Latin America Heads to Glasgow Climate Summit with Half-Empty Hands

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Climate Change

This article is part of IPS coverage ahead of the COP26 climate change conference, to be held Oct. 31-Nov. 12 in Glasgow.

A solar power plant in El Salvador, with 320,000 panels, is one of the largest such installations in Central America, whose countries are striving to convert the energy mix to renewable sources, but whose plans were slowed by the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A solar power plant in El Salvador, with 320,000 panels, is one of the largest such installations in Central America, whose countries are striving to convert the energy mix to renewable sources, but whose plans were slowed by the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

MEXICO CITY, Oct 25 2021 (IPS) – Latin America and the Caribbean are heading to a new climate summit with a menu of insufficient measures to address the effects of the crisis, in the midst of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.


The world’s most unequal region, which is the hardest hit by the effects of climate change and highly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, has yet to engage in the fight against this emergency head-on, according to analysts and studies.

Tania Miranda, director of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement in the Environment and Climate Change Programme of the U.S.-based non-governmental Institute of the Americas, said Latin America’s high climate ambitions have not been supported by the measures necessary to reduce emissions.

“Goals are aspirational. If they are not backed up with policies and financing, they remain empty promises. There is a need for financing and the implementation of strategies and public policies that will lead them to fulfill their commitments. Billions of dollars are needed,” the researcher told IPS from San Diego, California, where the Institute is based.

Miranda is the author of the report “Nationally Determined Contributions Across the Americas. A Comparative Hemispheric Analysis,” which evaluates the climate targets of 16 countries, including the United States and Canada.

In her study, she analyses pollutant emission reduction targets, plans for adaptation to the climate crisis, dependence on external financing, long-term carbon neutrality commitments and the state of pollution abatement.

Climate policies will be the focus of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland in the north of the United Kingdom, after being postponed in that same month in 2020 due to the pandemic.

COP26 will address rules for carbon markets, at least 100 billion dollars annually in climate finance, the gaps between nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the necessary reductions, strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050, adaptation plans, and the local communities and indigenous peoples platform.

A parallel alternative summit will also be held, bringing together social movements from around the world, advocating an early phase-out of fossil fuels, rejecting so-called “false solutions” such as carbon markets, and calling for a just energy transition and reparations for damage and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and countries of the global South.

The Glasgow conference is considered the most important climate summit, due to the need to accelerate action in the face of alarming data on global warming since the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP21, held in December 2015 in the French capital.

A zero-emission electric bus is parked on a downtown street in Montevideo. Public transport is beginning to electrify in Latin America's cities as a way to contain CO2 emissions, but plans have been delayed and cut back due to the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Inés Acosta/IPS

A zero-emission electric bus is parked on a downtown street in Montevideo. Public transport is beginning to electrify in Latin America’s cities as a way to contain CO2 emissions, but plans have been delayed and cut back due to the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Inés Acosta/IPS

Since then, 192 signatories to the binding treaty have submitted their first NDCs.

But just 13 countries worldwide sent their new climate contributions in 2020 to the UNFCCC Secretariat based in Bonn, despite calls from its secretary, Patricia Espinosa of Mexico, for all parties to the treaty to do so that year.

Of these, only four from this region – Argentina, Grenada, Mexico and Suriname – submitted the second updated version of their contributions.

Although they are voluntary commitments, the NDCs are a core part of the Paris Agreement, based on the goal of curbing the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, considered the minimum and indispensable target to avoid irreversible climate disasters and, consequently, human catastrophes.

In the NDCs, nations must set their goals for 2030 and 2050 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions responsible for global warming, taking a specific year as a baseline, outline the way they will achieve these goals, establish the peak year of their emissions and when they would achieve net zero emissions, i.e. absorb as many gases as they release into the atmosphere.

In addition, to contain the spread of the coronavirus and its impacts, the region has taken emergency economic decisions, such as providing support for companies of all sizes, as well as for vulnerable workers.

But these post-pandemic recovery packages lack green components, such as commitments to sustainable and cleaner production.

 A street in Mexico City shows reduced traffic due to covid restrictions. Automotive transport is one of the largest generators of polluting emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the transition to a cleaner vehicle fleet, with the increase in the number of electric vehicles and other alternatives, is moving very slowly. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A street in Mexico City shows reduced traffic due to covid restrictions. Automotive transport is one of the largest generators of polluting emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the transition to a cleaner vehicle fleet, with the increase in the number of electric vehicles and other alternatives, is moving very slowly. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Shared irresponsibilities

While some countries, such as Argentina and Chile, improved their pledges, others like Brazil and Mexico scaled down or kept their pledges unchanged.

The measures of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are in code red, as they are highly insufficient to contain global warming, according to the Climate Action Tracker.

In the case of the first three, the largest Latin American economies, the governments are prioritising the financing of increased fossil fuel exploitation, which would result in a rise in emissions in 2030, the Tracker highlights.

