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Unprecedented food crisis looms over strife-torn South Sudan, UN agencies warn
South Sudan faces unprecedented levels of food insecurity, with 2.8 million people, nearly 25 per cent of the population, in urgent need of aid, at least 40,000 of them on the brink of catastrophe, at a time when the war-torn country is traditionally most food secure, United Nations agencies warned today.
Haiti: Ban welcomes agreement reached towards 'swift' conclusion of ongoing electoral cycle
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the agreement reached by Haitian stakeholders, noting that it provides for immediate arrangements to preserve the institutional continuity of the country as well as a roadmap for the swift conclusion of the ongoing electoral cycle.
Jane Kelsey: All pain, no gain â why not a TPP-free zone?
CancÃºnâs mangroves destroyed, but hope grows again
Just a month ago, if you passed by Tajamar in CancÃºn, Mexico you would have seen 57 hectares of thriving mangrove forest lining the coast. Today, only stumps remain.
Image courtesy of Salvemos Manglar Tajamar
For years, hundreds of citizens â including a group of childrenâ worked to protect the Tajamar mangroves, one last swathe of wetlands in tourist-dominated CancÃºn. But in the middle of the night on 16 January, developers hoping to build a new resort â âMalecÃ³n Tajamar” â made their move. Under cover of darkness, they tore down the mangroves.
Local authorities allowed this destruction despite evidence that those promoting the resort had provided highly irregular information â even denying the mangroves were there at all.
Ultimately, the battle between these profit-driven developers and the local community came down to one question:
Whatâs a mangrove worth?
Image courtesy of Salvemos Manglar Tajamar
Local government officials and developers touted the number of construction jobs and the income this new resort would produce. But they ignored the mangrovesâ social, environmental and economic value â the heart of community protests.
Mangroves are a part of the natural ecosystem in CancÃºn, home to crocodiles, iguanas, birds, snakes and other species. Losing that biodiversity is devastating, and it’s only part of the story. The economic and social costs of losing the mangroves are staggering as well.
The National Commission for the Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) estimates that mangroves produce about US$37,500 per hectare per year for fisheries; US$6,700 for health services in Mexico (that figure would reach US$200,000 in some cities of the country). And the protection offered by the coast from storms, cyclones and tsunamis is estimated to be about US$3,000 per hectare.
But officials in Mexico and other countries around the world continue to undervalue the services wetlands provide. Over the last few decades, Mexico has lost more than 35 percent of its mangroves due to logging, climate change and coastal development. Meanwhile, flooding is noticeably more frequent in areas that have lost this natural barrier.
Power of community activism
When the local protesters in CancÃºn first heard the mangroves had been destroyed, their reactions were immediate â to document the destruction that had occurred in secret.
Here are just some of the images they captured:
Image courtesy of Carlos Matus
Image courtesy of Salvemos Manglar Tajamar
Later, federal officials attempted to downplay the damage to the mangroves, but because of the quick actions of the public, there was clear evidence of full extent of the damage to the Tajamar mangroves.
Hope grows for Tajamar
The Tajamar mangroves had already been decimated, but the fight is far from over. After their destruction became public knowledge, thousands of people across Mexico stood with the community protesters in outrage. And their voices made a huge impact.
Just this week, in response to a case brought to court by Greenpeace Mexico and ally organisations, a judge ordered a moratorium on all work for the Tajamar project. This is a huge victory for people and the environment over the private interests of a few.
However, the road is long before the project is truly cancelled. The Mexican government now has the opportunity to permanently end the project and begin restoration, or to allow the construction of more buildings whose service to the community could never equal the costs of the mangrove forests they replace.
But if officials choose money over mangroves again, they can be sure to expect more public attention â from local communities, and people around the world.
Image courtesy of Carlos Matus
There is even new hope for the Tajamar. Now that construction is suspended, the mangroves should have a chance to recover.
Miguel Rivas is an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Mexico.
Migration and multilateralism will be hallmarks of 2016, says senior UN official
The world is facing a political, economic, moral and social crisis as governments and communities struggle to provide effective solutions for the unprecedented numbers of people fleeing war, instability or persecution, the top United Nations migration official said today, calling for deceive multilateral action to tackle âthe global issues lurking behind todayâs vast movement of people.â
UN agencies mobilize to support Government response after Benin confirms cases of Lassa fever
After the identification of four cases of Lassa fever in Benin, the Government, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Childrenâs Fund (UNICEF) has immediately launched started a response against the epidemic, the agencies announced today.
