Crisis Hits Oil Industry and Energy Transition Alike

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Mexico's state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mexico’s state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 22 2020 (IPS) – While it attempts to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Latin American and Caribbean region also faces concerns about the future of the energy transition and state-owned oil companies.

These questions were discussed at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised by the Institute of the Americas. It was held online May 18-22, rather than bringing together more than 50 speakers at the institute’s headquarters in the coastal district of San Diego, in the U.S. state of California, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alfonso Blanco of Uruguay, executive secretary of the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE), said during a session on global trends and the regional energy industry that the changes seen during the pandemic will spread after the crisis and will be long-lasting.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies,” he said.

OLADE, a 27-member regional intergovernmental organisation for energy coordination, estimates that electricity demand has fallen by 29 percent in Bolivia compared to 2019, as a result of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, and by 26 percent in Argentina, 22 percent in Brazil and 11 percent in Chile.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies.” — Alfonso Blanco

Likewise, final energy demand plummeted 14 percent in Brazil compared to 2019, 11 percent in both the Andean and Southern Cone regions, nine percent in Mexico, seven percent in Central America and five percent in the Caribbean.

As countries went into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, electricity consumption by businesses and factories declined, due to the suspension of activities.

Leonardo Sempertegui, legal advisor to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said the pandemic may be a wake-up call for countries lagging behind in the energy transition.

“This may be the new normal. The structure and governance of the energy architecture to cope with the next phase are changing dramatically. Energy poverty and the energy transition cannot be solved regardless of who controls a resource; these challenges cannot wait,” he said in the same session.

In Latin America, nations like Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras and Uruguay have made progress in the energy transition since 2015, while Brazil has slid backwards and countries like Mexico are stuck in the same place, according to the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, released May 13.

As the region heads into the fourth month of the pandemic, countries are assessing their electricity markets, which have been shaken by the crisis.

Nations like Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru have resorted to long-term electricity auctions, which have generated low prices for renewables, while Mexico suspended such schemes in 2019.

In Argentina, as Andrés Chambouleyron, a non-resident fellow at the Institute of the Americas, explained, industrial consumption fell by 50 percent and electricity distributors have not been able to obtain sufficient revenues to cover fixed costs or electricity purchases.

The government has thus provided financing to Cammesa – the electricity wholesale market administration company – to pay the generators, since it is bound by contracts to buy the energy.

“There will be a permanent change in electricity consumption in Argentina. We have cheaper gas than before; the models say that you have to use more gas because it is cheaper than other sources. We won’t see much change in Argentina’s energy mix, and that could extend to all of Latin America,” said Chambouleyron, who warned of breach of and renegotiation of contracts for energy purchases.

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

While renewables are already competing in price with conventional sources, low oil and gas prices undermine their expansion, a predicament that alternative energy sources have been facing in recent years.

In addition, the rise in the cost of international credit and the fluctuations of the dollar against local currencies may make generation more expensive.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, Marta Jara, former president of Uruguay’s public oil company ANCAP, said the current crisis could accelerate the transition, but called it a “major challenge”.

“The temptation is to be opportunistic and forget the roadmap of the energy transition. We must invest in sustainable energy systems, decarbonise transport. It is important to secure funding and create jobs. I hope the crisis opens the door to be more innovative,” she said.

Viable or not?

The plunge in fossil fuel prices is damaging the finances of the region’s oil producing countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and state companies in the sector are facing problems with regard to planning and operations.

But it benefits net importers, like the countries of Central America or Chile, whose oil bills have shrunk, while for consumers in both oil producing and importing countries the cost of electricity could go down.

“The most competitive will be the countries with lower oil extraction costs. Some projects will not be economically viable. We will see greater economic problems than in 2019,” predicted Lisa Viscidi, director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Programme at the non-governmental Inter-American Dialogue, during a panel on the situation in several Caribbean nations.

The pandemic and a rise in Saudi production announced on Mar. 10 led to a collapse in oil prices and the consequent risk of bankruptcies in the industry. State-owned oil companies have fared better than others so far in the crisis.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, John Padilla, managing director of the private consulting firm IPD Latin America, stated that “it will take time to get out of this situation, with effects for the region, and the need for great efficiency.