Chile’s and Peru’s measures are classified as insufficient and Costa Rica’s as almost sufficient.

That Central American nation, Colombia and Peru are on track to meet their commitments by 2030 and 2050, the Tracker notes.

In the case of Argentina, Chile and Ecuador, they would need additional measures to achieve their goals. At the other extreme are Brazil and Mexico, the biggest regional polluters, which have strayed from the medium- and long-term path.

Enrique Maurtúa, senior climate policy advisor for the non-governmental Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), said that Argentina is an example of the countries in the region that are caught between these contradictions.

“Argentina follows the line of what is happening in several countries in the region. In terms of commitments, it does its homework, what it is supposed to do, it is preparing a long-term strategy. But those commitments are not in line with what Argentina is doing behind closed doors,” the expert told IPS from Buenos Aires, where the Foundation is based.

As part of this approach, the Argentine Congress is debating a draft Hydrocarbon Investment Promotion Regime to provide fiscal stability to the sector for the next 20 years.

In addition, the government weakened the carbon tax, which averages a 10 dollar charge, through exemptions and the exclusion of gas, and is preparing a sustainable mobility strategy that dispenses with hydrogen.

Mexico is following a similar path, as the government favours support for the state-owned oil company Pemex and the government’s electric utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad, is building a refinery in the state of Tabasco, on the southeastern coast of the country, and has stalled actions aimed at an energy transition.

On Dec. 29, 2020, Mexico released its updated NDC, without increasing the emissions reduction target, to the disappointment of environmental organisations, and in contravention of the Paris Agreement and its own climate change law.

But on Oct. 1 it was reported that a federal court annulled the update, considering that there was an illegal reduction in the mitigation goals, so the 2016 measures remain in force until the government improves on them.

Isabel Bustamante, a member of the Fridays for Future Mexico movement who will attend COP26, questioned Mexico’s climate stance.

“It does not take a solid stance. We need declarations of climate emergency throughout the country and to make resources more readily available. We are concerned about the focus on more fossil fuel production,” she told IPS from the southeastern city of Mérida.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is facing pressure from the environmental sector, but does not seem adept at changing course. He is even sending mixed signals, such as his announcement on Oct. 18 that the country will raise climate targets in 2022.

 At most service stations in Brazil, consumers can choose between gasoline and ethanol, the price of which is attractive when it does not exceed 70 percent of that of gasoline. But users only opt for biofuel when it is economically attractive, so it does not contribute to alleviating the emission of polluting gases. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

At most service stations in Brazil, consumers can choose between gasoline and ethanol, the price of which is attractive when it does not exceed 70 percent of that of gasoline. But users only opt for biofuel when it is economically attractive, so it does not contribute to alleviating the emission of polluting gases. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The COP and the question marks it raises for the region

The UNFCCC stated in September that the NDCs presented are insufficient to curb warming to 1.5 degrees C.

Miranda believes COP26 could be beneficial for the region.

“Expectations are very high. We need the big polluters to be present. There will be pressure for tangible results. The region knows where its needs are, it has many opportunities to use ecosystems to reduce emissions,” she said.

Maurtúa, for his part, stresses that the main results will depend on the concrete financing and means of implementation of the Paris Agreement.

“Developed countries have to make financial contributions to the transition in developing countries. Industrialised nations are asking for more ambition, but they have to provide financing,” he argued.

In the expert’s opinion, “it is what the region needs. There are signs of willingness in Costa Rica, Colombia and Chile. But that is not happening in the case of Argentina or Mexico.”

For young people like Bustamante, the summit needs to offer more real action and fewer empty offers. “We expect an urgent climate action agenda to emerge. We need to stop investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, which compromises our near future. We will not stop until we do,” she said.

Under pressure due to the urgency of pending matters and within the constraints imposed by the pandemic, Glasgow could be a defining benchmark of a real global commitment to address the climate emergency, which is causing more and more destruction.

 

Bringing Quality Education to Syria’s Most Vulnerable, Crisis-Impacted Children – Their Education Cannot Wait

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Kawthar, 13, takes notes while attending Grade 3 at a UNICEF-supported self-learning centre in Al-Hasakeh, northeast Syria. She says she always wanted to be like other children and grab her bag and go to school like other children. With Education Cannot Wait assisted schooling, this dream has become a reality. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020/ Delil Souleiman

DOMINICA, Oct 21 2021 (IPS) – In war-torn Syria, the support of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – is bringing positive, life-changing educational opportunities tailored to children like 11-year-old Ali.


Ali, who lives in Raqqa with his two siblings and parents, has to work to help support his family. He and his brother did not attend school. Ali heard about registration for ECW-supported educational activities near the industrial area in which he works. They are part of courses being offered in three centres in the city – alongside psychosocial support for children who have experienced war for most of their lives.

