Mining giant Rio Tinto Face Environmental, Human Rights Complaint in Papua New Guinea

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Contamination of rivers and streams by mine waste in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 4 2021 (IPS) – Local communities in the vicinity of the abandoned Panguna copper mine, have taken decisive action to hold the global mining multinational, Rio Tinto, accountable for alleged environmental and human rights violations during the mine’s operations between 1972 and 1989.


The mine operated in the mountains of central Bougainville in Papua New Guinea until 1989.

The complaint by 156 residents was lodged with the Australian Government in September by Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre and subsequently accepted in November, paving the way for a non-judicial mediation process.

“We and the communities we are working with have now entered into a formal conciliation process with Rio Tinto facilitated by the Australian OECD National Contact Point and talks with the company will begin very shortly,” Keren Adams, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne told IPS.

Rio Tinto was the majority owner of the Panguna mine through its operating company, Bougainville Copper Ltd, with a 53.8 percent stake. However, 17 years after it began production in 1972, anger among indigenous landowners about contaminated rivers and streams, the devastation of customary land and inequity in distributing the extractive venture’s profits and benefits triggered an armed rebellion in 1989. After the mine’s power supply was destroyed by sabotage, Rio Tinto fled Bougainville Island and the site became derelict during the decade long civil war which followed.

The mine area, which is still controlled by the tribal Mekamui Government of Unity, comprising former rebel leaders, hasn’t been decommissioned and the environmental legacy of its former operations never addressed.

Now, according to the complaint, “copper pollution from the mine pit and tailings continues to flow into local rivers … The Jaba-Kawerong river valley downstream of the mine resembles a moonscape with vast mounds of grey tailings waste and rock stretching almost 40 km downstream to the coast. Levees constructed at the time of the mine’s operation are now collapsing, threatening nearby villages.”

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

There are further claims that contamination of waterways and land is causing long-term health problems amongst the indigenous population, such as skin diseases, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, and pregnancy complications.

Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency in Bougainville’s main town of Buka, fully supports the action taken by her fellow islanders.

“It is long overdue. It is going to be very important because it was the big issue which caused the Bougainville conflict. It will lay to rest the grievances which caused so much suffering for our people,” Hakena told IPS.

The Bougainville civil war, triggered by the uprising at the mine, led to a death toll of 15,000-20,000 people.

The people of Bougainville believe that Rio Tinto has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by failing both to take action to mitigate foreseeable environmental, health and safety-related impacts at the mine and respect the human rights of the communities affected by its extractive activities. The Human Rights Law Centre claims that “the mine pollution continues to infringe nearly all the economic, social and cultural rights of these indigenous communities, including their rights to food, water, health, housing and an adequate standard of living.”

“While we do not wholly accept the claims in the complaint, we are aware of deteriorating mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas and acknowledge that there are environmental and human rights considerations,” Rio Tinto responded in a public statement.

“Accepting the AusNCP’s ‘good offices’ shows that we take this complaint seriously and remain ready to enter into discussions with the communities that have filed the complaint, along with other relevant communities around the Panguna mine site, and other relevant parties, such as Bougainville Copper Ltd, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and PNG Government,” the statement continued.

In 2016, Rio Tinto divested its interest in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the operating company, and its shares were acquired by the PNG and Bougainville governments. Simultaneously, the corporate giant announced that it rejected corporate responsibility for any environmental impacts or damage.

Panguna mine’s copper and gold await political settlement before extraction can resume. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Mineral exploration in Bougainville in the 1960s, followed by the construction of the Panguna open-cut copper mine, occurred when the island region was under Australian administration. It would subsequently become a massive source of internal revenue Papua New Guinea, which was granted Independence in 1975. During its lifetime, the Panguna mine generated about US$2 billion in revenue and accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s exports.

The mining agreement negotiated between the Australian Government and Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia in the 1960s didn’t include any significant environmental regulations or liability of the company for rehabilitation of areas affected by mining.

There has been no definitive environmental assessment of the Panguna site since it was forced to shut down. However, about 300,000 tonnes of ore and water were excavated at the mine every day. In 1989, an independent report by Applied Geology Associates in New Zealand noted that significant amounts of copper and other heavy metals were leaching from the mine and waste rock dumps and flowing into the Kawerong River. Today, the water in some rivers and streams in the mine area is a luminescent blue, a sign of copper contamination.

Bougainville residents’ action comes at the end of a challenging year for Rio Tinto. It is still reeling from revelations earlier this year that its operations destroyed historically significant Aboriginal sacred sites, estimated to be 46,000 years old, in the vicinity of its iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The company’s CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, has subsequently resigned.

