Saturday, January 31, 2015

Car Washing: A Human-Induced Challenge to the Future of Lake Victoria’s Wetland Resources


By Kimbowa Richard, The East African Sustainability Watch Network
Wetlands are one of the fragile ecosystems that require to be conserved as countries develop due to tangible and non-tangible benefits now and in the future. They purify and replenish our water, and provide the fish and rice that feed billions. Wetlands act as a natural sponge against flooding and drought, and protect our coastlines. They burst with biodiversity, and are a vital means of storing carbon

Unfortunately, these benefits are not widely known. Often viewed as wasteland, 64% of the global wetlands have disappeared since 1900, according to the Ramsar (Wetlands Convention) Secretariat.

Therefore, the 2015 International Wetlands day on the theme ‘Wetlands for the Future’ comes as no surprise. For example in East Africa serious threats to wetlands arise from the need to meet the growing water, food, energy and other livelihood needs.

Lake Victoria wetlands: threatened sponges due to the fast growing urban population

According to the Ramsar (Wetlands) Convention, there are over 2,000 Ramsar Sites on the territories of over 160 Ramsar Contracting Parties across the world. For example the Lake Victoria basin hosts 6 of them including Lutembe, Mabamba and Lake Nabugabo wetlands systems; Nabajjuzi wetland system, and the Sango bay – Musambwa Island- Kagera wetland system.

However, Ramsar sites that are globally recognised are only part of the web that also includes smaller and ‘less important’ ones, which face considerable pressure and greed due to human induced activities. These form part of the drainage system (rivers, streams, bays and other natural water reservoirs) that are under considerable stress.

Ramsar sites of international importance: Under threat though we need to increase coverage

A key commitment of Ramsar Contracting Parties is to identify and place suitable wetlands onto the List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The Contracting Parties confirmed in 2005 that their vision for the Ramsar List is “to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services”. This vision reflects the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which describes ecosystems as the complex of living communities (including human communities) and non-living environment (ecosystem components) interacting (through ecological processes) as a functional unit which provides, among other things, a variety of benefits to people (ecosystem services).

Unfortunately, Ramsar sites are under substantive threats from human induced pressures. For example Lutembe wetland system hosts over 70% of the global population of white-winged black terns (Chlidonias leucopterus), large numbers of the grey-headed gulls (Larus cirrocepharus), black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) and gull-billed terns (Sterna nilotica). However, Lutembe wetland system is threatened by agro-chemicals that have now been detected in the waters which if not controlled, will pollute the waters and not only threaten the fish stocks, but human beings as well.

Car washing: a micro-level human induced activity on wetlands in the L.Victoria basin

Car washing in Lake Victoria is unsightly in many towns and cities like Kampala, Kisumu and Mwanza. This illegal activity goes on unabated despite the presence of institutions, policies and laws that ought to deter it. This has resulted in release of waste water that affects water quality, fish breeding, and contributes to eutrophication of our interconnected natural water reservoirs.

Despite several threats (for example in 2012, NEMA Kenya barred car washing in the Lake), the seemingly small scale practice is cumulatively going on unabated, threatening livelihoods (pollution of water supply, destruction of fish breeding sites, destruction of wetlands among others)

Petition to invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria

It is in the above regard that the East Africa Sustainability Watch Network is now petitioning NEMA (Uganda), NEMA (Kenya), the National Environment Management Council (Tanzania), the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, city and town authorities as well as other Local authorities around Lake Victoria to make a difference for the health of our heritage by acting on those that are abusing the established laws and policies.

The Petition seeks have all existing laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria invoked by these mandated institutions, to offset pressure on Lake Victoria wetlands and its declining health so as to improve the livelihoods of the over 30 million dependent communities across East Africa.

Click here to read more about and sign up Petition to NEMA (Kenya), NEMA (Uganda) and NEMC (Tanzania) to invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria from here

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Conservationists Caution African Governments on the threats from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests.


By Kimbowa Richard, Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) – Africa Section has issued a statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa. The purpose of this SCB position statement is to build on these efforts and highlight the rapid and unsustainable destruction of forests due to industrial oil palm expansion in West and Central Africa, and the role of oil palm expansion in the attrition of biodiversity including flagship species such as apes, as well as associated human health and economic implications. This is a call on African governments, policy makers and societies to formulate effective policies that support ecological sustainability of African equatorial forests.