Ali initially registered his siblings in the ECW-supported programme but held out himself for fear of losing his job. The centre proposed a flexible learning schedule – one that would allow the brothers to work and attend classes. Programme officials had to convince his family and employers at the industrial centre that school is essential for children’s development. Now he is part of a class of 16 children from the area who attend classes from 7:30 am to 10:00 am. After class, they go to work.

Ali’s story is one of the many stories of vulnerable children and adolescents embroiled in Syria’s protracted conflict that ECW’s investments are helping bring back to school in partnership with education partners on the ground. ECW’s multi-year response in Syria was initiated in 2017 through an initial investment which was further expanded into a Multi-Year Resilience Programme which will continue until 2023 with a cumulative budget of US$45 million.

Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, says too many children and adolescents in Syria have only seen the brutal reality of war, forced displacement, and the hardship of living in areas affected by armed conflict in their short lives.  Credit: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

“Too many children and adolescents in Syria have only seen the brutal reality of war, forced displacement, and the hardship of living in areas affected by armed conflict in their short lives. For them, education is a beacon of hope. It is an opportunity to thrive and become positive changemakers to rebuild their communities and ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future for all,” said Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Working together with our partners on the ground, ECW is dedicated to fulfilling the right to a quality education for the most vulnerable girls and boys in Syria.”

Save the Children has key actor status in the education sector in Syria and has been involved since the inception of ECW’s multi-year response, providing sector-specific technical expertise and guiding in the development of a programme framework that is responsive to the extensive education needs of children in Syria,” Sara Dabash, Awards Officer for the ECW programme in Syria, told IPS.

Children and adolescents already suffering from the impacts of a decade-long war are also bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to school closures and movement restrictions.

“The disruption of access to quality education for children has dramatically impacted learning and child well-being. In addition, lack of access to safe learning environments and continued isolation exposes children to higher risks of child labour, early marriage, and other negative coping mechanisms. The limited social interactions also compromise access to psychosocial support and other protection services,” Dabash said.

Emad, 9, who lives with a disability, shows his writing to his teacher to check if he is doing right in the class of Arabic subject in the ECW supported temporary learning space in Idleb, northwest Syria. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020

According to Dabash, blended learning options have been introduced, using devices such as mobile phones for remote learning. This option has its downsides as many children have limited to no access to phones or internet connections.

Figures provided by Save the Children put almost 7 million people in need of humanitarian education assistance. Children make up 97 percent of that number. Dabash says, however, that in the “determined locations of implementation within the ECW Programme in northeast Syria, Save the Children, with the support of its partners, has identified around 15,000 children as the most vulnerable and in need of education assistance.”

Since 2017, ECW is also partnering with UNICEF to provide quality education services for the most vulnerable children in the country.

“With funding from ECW, UNICEF provides children across Syria with opportunities to continue their learning through a holistic package of activities tailored to the needs of the children. To support learning, the package of activities generally includes providing learning supplies and psychosocial support through recreational activities. Where classrooms do not exist or continue to be unsafe or overcrowded, we establish new classrooms and rehabilitate existing ones,” Karen Bryner, Education Specialist and ECW Programme Manager in Syria, told IPS.

Bryner says the partnership provides training, teaching supplies and stipend payments to teachers.

The goal is to get as many girls and boys as possible enrolled and attending school regularly. According to UNICEF, ‘children have experienced psychological distress due to violence and instability. Many have missed years of education, with over 2.4 million currently out of school.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged that goal with intermittent school closures. However, Bryner says when face-to-face instruction was not an option, the ECW-supported students transitioned to electronic and paper-based distance education.

“Various modalities were used over the last year, including WhatsApp groups by teachers to deliver daily instruction where connectivity allowed; blended learning with face-to-face instruction two days a week and home-based learning (worksheets and assignments) for the other days, conducting lessons in smaller groups closer to children’s homes, and home delivery of biweekly learning packs and retrieval of students’ work by teachers,” she told IPS.

Kawthar, 13, hangs out with her cousin Juhaina outside her house in Ghwairan neighbourhood, Al-Hasakeh. Since 2019, she has benefitted from the self-learning programme, helping her catch up on the education she had missed due to displacement, her disability, and the financial challenges her family had. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020/ Delil Souleiman

The story of 13-year-old Kawthar is a testament to the positive impact of ECW’s support for the most marginalised children Displaced five times and suffering from growth-related issues due to stunting, she could not walk to school, and her family could not afford transportation. Two years ago, Kawthar, originally from Al-Hasakeh City, enrolled in the ECW-supported self-learning programme implemented by UNICEF– a course that gives out-of-school children the tools to catch up to their peers. She also receives transportation to classes.

“I always wanted to be like all other children; to grab my bag and head to school; to read, write and learn,” says Kawthar. “I wish for all children to be able to go to school. And I certainly hope that nobody gets displaced anymore and that we all remain safe.”

According to UNICEF, with ECW funding, since November 2020, the self-learning programme has been able to reach 2,600 out-of-school children in Al-Hasakeh. Despite this progress, challenges remain to fulfil the right to inclusive, quality education for every child in Syria.