Nevertheless, Adams is optimistic about the corporate giant’s willingness to engage with Bougainville and PNG stakeholders.

“In the first instance, we hope that this non-judicial process will help to facilitate discussions to explore whether Rio Tinto will make these commitments to address the impacts of its operations. If not, then the communities will be asking the Australian OECD National Contact Point to investigate the complaint and make findings about whether Rio Tinto has breached its human rights and environmental obligations,” the Human Rights Law Centre’s Legal Director said. A full investigation, if required, could take up to a year.

Ultimately, the islanders are seeking specific outcomes. These include Rio Tinto’s serious engagement with them to identify solutions to the urgent environmental and human rights issues; funding for an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine; and contributions to a substantial independently managed fund to enable long term rehabilitation programs.

Otherwise, Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre predicts that “given the limited resources of the PNG and Bougainville governments, it is almost inevitable that if no action is taken by Rio Tinto, the environmental damage currently being caused by the tailings waste will continue and worsen.”

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Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation?

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Opinion

Sarah Rogerson is a researcher at Global Canopy. Prior to Global Canopy, she has worked on corporate environmental transparency with both CDP and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, and on domestic recycling and engagement with Keep Britain Tidy. She has a degree in Natural Sciences (Zoology) from the University of Cambridge

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development. Credit: United Nations

OXFORD, UK, Nov 23 2020 (IPS) – At the beginning of 2020, there were hopes that this would be a ’super year for nature’. It has not turned out that way. Tropical forests, so crucial for biodiversity, the climate and the indigenous communities who live in them, have continued to be destroyed at alarming rates. In fact, despite the shutdown of large parts of the global economy, rates of deforestation globally have increased since last year.


The market forces driving deforestation are baked deep into the system of global trade. Agricultural expansion for commodities such as soy and palm oil accounts for two thirds of the problem worldwide. And forests are also being cleared to make way for mining, and for infrastructure to link once remote areas to the global markets they supply.

Coal mining is estimated to affect 1.74 million hectares of forest in Indonesia alone, with as much as nine percent of the country’s remaining forests at risk from permits for new mines. And the threat to forests from road building is significant, with 25 million kilometres of roads likely to be built by 2050, mainly in developing countries.

Underpinning these industries is over a trillion dollars a year in financing from financial institutions around the world. This investment and lending is the fuel that keeps the deforestation fires alight.

Six years ago, governments, companies and civil society signed the New York Declaration on Forests, setting a goal to end global deforestation by 2030. Each year, an independent civil society network led by Climate Focus and including Global Canopy provides a progress assessment. This year, it focuses on the NYDF goals of reducing deforestation from mining and infrastructure by 2020 (goal 3), and supporting alternatives to deforestation for subsistence needs (goal 4).

The findings are an urgent wake-up call. The threat to forests worldwide from these activities is growing, and indigenous people and local communities continue to bear a devastating cost.

But the report also highlights opportunities for progress. A growing number of governments are facing up to this issue and some companies are waking up to the risks of inaction. The same is true of the finance sector, which could become a driver of transformational change.

The opportunity for finance

Financial institutions do not, it must be recognised, have a great track record on these issues. Global Canopy’s annual Forest 500 assessment of the most influential financial institutions in agricultural and timber forest-risk supply chains has consistently found that the majority do not publicly recognise a need to engage on the issue of deforestation.

Fewer still publish clear information about how they will deal with deforestation risks identified in their portfolios, and none of the 150 financial institutions assessed in 2019 had policies across all relevant human rights issues. As a result, investment and lending has largely continued to flow to companies linked to land grabs and deforestation.

Nearly 87% of indigenous territories in the Amazon are recognised in Brazilian law, yet government concessions for mining and oil extraction overlap nearly 24% of recognised territories. This infringement of the communities’ rights is being overlooked by the companies involved, and by the financial institutions that finance them.

Yet there are signs of change. In June this year a group of 29 investors requested meetings with the Brazilian government because of concerns about the fires raging in the Amazon. Some, including BlackRock, have said they will engage with the companies they finance on deforestation risks. And some have gone further, with Citigroup, Standard Chartered, and Rabobank disinvesting from Indonesian food giant Indofood following concerns about deforestation linked to palm oil, and Nordea Asset Management dropped investments in Brazilian meat giant, JBS.

There is also support for the Equator Principles, which provide a framework for banks and investors to assess and manage social and environmental risks in project finance. Companies in the mining and extractive sectors are among the 110 financial institutions to have signed up, although reporting on implementation is voluntary and patchy.

