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Solar Tents Improve Nutrition in Highlands Villages in Bolivia

6 June 2017 - 9:22pm

The young Jhaneth Rojas shows radishes planted in a greenhouse-type family garden or solar tent in the village of Phuyuwasi in a highland valley in the central Bolivian department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
PHUYUWASI, Bolivia, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

In this remote highlands valley community in central Bolivia, a group of Quechua indigenous women have learned how to combat the intense frosts and the shortage of water in solar tents, and to use what they grow to prepare nutritious new meals for their families.

In Phuyuwasi, in the central department of Cochabamba, in a landscape dominated by vegetation resistant to low temperatures, Maribel Vallejos told IPS how the project involving family gardens in greenhouses has changed her life and those of other women in the community.

“I used to buy vegetables for 100 Bolivian pesos (about 12 dollars), but now I save that money,” said Vallejos, the only participant in the project who speaks Spanish as well as their mother tongue, Quechua.

This village ino Pocona, one of the 46 municipalities of the department of Cochabamba, is benefiting from a programme run by the Ministry of Rural and Land Development, with the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other U.N. agencies.

After two years of skills training, “there is no more (child) malnutrition. We used to not eat well, now we eat clean and we know what we are eating. We are stronger eating these vegetables,” said Vallejos.

Although the surrounding fields are green, with oats and potatoes growing in the fertile soil, it is not easy to produce crops in these Andean region valleys as temperatures can drop abruptly to four degrees Celsius at night before soaring to 28 degrees, the project coordinator in Cochabamba, agronomist Remmy Crespo, explained to IPS.

Experts from several disciplines arrived at the municipalities of Pocona and the neighbouring Pojo, where the local population lives in scattered villages and hamlets, to provide integral support ranging from food production, transformation or commercialisation to consumption, said Abdón Vásquez, the programme’s national coordinator.

When the extension workers arrived in 2015, the local diet consisted mainly of rice, eggs and occasionally chicken. Today the daily intake of the members of the families involved in the project has increased by about 800 calories in proteins, vitamins and minerals provided by the vegetables they grow, said Crespo.

Two carp freshly netted from one of the family ponds dug with the support of FAO in Conda Baja, in the municipality of Pocona. The introduction of fish farming and vegetables in the production and food intake of rural communities in highlands valleys in Bolivia has changed the lives of local people. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Jhaneth Rojas, a young farmer from Phuyuwasi, described to IPS how much her family’s dietary habits changed, as she pulled red radishes from the dirt and showed them to us with a smile.

Local farmers did not used to grow radishes, beets, cucumbers, squash, green beans, broccoli or spinach, but today “my father is interested in expanding the solar tent so that his children grow strong” with the production and intake of vegetables, said Rojas.

The project began in this village of 102 families in February 2016 with six tents, and today the community grows vegetables in 28 solar greenhouse tents.

Communities in Pocona, with a combined total population of 14,000 people, asked for technical support and supervision to build another 36 greenhouse tents, which protect the crops in a temperature-controlled environment.

In the village of Conda Baja, Elvira Salazar shows us her small garden, with lush green lettuce, green beans and beets she grows to feed her family.

Close to her garden, several fish farming ponds appear to be empty, but on closer look, carp (Cyprinus carpio) fry can be seen swimming in the one-metre-deep water diverted from the mountain slopes.

A farmer from Phuyuwasi examines a green tomato in her greenhouse garden, with Remmy Crespo, FAO coordinator in Bolivia’s central department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The fish have also been incorporated into the diet of the village’s 99 families, said Luis Alberto Morales, who together with his wife Zulma Miranda enjoy the taste of the fish.

Every 100 grams of carp provide 120 protein-rich calories, as well as vitamins A, B2, B6, B12 and E, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Harvesting the fish is a festive event. The fish farmers invested around 150 dollars in each 10 X 10 metre pond, and received intensive training sessions in fertilisation of fish, raising fish fry, water oxygenation, water quality control and feeding.

A total of 224 families from the municipalities of Pocona and Pojo (which has a population of over 10,000), have ponds populated with fish brought from the southern department of Santa Cruz.

In addition to fish, FAO added the production and consumption of the meat of guinea pigs, an Andean rodent smaller than a rabbit, which produce an average of 30 offspring per female annually.

Daly García told IPS that the nutritional quality of guinea pig meat motivated her to build breeding pens.

On her two-hectare family farm near Pojo, the seat of the municipality, 200 km from the city of Cochabamba, she now breeds guinea pigs using the fodder and alfalfa that she herself grows. She also produces apples, peaches and other fruit.

Clemencia Zapata, from Villa Esperanza, proudly holds up the leaves of two cabbages just picked from her small farm 3,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes, which she plants using organic bio-inputs provided by FAO and the municipality, to replace agrochemicals. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Farther from Pojo, at 3,300 metres above sea level, on the slopes of the mountains surrounding the village of Villa Esperanza, Clemencia Zapata tends her 1.5-hectare plot. Every morning she climbs a path to her land, where lettuce, cabbage and maize grow in neat rows.

The crops, growing under the bright sun of the Andes highlands, need assistance to combat pests, Zapata explained to IPS. FAO agronomist Miguel Vargas brought containers with “bio inputs” which replace agrochemicals.

Bio inputs have the technical support of FAO, the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and the Andes Agrecol organisation, in addition to the Pojo city government.

The products have been widely welcomed by the 150 people who have used them to replace agrochemicals, which they blame for health ailments such as eyesight problems and damage to the nervous system.

The project sells the bio inputs to farmers, at cost price, using the income to expand the production and benefits to other producers.

The last link in the project’s chain is the Healthy Products Processing Plant, inaugurated on Apr. 21 and headed by the Pojo Association of Producers of Nutritious Food. Like the solar tents, the facilities and brand have a female face.

Teacher Cinthya Orellana and producer Zaida Orellana direct the activities, under strict quality and hygiene control. The food must be boiled for 20 minutes and served hot, they recommend.

A nutritious soup of corn, vegetables and jerky or dried meat, or vegetables combined with fava beans, are among the dishes offered at local trade fairs.

“Men are not interested, that’s why all the partners are women,” said Orellana, a young woman who left the textile workshops of Argentina and Brazil to return to her land to look after her husband and children and work in the industrial processing of food products in Pojo.

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Naming and Shaming Human Rights Violators

6 June 2017 - 5:40pm

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his address to the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
GENEVA, Jun 6 2017 (IPS)

Fifty years ago, this was the day I first heard the sound of war. I was three and a half years old and, while fragmentary, I can still remember military men milling around our home in Amman, an armoured car stationed nearby and later, planes that flew overhead.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

It was a war that shaped my life, and forged my later desire to understand the depths of Palestinian suffering but not only that, Jewish suffering too – the latter spanning over two millennia, and which culminated in that colossal crime, the Holocaust.

I grew up not far from the massive Palestinian refugee camp in al-Baqa’a. I worked across the street from the al-Wihdat refugee camp. In the past thirty years, I have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau, visited Dachau, seen Buchenwald. I have studied in depth the trials at Nuremburg and elsewhere, the long and painful history of anti-Semitism in Europe, Russia and later, Arab countries – which remains still present in far too many places around the world.

Some will respond, mechanically almost, that the experiences of the two peoples are not equivalent, how could I mention them in one breath? Indeed, I agree – the Holocaust was so monstrous and so mathematically planned and executed it has no parallel, no modern equal.

Yet it is also undeniable that today, the Palestinian people mark a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force. An occupation which has denied the Palestinians many of their most fundamental freedoms, and has often been brutal in the way it has been realized; an occupation whose violations of international law have been systematic, and have been condemned time and again by virtually all States.

The Palestinians deserve freedom, as all peoples do. They deserve to bring up their children safe in their homes, on their land, exercising their rights in their State, free from this long and bitter occupation.

The Israelis also deserve freedom – a different sort of freedom, for they have long had their State, but they too have suffered grievously. The Israeli people have long endured unlawful attacks against their own civilian population – attacks which are often vicious, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, and also worthy of condemnation. Israelis too need to be free from this violence, from any existential threat posed to them.

The sine qua non for peace – the end of the occupation – must now be brought about, and soon. Maintain the occupation, and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain, the endless flow of ‘azzas and shivas, the weeping by loved ones for loved ones, the prayers, the curses, the hatreds and vengeance, the impossibility of a secure life for all. This can be ended.

The brutality of Daesh and other terrorist groups seemingly knows no bounds. Yesterday, my staff reported to me that bodies of murdered Iraqi men, women and children are still lying on the streets of the al-Shira neighbourhood of western Mosul, after at least 163 people were shot and killed by Daesh on 1 June to prevent them from fleeing. My staff have also received reports of missing persons from this neighbourhood.

I again condemn in the strongest of terms the cowardly and sickening attacks perpetrated against innocent people by callous terrorists operating in many parts of the world. Terrorism worldwide must be eradicated by government action – but smart action. Counter-terrorism must be prosecuted intelligently: that is, while preserving the human rights of all.

Please remember this: for every citizen wrongfully detained under a vague anti-terrorism law, and humiliated, abused, or tortured, it is not simply one individual who then nurses a grievance against the authorities, but most of their family too. Send one innocent person to prison, and you may deliver six or seven family members into the hands of those who oppose the government, with a few who may even go further than that.

The cost of a wrongful detention dramatically outweighs whatever benefit it is perceived to accrue. To counter violent extremism, we must stand firm and insist on its opposite: peaceful inclusion.

Two years ago, I touched on a subject which I wish to turn to once again this morning. I am told repeatedly we should not be “naming and shaming” States. But it is not the naming that shames. The shame comes from the actions themselves, the conduct or violations at issue.

The denial of the right to life shames; killing or murder, sometimes on a massive scale, produces shame stunningly, in seemingly inexhaustible supply. The denial of the right to development produces shame. The denial of human dignity, shames. Torture shames. Arbitrary arrests shame. Rape shames. My Office and I hold up a mirror before those whose shame has already been self-inflicted.

But what if there is no reaction to the suffering of so many people? I am concerned about the brazen absence of shame being paraded by a growing number of politicians world-wide.

When thug-like leaders ride to power, democratically or otherwise, and openly defy, not only their own laws and constitutions, but also their obligations under international law, where is their shame? Do they not feel disgusted with themselves when they incite or condone acts of violence and bigotry? When they remark that every soldier should be limited to three rapes of village women each, have they no conscience?

Promising bounties for killing people – people not convicted of crime, or charged with crime, but merely suspected, or imagined, criminals. Seeking to withdraw from laws to combat violence against women and domestic battery, claiming they represent a so-called “gender ideology”. Jailing principled judges and advocates, journalists, human rights defenders, university professors and teachers, and closing universities. Trading in malice, cruelty, insults and lies. What of their shame?

The universal rights to freedom, equality and dignity have been held to be true across cultures and civilisations because of their intrinsic value, and because they make it possible to keep the peace. They are not frivolous add-ons; they are absolutely critical. Trash these, openly and defiantly, and the boundaries separating us from horrific violence dissolve. Only catastrophes burst forth at that point. How can they be so foolish?

I will now devote the remainder of this speech to the issue of access, including non-cooperation and selective cooperation with human rights mechanisms and my Office. In September I will again address the frightful human rights violations in the world’s most serious conflict situations as well as in other crises.

Among the most striking features of this Human Rights Council is the Universal Periodic Review, which last month opened its third cycle. Every State in the world has twice submitted its performance and its intentions to the review’s often detailed scrutiny – and each State has committed to improving its record on a wide range of key points.

Has there been real improvement? As we enter the third round of scrutiny, is the UPR deepening in relevance, precision and impact? Is it merely an elaborate performance of mutual diplomatic courtesies, or is it leading to real and powerful changes to anchor peace and development and improve people’s lives?

My Office is determined to do everything in its capacity to ensure full implementation of recommendations from all human rights mechanisms, including, in the third round of the UPR, through suggesting lines of action. We will also continue to engage with UN Country Teams and others to ensure recommendations feed into their work.

Last September I shared with you my alarm about the refusal, by several Member States, to grant access to my Office or the human rights mechanisms. I pledged then that at a coming session of the Council, I would expand this discussion.