“Most nations have been exporters, efficiency will be the key. What has not been done is to cultivate domestic and regional markets, state enterprises are not going to play the same role as they always have,” he said.

Public companies such as Brazil’s Petrobras and Colombia’s Ecopetrol entered the crisis in a better position than Mexico’s Pemex, Venezuela’s PDVSA and Argentina’s YPF, according to experts.

“These are difficult times, even for the best prepared. We can hope that if the country and its company are in trouble, if governments need money, they can get more out of the companies,” said Francisco Monaldi, interim director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Latin America Initiative at the private Rice University in the U.S. state of Texas.

In his view, “Mexico is in better fiscal conditions, it should not be a problem. But Pemex can drag Mexico down. If the government doesn’t change direction, it could become a serious problem,” he said as an example.

Although Pemex will increase its investment in 2020, the oil company reported losses of 20 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year. Due to the crisis, Petrobras limited its investment to 3.5 billion dollars and its daily production to 200,000 barrels, and postponed the sale of eight refineries.

For Lucas Aristizábal, a senior director in Fitch Ratings’ Latin American corporates group, some state-owned oil companies are viable and others are not.

“In 2021, the financial contribution of oil will be lower for governments. If they want the companies to play a key role, they will put more pressure on their financial structure. The current situation illustrates the economics of these corporations,” he said during the forum.

Pemex and YPF were already losing money per barrel in 2019, while Petrobras has more balanced production costs.

On the oil horizon, and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Guyana has become the rising star, although there is still political uncertainty, as the result of the Mar. 2 presidential elections is still unclear.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen. There is a risk of U.S. sanctions that would not affect investment in the sector, but would pose a political risk to the country,” said Thomas Singh, in the Department of Economics at the public University of Guyana.

The country expects to extract 600,000 barrels per day by 2024 and take in revenues of five billion dollars, with reserves exceeding five billion barrels.


Martin Khor, Third Worldist

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs


PENANG, Apr 3 2020 (IPS) – Martin Khor Kok Peng passed away just after the end of the first quarter of 2020. He leaves behind an unusually rich legacy. Atypically for people mainly working in the worldideas, he was also a very practical and pragmatic activist who successfully built and sustained several important initiatives which will live on after him.

Martin Khor

Martin was widely well known,both in Malaysia and internationally,and will be remembered for his commitment to a variety of causes perhaps best summed up by the concept of sustainable development, adopted by world leadersat Rio in 1992, and reaffirmed in Johannesburg in 2002, Rio again in 2012 and, most recently, through the Sustainable Development Goals declared in 2015.

Born in 1951, Martin’s passing,less than a year after the demise of his mentor and close collaborator, the nonagenarian Mahathir contemporary, S M Mohammed Idris, suggests the end of an era, not only in Malaysia, but also beyond.

Already there are many pronouncements about the end of the Third World, of the solidarity of the global South, and most recently, about the related demise of multilateralism, especially as it was transformed in the 1970s when the United Nations committed to a New International Economic Order, thanks to the G77 caucus of developing countries at the UN.

Paths not taken
Reflecting on Martin’s career path, one cannot but be struck by the choices he made, and by paths not taken. Leaving his hometown of Penang, Martin wasa pre-university classmate of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore, before going to Cambridge together.

Later, after a few months in Singapore’s civil service during 1974-1975, which almost surely would have led him to a cabinet position in Lee’s cabinet, Martin ‘broke his bond’ to return to Malaysia to start teaching for a pittance at the Science University of Malaysia (USM).

From there, he began his lifelong engagement with the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and Friends of the Earth, Malaysia (SAM), collaborating closely with Haji Idris, to wage efforts to protect Penang, and later the countryagainst ecological and other disasters in the name of development.

From local to global
Followingan international civil society solidarity conference in 1984,Third World Network (TWN) was born and rapidly developed by Martin to promote collective solidarity to protectdeveloping countries’ national interests as the global South came under siege with the neoliberal ascendance of the 1980s.

The South Summit in Kuala Lumpur in 1986 established the South Commission worked under former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which recommended establishing the South Centre as an intergovernmental policy research and analysis institution for developing countries headquartered in Geneva and chaired by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. Years later, Martin took over the South Centre in 2009, strengthening its finances, capacities and impact, by creatively mobilizing resources.

