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.

  Source

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.

 

If Women Farmers were Politicians, the World Would be Fed, says Danielle Nierenberg

Biodiversity, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Food Sustainability

Women produce more than 50 percent of the food in the world but are disadvantaged when it comes to access to resources such as land and financial services. Credit: Busani Bafana, IPS

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 17 2021 (IPS) – Women, key contributors to agriculture production, are missing at the decision table, with alarming consequences, says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg in an exclusive interview with IPS.


Giving women a seat at the policymaking table could accelerate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and keep the world fed and nourished. This necessitates a transformation of the currently lopsided global food system, she says.

Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.

Nierenberg, a top researcher and advocate on food systems and agriculture, acknowledges that women are the most affected during environmental or health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global food production, affecting women farmers and food producers who were already excluded from full participation in agricultural development.

“We still have a long way to go in making sure that policies are not gender blind and include the needs of women at the forefront when mass disasters occur,“ Nierenberg told IPS, adding that policymakers need to understand the needs of farmers and fisherfolk involved in food systems.

“I think it is time we need more people who are involved with agriculture to run for political office because they understand its challenges,” she said. “If we had more farmers in governments around the world, imagine what that would look like. If we had women farmers running municipalities, towns and even countries, that is where change would really happen.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women contribute more than 50 percent of food produced globally and make up over 40 percent of the agricultural labour force. But while women keep families fed and nourished, they are disadvantaged in accessing critical resources for food production compared to men. They lack access to land, inputs, extension, banking and financial services.

“Until we end the discrimination of women around the globe, I doubt these things will change even though women are in the largest part of the world’s food producers,” said Nierenberg, who co-founded and now heads the global food systems think tank, Food Tank.

Arguing that COVID-19 and the climate crisis were not going to be the last global shocks to affect the world, Nierenberg said women and girls had been impacted disproportionately; hence the need to act now and change the food system. Women have experienced the loss of jobs and income, reduced food production and nutrition and more girls are now out of school.

“It is not enough for me to speak for women around the globe. Women who are actually doing the work need to speak for themselves; they need to be included in these conversations,” Nierenberg said.

“What happens is that in conferences, there are a lot of white men in suits talking on behalf of the rest of the world. But we need the rest of the world, and women included, to be in the room.”

A food system is a complex network of all activities involving the growing, processing, distribution and consumption of food. It also includes the governance, ecological sustainability and health impact of food.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted invisible issues, like the interconnectedness of our food systems, she said it was urgent to invest in regional and localized food systems that included women and youth. Food Tank and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) work collaboratively to investigate and set the agenda for concrete solutions for resetting the food system.

Divine Ntiokam, Food Systems Champion and Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network Global (GCSAYN), agrees. While youth are ready to engage in promoting a just and inclusive transformation of rural areas, it was unfortunate they were rarely involved in decision-making, she said. They are excluded from the household level to larger political institutions and companies and need better prospects of financial security to remain in the farming sector.

“Young men and women need to be given special attention in formulating legislation to purchase land and receive proper land rights,” Ntiokam told IPS.

“International donors and governments need to invest in youth, particularly young women and girls, for their meaningful participation along with the food systems value network,” he said.

“Youth need to have a ‘seat at the table’, as they have at the Summit, in terms of decision-making on where governments and international donors invest their resources to make agriculture and food a viable, productive and profitable career.”

Researchers say current food systems are unfair, unhealthy, and inequitable, underscoring the urgency to transform the global food system. According to the FAO, more than 800 million people went to bed hungry in 2020, and scores of others are malnourished.

Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

For food systems to be just, there is an urgency to close the gender resource gap, says Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, on September 23, 2021 host the UN Food Systems Summit during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. The Summit is billed as a platform to push for solid support in changing the world food systems to help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while spurring the achievement of the SDG by 2030.

The Summit, the UN says will “culminate in an inclusive global process, offering a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take the food system agenda forward”.

“They (food systems) must also transform in ways that are just and equitable, and that meaningfully engage and benefit women and girls,” Njuki told IPS. She added that harmful social and gender norms creating barriers for women and girls by defining what women and girls can or cannot eat, what they can or cannot own, where they can go or not go should be removed.

“This transformation has to be driven from all levels and all sectors in our food systems: global to local, public to private, large scale producers to smallholder farmers and individual consumers,” Njuki said.