In recent months, I have been greatly concerned by a number of disgraceful incidents of personal threats and insults directed against Special Procedures mandate-holders. Three have recently been subjected to smear and hate campaigns, some involving incitement to violence: the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar; the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, in the context of discussions on the Philippines; and the Special Rapporteur on Iran. This is absolutely unacceptable. As Special Procedures are appointed by this Council, I call on you to consider what actions you may want to take to prevent these sorts of campaigns.

In this context, I must again emphasise my very serious concerns about intimidation and reprisals brought on by State officials against people who engage with the UN on human rights. My own staff, the Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies rely on members of civil society and national human rights institutions, alongside many others, for insight and information.

We count on their advice, their help – and even their pressure. We serve them – as do you, Excellencies. When Government or other officials intimidate, arrest or harm these individuals, they are attacking a fundamental element of the work of this Council and the UN, and it is our responsibility to do all we can to protect them.

Noting that at the Council’s next session we will present the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals, I call on all of you to cooperate with Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour, who is leading action across the UN system on this issue.

Members of this Council, and candidates for future membership, have a particular responsibility to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. Resolution 60/251, which set up this Council in March 2006, calls on them to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights (and to) fully cooperate with the Council”.

Yet, for example, Indonesia has 21 pending requests for visits by the Special Procedures, and has received only two mandate-holders since 2008. Egypt has 11 pending requests for visits, with the most recent mission seven years ago. Nepal, a candidate for membership, has 16 pending requests for visits, with the most recent mission by a thematic mandate holder conducted in 2008.

Venezuela has 10, with its most recent visit by a thematic mandate holder conducted in the last century. The Philippines has accepted three visits in the past five years but 23 other requests are pending. Despite issuing a standing invitation, Council member Nigeria has accumulated 15 requests for visits; one visit by Special Procedures was accepted last year, but the last previous visit was in 2007.

Most astonishingly, despite having been elected to this Council in 2015, Burundi continues to commit some of the most serious human rights violations dealt with by this Council, while the Government has suspended all forms of cooperation with my Office. In September the Council’s independent mission was declared persona non grata, and the current Commission of Inquiry has not been able to enter the country.

Turning to States which are not members of this Council, Bahrain, Laos, Tanzania and Turkmenistan have permitted no visits at all by Special Procedures in the course of the past five years, and have accumulated more than five requests each. Jamaica also fits into this category, but has agreed to the visit of the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent and I encourage the Government to establish specific dates for the visit. Zimbabwe, with 14 requests pending, has never accepted a single mission by a mandate-holder.

I strongly contest the self-serving argument presented by some, that this Council should avoid addressing country situations – a view which is usually voiced by leaders of States that feature few independent institutions, and which sharply curtail fundamental freedoms.

The Governments of Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Israel and Iran have also rejected resolutions creating country-specific mandate holders for them, and consequently do not allow visits by those mandate holders.

In the case of Syria, there has long been no access either for my Office or for the Syria Commission of Inquiry. This notwithstanding the continued horrific suffering of the Syrian people, particularly in besieged communities. I repeat my call for the release of all detainees wrongfully imprisoned in Syria. The UN is finalising the recruitment of the head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.

Last month the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did accept its first-ever Special Procedures visit, by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, an action I welcomed. Given the extreme severity of reported violations in the country, it should be clear this in no way diminishes the urgency of engagement with the country mandate holder and my Office, including our field-based structure in Seoul.

Myanmar has been providing access to the country mandate-holder, but specific locations requested are often off-limits, with conflicting explanations for these restrictions. I urge the Government to cooperate fully with the recently established independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, including full and unmonitored access to Rakhine State, where we believe the violations of human rights have been horrifying in the extreme.

In this survey of global cooperation and non-cooperation with Special Procedures, a particular mention should go to Cuba, which in April, after ten years of no visits by mandate-holders, accepted a mission by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons. It appears unusual for such an active member of the Human Rights Council to maintain such limited engagement with the Special Procedures.

China has invited four Special Procedures mandate holders to the country in the past seven years but, as with some other countries, these missions have faced challenges with regard to the necessary freedom of movement and access to independent civil society.

Finally, and in contrast, several States have devoted considerable efforts to cooperating with mandate holders, facilitating more than five country visits in the past five years: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Italy, Mexico, Tunisia and the United States. However, not all these visits have been free of difficulty.

In the United States, which has received six country visits from Special Procedures in the past five years and has agreed to a further two during 2017, it remains essential to enable access for the Special Rapporteur on torture to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, in line with the terms of reference of Special Procedures visits.

Australia, a candidate for membership of this Council, has not given access to all detention centres for migrants and despite multiple recommendations, the situation at centres in Nauru and Manus has not been adequately addressed.

Becoming party to an international human rights treaty is a commitment which the State makes, above all, to its own people. Reporting procedures aim to identify gaps in protection and measures taken to correct them. They are not optional.

Yet reports by 74 States have been overdue for a decade or longer – and in a few minutes, when the full text of this speech is posted to the Office website, the list of those countries will be appended. As many as 280 initial reports have never been submitted – meaning States have ratified the related treaty or optional protocol, and then seemingly turned their back on their obligations, reneging on their commitment.

Report HRI/MC/2017/2 last month, for consideration by the Chairs of the human rights treaty bodies, explores in often shocking detail this non-compliance by States parties. The treaties with the highest proportion of States parties not complying with reporting obligations were the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These are fundamental instruments. Sixty-five States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography have failed to report to it. Almost 30% of States Parties have not submitted their initial report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The UN has been webcasting all public reviews by the Treaty Body Committees since last year, inspiring considerable interest in the respective countries; in April, Tunisia’s third report to the Committee against Torture was livecast in a cinema, to an audience that included government officials, activists, media and victims. And rightly so: the aim and subject of human rights reporting is to be of benefit to the people. It is not an end in itself, or a purely mechanical process to feed bureaucratic demands.

Only 33 States are fully up to date with their Treaty Body reporting: Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Canada, China, Cook Islands, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Holy See, Honduras, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niue, Oman, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Singapore, Sweden, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United States of America, Uruguay and Uzbekistan. As I have said, reporting is essential – but taken alone, it does not necessarily translate directly into real progress.

I am happy to report a number of situations for which access by my staff has improved or seems likely to advance in the near future.

In Uzbekistan, when I visited Tashkent last month, officials at the highest levels agreed to cooperate with my Regional Office for Central Asia and pledged to invite Special Procedures mandate-holders to visit the country, beginning with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Uzbekistan still faces major human rights challenges but the leadership is, I believe, pointing the country in the right direction.

Armenia has also recently informed me of its intention to upgrade its engagement with the Office, and we will continue discussions with the Government in this direction.

During my mission to Ethiopia last month I signed a Memorandum of Interest with the Government, and held important discussions with the authorities, including on the need to increase democratic and civic space. Although access has not yet been granted to my staff to assess the recent events in Oromia and Amhara regions, I am hopeful this will take place, and I have pledged to lead a follow-up mission to Ethiopia next year. The recent sentencing of opposition leaders, apparently for expressing dissenting views, is of considerable concern to me, as are the periodic shutdowns of social media.

The Government of Mozambique has accepted a technical mission by my staff, and has requested OHCHR provide assistance to train police, improve administration of justice and prison conditions, and assist with issues of transitional justice. I am hopeful this will ultimately lead to OHCHR and Special Procedures gaining greater access to verify allegations of summary executions, arbitrary killings and enforced disappearances.

The already dire situation in the Kasai provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to deteriorate, spreading to other provinces and across the border with Angola. Given the difficulties in accessing the areas where violations and abuses are occurring, I will be dispatching a team to the region next week to meet with people fleeing the attacks. Unless I receive appropriate responses from the Government regarding a joint investigation by 8 June, I will insist on the creation of an international investigative mechanism for the Kasais.

On Western Sahara, discussions are ongoing with the Government to resume technical missions. My Office is also reviewing options for access to Crimea .

I deeply regret the need to report that in a number of other areas there has been no change since my speech to the Council in September 2016 regarding this essential question of access. In the south-east region of Turkey, our efforts to inquire into allegations of serious violations continue to be denied, while the volume of people awaiting trial across the country makes it difficult to imagine due process guarantees are being respected.

Despite repeated high-level requests to India and Pakistan, permission for my staff to have unconditional access to both sides of the Line of Control in India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir has still not been granted, and we continue to receive reports of increasing violence, civilian casualties, curfews and website blackouts.

In Venezuela, the growing human rights crisis – including killings of at least 60 people, according to the Attorney General, as well as widespread shortages and hunger – highlights the increasingly urgent need for an impartial analysis and rapid assistance. I urge the Government to accept my request for a mission to the country at working level.

As this Council is aware, where the human rights situation appears critical, and where access is repeatedly denied to my Office, the only option open to us may be to conduct various forms of remote monitoring. So long as refusals to enable access persist, I will be compelled to consider reporting publicly and regularly on their findings.

Last week, the Central African Republic authorities, OHCHR and MINUSCA launched the human rights Mapping Report. It is our sincere hope that this report will galvanise national and international efforts to fight impunity and send a strong signal that justice will be done to all those who are engaged in or backing the current wave of appalling violence threatening the country.

Guatemala recently extended the host agreement of my country office for three more years, a welcome development. However, I regret that the OHCHR country office in Bolivia will close at the end of the year, following the Government’s decision. We will nonetheless continue to follow the human rights situation in Bolivia to the extent possible.

Every State has accepted that it “is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms” – to reprise the Vienna Declaration. Every State is party to at least one of the nine core human rights treaties. And it would be intolerable if delegations were to conclude that by maintaining minimal engagement with the human rights mechanisms they can evade or betray those commitments to their own peoples, and to the peoples of the world.

Leaders may wish to deny this reality, but whether we like it or not, humanity is connected. The torture of children in Daraa in March 2011, and violent attacks by the Syrian security forces on the subsequent protests by their parents, neighbours and supporters have led to a conflict whose slaughter, destruction and shockwaves continue to wreak havoc well beyond Syria’s borders. We see again and again, more and more brutally, around us the results of discrimination, deprivation and injustice – in the escalation of crises and suffering, and the outbreak of war.

Whether or not individual leaders consider this truth convenient, it is nonetheless a fact that denial of human rights in one county concerns every State in the Organisation.

To achieve progress in human rights takes a great deal more than the flourish of a signature at the bottom of a document. My Office, the Council’s Special Procedures and the Treaty Bodies offer States the benefit of objective and expert scrutiny, extensive experience, and practical, targeted tools.

I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to build on the Secretary-General’s commitment to prevention, and on the 2030 Agenda, which is powered by a drive to end discrimination on any grounds built around a core of commitment to rights – most particularly the right to development. We can use these entry points to develop new openings for human rights work that can impact the lives of vast numbers of people. But the principal responsibility for opening those doors still rests on Governments, Excellencies, and on this Council.

Post-Soviet Russian economic collapse

6 June 2017 - 10:24am

Was the post-Soviet transition the greatest 'man-made' economic disaster ever?. Credit: IPS

By Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Wide-ranging economic reforms following the demise of the Soviet Union at the end of December 1991 mainly resulted in economic collapse in most successor states. By the mid-1990s, output had fallen by about half compared to 1989.

Meanwhile, income inequalities rose sharply as real incomes declined dramatically for most, while death rates increased by over half as life expectancy declined dramatically.

In Russia, output fell by 45% during 1989-1998, as death rates increased from 1% in the 1980s to over 1.5% in 1994, equivalent to over 700,000 additional deaths annually. In some former Soviet states embroiled in military conflicts, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Tajikistan, GDP in 2000 was 30-50% of pre-transition levels! Even without military conflict, Ukraine’s GDP fell by nearly two thirds. In Eastern European countries, output fell less, averaging 20-30% over 2-4 years, whereas growth accelerated in China and Vietnam following reforms.

The huge collapses in output, living standards and life expectancy in the former Soviet Union during the 1990s without war, epidemic or natural disaster was unprecedented. During the Great Depression, GDP in Western countries fell by some 30% on average in 1929-1933, but then recovered to pre-recession levels by the end of the 1930s.

Transition debate

Why was the decline in output and incomes in the former Soviet Union so deep and protracted? To what extent was it due to ‘initial conditions’, and to what extent was it due to poor economic policy choices? If the latter was mainly responsible, the post-Soviet transition was the greatest ‘man-made’ economic disaster ever.

Many believe that “things went terribly wrong”, and that it would have been possible to avoid the fate of the former Soviet republics in the 1990s with different policies. After all, most other transition economies did better than them, and no Russian seriously believes that the exceptional length and depth of its post-Soviet recession was inevitable.