There is also growing recognition that biodiversity loss represents a risk to investments. More than 30 financial institutions have joined an informal working group to develop a Task Force for Nature-related Disclosure (TNFD), intended to help financial institutions shift finance away from destructive activities such as deforestation. Some within the sector are developing new impact investment products designed to support poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

And there are also signs of a shift in development banks – whose finance plays such a critical role in so many development projects in the Global South. Just this month, public development banks from around the world made a joint declaration to “support the transformation of the global economy and societies toward sustainable and resilient development”.

No silver bullets

It is of course one thing to recognise the problem, another to solve it. Transforming the finance sector so that money is moved away from mining or agricultural projects linked to deforestation, and invested in sustainable alternatives that benefit local communities is an enormous challenge – made all the more difficult by the lack of transparency that currently engulfs these sectors.

For while the banks and investors funding deforestation activities are all too often invisible to the local communities and indigenous groups on the ground, those communities, and the impacts of financial investments on their land and livelihoods are similarly invisible or ignored.

But these links are increasingly being brought into the light, and new tools and technologies are bringing a new level of transparency and accountability. The new Trase Finance tool is a great example, it maps the deforestation risks for investors linked to Brazilian soy and beef, and Indonesian palm oil, and aims to extend coverage to include half of major forest-risk commodities by next year. Bringing about a new era of radical transparency could be the key for moving beyond recognition and into real solutions.

Increased transparency brings with it greater accountability, creating an opportunity for local communities to identify the financial institutions involved, and a reputational risk for financial institutions linked to infringements of land rights.

Grassroots movements can play an important role in demanding accountability from the companies and financial institutions involved where land rights are affected. Campaigns can raise awareness with the wider public, creating a reputational risk for the companies involved, and for the financial institutions that finance them. Campaigners have targeted BlackRock for its investments in JBS, for example, pushing for greater action from the investor.

Governments in consumer countries are also increasingly looking at how they can reduce their exposure to deforestation in imported products, with both the European Union and UK proposing mandatory due diligence for companies, requiring far greater transparency from all involved. These measures should be strengthened to include due diligence on human rights.

A global problem

We are all implicated in tropical deforestation – as consumers, as pension-fund holders, as citizens. In the Global North, economies rely on commodities produced in developing and emerging economies, enabled by production practices linked with deforestation.

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development.

To meet the NYDF goal of ending deforestation by 2030, as well as climate goals under the Paris Agreement, this must change urgently, and the finance sector is crucial to making this happen.

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Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

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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.”

 

Preserving World’s Biodiversity: Negotiations Convene at FAO Headquarters

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Delegates gather at FAO headquarters to advance negotiations of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

ROME, Feb 24 2020 (IPS) – “The world out there is watching and waiting for results,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema warns while talking to IPS regarding the preservation of biodiversity of our planet.


The acting Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is referring to a worrying report[1] released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which paints a grim picture of the planet.

“Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline and evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing,” the report says.

The FAO also warns that “nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished, and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened”.

These are just some of the critical issues being debated during the open-ended working group on the post-2020 biodiversity framework. This round of negotiations is taking place at FAO headquarters from 24 to 29 February. In the run-up to October’s historic UN Biodiversity Conference, government officials, experts and activists from around the world gathered today at FAO headquarters, Rome, to forge ahead with negotiations. This round of talks was supposed to take place in Kunming, China, on the same dates. Due to the ongoing situation following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), it was moved to Rome, Italy.

Background

The fourteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had its meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2018. It was here that the working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was appointed. The working group’s mandate was to prepare the text of a framework that would guide the work of the Convention after the year 2020. At the working group’s first meeting held in Nairobi in August 2019, the Open-ended Working Group (WG2020) requested the Co-Chairs and the Executive Secretary to prepare a zero-draft text of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This framework is under consideration at its second meeting, which is currently taking place in Rome. The aim of the second meeting of the Working Group is to significantly advance the negotiation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, discussing the different aspects of the whole ambitious project.

‘Healthy Diets’ was among the proposed initiatives during the first day of the six-day event at FAO headquarters. The initiative emphasised the importance of ‘geographical indications’ for biodiversity, with examples and experiences from Africa and Eastern Europe. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

Negotiations in Rome: Promoting a bi-directional approach

In the coming days, the working groups will be divided on a regional basis. They will discuss a wide variety of concerns including biodiversity, food, agriculture and fishing systems, to the importance of promoting an approach that leaves no one outside of this circuit. Civil society, the private sector, indigenous people, local communities, women and youth are all represented to create a functional framework for the whole society and at all levels. Many organisations, like Bioversity International, supported by a host of international agencies, have submitted research reports on biodiversity and food systems. It has also made representations on alternative models for access and benefit-sharing rules, practices and impacts in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The voice of indigenous people

Key to the discussions is the role of indigenous people in biodiversity and Aslak Holmberg, the representative of the indigenous people, is convinced that policymakers can learn from these groups.