UNICEF states that there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance, and agencies will need scaled-up support as they continue to bring hope to Syria’s children.

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Fair Tax Plan Could Prejudice Global South

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Economy & Trade

Questions are asked whether the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agreement to force the world’s biggest companies to pay a fair share of tax will benefit the global South. Credit: Hugo Ramos/Unsplash

BRATISLAVA, Oct 20 2021 (IPS) – An agreement between 136 countries aimed at forcing the world’s biggest companies to pay a fair share of tax has been condemned by critics who say it will benefit richer states at the expense of the global South.


A deal agreed on October 8, and which covers around 90% of the global economy, includes plans for a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which led negotiations on the agreement, has said it will help end decades of countries undercutting each other on tax.

But independent organisations campaigning for fairer global taxes and financial transparency argue it will rob developing countries of revenues needed to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, ultimately pushing millions more people into poverty.

Matti Kohonen of the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) civil society group told IPS: “In principle, a global minimum corporate tax is a good idea, but only if the rate is right and implemented properly. Under this deal, the main beneficiaries are the OECD – which led the negotiations – and its largest members.”

Calls for a global minimum corporate tax rate have grown in recent decades amid increasing scrutiny on the tax practices of multinationals.

The OECD deal, which has an aspirational implementation date of 2023, is designed to set a floor on corporate taxation and stop companies shifting profits to countries with the lowest tax rates they can find.

The OECD says the minimum global rate would see countries collect around USD150 billion in new revenues annually, and that taxing rights on more than USD125 billion of profit will be moved to countries where big multinationals earn their income.

But independent groups say the agreement falls far short of what is needed for a fair global corporate taxation system and has ignored the needs and wishes of developing nations, which rely more heavily on corporate tax than richer states.

According to OECD research Corporate Tax Statistics: Third Edition (oecd.org), in 2018, African countries raised 19% of overall revenue from corporate taxation as opposed to 10% among OECD states.

Critics point out that the 15% floor agreed to is well below the average corporate tax rate in industrialised countries of around 23%, potentially creating a ‘race to the bottom’ as countries cut their existing corporate rates.

It is thought a number of developing states had wanted a higher minimum global rate.

Civil society groups critical of the agreement also have concerns over many exemptions in the deal – there is a ten-year grace period for companies on some aspects of the agreement, and some industries such as extractives and financial services, are exempt.

Meanwhile, they highlight, only 100 of the world’s largest companies would be affected by part of the agreement aimed at getting highly profitable multinationals to pay more taxes in countries where they earn profits. Moreover, the minimum global tax will only apply to companies with a turnover of more than 750 million USD, which would exclude 85-90% of the world’s multinationals.

The fact that countries will have to waive digital services taxation rights, which are important sources of revenue for some developing states, is also problematic. And there are concerns that in many cases extra tax paid by corporations ‘topping up’ their tax bill to 15% will go to countries where they are headquartered. In many cases, this will be in already rich nations such as the US, UK, and Europe.

Chenai Mukumba of the Tax Justice Network Africa advocacy group told IPS: “We have an opportunity to reform the global tax system to make it right for global south countries, but we are settling for so much less. This is a lost opportunity to balance the scales, to put fairness at the centre of the system.”

The deal could have a negative effect on African countries, in particular, she pointed out.

Nigeria and Kenya have not signed up for the fair tax deal. Credit: Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma’aji/Unsplash

Kenya and Nigeria are among four countries that have not signed up for the deal.

“A lot of African countries currently have corporate tax rates of 25-30%. If the minimum rate is 15%, there is a great incentive for companies to shift profits elsewhere,” Mukumba said.

“Kenya hasn’t signed up to the deal because it is trying to raise revenue from its digital services taxation rights. It may end up buckling to the pressure [to join the deal],” she added.

OECD impact assessment studies for the deal published in 2020 https://www.oecd.org/tax/beps/economic-impact-assessment-webinar-presentation-october-2020.pdf showed that developing nations would gain as much as 4% extra corporate tax revenue.

The organisation told IPS this month (OCT) that it is now expecting those extra revenues to be even higher because of changes to the agreement since last year.

However, studies Pillar 1 impact assessment – 04.10.21 FINAL (oxfamireland.org) by the global aid group Oxfam estimate that 52 developing countries would receive around only 0.025 percent of their collective GDP in additional annual tax revenue under the redistribution of taxing rights.

The group also says a 25% global minimum corporate tax rate would raise nearly USD 17 billion more for the world’s 38 poorest countries – which are home to almost 39% of the global population – as compared to a 15 percent rate.

Speaking just after the agreement between the 136 countries was reached, Oxfam said in a press release that the deal was “a mockery of fairness that robs pandemic-ravaged developing countries of badly needed revenue for hospitals and teachers and better jobs”.

It added: “The world is experiencing the largest increase in poverty in decades and a massive explosion in inequality, but this deal will do little or nothing to halt either.”