Leaders should enact policies that directly address injustices – such as ensuring women’s access to credit, markets, and land rights, Njuki said, noting that individual women and men need to confront social norms and legal prejudices and demand changes.

Njuki believes that current food systems have contributed to wide disparities among rich and poor.

“These negative outcomes are intimately linked with many of the biggest challenges facing humanity right now – justice and equality, climate change, human rights – and these challenges cannot be addressed without transforming how our food systems work,” Njuki told IPS.

“We are at a pivotal moment on the last decade before the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This must be the decade of action for food systems to end hunger.”

 

NDC Partnership: Supporting a Global Network of Youth Climate Advocates

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Natural Resources, NDC Partnership, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation, Youth

Climate Change

Madrelle, Loubiere, Dominica 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2021 (IPS) – Just over six months after launching its Youth Engagement Plan, the NDC Partnership, the coalition assisting governments with their climate action plans, has brought together youth climate advocates for its inaugural NDC Global Youth Engagement Forum.


NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, refer to governments’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an integral part of the Paris Climate Agreement. NDCs are scheduled for revision every five years and are expected to be increasingly ambitious to tackle the climate crisis effectively.

Countries and the NDC Partnership want to ensure that, as agents of implementation, young people have platforms for engagement and a say in national climate action.

The Partnership recently brought youth together in 3 regional groupings: Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The young people engaged with representatives of partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) through sessions like ‘agriculture and climate change,’ and ‘equipping young people to engage in the NDC process.’

The NDC Partnership, the coalition assisting governments with their climate action plans, has brought together youth climate advocates for its inaugural NDC Global Youth Engagement Forum. Credit: NDC Partnership

The participants say the teaching element was bolstered by the opportunity to be heard, as the organizers asked for their input in areas that include NDC enhancement, structures needed to strengthen youth involvement, and ways young people are already impacting climate action.

For youth like Natalia Gómez Solano of Costa Rica, the forum provided a space to share experiences and ideas.

“Working for a more resilient and a more just, low-emissions world moves us, and that is why we are here today,” she told the virtual event.

“We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and they are worsening. We need increased adaptation and mitigation action, and the NDCs are the key instruments to achieve that. The NDCs are the roadmaps for climate ambition in which young people are key in bringing new climate solutions to the conversations and to raise action.”

Jamaica’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change, Dr Alwin Hales, told the Latin America and Caribbean forum that the virtual event and Youth Engagement Plan hope to leverage the ‘leadership and power’ of youth into NDC implementation and enhancement.

“Today’s children and young people are caught in the center of climate change, for it is they who have to live with and manage its consequences,” he said.

“The NDC Partnership launched the Youth Engagement Plan (YEP). It aims is to build young people’s capacity on climate change matters and engage the youth in global NDC partnership activities. This is in direct support of our mission to increase alignment, coordination, and access to resources to link needs with solutions.”

The forum was proposed by the NDC Partnership’s Youth Task Force but is a priority of the NDC Partnership’s Steering Committee and Co-Chairs, Jamaican Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr. and U.K. Minister Alok Sharma, who also serves as President of COP 26.

Noting that young people are vital to effective action on climate change, NDC Partnership Global Director Pablo Vieira Samper reminded them that their input also ensures that action is inclusive.

“We want to hear about what capacity or technical support is still needed and what learning you are eager to share with your peers,” he said.

“The Youth Engagement Plan was the starting point for greater action for youth engagement in NDCs. Today the NDC Partnership is thrilled to be turning this plan into concrete steps for more meaningful engagement and bringing new ideas to this framework to inspire action. We look forward to your insights as we collaborate across the Partnership to build a low carbon, climate-resilient future by supporting sustainable development.”

The youth attending the forum have described it as an important platform for highlighting the challenges faced by young climate activists.

“It is important to increase climate finance to support projects that are led by children and youth and integrate a rights-focused education curriculum in schools and universities,” said Xiomara Acevedo, the Founder and Chief Executive of Barranquilla+20, an NGO run by young people who empower their peers to tackle issues of biodiversity, sustainability, policy inclusion, and climate change.

Acevedo’s NGO has reached over 2,000 young people. She says it is clear that youth have a unique role to play in climate activism.

“We have seen that involving young people at the local and subnational level has also helped to ensure that a lot of citizens are seeing that climate action is not something beyond their territories, or is not only a topic that is managed at the national level. They can relate our message to their narrative, to their realities. We engage climate action as an important topic in the local agendas,” she said.

