Sunday, August 31, 2014

California Bans Plastic Bags » EcoWatch

By Stefanie Spear, EcoWatch

The California Senate voted 22-15 late last night to pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The bill, SB 270, will phase out single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies beginning July 2015, and in convenience stores one year later, and create a mandatory minimum ten-cent fee for recycled paper, reusable plastic and compostable bags.

The bill, which passed both houses of the California State Legislature now heads to the Governor’s desk. If signed, California will become the first state in the U.S. to ban what advocates call “the most ubiquitous consumer item on the planet.”

Senators Alex Padilla, Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara authored the measure that will implement a ban while promoting recycling and California manufacturing, and provides financial incentives to maintain and retrain California employees in affected industries.

“In crafting this compromise, it was imperative to me that we achieve the goals of doing away with single-use plastic bags, help change consumer behavior, and importantly, support and expand California jobs,” said Senate President pro Tempore-elect Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “SB 270 is a win-win for the environment and for California workers.”

Senate Bill 270 will:
  • Increase the use of recycled content for reusable plastic bags to promote recycling and California manufacturing. In 2016, bags will be required to have 20 percent recycled content and in 2020 be made of 40 percentrecycled content.
  • Support recycling of agriculture plastic film which is currently sent to landfills.
  • Require large grocery store chains to take back used bags for continued recycling.
  • Require third party certification of reusable plastic bags to ensure compliance with bag standards which support California manufacturing.
  • Grandfathers existing local ordinances related to grocery bags.
More than 120 California local governments have already banned single-use plastic bags with more than 1 in 3 Californians already living somewhere with a plastic bag ban in place, in an effort to drive consumers towards sustainable behavior change.

The Clean Seas Coalition, a growing group of environmentalists, scientists, California lawmakers, students and community leaders has worked since 2008 to reduce sources of plastic pollution, and help pass this legislation.

“Data from the over 121 local plastic bag bans, like Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, San Jose and San Mateo has proven that bans are effective at reducing litter and changing consumer attitudes, and have refuted industry’s claims of apocalyptic impacts on jobs and poor communities,” said Leslie Tamminen, director Seventh Generation Advisors and facilitator for the Clean Seas Coalition. “A state plastic bag ban saves taxpayers huge amounts of money spent on litter cleanup, and protects the environment.”

Plastic bags create a direct threat to wildlife, like the Pacific leatherback sea turtles, that mistake the bags for food. A study of more than 370 leatherback sea turtle autopsies found that one in three had plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag. Plastic bags are also one of the most common items littered on California’s beaches according to Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach cleanup data, according to Ocean Conservancy.

“This important step forward shows that we can achieve lasting victories for ocean and environmental health,” said Nathan Weaver, oceans advocate with Environment California. “Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our ocean for hundreds of years. I congratulate Senators Padilla, de León, and Lara for their victory today, and I thank them for their leadership to protect our environment.”

“The experience of over 120 cities shows that this policy works,” concluded Weaver. “I urge Governor Brown to sign SB 270 into law.”

California Bans Plastic Bags » EcoWatch

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rationale for Recycling Lead-Acid Batteries


Lead-acid storage batteries (LABs) are widely used on a mass-scale in all parts of the world. They act as power sources in a wide-range of equipment and appliances used by households, commerce and industry. LABs finds application in all modes of modern transport including cars, trucks, buses, boats, trains, rapid mass-transit systems, recreational vehicles etc.

During power-cuts, lead-acid batteries provide emergency power for critical operations such as air-traffic control towers, hospitals, railroad crossings, military installations, submarines, and weapons systems. Every telephone company in the world, including mobile telephone service providers, uses lead-acid batteries as backup power to the telecommunications systems.

There are two types of battery: primary cells which cannot be recharged and secondary cells which can be recharged. Batteries are normally split into three categories, depending on their use: consumer or portable, automotive and industrial. All automotive batteries and 95 percent of industrial batteries are lead-acid secondary cells whilst over 95 percent of all consumer batteries are primary cells.

Harmful Effects

Lead-acid batteries contain sulphuric acid and large amounts of lead. The acid is extremely corrosive and is also a good carrier for soluble lead and lead particulate. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects particularly in young children. Exposure to excessive levels of lead can cause damage to brain and kidney, impair hearing; and lead to numerous other associated problems. On average, each automobile manufactured contains approximately 12 kilograms of lead. Around 96% lead is used in the common lead-acid battery, while the remaining 4% in other applications including wheel balance weights, protective coatings and vibration dampers.