Despite the criticism, OECD officials are adamant that the agreement will benefit developing nations.

They point out that it does not affect any state’s national corporate tax rates, and that the 10-year grace period only applies to a very small amount of income – 5% of the carrying value of a firm’s tangible assets and payrolls in a jurisdiction.

Grace Perez Navarro, Deputy Director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, told IPS: “The global minimum tax is aimed at stopping tax competition that is causing a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates.

“It does not require countries that have higher rates than 15% to lower their corporate tax rate, it just ensures that those countries will be able to collect at least 15%, no matter what type of creative tax planning a multinational comes up with.

“It will also reduce the incentive of multinationals to artificially shift their profits to low tax jurisdictions because they will still have to pay a minimum of 15%.”

She added: “It will also relieve the pressure on developing countries to offer excessive, often wasteful tax incentives while providing a carve-out for low-taxed activities that have real substance. This means that developing countries can still offer effective incentives that attract genuine, substantive foreign direct investment.”

But Mukumba said the problem is not that the deal will not bring any extra revenue to developing nations, but that richer nations will get much more out of it.

“Developing nations want a global corporate tax minimum, they have pushed for it in the past. They will get revenue under this deal, yes, but nowhere near as much as richer nations will get out of it,” she said.

This is problematic at a time when many developing nations are struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and need revenue.

“This [deal] will mainly support recovery efforts in the G7 countries instead of developing countries which have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are more in debt, preventing them from generating enough revenues to recover from the crisis and ultimately throwing millions more people into extreme poverty,” said Kohonen.

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Argentina’s Small Farming Communities Reach Consumers Online

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories

Food and Agriculture

This article is part of IPS’ coverage of World Food Day, celebrated Oct. 16, whose 2021 theme is: Grow, nourish, sustain. Together.

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “The biggest problem for family farmers has always been to market and sell what they produce, at a fair price,” says Natalia Manini, a member of the Union of Landless Rural Workers (UST), a small farmers organisation in Argentina that has been taking steps to forge direct ties with consumers.


The UST, which groups producers of fresh vegetables, preserves and honey, as well as goat and sheep breeders, from the western province of Mendoza, opened its own premises in April in the provincial capital of the same name.

In addition, it has just joined Alma Nativa (“native soul”), a network created to market and sell products from peasant and indigenous organisations, which brings together more than 4,300 producers grouped in 21 organisations, and now sells its products over the Internet.

“Selling wholesale to a distributor is simple, but the problem is that a large part of the income does not reach the producer,” Manini told IPS from the town of Lavalle in Mendoza province.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country.” — Guadalupe Marín

The rural leader argues that, due to cost considerations, farmers can only access fair trade through collective projects, which have received a boost from the acceleration of digital changes generated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Alma Nativa is a marketing and sales solution formally created in 2018 by two Argentine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on socio-environmental issues: Fibo Social Impact and the Cultural Association for Integral Development (ACDI). Their approach was to go a step beyond the scheme of economic support for productive development projects.

“Back in 2014 we began to ask ourselves why small farmer and indigenous communities could not secure profitable prices for the food and handicrafts they produce, and to think about how to get farmers to stop depending on donations and subsidies from NGOs and the state,” Fibo director Gabriela Sbarra told IPS in an interview in Buenos Aires.

Sbarra was a regular participant in regional community product fairs, which prior to the restrictions put in place due to the pandemic were often organised in Argentina by the authorities, who financed the setting up of the stands, accommodation and travel costs from their communities for farmers and craftspeople.

It was only thanks to this economic aid that farmers and artisans were able to make a profit.

“The effort was geared towards finding a genuine market for these products, which could not be sold online because it is very difficult to generate traffic on the Internet and they cannot reach supermarkets either, because they have no production volume. Informality was leaving communities out of the market,” Sbarra explained.

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

E-commerce, the new market

So the founders of Alma Nativa knocked on the doors of Mercado Libre, an e-commerce giant born in Argentina that has expanded throughout most of Latin America. The company agreed not to charge commissions for sales by an online store of agroecological food produced by local communities.

Alma Nativa then set up a warehouse in the town of Villa Madero, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where products arriving from rural communities throughout the country are labeled for distribution.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity, because it helped to open a debate about what we eat. Many people began to question how food is produced and even forced agribusiness companies to think about more sustainable production systems,” said Manini.

Norberto Gugliotta, manager of the Cosar Beekeeping Cooperative, emphasised that the pandemic not only accelerated the process of digitalisation of producers and consumers, but also fueled the search by a growing part of society for healthy food produced in a socially responsible manner.

“We were prepared to seize the opportunity, because our products were ready, so we joined Alma Nativa this year,” said the beekeeper from the town of Sauce Viejo. Gugliotta is the visible face of a cooperative made up of some 120 producers in the province of Santa Fe, in the centre of this South American country, who produce certified organic, fair trade honey.

Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, is an agricultural powerhouse, with a powerful agribusiness sector whose main products are soybeans, corn and soybean oil, which in 2020 generated 26.3 billion dollars in exports, according to official figures.