According to UNICEF, including youth in climate change action is important to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 13,2 which urges urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; 16,3 which calls for the promotion of peaceful, inclusive societies for sustainable development and 17,4 with its target of assistance to developing countries in attaining debt sustainability.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released its NDCs scorecard in February. It applauded countries for strengthening their commitments to the Paris Agreement but encouraged them to further step up their mitigation pledges, adding that greenhouse gas emissions targets were falling ‘far short’ of what is required to achieve the Agreement’s goals.

Young people like Natalia Gómez Solano say as custodians of the planet, youth must be mobilized, and their voices amplified to arrive at the deep emissions reductions needed in the NDCs.

“We need to integrate more voices and reach more places. As the Latin America and Caribbean Region, we need to keep working, keep asking, keep demanding, and doing more. Not all youth know how to be involved in climate action, and we need to work with more young people, for example, in the rural areas,” she said.

The delegates at the NDC Partnership’s inaugural Youth Engagement Forum say they are hoping for more opportunities at the table.

They say it takes persistence, organization, time, and passion to achieve climate goals. It also takes an empowered, well-connected, and financed global network of youth.

  Source

Stopping Marine Plastic Pollution: A Key IUCN Congress Goal

Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Plastic bags may remain intact for years in the marine environment. Plastic products certified to be industrially compostable are no solution for littering, as they do not degrade efficiently in the environment and continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they break down. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

St David’s, Wales, Jul 1 2021 (IPS) – Documented images of albatross chicks and marine turtles dying slow deaths from eating plastic bags and other waste are being seared into our consciences. And yet our mass pollution of Earth’s seas and oceans, fuelled by single-use plastics and throw-away consumerism, just gets worse.


Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless sea turtles every year. Plastics, with all their benefits and promises, have revolutionised societies and economies since their development in the 1950s, but now some 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans every year.

Waste plastic, making up to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, breaks down into micro-plastics which enter the digestive systems of sea and land animals and humans. Invisible plastic is in the water we drink, the salt we eat and the air we breathe. Experts are still working out the long-term impacts, such as cancer and impaired reproductive systems.

The fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture also leave a massive legacy in terms of ocean waste, poisoning and ensnaring sea life.

Hasna Moudud heads a small NGO in Bangladesh, working to protect coastal areas where vast rivers pour into the Indian Ocean, providing livelihoods and food for millions.

Her NGO, Coastal Area Resource Development and Management Association (Cardma), plants coastal trees, protects olive ridley sea turtles in a conservation hatchery in the Bay of Bengal, and helps women in cottage industries, using cane grass to make mats instead of plastic.

“Oceans are always neglected,” she tells IPS. “Small NGOs like myself take risks to save whatever we can of the fragile ecosystem that is left for our future generations.”

Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

But to combine her NGO’s efforts with those of others, Moudud says she is “praying” to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille this September where government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations from around the world will join discussions to set priorities and drive conservation and sustainable development action.

Meeting every four years – with this Congress delayed by the Covid pandemic – member organisations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vote on major issues to shape humanity’s response to the planet’s conservation crises. This particular Congress in Marseille is offering both in-person and virtual participation options, allowing those unable to make the trip to Marseille for the full Congress the opportunity to join discussions and provide their feedback.

Moudud’s NGO is a co-sponsor of Congress Motion 022: “Stopping the global plastic pollution crisis in marine environments by 2030.”

The broad resolution goes to the heart of the waste plastics issue. It notes that global production is due to increase by 40% over the next 15 years from current levels of around 300 million tonnes and that the world’s “predominant throwaway model” means that over 75% of the plastics ever produced to date are waste, “notably because the price of plastic on the market does not represent all of the costs of its lifecycle to nature or society”.

Recalling previous international efforts to set goals for ending marine plastic litter, the motion calls on the international community to reach a wide-ranging global agreement to combat marine plastic pollution. This would entail, among other measures, eliminating unnecessary plastic production, in particular single-use plastic waste; recycling and proper prevention of leakage into the environment; and public awareness campaigns.

Sunlight, salt and pounding waves grind marine litter down to plastic grains. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

Activists say previous international efforts to curb plastic pollution have been toothless. Moudud is among many who want mandatory and enforceable measures, accusing big business of what she calls “manipulative practices through sponsorship and malpractice without helping build the natural world”.

