken to change the situation.

The experts at the conference noted the improvement in knowledge sharing on the subject over the years. “I see enormous differences. The stakeholders are better organized and more involved at policy level and are beginning to be more assertive about making their voice heard,” said Mala Rao from University of East London.

The conference ended on a positive note where the need to continue to communicate, advocate, educate and innovate was understood and emphasis was laid on the cooperation in working of industries and governments. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going to do things differently right away, but it allows the exchange of ideas and receive knowledge from one another and incorporate these ideas into our undertakings,” said Shayne La Combre, CEO of Australia based Pluming Industry Climate Action Centre.

Using improved plumbing technology can protect public health, say experts

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ambition is what's needed in Warsaw

What do the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw need more: greater ambition or a deal everyone can sign?

Marcin Korolec, Poland’s environment minister and the president of the negotiations, has made clear he wants progress towards a new agreement to curb climate change that every country feels comfortable with.

“I promise you transparency. I promise you an inclusive process. Those are my top priorities,” he said in an opening statement this week. As countries move towards a 2015 deadline for a new global deal, “I will spare no effort to find a consensus,” he said.

But with climate-changing emissions still growing - despite 20 years of negotiations and agreements to limit them - should inclusion be the top priority in Warsaw?

“It’s ambition that’s needed, from my point of view,” says Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow on climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

Right now, “everybody is willing to do something” - a big change from the 2009 Copenhagen talks, when many countries were still refusing to budge - “but the cumulative amount that comes to is insufficient,” he says. “So raising the ambition collectively of everyone is the key. The issue of inclusion has already been solved. Ambition has not.”

Despite the perpetually slow pace of negotiations, greater ambition in cutting greenhouse gas emissions is also getting easier to achieve.

As countries around the world become convinced of the need to act - due to worsening extreme weather, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines just before the start of the talks, or other evidence that climate change is taking hold at home - they are ramping up renewable energy initiatives, launching efforts to adapt, and finding that none of it is as impossible as they once thought.


"One of the consequences of countries tackling climate change emissions at home, in domestic policy, is they learn to do it, and see it’s not rocket science,” says Huq, a native of Bangladesh, a country widely considered as a leader in climate adaptation. “That creates a feedback loop,” where things that had to be pushed at first - like installing solar panels – soon spread because they’re good for everyone, he says.

Even the poorest and most vulnerable countries – which once insisted they had no obligation to cut their own emissions – are stepping up. Many small islands are making pledges to become carbon neutral, out of a desire to stop importing expensive diesel fuel, and a willingness to curb climate change.

“Their emissions don’t amount to a hill of beans, but they’re doing something about them,” Huq notes. “It’s a different, much more positive mindset we have now. Even the smallest polluters are saying, ‘We want to do something ambitious, and we want everyone else to do the same.’”

But is that growing ambition making it into the negotiating rooms in Warsaw? “Not necessarily,” Huq admits. The problem is that negotiators tend to have fixed positions. No major developed countries have increased the ambition of their emissions reduction commitments so far in Warsaw, for instance.

What is needed to change that is support at a higher political level, Huq says.

That may seem a big ask, with Australia’s new conservative government announcing this week it would step away from a 15 percent emissions reduction goal in favour of a lower 5 percent goal, and would try to repeal the country’s carbon tax.

But Australia “is an outlier”, Huq argues. Look instead, he says, at China and the United States, where political leaders are moving more aggressively to confront climate change.

Trigg Talley, the U.S. lead negotiator at the talks, insisted this week that his country wouldn’t budge beyond its “already ambitious” goal to cut emissions 17 percent from 2005 emissions levels.

Still, “what you’re getting now are negotiating positions,” Huq insists. “It doesn’t reflect the real strategy."

Ambition is what's needed in Warsaw

Sunday, November 10, 2013

United Kingdom finances Ethiopia’s green economy program

By New Business Ethiopia.

United Kingdom’s aid agency DFID Ethiopia is set to finance 15 Million pounds to support Ethiopia’s government ambition plan to build a Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) by 2025.

These funds are committed to the CRGE Facility, and will be used to support the implementation of the Sector Reduction Mechanisms process: to generate and fund high quality strategic investments that respond to the priorities of the Government of Ethiopia.

The ministry of finance and economic development of Ethiopia and DFID Ethiopia will sign the agreement this morning (November 8, 2013) in Addis Ababa.