The question of the most appropriate post-Soviet economic transition policies is the subject of considerable debate, not least between those who advocate comprehensive ‘shock therapy’ and others who believe that pragmatic, gradual, piecemeal reforms, rather than policies driven by ideological dogmas, would have had much better consequences.

World Bank policy advice
The World Bank’s 1996 World Development Report (WDR), From Plan to Market, argued that differences in economic performance were mostly associated with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ policies, particularly in terms of economic liberalization and macroeconomic stabilization. “Consistent policies, combining liberalization of markets, trade, and new business entry with reasonable price stability, can achieve a great deal even in countries lacking clear property rights and strong market institutions”.

However, contrary to mainstream Western coverage, there is no evidence that rapid economic liberalization and macroeconomic stabilization would have improved post-Soviet economic performance. The apparent link between liberalization and performance is due to the greater depth of the recession in the former Soviet republics compared to Eastern Europe.

Attempts to correlate differences in output changes during transition to the cumulative liberalization index and to inflation rates have no explanatory value. Once a number of ‘initial conditions’ are taken into consideration, the liberalization index becomes insignificant. Although the Chinese index of ‘economic freedom’, as measured by the Heritage Foundation, has been about the same as Russia’s in recent years, the economic performance of the two countries have differed markedly.

Deep recessions
The depth of the recession was mainly due to three sets of factors. First, greater distortions in industrial structure and external trade on the eve of transition. Second, the collapse of state and non-state institutions in the late 1980s and early 1990s which resulted in chaotic transformation. Third, poor policies worsening macroeconomic instability.

The post-Soviet economic recessions were due to the high costs of the distortions – including excessive militarization and over-industrialization, ‘perverted’ trade flows among the former Soviet republics and with Eastern European countries, excessively large industrial enterprises and agricultural farm sizes – as well as efforts to correct them. In most cases, Soviet distortions were more pronounced than in Eastern Europe. Apparently, the larger the distortions, the greater the output reduction.

The greater collapse of state institutions also explains the severity of post-Soviet recessions. Differences in the depth of transformational recessions between Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics appear to be due to their greater institutional collapses. Poorer government ability to collect taxes, check the shadow economy, and uphold ‘law and order’, e.g., by enforcing contracts, undermined creation of a business climate conducive to investment and growth.

Post-Soviet transitions (except in Uzbekistan, Belarus and Estonia) involved unfavourable initial conditions, institutional degradation, and poor economic policies, which were less problematic in Eastern Europe. Thus, the Gorbachev reforms of 1985-1991 failed, not because they were gradual, but due to weakened state institutional capacity. However, the Yeltsin reforms had catastrophic consequences due to inappropriate policy reforms for the Russian transition after Gorbachev.

Renewing Commitment to SDGs: Private Sector Gets Active

6 June 2017 - 5:19am

By Paloma Duran

Just last month business representatives from around the world joined the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Fund commemorate their work as part of the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG).

For much of the last two years, the group has been collaborating with the Fund on how the business community can work towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN’s roadmap to promote inclusive economic growth, social justice and environmental protection.

This group of businesses committed to sustainability has accomplished a number of goals since it was formed in 2015, including establishing a set of pioneering public-private partnerships in areas such as food security, education, and employment for women and youth.

The group has served as an important link between the business sector and SDG Fund partners to raise awareness about the SDGs, participate in research on public-private partnerships and promote best practices. Under our ongoing strategy, the group will intensify its work on advancing and advocating for greater inclusion linked to the goals and helping us widen our private-sector approach.

Advocacy and outreach

The PSAG continues to play a vital role in informing the SDG Fund on how businesses can better work with partners at the UN, particularly how they can improve people’s living standards and make investments that will create more jobs. It’s also become clear that companies are slowly embracing and adopting the Sustainable Development Goals in their strategies — working on projects that align with their core business and interest and adhere to a larger framework

In fact, the SDG Fund has engaged new private sector partners to generate a number of key initiatives, including the Food Africa Project in Nigeria, an innovative partnership between private enterprise, UN and government agencies, and renowned chefs that aims to alleviate poverty through food security.

At the SDG Fund, it is clear that companies are eager to think more expansively on their role in development, and business of all sizes are demonstrating that they can effectively incorporate SDGs as a part of their strategic planning.

There are a few signs that we are on track, especially as members of the Private Sector Advisory Group continue to provide valuable perspective about building new partnerships to eradicate poverty, achieve food security and improve nutrition, water access and sanitation. Since joining the group, many companies have successfully incorporated the SDGs into their work and sustainability reports.

For example, Nutresa and Sahara Group now report annual results and sustainability activities using SDG goals and indicators. More than half of the members are engaging with the SDG Fund to create public-private partnerships and working to design and co-create programs in the field. Equally encouraging is that new companies, like Intel have joined the group.

It is probably worth noting that a business as usual approach is no longer possible. Thankfully, the number of businesses interested in joining forces on the SDGs has been encouraging. Companies like Ebro Foods have used the power of social media to raise awareness about a new initiative that brings together philanthropists, governments and academics.

Other milestones include the engagement of UN Goodwill Ambassadors – the Roca Brothers. The master chef brothers have committed to bringing attention to the SDGs and using their expertise to advocate for enhanced food security and access to nutritious food. They are working with local partners to provide guidance on how to improve food industry and agricultural practices to protect the environment and create jobs.

In 2017, working with our public and private sector partners we have witnessed how companies have continued to deepen their knowledge of the SDGs, asking key questions and exploring how their organizations can contribute to the global development agenda. This has come to mean everything from devising innovative partnership agreements to investing in large-scale infrastructure or improving agriculture inputs.

In fact, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery building on this group’s experience, some countries have drawn lessons from our success and began replicating the model and creating national versions of the group.

For example, Nigeria, recently launched a Private Sector Advisory Group. The private sector has come together to advise the government to share ideas across industry sectors and regions with the aim of creating a connective platform for more impactful and local-driven models and solutions to achieve the SDGs.

Projects in the pipeline

We believe there is a lot to do in the next 13 years, we know from our series of reports, there must also be more robust public-private collaboration across the UN to achieve SDGs start taking shape. We heard and we listed to companies as reflected in our “Business and the United Nations: How business can contribute to the SDGs,” which provided case studies and best practice advice for companies eager to engage in the SDGs.

A second report, “Universality and the SDGs: A Business Perspective,” put out this year was based on input from more than 100 companies during interactive workshops in Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States. Looking forward, the SDG Fund is committed to bringing public and private institutions together to achieve development results.

Our private sector strategy has two objectives: to involve businesses in all of our 22 field programs and expand the reach of our global business advisory partners. We are also preparing a new report, taking a deep dive into how businesses can contribute to peace outlined as part of SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions).

As in much of our work, this will be a collaborative effort with the University of Pennsylvania Law School and McDermott Will & Emery LLP to analyze the links between inclusive growth, partnerships and peace.

As champions for promoting the SDGs, we also believe that policy, direction and action will be instrumental for setting the stage for SDG integration. We look forward to working with the private sector and continuing to explore ways to create an ongoing mechanism to boost cooperation and development through the SDGs in all industries.

Saving the Oceans, Saving the Future: Officials Tackle Marine Pollution

6 June 2017 - 4:36am

Opening Ceremony of UN Ocean Conference. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The oceans’ health is only getting worse and the cycle of decline must be reversed, said representatives at the opening of a high-level UN conference.

Approximately 5,000 representatives from governments, civil society, and the private sector from around the world have gathered at the UN for its first ever Ocean Conference, a high-level meeting which aims to address and mobilize action to improve the state of oceans.

“The health of our oceans and seas are inextricably linked with the health of our planet and all life on earth,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the full General Assembly hall.

However, the oceans are under threat as a result of human activity.

“We are here on behalf of humanity to restore the sustainability, balance, and respect in our relationship with our primal mother, the source of all life, the ocean,” said President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly Peter Thomson.

“The time has come for us to correct our wrongful ways,” he added.

Among the pressing issues to be addressed during the conference is marine pollution, and much of this pollution is from plastic.

Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing more than 260,000 tons are currently floating in the world’s oceans, a figure that may be an underestimate. More than 80 percent of such plastic waste in oceans comes from land.

Because of ocean currents, this trash accumulates in what is known as “ocean garbage patches,” located in virtually every ocean in the world. The largest such patch is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located between Hawaii and California which is estimated to be around 1 million square kilometers.

This has contributed to the massive piles of trash that have washed upon the shores of the isolated and once pristine Henderson Island in the South Pacific. A recent study found that the UNESCO world heritage site is covered with over 38 million pieces of trash, making it the most densely polluted place in the world. Researchers found discarded fishing nets, toy soldiers, and hardhats.

“It is inexcusable that humanity tips the equivalent of a large garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day. We have unleashed a plague of plastic upon the ocean that is defiling nature in so many tragic ways,” Thomson told conference attendees.

And plastic that ends up in the ocean does not solely float harmlessly, but rather have real, long-term implications on animal and human health.

Oceans and Peoples’ Health as One

Animals, which often find themselves entangled in trash, have also been seen to be ingesting plastic with deadly consequences.

In a dialogue on marine pollution on the first day of the conference, Norwegian Minister of Climate Vidar Helgesen pointed to the case of a goose-beaked whale which beached on Norway’s cost earlier this year and was found with nothing but 30 plastic bags in its stomach.

Plastics also release toxins when ingested which have found to be damaging the reproductive health of many fish species.

Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP)’s Director General Kosi Latu noted that plastic was found in 97 percent of fish species studied in the Pacific alone.

WEF predicts there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if such trends in ocean pollution continue.

Evidence also shows that people are consuming plastics by eating seafood.

After purchasing fish from markets in Indonesia and the U.S., researchers found that 1 in 4 fish had plastic in their guts. European researchers estimated that Europeans could be eating 11,000 microplastics every year through seafood.

Though the impacts are still uncertain, studies have shown that plastic ingested by humans could be toxic and can increase the risk of health problems such as cancer.

A Call for Action

Representatives have therefore urged for action to prevent and reduce marine pollution during the conference.

Already, countries have outlined commitments to combat the issue.

Indonesia has vowed to reduce 70 percent of its marine litter by 2025 while Thailand has established a pollution management plan that comprises of encouraging eco-friendly substitute for plastic materials and implementing a 3Rs strategy of reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The lack of strong policies and infrastructure on waste management have largely contributed to ocean pollution. For instance, only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally, allowing millions of tons of plastic to end up in landfills and oceans each year.

“Without effective recycling, I don’t think we will be able to solve the problem,” said Latu.

The Ocean Conservancy also found that Indonesia and Thailand are among the top five plastic-polluting nations in the world.

Other countries such as Austria have committed to reducing plastic bag use while Sweden introduced a ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetics. More than 600 commitments have been received.

Civil society groups have also promised to take action including the Dutch foundation Ocean Cleanup which has developed a cost-effective net system that could clean up 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.

Though there is no one size fits all solution, conference participants agree on one thing: we must act now if we want a secure future on this planet.

“This is the year that we cease to steal from the future of our grandchildren,” said Thomson.

Guterres highlighted the long history of people’s relationship to the ocean as a call for action, stating: “The Swedes were sailing around the Baltic Sea and as far away as present-day Istanbul 7,300 years ago. Fijians were sailing canoes at record speeds and for record distances around the Pacific well before that. A Japanese creation myth tells of how the archipelagos formed from seawater, and Inuit creation myths is central on Sedna, the goddess of the sea. The sea indeed belongs to all of us.”

The globally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes goal 14 which stresses the need to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Within the goal is a target to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds by 2025.

From 5-9 June at the UN Headquarters in New York, the Ocean Conference will address ways to implement goal 14 and its targets.

Instability Widens in Mali and the Sahel Region of Africa

6 June 2017 - 2:39am

Chadian peacekeepers serving with the UN in northern Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By René Wadlow
GRAVIERES, France, Jun 6 2017 (IPS)

The first foreign visit of the new French President Emmanuel Macron, after a now habitual trip to Berlin, was to Gao in northern Mali as head of the French military.

The visit was an attempt to be seen as paying attention to the efforts of French troops in operations in northern Mali and other states of the Sahel region of Africa.

In March 2012, the West African state of Mali was effectively divided into two roughly equal halves, each about the size of France. The northern half was under the control of two rival Touareg groups with additional non-Toureg fighters coming from other Sahel countries and northern Nigeria.