Lead is highly toxic metal and once the battery becomes inoperative, it is necessary to ensure its proper collection and eco-friendly recycling. A single lead-acid battery disposed of incorrectly into a municipal solid waste collection system, and not removed prior to entering a resource recovery facility for mixed MSW, could contaminate 25 tonnes of MSW and prevent the recovery of the organic resources within this waste because of high lead level.

Collection Strategies

The most common and most efficient method for the collection of used lead-acid batteries (ULABs) is through the battery retailer where a discount is given against the purchase price of a new battery provided the customer returns the used battery. In some countries a deposit has to be paid when a new battery is purchased and is only returned to the customer when the battery is returned to the retailer for recycling.

In several parts of the world, reconditioned lead-acid batteries are offered for sale. In the Caribbean islands there is a thriving second-hand auto trade and thousands of used Japanese cars are imported into the region every year to be broken up for spares. Many of these vehicles have a used lead acid battery, which is removed from the vehicle and shipped to Venezuela for recycling. Another collection mechanism is through rag-pickers who scavenge for discarded materials that can be reused or recycled. Rag-pickers scour waste dumps, strip abandoned vehicles and wrecks and even collect batteries that have been used for standby power in domestic houses.

Advantages of Battery Recycling

The lead-acid battery recycling sector has a well-established infrastructure in many parts of the world, especially North America and Europe. Recycling of lead-acid batteries, provided it is done in an environmentally sound manner, is important because it keeps the batteries out of the waste stream destined for final disposal. Lead from ULABs placed in unlined landfills can even contaminate the groundwater.

Recycling prevents the emission of lead into the environment and also avoids the energy usage associated with manufacturing lead from virgin resources. Obtaining secondary lead from used lead-acid batteries can be economically attractive, depending upon the market price of lead. Recovery of lead from batteries is easier and requires significantly less energy than producing primary lead from ore.

Recycling also reduces dispersal of lead in the environment and conserves mineral resources for the future when undertaken in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. It needs to be mentioned that recycling of used lead acid batteries is not a simple process that can be undertaken in small scale enterprises. Certain control measures should to be taken to prevent adverse impacts to people and the environment.

Rationale for Recycling Lead-Acid Batteries

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Millennium Development Goals Snapshot 2014

Source: UNStats

18 August 2014 marks the 500-day countdown toward the target date to
achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of 2015. This
video provides a snapshot of what has been achieved so far and what
needs to be done to reach the MDGs by the end of 2015.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

City requests declaration of the Cape Town Bioregion

The City of Cape Town is hoping to be declared as a bioregion.

The City’s Council has recognised the City’s efforts to create a balance between urban development and environmental protection by recommending that the MEC for Environmental Affairs be requested to declare Cape Town as a bioregion.

This would be one of the first of such regions for a South African metro. It is testament to this administration’s commitment to become a sustainable city for future generations through its increased efforts to protect and restore Cape Town’s unique biodiversity.

City has exceptional biodiversity richness and uniqueness

If the City of Cape Town’s request for the declaration of Cape Town as a bioregion is granted, the MEC will publish the Cape Town Bioregional Plan, as prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (NEMBA).

The bioregion covers the city’s metropolitan area of 2 460 km².

The Cape Town Bioregional Plan is a spatial plan that shows terrestrial and aquatic features that are critical for conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecological functioning. These are referred to as Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas.

Cape Town has an exceptional biodiversity richness and uniqueness. However, given the developmental pressures on the land, minimum national ecosystem targets can no longer be achieved for eight out of the 19 major national ecosystems found in the bioregion.

Plan to protect remaining national ecosystems

‘This means that as a City we have to protect the remaining extent of these national ecosystem types found within the city. The Cape Town Bioregional Plan will make members of the public aware, in advance, of what the biodiversity constraints for a site are likely to be. This provides a level of predictability for residents, planners, developers and decision-makers. As a well-run city that has made the commitment to embark on the route of sustainability, this plan is key to the fulfilment of the promise of this future,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning, Councillor Johan van der Merwe.

The bioregional plan is the primary biodiversity informant as it indicates the presence and location of Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas, including rivers and wetlands. The plan, like the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework, does not grant or take away rights. It is, however, expected to propel issues of biodiversity and ecological management to a higher level of importance when developmental applications are considered.

To lead by example in protection and enhancement of biodiversity

The Cape Town Bioregional Plan has been developed in accordance with the vision of the City’s Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan which was adopted by Council on 27 May 2009. The resolution taken by Council emphasises, amongst others, the need for the City to lead by example in the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and to be a City that actively protects its biological wealth and prioritises long-term responsibility over short-term gains.