From cyanide gold mine to protected historical site. How people power saved RoÈia MontanÄ
For the past 15 years, Canadian mining firm Gabriel Resources has been trying to obtain a permit to extract 300 tonnes of gold from underneath RoÈia MontanÄ, a picturesque village in western Romania, with a population of almost 4,000 people. But today, the Romanian government has added the village and its surroundings to their official nominee list for the UNESCO world heritage site. This decision comes a few weeks after RoÈia MontanÄ was declared a site of historic interest by the Romanian Ministry of Culture, and stands as a testament to the power of peaceful protest. The story of how the government changed its mind starts with the story of the Romanian people speaking up against irresponsible corporations and environmental destruction.
In September 2013 Romania saw the biggest street protests since the 1989 Revolution. Thousands of people, mostly young people, took to the streets holding up signs saying âThe corporation doesnât make the legislationâ, âCorruption = Cyanideâ and âWe want nature, not cyanideâ. They were speaking up for RoÈia MontanÄ, a little village in the north of Romania that sits on top of a gold mine.
Rosia Montana protest march, Bucharest, 23 September 2013. Â© Tiberiu-Mihail Cimpoeru/Casa Jurnalistului
Since 2001, Canadian firm Gabriel Resources had been in negotiations with the Romanian government for the rights to build a cyanide gold mine in the beautiful, resource-rich area of RoÈia MontanÄ. Their plan was to relocate the local residents and to pump 12,000 tonnes of cyanide a year into an open-pit mine to extract 300 tonnes of gold. Local authorities and residents had been successfully opposing the project for years. But in August 2013, a new law was drafted which planned to grant unconstitutional rights to private companies, including the right to issue compulsory purchase orders to residents who refused to sell their houses and lands. This put RoÈia MontanÄ directly in the sights of Gabriel Resources, who would finally be able to force residents from their homes, and begin to pump tons of cyanide into the earth in the search for gold.
There was little news of the vote in the mainstream media, but social media amplified the voice of independent journalists and local NGOs, to show how RoÈia MontanÄ was at risk of losing the battle against the mining company. Discontent at this injustice grew across the country, and on September 8th 2015, 15,000 protesters marched through Bucharest, with about 5,000 more following in other cities around the country. Protests and marches were scheduled every day for weeks to follow.
Rosia Montana protest march, Bucharest, 16 September 2013. Â© Vlad Ursulean/Casa Jurnalistului
The âhipster revolutionâ, as the media called it, was the coming of age of the Romanian civil society. Never before in Romaniaâs short democratic history has an issue raised so much public support and created such healthy debate amongst its citizens. The post-communist generation had united for the first time since the revolution, and had done so to rally behind an environmental cause â to protect RoÈia MontanÄ and its residents from another ecological disaster like the Baia Mare cyanide spill.
What can we learn from Romaniaâs new found civil strength? That people care about injustice, and care about environmental issues. That by using new tools such as social media, we have the power to spark and spread information, and to inspire peaceful protest. We learned that we have the responsibility to hold the people in charge accountable for their decisions. And that if we take that responsibility seriously, we can drive change.
The fight to save RoÈia MontanÄ happened on the streets and on the internet. Itâs motto was #unitisalvam - Romanian for âUnited, We Saveâ. In these times of corporate greed and environmental destruction, this is a motto which can inspire us all.
Madalina Preda is the Programme Functions Executive Assistant at Greenpeace International and the Communications Manager of Beats Against Coal.
Big news for bees
As ecological farming and the market for organic food continues to grow across the globe, Iâm heartened to see that the same is true in Spain, my home country, where we are going through one of the worst economic crises in recent history.
In challenging times, good news is welcome. This week weâre celebrating news from Valencia where the coastal region has just committed to more than double the share of agriculture land dedicated to organic farming, from 8 to 20 percent by 2020.
This is great news for farmers, food lovers and bees!
On one hand, the demand for good food produced without harming the environment and wildlife is increasing. People are becoming more and more aware of the impacts of industrial agriculture on their health and ecosystems â and we are demanding ecological products on our shelves and plates.
On the other hand, many farmers, tired of being exploited by the industrial agricultural system, are seeing the benefits that ecological farming provides and they are choosing to jump ship. And it’s not a leap of faith! People are in fact rediscovering the value of agriculture, good food, and the relationship of trust with farmers.