The finance will be used to support the Government of Ethiopia to build a Climate Resilient Green Economy across different sectors. “This transformative approach developed by the Government of Ethiopia will provide a clear example of green economic transformation, not only in Africa but across the world,” the ministry said in its press statement," the ministry said in its statement.

“Ethiopia is one of the world’s fastest growing countries. At the same time, it is highly vulnerable to climatic variability and extremes. Ethiopia has the ambition to become a middle-income country by 2025, but will not follow a traditional development pathway–characterized by carbon intensification, inequitable development and serious environmental degradation.”

"Ethiopia is committed to building a climate resilient green economy. This commitment means that growth in Ethiopia is better for all, able to withstand the shocks and stresses and contributes to the imperative global goal of dramatic and sustained declines in emissions and a successful de-coupling of economic growth from emissions, the ministry further stated."

Ethiopia will eradicate poverty and provide adequate services to our population, and achieve our economic ambitions with zero net growth in Green House Gas emissions, where it is supported to do so, the ministry noted.

Investment Areas

Over sixty priorities for investment have been identified that will enable Ethiopia to both grow its economy while minimizing emissions. In addition, climate resilience strategies are being finalized to identify the costs of climate change and prioritize investments to reduce vulnerability.

To help Ethiopia secure additional investment, from both public and private sources, and to help leverage and manage these resources, the Ethiopian Government has established the CRGE Facility. The CRGE Facility will allow Ethiopia to aggregate resources from a range of sources and deploy it in strategically and effectively.

Funds are pooled within the Facility and programmed out to government led strategic priorities. These investments are designed to be catalytic and to leverage the impact of limited public funds on broader development investments.

The Sector Reduction Mechanism (SRM) is the government process for implementing the CRGE. The SRM does two things. It is expected to help Ethiopia to leverage finance by packaging up financing opportunities into Sector Reduction Action Plans (SRAPs).

While it is anticipated to systematically builds the Ethiopian Government’s capacity to plan and implement a transformation to a Climate Resilient Green Economy.

United Kingdom finances Ethiopia’s green economy program

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Sickest Places in the World

By Stephen Leahy

Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups.

They are extraordinarily toxic places where lifespans are short and disease runs rampant among millions of people who live and work at these sites, often to provide the products used in richer countries.

“People would be shocked to see the conditions under which their lovely jewelry is sometimes made,” said Jack Caravanos, director of research at the New York-based Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental group that released the list Monday in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland.

In Kalimantan, Indonesia, local people extract gold using mercury, which is both poisonous and a potent neurotoxin.

“They do this processing inside their homes, not realising the danger,” said Bret Ericson, senior project director of the Blacksmith Institute.

Blacksmith has gone into those homes and measured mercury levels 350 times higher than what is considered safe, Ericson told IPS.

This directly affects the health of 10 to 15 million people, Ericson said. “It is also a huge source of mercury pollution worldwide.”

Once released into the environment, mercury can end up in fish and other foods people eat anywhere on the planet. Low-cost, mercury-free methods for gold mining do exist but this knowledge is not widespread, he said.

The Top Ten Toxic Threats report is the latest in a series of annual reports documenting global pollution issues. The list is based on the severity of the health risk and the number of people exposed.

Previous reports have documented that the disease burden of pollution is comparable in scope to tuberculosis or malaria, posing a threat to 200 million people. Globally, one-fifth of cancers and 33 percent of disease in children can be blamed on environmental exposures, but this is far higher in low income countries, the report notes.

The Blacksmith Institute has conducted more than 3,000 initial risk assessments in 49 countries since the last list of polluted sites released by the two groups in 2007. Some sites listed in 2007, such as the lead battery recycling site in Haina, Dominican Republic, have been fully remediated.

“The good news is countries like India have come to grips with their pollution problems,” said Ericson. India has imposed a “Clean Energy Cess” or coal tax to help fund a clean energy fund of up to 400 million dollars which will inventory and clean up contaminated areas.

However, one of the emerging issues around toxic hotspots are clusters of poorly-regulated small-scale industries now found in many countries. There are more than 2,000 industries along the Citarum River in Indonesia, contaminating an area 13,000 sq km in size with lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxins, the report found.

“Clean-up is beginning thanks to a 500-million-dollar loan from the World Bank, but it will take a decade or more to complete,” said Ericson.