SCB notes that Africa contains about 675 million hectares of forests, corresponding to 17 percent of the world total. These forests support an estimated 1.5 million plant and animal species that in turn support local communities in terms of food, shelter, clothing, and medicinal needs.

However, it is estimated that Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of forests between 2000 and 2010 of which 572,000 hectares was primary forest. The decline has resulted mainly from the rising demand for agricultural lands, commercial harvesting of timber, urbanization, and industrialization

The statement notes that recent significant investments in African agriculture in the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) industry are likely to lead to biodiversity losses similar to those in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is projected to lose most of its natural rainforest by 2022. Oil palm production not only drives natural forest cover loss, but can also lead to direct mortality of endangered species, such as orang-utans (Rainforest Rescue, undated). Oil palm has become one of the most rapidly expanding equatorial crops in the world. The global extent of oil palm cultivation increased from 3.6 million ha in 1961 to 13.2 million ha in 2006

The SCB statement points out that many threatened and endangered species will be affected by oil palm expansion in Africa. ‘Africa’s apes, which include the gorilla and its sub‐species, the common chimpanzee and its sub‐species, and the bonobo, will be affected. Current great ape distribution in Africa substantially overlaps with current oil palm concessions (by 58.7%) and areas suitable for oil palm production (by 42.3%); 39.9% of the distribution of great apes species on protected lands overlaps with suitable oil palm areas’, the statement emphasizes.

‘There is a growing appreciation of the links between ecosystem alteration and human health. A critical example is a model of infectious disease demonstrating that recent epidemics – AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and others – are due to alteration of ecosystems. Sixty per cent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic (from animals) and more than two thirds of those originate in wildlife’ the Statement adds.

The statement further notes that Industrial oil palm expansion at unregulated and unsustainable rates is a threat to forests and biodiversity in equatorial Africa and urges African Governments and societies to put into place robust policies and laws to protect the remaining forests in the region.

The SCB statement recommends that African governments should play a proactive role by granting concessions only to companies that are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Furthermore, Government could stimulate the development of oil palm plantations on ‘degraded lands’ by providing incentives (e.g. tax breaks) to make this option more attractive to companies.

In addition, producers must be given access to information that will help them to locate new plantations in areas where they will cause the least ecological damage.

The SCB statement also urges African Governments that before expanding plantations over primary forests, an investment in high‐yield oil palm plantations, through better seed quality and best management practices could be investigated first in order to achieve higher production of crude palm oil in a less environmentally damaging way.

The Statement also calls on Financial institutions, buyers and consumers assist by continuing to demand detailed evidence that producers are doing all they can to minimise the negative impacts of palm oil production, and by denying finance and markets to those that are not.

The Society for Conservation Biology is an international professional organization whose mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity, support dissemination of conservation science, and increase the application of science to management and policy. The Society’s 5,000 members include resource managers, educators, students, government and private conservation workers in over 140 countries.

Read the full SCB Africa Section Statement from here: Position Statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Give India IPR-free Technology to Fight Climate Change: Prakash Javadekar

By Climate Himalaya

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Sunday urged rich nations to provide India technology “free of IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights)” to help it tackle climate change, saying it can be a “win-win situation for all”. “If the developed world is ready to provide technology free of IPRs, it can be a win-win situation for all. We’ll walk our own path on INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) but if technology free of IPRs is provided, we will walk the extra mile,” said Javadekar while speaking at a session on sustainable development at the “India-US dialogue”, jointly organized by the Observer Research Foundation and Network 18.

This was the first time that the environment minister had officially spoken of India’s willingness to walk the “extra mile” in exchange for technology free of IPR burdens.

He also announced that India would declare its INDCs in two parts—one set of actions that it would carry out with its domestic resources and another with funds and technology made available under a possible international agreement.

INDCs are plans that every country is expected to undertake to tackle climate change, keeping in mind their domestic circumstances and goals. These submissions will then form the basis of talks aimed at striking a global climate change agreement in Paris in December. Javadekar sought to buttress his call for free technology by citing the example of the fight against HIV/AIDS—if the world could collaborate and undertake joint research on HIV, he said, why couldn’t something similar be attempted for tackling climate change?