The personal is political
Martin’s widow, Meenakshi Raman was a victim of Malaysian political repression in 1987. But without personal rancour, Martin worked closely with the Mahathir and subsequent Malaysian administrations, especially on internationalcauses, includingtrade, intellectual property, biopiracy and climate change.

Martin touched many, inspiring all by his tireless commitment. He was often more than happy for others to getcredit for his discreet efforts behind the scenes with relevant research and skilled drafting. His persistence was legendary, but everyone knew his efforts were not for personal gain.

Martin waswell known for his indefatigable energy and meticulousness in preparing policy and advocacy briefs on many key matters of concern to developing countries, often working late into the night as necessary. This reputation gained him access to many government and other leaders.


In memoriam ‒ Martin Khor

Civil Society, Climate Change, Featured, Global, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs


GENEVA, Apr 3 2020 (IPS) We are greatly saddened by the passing of Martin Khor, a long-time friend and colleague, an undaunted fighter for the poor and underprivileged, a passionate believer in a more balanced and inclusive multilateralism, a rare intellectual and eloquent orator, an icon of the Global South worthy of veneration, greatly respected for his struggle for justice and fairness against the dominance and double-standards of big economic powers.   

Martin was born in 1951 in colonial Malaysia, still under British rule, to a family of journalists. After his primary and secondary education in Malaysia, he left for the UK in 1971 to study at the University of Cambridge, where he obtained his B.A Hons and M.A. in economics, before completing his second Masters in Social Sciences at the University of Science, Malaysia in 1978. 

There are increasing warnings of an imminent new financial crisis, not only from the billionaire investor George Soros, but also from eminent economists associated with the Bank of International Settlements, the bank of central banks.

Martin Khor

In his Master’s thesis, he grappled with the changing nature of external dependence and surplus extraction in Malaysia as it moved from colonial to post-colonial status, with a view to its implications for the scope and limits of industrialization and development; a study which left an indelible mark on his subsequent engagement and activities in a world characterised by increasingly asymmetric power relations.  

He started his professional career as an Administrative Officer at the Ministry of Finance, Singapore before joining the University of Science, Malaysia as lecturer in Economics in 1975.   

He became the Research Director of The Consumers’ Association of Penang in 1978, an independent non-profit international research and advocacy organization on issues related to development.

The Third World Network (TWN) was created in 1984 at an international Conference on “The Third World: Development and Crisis” organized by the Consumers’ Association of Penang.   In 1990, Martin became the Director of the TWN, perhaps the most important NGO from the developing world with operations globally, both in the North and the South, through offices, secretariats and researchers, including in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Beijing, Delhi, Jakarta, Manila, New York, Montevideo and Accra.  

Martin’s approach to advancing progressive solutions on all these fronts was always one of quiet determination driven by a passionate commitment to strengthening the voice of developing countries.

He had an envious ability to synthesise and explain complex negotiating issues to a broad audience and in a way that could bring on board activists and policy makers alike

Martin held both positions at the Consumers’ Association of Penang and the TWN until 2009 when he became the Executive Director of the South Centre in Geneva, an intergovernmental organization of developing countries established in 1995 to undertake research in various national and international development policy areas and provide advice and support to developing countries in a variety of international negotiating fora. 

Under his leadership, the South Centre became an important voice in discussions on international trade and investment, intellectual property, health, global macroeconomics, finance, sustainable development, and climate change.

During his tenure, the Centre extended significantly the scope and quality of its policy research and advice, building an enhanced reputation and level of trust among developing countries in the struggles to protect and promote their interests.   After leaving the South Centre in 2018, Martin returned to Penang, already suffering from cancer, and acted as Chairman of the Board of TWN until his death on April 1, 2020.

Martin was a staunch multilateralist but not an advocate of globalization, at least in the neo-liberal guise it acquired from the early 1980s.   On the one hand, he was well aware that individually developing countries could not obtain fair deals with major (and minor) developed countries in the international economic system. 

On the other hand, he knew that multilateral rules and practices were unbalanced, designed to subject developing countries to the discipline of unfettered international markets shaped by transnational corporations and self-seeking policies of dominant powers in the North, denying them the kind of policy space they themselves had enjoyed in the course of their industrialization.  His efforts focussed on reshaping multilateral rules and practices as a way to bring about systemic changes in the service of development.     