Food producers, consumers and researchers, in Spain and beyond, are contributing to a growing global food movement, made up of farmers markets, food co-ops, schools and community agriculture programmes.
But we need more: we need a firm commitment from our governments to spread ecological agriculture even further and supply healthy food for all. The current industrial food system is doomed to failure and we canât allow it to drag us humans, wildlife and the planet as a whole, to the edge of the cliff.
Despite steady growth in the ecological food sector, sadly it is still quite small when compared to chemically grown food. For example, in Spain the latest official data shows that only about 7 percent of cultivated land is devoted to organic farming.
If we want to address important challenges such as climate change, water pollution and loss of biodiversity and soil fertility â even hunger in the world â we have to invest in ecological farming and set some ambitious goals, to be reached sooner rather than later.
The government of Valenciaâs commitment to expand ecological farming is an ambitious step in the right direction for two reasons:
First of all, because the transition plan is backed by 23 million Euros to make it happen. Then, because Valencia is the region in Spain that ranks third highest for pesticide use per hectare, and second highest for use of insecticides, which we all know cause terrible damage to bees and pollinators across Europe and North America.
As well as politicians making the right decisions, we must also do our bit to forge a future with better food. Millions of us globally are already taking action and, by making small changes to our lives, we are moving mountains. Take your pledge today and join the ecological food movement.
LuÃs Ferrerim is an Ecological Farming Campaigner at Greenpeace Spain.
âViolence must stop now,â says UN expert as fresh fighting displaces thousands in North Darfur
Warning that, in the last two weeks, a new escalation of violence has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur, a United Nations human rights expert today called for an immediate end to hostilities that have triggered new protection and humanitarian concerns in the long-restive region of Sudan.
Evaluating the Paris Deal
Hope and failure coexist in the Paris climate agreement. One may want to curse or cheer the deal, but it is history now, and we have to get on with it. The agreement provides an opportunity to assess our ecological progress and prepare to be effective in the future.
The journey to Paris
The road to a Paris climate agreement began two centuries ago in Paris, at the French Academy of Science, when Joseph Fourier researched ice age cycles and determined that atmospheric gases trap solar heat. A generation later, in 1896, Swedish chemist Svente Arrhenius calculated that doubling atmospheric CO2 would increase Earth’s average temperature by 5-6Â°C.
Governments at the time showed no visible interest, as cheap energy from coal, oil, and gas fuelled the Industrial Revolution and accelerated population growth, consumption, and waste, especially carbon dioxide. By the 1950s, scientists understood complex climate feedbacks, including methane release and forest cover, and warned of a methane release from melting permafrost.
The emerging environmental movement caught on quickly. In 1964, Murray Bookchin, warned in Ecology and Revolutionary Thought, that “carbon dioxide â¦ will lead to rising atmospheric temperatures â¦ more destructive storm patterns, â¦ melting of the polar ice capsâ¦ rising sea levels, and the inundation of vast land areas.” A Science Advisory Committee report to US president Lyndon Johnston stated, “The melting of the Antarctic ice cap would raise sea level by 400 feet,” and warned of “marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or national efforts.”
In 1979, over a century after Fourier had identified the risk, the United Nations convened the world’s first Climate Conference in Geneva. In that same year, British scientist James Lovelock sent the nascent Greenpeace Foundation a hand-drawn graph of atmospheric CO2 rising. We pinned the graph to the wall at our first office in Vancouver and opened a climate file.
In 1988, the hottest on record at that time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of a 2-5Â°C average temperature increase during the next century, and urged governments to reduce carbon emissions. The following year, the petroleum industry began funding the climate denial campaign to cast doubt on the previous 150 years of science. The fight was on.
The IPCC met in Kyoto in 1990, the year intended to serve as the baseline for future carbon emissions reductions, but that is not how things turned out. Two years after Kyoto, in Rio, the nations formally recognized the risk and agreed to a “framework” for a deal. That framework appeared a quarter-century ago. Compare the pace of climate action to the pace at which human enterprise built a nuclear bomb after discovering the science that made it possible.
In 1995, as the Antarctic ice shelves began breaking up, the UN sponsored the first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) in Berlin. Two years later, the parties agreed to a Kyoto Protocol for action, but the emission targets remained too weak to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases. The US refused to ratify the deal, Canada withdrew, the UK and Australia missed their targets, and global carbon emissions continued to increase. Throughout the 1990s, nations signed about 15 international climate agreements every month, thousands of deals, none of which slowed total carbon emissions.