René Wadlow

The larger Toureg faction was the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). It was larger than its rivals but less well armed. Its main aim was to create an independent state, to be called Azawad, the name for the area in the Toureg language. The leaders of the MNLA quickly declared the political independence of the area.

One Touareg rival was the Ansar Dine “defenders of the faith” which said it wanted to apply Islamic law to all of Mali. In addition to Ansar Dine, there were at least two other Islamist groups, largely composed of non-Malians: Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (known by its initials in French, AQMI) and Mujao (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa).

The complicated tribal politics of northern Mali and neighboring Sahel areas of southern Algeria, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania has made unity of action difficult.

On January 10, 2013, with outsized ambitions and poor calculations of international reactions, the Ansar Dine and some related allies decided to move toward Bamako, the capital of Mali.

The Malian government cried for help. The French government, which has troops and war planes in neighboring states – all former French colonies – responded on January 11 of 2013 with planes destroying armed trucks, thus stopping the advance of the Islamists. French ground troops were flown to Bamako as a fighting, not only a training, force.

The well-trained and equipped French troops moved quickly to take over the cities and larger towns of northern Mali and much of the countryside.

The Islamist groups had no desire to fight the more numerous French troops, to which were added Malian forces and small groups of soldiers from other West African countries. Thus, Islamist forces largely melted into the civilian population. Some of the Islamists who were better armed moved north into mountainous areas to live in caves and secluded regions.

The Islamists have integrated a northern Sahel area in which there is an active trade in drugs coming from Latin America. Since cargo and persons coming from Latin America directly to Europe are suspected by officials of being involved in the drug trade, an African stopover has become standard.

Planes land in little used airports in Mali or other Sahel areas. The drug cargo is taken by road to ports and then shipped to Europe. Along the way, Malian civil administrators and military are paid to look the other way as the drugs go by. Since salaries are low and often paid late, not much additional pressure is needed to move the drugs. Along with drugs, there is an active trade in arms and in transporting people hoping to go to Europe to find work.

Looking to the north from Gao and Timbuktu to counter the drug and arms trade has left events to the south in Mali largely unnoticed, though trends there may have even more destabilizing consequences.

Due in part to the consequences of drought over the last five years, there has been a push south of the Peuls. (Peul is the single person, Fulani is the correct plural, but putting an s on Peul has become common usage).

The Peul, probably some 30 million strong are originally from the Sahel zone cutting across parts of Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and northern Nigeria. Due in part to the 1972-1983 drought, the Peuls started moving south into southern Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, all the way south to the Central African Republic.

Since the Peuls are cattle herders, there have always been conflicts with settled farmers as to when the cattle could come into fields after harvest, the use of water, and so on.

In areas where there has been long co-existence, rules have been worked out and dispute settlement mechanisms put into place. With the prolonged drought and new areas of occupation, the old rules and dispute-settlement mechanisms have not been able to cope. This is one of the factors in the armed conflict in Darfur, Sudan, although the Peuls are not directly there.

There seems to be an increasing Islamist current among the Peuls, creating insecurity and tensions both among the Peuls and between the Peuls and other ethnic groups.

It is difficult to know from outside what is the place of ideological tensions and what are due to socio-economic tensions and how the two may overlap. Emmanuel Macron’s flash visit to northern Mali – more of a public relations effort than anything – may usefully draw attention to an ever-widening troubled area.

*René Wadlow’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service: TMS: Instability Widens in Mali and the Sahel Region of Africa

The statements and views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

Trump Will Make the US Face Loss and Damage Claims

5 June 2017 - 9:51am

By Saleemul Huq
Jun 5 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Since the announcement by President Trump that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change, he has been facing a whirlwind of push backs and rejection by all the 195 countries who are parties to the Paris Agreement (only Syria and Nicaragua did not sign it), and it looks like the US will be on its own on this issue from now on, and is already being termed a rogue state by many.

Image: Sarah Wasko-Media Matters

I want to focus on a little known Article of the Paris Agreement, which may well come to haunt the US and will be an unintended consequence of the US withdrawing from it.

This is about Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, which is on an issue called Loss and Damage from climate change, a fiercely fought topic in the negotiations going into Paris which was not resolved until the last hour of the final agreement in Paris at midnight on December 12, 2015.

Before going into the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to be held in Paris in December 2015, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there were a series of negotiations to prepare the final negotiating text which would then be finalised over the two weeks of COP21.

Going into Paris, every Article had some proposed text from the developed countries (called option 1) and another few paragraphs of text from the developing countries (called option 2), and in many cases, the two options presented opposing ideas. The idea was that all countries would spend two weeks in Paris at COP21, finding a compromise text between the two opposing options to emerge with a consensus text as part of the Paris Agreement.

However, the exception to this pattern was Article 8 on loss and damage where the developing countries proposed a few paragraphs of text, but the option from the developed countries wasn’t just to offer no text but to instead propose that this Article be deleted completely!

Why was this the case?

The reason is because the issue of loss and damage from climate change refers to the residual impacts of human induced climate change when efforts to prevent impacts by mitigation have been insufficient, and also when efforts to adapt to those impacts are not enough either. The resulting impacts and the resulting loss and damage, thus, can be attributed to human induced changes to the climate.

In such cases, the loss and damage is no longer due to natural causes but due to human interference in the climate system. Hence, there is a potential liability and claims for compensation to be made by the victims against the polluters.

That is why the developed countries had fought tooth and nail to refuse to accept any discussion of liability and compensation in the UNFCCC talks for over twenty years. However, the breakthrough came at COP19 in Warsaw, Poland in 2013, where they were forced to accept the setting up of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (which was understood to be a euphemism for liability and compensation).

So coming in to the COP21 talks in Paris in December 2015, the developed countries did not want to accept a new separate Article on Loss and Damage in the Paris Agreement at all. Hence, this Article became one of the most politically charged and sensitive issues in the COP21, talks. The developing countries, led by the small island developing states and the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group, in which Bangladeshi negotiators played an important role, pushed to include loss and damage in Article 8.

After very hard negotiations for two weeks, initially at the level of the technical negotiators and then ministers, it was still not resolved until the last few hours of COP21 when Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu, on behalf of the developing countries, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, on behalf of the developed countries, requested their negotiators to leave the room and agreed on the final text that was eventually accepted as the Loss and Damage Article 8 of the Paris Agreement.

The reason that John Kerry of the US finally accepted Article 8 on Loss and Damage was because the Prime Minister of Tuvalu allowed him to insert a paragraph into the COP21 decision associated with the Article which specifically stated that Article 8 of the Paris Agreement could NOT be used to claim compensation on the basis of liability from the polluting countries. This was specifically inserted to protect the US from potential future claims for compensation once loss and damage from climate change is established.

So as per President Trump’s announcement when the US officially withdraws from the Paris Agreement, the US will lose the protection of this clause and hence will be open to claims for compensation from people, communities and countries that suffer loss and damage that can be attributed to human induced climate change. I am not sure if any of President Trump’s advisers told him about this unintended consequence of his decision to leave the Paris Agreement!

The writer is Director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.


This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Women Small-Holder Farmers, Key Drivers for Sustainable Production

5 June 2017 - 8:09am

Through the Productive Assets Creation Programme (PAC), WFP in Zimbabwe supported 95,000 people in 2016 through the rehabilitation or creation of community assets, such as water harvesting systems. Photo courtesy of WFP.

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Jun 5 2017 (IPS)

The shouts can be heard from a distance as one approaches Domboshawa, 30 kilometres northeast of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Tokupai madomasi! Tokupai mbambaira! Do you want tomatoes or sweet potatoes? Mune marii? How much do you have? Scores of women and children carrying bundles of vegetables, sacks of sweet potatoes and containers full of farming produce shout above the din of moving vehicles, trying to sell their produce for a meagre profit."Households and communities have been engaged to promote non–oppressive practices, recognising the importance of role sharing.” --Ali Said Yesuf, FAO Chief Technical Advisor

Tsitsi Machingauta, 32, has a two-hectare farm in the area. She decries the numerous problems faced by smallholder farmers, which range from produce rotting in the fields due to the heavy downpours the country experienced this year, to a poor road network that restricts their access to markets.

“Even when supermarket chains come to buy our produce, they pay very little because we do not have the bargaining power. Because of the poor returns, we struggle to make a living, let alone to send our children to school,” Machingauta told IPS.

Machingauta, who is the founder and director of Women’s Farming Syndicate, an organization that supports women smallholder farmers in Domboshaw), explains how the lack of skills to make use of technology and limited time for training for women – compounded by climate change – has worsened the plight of women in the area.

According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development (MWAGCD), in Zimbabwe, women make up 70 percent of the rural population and 86 percent of women are involved in farming. Of the smallholder farmers who benefited from the government’s land reform program, only 18 percent are female; for commercial land, women constitute just 12 percent.

A study by the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (2016) on Women Agribusiness Entrepreneurs revealed that fewer women smallholder farmers meet the banking sector’s stringent borrowing requirements, and women are more likely to operate informally.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report on Small Holders and Family Farmers, if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger.

Ali Said Yesuf, FAO Chief Technical Advisor, told IPS that in an effort to address these challenges, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) funded 72 million dollars to implement the Livelihood and Food Security Program (LFSP) to increase agricultural productivity and incomes, improve food and nutrition security, and reduce poverty in rural Zimbabwe.

“LFSP will actively address the specific constraints that smallholder farmers, particularly women, face in raising the productivity of their farms and participating in markets,” says Yesuf. The project covers eight districts in Zimbabwe.

The interventions take into account time constraints, which are as a result of women’s numerous domestic responsibilities. The LFSP promotes labour-saving technologies such as mechanised conservation agriculture, mechanised groundnut shellers, mechanised water abstraction technologies and more efficient wood stoves.

Yesuf said extension services and trainings have been carried out close to homes to avoid disruptions of women’s routines.

“Value chains such as poultry – broilers and indigenous chickens – and groundnuts that are perceived to be dominated by women are also given preference.  This allows women to have some control over incomes that are derived,” Yesuf told IPS.

He said the LFSP would also ensure the following:

  • Women’s participation in decision-making, i.e. membership on committees such as Rural District Councils (RDCs), Internal Savings And Lending (ISALs), commodity associations, lead farmers
  • Household decision-making by working with women and men to integrate gender relations within the household
  • Increasing women’s knowledge about markets

The LFSP has employed the Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) approach which provides safe spaces for communities to integrate decision-making and power relations.

“Through this, households and communities have been engaged to promote non–oppressive practices, recognising the importance of role sharing,” Yesuf told IPS.

As women are known for good saving practices, the LFSP has enhanced and built on such initiatives through the Internal Savings and Lending (ISALs) through training and capacity development and introduction of income-generating activities.

Women in the Midlands Province have transformed their lives through the Extension and Training for Rural Agriculture (EXTRA) project, a three-year project under LFSP. Vavariro ISALs in the Midlands Province is one such group whose members’ lives have been transformed.

“We started by contributing small amounts of money – as little as three dollars per person,” said Virginia Gomana, a Vavariro group member.

“Now we have ventured into big projects that we never thought we could do, such as goat rearing and market gardening, and this has enabled us to own our own homes. Vavariro has also become a platform where we are able exchange ideas, strengthen our skills,” she said.

Yesuf said that financial institutions have also been tapped to better support the needs of these women.

“Women are accessing loans from Micro-Finance Institutions (MFI) through the group methodology where there is group collateral and guarantorship,” he said.

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Charting a Course to a Blue Commonwealth

5 June 2017 - 6:53am

Patricia Scotland is Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations

By Patricia Scotland
LONDON, Jun 5 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations Ocean Conference offers an historic opportunity to safeguard the ocean environment and support small island and vulnerable developing coastal states, who depend on the seas for national economic growth and sustainable development.

Patricia Scotland

This summit is about navigating a course to deliver on the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 14 to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.” As we set our eyes on this goal, it is worth considering what the oceans mean to coastal communities.

Forty-five of the Commonwealth’s 52 member counties are ocean states, including most of the world’s small island developing states. For our member countries, the sea is a precious ecosystem, and also deeply rooted in traditional culture. It also provides jobs and immense potential economic opportunity – Vanuatu for instance has a maritime territory 56 times greater than its terrestrial footprint.