Behind the success lies a huge universe of family farmers and peasant and indigenous communities. According to the latest National Agricultural Census, carried out in 2018, more than 90 percent of the country’s 250,881 farms are family-run.

But the infrastructure and technological lag in rural areas is significant, as demonstrated by the fact that only 35 percent of farms have Internet access.

The deprivation is particularly acute in the Chaco, a neglected region in the north of the country, home to some 200,000 indigenous people belonging to nine groups whose economy is closely linked to natural resources, according to the non-governmental Fundapaz.

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

New platform for indigenous handicrafts

Communities from the Chaco, a vast region of low forests and savannas and rich biodiversity covering more than one million square km in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is home to a diversity of native peoples, also began to market their handicrafts over Mercado Libre in the last few weeks.

“This initiative originated in Brazil with the ‘Amazonia em Pé’ programme and today we are replicating it in Argentina, in the Gran Chaco area. It seeks to build bridges between local artisans and consumers throughout the country,” explained Guadalupe Marín, director of sustainability at Mercado Libre.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country,” she told IPS in Buenos Aires.

On Sept. 27, Mercado Libre launched the campaign “From the Gran Chaco, for you”, which offers for sale more than 2,500 products in 200 categories, such as baskets, indigenous and local art, decorative elements made with natural fibers, honey, weavings and handmade games.

It includes not only Alma Nativa, but also Emprendedores por Naturaleza (“entrepreneurs by/for nature”), a programme launched by the environmental foundation Rewilding Argentina, which works for the conservation of the Chaco and now promotes the sale of products made by 60 families living in rural areas adjacent to the El Impenetrable national park, the largest protected area in the region.

“The idea for the project arose last year, after we conducted a socioeconomic survey among 250 families in the area that found that the only income of 98 percent of them comes from welfare,” said Fatima Hollmann, regional coordinator of the Rewilding Argentina Communities Programme.

She told IPS that “people raise livestock for subsistence and sometimes work on fencing a field or some other temporary task, but there are no steady sources of employment in El Impenetrable.”

“That is why we are trying to generate income for local residents,” Hollmann explained in an interview in Buenos Aires. “Our production lines are focused on ceramics, since most people have built their houses there with adobe. Many also know how to make bricks and we have held trainings to teach people to turn a brick into an artistic piece, inspired by native fauna, which transmits the importance of conserving the forest.”

According to the figures released by the expert during the first week of the programme “From the Gran Chaco, for you” in early October, 644 products were offered for sale, of which 382 were sold to buyers from more than 10 Argentine provinces, including 100 percent of the textiles available and 76 percent of the wooden handicrafts.

“The alternative is to cut down the native forests,” Hollmann says. “We are proposing a transition from an extractivist economy to a regenerative one, which contributes to the reconstruction of the ecosystem, and gives consumers in the cities the chance to contribute to that goal.”

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UN Warned of Two Dangers Ahead: Health of the Human Race & Survival of the Planet

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (on screen) of Sri Lanka addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-fifth session. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

LONDON, Oct 5 2021 (IPS) – Addressing the UN General Assembly last month President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka raised several concerns, two that had to do with health. One concerned the health of the human race; the other the health of Planet Earth on which man struggles increasingly to survive.


It is understandable for the President to draw the world’s attention to the current pandemic that plagues the people of Sri Lanka as it does the populations of most other nations that constitute the UN family that have struggled in the last two years to overcome COVID-19 which has brought some nations almost to their knees.

As we know some countries have dealt with the spreading virus more effectively and efficiently than others because they relied on the correct professional advice and had the right people in the places instead of dilettantes with inflated egos.

The immediacy of the pandemic with its daily effects on health care and peoples’ livelihoods is seen as urgent political and health issues unlike the dangers surrounding our planet which, to many, appear light miles away while still others treat it with large doses of scepticism.

Quite rightly President Rajapaksa pointed to the dangers ahead for the survival of the planet – as underscored in the recent report of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — due to human activity and said that Sri Lanka, among other measures, aims to increase its forest cover significantly in the future.

What really matters is whether those on the ground — like some of our politicians and their acolytes who seem to think that saving the planet is somebody else’s responsibility but denuding the forests and damaging our eco-systems for private gain is theirs — pay heed to the president’s alarm signals that should appropriately have been sounded at least a decade ago.

But what evoked a quick response was not the call for international action to save the people from the pandemic or the planet from climate change as President Rajapaksa told the UN but what he told the UN chief Antonio Guterres at their New York meeting.

While reiterating Sri Lanka’s stance that internal issues should be resolved through domestic mechanisms what aroused interest was the president’s sudden and unexpected readiness to invite the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora scattered across the Global North and in smaller numbers elsewhere, for discussions presumably on reconciliation, accountability and other outstanding matters.