Then, in 2008, the International Siberian Shelf Study recorded methane â which traps 70-times the heat of CO2 within a 20 year period â rising from the arctic shelf, as scientists and ecologists had warned, and which threatened runaway global heating. The study estimated some 1,400 billion tons (Gt) of carbon locked in Arctic permafrost methane, and that a “highly possible” sudden release of 50 Gt would increase atmospheric methane by a factor of twelve. The following year, Woods Hole scientists predicted warming of 5 to 7Â°C this century, at which point runaway heating would be well underway.
When scientists first understood global warming, in the 1880s, human industry emitted some 50 million tons of carbon annually. As delegates assembled in Paris, in December 2015, global carbon emissions had grown by 200-times and reached over 10 billion tons annually. Japan’s Meteorological Agency recorded December temperatures at 1.4 C above 1890, reflecting a strong El NiÃ±o year and continued greenhouse gas accumulation. Methane from melting permafrost had pushed the atmospheric gas heat forcing to an equivalent of 485 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, compared to pre-industrial 280ppm. For the first time in recorded human history, the North Pole could be observed melting in mid-winter.
In Paris, after 36 years of climate meetings, world governments targeted a maximum warming to 2Â°C, and even mentioned an “effort” to limit warming to 1.5Â°C. Nations submitted voluntary pledges to contribute to this effort. Predictably, the governments involved, and many environmentalists, celebrated the Paris deal as an historical moment. Time will tell, but governments are in the business of being popular, and as serious ecologists, we have a responsibility to be realistic.
The Paris “deal” is not actually a deal, as it remains non-binding. Since the 1990 Kyoto climate meeting, global emissions have increased by 67 percent. Government climate promises have a poor historic track record.
Secondly, talk about a 1.5Â° or 2Â°C warming limit may be delusional. To remain below 2Â°C, humanity can emit no more than about 771 Gt of carbon (2,900 Gt of carbon-dioxide). We have already emitted about two-thirds of that, emissions are still growing at about 2% per year, and at this rate, we would reach the carbon limit around 2040. The 2Â°C warming may already be baked into the cake.
If every nation signing the Paris agreement actually met its goal, we would still reach the limit around 2050, well on our way to 3Â°C or more. According to Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, at the University of Manchester, the combined pledges will result in a 4-6Â°C temperature increase, a 40-50% decline in agriculture, more droughts and violent storms, sea rise, and flooding. We already observe signs of potential runaway heating at 1Â°C, so at 2Â°C or more, we risk losing our ability to change the trend.
Furthermore, the pledges are not effective until 2020, so the nations are committing to five years of doing nothing. Steffen Kallbekken, Director of the Centre for International Climate and Energy Policy, explains, “by the time the pledges come into force in 2020, we will probably have used the entire carbon budget consistent with 1.5Â°C warming.”
In the 1960s, when scientists warned political leaders, Earth’s temperature was warming at about + 0.3Â°C/century. Today, fifty years later, Earth’s temperature is warming at the rate of about +1.4Â°C/century. If this was our child, in bed with a fever, would we not feel the urgency and question our strategy?
The greater challenge, of course, is that global warming is a symptom, just as a child’s temperature is a symptom. We need to understand and treat the underlying cause.
Global warming, species decline, desertification, nutrient cycle disruption, and so forth are symptoms telling us humanity has overshot the capacity of Earth’s ecosystem to provide resources and process our waste. To reverse any of these trends, human enterprise, particularly the rich industrial nations, have to stop growing and ultimately must contract both population and consumption trends.
Pope Francis emerged as the leader who most clearly understood the deeper dilemma: “Even to limit warming below 3Â°C,” Francis said, “a radical transformation of capitalism will be necessary.” No governments, and few environmental groups, appear willing to accept this conclusion. Capitalism demands growth, but when a species overshoots its habitat, nature will insist that it stop growing, and nature doesn’t negotiate.