Martin did this on three frontsFrom the mid-1980s he focussed mainly on international trade issues, particularly those raised by negotiations during the Uruguay Round, and subsequently in the WTO and the proliferating free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties that accompanied the shift to a neo-liberal international economic order.

Martin was instrumental in bringing the attention of policy makers and activists to the implications of new trade rules for the industrialization and development of the Global South arising from more demanding obligations on tariff and non-tariff measures, industrial subsidies, investment and intellectual property rights. 

He made several proposals for reform in these areas to remove imbalances and constraints over industrialization, and economic diversification more generally, in the Global South. He opposed free trade agreements with developed countries on the grounds that, by simultaneously curtailing the policy space available to governments while expanding the space for abusive practices by the large international firms that dominate international trade, they posed an even greater threat to development than the earlier generation of trade rules under the GATT.

In the aftermath of the Marrakech agreement, Martin was a prominent figure blocking efforts by OECD countries to push for a multilateral investment agreement, to extend the neo-liberal agenda at the first WTO ministerial in Singapore and subsequently at the third meeting in Seattle and to water down the Doha Development Agenda at the Cancun Ministerial in 2003.

The second front concerned the issues around the operations of the Bretton Woods Institutions, notably debt and development finance.  Martin had been a long-time critic of the Washington Consensus, and in particular, the use of policy conditionalities attached to lending by the IFIs which sought to push a series of damaging measures on developing countries in the name of efficiency, competitiveness and attracting foreign investors.

But he started to pay greater attention to these after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, arguing against austerity, advocating capital controls, orderly debt work-out mechanisms, multilateral discipline over exchange rates and financial policies of major advanced economies and global regulation and supervision of systemically important international financial firms.

He was a particularly strong advocate of these positions in his role as a member of the Helsinki Group on Globalisation and Democracy.  Martin took the helm of the South Centre just before the 2009 Global Financial Crisis hit and was quick to provide substantive assistance to developing countries during the 2009 UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, identifying the key issues for them and working to ensure their insertion in the Outcome Document.

He continued to push hard on these issues through the research output from the Centre while adding the related areas of illicit financial flows and international tax issues to its workload as developing countries sought support on these matters.

The third, and increasingly prominent, front was climate change and sustainable development which gained added importance in international discussions in the new millennium. Environmental issues had always been part of Martin’s work as head of TWN and as a member of the Commission on Developing Countries and Global Change. 

But this widened significantly after the UN Conference on the Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Subsequently, Martin became a member of the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development and a regular attendee at the UN Climate Change Conferences that began in 1995 playing a particularly important role in the Copenhagen COP in 2009 where the neglect of the development dimension by advanced economies, their reluctance to acknowledge common but differentiated responsibilities and their naïve belief in market-friendly solutions to the climate challenge led to acrimonious discussions and the eventual collapse of the conference.

While he clearly recognized the need to reduce the pace of emissions and protect the environment, Martin was wary that the measures promoted by industrial countries could become instruments to stem development in the Global South.  Under his leadership an important part of the work in the South Centre focussed on this issue.

During this time Martin was a strong critic of tighter intellectual property rights, particularly through trade agreements, that restricted the transfer of the technologies developing countries needed to help in the fight against rising global temperatures and to mitigate the climate damage they were already experiencing.

This work had a parallel in Martin’s fight to ease the burden of TRIPs on developing countries in dealing with public health emergencies which, thanks to a successful civil society coalition where Martin was a pivotal figure, eventually succeeded in a permanent amendment to the TRIPs agreement in 2017.

Martin’s support to developing countries in the climate change negotiations, carried out through the South Centre and TWN, fostered greater coordination among developing countries in protecting and promoting their development policy space in the climate negotiations, highlighting equity, and stressing the international obligation of advanced economies to provide support to developing countries.

Martin’s approach to advancing progressive solutions on all these fronts was always one of quiet determination driven by a passionate commitment to strengthening the voice of developing countries.

He had an envious ability to synthesise and explain complex negotiating issues to a broad audience and in a way that could bring on board activists and policy makers alike. He became a trusted advisor to policy makers and diplomats across the developing world.