Near Buenos Aires, Argentina an estimated 50,000 small-scale industries dump a toxic mix of chemicals and metals into the air, soil and water. At least 20,000 people living along the Matanza Riachuelo river are exposed to dangerous levels of toxins, the report shows. The World Bank is also funding a major clean-up, with Blacksmith providing technical support.

Some toxic hotspots are so big and so badly polluted it will cost billions of dollars and take decades to clean up, said Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland.

“There are places that will be on our list for many years,” Robinson told IPS.

Russia has two of these. Russian authorities have finally acknowledged the issue and set aside three billion dollars to clean up Soviet-area legacy sites. One of these is Dzerzhinsk, a city of 300,000 people where chemical weapons like sarin, VX gas, mustard gas, and phosgene were manufactured for 50 years. At least 300,000 tonnes of waste from their manufacture were disposed of in the groundwater.

Birth defects are very common and the average lifespan of residents has fallen to the low forties. The situation is similar in Siberia’s Norilsk region, where the world’s biggest nickel smelter has killed all the trees within a 30-km radius.

“There has been lots of talk about improving pollution controls in Norilsk but not much action,” said Robinson.

A new site that will be on the list for years is the very polluted Niger Delta in Nigeria. Millions of barrels of oil have been spilled over the years and a U.N. study found two-thirds of the sites tested to be highly contaminated. Petroleum and its byproducts are very toxic, and when combined with poor nutrition, are a major unrecognised health threat for the 30 million people who live there, the report noted. The U.S. has been the major export destination for Nigerian oil.

The Sickest Places in the World

Friday, November 8, 2013

Climate change: Global emissions hit record high, UN says

By John Heilprin, Associated Press

Carbon dioxide pollution levels in Earth's atmosphere hit a record high in 2012, according a UN report released Wednesday. The concentration of carbon dioxide, a primary contributor to global warming, is far beyond the level some scientists and environmental groups say is the upper limit for a safe level.

World carbon dioxide pollution levels in the atmosphere are accelerating and reached a record high in 2012, the U.N. weather agency said Wednesday.

The heat-trapping gas, pumped into the air by cars and smokestacks, was measured at 393.1 parts per million last year, up 2.2 ppm from the previous year, said the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization in its annual greenhouse gas inventory.

That is far beyond the 350 ppm that some scientists and environmental groups promote as the absolute upper limit for a safe level.

As the chief gas blamed for global warming, carbon dioxide's 2012 increase outpaced the past decade's average annual increase of 2.02 ppm.

Based on that rate, the organization says the world's carbon dioxide pollution level is expected to cross the 400 ppm threshold by 2016. That level already was reached at some individual measurement stations in 2012 and 2013.

Scientists say the Earth probably last had this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at least a few million years ago, when sea levels were higher. Carbon dioxide levels were around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

Trapping heat as a greenhouse would, carbon dioxide accounts for three-quarters of the planet's heat-trapping gases that scientists say are causing sea levels to rise, glaciers to melt and some weather patterns to change. Methane, another destructive greenhouse gas, traps heat much more effectively but has a shorter life span.

Atmospheric methane also reached a new high of 1,819 parts per billion in 2012, which is 260 percent higher than the pre-industrial level. Methane comes from natural sources such as wetlands and termites, but about 60 percent comes from cattle breeding, rice growing, landfills and other human activities.

The rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere shows how people have "upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change," said Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.

Carbon dioxide remains in the air for a century, some of it far longer, which means that a lot of future warming is already locked in.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is headquartered at the organization, says starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change.

The warming of the planet since 1950 is "unprecedented," the panel says, and the Earth will warm by at least 2 more degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) this century, unless the world drastically cuts emissions, which appears unlikely.

Climate change: Global emissions hit record high, UN says

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Flowers and Garbage in Cuba

By Trina Moyles, Permaculture

Trina Moyles visits an urban permaculture community garden in Cuba. The two acre site has been transformed from a dumping ground for garbage into an abundant food and flower source for the local area as well as a place to learn permaculture principles.

"Let us not run away from our garbage. We should learn the art of making compost. Using that compost we will grow a lot of flowers. Don't think that without compost you can have flowers. That is an illusion. You can have flowers only with compost." - Thich Nhat Hanh (1998)

Seventeen years ago, Edith’s story began with garbage.

The year was 1996. It was seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Cuba, being an island country who had depended on the Soviet powers for imported food goods, was still hungry from the crisis that had come awash on its shores.