As Albert Bates wrote in Paris Scherzo, “The Paris climate conference is really an economic conference, perched on the brink of a market crash in the fossil fuel sector.” Some observers credited the Paris agreement with signalling the “end of the fossil fuel era,” but the fossil fuel industry was already in decline, chasing the dregs of expensive, low-net-energy tar sands crude oil and shale gas, and fighting trillion-dollar wars to hang onto the declining mideast oil fields. M. King Hubbert had predicted this as the end of the fossil fuel era in the 1950s. The fossil fuel era will end, and we will build more renewable energy systems, but the fossil fuel producers show no signs of slowing down production.
Most nations in Paris did not promise to reduce emissions at all, but rather promised to improve “emissions efficiency,” which means emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or economic activity. So, if a nation’s economy is growing at 4% per year, and they reduce carbon emissions growth to 3% per year, they can claim to be reducing “emissions efficiency,” even though their carbon emissions would still double in about 23 years. Some nations measure emission targets against “business as usual,” based on their own expected growth rate, and in both cases, emission can continue to rise.
Bolivia and Costa Rica, however, showed that they understand the deeper challenges. Bolivia pledged to end illegal deforestation by 2020 and to double their renewables to 80% of national supply by 2030. They formerly rejected neoliberal capitalism, including carbon market schemes that help rich nations hog the carbon budget. Instead, they proposed a strict carbon budget consistent with the 2Â°C goal, with most of that budget available to the world’s developing nations.
Costa Rica used a “business as usual” formula that equalled a real 25% reduction from 2012 emissions, and they expect to be carbon neutral by 2021, partially through reforestation. However, Brazil and Costa Rica together comprise about 1.3% of global carbon emissions, so even if they reduced their emissions by half, global emissions would keep growing.
China, the emissions champion, producing about 24% of world carbon, promised to cut emissions versus GDP by 60% of 2005 levels. However, for two decades, China’s GDP has doubled roughly every eight years, and both China and the International Monetary Fund project growth to continue. China’s emissions could double by 2030, when they claim the emissions might level off. China makes no promise of reducing actual emissions.
The US, Europe, and their NATO allies Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, comprise another quarter of world emissions, and they’ve pledged to try to reduce emissions, albeit with plenty of loopholes and exclusions. The US pledged to reduce domestic emissions 26% versus 2005, within ten years, not including their military, aviation, and transport emissions. Canada promised a 30% reduction by 2030, but new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned home from Paris and began hedging on tar sands pipelines for the sake of the struggling Canadian economy. Australia pledged 26% emissions reduction by 2030, but the Australian Financial Review stated that coal exports would continue “rising quite significantly,” undermining that pledge.
The EU pledged a 40% reduction in domestic emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, a more ambitious target. The EU has already reduced emissions by 20% since 1990, although this reduction is partially due to economic recession and it excludes military, deforestation, and land use changes. The EU provides a tenuously hopeful sign, but not nearly enough to avoid a 2Â°C warming.
The language of “domestic reductions” provides another loophole. Although the earlier Copenhagen draft included aviation and shipping emissions, equal to Britain and Germany combined, the Paris agreement exempts both and exempts military emissions. Global militarism remains the world’s largest fossil fuel consumer, and maritime shipping is the 6th largest emitter. According to the Sail Transport Network, just 16 of the largest ships, from the world fleet of some 90,000 large cargo ships, emit as much pollutants as all the world’s cars. They get a pass.
The Paris agreement attempts to cover up these failures by invoking future geo-engineering technologies, sometime after 2050, to pull carbon back from the atmosphere. Kevin Anderson calls this take-back scheme a “fantasy,” and Canadian energy geologist David Hughes says, “The IPCC realizes it is politically incorrect to tell people the truth. The outrageous assumption of massive amounts of CCS [carbon capture and storage] is just a convenient technofix to balance the books in its scenarios, even though it is likely impossible.”
Naomi Klein called the agreement “scientifically inadequate,” noting that the deal, even if achieved, would lead to a 3-4Â°C warming. The New Internationalist calls the Paris agreement an “epic fail,” and a “disaster” for world’s most vulnerable people. The agreement only mentions indigenous groups in a comment about indigenous ecological knowledge, without any commitment to protect that knowledge by protecting those communities. The UK, Norway, US, and EU all objected to any binding indigenous recognition.
Earth’s advocates have nothing to apologize for by addressing these troubling realities. Asking for better is not asking for perfection, and exposing the loopholes in the Paris deal is not “pessimism,” but realism. For the environmental movement, the Paris experience simply sends us back to work. We know a better world is possible. A realistic path for getting there remains the challenge. Patting ourselves on the back may not help.
Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.