But Martin was equally comfortable engaging in a productive debate with policy makers from advanced countries and in mainstream institutions.   His was a uniquely calming but authoritative voice for increasingly anxious times, one that has been silenced too soon and at a moment when his commitment to building a fairer and more resilient world was needed more than ever.

Yilmaz Akyüz, Former Director, Globalization and Development Strategies Division, UNCTAD; and Former Chief Economist, South Centre, Geneva.

Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, Globalization and Development Strategies Division, UNCTAD, Geneva. 


Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women & Climate Change

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 (IPS) – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.

Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”


Why Empowering National Human Rights Institutions Helps on the Quest for Healthy Earth?

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Education, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

Claudia Ituarte-Lima, Stockholm University, Sweden and University of British Columbia, Canada

Claudia Ituarte-Lima is researcher on international environmental law at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and affiliated senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. She is currently a visiting researcher at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia. She holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge.

On March 2020, over 330 students, women champions, government officials, NGO members and community members from around Kampot and Kep gathered in an effort to plant 3,000 mangroves and conserve Cambodia’s coastline. The local activity took place as part of a larger mangrove planting and marine exhibition under Action Aid’s 100,000 Mangroves campaign, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the project ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’. The campaign aims to plan 100,000 mangroves in eight community fisheries by May 2020, and raise awareness of the importance of marine ecosystems. Credit: ManuthButh/UNDP Cambodia

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, Mar 24 2020 (IPS) – We are living in a critical time. As we face existential environmental challenges from climate crises to the mass extinction of species, it is difficult sometimes to see solutions and new ideas. This is why we all need to celebrate and give visibility to creative and courageous efforts of people and organizations striving towards a healthy planet for all.

I write today about the key role played by National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Global South in our collective fight against climate change. The time has come to empower NHRIs.

Their unique position mandated by law yet independent from the government can make an urgent needed bridge between legal and policy advances, and ground-up efforts such as youth and women movements, thereby contributing to the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment.

I have recently had the chance of learning real-world success stories by brave NHRIs working in some of the most challenging contexts. While being a member of the facilitators’ team of a series of webinars* for technical staff and decision-makers working in NHRIs and prior face-to-face interaction with them, it became crystal clear that strengthening the skills and capacities of NHRIs can contribute positive outcomes for both human rights and the environment.

In Mongolia, for instance, the NHRI with the support of civil society organizations and environmental researchers has recently developed a draft law for safeguarding the rights of environmental defenders.

The NHRIs have also intervened in a variety of sectoral issues from pesticides and agriculture in Costa Rica, to mining in South Africa and the connections between coal mining and transportation in Mongolia. The Morocco NHRI has prompted other African NHRIs and civil society organizations to actively participate in international climate negotiations.

Business and human rights was a key issue raised by our NHRIs colleagues.

Nazia, 38, proudly shows off her home-grown tomatoes in Nadirabad village, Pakistan. She participated in kitchen gardening training offered under the joint UNDP-EU Refugee Affected and Host Areas (RAHA) Programme in Pakistan. Credit: UNDP Pakistan

The significant legal, institutional and financial obstacles that national duty bearers face to investigate transnational corporations and their responsibilities concerning their impacts to a safe climate has not proved insurmountable for NHRIs.

The Philippine’s NHRI has a mandate to promote human rights which, creatively interpreted, allowed it to investigate the climate change and human rights nexus beyond its national borders.

The systemic nature of climate change justified a national inquiry rather than a field visit. Because climate change is an existential issue not only to Filipino people but globally, the Philippines national inquiry on climate change turned into an inquiry with strong global dimensions.

It included public hearings in the Philippines, New York and London, virtual hearings and expert advice from the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, academics from different parts of the world and the Asia-Pacific regional network of NHRIs.

A major comparative advantage presented by the NHRIs is their unique position in working hand in hand with right holders in addressing environmental – human rights gaps facing the most vulnerable populations.

Costa Rica NHRI has found, for instance, that women, girls, men and boys and elder living in coastal areas become especially vulnerable to climate change because their access to clean drinking water and fish become scarce.

The South African NHRI together with food sovereignty civil society organizations has developed a draft climate charter, to be presented to the parliament, with a more holistic approach to the current climate policy.