“No one is looking or holding the polluters responsible,” she says, calling for a toughening up of the resolution. “I am deeply involved in everything IUCN does to help save the natural world and sustainable living.”

Steve Trott, project manager for IUCN-member Watamu Marine Association which is tackling plastic pollution in their Marine Protected Area in Kenya, says Motion 022 clearly sets out the threats posed by plastic waste to marine and coastal environments, economies and human health and well-being.

“Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Recycling based on the Kenya coast embrace the IUCN call for action,” Trott told IPS.

Pushing circular economy initiatives, their NGO has created dynamic plastic value chains through partnerships between the hotels industry and local communities, sponsoring beach clean-ups and collecting plastic waste for recycling. This provides a second source of income for community waste collectors while local artists are also up-cycling plastic waste.

Reflecting one of the main themes of IUCN’s membership structure bringing together civil society and indigenous peoples and government authorities, Trott says Watamu is following a “win-win model which can be replicated and up-scaled, sending out an ‘Act Local, Think Global’ message to inspire others”. He hopes to attend the Congress in Marseille if all goes well.

Single Use items are littering the world’s oceans. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

The Plastic Waste Makers index, a study by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, identifies 20 companies producing more than half of all single-use plastic waste in the world. Some are state-owned and multinational corporations, whose plastic production is financed by major banks. The report notes that nearly 98% of single-use plastic is made from what is called virgin fossil fuels — plastic created without any recycled materials.

Single-use plastics explain why fossil fuel companies are ramping up their production as their two main markets of transport and electricity generation are being decarbonised. By 2050 plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Humankind possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge but also the accompanying responsibility, knowing that oceans are in the poorest health since humans started exploiting them.

Single use plastics – and the estimated 130 million tonnes that are dumped each year around the world – have dominated studies and discussions on waste. Plastic bottles, food containers and wrappers, and single-use bags are the four most widespread items polluting the seas.

One element woven into similar narratives of how to tackle the world’s burning environmental issues – such as carbon emissions, species loss, and plastic waste – is the potential fix offered by technology. Motion 022 refers to the need for more investment in environmentally sound plastic waste collection, recycling and disposal systems as well as forms of recovery.

A study led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon institute focuses on inventive sea-cleaning solutions to date, including floating drones. But her paper suggests that it could take about a century to remove just 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using clean-up devices because plastic production and waste are accumulating so fast.

Activists welcome IUCN’s intervention on plastic waste pollution and the strong mandate a successful and unanimous motion can convey to governments and international institutions. But they also caution against taking too narrow an approach towards tackling marine pollution at the September 3-11 Congress.

Eleonora de Sabata, spokesperson for the Clean Sea Life project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, told IPS that the narrative needs to shift away from single-use plastic to single-use everything. “Technology” has come up with so-called ‘bio’ plastics as a replacement for some plastics but only to create a whole suite of problems of their own.

“It’s the throwaway culture that creates problems, whether plastic or not. Green washing and sloppy leadership are filling our world of single use,” she argues. Washing our consciences by simply substituting single-use plastics with other single-use items, such as supposedly biodegradable bags and cutlery, are not the answer.

 

CORRECTED VERSION: Struggle for the Future of Food

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Global Governance, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 10 2021 (IPS) – Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.


Longer term perspective
The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag weds Big Data
The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

Meanwhile, food data have become more commercially valuable, e.g., to meet consumer demand, Big Ag profits have also grown by creating ‘new needs’. Big data are already being used to manipulate consumer preferences.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 not benign
Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There is no alternative?
But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last chance to change course
Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

Food systems summit
According to Marchmont Communications, “writing on behalf of the UN Food Systems Summit secretariat”, the “Summit was originally announced on 16 October 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and was conceived following conversations with the joint leadership of the three Rome-based United Nations agencies…at the High-level Political Forum in July 2019”.

On 12 June 2019, ‘Inspiration Speaker’ David Nabarro announced to the annual EAT Stockholm conference that a World Food Systems Summit (WFSS) would be held in 2021. The following day, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Office of the UN Secretary-General.

It stirred up so much controversy that the MOU was later removed from the website of the WEF, hardly reputed for its modesty. Unsurprisingly, many believe that the WEF “pressed the Summit onto a reluctant UN Secretary-General”, and can be traced to its Food Systems Initiative.

Apparently, initial arrangements had bypassed the Rome-based UN food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme. Their heads were then consulted and brought on board in July 2019.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

  Source