‘The City has the highest rate of urbanisation in the country and development pressures are pronounced. As natural habitat is being lost continuously to formal and informal development,agriculture and mining, securing the Biodiversity Network is an urgent priority. We can only achieve the sustainability of this network and associated ecosystems through the coordinated contribution of all stakeholders,’ said Councillor Van der Merwe.

The plan comprises a biodiversity profile, a map of biodiversity priorities with accompanying land-use planning and decision-making guidelines, and additional management measures.

It indicates localities of Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas that are required to meet national ecosystem targets for terrestrial and wetland ecosystems (National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment of 2004).

Cape Town Bioregional Plan as statutory reference

The Cape Town Bioregional Plan will serve as the statutory reference for biodiversity priority areas in the city and is aligned with the National Biodiversity Framework, the Provincial Spatial Development Framework and the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework.

Policy 25 of the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework commits the City to increase efforts to protect and restore the Biodiversity Network, thereby implementing a plan in accordance with NEMBA.

The Biodiversity Network has been integrated into the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework in its entirety as the primary biodiversity informant for the City. Both of these municipal planning tools embody the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

It is important to note that a bioregional plan is not itself a multi-sector plan (like the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework) with inputs from many sectors, but ‘rather the biodiversity sector’s inputs into various multi-sectoral planning and authorisation processes’.

From the wording in the NEMBA, a published bioregional plan must be taken into account, amongst other relevant considerations, when considering the merits of a development application.

City requests declaration of the Cape Town Bioregion

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals? | Jonathan Glennie

By Jonathan Glennie, The Guardian

Despite promises to leave no one behind, the UN drafting committee has little to say about halting threats to their survival

The great danger in compiling a list of priorities for international development, which is what most of the development industry has been preoccupied with for the past couple of years, is the dreaded “shopping list” or “Christmas tree”. This is where everyone’s pet problem is included and we don’t have a list of priorities at all, but a list of almost everything wrong with the world.

So I write this article with some caution. All told, I think the drafting committee for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after 2015, has done a decent job. The fact that there are still 17 goals (which is too many) is a consequence of the pressing problems that global co-operation can help to fix, rather than an inability to prioritise.

Nevertheless, there is a gaping hole. Indigenous people are conspicuous only in the fleeting nature of references to them. In the draft of the SDGs released last month by the open working group, they get only two quick mentions: in goals on hunger and education, between commas in one of those lists that the UN so loves – they appear alongside youth, disabled people, women, family farmers and pastoralists.

But indigenous people make up 5% of the world’s population, and anything from 10% (according to the World Bank) to 30% (says the UN) of the world’s poorest people. By most accounts, they have been the group least well served by the MDGs – despite plenty of progress on achieving the goals, the most excluded sectors of society have not generally reaped their rewards.

The failure, so far, of indigenous representatives to gain recognition in the SDGs demonstrates their lack of political clout.

Indigenous people are, by definition, outsiders, both politically and geographically. They are often remotely located, so are easily forgotten by the centres of power, and their lands are considered a source of income generation rather than as heritage to be cherished.

In February last year, at an MDG review conference in Colombia, I saw indigenous leaders hand the head of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, their manifesto for inclusion in the development agenda. Its overwhelming focus was on land and territorial rights. Their concern was not so much ending poverty, a noble aim of course, but protecting their ways of life.

A glance at the website of the campaigning group Survival International reveals the continuing threats to countless tribal peoples. In a campaign timed to coincide with the World Cup in Brazil, the organisation highlighted the rapid extinction of tribe after tribe as “development” continues apace in the world’s seventh-largest economy.

“Development” is as often considered a threat as an opportunity by people who have been promised much in the past, but who have seldom seen the fruits of economic growth, enjoyed by others at their expense. The long battle for what is known in the jargon as “free, prior, informed consent” over development projects in their vicinity is now little more than a bad joke, as competition for resources becomes ever fiercer.

If ever a statement of intent could play a meaningful and powerful role in achieving change, the SDGs are it. But the draft has nothing to say on this.

Despite talk of this set of goals “leaving no one behind”, we have the usual development focus on money and social outcomes. But only the most bone-headed economist would judge progress for indigenous people in terms of minor increases in their income per capita. If that is what they wanted they could just come to the city and work in a factory.

The silence isn’t surprising. The last thing governments want is their hands tied by an international agreement that commits them to respecting indigenous rights, which could be detrimental to their short-term economic plans.