The whole Commonwealth family is immensely proud of Fiji, which has the special privilege of being co-chair of the Ocean Conference alongside Sweden. The commitment shown by Fiji’s Prime Minister, J.V. Bainimarama, is testament to the Pacific region’s leadership and advocacy on oceans.

Pacific countries, and in particular its small island developing states, have in recent years agreed powerful joint declarations on the sustainable use and management of the ocean. These have had a direct impact on influencing national policies to manage access to their waters while setting vital conservation limits.

A forthcoming Commonwealth Secretariat publication, ‘A Sustainable Future for Small States: Pacific 2050’, takes a closer look at some of the region’s innovative approaches on ocean governance, as well as a host of related issues from health to climate change and migration. The study follows on from a similar report in the Caribbean published last year which provided a stark warning for policy-makers.

Our research concludes that while there is much opportunity to be gained from the oceans, these states face a great many challenges, including commercial competition for marine resources and the impact of climate change. Rising populations, limited national capacity and investment and inadequate fiscal and revenue management also bring huge pressures.

Spurred on by leaders in the Pacific and Caribbean who understand these threats better than anyone, Commonwealth heads of government were early pioneers of the ‘blue economy’ concept. Applying to ocean governance the Commonwealth’s shared values – the commitment to democracy, good governance, equity and sustainability – this ‘Blue Commonwealth’ approach aims to help countries unlock economic value from the ocean while also conserving and protecting the marine environment.

At the Commonwealth Secretariat, we help our member states to better manage and protect against threats such as pollution and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. We offer help so countries can claim their maritime territory, and advise on managing offshore renewables, petroleum and deep-sea mining. We help our peoples to unlock the value of the sea in a sustainable manner while ensuring the equitable distribution of its benefits.

This ‘whole-ocean’ approach to economic development recognises the linkages between terrestrial and marine resources. It is an integrated ‘regenerative’ model which can best respond to sectoral and national interests in a way that suits day to day life.

The magnitude of the threat from climate change and rising sea levels, especially for those whose endowment or stage of development renders them less resilient, makes it incumbent upon us to shift from mere adaptation and mitigation towards approaches capable of transforming climate change into a window of opportunity.

This week’s Ocean Conference in New York, June 5-9, offers the chance to build on the hope offered by Sustainable Development Goal 14 to make good on our commitment to conserve and sustainably use the oceans. We need no less than a paradigm shift to move from ‘explore and exploit’ to ‘sustain and be sustained by’.

Most of all, we need to listen to communities who have been custodians of the seas for centuries and who have much wisdom to share. As one of the Pacific’s most influential scholars, Epeli Hau’ofa, once said, “no people on Earth are more suited to be guardians of the world’s largest ocean than those for whom it has been home for generations.”

On Tuesday 6 June 2015, Fiji Prime Minister J.V. Bainimarama, co-chair of the conference, joins Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at a ‘A Blue Commonwealth’, a high-level roundtable hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Seychelles. Find out more:

US Pull-out from Paris Deal: What it Means

5 June 2017 - 6:42am

Trump indicated the US is open to re-negotiating the Paris agreement. But European leaders quickly responded there is no such possibility. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jun 5 2017 (IPS)

By withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, President Donald Trump abdicated not only leadership but membership of the community of nations cooperating to tackle climate change, the most serious crisis facing humanity.

Trump’s announcement was shocking, even though it was not unexpected.

It was shocking for showing the extreme lengths to which the President would go to deny scientific opinion on climate change and defy the position of almost all other countries, on an issue that may well determine the fate of the Earth and human civilisation.

The decision was against the advice of most members of his inner-most circle of advisors, many corporate leaders, and the other G7 leaders who spent an entire frustrating day in Sicily trying to explain to him the critical importance of the Paris deal.

Just as disturbing as the withdrawal was Trump’s speech justifying it.  He never acknowledged the seriousness or even the existence of the climate change crisis, which poses the gravest threat to human survival.   He lamented that Paris would hinder US jobs, mentioning coal in particular while ignoring the jobs in renewable energy that would increase manifold if the US adopted an energy policy to counter global warming.

Martin Khor

His main grouse was that the Paris agreement was “unfair” to the US vis-à-vis all other countries, as if it had been designed specifically to cheat the US.  And he grumbled that the US would have to pay billions of dollars to developing countries through the Green Climate Fund.

The speech was riddled with many misconceptions and factual errors, which many scientists, politicians and NGOs are now busy refuting.

Condemnation came fast and furious from within the US and around the world.  A notable comment came from John Kerry, former Secretary of State under Obama:  “He’s made us an environmental pariah in the world….It may be the most self-defeating action in American history.”

Trump indicated the US is open to re-negotiating the Paris agreement.   But European leaders quickly responded there is no such possibility.  The UNFCCC secretariat correctly pointed out that a single country cannot decide on a re-negotiation.

Indeed, it would require a consensus of its 195 members to make amendments to the Paris Agreement or even agree to a re-negotiation.

That will not happen, as the agreement is a delicately balanced outcome which took many years of long and complicated negotiations to achieve.  To re-negotiate it would in effect be kill it.

The best response to the Trump decision is for others to resolve to do even more to combat climate change.  In the US itself, many states and cities have announced they will form an alliance and continue with their climate actions.

Condemnation came fast and furious from within the US and around the world. A notable comment came from John Kerry, former Secretary of State under Obama: “He’s made us an environmental pariah in the world….It may be the most self-defeating action in American history.”
An increasing number of countries including China, India, Germany, France, Italy and Canada as well as the European Union leadership have announced they will honour their Paris commitments despite the US pull-out.   There are no signs, so far at least, that any other country intends to follow the US out of Paris.

Indeed the Trump decision to leave Paris will be a milestone marking a huge loss of international prestige, influence and power to the US.   In a world so divided by ideology, inequality and economic competition, the Paris agreement was one rare area of global consensus and cooperation, on climate change.

For the US to pull out of that hard-won consensus is a shocking abdication not only of leadership but of its membership of the community of nations in its joint effort to face up to perhaps its gravest challenge of survival.

The lack of appreciation of this great crisis facing humanity and the narrow-mindedness of his concerns was embarrassingly evident when Trump made his withdrawal speech.  He was more interested to revive the sunset coal sector than in the promise of the fast developing renewable energy industries.

He was convinced reducing emissions would cost millions of jobs, ignoring the record of many countries like Germany that have de-coupled emissions growth from economic growth.  He was miserly towards poor countries which are receiving only a fraction of what they were promised and what they need for climate mitigation and adaptation, while celebrating hundreds of billions of dollars worth of new deals for his armaments industry.

He complained that the US is asked to do more than others in the Paris agreement when in fact the US has the highest emissions per capita of any major country and its pledged rates of emissions reduction are significantly lower than Europe’s.   He saw the speck in everyone else’s eyes while totally oblivious to the beam in his own.

Just as alarming as withdrawing from Paris is Trump’s comprehensive dismantling of Obama’s climate change policies and measures.   This will make the US unable to meet the target it chose under the Paris agreement:  a cut in emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2025 compared to the 2005  level.   The gap between the US target (which is already unambitious compared to what the science requires and compared to the European Union) and the expected higher emissions levels influenced by Trump’s policies, will worsen the global shortfall in emission reduction.

What will now happen in the UN climate convention, home to the Paris agreement?   The negotiations to establish the guidelines for countries to implement of the agreement will continue in the years ahead.

A complication is that the US has to wait three years from November 2016 (when the agreement came into effect) before withdrawing from Paris and then wait another year for this to come into effect.

The US will thus still be a member of the Paris agreement for the rest of Trump’s present term, although he announced he will not implement the Paris target that Obama had committed to. This defiance will likely have a depressing impact on other countries.

By also being still a member, the US could play a non-cooperative or disruptive role during the negotiations on many topics.  We can anticipate that the US will challenge principles or actions that have already been accepted or that are to be transformed into actions,  such as common but differentiated responsibilities to be operationalized in all areas;  equal and balanced treatment for mitigation and adaptation;  providing adequate financial resources for developing countries;  transparency of actions and of finance; and technology transfer.

Since the Trump has already made clear the US wants to leave Paris, and no longer subscribes to its emissions pledges (nationally determined contributions) nor will it meet its US$3 billion pledge on the Green Climate Fund, it would be strange to enable the country to still behave in the negotiations with the same status as other members that remain committed to their pledges.   How to deal with this issue is important so that the UNFCCC negotiations are not disrupted in the four years ahead.

Finally, the Trump portrayal of developing countries like India and China as profiting from the US membership of the Paris Agreement is truly unfair.

China is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide in absolute terms, with the US second and India third.   But this is only because the two developing countries have huge populations of over a billion each.

In per capita terms, carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 were 16.1 tonnes for the US, 7.7 tonnes for China and 1.9 tonnes for India, according to one authoritative estimate.  It would be unfair to ask China and India to have the same mitigation target as the US, especially since the US has had the benefit of using or over-using more than their fair share of cheap fossil-fuel energy for over a century more than the other two countries.

A recent New York Times editorial (22 May 2017) compared the recent performance of India and China with the recent actions of the US under President Trump.  It states:  “Until recently, China and India have been cast as obstacles…in the battle against climate change.   That reputation looks very much out of date now that both countries have greatly accelerated their investments in cost-effective renewable energy sources — and reduced their reliance on fossil fuels.  It’s America – Donald Trump’s America – that now looks like the laggard.”

It cites recent research that China and India should easily exceed their Paris agreement targets, with China’s emissions appearing to have peaked more than 10 years sooner (than pledged) and India expected to obtain 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2022, eight years ahead of schedule.   It criticises the Trump administration for destroying Obama’s initiatives based on his Paris pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gases.

“China and India are finding that doing right by the planet need not carry a big economic cost and can actually be beneficial,” said the editorial.   “By investing heavily in solar and wind, they and other countries like Germany have helped drive down the cost of those technologies where in many places renewable energy can generate electricity more cheaply than dirtier sources like coal.

“China has reduced coal use for three years in a row and recently scrapped plans to build more than 100 coal power plants.  Indian officials have estimated that country might no longer need to build new coal plants beyond those already under construction….There are of course formidable challenges….Still, Beijing and New Delhi – not embarrassingly enough, Washington – are showing the way forward.”

By withdrawing from the Paris agreement and through his reversal of Obama’s climate change policies, President Trump has taken the US and the world many big steps backwards in the global fight against global warming.  It will take some time for the rest of the world to figure out how to carry on the race without or despite the US.  Hopefully the absence of the US will only be for a few years.


Asia – Indigenous Women Fight for Justice, Influence and Equity

5 June 2017 - 6:15am

The author is the Executive Director of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

By Julie Koch
COPENHAGEN, Jun 5 2017 (IPS)

Indigenous women in Asia are setting examples in their efforts for a more peaceful, fair and equal world. But discrimination, poverty and lack of recognition still hinder indigenous women from fully participating in developing their societies.

Julie Koch

2017 has been called the year of empowerment of indigenous women by the UN Commission on the Status of Women. A timely and relevant choice, since indigenous women belong to one of the most marginalized groups in the world, and at the same time have so much to offer.

Empowering indigenous women to achieve justice, gain influence and take action is a precondition for a more equal world. But for this to happen, states and institutions must back up, when indigenous women are claiming their right to participation and are protesting against harmful traditional practices and sexual abuse.

Change from Women’s Perspective

Indigenous women gain more and more influence – internationally, nationally, and in their local communities.

Rukka Sombolinggi from the Torajan people in Indonesia says: “Indigenous women face discrimination on several fronts: We are poor, we are indigenous, and we are women. But this has strengthened our resolve to assert our rights, because when women have equal rights, our communities benefit.”

Across Asia, female indigenous activists like Rukka Sombolinggi from Sulawesi in Indonesia, Piy Macliing Malayao, the young Secretary General of Katribu in the Philippines, and Jannie Lasimbang, a prominent indigenous rights leader in Malaysia, are setting examples."Indigenous women around the world are over-represented as victims of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and they face major barriers in accessing justice for gender-based violence."

They increasingly raise their concerns and voices, when it comes to indigenous peoples’ rights, land grabbing, and climate change: The survival of their family and their people is threatened, so they act.

Indigenous women also gain more recognition for their specialised knowledge on food security and protection of forests and natural resources. They protect biodiversity and share new knowledge of protecting and improving the forest. For them mitigating climate changes is a way to ensure the wellbeing of their families.