“There is a key message we want to share with other groups here during these negotiations,” he told IPS. “Indigenous peoples and local communities’ management of natural resources is (in fact) conserving biodiversity. (This is) because these management practices are built on a balanced relationship with the respective environment.

“Biological and cultural diversity are linked, and by this, I mean that (for indigenous communities) culture plays a fundamental role in the process of preserving biodiversity: it is in our culture to use our areas in a sustainable way. That is the message we want to share with others”.

The voice of the business sector

Representatives of the private sector too, in particular of the business world, wish to be part of the framework that will result from the negotiations and officially approved in October, in China.
Eva Zabey, Executive Director of the Business for Nature Coalition, told IPS she was grateful to the CBD secretariat for giving business and opportunity to engage and contribute to the zero draft of the post-2020 framework.

This coalition is a unique global group of influential business and conservation organisations participating in the negotiations.

“Forward-thinking businesses are starting to change the way they operate, based on their understanding of the value of nature – but this is still the exception, not the norm,” she told IPS.
“Therefore,” said Zabey, “Political leadership is needed now to transform our economic and financial systems in a way that places nature at the heart of global decision-making. It needs to create a level playing field and a stable operating environment for business.”

Zabey is looking forward to an ambitious post-2020 framework which will facilitate businesses’ involvement and create and positive “policy-business feedback loop,” she said.

Perspectives

Audrey Azoulay, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, perfectly summarised urgency at the negotiation.

Commenting on the global assessment report, she said: “The present generations have the responsibility to bequeath to future generations a planet that is not irreversibly damaged by human activity.”

“Our local, indigenous and scientific knowledge are proving that we have solutions and so no more excuses: we must live on earth differently”.

Zabey echoes Azouley. She said entrepreneurs are increasingly aware that the profit-sustainability ‘conflict’ is no longer feasible or conceivable.

“Companies planning on being successful in the future are starting to realise that financial performance is irrelevant on a dead planet.’

[1] http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/ca3129en.pdf

 

Under Pressure. Can COP25 Deliver?

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Opinion

Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press Service; a journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

ROME, Dec 2 2019 (IPS) – Mass public pressure backed by the weight of scientific reports is starting to bring governments to their senses as the annual UN climate summit kicks off in Madrid today.


But despite warnings that the planet is reaching critical tipping points, the two weeks of talks with nearly 30,000 participants and dozens of heads of government attending may still end in that familiar sense of disappointment and an opportunity missed.

The annual Conference of the Parties, this year being COP25, was to have been a highly arcane if crucial process of finding agreement on carbon markets, known in the jargon as Article 6 of the ‘rulebook’ to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on stopping the planet from overheating.

Highly contentious, and in part pitting developing countries like Brazil, China and India against others, the Article 6 debate could not be resolved at last year’s summit – COP24 in Katowice, Poland – nor at meetings in Bonn in June and hence was left for COP25 to try and fix. The other big elephant in the room – setting more ambitious national targets to reduce carbon emissions – was conveniently going to be left to be settled at next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

But action is needed now, and senior officials representing nearly 200 countries have been put on notice that the climate emergency in all its forms is dominating the public sphere across the world. Just last week we saw student-led demonstrations and strikes in many places that appropriately fell on Black Friday, delivering a broadside against rampant consumerism as well as government inaction.

Farhana Haque Rahman

“Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options,” youth leaders Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Luisa Neubauer of Germany and Angela Valenzuela of Chile declared in a joint statement.

“We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments—the same governments that allow fossil fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres has told COP25 that “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon”.

“In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters – to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” Guterres said.

Just last month the UN Environment Programme’s annual Emissions Gap Report warned that the Paris Agreement ambition of keeping average temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times was “on the brink of becoming impossible”.

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would have to be under 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to reach that target but, at current rates of growth, emissions are projected to reach more than double that level. Clearly drastic action is needed.

Reinforcing the sense of emergency, the World Meteorological Organization reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new record highs in 2018. China is the world’s largest emitter.

Spain stepped in to offer Madrid as a venue for COP25 after Chile withdrew as host because of mass anti-government unrest. However Chile is still leading the conference and together with Spain will be pushing countries to act quickly to raise the ambition of their carbon emission reduction targets. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says the goal is for “the largest number of countries” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

From 2020 to 2030, emissions must be cut 7.6% a year to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the UNEP says.