In a prepared statement to the 13th session of the open working group in June, the group of indigenous people expressed concern “that if we are not explicitly and meaningfully referred to in the operative text of the SDGs, we will encounter immense constraint and exclusion from the implementation and monitoring processes. Our experience with and invisibility within MDGs supports this concern.”

Their statement ends: “You don’t have to turn your back on us. You can still take our hand and include us in the journey of the next 15 years. We can make valuable contributions. Don’t leave us behind.”

Ironically, though, and typically, the statement was not delivered in the plenary session due to time constraints.

The slow erosion of indigenous people is one of the world’s greatest ongoing tragedies, and for all the shifting paradigms evident in the new set of goals, the clash between so-called development and dignity for indigenous people appears to be very much here to stay.

After centuries spent on the underside of history, indigenous people deserve a duty of care from the international community, and recognition of what they offer.

Next month’s World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is a perfect opportunity to right this wrong and to put them at the centre of international development efforts, rather than as an afterthought.

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweden makes first completely recycled cotton garment

By Joanna Rothkopf, SALON

It’s weird to think of clothing as being “consumed,” because theoretically you’ll keep various items in your closet for years until you are gently forced to throw your favorite sweater away because it has completely come apart and you look like you are wearing “an unraveled ball of yarn.” But we do consume clothing — 69.7 tons in 2010 to be exact, an all-time record. And what happens when that mostly polyester body suit that you had to have for your freshman year spring concert is thrown away? Straight to the landfill, or, sometimes, it is used as the squishy filler put under wall-to-wall carpets.

But scientists at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology are trying to change that. They’ve invented a method of recreating cotton — an extremely important resource, given that it accounts for one third of the world’s textile supply and is in danger of becoming a scarce resource as the world clears land for food production. In June, a group of Swedish companies were finally able to construct a dress made entirely of the recycled cotton.

This is how it works: old cotton clothes are brought to a factory and shredded then turned into a porridge-like substance. After non-recyclable pieces like zippers and buttons have been removed, the porridge is broken down to the molecule level and turned into a fibre substance to be used for thread, resulting in rayon fabric. “We can recycle fabrics that contain a mix of cotton and other materials but get the best results when recycling pure cotton,” says [Henrik Norlin, business development manager at pioneering company re:new cell].

Re:newcell is now preparing to build its first fabric-recycling factory, which will open its doors within the next 18 months. “It will be able to process 2,000 tonnes per year, allowing us to show the scalability of the process,” says Norlin. Re:new cell will then add factories in other European countries like Britain and Germany, that produce large amounts of cast off clothing.

The only major issue with the method is that rayon doesn’t recycle as well, so the process cannot continue after the first recycling. Either way, the development is an important one in paving the way for more fabric recycling to occur.

Sweden makes first completely recycled cotton garment

Monday, August 18, 2014

The UN Watercourses Convention enters into force August 17, 2014

Source: The UN Watercourses Convention online Users guide

On the 19th May 2014 Vietnam acceded to the UN Watercourses Convention, making it the 35th country to join this global instrument (see here for more details on the relevance of the UN Watercourses Convention to Vietnam).

This marks the culmination of a concerted process to promote the benefits of the Convention and support its entry into force, which since 2006 has been lead by WWF. Article 36 of the Convention stipulates that, ‘the present Convention shall enter into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of the thirty-fifth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession’. This means that the Convention will enter into force on the 17th August 2014.

Entry into force of this global framework convention that seeks to, ‘ensure the utilisation, development, conservation, management and protection of international watercourses and the promotion of the optimal and sustainable utilisation thereof for present and future generations’, is a significant milestone in the development of international water law. Hopefully, entry into force, together with the global opening of the UNECE Water Convention, will lead to growing awareness of the benefits of these global framework instruments, encourage more countries to join them, and go along way to strengthening transboundary governance arrangements across the world.

 Importance of entry into force
There are various reasons why entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention would be beneficial.

Address fragmentation: There are over 400 basin-specific agreements, but 60 percent of the international watercourses lack cooperative management arrangements, and the majority of agreement are bilateral, even where more than two states share a particular watercourse. Additionally, many watercourse agreements only partially cover key issue that are provided for in the UN Watercourses Convention, such as emergency situations, data-sharing, consultation and negotiation, or dispute settlement.

Once in force, and as a framework instrument, the UN Watercourses Convention could therefore assist in addressing such fragmentation. A global framework agreement, if in force, could play an important role in addressing such fragmentation by supplementing and strengthening the legal architecture where:

i) no basin agreement exists;
ii) not all basin states are party to an existing agreement;
iii) and/or an existing agreement only partially covers matters addressed by the UN Watercourses Convention.

It was in this sense that the Nordic Counties summed up the value of a framework agreement during the Convention’s drafting process, stating that it ‘provides a good basis for further negotiations. It leaves the specific rules to be applied to individual watercourses to be set out in agreements between the States concerned, as has been the current practices’ (see replies of Governments to the Commission’s questionnaire at A/CN.4/447, 1993). At the regional level, the 1992 UNECE Water Convention and the 2000 Revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses illustrate the role of framework instruments in addressing gaps at the basin and sub-basin level.

The UN Watercourses Convention could also play a role in addressing ‘horizontal fragmentation’. Entry into force could therefore foster stronger synergies with other water-related multilateral environmental agreements, such as those dealing with climate change, biodiversity, wetlands, desertification and so forth.23

Development of treaty law: Entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention could provide a solid and widely accepted basis by which to further develop treaty law at the global level. Additional protocols could be developed on areas that are ripe for progressive development. In this regard, the question of the ILC 2008 Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers could be considered. Indeed, if the UN Watercourses Convention had entered into force prior to the development of the Draft Articles would they be better integrated with the provisions of the Convention?

Policy statement: Formal and widespread support for the UN Watercourses Convention would send a definitive and clear message that, as codified in the Convention, international law requires states to cooperate over international watercourses, lakes and aquifers, including, where appropriate, through joint planning and actions, and within the framework of equitable and reasonable use and participation. From a legal perspective, such a statement may seem redundant, as the duty to cooperate is widely regarded as part of customary international water law. However, in the context of global water negotiations, an effective and widely endorsed UN Watercourses Convention could make a major difference. For example, during negotiations at the 6th World Water Forum, one state raised the issue that the UN Watercourses Convention cannot even be referred to as a “convention”, because it is not yet in force. Arguably, if the UN Watercourses Convention had been in force, states would have had less room to downplay the duty of watercourse states to cooperate and the role of international law in this context, leaving more time for discussions on substantive issues. Hence, entry into force of the Convention would provide the UN and other international organisations with a strong legal mandate by which to support and advance transboundary water issues at the global level – a mandate that is currently lacking.

Raising awareness: Closely related to the political considerations noted above, entry into force may also assist in raising awareness of the Convention. Entry into force may put the Convention higher on the political agenda, and States may be more persuaded to examine the relevance of the Convention if other States have already undergone such a process.

Strengthen customary international law: Regardless of entry into force the UN Watercourses Convention already enjoys an influential role as an authorities statement of what is, or what should be customary international law in the field. However, non-entry into force raised questions over which of its provisions reflect existing or emerging customary law, as well as the precise content of that law. If widely ratified all of the UN Watercourses Convention’s provisions could be considered as reflective of customary international law and thus become potentially binding even on non-parties. Entry into force and widespread ratification wold therefore ensure the successful completion of the task entrusted to the International Law Commission: that of codifying, clarifying and progressively developing the law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses, with a view to offering a clearer, more stable framework for transboundary water cooperation at the global level.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Water Pollution Worries in Developing World

By Amir Dakkak, EcoMENA

Water pollution has become a major concern worldwide, especially in developing countries where around 3.2 million children die each year as a result of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. Access to adequate wastewater treatment facilities in the developing countries is very limited. For example, only 209 of India's 3,119 towns and cities—less than one in ten—have even partial sewage systems and treatment facilities. As a result water bodies in developing nations are often used as open sewers for human waste products and garbage, which is evident at the Ganges River in India which receives over 1.3 billion liters of domestic waste, along with 260 million liters of industrial waste, run off from 6 million tons of fertilizers and 9,000 tons of pesticides used in agriculture, and thousands of animal carcasses.

The reason behind the absence of adequate water treatment facilities and regulations in developing countries is the lack of finances available for funding infrastructure that can regulate water pollution. This in turn reduces the amount of clean water available for human consumption, sanitation, agriculture and industrial purposes, in addition to various other ecosystem services. A decrease in the amount water available for use holds devastating environmental, health, and economic consequences that disrupt a country’s social and economic growth.

Environmental and Human Health Costs

Unsafe water, lack of sanitation facilities and poor hygiene are the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in developing countries because contaminated water carries various diseases such as cholera, intestinal worms, and diarrhea. It is estimated that up to half of all hospital beds in the world are occupied by victims of water contamination. Furthermore, Dirty water (standing in puddles or stored) provides a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that go on to spread diseases such as malaria and encephalitis. The UN estimates that 60% of global cases of malaria and 80% of malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa (nearly 1 million per year) are related to inadequate water storage facilities.

Economic Implications

It is estimated that around $7.3million is spent on healthcare for waterborne diseases alone. Furthermore, large amounts of money are lost due to the deteriorating health of a country’s population with many citizens unable to attend school or work due to health issues. Above all, water pollution and lack of sanitation holds a significant burden on women. Teenage women are unable to attend schools that lack adequate sanitation and are often entrusted in collecting water for their families due to the lack of a constant water supply. Women embark on 3-4 hour treks in order to collect contaminated water, which they carry back to their homes. This deprives them from the possibility of attending school or holding a permanent job thus further reducing a family’s income.

Water quality is also important for various industries (such as power generation, metals, mining, and petroleum) that require high-quality water to operate. Lower quality water could impact and limit the choices of technology available to developing countries. Reductions in water quality have the dual effect of not only increasing the water stress to industrial companies in these areas but also increase the pressure to improve the quality of the industrial wastewater. This in turn increases the costs spent on environmental rehabilitation and remediation.

Tackling the Challenge

Water quality is gradually becoming the leading problem throughout the developing world. Drinking water sources are under increasing threat from contamination, which holds widespread consequences for the health, and the economic and social development of various countries. Governments in the developing nations, as well as donor nations and organizations, should strengthen efforts to provide adequate water services for their citizens. Water policies must be redefined and be strictly implemented, and water programs should be better integrated into a country’s cultures and values than they have been in the past. Water programs are not required to be large scale and financially intensive, and can be simple and financially viable.

An example of such a program is’s use of the “micro loans” system. This system entails providing micro loans to local families to allow them to build adequate piping systems and sanitation facilities within their homes. This will allow for an increase in the family’s income due to better health and less time spent on water collection. If the governments of developing countries adopt such a system, it will provide them with a simple yet efficient solution to thewater pollution dilemma that will also produce massive payback for the country.

Therefore it is evident that although water pollution can be lessened through the help of donor nations and organizations, the key to addressing these issues lies within the developing countries themselves. Governments must realize that action must be taken immediately because if water pollution continues to grow, the future will be very bleak.

Water Pollution Worries in Developing World

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Don't forget men," first women and climate summit advised

By Thin Lei Win, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Efforts to get more women involved in international climate talks and to raise the profile of female environmental activists will succeed only if men in power cooperate, a man attending the first “Summit on Women and Climate” said.

The four-day summit in Bali, Indonesia, which closed on Wednesday, brought together some 80 activists and funders from 37 countries, most of them women.

“If you look at the dynamics of politics in the world, in many places, men are in the decision-making positions so it’s important that they are brought and bought, part and parcel on this topic,” Peter Sinkamba, founder and executive director of Citizens for a Better Environment in Zambia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the summit.

“Whether you like it or not, the men are the holders of power and key to financial resources. Without involving them in conversation, it becomes extremely difficult when it comes to formulating development plans or strategies that effectively address climate change,” he said.

“If they are excluded then we maintain the status quo, which is not good,” the Ashoka Fellow said, adding that perhaps there should have been more men at the conference.

Michael Mazgaonkar, an Indian environmentalist who sits on the advisory board of Global Greengrants Fund, agrees on the importance of women activists engaging with men, but emphasises the need for women to hold more of the influential positions rather than rely on persuading powerful men.

“I do think that 80 percent of the climate talks is among men and more than 80 percent of climate finance is controlled by men, so it is very important that women be given more space,” he said.


Women’s rights groups have said women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which include more frequent and severe storms, drought and sea level rise. This is especially true for women in rural areas, who rely greatly on the environment for food and work.

Studies have also shown that in countries hit by disasters where women’s socio-economic status is low, more women than men die in a disaster, and on average die at a younger age.

The scarcity of women at the United Nations-hosted climate negotiations has been glaring.

From 2008 to 2012, women’s presence on national delegations at U.N. climate talks averaged around 30 percent, according to Women’s Environment & Development Organisation (WEDO).

During this period an average of about 19 percent of heads of delegation were women – less than one in five, WEDO said.

Zambia’s Sinkamba say he runs numerous climate mitigation projects back home, with women leading many of them.

“These programmes really excel so we greatly appreciate women’s role,” he said.

“But it shouldn’t be left at individual arrangements. Whether we’re discussing forest or human rights issues, the partnership between men and women must be at centre stage for whatever measures we’re talking about to be effective,” he added.

For Mazgaonkar, it is also men’s responsibility to speak up for women. This is starting to happen but not enough, he said.

“Ultimately we have to work hand-in-hand on these issues and we have to be equal. Right now women do not have an equal voice,” he said.

"Don't forget men," first women and climate summit advised

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pacific Islanders to promote ocean protection at Ban Ki-moon summit

from 16 states to be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
during September climate summit - See more at:
By Sophie Yeo, RTCC

The Pacific Islands say they will push for an agreement on ocean conservation at UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit in September.

The Palau Declaration is the product of four days of discussions, which wrap up today, between Pacific Island states at their annual Forum.

“As Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, we have and will continue to play a central role in the stewardship of one of the greatest natural endowments in the world – the Pacific Ocean,” says the Declaration.

It is backed by 16 countries, including Australia, whose reputation as a climate laggard has rocketed since Prime Minister Tony Abbott repealed the carbon tax earlier this month.

Abbott has already indicated that he will not attend Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit, which will take place alongside the UN General Assembly. The Secretary General has called world leaders to New York to create momentum ahead of a UN climate deal which is set to be signed off in 2015. US President Barack Obama has confirmed that he will attend.

Australia’s disinterest in combatting global warming is already creating friction with the ambitious small island states, with New Zealand Green Party delegates at the meeting reporting that leaders had expressed frustration at their lack of action.

Marshall Islands president Christopher Loeak was the first to confirm attendance to the Ban Ki-moon summit back in April.

The Declaration reinforces the particular threat that climate change poses to the vulnerable nations, which they say compounds other development concerns, such as overfishing, urbanisation and fossil fuel dependency.

In the most recent UN climate science report, scientsts said that as oceans warm and the Arctic ice melts, the ocean is rising, causing an existential threat to some of the small island states, which lie only a few feet above sea level.

As well as causing humanitarian issues, as locals are forced from their homes by eroding coastlines and flooding, it could also create a legal headache over disputed territories, which the Declaration sought to address.

“We call for strengthened regional efforts to fix baselines and maritime boundaries to ensure that the impact of climate change and sea level rise does not result in reduced jurisdiction,” it says.

The Declaration called for the importance of the oceans to be cemented by a dedicated goal to oceans within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal, which are currently under negotiation and which will form the basis of the world’s post-2015 development agenda.

A Working Group on the goals included “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” among the 17 goals that they will forward to the UN General Assembly, but there is a possibility that these could be whittled down in further negotiations. Currently, the UN only has eight development goals.

“We are coming to the table as small island states and are not advocating that one size fits all. Our concern is the sustainability of oceans resources,” said Tommy Remengesau, president of Palau, on Tuesday.

“We cannot call ourselves Pacific Islanders if we are not associated with the ocean. That is a fact of our lives and therefore we’re passionate about it.”

Last year’s Pacific Islands Forum in the Marshall Islands concluded with the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, which was also presented to Ban Ki-moon as a “Pacific gift”, and garnered international support from Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, France, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

Pacific Islanders to promote ocean protection at Ban Ki-moon summit

Friday, August 1, 2014

Conflict over water rights in Ecuador

By Manuela Picq, Al Jazeera

Indigenous people protest over water rights, as Ecuador's government continues to ignore their demands.

If you are going to pass unpopular legislation, you may as well do it while everyone is watching the World Cup. When Ecuadorians were focused on soccer, the government fast-tracked a new water law, endorsing the privatisation of water and permitting extractive activities in sources of freshwater. The controversial law was approved without a fuss in four days by a governing party that controls about two-thirds of legislative seats.

Social sectors reacted with a cross-country walk of protest. Strong resistance came from the indigenous movement, which has demanded equal access to water for nearly two decades. Many other sectors joined in disapproval of a government increasingly perceived as anti-democratic. About 20 organisations allied in a Front of Resistance and set off to walk from the Amazon to Quito. It was the second large mobilisation to defend water rights against extractive industries. This time, however, it was a broader coalition calling for civil disobedience against a state that regularly ignores constitutional rights.

Walking for water

The Walk for Water, Life and People's Freedom started on June 21 in the Amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe, where Ecuador's first mega-mining project is planned to open in the hills of Condor Mirador. About 100 participants walked, and at times, drove some 960km in a 12-day journey to the capital in the highlands. They were teenagers and elderly women, lawyers and peasants, over a third of them Amazonian. Many more people joined irregularly for shorter distances. The walk counted over 1,000 people when it reached Cuenca's cathedral, where the bishop held a mass for water. In the rural province of Canar, thousands of indigenous people took to the roads to support demands for water rights.

Activists carried a 25-metre long blue flag with the words "we are water". They chanted that water should be defended, not sold out to corporations, with slogans such as "go away Chinese mining" and "down with the socialism of the 21st century". The political protest counted with the tunes of singer Rosa Lanchimba, who revamped traditional songs into water demands, and the Amazon rap composer Jota Al Cuadrado, who used his mic to reveal an artificial socialism that encourages extractivism.

The last-minute mobilisation was a collective effort that thrived on solidarity. Bystanders offered food supplies such as potatoes, oranges, and even a live cock, which became a mascot. Villagers welcomed participants with pampamesas, the Andean form of sharing food on a long stretch of fabric in open fields, opened their communal houses and provided shelter. Twice, pastoral organisations hosted the march. Zamora Council members secured a portable kitchen, men rolled up their sleeves to cook with women, and learned to peel potatoes and sang love songs at the same time.

The most difficult part of the journey was not the lack of running water or the cold nights on concrete floors. It was the constant police surveillance.

Police harassment set the tone from the start. Since the start, police blockades tried to stop or slow down the walk. Police forces permanently followed and photographed participants as means of intimidation.

Traffic officers demanded special authorisation or commercial permits from participants. Tensions rose and ebbed. Special police forces threatened to disperse the crowd with tear gas one day, then squeezed in with protesters in a small store to watch their soccer team play its last World Cup game the following day. At times, cordial police officers blocked intersections to facilitate the passing of the caravan, making it feel like a presidential escort. Other times, police officers who had previously arrested water activists would stop the caravan for an hour without justification.

Demands raised

The mobilisation was not overwhelming in numbers, but the breadth of its coalition merits political attention. It included powerful indigenous organisations such as the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI), the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and their political branch Pachakutik. Salvador Quishpe, Zamora's governor, was one of the walk's most illustrious participants.

The protest demanded not only water rights but pushed further. Communal organisations asked for the payment of the agrarian debt, peasant welfare and the re-establishment of bilingual education. The National Federation of Secondary Students denounced entry requirements that impeded hundreds of thousands of students from attending university.

There were labour unions and teachers' organisations concerned with laws forbidding workers to unionise - one of the five criteria for decent work according to the International Labour Organization. Medical doctors demanded the decriminalisation of malpractice; the families of political prisoners like Clever Jimenez called for the respect of decisions issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

All sections denounced the criminalisation of social protests. All unanimously rejected the proposed law on "indefinite re-election" that would keep the president in office for a long, indefinite period.

Water inequalities

Today's water law is an offspring of the 2008 constitution. It has been heavily contested by indigenous sectors seeking to protect traditional systems of water management against further privatisation for the agribusiness and mining industries. Part of the problem is the large inequality in access to water. Indigenous leader Perez Guartambel has claimed that Ecuador's wealthiest one percent controls 64 percent of freshwater.Indigenous mobilisation hoped to influence the law in two ways. First, water defenders wanted to ban extractive activities like mega mining at water sources. Second, they wanted a Plurinational Council on Water to secure indigenous participation in decision-making processes.

Both demands fell upon deaf ears. The law permits mining in freshwater sources and the Plurinational Council is rather decorative, having a voice but no vote. The beautiful Article 6 forbids all forms of privatisation. Yet Article 7 "exceptionally" authorises private initiatives in the cases of a) state of exception, b) state of emergency, and c) when local authorities have insufficient technical or financial means. The state has full control over the privatisation of water resources. Indigenous and peasant communities, in turn, will easily be labelled as technically or financial inept to control their water systems.

Resource conflicts are spreading. In 2000, Bolivia went into a water war. Today, Mexican residents clash with the police to defend their access to fresh water.

The irony in the Ecuadorian case is that its 2008 constitution was internationally acclaimed for declaring water as a human right and establishing the rights of nature. Such laws are losing their meaning as the government grants deals to Chinese extraction industries in important ecosystems. Now, the state is considered the exclusive competent authority to control hydric resources (Article 1 of the law) and guarantees the rights of nature (Article 3).

Yet civil society seems to disagree that the state is nature's best care-taker. Upon arriving in Quito, the walk created a Peoples' Parliament to defend constitutional rights against a congress increasingly willing to bypass them. Theirs was a call to civil disobedience.

As the elderly indigenous leader Nina Pacari read parliament's declaration, she reminded us that this march would not end there. Around the world, the struggle for water is an affirmation of individual and collective rights in the face of abusive states.

Conflict over water rights in Ecuador