Breaking with Patterns of Discrimination

Given the several challenges faced by indigenous peoples – climate change, land-grapping and human rights violations – women are included in protests, advocacy work and to some extent decision-making processes.

In Asia, women lead several indigenous peoples’ organisations, and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues is a woman from the Philippines.

Indigenous women are increasingly organising themselves in networks and organisations to be better able to raise specific issues more effectively to decision-makers and authorities. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) provides a framework for women to raise issues concerning their rights.

For indigenous women, their peoples’ rights to land and self-determined development are just as important as to men.

Sexual Harassment, Abuse and Rape

Still, indigenous women around the world are over-represented as victims of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and they face major barriers in accessing justice for gender-based violence.

Seeking education or work outside of their communities set indigenous women at risk of being raped or assaulted. A massive influx of non-indigenous workers, soldiers, and security personnel into indigenous areas has led to an increase of sex work along with sexual harassment and rape.

Furthermore, the practices of law-enforcement by states and authorities discourage indigenous women to seek justice: They fear reprisals from their indigenous communities when reporting sexual assault or rapes, as well as fearing the justice system itself with humiliating evidence collection of their innocence, insensitive interrogations, and culturally unknown settings of courtrooms and police stations.

Gender-Disaggregated Data Is Needed

Violence against women are often ignored, even accepted and rarely reported.

Unfortunately this follows the trend of missing information and data on indigenous women. Many states do not recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and therefore don’t report on indigenous peoples’ issues.

However, in seeking justice and ending discrimination against indigenous women, data is much needed. As thousands of stories and news about sexual harassment of indigenous women have not convinced decision-makers to act, numbers and data illustrating the size of the problems might increase awareness and influence political processes.

IWGIA has, together with our Asian partners Tebtebba and AIPP and three other organisations and institutions, initiated the EU-supported online data collection tool called the Indigenous Navigator. The aim of the tool is to provide community-generated data from indigenous peoples around the world – offered for free and with the possibility of disaggregating data.

The objective is to make up for the current lack of information and numbers, and make indigenous peoples and women visible as right holders.

Indigenous Women Are Change Agents

With our support to indigenous women, we are trying to break the cycle of non-participation, violence and sexual discrimination against women.

We see indigenous women as change agents: They pass their knowledge and cultural traditions on to future generations, and they revive and develop the societies they are part of.

We therefore strongly encourage States to take serious their obligation to prevent violence against indigenous women, protect them, and punish the perpetrators.

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Re-Connect with Nature Now… Before It Is Too Late!

5 June 2017 - 12:25am

World Environment Day 2017

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 5 2017 (IPS)

Now that president Donald Trump has announced the withdrawal of the world’s largest polluter in history—the United States, from the Paris Accord, perhaps one of the most specific warnings is what a United Nations independent expert on rights and the environment has just said: “We should be fully aware that we cannot enjoy our basic human rights without a healthy environment.”

Speaking in Geneva ahead of the World Environment Day on Monday 5 June, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John H. Knox, said “We should all be alarmed at the accelerating loss of biodiversity on which healthy ecosystems depend.”

We depend on healthy natural ecosystems for so much – nutrition, shelter, clothing, the very water we drink and the air we breathe, Knox reminded. “And yet, natural forest area continues to decline, marine ecosystems are increasingly under siege, and estimated populations of vertebrate animals have declined by more than half since 1970.”

Many scientists fear that we are at the outset of the sixth global extinction of species around the world, the first in over 60 million years, noted this professor of international law at Wake Forest University in the United State.

“States have reached agreements to combat the causes of biodiversity loss, which include habitat destruction, over-exploitation, poaching, pollution and climate change, Knox recalled, “But the same States are woefully failing to meet their commitments to reverse these disturbing trends.”.

Illegal Poaching, Logging and Fishing

He also reminded that nearly one third of natural and mixed World Heritage sites reportedly suffer from illegal poaching, logging and fishing, which have driven endangered species to the brink of extinction and threatened the livelihoods and well-being of communities who depend on them.

“The extinction of species and the loss of microbial diversity undermines our rights to life and health by destroying potential sources for new medicines and weakening human immunity. Reduced variety, yield and security of fisheries and agriculture endangers our right to food. Nature’s weakened ability to filter, regulate and store water threatens the right of access to clean and safe water.”

The UN independent expert strongly emphasised that biodiversity and human rights are “interlinked and interdependent,” and States have obligations to protect both.

World must urgently up action to cut a further 25 [er cent from predicted 2030 emissions—UNEP. Cerdit: UNEP

No Biodiversity, No Food Security, No Nutrition

For its part, the UN leading agency in the fields of food and agriculture underlines that biodiversity is “essential” for food security and nutrition.

Thousands of interconnected species make up a vital web of biodiversity within the ecosystems upon which global food production depends, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

With the erosion of biodiversity, it warns, humankind loses the potential to adapt ecosystems to new challenges such as population growth and climate change. Achieving food security for all is intrinsically linked to the maintenance of biodiversity.

On this, the UN agency provides some key facts.

For instance, that of the 8 800 animal breeds known, 7 per cent are extinct and 17 per cent are at risk of extinction. And that of the over 80 000 tree species, less than 1 per cent have been studied for potential use.

Also that fish provide 20 per vent of animal protein to about 3 billion people. Only ten species provide about 30 per cent of marine capture fisheries and ten species provide about 50 per vent of aquaculture production.

Meantime, over 80 per cent of the human diet is provided by plants. And only five cereal crops provide 60 per cent of energy intake

Land Is Finite

In parallel, a major UN convention has been focusing on land, “which is finite in quantity.” Competing demands for its goods and services are increasing pressures on land resources in virtually every country, warns the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

A changing climate, population growth, and economic globalisation are driving land use change and poor land management practices at all scales, it explains, adding that for the most part, these changes and practices will continue to degrade the “real” current and future value of our land resources, including soil, water and biodiversity.

“Now is the time to recognise the biophysical limits to land productivity and the need to restore multi-functionality in both our natural and production landscapes. Evidence strongly suggests the need to act in the short term to avoid potentially irreversible negative outcomes in the medium to long term.”

On this, the Bonn-based Convention secretariat informs that its Global Land Outlook (GLO) presents a strategic vision to transform the way we think about, value, use and manage our land resources while planning for a more resilient and sustainable future.

The GLO first edition is the new flagship publication of the UNCCD, akin to the CBD’s Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) and the United Nations Environment Programme- UNEP’s Global Environmental Outlook (GEO).

“It is a strategic communications platform and publication that demonstrates the central importance of land quality to human well-being, assesses current trends in land conversion, degradation and loss, identifies the driving factors and analyses the impacts, provides scenarios for future challenges and opportunities.”

Bringing together a diverse group of international experts and partners, UNCCD informs that GLO addresses the future challenges for the management and restoration of land resources in the context of sustainable development, including: food, water and energy security; climate change and biodiversity conservation; urban, peri-urban and infrastructure development; Land tenure, governance and gender; and migration, conflict and human security.

Connecting with nature makes us guardians of our planet. For Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, closeness to nature helps us see the need to protect it. Credit: UNEP

“The loss in both the quality and quantity of healthy and productive land resources is an immediate global concern, especially in developing countries and those with a high proportion of fragile and vulnerable dry lands.”

These are some of the key reasons why ‘Connecting People to Nature’ –the theme of World Environment Day 2017– highlights the vast benefits, from food security and improved health to water supply and climatic stability, that natural systems and clean environments provide to humanity.

But there are more reasons.

Mental Health, Stress, Depression

Many studies show that time spent in green spaces counters mental health problems such as stress and depression. Affecting 350 million people, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, the United Nations informs.

For instance, in Japan, the health benefits of forests have prompted some local governments to promote ‘forest therapy.’ Research shows time in the woods can boost the immune system, including against cancer, according to the UN.

“Urban green space is a key weapon in the fight against obesity: an estimated 3.2 million premature deaths in 2012 can be attributed to lack of physical activity.”

More and more cities are planting trees to mitigate air pollution, the world’s largest single environmental health risk: 6.5 million people die each year due to everyday exposure to poor air quality.

Otherwise, the world body reminds that the use of plants in traditional medicine dates back to the beginning of human civilisation and that herbal medicine has clearly recognisable therapeutic effects and plays an important role in primary health care in many developing countries. Common painkillers and anti-malarial treatments as well as drugs used to treat cancer; heart conditions and high blood pressure are derived from plants.

Still need more reasons to connect –or rather re-connect—with Nature?

Aggression against children in the Arab region needs to come to an end

4 June 2017 - 11:35am

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 4 2017 (IPS)

On 20 February 1997, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 51/77 to promote the rights of children. This Resolution was considered a milestone in promoting and advancing the right of children in conflict and wars.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

The resolution was also seen as a further acknowledgement of the growing number of States that had signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child that entered into force on 2 September 1990. To this day only one State has not yet ratified this seminal Convention.

Despite the broad-based ratification of the Convention, children continue to bear the burden of conflicts and calamities. They are indiscriminately targeted by belligerents owing to their vulnerability and physical weakness. According to the United Nations more than 250 million children live in countries affected by conflict.

The 2017 International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression is therefore an important opportunity to recognise the challenges and constraints children experience in the context of wars and conflicts. This day is also celebrated in commemoration of Resolution 51/77 that marked a new era in the joint commitments taken by the Member States of the United Nations (UN) to accelerate the promotion and advancement of the rights of children.

Despite the existing consensus that exists between States, there are various cases of contemporary conflicts that have indiscriminately targeted children and the Arab region is no exception.

In December 2016, UNICEF reported that approximately 2.2 million children in Yemen – out of 3.3 million people – face grave risk of hunger and malnutrition owing to the civil war in Yemen. From the period of 2015 – 2017, civil society and donor governments – in collaboration with its international partners such as WHO, WFP, UNICEF and ICRC – have allocated aid and relief assistance to the hunger-stricken population in Yemen. This has enabled several million children to benefit from the joint efforts of regional and international actors to address the severe food shortage.

The civil war in Syria – also known as the 21st century’s worst humanitarian disaster – is yet another example of a terrible humanitarian catastrophe that indiscriminately targets children. According to UNICEF, 5.8 million children in Syria are in need of help, 2.8 million children are located in conflicts areas, 281,000 living under siege whereas 2.3 million children have fled the country.

This is the gripping reality affecting children in the Arab region. They are not being spared from the adverse impacts of wars and conflicts. They are seen as the easiest victims to target. The international community needs to step up their efforts to provide the necessary aid support to the Yemeni and Syrian civilian populations.

In order to protect children from abuse, exploitation and the intensifying conflicts, peace needs to be given a chance. The conflicts in the Middle East need to come to an end through diplomacy.

It is likewise important that justice triumph in cases where abuses against children are documented. Impunity should not become the norm of societies recovering from wars and conflicts. Peacebuilding and transitional justice require that crimes against humanity be addressed in a transparent and objective manner. Perpetrators who have committed crimes against children need to be brought to justice. They should stand trial for their heinous and barbaric crimes inflicted on civilian populations.

In concluding this statement, I would also like to underscore the importance of education as a peacebuilding measure. On 12 May, I chaired a panel debate at the United Nations Office in Geneva entitled “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights through education.” The objective of this panel debate was to address the role of education in instilling a culture of peace and tolerance among children in post-conflict environments. The lessons learned from the case studies of Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Colombia underlined the potential of education in enabling children to overcome hostile mindsets – sometime resulting from family backgrounds – and to understand that differences need not beget division but can be an opportunity to celebrate diversity. Many of these countries have taken a number of initiatives in creating supportive environments to facilitate the socializing of children and their peaceful reintegration in society.

No children in the world should face conflict and war. They should spend their childhood and youth in harmony and in peaceful surroundings. Aggression inflicted on children in the Arab region and elsewhere in the world needs to come to an immediate end.

Latin America Lacks Clear Policies to Tackle Human Trafficking

2 June 2017 - 8:15pm

Migrants with tired faces laden with the hardships of the hazardous journey from Central America to the United States rest in a shelter in Mexico, which many reach after being cheated by “coyotes” out of everything they had. Credit: Ximena Natera/ Pie de Página

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Jun 3 2017 (IPS)

Each year, some three million undocumented immigrants enter the United States, half of them with the help of traffickers, as part of a nearly seven-billion- dollar business, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Although Mexico is still the main source of migrants to the United States, a rise in the flow of migrants from Central America and South America has been seen in the last few decades, and more recently from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa.