State farms, accustomed to producing sugarcane, tobacco and coffee for the export, responded to the crisis like slugs: slow to diversify and fill the food baskets of Cuban citizens. At the same time, the US trade embargo tightened the noose around Cuba’s neck. The world was wondering: would Cuba trade political ideology for food? The Cuban state scrambled to reorganize the way food would be grown on the island, where, and by whom. And the Cuban citizenry reacted even faster, resurrecting the memory of the guajiro/a (peasant farmer), turning to the traditional guataca (hand-hoe) and sowing seeds in unconventional spaces.

Edith, from the city of Sancti Spiritus (the geographical heart of Cuba) was one of the Cuban citizens with the eyes to see flowers in garbage. To see food in waste.

Edith saw potential in a two-hectare plot of garbage. It was a basuera, a garbage dump, with heaping piles of waste: food waste, material waste, industrial waste, human waste, located in the middle of residential buildings. It was a space used for throwing not growing. Yet, somehow, Edith envisioned, instead, una linda flor, a beautiful flower.

Edith, alongside her late-husband, father, and two children, received the land 'in usufruct' (on loan) from the Cuban government based on the agreement that they would turn a wasted space into a productive space.

Linda Flor – Beautiful Flowers in the City

By the late 1990s, Edith and her family had successfully transformed the former garbage dump into a flowering organiponico called 'Linda Flor' meaning ‘pretty flower.’

Organiponicos are Cuban-borne, the name describing the small spaces in urban locations for growing vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, and medicinal plants. Foodstuffs grown at organiponicos are sold directly to Cubans and neighborhoods. It’s not uncommon to spot a woman in curlers, waiting at the Punta de Venta (Point of Sale) for organiponico workers to harvest the green onions that she’s purchased (at government regulated prices) for the pot of soup that’s simmering in her home’s kitchen…just across the street.

In the first years of operating her organiponico, Edith focused mainly on flower production, growing what she described as 'monocrops of flowers' in long lines of concrete raised beds. Edith employed men and women from the neighborhood to help her cultivate and cut fresh flowers for sale in the Sancti Spiritus markets. She and her family often relied on applying chemical pesticides and fertilizers, particularly after several years of harvesting and exhausting soils in the raised beds.

Natural disaster struck in 1998. Hurricane Georges swept up and spat out every beautiful flower at Linda Flor. Discouraged but undeterred, Edith and her family picked up the broken pieces of their labor of love, and planted once again.

In 2001, Edith participated in a training course on ‘La Permacultura Criolla,’ a sustainable agriculture and human systems concept that had arrived in Cuba via Australian and New Zealand organizations, and had been slowly spreading to farmers and producers through a Cuban institution, Fundación Antonio Nuñez Jimenez de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (FANJNH), Foundation for Nature and Man.

After learning more about the ethics and principles of la permacultura (biodiversity, cooperation and crops/animals that serve multiple purposes), Edith began transforming her monocrop of flowers into a diverse, integrated system. Edith’s organiponico now grows a plethora of decorative flowers, cacti, vegetables, fruits, and even integrates small animals into the system. Rabbits are raised in elevated cages where the manure falls into worm composting for organic fertilizers. Guinea fowl are raised in a cage above a pond filled with tilapia fish (so the manure falls into pond for fish food). And most importantly, Edith has colonized a number of hives for pollination of her flowers.

Today - Edith’s organiponico has developed into a permaculture demonstration site that employs 19 workers, and involves 36 families. Edith is a promotora (promoter) with FANJNH and instructs other farmers and producers how to integrate permaculture theory and practice into their own growing sites. On an annual basis, hundreds of Cuban and international farmers/students visit Linda Flor to learn about Edith’s inspiring story of transforming garbage into food and flowers.

Edith has vowed to never again return to the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Community Waste into Community Food

Edith is passionate about using local resources to build organic soil through composting and mulching, and recycling nutrients back into flower and food production.

Community composting system

Edith’s solution to producing more organic soil, on site, involved - literally - knocking on her neighbor’s doors for help. She developed the idea to collect organic waste (kitchen scraps, toilet paper rolls, papers, cardboard, etc.) from residents at the two apartment buildings surrounding Linda Flor. One of her workers uses a bicycle-cart to pick up organic waste from 40 households, twice a week, for large-scale composting. A bucket of waste from every participating household really adds up. Through layering compost piles of organic/non-organic materials (found on-site) Edith is able to produce 220 tons of organic soil on a yearly basis. After harvesting flowers and food from the raised beds, Edith adds organic soil to the beds to ensure optimum quality and yields, and a constant supply of vegetables and fruits to her neighbors.

