Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Can 'agroecology' bring food security to Latin America?

By Camila Nobrega, The Guardian

Holding rice seeds in her hands, villager Emilia Alves Manduca explains to other smallholder farmers how the community where she lives – Mato Grosso, in the central-west region of Brazil – escaped from poverty and became self-sufficient.

She has travelled more than two days by bus to participate in the national agroecology meeting, in Juazeiro, Bahia. With a shining smile, she says that for the past six years they have grown more than 30 types of crops with no pesticides at Roseli Nunes, in the city of Mirasol D'Oeste, as part of the Brazilian Landless Workers movement.

"I used to work in a big farm, applying pesticides. I had to go to the hospital twice because of the side effects," says Alves.

Central-west Brazil, where most live on soybeans and maize, consists mostly of monocultures. In 2013, the region farmed a record volume of soybeans and maize, producing over 78.5m tonnes. However, most of it is not used to feed the population: it is exported to produce biofuels.

For Alves, a smallholder farmer, her rice seeds are a symbol of the strength of family farming. That seed was a result of an exchange she made with quilombolas (communities descended from slaves) that have selectively bred seeds for more than four generations. This is part of a worldwide movement led by Latin America, called agroecology.

In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.

Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.

María de Los Angeles is an Ecuadorian representative of the agroecological movement of Latin America and the Caribbean. She says conventional production is not sustainable because it degrades the soil and is based on fossil fuels.

"Agroecology recovers elements of each territory and knowledge developed by farmers for thousands of years. Instead of monoculture, we're talking about preserving biodiversity and humankind itself."

In her view, this system is important to get over malnutrition and guarantee quality food for everyone. But there are obstacles. "We have a lack of information about agroecology," says Los Angeles.

Small farmers often suffer in the supply chain. In Ecuador between 2002 and 2003, the largest supermarket chain decided to exchange 2,500 small producers for 250 larger producers (pdf).

Strengthening networks is important. The Agroecological Network of Azuay, in Ecuador, brings together 19 small farmers' groups for fairs and markets. Growth of agroecological farming increased from 23,000 hectares (56,810 acres) in 1996 to 403,000 in 2008, generating $395m (£231m) and creating 172,000 jobs (pdf).

Agribusiness denies affecting people's health and ignores the fact that food production in Latin America and the Caribbean can easily meet the needs of its population. The problem of hunger is not due to a lack of food, but a lack of access for the poorest.

Agroecology guarantees land to peasants, species diversity, decent work and food sovereignty, among other principles. It is different from organic production, which is based on the same industrial model as agribusiness – which is made by a few people for a few," says Paulo Petersen, co-ordinator of the NGO ASPTA.

Chilean Miguel Altierithe, professor of Agroecology at the University of Berkeley and member of Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology calls the movement a new agrarian revolution, which opposes the green revolution. "Agroecology is the only viable option to meet the region's food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change."

Can 'agroecology' bring food security to Latin America?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

View on Private Sector: How to invest in the SDGs

By Joshua Howgego, SciDevNet

The forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) face an annual investment deficit of US$2.5 trillion which needs to be addressed if progress is to be made towards them, the Filipino daily newspaper the Business Mirror has reported. The figures come from a UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, which argues that the private sector will be “indispensable” in helping to plug this hole.

Yet Isabelle Ramdoo, one of the experts that UNCTAD consulted while drawing up the report, tells me that not all the SDGs are equally well suited to private sector investment.

Ramdoo, who works on the economic transformation and trade programme at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, says there are some sectors where developing world governments are always going to struggle to encourage private sector investment.

Take education and health, for example. Private sector firms can’t realistically be expected to get involved in these sectors because there is not a compelling business case, says Ramdoo.

“For health service provision or primary and secondary education — if you’re talking about the least developed countries, where people are poor — it’s a very sensitive thing to ask people to pay for.”

She adds that private firms can get involved in these sectors, but this is often through relatively small-scale corporate social responsibility projects or when governments provide incentives such as tax rebates. This may not be sufficient to meet the SDGs.

But there are other SDG-related sectors where the business case is much more obvious. For example telecommunications projects, agriculture and transport — though Ramdoo highlights green energy in particular.

She tells me that an executive from French oil giant Total recently spoke about the company’s “huge investment” in selling solar panels to villages in Niger. The reason was simple: it was a straightforward business opportunity.

“It’s very easy to put solar panels in place,” says Ramdoo. “I mean, it’s initially expensive, of course. But once you have made the basic investment, it’s much easier and quicker than if you had to bring in an oil pipeline, say.”

“And the company are setting their pricing to suit the people who can buy: if you have a smaller household, you can give them a smaller pack of panels. They just put them outside or on their roof and that’s it.”

This example suggests it is sensible, in the short term, for governments to focus on incentivising private investment in SDG-related sectors such as green energy, says Ramdoo.

“It would make sense for governments to reorient their purses. There are some things which, maybe, the government should not be doing so much of,” says Ramdoo. And here governments should provide incentives for businesses to play a greater role. “The funds from those areas could be redirected to the more ‘welfare’ activities.”

Ramdoo argues that the SDG investment deficit needs filling now. And she says this selective focusing of governments’ efforts to fund or step back from particular areas would be the most immediately practical way to start doing so.

View on Private Sector: How to invest in the SDGs

Friday, July 25, 2014

Climate change ‘single biggest hindrance’ to human development

By Vaidehi Shah, ECO-Business

The recently released Human Development Report has identified six major threats to human development and proposed a set of policies and reforms to address these vulnerabilities.

Climate change could be the “single biggest hindrance” to global development objectives such as poverty eradication, universal education, longer life expectancy, and the prevention of disease, according the latest Human Development Report (HDR) 2014, launched in Tokyo on Thursday.

The report, published by the United Nations Development Progrmame, identified climate change and natural disasters as one of six key threats to human development, along with economic instability, inequality, food insecurity, conflict and health problems.

Titled ‘Sustaining human progress: reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience’, it aimed to provide a fresh perspective on vulnerability – or the degree to which people suffer a decrease in living standards due to external threats - and suggested ways to address these challenges.

It noted that factors such as socio-economic status, geographical location, gender and ethnicity determined how vulnerable people were. If these were not identified and addressed, it could jeopardise human development for years to come.

Speaking to Eco-Business in a recent interview in Singapore, lead author of the report Khalid Malik said: “Traditionally, people talk about vulnerability in relation to specific risks such as disasters or violence. But what we tried to do in this report was dig a little deeper and see what the underlying drivers of vulnerability are”.

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, added in a statement: “By addressing vulnerabilities, all people may share in development progress, and human development will become increasingly equitable and sustainable”.

The report went on to suggest a series of policies and reforms that would reduce this vulnerability across all societies and build up resilience, which refers to peoples’ ability to cope and adjust to adverse events.

It offered a set of four key principles to guide policy-making, including:
  • Embracing universalism, the idea that all individuals are equally valuable and entitled to protection and support
  • Putting people first, and ensuring that economic policy is improving lives of people in areas such as health, education, income, basic human security and personal freedoms
  • Committing to collective action by individual states to international threats, and provisioning global public goods
  • Improving social norms, cohesion and competences so that social institutions can act to reduce vulnerabilities
At the centre of the report was the idea of universalism, which declares that all individuals are equally valuable and entitled to protection and support. Authors noted that governments could help achieve a level playing field for all individuals by providing basic social services such as education, health care, water supply and sanitation.

Malik said that this has been a central concern of human development since the founding of the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990 by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq. He was fond of asking why national budgets are always balanced on the backs of the poor, recounted Malik.

“The poor suffer the most when austerity budgets cut down on social expenditures, because the rich can protect themselves. But if one accepts universality principles, it should be the other way around, where special attention is paid to the disadvantaged”, he said.

The report also debunked the commonly held misconception that only wealthy countries can afford to provide universal social services. Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark began to provide these services when their per capita gross domestic product (GDP) were even lower than the current GDP per capita of all the countries in South Asia today.

Global action on climate change

The report also took a “people-first” approach in recommending international action for tackling global challenges policy recommendation for collective international action to tackle global challenges.

It argued that there were some things that were essential to increasing people’s security and resilience, such as climate stability. When these ‘global public goods’ were compromised, international and regional action was needed to ensure that vulnerable groups could cope with these challenges.

It stated that “under provisioning of climate stability – a global public good – and the manifestation of vulnerability to extreme weather events and food crises have been a recurring threat in different regions of the world”, adding that “multilateral action is key” to tackling this urgent problem.

“It is the underprovisioning of a global public good - specifically, a climate change agreement - that is the deeper reason for the ongoing conflict in Syria”, said Malik.

He pointed to a drought that lasted from 2002 to 2006, destroying rural livelihoods and sending farmers into cities in search of employment. It was the social tensions that arose from urban unemployment that sparked the crisis, he added.

“In the report, we argue that there are new institutions and ways of thinking that have to be created at a global level to minimise risks and shocks”, he said.

In addition to minimising the climate threat through global action, the report also looked at reducing vulnerability to climate change by eradicating poverty.

In a special contribution to the report, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote that “addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability, including the structural inequalities that create and sustain poverty and constrain access to resources” was a pre-requisite to sustainable human development in the context of climate change.

The report also highlighted the fact that the societies most vulnerable to natural disasters were often the ones who were not responsible for resource depletion and climate change.

For example, the countries that ranked the highest on the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) - which measures income, life expectancy and education - consumed resources far beyond their fair share of globally available resources. Countries such as Norway, Australia, Sweden and Singapore fell into this category.

It was only countries at the lowest end of the HDI, such as Nepal, Niger, Sudan and Haiti that consumed resources within the amount that the planet could support.

Low human development countries are the only ones whose ecological footprint is within their biocapacity. Image: UNDP
“This presents a twofold challenge, where developed countries have to bring down their pressure on the ecosystem very sharply, and developing countries have to maintain the low levels of ecological footprint as they grow”, said Malik.

He cited the global recognition of the opportunities and benefits in pursuing green economies as a possible strategy to meet this challenge.

Speaking from his experience in China as UN Resident Coordinator from 2003 to 2010, Malik recalled a project he launched called ‘Green Lights Project’, which aimed to have energy saving lights installed in every Chinese home in five years.

“If that goal was achieved, it would lead to an estimated 8 per cent reduction in energy demand, which is very substantial. If you were to create an additional generating capacity of 8 per cent, that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Malik.

“This makes it clear that it is more cost effective to pursue conservation measures and keep the footprint of development small, rather than the old business model of ‘pollute first, clean up later’”.

Malik stressed that “the private sector has to be a part of the solution. Every citizen has the right to clean air and clean water, and the private sector has a big opportunity to be the vehicle that delivers those rights”.

“New ways of doing business such as social enterprises, ethical investing, and public private partnerships are emerging, and people are beginning to realise the opportunities of pursuing green economies”, he said.

The post-2015 sustainable development agenda

As the world prepares for a post-2015 sustainable development agenda, the report argued that vulnerability is a crucial concept to address in order to for development to continue effectively and sustainably.

The report also added that the importance of reducing vulnerability will increase as “threats such as financial crises, fluctuations in food prices, natural disasters and violent conflict” spread ever faster and further.

For governments, the challenge of managing these escalating threats will be made even more complex by a more informed, empowered and outspoken global population, said Malik.

“Relationships between citizens and the state are changing. People are starting to demand more dignity, more jobs, and more space to convey their views”, he said.

This awakening political consciousness is largely due to increased access to education and the rise of information and communications technology (ICT), Malik added. He adds that “technology empowers people in a very profound way, and helps level out inequality”.

“That sense of empowerment is driving the world forward in complicated ways, some of which we do not understand fully. This is cause for optimism, but also poses a challenge,” he said.

Climate change ‘single biggest hindrance’ to human development

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New measures, new insights: the 2014 Human Development Report | Development Progress

By Stephan Klasen, Development Progress

Stephan Klasen takes a look at what's new in the 2014 Human Development Report and notes the main themes of falling global inequality in human development, a new gender measure and high but falling levels of multidimensional poverty.

UNDP has published its new Human Development Report today, with its usual suite of human development indicators that are widely used to assess progress and rank countries. But this year it also introduces one new measure, the Gender Development Index (GDI), presents trends in multidimensional poverty (via the MPI), and makes some slight amendments to its existing indices.

Falling global inequality in human development

While there has been little alteration in the flagship Human Development Index (HDI), which combines life expectancy, education, and per-capita income, two sensible changes have been introduced (reversing revisions made in 2010). First, to ensure comparability of HDI values over time, the ranges for achievable values for the different dimensions have been fixed, as have the cut-off points for the categories of low, medium, high, and very high human-development countries. This ensures that countries that improve their HDI can actually 'graduate' to a higher human development category.

More dramatic are the changes brought about by using the recently published comparable per-capita income figures, using the 2011 International Comparison of Prices results. These data, based on the most comprehensive and comparable assessment of income and prices across the world, found that many developing countries are much richer than previously believed. As a result, the HDI for many developing countries jumps upwards: South Asia as a group moves from low to medium human development, and China jumps by 10 ranks (compared to its position using the old GDP figures) and now belongs to the group of high human-development countries. As a result, the world looks a much more equal place in human development terms, driven by much lower global income inequality.

A sensible new gender measure with surprising results

UNDP has experimented with measures to capture gender gaps for the past 20 years. In 2010 the Gender Inequality Index (GII) was introduced to measure the human development costs of inequality and consider gender gaps in health, empowerment, and the labour market. The construction of the index is highly complex, very hard to interpret, and nearly impossible to communicate in any detail to policy makers. For now, it has been retained. But UNDP has added a new measure, the Gender Development Index (confusingly using the same acronym as the old Gender-Related Development Index abandoned in 2010, which was a totally different measure).

The GDI is simple and sensible. It calculates the HDI for females and males, and the GDI is simply the ratio of the two. It turns out that there are a number of countries (16 in all) where the female HDI is actually higher than the male HDI, including a number of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In these countries, women outlive men by more than five years and/or have more education than men, while earning incomes that are only slightly lower than those of men. The new GDI reflects a reality of narrowing gender gaps across the world and, in some parts of the world, of women overtaking men in several dimensions of human development. While much of this has to be seen as real progress, high GDI values can also stem from the poor human development performance of men. It may be no surprise that some of the transition countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia rank highly in the GDI, given that men in these countries have life expectancy that is 8-10 years shorter than for women, often linked to poor health habits, alcoholism and associated accidents and violence.

Interestingly, UNDP has adopted a new approach to ranking for the GDI. It is not the country with the highest GDI value that gets the top ranking (that would be Estonia), but the country closest to perfect equality (a value of 1), which is Slovakia.

At the bottom end of the scale, countries such as Afghanistan, Niger, Yemen, and Pakistan have the largest gaps in all dimensions of human development between males and females – 30-40% on average.

High but falling levels of multidimensional poverty

UNDP has published the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) since 2010, which calculates the number and share of households suffering from severe multidimensional deprivations, including health, education, and access to basic services. This year, UNDP has amended the MPI to iron out some problems in earlier versions and has started to calculate trends in multidimensional poverty. It has also promised to put all files that document the detailed calculation of the MPI on its website for the first time, which will dramatically increase transparency around this measure.

On the substance of the measure, there is good and bad news. The bad news is that nearly 1.5 billion people still suffer from acute multidimensional poverty – more than the roughly 1.2 billion living in income poverty of less than a $1.25 a day. And this is just in the 91 developing countries included in the assessment; it may be that close to 2 billion people suffer from this form of deprivation. The good news is that in nearly all countries where time trends are available, multidimensional poverty is on the decline. Rwanda is the star performer here, reducing the share of people in multidimensional poverty from 87% to 71% in just five years.

In short, the numbers in this year's Human Development Report provide a mixed picture of the state of human development: inequality in human development between countries is falling, gender gaps differ greatly by region, and multidimensional poverty is huge, but falling. Clearly, there is still plenty of work to do as the world gears up to settle on the post-2015 agenda.

New measures, new insights: the 2014 Human Development Report | Development Progress

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Combating Desertification in the Post-2015 Agenda

By Mahmoud Mohieldin, Huffington Post

Land degradation and subsequent desertification are becoming some of the most pressing development issues. It is estimated that one-third of the world's arable land has been lost in the last 40 years due to soil erosion. Every year, 24 billion tons of fertile soil is lost through erosion and 12 million hectares of land are degraded through desertification and drought. These processes directly threaten the livelihoods of 1.5 billion people, and have broader consequences on growth and prosperity at the national and regional level. In countries such as Central African Republic, Egypt, Ghana, Pakistan and Tajikistan, land degradation is estimated to cause an annual GDP loss in the order of 1 to 5%.

Pressure on land resources is expected to increase, largely driven by socio-economic development, as well as climate change. According to the FAO, population growth will lead to a 50% rise in the demand for food by 2050. The need to produce more food will increase the risk that land which is unsuitable for intensive farming -- or which should be protected to prevent de-forestation or biodiversity loss -- will be claimed for agricultural purposes. It thus also increases the risk that such land will become degraded.

The threat is exacerbated by climate change driven by warmer temperature and more erratic rainfall patterns. The yield of major crops such as wheat, rice, and maize could decline in the coming decades by 25% or more in currently cultivated areas. This will further increase the incentives to move the agriculture frontier into marginal lands. At the same time, cultivable areas themselves may shrink as a result of climate change. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, drylands could expand by up to 15% in the next few decades, forcing more people to struggle to make a living from a fragile resource base and adapt to the constraints of an increasingly erratic weather.

Desertification is one of the concerns in the post-2015 development agenda. The recently released Zero Draft of the UN Open Working Group -- proposing goals and targets for the post-2015 development agenda -- includes a goal to "Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss." The goal is accompanied by specific targets which cover issues ranging from desertification and drought to biodiversity and natural resource management.

To address the unique issues faced by the most vulnerable, we must invest in applicable solutions that are transformative, and can be scaled up. For example, as part of the TerrAfrica partnership, we are working in 12 countries to support the Great Green Wall Initiative of African countries to boost resilience. Together with a large number of partners, we are also working on a major study on The Economics of Resilience in the Drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa to determine the interventions needed to reduce the vulnerability and enhance the resilience of people living in drylands.

We must, however, be more ambitious and scale up efforts to support appropriate solutions for better management of land and other natural resources at the farm, community, landscape and national levels. The following are some of the priority areas for action by governments and the international development community, in partnership with the private sector and civil society.

First, we need to create a better enabling environment for people to invest directly in land management. Well-defined, transparent, and secure land tenure systems are essential if farmers are to undertake the long-term conservation that underpins agricultural production and investments to improve natural capital and productivity. In Rwanda, for example, land tenure reform led to a rapid doubling of investment in soil conservation, with even larger increases for plots managed by female farmers.

Second, we need to support investment in lasting improvement of natural resources. For example, climate-smart approaches to agriculture can be employed that minimize soil disturbance, make greater use of organic soil, and support diversification of crop species. Environment-friendly benefits of these approaches include reduced nutrient pollution of soil and water, increased resilience to climate shocks, and increased long-run agricultural productivity. But switching to climate-smart approaches may involve up-front costs, which may impede wide-spread adoption. Public support -- through credit, extension and support to market access -- is needed to help overcome these.

Third, cost-effective support to research and development is essential. In Brazil -- where state support of agriculture is just 5 percent of aggregated gross farm receipts, compared with an OECD average of 18 percent -- the government has concentrated on investments in soil fertility enhancement, land and water management systems, and crop and livestock breeding, for varieties adapted to Brazil's climate and ecosystems. Brazil's public support of research and soil fertility has paid off, helping transform the country from a net food importer into a global food exporter.

Fourth, in some cases, direct public investment in landscape restoration and rehabilitation can bring about sizable livelihood benefits and create better conditions for attracting further investments by farmers and communities. The China Loess Plateau and Ethiopia's cases are well-documented success stories of landscape restoration. Similar experiences are being promoted in other parts of the world.

Actions to reduce the negative effects of desertification must go hand in hand with interventions that eradicate poverty and deal with the challenges of inequality. We will not end poverty and boost shared prosperity without reversing desertification and land degradation.

Looking forward, the World Bank and its partners have a critical role to play with tackling the inter-linkages between desertification, drought, food insecurity, climate change and political instability. It is time to act. Discussions on the post-2015 development agenda provide an opportune moment to build the partnerships required to catalyze the knowledge, innovation, and financial resources needed to reverse and prevent desertification.

Combating Desertification in the Post-2015 Agenda

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Climate change wins precarious slot in proposed development goals

By Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Proposed new global development goals, drafted by a U.N. working group, include a goal to take urgent action on climate change, despite opposition from some countries - even though the goal is weaker than many campaigners would like.

How the “post-2015 development agenda” – which will follow the expiring Millennium Development Goals – should approach climate change has been a thorny issue for the past 18 months, not least because the world is simultaneously trying to hammer out a new deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions by the end of next year.

Some governments, including the fast-developing economies of Brazil and India, have insisted the development goals should not interfere with U.N. climate talks.

But Bernadette Fischler, co-chair of Beyond2015 UK, a civil society movement, said there was a "noticeable increase" in the number of countries supporting a goal on climate change at the final round of the working group's talks in New York last week. Countries coming on board included South Korea, Egypt and small island developing states.

"I am quite surprised it is still in there," she said of the climate goal. "It's good because climate change is a defining issue for development - if you want to eradicate poverty and follow sustainable development, unless you appropriately address climate change, you can't achieve either."

At the same time, there were many countries that did not want climate change to be one of the 17 proposed goals, and it remains among several "unresolved issues", Fischler said. These issues are likely to be the subject of heated debate after the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are presented to U.N. member states in September for a year of negotiations. Some, including that on climate change, may not survive.

The proposed climate change goal is also controversial because of what it does not contain - any mention of targets for global limiting temperature rise or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


Fischler described it as the "vaguest, the weakest and the weirdest" of the goals, noting the low number of targets and numbers attached. She called for it to be strengthened.

In its current form, the goal focuses on boosting resilience to climate-related hazards and natural disasters, integrating climate change measures into national policy and planning, raising people's awareness and ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and delivering on an international commitment to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries cope with climate impacts and develop cleanly.

It also takes care to note that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is "the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change".

"It's disappointing that we've not found it possible to talk about emissions reductions in any place (in the proposed SDGs)," said Tom Mitchell, head of climate and environment for the London-based Overseas Development Institute. "If we don't do that, what does it mean for the legitimacy of the overall (development) framework?"

It is unclear what influence the goals proposed at the weekend will have on the final outcome of the new development framework that will replace the current Millennium Development Goals, which expire next year, he added. Governments will want to simplify the 17 potential SDGs, and if they look for goals to strike out, climate change could be sacrificed because the politics are "very tricky", Mitchell warned.

Fischler said any attempt to remove the climate change goal in favour of integrating it into the other goals would not leave enough substance to make development "climate-smart".


There are other proposed goals that address climate-related issues, including ensuring access to "affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy" for all, and protecting and promoting sustainable use of ecosystems and forests.

There are also goals on ensuring sustainable consumption and production, and making cities and human settlements "inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable." That goal has targets on protecting people from disasters, and increasing the number of cities adapting to climate change and reducing their climate-changing emissions.

Mitchell said he was comfortable with the treatment given to disaster risk reduction in the proposed new goals. He noted that the first goal on ending poverty includes a target to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of the poor to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.

Governments had not supported a separate goal on disaster risk reduction largely because it is about "risk management across other areas", Mitchell said.

Climate Action Network International, a coalition of more than 900 non-governmental organisations campaigning on climate change around the world, said the outcome document of the U.N. working group was "an important step forward towards a fairer, safer and cleaner world".

It has lobbied fiercely for a separate goal on climate change, and vowed to keep working hard over the next 15 months "to ensure the climate and energy goals can be as strong as they can be to improve the lives of people in poverty around the world and eventually eradicate poverty altogether".

Climate change wins precarious slot in proposed development goals

Monday, July 21, 2014

World Bank Poised to Deny Africa's Indigenous Peoples Their Rights

By Nezir Sinani, Huffington Post

In 2005, indigenous "pygmy" communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) filed an official complaint with the World Bank, citing breaches in the World Bank's procedures that could compromise their territories in Congo's vast rainforest. The indigenous community alleged that the Bank failed to afford them their rights as indigenous peoples as the Bank kick-started a process to convert portions of pygmy territories in the Congo rainforest into logging concessions. A resulting investigation by the Bank's own Inspection Panel upheld these claims, signaling a major victory for Congo's pygmy populations as "indigenous peoples," and thus upholding their rights as enshrined under international law. (The term 'Pygmy' has derogatory connotations but is widely used by groups such as the Batwa and Twa to describe themselves.)

According to Adrien Sinafasi Makelo, who represented the affected pygmy communities and is himself a pygmy activist, this ruling resulted in a sea change in the DRC: "The recognition by the World Bank of 'pygmy' communities as indigenous peoples has led to major improvements in how the Bank interacts with us as it prepares highways and forest projects in our territories. Beyond that, it spurred growing recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples nationally, and we are now engaging with our government to develop a new Indigenous Peoples Rights law."

Now, however, proposed changes in World Bank policy severely jeopardize the distinct rights that indigenous peoples in Africa have long held. The World Bank is overhauling its environmental and social "safeguard" policies for the first time in a decade. These policies provide critical protections for the environment and communities, including indigenous peoples, facing harm to make way for development projects. During a public update on the safeguard policy review in April, the World Bank unveiled plans to restrict the application of its Indigenous Peoples Policy in Africa, citing pressure from African governments who balk at the term "indigenous" and the implied recognition of the rights that indigenous peoples hold under international law.

To laymen, even within Africa, there persists a widespread assumption that all Africans are "indigenous." However, there is an extensive body of evidence and growing recognition that certain populations on the continent identify themselves and are identified by others as "indigenous peoples" by virtue of patterns of discrimination and marginalization based primarily on their mode of subsistence. While no definitive "list" exists, the term "indigenous peoples" in Africa commonly refers to traditional hunter-gatherers such as the "pygmies" of the Congo rainforest, the San peoples of Southern Africa and certain pastoralist groups whose culture, identity and livelihood are inextricably connected to their natural environments. With few exceptions, these indigenous communities have faced systematic discrimination and marginalization from the governments who purport to represent them, and are particularly vulnerable to impacts on the forests and other natural resources on which they and their cultures depend.

While by no means uniform, the World Bank has been applying its Indigenous Peoples Policy in Africa for well over a decade. Now, the Bank is poised to introduce an "opt-out clause" for African governments who, for their own political calculations, prefer it not be applied. This would represent a huge reversal in what has been steady progress in favor of the rights of Africa's indigenous communities, including the seminal work of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and legislative efforts in several African countries. At the same time, the proposed opt-out clause would constitute a significant dilution of World Bank policy, which Bank President Jim Kim pledged would not happen at the outset of the safeguard review.

The fight over indigenous peoples' rights in Africa is much larger than the World Bank, where its Indigenous Peoples Policy is applied infrequently. The greatest danger comes instead from the World Bank's image, for good or ill, as a global standard-setter. If such a change were approved, African governments hostile to indigenous peoples' rights could use the new Bank policies to legitimize the continued denial of rights.

As Adrien Sinafasi Makelo rightly notes, "the World Bank's intention to allow our governments, which have marginalized our communities for decades, to decide whether we are indigenous or not would severely undermine our fundamental human rights and weaken the limited protections we currently have. This approach would completely contradict the growing recognition of our rights, and must not be allowed to happen."

World Bank Poised to Deny Africa's Indigenous Peoples Their Rights

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Germany sets example, pledges $1 billion to U.N. climate fund

By Megan Rowling, Thomas Reuters Foundation

Aid group Oxfam has called on other rich nations to follow the example of Germany, which has promised €750 million ($1 billion) for the U.N.'s fledgling Green Climate Fund.

"This announcement ends the deafening silence we've had so far around the empty Green Climate Fund that is supposed to support poor countries in the battle against climate change. Now others must follow suit," Oxfam Germany's Jan Kowalzig said.

"If rich countries such as the U.S., France, the UK, Japan and others manage to collect at least $15 billion in pledges ahead of the upcoming U.N. climate negotiations in Lima at the end of the year, this could give the talks a significant boost," he added in a statement.

The announcement by Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, where some 35 ministers from around the world are meeting to discuss international climate action, is the only large pledge of money for the Green Climate Fund so far.

The fund was agreed at U.N. climate talks in 2010 but has been hampered by wrangling over its design. Now its operating rules have been settled, it will hold a first pledging conference for potential donors in the second half of November, before the U.N. climate conference in Peru.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende told Reuters earlier this month that Oslo will unveil its preliminary pledge for the fund - a "substantial contribution" - at a summit on climate change organised by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Sept. 23.

The fund aims to help poor nations pursue clean development and adapt to climate change impacts, including more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels. It is regarded as a key part of the puzzle in securing a new global deal to tackle climate change due to be agreed in Paris in late 2015.


The fund so far has $55 million, mainly for its own administration and to help countries plan to receive the climate finance it will distribute, including $10 million from Seoul.

After a recent meeting in Oslo of senior officials from 24 developed and developing countries interested in contributing to the fund, Brende said the process of securing the fund's first capitalisation had "got off to a good start".

"Important progress was made in paving the way for pledges this year. I believe we are on the right track towards making the Fund a game changer in the response to climate change,” he said in a statement.

Developing nations say they want $15 billion in pledges from the rich this year to fund projects like solar power, geothermal energy or ensuring water supplies. The U.N.'s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, has called for "at least an initial $10 billion" for the Green Climate Fund.

The fund is expected to channel a large portion of the $100 billion a year wealthy countries have promised to mobilise by 2020 to help vulnerable states adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon growth.

Oxfam's Kowalzig said rich countries must ensure that money pledged to the Green Climate Fund contributes to rising overall levels of climate finance. At last November's U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, governments adopted a decision urging developed countries continuously to boost climate finance through to 2020, he noted.

"So far rich countries have failed to confirm that such increases are actually happening or (are) planned for the future," he said.

Wealthy governments have provided climate aid worth roughly $10 billion a year since 2010, but there are fears that amount may be on the decline at a time of budget austerity.

Germany sets example, pledges $1 billion to U.N. climate fund

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Scepticism as “Green Goods” Trade Talks Begin

By Carey L. Biron, IPS News

Formal negotiations began this week around the increasingly significant global trade in “environmental goods”, those technologies seen as environmentally beneficial, including in combating climate change.

Attempts have been made to liberalise this market for years. But on Tuesday, 13 countries, constituting nearly 90 percent of the current trade in green goods such as solar panels, wind turbines and wastewater treatment filters, came together in Geneva to try again to reach agreement.

et there remains significant confusion around the actual potential – or even broader aim – of the talks, towards what’s being called the Environmental Goods Agreement. Green groups are expressing open scepticism of the process, taking place under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“From our perspective, we think increasing trade in and use of environmentally beneficial products is incredibly important. But we have really serious concerns about the approach the WTO is taking,” Ilana Solomon, the director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“This approach is about removing tariffs on a list of products that are supposedly beneficial to the environment. But there is no definition yet of what actually constitutes an ‘environmental good’, and many of the goods being considered are actually harmful to the environment.”

The WTO talks are taking place between the United States, the European Union, China, Australia, Japan and others. Representatives are starting from a list of 54 product categories, agreed upon in 2012 among the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping.

The APEC countries are now working to reduce tariffs on these products to below five percent by 2015.

Yet the list includes many items that can be used in ways that could be either environmentally positive or negative. This includes, for instance, waste incinerators, centrifuges, gas turbines, sludge compactors and a variety of technical machinery.

The list would also seem to largely exclude poor countries. Currently, only Costa Rica has joined what are otherwise industrialised and middle-income economies in the talks.

“Poor countries are probably not producing these items,” Kim Elliott, a senior researcher on trade at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS. “If they don’t participate in these talks they’ll likely lose out around high tariffs, but they’re probably not going to be doing much exporting.”

While proponents tend to characterise the negotiations in terms of lowering overall prices for green goods, little is said of the potential impact on nascent domestic industries.

“There might well be reasons a developing country would want to develop its own industry in, say, solar panels or wind turbines,” the Sierra Club’s Solomon says. “But having low or no tariffs could impede the ability of these countries to develop their own domestic renewable energy industries.”

Knock-on effects?

The World Trade Organisation does not include climate change in its purview. Yet since the mid-1990s the multilateral organisation says it has worked to establish “a clear link between sustainable development and disciplined trade liberalization – in order to ensure that market opening goes hand in hand with environmental and social objectives.”

Momentum behind the new talks is in part due to a push from President Barack Obama. Last year, as part of a major new focus on climate, the president announced that U.S. officials would engage in the negotiations in order “to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.”

The administration’s interest in the issue will also be shared by other proponents of expanded free trade. Multilateral trade talks have seen little to no progress over the past two decades, after all, so proponents hope that linking these issues could give a fillip to the multilateral system.

“Everybody, at least on paper, wants to do something on climate change, so this is seen as an issue that might be able to move,” the Center for Global Development’s Elliott says. “The idea is regarded as something of a win-win, as useful for the trading system and also for the planet.”

Of course, the U.S. government’s interest is also around strengthening U.S. exports, and as political pressures have risen around the world around climate change, the trade in green goods has quickly become a major force. According to official estimates, this market’s value doubled between 2011 and 2007, and stood at around a trillion dollars last year.

The U.S. share has been growing by eight percent per year since 2009, amounting to some 106 billion dollars last year.

Certainly business interests, in the United States and industrialised countries around the world, are showing significant interest in the new talks. On Tuesday, nearly 50 major business groups and trade associations wrote to the WTO negotiators to “strongly endorse” their efforts.

The industry groups also expressed hope that an accord around environmental goods could act as a catalyst for broader liberalisation.

“An ambitious [agreement] will further increase global trade in environmental goods, lowering the cost of addressing environmental and climate challenges by removing tariffs that can be as high as 35 percent,” the groups stated.

“In addition to its intrinsic commercial importance and desirability, a well-designed [agreement] can act as a stepping stone to lowering tariffs and other trade barriers in other sectors and associated value chains.”

Backdoor liberalisation

The U.S. administration may share this view. The Sierra Club’s Solomon points to a recent letter from Michael Froman, the United States’ top trade official, requesting the U.S. International Trade Commission to research the potential impact of trade liberalisation around environmental goods.

“In the absence of a universally accepted definition of an ‘environmental good,’” Froman wrote, “I request that, for the purpose of its analysis, the Commission refer to the items contained in the list attached to this letter.”

That list, which extends to 34 pages, contains hundreds of items not currently on the APEC list. These range from natural products (honey, palm oil, urea, coconut fibres, bamboo) to the technical (pipes and casings “of a kind used in drilling for oil and gas”) to the seemingly random (vacuum cleaners, cameras).

“This appears to suggest that this exercise isn’t about protecting the environment but rather about expanding the current model of free trade – a backdoor attempt to achieve liberalisation on a broad range of goods,” Solomon says.

“As this process moves forward, we’ll need a full environmental impact assessment of everything on the list under consideration. And it can’t just be the end uses that are examined, but rather the whole lifecycle of a product’s impact that is taken into account.”

Scepticism as “Green Goods” Trade Talks Begin

Saturday, July 12, 2014

UN to outlaw corporations' human rights abuses

By Lucia Ortiz, Ecologist

The United Nations has voted to legislate against human rights abuses carried out by transnational corporations, reports Lucia Ortiz. But the resolution, proposed by Ecuador and South Africa, was opposed by the US and the member states of the EU.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva has voted to start elaborating an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of Transnational Corporations with respect to human rights.

The resolution passed last week with 20 states in favor, 14 against and 13 abstaining at the 26th session of the UNHRC. Among those voting against were the US and EU states.

More than 80 nations and 600+ organisations support the UN resolution, which should bring about a legally binding treaty on businesses and human rights.

A 'voluntary framework' is not good enough

In September 2013, a declaration led by Ecuador and supported by more than 80 countries, states the need to move from voluntary guidelines for business on human rights to a legal framework to bring transnational corporations to justice for their human rights violations.

The resolution, tabled by Ecuador and South Africa, was finally voted on at the UNHRC last week. Most importantly, it:

"Decides to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group on a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, the mandate of which shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises."

EU and US - corporations more important than people

The strongest opponents of the resolution were EU states and the US, which also actively lobbied other countries to side with them, threatening them with loss of development aid and foreign direct investment.

The US delegate stated that "this legally binding instrument will not be binding for those who vote against it", exposing the US disrespect for the democratic UN process as well as its opposition to binding rules to address corporate abuses.

Many countries felt they did not have a choice. "We vote with the EU, if we do not, it can become very unpleasant for us", the representative of a UNHRC country which is a candidate for EU membership told Friends of the Earth International ahead of the vote.

This victory for those who defend the environment, human rights and sustainable livelihoods from the human rights violations by big business would not have been possible without the coordinated work by civil society networks and social movements united in advocacy and mobilization efforts from the grassroots to the international level.

Friends of the Earth International and many other civil society organisations have campaigned for decades for binding standards to hold corporations accountable where and when they commit environmental crimes and human right violations.

Multinationals on trial at the Peoples Tribunal

A special session of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal just took place in Geneva and included a 'trial' of the companies Shell, Mekorot, Hidralia, Glencore Xtrata, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Lonmin and Pacific Rim.

The companies were accused of specific human right abuses, systemic and systematic violation of human rights, and increasing criminalization and violence against human rights and environmental defenders.

The fact that the Permanent Peoples Tribunal has to present a moral judgment to make these cases of human rights violations visible confirms that existing voluntary approaches are woefully inadequate for dealing with ongoing corporate violations and systemic denial of access to justice for the victims.

Defenders of the environment often face terrible consequences for their actions, suffering rights violations and violence, according to a new report by Friends of the Earth International released on June 26.

[See report: 'To defend the environment, we must defend human rights' on The Ecologist.]

Corporate violence against rights defenders is routine

A new case of corporate violence against environmental rights defenders and violations of their rights is reported to Friends of the Earth International on average once a week, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Friends of the Earth International recorded more than 100 incidents of violence against environmental rights defenders and violations of their rights in 27 countries around the world in the period November 2011 - October 2013, according to the report.

More than half of the killings recorded by Friends of the Earth International between November 2011 and October 2013 were targeted assassinations of peasant leaders and deaths of peasants during violent confrontations regarding land disputes.

These often involved the protection of peasant territories from polluting development projects such as hydroelectric dams, monoculture plantations or the extraction of oil, gas and minerals.

Environmental defenders deserve and demand a legally binding treaty to bring corporations to justice. But they also demand community access to justice, right to protest, reparation and restoration of damaged environmental and livelihoods, and criminal liability for corporate offenders.

EU: 'a binding treaty will discourage voluntary action'

Delegates from the EU and Norway were reported as stating that the longer we speak about the need for a binding treaty, the more companies are discouraged from taking voluntary action.

We believe the opposite: the longer we delay a binding treaty, the longer companies will continue to act with impunity, and the more environmental defenders rights are abused.

This is why we will not stop our advocacy work at the UN and in our capitals until the establishment of an international legally binding regime that will allow us to hold corporations accountable for their human rights abuses.

UN to outlaw corporations' human rights abuses

Monday, July 7, 2014

World Bank email leaks reveal internal row over 'light touch' $50bn loans

By John Vidal, The Guardian

Leaked emails show more money could be made available for 'damaging' power and mining projects

Environmentalists and human rights campaigners have sounded the alarm at radical plans to ease conditions for World Bank loans, enabling more than $50bn (£29bn) of public money a year to be made available for large power, mining, transport and farming projects.

Leaked emails seen by the Observer reveal that senior figures at the bank feared that light-touch regulation would lead to an increase in "problem projects". Critics are also worried that the door could be opened to large-scale environmental destruction and a lack of protection for communities affected by projects.

Ana Revenga, the bank's vice-president for poverty reduction, says in one of the emails: "It might appear that the bank is interested in lending more, hence lowering standards … [It] would likely entail an increase in the number of problem projects and cancellations." The email exchanges indicate that the bank may expand the use of "biodiversity offsetting" – which lets developers destroy nature in one place if they compensate elsewhere. Many social and environmental safeguards appear to have been dropped under the plans, which have not been made public but are at an advanced stage.

The bank group, which loans and guarantees around $50bn a year to over 100 countries to alleviate poverty, is the world's largest development institution, with Britain as its largest donor. It has been consistently criticised for its damaging lending policies and because it is dominated by industrialised countries.

Strong safeguards and conditions on its loans and guarantees were put in place after a series of environmentally destructive projects in the 1980s and 1990s such as the Narmada dam in India and the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people to make way for palm plantations in Indonesia.

But the World Bank group, which includes the International Finance Corporation, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association, is in the process of a reorganisation and wants to harmonise safeguards and standards between its private and public lending groups.

The emails show the bank's managers are keen to increase its overall lending and feel that the present standards are too onerous and deter prospective borrowers. According to the comments from the bank's vice-presidents, this could mean a reduction in bank oversight and accountability, with client countries being made to monitor their own projects and a gutting of the bank's inspection panel – an independent complaints mechanism for communities who believe that they have been, or are likely to be, adversely affected by projects.

Comments sent to bank management by the senior staff, who include heads of the bank's legal and finance offices as well as regional chiefs in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, make clear that the bank also plans to pass responsibility for monitoring projects to private equity fund managers or commercial banks.

The emails show that there is concern among the bank's presidents that environmental standards could fall if the plans are implemented. "Some of the language would severely weaken the protections that currently exist for diversity and natural habitats. There is particular cause for concern," says Zloubida Allaoua, vice-president for sustainable development. "Why so little said about the important and immediate environmental issues facing countries, apart from climate change?", asks Mohamed Qureshi, director of startegy.

Several vice-presidents fear that the proposed changes will lead to extra costs and problems. "It is far from certain that the [draft] would streamline and simplify environmental and social standards ... it could add significant costs", says Marialisa Motta, director of finance and private sector development.

Civil society groups who have seen the comments by vice-presidents are alarmed. "Despite (a) guarantee that this review process would not lead to any weakening of environmental and social safeguards, from what we understand the plan eviscerates protections for the poor and the environment. This is completely unacceptable," said Stephanie Fried of the Ulu Foundation.

A World Bank spokesman said: "We do not comment on leaks. A vigorous and healthy internal discussion is an important part of our deliberative process. Our work on reviewing our environmental and social safeguards is ongoing. We will submit in the coming weeksour views to our board's committee on development effectiveness. We will then engage in further public consultation to get additional views".

World Bank email leaks reveal internal row over 'light touch' $50bn loans

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Producing drinking water on the cheap in Myanmar

This audio slideshow shows how a firm in Myanmar makes filters that eliminate parasites and bacteria from water.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why the climate issue is a question of global fairness and justice

By Green Anglicans

Climate change involves ethics, fairness and justice, because the poorest people in the world risk being hit the hardest by the food shortage, although they have contributed the least to the carbon dioxide emissions that have led to global warming.

“The consequences of climate change are already evident today: drought and floods are wiping out people’s opportunities of providing for themselves,” says Jacob Risberg, the Church of Sweden’s climate advisor.

Farmers in Ethiopia, Malawi and India, for example, are reporting major changes to rainy seasons and monsoons, which make it more difficult to live off farming.

Flee when the sea level rises

The same applies to those affected by rising sea levels. Many people by the Bay of Bengal have already been forced to flee when their land was submerged by the sea – and many others are in the danger zone.

Emissions and pollutants do not stop at national borders. What happens in one part of the world has repercussions in totally different areas.

Risk of larger numbers of refugees

The food shortage and extreme weather risk leading to an increase in refugee numbers and more conflicts.

The Church of Sweden’s approach is that people in developing countries have the right to develop and to improve their living conditions. If, however, they are to be able to provide for themselves and if the world is to avoid an alarming increase in the lack of food, substantial support is required from the surrounding world so that the most vulnerable countries can adapt to a changed climate.

Developing countries must receive help to avoid becoming fossil fuel dependent. To enable us to stop climate change, developing countries must also receive help to avoid becoming dependent on fossil fuels, so large sums of money are required.

“The richest countries in the world must take much more responsibility for the costs of climate change,” says Jacob Risberg.

The lifestyle of the industrialised world is untenable. We can influence the development to a certain extent through individual choices, but we must also react as a church in a global society.

Harvests can increase despite a poorer climate

The Church of Sweden has a close relationship with people and churches in economically impoverished areas. The challenge is to create commitment to climate issues. The work consists of both mitigating the consequences of and influencing the basic causes of our altered climate.

The Church of Sweden’s international mission and diaconia supports sustainable rural development that boosts harvests, despite the changing climate.

The Church of Sweden wants Sweden to shoulder its responsibility

We are also encouraging Sweden and the EU to shoulder their responsibilities, for example by substantially reducing their emissions and assisting adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

The Church of Sweden’s work continues. Our goal is a fair and just climate agreement that both stops global warming and gives financially disadvantaged people the right to development.

Why the climate issue is a question of global fairness and justice

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fisheries Matter

Did you know that fisheries products are the world's most widely traded foods, supporting a $500 billion global economy, and that fishing is the largest extractive use of wildlife in the world? Billions of people around the world in developing countries depend upon wild fish for a substantial part of their animal protein and nutrition. This video explores why "Fisheries Matter" to global and local food security and what actions can be taken to improve and sustain fisheries productivity and the biodiversity upon which it depends.