Three-quarters of these new migrants cross Mexico and many of them are victims of criminal networks.“When they refer to transnational policies in the U.S., they mean not letting migrants into the country and pursuing the coyotes. But they are not referring to policies to address the problems surrounding the whole phenomenon, and even less to the victims.” -- Ana Lorena Delgadillo

Human trafficking is one of the hidden violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people. But, although the smuggling of migrants is a transnational crime, in the countries involved in this phenomenon there are no transnational policies to address the problem.

“The agreements that exist between countries are aimed at cracking down on people to keep them from crossing borders. But there is not one bilateral or trilateral agreement that really seeks to solve the problem in an integral manner,” Martha Sánchez Soler, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (MMM), said in an interview with IPS.

Every year, the MMM organises a convoy of Central American mothers searching for their missing children in Mexico, which has prompted an effort to build bridges between countries in the region to trace the missing migrants.

“We have reported ‘coyotes’ (people smugglers) a thousand times and they don’t do anything to them because there is no serious intention to stop the problem. Coyotes are good business for governments,” the activist explained.

Human trafficking and people smuggling are crimes that have come into the spotlight in Latin America, and in multilateral bodies, in recent years.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the phenomenon is fuelled by difficult living conditions in less developed countries, the stiffening of migration policies in industrialised countries, and the fact that it was not previously seen as a structural problem, but as a series of isolated events.

The U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, signed in Palermo, Italy in 2000, was the international community’s response to the rise in human trafficking, considered a modern form of slavery.

The Convention was reinforced by the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

Although many people confuse human trafficking and people smuggling and use them as synonymous terms, they are related but involve different activities: the objective of trafficking is the exploitation of a human being,it is considered a form of modern slavery, and victims do not necessarily cross borders.

Migrants travelling across Mexico on their way to the United States replicate the Way of the Cross to symbolise the ordeal experienced by the victims of human trafficking in the region, which generates some seven billion dollars a year in profits. Credit: Ximena Natera/ Pie de Página

Smuggling, on the other hand, is a transnational crime, since it involves the facilitating of the illegal entry of a person to a country for economic benefit; it is often done in dangerous or degrading conditions; the victims give their consent; and it generally ends with the arrival of migrants to their destinations.

However, in Mexico, people smuggling has combined with other forms of crime and many migrants fall victim to trafficking networks for sexual exploitation or forced labour for drug cartels.

According to the UNODC, the smuggling of migrants from Mexico to the U.S. generates nearly seven billion dollars a year in profits, which makes it one of the most lucrative transnational organised crimes, since it is less risky than drug trafficking.

Felipe de la Torre, from the UNODC office in Mexico, said this is a “conservative” figure, in a crime “necessarily linked to corruption, which has proliferated“ up to the highest levels of government and public bodies, not to mention private sectors such as railway companies.

“The routes of migrants began to coincide with those of drug trafficking, making the crossing even more violent…It became a business generating outrageous profits for organised crime, in which many lives are lost and the physical and psychological health of many others is put at risk,” said De la Torre.

Mexican lawyer Ana Lorena Delgadillo, head of the Foundation for Justice and Democratic Rule of Law, told IPS that “the Palermo Convention is the key to these issues; there are more general bilateral agreements, but they focus more on research and on coordination between justice systems.”

She added that: “although regulations are in place, there are no real regional policies establishing measures to ensure a comprehensive approach to this phenomenon.”

“When they refer to transnational policies in the U.S., they mean not letting migrants into the country and pursuing the coyotes. But they are not referring to policies to address the problems surrounding the whole phenomenon, and even less to the victims,” she said.

The particular case of Cuba

An example of this lack of policies has been seen in the case of Cuban migration since 2015. In November that year, the government of Costa Rica dismantled a people smuggling network, which triggered a crisis, with several thousands of migrants stranded in different countries in the region, that closed their borders to the transit of undocumented migrants.

Two Cuban migrants rest in a shelter in Costa Rica, when hundreds of them were stranded on their way from Ecuador to the United States, where many fell victim to human smugglers. Credit: Mónica González/Pie de Página

In Cuba, most of the people cheated by human smugglers suffer the consequences in silence. The most dramatic cases, with tragic human losses, are often depicted in national TV series on crime, based on real life stories. This phenomenon has hit Cuba since migration got trapped in the conflict with the United States, in the 1960s.

Migrant smuggling is punished with harsh sentences that include life imprisonment in aggravated cases. But no clear data exists on the human costs.

“The risks are enormous, because you are at the mercy of the mafias. With them, there is no room for any law or human rights,” a Cuban living in the United States, told IPS. He said smugglers mainly used to come from the U.S. to pick Cubans up on speedboats, as they defected illegally.

In recent years, migrants have left Cuba legally, heading first to South America or Central America on their dangerous journey to the U.S., paying smugglers 7,000 to 13,000 dollars per person and often falling prey to violence, extortion and other crimes at the hands of trafficking networks. The journey of at least 7,700 km takes them across as many as eight national borders.

“One of my best friends paid 4,000 dollars to a man who was supposed to arrange her departure from the country. Her family spent the same amount in the U.S. After a year, she had no choice but to admit that she had been swindled. Since it was an illegal operation, she did not file a complaint,” 40-year-old professional Idalmis Guerrero told IPS.

The woman’s story dates back to before the immigration reform implemented in January 2013, which expanded travel rights for Cuban citizens, revoked the requirements of an exit permit and letters of invitation from hosts abroad – cumbersome procedures that drove up the costs and red tape involved in any trip for personal reasons.

However, obtaining a visa for the United States or other countries is still difficult.

On January 12, 2017, a week before handing over the presidency to Donald Trump, then president Barack Obama terminated the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which basically guaranteed Cuban immigrants residency one year and one day after they set foot on U.S. soil.

He also eliminated the Cuban Medical Parole programme, which enabled Cuban medical professionals stationed in other countries on international missions to defect and obtain visas to the United States.

Although Mexico and Cuba have several agreements for working together against people smuggling, Cubans arrested on their way to the U.S. began to be deported on Jan. 21 after they were denied safe conducts that give foreign nationals 20 days to leave Mexico.

With additional reporting by Patricia Grogg in Havana.

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It’s Not Just China: Here’s Who Could Benefit from Trump’s Exit from the Paris Deal

2 June 2017 - 9:23am

By the Sunday Times editorial team
Jun 2 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

President Donald Trump’s decision to exit an international climate agreement sparked outrage from many quarters, but some countries are likely already eyeing the positives from the move, experts said Friday.

“This opens up opportunities for other countries to occupy the power vacuum that the U.S. is leaving when it pulls out of these sorts of agreements,” said director at the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, Mark Howden.

“I could imagine some countries are very positive — seeing this as a good opportunity to start flexing their muscles internationally,” he added.

China, India and EU are countries that are progressing in green initiatives and will stand to benefit, Howden said.

The world’s second largest economy and EU leaders have already said they are still committed to the Paris Agreement on tackling global warming and are expected to announce intensified joint measures to reduce carbon emissions in a statement later on Friday, Reuters reported.

“We are going to see closer cooperation between China and the European Union in accelerating the energy transition into a low-carbon economy,” Frank Yu, Wood Mackenzie’s principal consultant of Asia-Pacific power and renewables, wrote in a note on Friday, adding that the U.S. withdrawal presents “an unprecedented opportunity for China”.

He predicted that U.S. companies involved in environmentally friendly technologies will relocate renewable technology research and development centers to Asia, helping countries such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam that need foreign capital to reach renewable goals.

“By leveraging the strong manufacturing value chain in China and other Asian countries, cost of renewables could fall even faster and penetrate more rapidly to displace dirty fossil fuel such as coal in key Asian markets,” Yu said.

Director of the Center for EU Studies at Renmin University, Wang Yiwei, said China and the EU can cooperate to taking a leading role in tackling climate change and setting new standards for technologies like electronic vehicles, changing the “traditional confrontational” stance between China and the West.

However, it’s still too early to call a new international order, said Philippe Le Corre, a fellow at The Brookings Institution.

“I don’t believe this is a redistribution of cards with a new international order under the banner of China and the EU,” Le Corre told CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” adding that he didn’t believe China’s international relationships would see major shifts.

“The Sino-American relationship is a strategic partnership as well as a very competitive relationship — it’s not going to go away,” Le Corre said.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

Global South Calls for International Body to Fight Tax Havens

2 June 2017 - 8:56am

Illicit financial flows. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Tax havens are “one of the worst enemies of our democracies,” said state representatives during a meeting at the United Nations.

Due to concerns over the impacts of illicit financial flows, the Missions of Ecuador, South Africa, and India convened an informal workshop to discuss the issue and potential solutions.

“Tax revenues are said to be the lifeblood of a state. With integration of economies in a globalized world, actions taken on taxation in one country affect practically everybody within borders and across borders,” said Permanent Representative of India to the UN Syed Akbaruddin, adding that the trends in illicit financial flows are alarming.

While Oxfam suggests that 7.6 trillion dollars is held in offshore accounts, others estimate a much higher figure, including UN expert Alfred de Zayas who found that up to 32 trillion dollars could be in secret jurisdictions around the world.

This deprives developing nations of essential resources needed to achieve major social and economic goals as laid out in the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose motto is to leave no one behind.

“[In] the commitment to leave no one behind…the issue of taxation is fundamental in that effort,” said Deputy Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN Mahlatse Mminele.

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), illicit financial flows cost developing countries more than 100 billion dollars per year. Africa bears the brunt of such outflows as it is estimated to be equivalent to all official development assistance received by the continent in the last 50 years.

In one case revealed by the Panama Papers in 2016, a company dodged a tax bill of 404 million dollars in Uganda, a figure representing more than the East African nation’s annual health budget.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Guillaume Long painted a similar picture in his country, estimating that one-third of its GDP is being “robbed” and stowed away in tax havens which limits opportunities for the creation of wealth and further widens societal inequality.

Long, whose country currently chairs an intergovernmental group of developing nations known as the Group of 77, called for international cooperation on tax issues.

“The issue of international tax cooperation is of crucial importance and is directly linked to the right of development and the possibility of implementing Agenda 2030, a link to guarantee human rights,” he told attendees.

Akbaruddin similarly noted the necessity of international cooperation in a world of cross-border trade and finance and criticised the lack of multilateral efforts on the issue, stating: “Those who champion multilateralism in areas such as biodiversity, in areas such as human rights, in areas such as peace and security, decide to stop championing them when it comes to matters of international tax cooperation…what accounts for this enigma?”

Currently, the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation on Tax Matters provides a framework for dialogue and cooperation on tax issues. Though it helped create the UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion, the committee has been insufficient. Long noted that the committee works in individual capacities rather than on a governmental level and does not have sufficient resources to tackle the issue.

The three representatives therefore called to strengthen and upgrade the committee, transforming it to an intergovernmental body that represents all.

Of the 25 seats in the committee,12 are occupied by the 35-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which includes countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, leaving the other 158 countries with only 13 seats.

“Every country, every state – rich or poor, big or small – does have the right to an inclusive place at the table to decide on an issue that impacts all of us,” said Akbaruddin.

The representatives called the UN and Secretary-General to take urgent action on the issue.

“The international community needs to urgently address this global test…the status quo should no longer be allowed to persist,” said Mminele.

AIDS Pandemic Far From Over: 37 Million Living with HIV Globally

2 June 2017 - 8:37am

Amina J. Mohammed is UN Deputy Secretary-General who addressed the General Assembly’s Annual AIDS Review meeting.

By Amina J. Mohammed

During the process of developing the Sustainable Development Goals it was clear to me how relevant and innovative the approach to ending AIDS had been and how important it would continue to be.

Amina J. Mohammed

Achieving our aims on AIDS is interlinked and embedded within the broader 2030 Agenda. Both are grounded in equity, human rights and a promise to leave no one behind.

In June 2016, Member States adopted the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, the AIDS pandemic is far from over.

UNAIDS estimates that more than 36.7 million people are living with HIV globally.

While more than 18 million are now on life-saving treatment, this is just half of those who need it, and there is no decline in the number of new infections each year.

People living with HIV who are on treatment can now expect the same life expectancy as someone who is not infected.

That is why a life-cycle approach to HIV is so important, to ensure that people have access to the services they need at every stage of life.

The world has the scientific knowledge and experience to reach people with HIV options tailored to the realities of their lives.