He said India’s priorities for sustainable development lie in providing clean air, clean water and clean energy while committing itself to strong and transparent action on emission reduction and renewable energy. He also ruled out an India-US climate deal along the lines of the US-China climate change deal, saying India’s commitments are more ambitious. On a query on dealing with domestic politics for striking a global climate deal, he said he had already written to all state chief ministers for their views and suggestions in the run-up to the Paris negotiations in order to evolve a consensus view. Earlier, during a panel discussion, Sumant Sinha, chairman and CEO of ReNew Power Ventures, said a “global climate deal can only work for India if it manages to solidify its renewables sector and set a peaking year.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ban Ki-moon: Lack of focus on green investment “troubling”


By Ed King,  RTCC

UN chief confident “robust” climate deal will be delivered in Paris but demands end to high carbon infrastructure projects

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon says he finds the lack of focus on investments green infrastructure among world leaders “troubling”.

Speaking at a televised event at the World Economic Forum, Ban said forums like Davos and the G20 had failed to treat sustainable development seriously.

“We see this at the G20 and even here – we need to address this troubling disconnect,” he told a panel which included IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Rwanda president Paul Kagame.

“If we do not we will lock ourselves to bad long term investments which will make it impossible to hit the sustainable development goals and put ourselves at risk of costly climate change.”

Last year a panel including climate economist Lord Stern and former Mexico president Felipe Calderon reported US$ 90 trillion would be invested in infrastructure by 2030.

Without greater focus on greening financial flows from governments and business, the panel warned it was “near certain” that global temperatures would pass 2C, a level deemed dangerous by scientists.

Ban urged finance ministers to start ensuring that their domestic budgets allocated significant sums of capital to low carbon investments over the next three decades.

And he repeated his belief that countries will deliver a “robust climate change agreement” at a scheduled UN meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.

The UN’s chief impassioned plea came on the penultimate day of the annual summit, which attracts leaders from business, government and civil society to the Swiss resort.

Speaking at the same event, the chief executive of consumer goods multinational Unilever Paul Polman said economic growth was already being stifled because of climate change.

Polman – whose business reported a 2.7% downturn in sales for 2014 – said business leaders had a responsibility to declare their commitment to low carbon growth.

“We’ve been too long the silent majority – we have given the voice to the vocal minority,” he said.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Broken Landscape: Confronting India’s Water-Energy Choke Point

In resource-rich Meghalaya, India, the demand for coal is transforming the environment and the people who depend on it. Coal mine owners are prospering from booming production, but few laws regulate the dangerous and polluting practice of rat hole coal mining. Until now. State officials recently banned rat hole mining in the region, shutting down the economy. Coal mine owners and workers staged protests, while people living downstream from the mines are trying to cope with a dead river that once provided their livelihoods, food, and drinking water. Nepalese migrants who crossed the border to mine coal are stuck in the middle.

Broken Landscape examines the lives of those on the front lines of India's water-energy-food choke points.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Food security: is it time to recognise the nutritional value of human waste?

By , The Guardian

Urine and faeces contain precious nutrients that could fuel farming. Fortunately NGOs are getting over the yuck factor

The average person produces 500 litres of urine and faeces in a year, which contain enough nutrients to grow the crops that person would need to feed themselves entirely for that year.

“Human waste is filled with nutrients from the food we eat, nutrients that were taken from the soil as the food was grown and harvested, and the same nutrients that are essential for restoring soil productivity post-harvest,” explains Sasha Kramer, director of Haiti-based not-for-profit Soil, an initiative that transforms human waste into resources.

The challenge for the development sector is recognising human waste’s economic value to improve food security and building a business case to support it in under-resourced communities.
Identifying the challenges

Kramer explains that the primary obstacle to this potentially win-win situation is health concerns. Any bacteria that pose a danger to humans need to be eliminated from the waste during the treatment process. “When human waste composting is carried out at the household level it becomes more difficult,” she says.

The other obstacle is overcoming end-users’ fears over, or objections to, the reuse of faecal matter. NGOs could play a key role in getting communities to discuss the taboo subject and educating them on the potential of poo power.

“Given this natural aversion to human waste, it takes rigorous research, careful implementation and skillful social marketing to overcome the ‘yuck’ factor,” says Kramer. “That said, we found that, in Haiti, once people are able to see, smell and touch the final product they are more than eager to test it in their gardens.”

