Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bonn preview: hesitation, repetition and deviation

By pwc

Governments meet in Bonn at the beginning of June for the next round of formal climate negotiations. Jonathan Grant gives a preview. They will start where they left off in Geneva in February with an 84-page text that is a long wish list containing nearly all possible options for the Paris agreement. The aim will be to slim down the text. Real progress is unlikely as countries will not compromise much at this point.

The co-chairs’ plan

The two chairmen of the talks have set out a plan for the two weeks. Not inspiring much confidence, they proposed that the first few days will be spent editing the text to “reduce duplication, overlap and repetition”. The remaining seven days will be devoted to the substantive discussion of the options in the consolidated text with the aim of finding compromise – or at least more clearly defining the alternatives.

The Co-Chairs’ plan or ‘scenario note’ sets out the working arrangements for the Bonn negotiations in an unusual amount of detail. It describes the layout and location of the rooms that will be used. It notes which sections which co-chair will manage and describes the role of 11 facilitators who will assist them. The co-chairs also state that they will abide by the principles of openness, transparency, inclusiveness and fairness. And they’ll maintain their ‘no surprises’ policy.

Finally the Co-Chairs plan to discuss the format of what is agreed in Paris. They suggest that durable elements (such as the objectives and long term goal) may best be included in the Paris agreement. Those elements which are expected to be revised in the future (such as national targets) may best be included in a COP decision.

Managing the politics and expectations

While this is the first UN meeting since Geneva, there have been plenty of formal and informal discussions. Negotiators have met in their regional groups, at the Petersberg Dialogue, the Major Economies Forum and on fact-finding missions. And the French Presidency has been industrious in promoting interaction among countries, the business community and others. Along with the UN Secretariat it has also been carefully managing expectations for Paris downwards.

The French Presidency notes that the four main pillars of the agreement will be the national mitigation targets, finance, adaptation and commitments by business, states, cities and others. It has already suggested that the national targets are unlikely to be legally binding. The UN Secretariat also conceded that these targets are not in line with two degrees.

In the last few months, several countries have come forward with their proposed mitigation targets. Analyses of these INDCs[1] from the EU, US, Canada and Mexico compared to a two degrees pathway and their business as usual scenario are on our blog linked below. Expect further national plans to be published during the Bonn negotiations.

Lessons from past COPs

These efforts by the French Government, the UN Secretariat and the co-chairs aim to address the failures of previous summits. Clearly the ghosts of COPs past are haunting the climate negotiations this year. Copenhagen is the spookiest, given the acrimonious breakdown of that climate summit. Many objected to a perceived lack of inclusiveness and transparency. But the Kyoto Protocol is also scaring negotiators: few want an agreement in Paris that collapses when it gets back to national capitals. The approaches this year show lessons have been learned from these previous attempts to reach a global climate deal.

A policy paper[2] published by the LSE and Grantham Institute places much of the blame for the failure in Copenhagen on the Danes and the UN Secretariat. It also points to the open and collaborative practices adopted by the Mexicans in Cancun the following year, which contributed to a much more successful summit. The paper goes on to make sensible recommendations for managing the climate process, many of which align with the co-chairs’ plan. But the paper’s implication of ‘dreadful Danes vs excellent Mexicans’ is rather too simple and too convenient[3].

Copenhagen failed for more fundamental reasons than mismanagement. Two stand out. The first was that China and other major emerging economies were not keen to take on quantified commitments post-2020. This was not least because some developed countries were not doing so under Kyoto pre-2020. The second was the chasm between rich and poor countries on mitigation and finance (or more specifically, the perceived lack of action or ambition or finance from rich countries). Times have moved on. In particular many of the emerging economies including China and Mexico have taken on quantified targets (or are expected to). But much of the division and lack of trust between rich and poor countries remains. Overcoming this and conveying the sense of momentum of increasing ambition and cooperation by all countries will be critical to success this year.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bolivia passes “Law of Mother Earth” which gives rights to our planet as a living system


The Law of Mother Earth (“Ley de Derechos de La Madre Tierra”) holds the land as sacred and holds it as a living system with rights to be protected from exploitation, and creates 11 distinguished rights for the environment. It was passed by Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly. This 10 article law is derived from the first part of a longer draft bill, drafted and released by the Pact of Unity by November 2010. Can we please spread this law? There has to be a way for the free market to interoperate with reverence for this planet. Period.

In accordance with the philosophy of Pachamama, it states, “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all,” said Vice-President Alvaro GarcĂ­a Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

The law enumerates seven specific rights to which Mother Earth and her constituent life systems, including human communities, are entitled to:
  • To life: It is the right to the maintenance of the integrity of life systems and natural processes which sustain them, as well as the capacities and conditions for their renewal
  • To the Diversity of Life: It is the right to the preservation of the differentiation and variety of the beings that comprise Mother Earth, without being genetically altered, nor artificially modified in their structure, in such a manner that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential
  • To water: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components
  • To clean air: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components
  • To equilibrium: It is the right to maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes
  • To restoration: It is the right to the effective and opportune restoration of life systems affected by direct or indirect human activities
  • To live free of contamination: It is the right for preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive waste generated by human activities

Friday, May 15, 2015

Incentives to conserve agricultural biodiversity – Peru at the forefront

By Biodiversity International

Peru is developing an incentive scheme for the conservation of its rich crop diversity, with scientific support from Bioversity International.