One would have thought that there would be a gush of enthusiasm from some sections of the Tamil diaspora which had previously shown an interest in being involved in a dialogue with the Sri Lanka Government over a range of issues that concern the Tamil community.

But the few reactions that have been reported from a few Tamil organisations appear lukewarm. Yes, the Non-Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL), a UK-based group, welcomed the President’s announcement saying that “engagement with the diaspora is particularly important at the time when multiple challenges face Sri Lanka”.

However, there was a caveat. The NRTSL is supportive of “open, transparent and sincere engagement of the government of Sri Lanka,” the organisation’s president V. Sivalingam was quoted as saying.

The better-known Global Tamil Forum (GTF) called it a “progressive move” and welcomed it. But its spokesman Suren Surenderan questioned what he called President Rajapaksa’s “sudden change of mind”.

Surendiran said that in June President Rajapaksa was due to meet the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) but that meeting was put off without a new date been fixed.

“When requests are made by democratically elected representatives of Tamil people in Sri Lanka to meet with the President, they are “deferred with flimsy excuses”, {and} now from New York he has declared that he wants to engage with us, Tamil diaspora,” Surendiran said rather dismissively in a statement.

Though the Sri Lanka Tamil diaspora consists of many organisations and groups spread across several continents there has been a studied silence from most of them, a sign that many of them are sceptical about how genuine the gesture is.

In March this year, after the UN Human Rights Council passed a highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa government proscribed several Tamil diaspora organisations and more than 300 individuals labelling them terrorist or terrorist linked. These included Tamil advocacy organisations such as the British Tamil Forum, Global Tamil Forum, Canadian Tamil Congress, Australian Tamil Congress and the World Tamil Coordinating Committee.

Precisely seven years earlier in March, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government banned 424 persons and 16 diaspora organisations.

The problem for the present administration is that if it is intent on inviting Tamil organisations to participate in talks it would have to lift the existing bans on individuals and groups without which they are unlikely to talk with the government.

As transpired before peace talks at various times between the government and the LTTE, the Tamil groups are most likely to insist on participation as legitimate organisations untainted by bans. That is sure to be one of the key conditions, if not the most important pre-condition.

It is also evident that the Tamil diaspora is not a homogenous entity. It consists of moderate organisations that are ready to resolve the pressing issues within a unitary Sri Lanka, to those at the other end of the spectrum still loyal to the LTTE ideology and demanding a separate state.

If the Government cherry-picks the participants-particularly the ones that are more likely to collaborate with the administration, it would be seen as an attempt to drive a huge wedge in the Tamil diaspora.

That could well lead to the excluded groups strengthening their existing links with political forces in their countries of domicile including politicians in government as one sees in the UK and Canada, for instance, and Tamil councillors in other elected bodies to increase pressure on Sri Lanka externally.

That is why some Tamil commentators already brand this as a “diversionary move” to lessen the international moves against Colombo.

What would be the reactions of powerful sections of the Buddhist monks and the ultranationalist Sinhala Buddhists who strongly supported a Gotabaya presidency?.

And across the Palk Strait there are the 80 million or so Tamils in Tamil Nadu and an Indian Government watching developments with a genuine interest and concern.

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.

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IUCN World Conservation Congress Warns Humanity at ‘Tipping Point’

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Conservation, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Conservation

President Macron and Harrison Ford among speakers at the Congress Opening Ceremony. Credit: IUCN Ecodeo

St Davids, Wales, Oct 4 2021 (IPS) – The world’s most influential conservation congress, meeting for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has issued its starkest warning to date over the planet’s escalating climate and biodiversity emergencies.


“Humanity has reached a tipping point. Our window of opportunity to respond to these interlinked emergencies and share planetary resources equitably is narrowing quickly,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared in its Marseille Manifesto at the conclusion of its World Conservation Congress in the French port city.

“Our existing systems do not work. Economic ‘success’ can no longer come at nature’s expense. We urgently need systemic reform.”

The Congress, held every four years but delayed from 2020 by the pandemic, acts as a kind of global parliament on major conservation issues, bringing together a unique combination of states, governmental agencies, NGOs, Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations and affiliate members. Its resolutions and recommendations do not set policy but have shaped UN treaties and conventions in the past and will help set the agenda for three key upcoming UN summits – food systems security, climate change and biodiversity.

“The decisions taken here in Marseille will drive action to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises in the crucial decade to come,” said Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director-General.

“Collectively, IUCN’s members are sending a powerful message to Glasgow and Kunming: the time for fundamental change is now,” he added, referring to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be hosted by the UK in November, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) to be held in China in two parts, online next month and in person in April-May 2022.

The week-long IUCN Congress, attended in Marseille by nearly 6,000 delegates with over 3,500 more participating online, was opened by French President Emmanuel Macron who declared: “There is no vaccine for a sick planet.”

He urged world leaders to make financial commitments for conservation of nature equivalent to those for the climate, listing such tasks as ending plastic pollution, stopping the deforestation of rainforests by eradicating their raw materials in supply chains, and phasing out pesticides.