The organisation treats 240,000 US gallons of waste every year and has sold 75,000 US gallons of compost, Kramer says. It’s been bought by nurseries, backyard gardeners and large-scale agricultural projects run by non-profits to improve reforestation and soil quality. Kramer says human waste-based compost can bring “huge economic returns for farmers growing high-value crops, such as spinach and peppers”.
Feeding the food chain

Sanergy, an organisation that focuses on improving sanitation in urban slums in Nairobi, is working with agricultural start-up AgriProtein to recycle human faeces into animal feed via insects. Since 2010, AgriProtein has been working on developing technology that sees insects fed on streams of biowaste, including slaughterhouse waste, and then processed into flakes which can be fed to pigs and sheep. According to Teun Veldkamp, a senior researcher at the Centre for Animal Nutrition at Wageningen University, insects are ideal because they can feed on any biowaste.

The collaboration, known as the BioCycle, is still in its infancy. Tests are ongoing to to ensure that any feed produced from insects that have been fed on faecal waste is fit for human consumption further down food chain. Once the tests have been completed, the focus will be on how to turn into a sustainable business that can help locals to make money and improve community sanitation.

The BioCycle’s programme manager, Marc Lewis, says local NGOs could help to roll out the technology into rural communities. “NGOs can provide the training around small-scale fly rearing practices,” says Lewis. “This will help farmers to better utilise waste for the benefit of animal rearing.”

By building their capacity to provide support to smallholders, NGOs can help communities avoid the potential health problems of composting at home without any safeguards. They can also provide smallholders with market opportunities they might not otherwise have access to.
Creating a business model

Another initiative to recycle human waste is Peepoople. It’s built around the Peepoo bag, a personal, single-use, self-sanitising, fully biodegradable toilet that can be used in post-disaster situations and others where no other sanitation is available. It has a strong business model: local women can become micro-entrepreneurs by selling bags; customers receive a monetary incentive for each bag that is returned after use and the human waste collected is turned into a sanitised solution that is sold to farmers as a cheap fertiliser.

Peepoople is also developing is a piece of machinery that will help farmers spread fertiliser – traditional methods involve spreading it by hand which is a barrier to acceptance of using human-waste compost.

“Normally, faecal waste is just a very difficult waste, but properly used, it becomes an asset,” says founder Anders Wilhelmson. “You get rid of a problem and gain a possibility.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

How sugar affects the brain - Nicole Avena |TED - ED Originals

When you eat something loaded with sugar, your taste buds, your gut and your brain all take notice. This activation of your reward system is not unlike how bodies process addictive substances such as alcohol or nicotine -- an overload of sugar spikes dopamine levels and leaves you craving more. Nicole Avena explains why sweets and treats should be enjoyed in moderation.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why we must invest in local food storage in sub-Saharan Africa

By Emmely Wildeboer and Paul Bosch, The Guardian - UK

We often associate the term “food loss” with spoiled food in our kitchen fridges or overflowing bins behind restaurants. However, when we look at developing regions, food loss has more to do with grain slowly spilling from an aging truck as it bounces around on pothole-marked roads on its way from farm to market.

Post-harvest food losses are particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where a third of all food produced is lost before it reaches the marketplace (pdf). Grains and oilseeds are one of the main staples in SSA, representing the basis for food security for most of the population.

According to data supplied by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 30m tonnes of grains and oilseeds are lost each year in SSA (pdf). Of this, 85% is lost in the production, harvesting, handling and processing stages of the supply chain. Reducing food loss is important because it makes more food available for consumption, and this is crucial in low-income and food-deficit countries.

Farmers’ productivity could also increase: their incomes will rise, and this in turn allows for investments into inputs such as fertiliser and seeds needed to boost food production. At the moment, many farmers don’t have sufficient cash to buy high-quality inputs at the start of the growing season.

There is no simple quick fix to eliminating food losses in SSA. The approaches, tools and technologies required are just as varied as the causes themselves. However, significant steps towards loss reduction can be taken by focusing on a specific part of the supply chain, and investing in the storage stage of the supply chain – the distribution point right after harvesting – can yield significant gains over the next decade. Building local storage (or in the language of financial markets: securing a physical asset, such as safely stored grain) provides the collateral that local farmers can use to help them access commercial finance.
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Many storage facilities in SSA are in poor condition, contaminated or infested with pests such as the larger grain borer, or their capacity is inadequate to meet local production. New storage technologies can reduce food losses by capturing a greater proportion of crop production and better preserving crop quality.