I am happy to report that, today, more babies than ever are being born free from HIV.

Now we need to do a better job of reaching young women and adolescent girls.

This is particularly true for sub-Saharan Africa, where adolescent girls account for three out of four new HIV infections among 15 to 19-year-olds.

Women’s and girls’ heightened vulnerability to HIV is intimately linked to entrenched gender-based inequalities and harmful social attitudes.

We also need to ensure a more integrated approach to HIV programme delivery.

In particular, we need to integrate HIV, sexual and reproductive health programmes, including family planning.

Just as we must reach young women, we have to make it easier for other key populations to access health services.

Injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men are 10-24 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general population. Ending AIDS fits squarely within the 2030 Agenda.

The global commitments we have made to eliminate gender inequalities, to promote, protect, respect and fulfil all human rights, and to achieve universal health coverage, mutually reinforce efforts to eradicate AIDS.

The AIDS response has led the way for evidence-based policy and programming. I hope the voluntary national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July will reflect the lessons learned at the national level in responding to AIDS.

I urge Member States to heed UNAIDS’ call for a grand prevention coalition that stimulates action across the five pillars of HIV prevention. We still need a further $7 billion dollars to reach our targets for preventing and treating HIV.

This translates to about 50 cents per person per year globally between now and 2030. This small per capita increase in investment could generate significant returns — an additional 21.7 million HIV infections prevented and 8.8 million AIDS-related deaths averted.

The economic benefits of such an intervention would generate an 8 to 1 return on investment due to better health and reduced mortality.

I am proud to see how the United Nations and UNAIDS, under the leadership of its Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibé, are committed to finding new and better approaches to end this epidemic.

I hope to see our investment in ending the AIDS epidemic and saving lives translate into political and financial investment in UNAIDS. This entity embodies many of the critical elements that we are seeking to incorporate into our broader UN reform efforts.

These include establishing a culture of accountability and strong performance management, with a focus on delivery rather than process and on people rather than bureaucracy.

In conclusion, let me emphasize the importance of grounding success at the country and community levels.

Let us always approach political decisions and meetings such as this with communities in mind.

In recognizing the importance of community-driven solutions and the global commitment to people-centred systems for health, I encourage you to listen closely to what communities need and have to say.

If we do that, we can end AIDS.

New Research to Unearth UAE’s Renewable Energy Potential

2 June 2017 - 3:49am

Photovoltaic panels. Credit: IPS

By Rabiya Shabeeh
ABU DHABI, UAE, Jun 2 2017 (IPS)

A report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that supplying the world with 95 per cent renewable sources by 2050 will not only reduce 80 per cent of GHG emissions from the energy sector but also save four trillion euros annually.

Plans to boost clean energy and reduce dependence on natural gas in generating power are at the core of UAE’s new energy policy for the next three decades, resulting in savings worth Dh700 billion (approximately 170 billion euros).

The UAE Energy Plan 2050, announced earlier this year, aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70 per cent, increase clean energy use by 50 per cent, and improve energy efficiency by 40 per cent by the middle of the century.

“In the UAE, renewable energy is a principle pillar in our National Vision 2021 and Green Growth Strategy, and we have recently witnessed the launch of the world’s largest independent solar power station in the capital Abu Dhabi,” stated Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, minister of climate change and environment in a statement following the announcement of the plan. “Through this, we aim to bolster the country’s leading position as a global hub for the latest economic, environmental and technological practices,”

The UAE ratified the Paris Agreement in December 2015 which pledged not to just keep warming “well below two degrees Celsius”, but also to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C by 2018 and has been making efforts to combatting climate change including efforts in increasing the share of renewable and nuclear energy in its total energy mix.

“If we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must limit global temperature rise to well below the 1.5°C threshold agreed to in Paris. To achieve that we must significantly scale up the roll out of renewable energy,” commented Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, head of WWF International’s Climate and Energy Practice, at the World Future Energy Summit, held in Abu Dhabi just after the announcement of the UAE Energy Plan 2050.

Last year, Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that measures government climate action, stated that UAE’s NDC required more clarity, particularly in terms of its renewable energy target.

UAE’s recently established 2050 policy targets for the source of energy for local consumption have been set at 44 per cent from renewable energy, 38 per cent from gas, 12 per cent from clean fossil and 6 per cent from nuclear energy. The integration of renewable, nuclear and clean fossil energy will be funded with investment of Dh600 billion over the next 33 years, equating to an annual spend of more than Dh17 billion.

Besides aiming to accelerate the move to efficient energy consumption and ensuring stable sources are maintained to diversify energy sources, a significant part of the strategy will focus on research, development, innovation, and creativity in the supply of sustainable energy.

Investments in graduate education for sustainable energy development have already begun- such as with the establishing of the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Just recently, the Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF), in research partnership with Masdar and Baringa, announced its plan to assess the feasibility of up to a 100 per cent renewable energy in the UAE in a bid to facilitate enhanced energy security through diversification of domestic energy supply.

The project, known as the ‘100% Renewable Energy Vision for the UAE – 2050’ aims to assess the feasibility of transitioning to 75-100 per cent levels of renewable energy for power generation in the UAE as the country prepares for a post-oil era.

“Masdar Institute has conducted extensive research on the potential for renewable energy in the UAE, particularly solar energy, and with consideration of both the technologies and policies that the country can implement to achieve tangible results,” said Dr Steven Griffiths, vice president for research, interim associate provost at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in a statement.

The climate and energy director at EWS-WWF, Tanzeed Alam, further elaborated that the project will build upon that research to test the boundaries of what the UAE can sustain in the advancement of renewable energy.

“Given the unlimited sunshine levels that we enjoy in the UAE, we believe that much more implementation of renewable energy is possible, but, where do we start? Which energy sources should we prioritize to achieve an optimal response? That’s precisely what the research aims to address.”

The project will work with energy authorities, utilities, private sector and government bodies to ensure the resulting action plan is effective and realistic as falling renewable energy technology and infrastructure costs continue to fall and drive up investment and employment in renewable energy globally.

“By setting out some clear and actionable recommendations, we believe that the UAE will be better equipped to move towards a climate-resilient future which will benefit UAE society, its economy and the environment,” added Alam.

This is the UAE’s first nationwide energy strategy reaching 2050, with previous national energy targets looking to generate 30 per cent of power from clean sources by 2030.

Why We Need to Save Our Oceans Now—Not Later

1 June 2017 - 9:02am

Over 10 million residents of Small Island Developing States depend on the Pacific Ocean for survival. Credit: IPS

By José Vicente Troya

What if the blue fades way as seawaters become brown andcoral reefs become white as marine grasslands wither and life below water vanishes?

This is already happening at a staggering rate. It’s a lose-lose for all: people and planet.

Fish stocks are declining. Around 80 percent of fishing is either collapsing or just fully exploited. The ocean is also being polluted at an alarming rate. Fertilizer run-off and 10 to 20 million metric tons of plastic debris enter the oceans each year and destroy biodiversity and ecosystems.

At this rate the number of dead zones will increase and by the year 2050 the oceans could contain more plastic than fish, measured by weight.

If we don’t take action now this trend may become irreversible. Recognizing this urgency, country representatives will gather at the Ocean Conference, 5 to 9 June at the UN headquarters in New York to address marine pollution, declining fisheries, loss of coastal and marine habitat and the vanishing life below water.

The Conference will focus will be on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, to conserve and sustainably usethe oceans, seas and marine resources. This SDG along with 16others compose the sustainable development agenda globally adopted in 2015.

While several of the goals are to be achieved by the year 2030, most of the ocean-related targets must be attained by 2020 if we are to save our Government commitments are crucial now. They range from sustainably managing marine and coastal ecosystems to effectively regulating harvesting and end overfishing or unregulated fishing.

Governments also need to conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas; and, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies, which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.

We need to act now.

Several innovative and inspiring practices are taking place in the world which could be shared and scaled-up. Latin American and Caribbean countries are cooperating to administrate multi-country marine ecosystems, which require a shared management.

With the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), several countries in the region sharing large marine ecosystems (LMEs) such as the Caribbean Sea and the Humboldt Current System are jointly working towards addressing key aspects of the market forces that drive overfishing and weak governance leading to fisheries overexploitation and degradation of coastal and marine biodiversity.

They are also seeking to ensure the conservation and sustainable delivery of LMEs goods and services, which are essential to the livelihoods of local communities, national economies and life below water.

These efforts are taking place in a region where marine ecosystems are the pillar for domestic economies, particularly in the case of Small Island Development States (SIDS). Latin America and the Caribbean have 746 marine protected areas covering 300,000 km2 and several countries have committed to expanding them.

Caribbean countries, recognizing the key role that the seas play for their future, are mainstreaming oceans into their national development planning and now are talking on adopting the blue economy paradigm.

This is a development framework to foster equity in the access to, development of and sharing of benefits from marine resources, ensuring their conservation and sustainable use, as well as reinvesting in human development. The Caribbean SIDS have pledged to protect 20 percent of their coastal and marine zones.

In preparation to the Ocean Conference, UNDP is supporting 25 national consultations to identify and register contributions made by national governments, civil society and private sector towards the conservation and sustainable use of oceans (SDG 14).

Nine of these consultations are being held in the Latin America and Caribbean region and national stakeholders are sharing their best practices on pollution reduction, support to sustainable fisheries and coastal communities, conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biodiversity, and removal of subsidies harming seas and their resources.

Now is the time to save our ocean and all lives that depend on it. We need to act now, before the blue fades away.

Mixed Reactions to U.S. Withdrawal from Climate Deal

1 June 2017 - 3:10am

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

Though it is uncertain what the U.S. exit will look like, the decision has already sparked widespread disappointment and outrage.

Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Margaret Huang called the expected decision an “assault on a range of human rights.”

“By refusing to join other nations in taking necessary steps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, the President is effectively saying: ‘Let them drown, burn, and starve,’” she continued.

Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune echoed similar sentiments, stating: “Donald Trump has made a historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.”

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased significantly in recent years from 317 parts per million in 1960 to more than 400 parts per million in 2016, levels that have not been observed for over 10 million years. This has lead to a rise in global average temperature of over 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above its 1960 level, and it is only projected to increase further without curbing fossil fuel use and thus emissions.

Climate change is already contributing to extreme environmental events including rapidly melting ice caps, more frequent and devastating storms, and prolonged droughts which have and will continue to impact hundreds of millions of peoples’ human rights around the world, Huang noted.

On previous occasions, President Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” created by China and has vowed to invest in domestic coal and oil, industries that have largely contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Brune noted that the decision is a betrayal of the public and market, stating: “This is a decision that will cede America’s role internationally to nations like China and India, which will benefit handsomely from embracing the booming clean energy economy while Trump seeks to drive our country back into the 19th century.”

According to the Sierra Club, the number of clean energy jobs already outnumbers all fossil fuel jobs in the U.S. by more than 2.5 to 1, and coal and gas jobs by 5 to 1. This shift to renewable energy is only expected to grow globally, reflecting the transition of the world’s energy sector into cleaner technologies. China alone aims to increase its renewable energy by 40 percent by 2020.

The majority of Americans also back the Paris agreement. A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found 71 percent support of U.S. participation in the deal from both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Prior to the U.S.’ decision, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it was “absolutely essential” that the world implements the Paris agreement but action can still continue if a country doesn’t do so.

“But if any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to unite even stronger and stay the course,” he said in a speech at the New York University Stern School of Business.

In a similar vein, Seychelles’ Permanent Representative to the UN Ronald Jumeau said countries will move forward with climate action with or without the U.S.

“The absence of the USA does not make the glass half empty or half full. It is still more full than empty,” he said.

“What you have to worry about is look at who is here, who is sitting in the front row, and say now what are we going to do about this? How are we going to step up so that it brings benefits to us all,” Jumeau continued.

Countries in the G7, European Union, and Asia have already stepped up to reaffirm their commitments to the Paris agreement in response to the U.S.’ wavering stance.

An upcoming EU-China Summit in Brussels is expected to result in a detailed action plan to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the climate deal.

“Small Island States cannot afford to be dismayed or feel down about any of this, we have to move on for the sake of our countries [and] for humanity in general and for all countries,” Juneau concluded.

Nearly 150 countries have ratified the Paris climate agreement, representing over 80 percent of global emissions. Nicaragua and Syria are among the only countries that have not signed the agreement.