Congress participants during an Exhibition event of the Sixth Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. Credit: IUCN Ecodeo

China’s prime minister, Li Keqiang, said in a recorded message that protecting nature and tackling the climate crisis were “global not-traditional security issues”.

While noting that some scientists fear that the climate emergency is “now close to an irreversible tipping point”, the Marseille Manifesto also spoke of “reason to be optimistic”.

“We are perfectly capable of making transformative change and doing it swiftly… To invest in nature is to invest in our collective future.”

Major themes that dominated the IUCN Congress included: the post-2020 biodiversity conservation framework; the role of nature in the global recovery from the pandemic; the climate emergency; and the need to transform the global financial system and direct investments into projects that benefit nature.

Among the 148 resolutions and recommendations voted in Marseille and through pre-event online voting, the Congress called for 80 percent of the Amazon and 30 percent of Earth’s surface—land and sea—to be designated “protected areas” to halt and reverse the loss of wildlife.

Members also voted overwhelmingly to recommend a moratorium on deep-sea mining and reform the International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental regulatory body.

“The resounding Yes in support for a global freeze on deep seabed mining is a clear signal that there is no social licence to open the deep seafloor to mining,” Jessica Battle, leader of the WWF’s Deep Sea Mining Initiative, said, quoted by AFP news agency.

The emergency motion calling for four-fifths of the Amazon basin to be declared a protected area by 2025 was submitted by COICA, an umbrella group representing more than two million indigenous peoples across nine South American nations. It passed with overwhelming support.

Representatives from COICA and Cuencas Sagradas present their bioregional plan for the Amazon during a press conference. Credit: IUCN Ecodeo

Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA and a leader of the Curripaco people in Venezuela, said the proposal was a “plan for the salvation of indigenous peoples and the planet”.

The Amazon has lost some 10,000 square kilometres every year to deforestation over the past two decades. Brazil is not an IUCN member and thus could not take part in the vote which runs against President Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda.

The five-page Marseille Manifesto makes repeated references to indigenous peoples and local communities, noting “their central role in conservation, as leaders and custodians of biodiversity” and amongst those most vulnerable to the climate and nature emergencies.

“Around the world, those working to defend the environment are under attack,” the document recalled.

Global Witness, a campaign group, reported that at least 227 environmental and land rights activists were killed in 2020, the highest number documented for a second consecutive year. Indigenous peoples accounted for one-third of victims. Colombia had the highest recorded attacks.

The resolution calling for 30 percent of the planet’s land and ocean area to be given protected status by 2030, said selected zones must include “biodiversity hotspots”,  be rigorously monitored and enforced, and recognise the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources. The  ‘30 by 30’ target is meant as a message to the UN biodiversity summit which is tasked with delivering a treaty to protect nature by next May.

Many conservationists are campaigning for a more ambitious target of 50 percent.

However, the 30 by 30 initiative, already formally backed by France, the UK and Costa Rica, is of considerable concern to some indigenous peoples who have been frequently sidelined from environmental efforts and sometimes even removed from their land in the name of conservation.

The IUCN Congress also released its updated IUCN Red List. The Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, was reclassified from ‘vulnerable’ status to ‘endangered’, while 37 percent of shark and ray species are now reported to be threatened with extinction. Four species of tuna are showing signs of recovery, however.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of IUCN’s Head of Red List Unit, said the current rate of species extinctions is running 100 to 1,000 times the ‘normal’ or ‘background’ rate, a warning that Earth is on the cusp of the sixth extinction event. The fifth, known as the Cretaceous mass extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago, killing an estimated 78 percent of species, including the remaining non-avian dinosaurs.

One of the more controversial motions adopted – on “synthetic biology” or genetic engineering – could actually promote the localised extinction of a species. The motion opens the way for more research and experimentation in technology called gene drive. This could be used to fight invasive species, such as rodents, snakes and mosquitos, which have wiped out other species, particularly birds, in island habitats.

It was left to Harrison Ford, a 79-year-old Hollywood actor and activist, to offer hope to the Congress by paying tribute to young environmentalists.

“Reinforcements are on the way,” he said. “They’re sitting in lecture halls now, venturing into the field for the very first time, writing their thesis, they’re leading marches, organising communities, are learning to turn passion into progress and potential into power…In a few years, they will be here.”

Andrea Athanas, senior director of the African Wildlife Foundation, affirmed there was a sense of optimism in the Marseille air, in recognition that solutions are at hand.

“Indigenous systems were lauded for demonstrating harmonious relationships between people and nature. Protected areas in some places have rebounded and are now teeming with wildlife. The finance industry has awoken to the risks businesses run from degraded environments and are calculating those risks into the price of capital.

“Crisis brings an opportunity for change, and the investments in a post COVID recovery present a chance to fundamentally reshape our relationship with nature, putting values for life and for each other at the centre of economic decision-making,” he told IPS.

View the complete Marseille Manifesto here.