However the main negotiation process in Madrid is expected to focus on the unfinished business of the market-based mechanisms to create and manage new carbon markets under the Paris Agreement. This would allow countries and industries to earn credits for above-target emission reductions that can then be traded. Big developing countries have already accumulated huge amounts of carbon credits under the previous but now largely discredited carbon credit scheme. It is a highly complex tangle of interests.

Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, says the Article 6 debate has the potential to “make or break” implementation of the Paris Agreement which comes into force next year.

“To its proponents, Article 6 offers a path to significantly raising climate ambition or lowering costs, while engaging the private sector and spreading finance, technology and expertise into new areas. To its critics, it risks fatally undermining the ambition of the Paris Agreement at a time when there is clear evidence of the need to go further and faster to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Carbon Brief explains.

While Article 6 is a highly technical area, the underlying issues are political, with some countries forming unofficial alliances to defend their own interests rather than the common good of the planet. But politicians have been put on notice that this time the world’s public is watching closely. Horse-trading cannot be allowed to put our futures at risk.

 

Translating Ambition to Action: High Hopes for United Nations Action Week

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Cameron Diver is Deputy Director-General, the Pacific Community (SPC)

New Caledonia, Sep 13 2019 (IPS) – In less than 10 days, countries from around the planet will come together in New York for the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. I look forward to representing the Pacific Community (SPC) at this important event, and throughout “Action Week” during the upcoming UN General Assembly.


Cameron Diver

The interconnections and synergies between major issues of global concern and the key role multilateralism and international cooperation can play in helping tackle these challenges are illustrated by the agenda of the week from 23 to 27 September. Underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals, each of the high-level summits will focus on commitments to accelerate action across climate change, enhance efforts to secure healthy, peaceful and prosperous lives for all, mobilise sufficient financing to realise the 2030 Agenda and address the specific issues and vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

The week of summits kicks off with a focus on climate action. And this is, in my mind, highly appropriate. The multiplier effect of climate change undermines our efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, it increases the challenges of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, it intensifies competition and the potential for conflict around natural resources and it poses the single greatest existential threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the globe. From where I stand, the science on climate change is clear. To take only these examples, the IPCC Special Reports on the impacts of global warming of 1.5° above pre-industrial levels and climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems provide us with the most robust, high quality evidence base to understand the significant negative impact climate change is already having on our natural environment, on the wellbeing of people, ecosystems, flora and fauna and the massive and potentially irreversible consequences of inaction. As regards our ocean, the upcoming Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate is likely to confirm what the islands of the Blue Pacific continent, and others whose cultures, traditions and livelihoods are deeply attached to the ocean, have already sensed: the climate crisis is a real and present threat to ocean and coastal ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.

The stakes are high, but where there is a threat there is also an opportunity. If we act now, there is still have time effectively to tackle the climate crisis! To put it simply: ambition without action is insufficient and simply not an option. SPC is committed to working with our Member States, international and regional partners to translate climate ambition into tangible climate action, for both mitigation and adaptation. The benefits could be huge, with the Global Commission on Adaptation estimating that investing $1.8 trillion in climate adaptation globally in just five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. We are also convinced that we must collectively harness the synergies between, for example, climate and the ocean, biodiversity, health, security, economic development, food systems, land use, gender and many other development areas to fully exploit the potential of the SDGs and ensure that future pathways to sustainable development are integrated, inclusive, nature-friendly, climate-informed and resilient. SPC is already implementing this approach with its Members and partners. One illustration is our EU funded PROTEGE project, whose intended outcomes include a transition to sustainable integrated agriculture and sound forestry resource management; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management that is integrated in and adapted to island economies; sustainable integrated water resource management; and invasive alien species control, all against a backdrop of climate-change hazards that require ecosystem and biodiversity protection, resilience and restoration.

As was recently remarked to me at the Green Climate Fund Global Programming Conference in Korea: “we already know what we must do. We need to stop talking and start doing”. It is my sincere hope that “Action Week” in New York will indeed be a turning point for “doing”; a catalyst for firm, measurable commitments to tangible actions that match the level of ambition already expressed to address the climate crisis and the multiple development challenges that remain as we approach the final decade of the 2030 Agenda. If we do not translate ambition into action, we will fail ourselves, we will fail future generations and we will fail our planet. If, however, we take up the challenge and take sustained, coordinated and integrated action, we can win the battle against climate change, create new and innovative opportunities for development, deliver on the promise of the Global Goals and trace a positive pathway to new era of resilient and sustainable development. High hopes indeed…