There are three opportunities for improving storage to reduce losses in grains and oilseeds. First, small-scale farmers could use sealed bags and low-capacity plastic or metal silos that accommodate the actual annual harvest, enabling a reduction in losses of up to 40% compared with current crop management practices.

Second, farmer collectives and commercial parties could install larger-capacity storage facilities, which would allow more harvested crops to be stored by an independent party. These larger facilities could be added to existing systems, or they could replace older systems that are in poor condition.

Third, traders could build large-scale warehouses in central locations. These could then be used for import or export purposes.

Unsurprisingly, such investments will incur costs. If we throw around a few numbers, how much would be needed to reduce food losses by 8m tonnes? In practice, a reduction of this magnitude would require investments of roughly $4bn (£2.65bn) over the next decade. While seemingly a huge sum of money, this amount is comparable to investments made in stadiums and public transport for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. $4bn would build approximately 4m small-scale storage facilities, 600 medium-scale storage facilities and 100 large-scale warehouses.

In order to realise this financial investment, collaboration and cooperation is needed. The private sector would need to take a primary role in setting up larger-scale storage facilities. Not only do they have the capital, they also have the knowledge and long-term focus to make these businesses more profitable.

The private sector would also need to work with local farmers’ groups and NGOs to deliver training programmes, helping farmers to understand the benefits of using and upgrading storage systems. Commercially-oriented farmers and local businesses would also play a central role when it comes to the smaller storage options.

In a continent where grain consumption is growing at the same speed as its dependence on staple imports, fighting food losses can make a major impact on food availability. Aside from improving food security, investments in SSA’s storage infrastructure can both professionalise and improve the organisation of food supply chains. We have the opportunity to turn millions of tonnes of lost food into real gains: more food becomes available for the people of sub-Saharan Africa, and we can foster sustainable economic development by creating new business opportunities.
 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lima climate deal: what was agreed – and what wasn’t

By africa green media

UN climate talks wrapped up in Peru with a modest agreement about the building blocks of a deal due to be agreed in Paris next year.

All countries will be asked to submit plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” or INDCs, to the United Nations by an informal deadline of 31 March 2015, as the core of a Paris deal.

But there will be few obligations to provide details and no review to compare each nation’s pledges – as had been demanded by the European Union – after China and other emerging nations refused.

The text says INDCs “may include” details such as base years and yearly targets, far weaker than a former draft that said nations “shall provide” such details.

INDCs will be published on the website of the UN climate change secretariat, which will prepare by 1 November 2015 a report of the overall climate effect of all the INDCs in slowing warming.

Who does what?

The text invites actions by all nations to combat warming, blurring a distinction in a 1992 climate convention that split the world into two camps of rich and poor – under which the rich had to lead the way.

Many emerging economies, such as India, insisted on that continued split. But the United States and other rich nations said the world had changed and that developing countries also had to curb their rising emissions.

The diplomatic formula encompassing the rival demands ended up in the text as: “Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.”

Finance

Donations to a Green Climate Fund, due to help developing nations cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, fractionally surpassed a UN goal of $10bn, helped by donations by Australia and Belgium.

Lima reiterated a goal for developed nations to mobilise $100bn a year, in public and private funds, in climate aid for developing nations by 2020.

Developing nations wanted rich nations to set a clear timetable for scaling up funds year by year. But a text merely “requested” that developed nations “enhance the available quantitative and qualitative elements of a pathway” towards 2020.

‘Elements’ of a long-term deal

The talks agreed on a 37-page document of “elements” that will form the basis of a negotiating text for Paris next year. But the range of options is very wide.

One option, for instance, is to set a long-term goal of a cut in greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero by 2050,” requiring a drastic shift from fossil fuels in coming years. Another long-term option for the same section would merely require “low-emission development strategies.”

Many developing nations want help to adapt to climate change, for instance helping farmers to grow drought- or flood-resistant food. One option, for instance, says: “Establish a global goal for adaptation” – another the opposite: “No global goal for adaptation.”