With 184 native domesticated plant species and hundreds of varieties, Peru is one of the most important centres of crop diversity and domestication in the world. This diversity has a value that goes beyond Peruvian borders. Agricultural biodiversity is the basis of human survival and well-being – safeguarding it is crucial to providing future food growing options for us all.

While the benefits of agricultural biodiversity are increasingly recognized, its full value is often not fully accounted for by individuals and society. This is because many components of agricultural biodiversity provide a mixture of private benefits to the farmer – for example the production of food, fodder and fibres – and public benefits to wider society – such as the provision of ecosystem services and options to adapt to climate change and face new pest and disease outbreaks. Markets capture only a part of this total economic value and thus underestimate the true value of these genetic resources.

Mechanisms to help farmers capture the private value of these resources include the development of value chains and niche market products for some species and varieties. However, this strategy is inadequate to conserve the full range of genetic resource diversity that exists, for example, in Peru. Many varieties may not currently have market potential, yet can still contain valuable and often unexplored genetic potential to help future-proof our food systems.

With no market incentive to conserve agricultural biodiversity on farm, much genetic resources conservation often occurs as a result of farmer socio-cultural preferences. Yet we increasingly risk losing these precious resources, as poor smallholder farmers cannot be expected to alone incur the costs of their maintenance for the public good. A solution to this dilemma may be found in the provision of incentives to farmers who conserve agricultural biodiversity on their farms – a form of payment for ecosystem services applied to crop diversity (known as RACS, Rewards for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services). The importance of the design and implementation of such positive incentives for the conservation of biodiversity has been explicitly recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity (Aichi Target 3) as well as in Peruvian national legislation.

Bioversity International has been working in Peru and other countries since 2009 to test the potential of such incentives to conserve priority threatened species/varieties, while also supporting indigenous farmer livelihoods and existing community institutions of collective action.

In 2014, the Peruvian Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economics and Finance's Euro Eco-Trade Programme, called on Bioversity International's expertise to outline the steps required for the adoption of a PACS scheme at the national level.

“Building on our previous work on RACS, we have identified a number of key steps necessary to establish such a programme, and designed an implementation plan”, said Adam Drucker, Senior Ecological Economist at Bioversity International, who led the work in Peru. “These steps include: deciding what to conserve; how much to conserve and in what configurations; identifying farmer communities willing to participate in conservation activities in a cost-effective and socially-equitable manner; ensuring that the rewards used are appropriate and conditional on the conservation service actually being delivered; as well as the identification of sustainable funding sources for the long-term implementation of an incentive scheme, including though engagement with the private sector”.

“Bioversity International scientific support has been key in designing the specific incentive schemes we are planning to use to conserve our rich crop diversity”, commented Tulio Medina, Genetic Resources Specialist, Ministry of Environment. “During the 2015-2016 agricultural season we plan to implement a RACS project for two key crops in our country, quinoa and amaranth, before undertaking a much larger-scale programme, potentially covering other crops too, in 2016-2017.”

This week, Bioversity International is carrying out an expert workshop with the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) and other national partners to define the scientific parameters – such as the conservation goals and the underlying threat and diversity measures needed to prioritize in a cost-effective manner the species and varieties to be targeted by the interventions. This information will be used to inform the incentive mechanism programme.

“Peru is very well placed to successfully implement an incentive scheme to support the conservation of agricultural biodiversity. Even though other countries have adopted incentive mechanisms (not always successfully), Peru can learn from these experiences and has the opportunity to apply them within the context of an innovative strategic approach, and under very favorable conditions given that high levels of genetic diversity and traditional knowledge still exist”, concluded Drucker.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Earth-bag building still standing after Nepal quake

They say earthquakes don't kill people, but buildings do – no more so than in Nepal where entire villages have been flattened.

But in the rural village of Sangachok, there is one building that is still standing, all thanks to the handiwork of a team half a world away.

In Sangachok, there is destruction as far as the eye can see, but among the rubble and crumbled buildings there is some good news, and what could be a lesson for Nepal in earthquake resilience.

Nelson-based First Steps Himalaya raised money to build the training centre for teachers to improve education in rural Nepal. The building remains standing even after the earthquake.

Volunteers from New Zealand and Nepal used rice bags filled with soil, which are laid out like bricks, covered with chicken wire and then plastered over.

The Auckland company that helped construct it hopes it can deliver much more than that.

"We could try and get these earth-bag buildings moving forward to the villages, and get them to start to use that simple product," says Cameron Court of Court Construction.

"The real kicker is that it can wobble a little bit, and so you've got a bit of earthquake resistance as opposed to sheer mud walls, mud brick walls, or most of the buildings are done out of the Kathmandu brick, which is terribly bad for the environment."

The building was only finished six days before the earthquake, and is a welcome sight in the village of 3000 where accommodation is now scarce.

"We know they are using it as a shelter because 90 percent of the area around there is flattened," Mr Court says.

For First Steps Himalaya charity founder Durga Aran it is a glimmer of hope for a nation in crisis that, with enough fundraising, the Nepalese might now be able to construct safe buildings, one earth-bag at a time.