Composting Toilets

Edith’s system includes one of the most beautiful bathrooms and composting toilets that I’ve ever laid eyes on. The composting toilet was an innovation brought to Cuba from a farmer-to-farmer visit in Mexico. One of FANJNH’s promoters traveled back to Cuba with a special ‘toilet seat’ in her suitcase, and the basic building blue-print. At Linda Flor, Edith’s workers use the toilet on a daily basis. The seat directs solid/liquid waste into distinct compartments, as urine requires aeration (to release ammonia), and feces requires the mixing of sawdust/ash (and six month’s time) to break down into usable compost. Urine is diluted with water, and sprayed as a foliar organic fertilizer - some people describe it as “liquid gold” (rich in nitrogen). Composted solid waste (or ‘humanure’) is applied at the base of fruit trees, decorative plants, and non-vegetable crops.

La Lombricultura - Worm Culture

In order to replace nutrients in the soil, at a rapid pace, Edith employs millions of other workers at Linda Flor. They’re small in size and large in number, and they live to do three things: eat, reproduce and defecate. Red wiggler worms are common in Cuba. At Linda Flor, they are located beneath a number of raised rabbit cages. Rabbit manure and urine falls through the wire mesh directly into the worm beds. Edith and her workers also add organic scraps, including vegetable and flower waste, to nourish the worms who feed vigorously and convert waste into uber-rich organic soil.

A Flower Doesn’t Last Forever - The Future of Linda Flor

Regardless of Edith’s creative efforts at Linda Flor to develop a successful and inspiring community permaculture and food production site, one aspect of Cuban culture prevails: “Nadie es el dueño de la tierra” - No one is the owner of the land…but the Cuban state, of course. This is also the main distinction between Bill Mollison’s original concept of permaculture and Cuba’s permacultura (embedded within their socialist political structure). Land ‘in usufruct’ means that the government can decide for how long land can be utilized, and for what purpose.

In Edith’s neighborhood, the Cuban state had begun to shift its priority from food production to expanding residential infrastructure. When I visited Linda Flor in 2011 and 2012, Edith expressed some anxiety that she would be ‘relocated’ to another site, and potentially lose upwards of 10,000 plants growing at her nationally-recognized organiponico.

“No es facil - It’s not easy,” she lamented over the potential outcome, worry written across her brow. “Pero hay que conseguir - But I have to keep moving forward.”

While the future of Linda Flor is somewhat uncertain, Edith’s conviction for permaculture, community development, and organic agriculture continues to grow - ever straying from her original vision of seeing potential in perceived nothing.

Flowers and Garbage in Cuba

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Debunking myths on cassava - Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog

By Tin Maung Aye, Keith Fahrney, Adrian Bolliger and Rod Lefroy, CGIAR

Rumour has it that planting cassava is inherently bad for the soil. The crop is capable of widespread soil erosion, damaging the environment and reducing the productivity of other crops by removing too many nutrients from the soil, so the popular mantra goes. Yet at the same time, cassava can apparently grow well in poor, degraded soils with no or very little fertilizer application at all.

Cassava’s low demand for – and highly efficient use of – water and most nutrients has earned it a reputation as an ideal crop to cultivate on poor soil. But the association between degraded soil and the crop itself seems to have stuck, and the stigma is difficult to shake off.

As with most rumours, you have to dig a bit deeper to get to the roots of the truth.

We can quell the rumour if we can share the information that we as researchers have about how to prevent soil erosion and better manage cassava production systems with the people who need to know. Proper erosion control and soil fertility management is at the heart of sustainable cassava production, and has the potential to boot smallholder livelihoods.

The facts…

In Southeast Asia, cassava production has increased rapidly and many people want to be part of the boom. Rapid population growth and economic development have driven many people, especially the poorest, to grow cassava on sloping land. But farming on the slopes is usually deterred and sometimes banned – which does not stop farmers from planting cassava on slopes because it grows well, at least for a number of years. Consequently, harvests go unreported, and best soil management practices and adoption of tried and tested sustainable soil management techniques are not as broadly adopted as they should be.