‘Loss and damage’

Developing countries vulnerable to extreme weather successfully won a mention of “loss and damage” – for instance, compensation for super typhoons – in the text, although the United States had pushed not to include it.
 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Join Petition: "National Environment Management Authority Kenya, National Environment Management Authority Uganda, National Environment Management Council Tanzania: Invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria"

Join the East Africa Sustainability Watch petition to put pressure on NEMA (Uganda), NEMA (Kenya), the National Environment Management Council (Tanzania), the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, city and town authorities as well as other Local authorities around Lake Victoria to make a difference for the health of our heritage by acting on those that are abusing the established laws and policies! Your support will make a real difference to the health of the 30 million dependants to day as well as future generations to come as well as the restoring the deteriorating environmental situation of this transboundary Lake

The petition "National Environment Management Authority Kenya, National Environment Management Authority Uganda, National Environment Management Council Tanzania: Invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria" needs your help to get it off the ground.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:

Here's why it's important:
Car washing in Lake Victoria is unsightly in many towns and cities like Kampala, Kisumu and Mwanza. This illegal activity goes on unabated despite the presence of institutions, policies and laws that ought to deter it. This has resulted in release of waste water that affect water quality, fish breeding, and contributes to eutrophication of our water bodies. This MUST change in 2015.

Despite several threats (for example in 2012, NEMA Kenya barred car washing in the Lake), the seemingly small sclae practice is cummulatively going on unabated, threatening livelihoods (pollution of water supply, destruction of fish breeding sites, destruction of wetlands among others)

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

We Are All Seeds - A New Year Message from Dr. Vandana Shiva for 2015

As 2015 has been declared the Year of Soils, let us recognize that in
the seed and the soil we can find answers to every one of the crisis we
are facing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How the US-China Deal Subverted the Lima Climate Talks | Opinion | teleSUR

 
Before the UN Climate Change Conference even began in Peru, the US and China had already made a climate deal.


Hopes that the so-called COP 20 (Conference of Parties 20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would deliver an outcome that would reverse the momentum towards climate catastrophe were dashed by an event that was announced three weeks before the delegates assembled in Lima, Peru: the so-called US-China climate deal.

Breakthrough?

Said to be the product of nine months of secret talks, the agreement between the country that has contributed most to the accumulation of greenhouse gases and the nation that is currently the world’s lead carbon emitter was lauded in many quarters as a “breakthrough.”

Climate skeptics to the end, Republicans in the United States predictably criticized the deal as sacrificing US jobs and growth and skewed in favor of China. But the deal evoked a fair share of criticism from experienced climate observers as well.

The key provision triggering dismay was the agreement that China would not begin reducing its emissions until 2030. As for the US’s commitment to bring down emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels, the cut, while significant, will not be enough to derail the planet from the track towards a 2 degrees centigrade + world by the turn of the century. For the US cuts to begin to make even the slightest dent, the base line should have been 1990 levels, which have long served as the universally agreed standard.

Moreover, the critics point out the deal does not have the force of law. This is crucial since mere executive action will not be sufficient to accomplish the cuts that President Obama’s negotiators promised, and the incoming Republican-controlled Congress is not likely to legislate the powers necessary for the Democratic president to deliver on his promise to the Chinese.

Obama and Xi’s Message to Lima

It was, however, the message the agreement delivered to the negotiators from over 190 countries assembling in Lima during the first two weeks of December that proved most disconcerting.

Essentially what Obama and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping were telling the delegates was, “We’re not going to subject what we decide to agree on to a multilateral process. Moreover, what we offer in terms of emissions cuts will not be determined by some objective assessment of what we should be offering, guided by the principles of equity and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities,’ but by what we ourselves decide to place on the table. Also, compliance will be voluntary, not something mandatory and with the force of law.”

The US-China accord was, of course, just one of the elements that influenced the outcome of the negotiations in Lima. However, it was decisive. For one, the example it offered of a unilateral and non-transparent process of setting non-mandatory emissions cuts meant that hopes for setting up a more rigorous climate regime based on mandatory emissions during the December 2015 UNFCCC convention in Paris were dashed. Moreover, faced with intransigence on the part of the developed countries, the deal provided the formula for a face-saving retreat by developing countries from their tough stand that it should be the rich industrialized countries that should bear the burden of emissions cuts--a stance that was encapsulated in the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The phrase that broke the deadlock on this front was copy-pasted from the US-China accord, which modified the principle to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” For the rich industrialized countries (and the big emerging economies as well) this blurring of the lines between developed and developing countries was a major victory since it meant that dealing with the volume of greenhouse gases that have accumulated owing largely to their production and consumption will now be every country’s responsibility. The developed countries’ positive reception is understandable since saying something is everyone’s responsibility really means it is no one’s responsibility.

With China promoting a redefinition of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities out of self interest, many developing countries felt they had been left with no option but to sign on to the “Lima Call for Climate Action.” Not surprisingly, many felt they were left high and dry by China’s climate “pivot,” as some negotiators termed it.

To Lidy Nacpil of the climate advocacy organization Jubilee South, the Lima outcome is “another fatal step in the strategic retreat from the Kyoto Protocol,” which had bound the developed countries to mandatory emissions cuts. Nacpil and other climate activists see the Lima declaration as setting weak foundations for the new climate regime that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is supposed to be inaugurated in Paris in December 2015. Making up centerpiece of the coming regime will be the so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), or the voluntarily offered emissions cuts that will be made by countries in lieu of mandatory pledges.

Flaws of the Lima Declaration

Perhaps the most comprehensive and incisive analysis of the Lima outcome comes from Pablo Solon, executive director of Bangkok-based analysis and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South. Formerly Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Solon says that the main flaws of the Lima agreement are the following;

- It mentions “loss and damage” in the preamble, but fails to say anything more definitive on how compensation will be paid to countries and communities now suffering from the emissions caused by the climate-polluting countries.

- The text makes no mention of the need to change current patterns of production and consumption. “The different proposals focus on reductions of emissions produced in a country, and not the emissions consumed in a country,” Solon asserts. He points out that one-third of CO2e emissions associated with the goods and services consumed in developed countries are being emitted outside the borders of those nations, mostly in the developing world. “It is not enough to reduce emissions in developed countries if they do not also reduce their consumption of products that generate CO2e emissions in other parts of the world.”

- The text is quiet on the need to keep 75% or 80% of known fossil fuel reserves under the ground, something that must be done if CO2 emissions are to be limited to a pathway of less than 1.5 or 2ยบ C. “Indeed, In the 1,892 lines of the text,” he points out, “there is only one mention of ‘fossil fuels’– regarding a proposal to phase out ‘fossil fuel subsidies’ – and there are only general mentions of ‘reductions in high-carbon investments.’

- The declaration avoids identifying the sources of the US$100 billion Green Climate Fund that would support the adaptation efforts of the global South.

Solon reserves his strongest criticism for the provisions relating to mitigation, or emissions reduction. The pillar of the coming regime will be the voluntarily offeredpledges to cut called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs). Solon points out that there is no proposal for a strong compliance mechanism to ensure that countries live up to their INDC’s. “What happens if a big polluter fails to cut emissions on time and damages a vulnerable country is not considered in the text,” he asks. “No mention is made of a mechanism to demand and sanction governments and corporations for their inaction. All the options in the text consider only processes of review or assessment. A climate agreement without a strong compliance mechanism is just a political declaration.”

Solon’s concern is a matter of great importance to developing countries since over the last few years, Canada, Russia, and New Zealand have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, and Australia and Japan have failed to reached their legally binding targets under the convention. Yet these countries have not been sanctioned.

To Solon, what is most damaging, however, is the watering down of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances,” as a result of joint lobbying by chief US negotiator Todd Stern and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhen Hua for the convention to adopt the reformulation of the principle in the US-China agreement. In recent years, many poor countries and civil society organizations have insisted that developed countries, which have, historically, contributed the most to accumulated greenhouse gases, as well as the big emerging economies, which are currently becoming the biggest emitters, should be principally responsible for taking on the burden of climate emissions. The new formulation, according to Solon, “will dilute more and more the historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions of developed and emerging economies.” The big losers are the poor underdeveloped countries, and the big winners are China and the United States, which, according to Solon, now “have an agreement to erase their responsibility for the climate chaos they created.”

The Washington-Beijing Climate Axis

In the past, the US and China used each other’s intransigence as an excuse to avoid making cuts in their carbon emissions. The world was becoming weary of this game, forcing the two to drop their pretense of opposing each other in favor of a show of cooperation. With their climate agreement and the Lima Declaration that they played a central role in crafting, the two biggest emitters have set the parameters of global climate action. These are parameters that all but ensure that the world will be on way to the 4 to 6 degrees centigrade plus world that will be our generation’s catastrophic legacy to our descendants.

How the US-China Deal Subverted the Lima Climate Talks | Opinion | teleSUR