In recent years, the awareness of the linkages between human rights and climate change has greatly increased. The legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment in more than 150 countries, together with judicial decisions, and academic studies on the safe climate dimension of this right has grown rapidly. NHRIs can be instrumental in translating them into results and action, including under difficult circumstances.

Their role in advising duty bearers, working together with right-holders helps to understand and act upon systemic environmental challenges. Their synergies with environmental human rights defenders can also contribute to more effective investigation and advocacy, not least in the context of informal and unregulated business activities where it is especially difficult to collect data and hold businesses accountable.

Time has come for the international community to do more to support NHRIs in the Global South, a key player often overlooked in climate and biodiversity talks, debates and funding. Due to the intrinsic connections between human rights and environment, the NHRIs need to be further supported to perform their innovative roles in safeguarding life-support systems at various jurisdictional scales, including advocating for the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the United Nations.

* The series was organized by the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), UNDP, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and UN Environment. A final report with key messages from the webinar series is available on the UNDP website.


Could the Coronavirus Pandemic have been Avoided if the World Listened to Indigenous Leaders?

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Climate Change

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 percent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. At a Covering Climate Now panel in New York on Friday, indigenous leaders reiterated the need for the world to listen to them in addressing climate concerns. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2020 (IPS) Mina Setra remembers the story clearly. As a Dayak Pompakng indigenous person from Indonesia, when  visitors from the city who came into her community; brought bottled water with them because they were worried about the water not being suitable for drinking. 

Setra, who is the deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), recalls one of the elders telling the visitors, “This is the problem of you city people: You eat and drink all the dead things. Like the water that is already in a bottle? It is dead water. The vegetables that you buy from the freezer in the supermarket, they’re all dead plants.”

The anecdote sums up a much bigger conversation that is relevant today: how climate change is linked to coronavirus, and why it’s important to listen to indigenous leaders on the matter.

Setra shared the story with IPS when asked about links between climate change and coronavirus, during a panel talk by Covering Climate Now in New York on Friday, where indigenous leaders reiterated the need for the world to listen to them in addressing climate concerns — and reminding them how climate change can lead to or exacerbate a global health crisis as grave as the current virus. 

The talk took place as global communities scrambled to take effective measures against the deadly virus, and just as the U.S. announced a global emergency while struggling to contain its coronavirus cases. More than two months since the world became aware of coronavirus — and increasingly learned of its alarming implicants — the pandemic has globally claimed 8,810 lives, with more than 218,800, cases. 

While global conversations have mainly focused on the issue of death rate, or the racism attached to the virus, or different countries’ isolation methods (or lack thereof), little has been said about the link to climate change.

This remains a much bigger conversation that indigenous leaders want people to be aware of: how climate change can exacerbate the dangers of something like the coronavirus, and why the world should’ve been listening to indigenous leaders to avoid such a catastrophic spread.  While many believe that coronavirus started with a bat, experts argue it’s not so black and white. A February report established what the leaders discussed at the talk: how deforestation can lead to a loss of habitat for many wild animals and species. As a result, they move to habitat that brings them to closer proximity to humans which can lead to repeated contact between them.  

“The inequilibrium of our planet is not just about climate change, but it’s also about the global economy,” Levi Sucre Romero, a member of the BriBri indigenous community from Costa Rica, told IPS at the panel talk. “So coronavirus is now telling the world what we have been saying for thousands of years: that if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, that we will face this and worse future threats.”

Romero, a coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, further highlighted a United Nations’ statement for why it’s important for global communities to work with indigenous leaders and learn from their knowledge. United Nations for Indigenous Peoples did not respond to the IPS’ request for comments. 

While wild animals and species are forced to find a home in close proximity to humans as a result of deforestation, another crucial concern is the treatment of animals by people from commercial hubs and cities that can act as a catalyst for such a global crisis.

“Our animals are not contaminated by themselves. They get contaminated by people,” Tuxá said in response to IPS’ question about the link between coronavirus and climate change. “And the proof is that these viruses start in the commercial centres of the world. There is a direct correlation between this and coronavirus and other pandemics that are to come.”

Tuxá added the next pandemic’s cure can be found in the diversity of indigenous peoples’ lands. 

“That’s why it’s really important to demarcate and recognise our lands, to protect our lands and our biodiversity because future life depends on it,” he said.