Concerns that cassava exacerbates soil erosion arise from the fact that growing it on steep slopes without intercropping or contour planting will cause erosion. This is because cassava is a large plant that needs to be planted at wide spacing to get high root yields. During the two to three-month period before cassava leaves grow enough to close the crop canopy, the soil between plants is left exposed to direct rainfall, which in turn results in soil run-off and loss. The steeper the slope, the greater the soil loss.

It is important to both protect the soil surface from the direct impact of raindrops and slow down the runoff and soil loss by reducing the length of the slope. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture’s (CIAT) research has highlighted great opportunities for mitigating soil erosion in Southeast Asia. Intercropping cassava with fast ground-covering, short-term crops like peanut is recommended because it protects the soil surface, provides a quick harvest and income, and helps control weeds. Mulching with crop residues or grass on the soil surface protects soil from direct raindrop impact, greatly improves water infiltration and can further reduce erosion.

Planting strips of forage grasses like Paspalum atratum or shrubs such as Tephrosia candida along slope contours will act as a barrier, breaking the slope length and preventing the loss of topsoil – the most fertile part of the soil – while inducing the formation of natural terraces to capture moisture, reduce the angle of the slope and increase yields. The forages can also feed animals in integrated crop-livestock smallholdings.

The nutrient myth

As a poor man’s crop, smallholders practicing shifting cultivation often plant cassava as the final species in a sequence of crops on cleared land before allowing the land to return to fallow. They do this for two main reasons.

First, after three to four-year crop sequences with inadequate replacement of nutrients removed during harvests, the soil is usually depleted. Hence, only cassava will produce well on the impoverished soils of the plot. After the cassava, on the other hand, few crops at all will grow adequately. This reinforces the myth that cassava induces soil depletion, when in reality the soil has already been starved of nutrients before the cassava cycle has even started. In contrast to most other crops, cassava is capable of growing and providing some root yield even when soil fertility is low.

The second reason cassava is an ideal final crop in a shifting cultivation sequence is that it does not have a fixed harvest period. It can be stored in the soil for up to two years and harvested when other food has run out, often doubling in yield during that time. If soils are not tilled prior to planting and the crop remains in the ground for two years, the soil erosion hazard from planting on sloping lands is less than from an annual crop like maize that is commonly tilled before planting each year.

Although not a particularly “nutrient hungry” crop when compared to say maize, the nutrients cassava does take up still need to be replaced. Combined soil type-dependent soil fertility management is needed, using both organic and inorganic fertilisers as well as legume intercrops that can enrich the soils through biological nitrogen fixation, and a range of techniques that increase soil organic matter.

All of the above techniques can be combined to increase productivity, restore soil fertility and reduce soil erosion. At the same time, they can contribute additional income, food or livestock fodder for smallholder households.

Information bottle-neck

The facts remain that growing any crops on sloping land requires proper soil management, and whatever you take out of the soil, you have to put back. These are facts of which more development workers, farmers and policy makers need to be aware.

Cassava is a largely ignored crop in terms of research, extension and policy agendas. While there is no doubt that things are changing, there is still concern, particularly at policy level, about perceived environmental damage caused by cultivating cassava – in particular soil degradation – and governments are reticent to promote expansion of the crop.

This lack of incentive inspires less than optimal cultivation and has a negative impact on potential industrial supply. At the same time as educating farmers about soil fertility and erosion management, we need to educate policy makers that, with the right management, growing cassava on slopes is not only possible, but can also be environmentally sustainable and provide a good income for poor smallholder farmers. Indeed, at a time when demand for cassava starch in food processing and biofuel industries looks set to grow – both domestically and in export markets – cassava offers more potential than ever to boost smallholder livelihoods.

To avoid concerns about degradation by cassava production and pollution from cassava processing, this insight must be extended to the private sector. Private companies need to promote sustainable production techniques as they source their processing feedstock. They need to make informed decisions about the appropriate location of processing plants and ensure that the processing industry manages waste in an efficient and environmentally responsible way. Using waste as a source of bio-gas or animal feed, for example, would be a step in the right direction.

Digging up the truth

Informed decisions about where and how to grow cassava should take into account site-specific information such as soil fertility requirements, the risk of soil degradation, bio climatic conditions, on-farm food and animal feed needs, as well as market access and demand. Then the myths will be truly debunked and cassava can be recognized as a hardy, flexible crop with promising economic potential for the poor of the region.

Debunking myths on cassava - Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog