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Archive for May, 2012

By Rady Ananda, cross-posted from The Activist Post

At the G8 Summit held two weeks ago at Camp David, President Obama met with private industry and African heads of state to launch the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a euphemism for monocultured, genetically modified crops and toxic agrochemicals aimed at making poor farmers debt slaves to corporations, while destroying the ecosphere for profit.

And Bono, of the rock group U2, is out shilling for Monsanto on this one.

It’s phase 2 of the Green Revolution. Tanzania, Ghana, and Ethiopia are the first to fall for the deception, with Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and other African nations lining up for the “Grow Africa Partnership,” under Obama’s “Global Agricultural Development” plan.

In Obama Pitches India Model of GM Genocide to Africa, Scott Creighton writes:
But African civil society wants no part of this latest Monsanto aligned ‘public private partnership.’ Whatever will the progressives do now that their flawless hero has teamed up with their most hated nemesis to exploit an entire continent like they did to India not that long ago?

With a commitment of $3 billion, Obama plans to ‘partner up’ with mega-multinationals like Monsanto, Diageo, Dupont, Cargill, Vodafone, Walmart, Pepsico, Prudential, Syngenta International, and Swiss Re because, as one USAID representative says ‘There are things that only companies can do, like building silos for storage and developing seeds and fertilizers.’Of course, that’s an outrageous lie. Private citizens have been building their own silos for centuries. But it’s true that only the biowreck engineers will foist patented seeds and toxic chemicals on Africa.

Creighton continues:
Bono says that there has to be a ‘public private partnership’ in order to get this done and that they are going to be using the ideas of the African people and farmers. Really? This is what the African farmers say to that…

I wonder if that could be any clearer. They don’t WANT the public private partnerships involved in this process…. It’s not enough that huge mega-corporations are bleeding the nations of Africa dry by sucking the valuable mineral resources out of their hills. No. As Bono says about the development in Africa:

Volatility chimed in:

But, in the Green Revolution, writes Volatility:

The soil is stripped of all nutrition and zombified by ever-increasing applications of synthetic fertilizer. Monoculture is ever more dependent on the increasing application of ever more toxic herbicides and pesticides. Deployment of GMOs escalates these vulnerabilities. Factory farms can exist only with ever increasing use of antibiotics. All these systems are extremely tenuous, vulnerable, not robust, not resilient. They’re all guaranteed to collapse. Hermetic monoculture, and industrial agriculture as such, is one big hothouse flower which requires perfect conditions to survive….

Like with Monsanto’s Bt cotton deployed in India, at first yields improved and farmers profited. Now, however, according to a leaked Advisory from the Minister of Agriculture obtained by the Hindustan Times last month:

The Advisory definitively links farmer suicides to debt-enslavement enabled by the synthetic food model spawned by Monsanto, Dupont and other ecocidal corporations: “The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”

That’s not all the harm wrought by the petrochemical synthetic ag industry, as this 2012 superweed map by the University of Wisconsin shows:

Over half of US states are now plagued by agrochemically-induced superweeds.  An industry sponsored study of pesticide use predicts that by 2016, nearly a billion pounds of these toxic chemicals will be poured on US soils.

Insects have also developed resistance. As reported last August, “The Western rootworm beetle – one of the most serious threats to corn – has developed resistance to Monsanto’s Bt-corn, and entire crops are being lost.”

In March, two dozen corn entomologists warned regulators that the only way to defeat growing insect resistance to genetically modified corn is to plant non-GMO seed. “Increasing pesticide use or buffer zone size will not solve the growing problem of rootworm resistance to corn genetically modified.”

But if that doesn’t deter African farmers, these petrochemicals have also been linked to human birth defects. Where “Roundup Ready soy is being cultivated on a massive scale,” reports Dr. Mercola, “widespread reports exist of immediate illness defects from massive glyphosate spraying operations.”

In fact, “Monsanto, Philip Morris and other U.S. tobacco giants knowingly poisoned Argentinean tobacco farmers with pesticides,” reports Courthouse News Service, “causing ‘devastating birth defects’ in their children, dozens of workers claim in court.”

The Bt toxin used to engineer cotton and corn also kills human kidney cells, reports Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji, and the drift from aerial application of Roundup prompted the Mississippi Rice Council to sound a national alarm over genetic damage to natural rice, calling for severely restricted aerial application.

Newly emergent pathogens have appeared, reports Dr. Don M. Huber, a plant pathologist who coordinates the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens committee of the American Phytopathological Society, as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System. Last year, his team discovered a “self-replicating, micro-fungal virus-sized organism which may be causing spontaneous abortions in livestock, sudden death syndrome in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy, and wilt in Monsanto’s RR corn.”

Huber’s warning to the USDA to halt GM crop approvals, and specifically, genetically modified alfalfa, was not only ignored, but two months ago, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack hastened the approval process for genetically engineered crops.

“The new rules will cut the time needed to approve biotech crops in half,” reports Dr. Mercola, “from an average of three years, to about 13 months for new versions of already existing crop technologies, and about 16 months for brand new technologies.”

Obama’s Global Agricultural Development plan conspires with multinational corporations to foist these ecological and human health costs onto the public while siphoning the profits. As Creighton says, “Socialized costs, privatized profits. All in the name doing good and saving the people of Africa.”

Let’s hope these “public/private partnerships” are met with firm resistance by African farmers, as supported by this Declaration from a group of African civil society organizations.  The last thing Planet Earth and all its organisms need is more toxic industrial chemicals.

cc Creative Commons. This work may be reproduced in whole or in part as long as the original URL and author name are included.

Rady Ananda is an investigative reporter and researcher in the areas of health, environment, politics, and civil liberties.  Her two websites, Food Freedom and COTO Report are essential reading.

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

NOTE: One of the initiatives on the table at the upcoming Rio +20 Summit is The United Nations new initiative, “Sustainable Energy for All.” In the words of the UN:

“The Initiative brings all sectors of society to the table in support of three inter-linked objectives:

•         Ensure universal access to modern energy services.

•         Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

•         Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”

[To sign the Open Letter, please send an email with your organisation's name and country to biofuelwatch@ymail.com ]

OPEN LETTER: Sustainable Energy for All Initiative – Using poverty and climate change as excuses to increase corporate profits from energy provision

We call on Governments to reject the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SEFA). 

The SEFA process and Action Agenda are deeply flawed and threaten to further entrench destructive, polluting and unjust energy policies for corporate profit under the guise of alleviating energy poverty, while undermining community rights to energy sovereignty and self determination.

Like the UN Global Compact, SEFA is another attempt to supersede multilateral UN decision-making processes with ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ whose primary mission is to generate profits for private companies irrespective of impacts on people and the environment.  Any initiative that seeks to genuinely address the climate crisis and provide access to ‘energy for all’ must be based on the principle of energy sovereignty rather than on corporate profits.

Reasons why SEFA is inherently flawed include:

1)    SEFA is undemocratic, unaccountable and corporate-controlled:

ñ SEFA, launched by the UN Secretary-General in September 2011, is led by a hand-picked High-Level Panel.  Its principal members include energy, industrial and finance corporations that are major investors in the fossil fuel economy and have a clear interest in benefiting from SEFA – such as Statoil, Eskom, Siemens and Riverstone Holdings, while only five government representatives and three NGOs are involved[1].  There was no democratic or transparent process to select group members.

ñ SEFA’s Action Agenda[2], which  will be put to Governments for endorsement and support at Rio, has been drawn up by this hand-picked High-Level Panel without any open, public consultation, either with governments or civil society.  Subsequent ‘civil society consultations’ by the SEFA Secretariat have had no impact on the Action Agenda. Neither the Action Agenda nor SEFA’s overall process and principles have been put out for any type of consultation.

ñ SEFA foresees no role for communities other than as new energy consumers, ‘recipients’ and supporters of private-sector investments.  The initiative ignores the principle of free, prior and informed consent as well as all other basic rights, including rights to land and food and the right to self-determination.

2)        SEFA’s aim is even greater corporate control over energy policies and decision:

ñ Public-private partnerships designed to favour ever greater corporate investments, expansion and profits lie at the heart of SEFA’s vision and strategy. Meanwhile, governments are expected to absorb more of the risks and costs of corporate investments in energy, for example through research and development funding to facilitate subsequent private investment, and through the use of public funds for loan guarantees and risk mitigation . Energy policies are to be drawn up ‘in partnership’ with corporations and thus for their benefit. Instead of holding corporations accountable for destructive and polluting energy investments and for excluding communities from access to energy, SEFA’s priority is to ‘create a better investment climate’, including for corporations with major responsibility for the  current ecological and social crises.

3)    SEFA’s goals are deeply inadequate:

ñ SEFA’s goals of “doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency” and “doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix” by 2030 are entirely inadequate in the face of the climate crisis. The over-consumption of energy in the global North will not be addressed by energy efficiency alone.   Furthermore, according to SEFA the goal of ‘energy access’ in developing countries is independent from the renewable energy and energy efficiency calls.  It can thus be met through any type of  polluting and destructive energy.   SEFA’s goals would thus allow for an overall growth in energy use and carbon emissions – including expanding fossil fuel consumption.

4)    SEFA promotes dangerous, unsustainable and unproven types of energy generation:

ñ SEFA explicitly promotes and facilitates new fossil fuel investments, including for example a gas pipeline and processing infrastructure in West Africa[3].  Finance initiatives for oil pipelines are cited as ‘examples’[4].  No type of industrial energy generation, however polluting and destructive has been excluded from SEFA’s definition of ‘sustainable energy’ – with at least one government looking at the potential for nuclear power investments to progress SEFA’s aims[5]. Waste incineration is listed as a positive example in the Action Agenda.

ñ SEFA indiscriminately promotes all types of ‘modern’, i.e. industrial bioenergy, including agrofuels and electricity from biomass, as well as large scale hydroelectric power as ‘sustainable’ despite well known and well documented negative impacts on communities, ecosystems and the climate.  SEFA has already been cited as a justification for new finance for mega-dams (by the World Bank)[6] and for corporate investments in land-grabbing for agrofuels[7].

ñ Even where a technology could, in principle, improve people’s lives and minimise climate change – such as clean and efficient cookstoves – actual investments may offer few or no benefits.  For example, cookstoves that are being promoted by a SEFA-supported initiative[8] have already been shown to offer no actual improvement to indoor pollution and thus people’s health[9].

Sustainable energy must mean a rapid phasing out of fossil fuels. However, this does not mean replacing them with other harmful types of energy generation.  Agrofuels, large-scale hydro power, nuclear energy, “more efficient” fossil fuel combustion and more natural gas exploitation will not serve the interests of people or the planet.   Energy “access for all” must address both energy poverty and energy overconsumption. It must also address humanity’s footprint on planetary systems, given that we are dangerously close to and in some cases clearly beyond various tipping points.  Those who are energy poor, including in particular women, need access to energy that really is sustainable and renewable, while those who are over-consuming must reduce energy consumption. This means that the high-energy development model of rich countries must be changed and must not be replicated in the global South by corporations – as SEFA seeks to do. There are many examples of community-driven, genuinely sustainable initiatives that contribute to energy sovereignty for women and men that can be replicated.  Far from moving in the right direction, the SEFA initiative is poised to further entrench corporate control of energy policies and investments in polluting, destructive and socially exclusive forms of energy generation.


[4] An example is the African Development Bank’s  Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa which includes investments in oil and gas pipelines and which is listed as an example of an initiative that could fall under the SEFA Action Area “Grid Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency”

[8] Global  Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

By Busani Bafana, cross-posted from Other News

IPS interviews SAMEER DOSSANI, ActionAid International advocacy coordinator

BULAWAYO, May 31, 2012 (IPS) – It is vitally important that governments and civil society organisations start transitioning to a more sustainable global food system in order to achieve lasting development.

The current global food system is unsustainable and does not allow for farmers to live lives of dignity, says Sameer Dossani, ActionAid International advocacy coordinator. He was speaking ahead of his organisation’s participation in the upcoming Rio+20summit, otherwise known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which takes place from Jun. 20 to 22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

ActionAid International will be one of up to 50,000 participants, including business executives and civil society representatives, and over 135 heads of state and government that will be present.

“A sustainable global food system prioritises maximising production through a reliance on inputs such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides. When a farmer cannot afford the costs related to these inputs, she is pushed aside and her land is generally bought by bigger farmers or corporations,” Dossani says.

He says that a more sustainable approach to agriculture would focus on the diversity and knowledge that already exists, while also welcoming low cost, new technologies to improve production.

“ActionAid considers sustainable agriculture to be an approach derived from the recognition of the human right to food. It is a way of life based on self-reliant and agro-ecological systems, which encompass all forms of livelihoods for smallholder farmers, farm workers, landless people, pastoralists, livestock farmers, fisheries and hunter-gatherer societies,” he says.

Dossani says that since the U.N. adopted Agenda 21, an action plan for sustainable development, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, some governments have made considerable progress in curbing least-sustainable practices.

While Dossani argues that a shift towards sustainable development is inevitable, he adds that upholding the status quo on these matters is no longer an option.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: Is the concept of sustainable development working? Twenty years on since Rio we are still talking about it.

A: It’s true that some actors, perhaps especially the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), seem to be putting a lot of money and time into processes that aren’t going anywhere. We would certainly question the efficiency of these processes and call on the international community to resolve to address these issues in a more cost-effective manner.

However, sustainable development and related issues being discussed at Rio are of vital importance to communities, and maintaining the status quo is not an option. A shift towards sustainable development is inevitable. Whether the change towards sustainability is strategically planned and gradual, or whether that change comes as a result of economic crises and increasing climate disasters is a question for all of us to decide.

Q: Global poverty is not on the wane, quite the opposite. Are we realistic when we talk of the need for social and climate justice?

A: We cannot talk of meaningful poverty reduction without also addressing the question of justice. To quote Nelson Mandela: “Poverty is not an accident.” There is a lot of poverty in the world, but there is also a lot of wealth in the world – more than enough to tackle these problems.

Q: Is the world ready to move away from business as usual and address climate change?

A: The world has to be ready. The alternative is grim – increasing frequency and intensity of climate- related natural disasters, increasing conflict over resources, inability of poor communities to afford increasingly scarce and expensive resources including food, and ultimately the threat of losing cities and rural areas to rising sea levels.

Q: What progress have we made since the adoption of Agenda 21?

A: Some European countries have taken steps to reduce emissions. Some large developing countries have taken measures to ensure that the poorest communities have at least a basic access to elementary human rights, including the right to food. India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is one example that comes to mind.

Unfortunately neither the development initiatives nor the carbon cuts have done enough to ensure that everyone can enjoy the right to lead a life of dignity, and that those who are privileged enough to lead middle-class lifestyles aren’t doing so by polluting the world for future generations.

Unfortunately, there has also been some “false” progress, and by this I mean the promotion of mechanisms that do not address the issues, but sometimes appear to do so.

The promotion of biofuels, for example, not only fails to address the issue of carbon emissions (most biofuels currently in use still emit large amounts of carbon), but also puts food crops in direct competition with crops used for fuel. This practice needs to stop. As a first step, countries should end subsidies and incentives for biofuels.

Q: What are your expectations of Rio+20?

A: We would like to see countries make a strong commitment to clearly defined sustainable agriculture at the Rio+20 summit, and the outline of a process that lays out the shift away from industrial agriculture towards a model that places the lives and livelihoods of farmers and the rural population before other concerns, including profit.

Once that is agreed, ActionAid would call on countries – especially G20 countries – to ensure that sufficient funding is available to help communities shift to climate resilient sustainable agriculture. The 100 billion dollars that was committed by the leaders of rich countries in the Copenhagen COP (Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate change convention, in 2009) ministerial would be a good starting point to begin talking about the additional finance necessary.(END)

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

By Giuliano Battiston, cross-posted from Other News

FLORENCE, May 2012 (IPS) - Though the current global economic and financial crises are undoubtedly devastating much of the world, they present the perfect opportunity for remodeling our economic system, according to participants at the ninth annual Terra Futura (Future Earth) exhibition of ‘good practices’ in social, economic and environmental sustainability held here from May 25-27.

“What, how, how much and for whom to produce? Those are the questions we urgently need to answer,” said Guido Viale, environmental economist and author of several books on ecological issues.

“The crisis offers us a chance to ecologically reconvert the ways we produce and use goods and services, paving the way to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, to respect biodiversity and to create a safe, low-carbon economic system.”

The first step towards a healthier economy and a cleaner environment is “to find cost-effective ways to improve our energy infrastructure and to ‘decarbonise’ our energy supply,” said Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE), which was established at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16) in December 2010 and includes some of Europe’s leading multinational companies, along with a prominent cross-party group of European politicians.

“With no binding commitment to energy efficiency for 2020 and no verifiable energy saving targets for EU members, Europe risks (feeding) its addiction to fossil fuels,” Frassoni added.

As important as the need for an institutional framework and compulsory sectorial save-energy targets for key sectors of the European economy is the need for a radical change in lifestyle.

“The changes that are going to last are those rooted in a changed mindset,” Karl-Ludwig Schibel, coordinator of the Italian branch of the Covenant of Mayors, explained.

Launched by the European Commission in 2008, after the adoption of the EU Climate and Energy Package, the Covenant of Mayors is a European movement whose aim is to meet and exceed the EU’s 20 percent CO2 reduction goal by 2020. “We strongly believe in the effectiveness of a bottom-up process, promoted by citizens, regional authorities and local administrators. It is here that the deepest mindset revolutions are going on,” said Schibel.

According to leading environmental activist Vandana Shiva, cultural awareness of our intrinsic and fragile bondage to the “lively earth” is the most important tool to promote justice, sustainability and a new economy.

“It’s time to abandon the centralised, fossilised, sclerotic model adopted (throughout) the industrial era and build a new model – a decentralised, democratic, horizontal model, where all ecosystems are respected and in which diversity is a value. It means we should fight the monocultures of the mind boosted by industrialism. It means (being) careful about old tricks hidden by new words, such as the ‘green economy’,” she added.

Shiva is certainly not alone in her vision for a healthier planetary future. Susan George, chair of the Board of the Transnational Institute, told IPS, “I don’t like to use the word ‘green economy’, as it risks (becoming) a means through which global corporate capitalism makes profits, with a new, more respectable face.”

Twenty years after the first Earth Summit, the international community will gather once more in Rio de Janeiro from Jun. 20-22, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The Rio+20 conference will discuss the topic of green economy, whose definition of Green remains a matter of controversy.

George added, “Over the past years, I have proposed a Green New Deal, which means taking control over finance and investing in social and green transition. The first step is to socialise, not nationalise, the banks, to include citizens and customers in their management and to lend (money) for small environmental initiatives.”

The so-called green economy, on the other hand, is something completely different. “I am pessimistic about Rio,” George told IPS. “For the big corporations it is only an excuse to say: ‘The U.N. is slow and ineffective, while we are effective and smart; so, give us all the money and we will invest it into the green economy’. But they just want to make new profits. We must ask: a green economy for who, and run by whom?”

Barbara Unmüßig, president of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, recently wrote in ‘The Green Economy: A New Magic Bullet?’, “Large sectors of global civil society only see (the green economy) as an extremely profitable business sector.”

She said that, in order to truly make a difference, the green economy model should also pay attention to issues of power and equity while shifting global policy emphasis away from free trade and growth. (END)

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

by Shiney Varghese, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Deep tube-well irrigation can result in hand-dug wells (pictured above) going dry. This can affect access to drinking water, as hand-dug wells and hand pumps are often the primary source for drinking water in many communities.

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a studythat looked at rising sea levels from a new angle. The study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [groundwater that cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. Since there it cannot be replenished, tapping groundwater results in land subsidence (downward-shifting of ground surface) and a one-way transfer of water into the oceans. Researchers involved concluded that the deep tube-well drilling for water has contributed to sea level increases by an average of a millimeter every year since 1961. Neither the climate community nor the water community had paid attention to this aspect of tube-well drilling before.

In 2009, an IATP report referred to several other problems of deep tube-well drilling—a technology adapted from the oil industry—focusing on its role in industrial agricultural production. It pointed out that the tube-well “enabled industrial agriculture to expand to areas where such massive water transfers for irrigation were not feasible. Unlike traditional wells, tube-wells give access to “fossil” water in large quantities by driving a tube into deep aquifers and using a pump to suck water up,” that is said to have resulted in an environmental catastrophe in Asia. Withdrawals exceeding natural recharge rates of aquifers are leading to the lowering of water tables and land subsidence in many other parts of the world. For example, in the United States, where 45 percent of irrigation water comes from underground, in the High Plains aquifer (which includes the Ogallala aquifer), water levels have declined more than 100 feet in some areas.

Yet, faced with multiple environmental crises, many countries in Africa are looking at groundwater as the last resort to help deal with their food and water security challenges. Over the last decade, in several African countries the use of treadle pumps (most commonly used by farmers on small plots of land) has been promoted as an affordable option for withdrawing water from shallow aquifers. So far, groundwater bore wells have been confined to a few areas where commercial farming is its primary beneficiary. But it may no longer be confined to small pockets. A recent study by British Geological Survey estimated the total groundwater storage in Africa to be 0.66 million km (0.36–1.75 million km).3 Even though they warn that all of this water is not available for abstraction, it seems to suggest that there is plenty of water to meet the “growth” needs of Africa. This study comes out at a time when many international agencies are calling for investment in groundwater development as a way for meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS).

However, the temptation to promote groundwater development needs to be tempered with caution, as we know from the Asian experience. Our report argued that the “the easy access to state-subsidized energy services and equipment” enabled the expansion of industrial farming to otherwise water-stressed areas of Asian countries such as China, India and Pakistan. As is well known, the World Bank and other multilateral agencies played a major role in the spread of this technology in South Asia. Initiatives such asGW-MATE, which look at approaches to reconciling groundwater demand with resources, indicate that the World Bank and other similar organizations recognize the mistakes of the past. This new caution on groundwater development doesn’t appear to be matched by other new initiatives.

There has been growing attention to land grabs, but perhaps less on how they serve to appropriate the natural resources under the land. Speakers at a recent workshop at the alternative water forum in Marseilles, such as Henk Hobbelink from GRAIN and Rutgerd Boelens from Wageningen University, explained how in many ways land grabbing is about water grabbing. Information gleaned from theBritish Geological Survey that looked at groundwater resources in Africa might help answer questions around the extent of water grabbing in Africa. Given that these investments are in the context of raising export crops, investors can use the survey to ensure plentiful water for irrigation; deep-well drilling may be adopted as a way to access water from deep aquifers or to deal with depleting water tables.

Second, there is the global focus on African food security. At the G-8 summit on May 18–19, President Obama announced a plan to boost food security and farm productivity in Africa. Responding to the plan, “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,”an IATP blog pointed out that for the African peasantry, the call to “refine policies in order to improve investment opportunities,” “sounds hauntingly like the conditionalities of old (and current, much-criticized, bilateral investment agreements).” G-8’s reliance on corporations—“accountable to their shareholders, obliged to make a profit […] bound by law, but not by the public interest”—in the name of African food security is a way of bringing in farms that have so far been beyond the reach of corporations and industrial agricultural sector. Once again, it is likely that the expansion of industrial agriculture will be through the expansion of tube-well irrigation.

The third point may be extrapolated on the basis of the Asian experience. In addition to the environmental costs listed earlier, there are also social costs to deep well drilling of groundwater. In Asia, deep tube-well irrigation has resulted in most of the hand-dug wells and shallower bore-wells going dry, as ever-deeper wells get dug. Large scale extraction of groundwater is also used for water intensive industries, and that too results in similar experiences. This can affect poorer people’s access to drinking water, as hand-dug wells and hand pumps (shallow tube-wells) are often the primary source for drinking water for many communities. For inland regions, deep drilling can result in land subsidence. In coastal areas it can cause salinity ingress (seepage of sea water inland through underground water flows) resulting in the salinization of groundwater. Often, over-drafting of groundwater for industrial agriculture comes at the cost of basic water needs of the poor and traditional farming systems.

It is in this context that the new report on how global fresh water demand is driving sea-level rise faster than glacier melt becomes important. The researchers at the British Geological Survey have said that the estimated volume of available groundwater is more than 100 times estimates of annual renewable freshwater resources on Africa. This should be taken as a word of caution, so that Africa does not repeat Asia’s folly when it comes to groundwater use. With the available data, groundwater depletion can be monitored and regulations and incentives can be put in place to ensure that replenishment equals water withdrawals from the aquifer.

Whether Africa is able to do this or not depends on the agricultural development path they are able to adopt towards reaching food security goals. But at the moment they do not have a space to make that choice. Those decisions about their path are being made in the G-8, G-20, Rio+20 and other similar international and regional forums. And not only are these forums influenced by International Financial Institutions like World Bank, they are also under threat from corporate capture, as has been said in a recent joint civil society statement.

This is why many African civil society organizations are seeking greater local control. In a recent letter anticipating the G-8 announcement, the West African farm network ROPPA reiterated that, “food security and sovereignty are the basis of our general development, as all of the African governments underline. It is a strategic challenge. This is why we must build our food policy on our own resources as is done in the other regions of the world. The G8 and the G20 can in no way be considered the appropriate fora for decisions of this nature.”

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

Want to protect the rainforest? All it takes is €5 ($6.30) to get started. Save the gorillas? Three euros and you’re in. You can even do your part for nature with only 50 cents — as long as you entrust it to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which is still known by its original name of the World Wildlife Fund in the United States and Canada.

Last year, the WWF, together with German retail group Rewe, sold almost 2 million collectors’ albums. In only six weeks, the program raised €875,088 ($1.1 million), which Rewe turned over to the WWF.

The WWF has promised to do a lot of good things with the money, like spending it on forests, gorillas, water, the climate — and, of course, the animal the environmental protection group uses as its emblem, the giant panda.

Governments also entrust a lot of money to the organization. Over the years, the WWF has received a total of $120 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For a long time, German government ministries were so generous to the organization that the WWF even decided, in the 1990s, to limit the amount of government funding it could receive. The organization was anxious not to be seen as merely an extension of government environmental protection agencies.

Illusion of Aid

But can the WWF truly protect nature against human beings? Or do the organization’s attractive posters merely offer the illusion of help? Fifty years after the organization was founded, there are growing doubts as to the independence of the WWF and its business model, which involves partnering with industry to protect nature.

The WWF, whose international headquarters are located in Gland, Switzerland, is seen as the world’s most powerful conservation organization. It is active in more than 100 countries, where it enjoys close connections to the rich and the powerful. Its trademark panda emblem appears on Danone yoghurt cups and the clothing of jetsetters like Princess Charlene of Monaco. Companies pay seven-figure fees for the privilege of using the logo. The WWF counts 430,000 members in Germany alone, and millions of people give their savings to the organization. The question is how sustainably this money is actually being invested.

SPIEGEL traveled around South America and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to address this question. In Brazil, an agricultural industry executive talked about the first shipload of sustainable soybeans, certified in accordance with WWF standards, to reach Rotterdam last year, amid a flurry of PR hype. The executive had to admit, however, that he wasn’t entirely sure where the shipment had come from. In Sumatra, members of a tribal group reported how troops hired by WWF partner Wilmar had destroyed their houses, because they had stood in the way of unfettered palm oil production.

Inconvenient for Some

Representatives of independent German non-governmental organizations like Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) and Robin Wood also no longer see the aid organization as merely a custodian of animals. Instead, many view the WWF as an accomplice of corporations. In their opinion, it grants those corporations a license to destroy nature, in return for large donations and small concessions.

The organization, which now takes in about €500 million a year, has certainly notched up some important achievements. The Dutch section of WWF helped pay for Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior. To prevent dam projects on the Danube and Loire Rivers, activists occupied large construction sites, sometimes for years. In the 1980s, the Swiss section fought so vehemently against nuclear energy that the federal police classified its managing director as an enemy of the state.

While the WWF can be very inconvenient for some, it can also be quick to cozy up to others. The organization’s managers typically react with irritation to criticism of its cooperative efforts. Last year, a film made by Germany’s WDR television network, “The Pact with the Panda,” reached devastating conclusions about the WWF’s work. German author Wilfried Huismann held the conservationists partly responsible for increasing the threat to the rainforest — a charge the WWF vehemently denies.

The film was “inaccurately researched” or even “deliberately false,” says Martina Fleckenstein, who has been a biologist with the WWF for the last 20 years. She works in Berlin, where she heads the WWF’s Agriculture Policy section. Hardly any meetings with industry take place without her, and she is a queen of compromise. Nevertheless, after the film was released, the WWF was flooded with protest emails, and more than 3,000 supporters cancelled their memberships. The conservation organization had never experienced such a bloodletting before.

Of Tigers and People

The animal used in the WWF’s logo is a cute and cuddly-looking creature, threatened with extinction because of its very low birthrate. But the panda does not elicit our emotions as much as great apes or big cats, which are more effective at drumming up donations. In 2010, the WWF took its cue from the Chinese calendar and proclaimed the “Year of the Tiger.”

The WWF has pursued its tiger mission for a long time. In the early 1970s, with the help of a large donation, it convinced the Indian government under then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to identify protected areas for the threatened big cats. According to Indian estimates, there were more than 4,000 tigers living in the country at the time. Today that number has dwindled to 1,700. Nevertheless, the WWF sees the Indian tiger program as a success. Without its efforts, says a spokesman, India’s tigers could “quite possibly be extinct by now.”

Less widely publicized is the fact that people were displaced to achieve this success. Villages were “resettled, but not against their will,” says Claude Martin, a Swiss national who was general director of WWF International from 1993 to 2005. “We were always convinced that this issue was handled properly.” But there are even doubts about that.

About 300,000 families had to leave their homes to create a conservation zone for wild animals, writes Mark Dowie in his book “Conservation Refugees.” According to Dowie, the displacement was the result of a concept called “fortress conservation,” which the WWF has always proclaimed as one of its policies. There is no room for human beings in these conservation zones, writes Dowie. The WWF says that it is opposed to forced relocation. But Bernhard Grzimek, a German TV zoologist and long-standing member of the WWF board of directors, also advocated the concept of national parks with no human presence in them. The WWF was established in 1961, following his successful film “Serengeti Shall Not Die.

Conservation Refugees

The Swiss founders and the German zoologist were united by a mixture of conservation and neo-colonialism. This legacy also includes the forced displacement of the Massai nomads from the Serengeti.

Experts estimate that in Africa alone, conservation efforts have created 14 million “conservation refugees” since the colonial era. In this model, some of the indigenous people, if they were lucky enough, could work as park wardens, preventing their relatives from entering the protected zones.

The Tesso Nilo National Park is one of those typical conservation zones promoted by the WWF. Martina Fleckenstein describes it as “a successful project for protecting tigers and elephants.” The area is in the heart of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The WWF office in the city of Pekanbaru manages the project.

“Save His Habitat,” reads a German tiger poster in the Pekanbaru office, which is funded with German WWF money. German TV talk show host Sandra Maischberger conducted a campaign to raise money for the last 500 Sumatra tigers. Many of them supposedly live in the Tesso Nilo, only a few hours from the WWF office.

Sunarto is a biologist who has long worked as a tiger researcher in the Tesso Nilo. But he has never seen a tiger there. “Tiger density is very low here, because of human economic activity,” says Sunarto, who like some Indonesians goes by only one name. He also points out that there are still some woodland clearing concessions within the conservation area.

To enable them to track down tigers, the WWF has provided the scientists with high-tech measuring equipment, including GPS devices, DNA analysis methods for tiger dung and 20 photo traps. During the last photography shoot, which lasted several weeks, the traps only photographed five tigers.

Off-Limits for Locals

The WWF sees its work in Sumatra as an important achievement, arguing that the rainforest in the Tesso Nilo was successfully saved as a result of a “fire department approach.” In reality, the conservation zone has grown while the forest inside has become smaller. Companies like Asia Pacific Resources International, with which the WWF previously had a cooperative arrangement, cut down the virgin forest, says Sunarto.

His colleague Ruswantu takes affluent eco-tourists on tours of the park on the backs of tamed elephants. The area is off-limits for the locals, and anti-poaching units funded by the Germans make sure that they stay out. “The WWF is in charge here, and that’s a problem,” says Bahri, who owns a tiny shop and lives in a village near the entrance to the park. No one knows where the borders are, he says. “We used to have small fields of rubber trees, and suddenly we were no longer allowed to go there.”

Feri, an environmental activist, calls this form of conservation “racist and neocolonial,” and notes: “There has never been forest without people here.” According to Feri, thousands of small farms were driven out of the Tesso Nilo, and yet the number of wild animals has actually declined since the conservationists arrived. “Tesso Nilo is not an isolated case,” he says.

Nowadays, multinational companies and conservationists work hand-in-hand. “The WWF is involved in the transformation of our world into plantations, monoculture and national parks,” says Feri, who supports the Indonesian environmental protection organization Walhi.

The Palm Oil Business

According to a map hanging in the office of tiger conservationist Sunarto, which shows the extent of clear-cutting on Sumatra, the world’s sixth-largest island, enough wood to cover 88 soccer fields is cut down every hour — mostly to make way for palm oil plantations.Indonesia is thriving as a result of a boom in palm oil. The Southeast Asian nation accounts for 48 percent of global production. The multifunctional oil is used in biodiesel, food products like Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread, shampoo and skin lotion. But the heavy use of pesticides on the monocultures is polluting rivers and ground water. Slash-and-burn agriculture has turned Indonesia into one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2.

Despite claims of sustainability, many companies continue to deforest the area. A concession costs about $30,000 in bribes or campaign contributions, reports a former WWF employee who worked in Indonesia for a long time. “Sustainable palm oil, as the WWF promises with its RSPO certificates, is really nonexistent,” he says.

RSPO stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The certificate makes it possible to crank up production while simultaneously placating the consciences of customers. Henkel, the Düsseldorf-based consumer products company, advertises its Terra range of household cleaning products with the claim that it supports “the sustainable production of palm and palm kernel oil, together with the WWF.”

Second-Class Rainforest

In doing so, the company claims, it is making “a contribution to protect the rainforest.” But how exactly is the forest being protected if it has to be cut down first?

The WWF argues that some areas are “degraded” terrain, that is, second-class forest and wasteland. It insists that plantation monocultures and conservation are not contradictory ideas. The WWF calls this approach “market transformation.” It embodies the belief that more can be achieved with cooperation than confrontation.

The organization launched the RSPO initiative in 2004, together with companies like Unilever, which processes 1.3 million tons of palm oil a year, making it one of the world’s largest palm oil processors. Another company involved is Wilmar, one of the world’s major palm oil producers.

Wilmar has completed “a transformation,” says the WWF’s Fleckenstein. She points out that the company has a clear schedule for certification, and that social criteria are taken into account.

‘Then They Started Shooting’

The indigenous people with the Batin Sembilan tribe haven’t seen much evidence of that. They live in the middle of Wilmar’s Asiatic Persada plantation, south of the city of Jambi. At 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres), it is about half the size of Berlin, and it is scheduled to be RSPO-certified by the German certification agency TÜV Rheinland. Someone has scrawled “bloodsuckers” at one of the plantation entrances.

Roni, the village elder, is standing in the midst of the oil palms with several dozen people. Many are barefoot, and one is carrying a spear that he uses to hunt wild boar. Crushed wooden slats litter the ground behind him, where the tribe’s village once stood.

On Aug. 10 of last year, the notorious Brimob police brigade destroyed the houses. Before the incident, a village resident had tried to sell palm fruits that Wilmar claims it owns.

“They arrested 18 people early in the morning, and some they beat up,” reports Roni. “Wilmar managers collaborated with Brimob. Then they started shooting, and we took the women and children and ran into the forest.” The villagers see the forest as their forest. “We have been living here since the days of our ancestors,” says Roni.

The loggers came in the 1970s, but there was enough forest into which Roni’s tribe could move. But now his people are surrounded by palm trees. The company that preceded Wilmar illegally planted 20,000 hectares, or about half the plantation. This doesn’t seem to bother Wilmar. Roni even has attested rights for his tribe, but it hasn’t helped them.

‘Wrongful Activities’

After the destruction of the village, organizations like Rettet den Regenwald and Robin Wood claimed that Rama margarine, which is made by Unilever, a customer of Wilmar, was tainted with the blood of indigenous people. Some of them even camped out in front of the German Unilever headquarters in December.

This, in turn, was not well received at Unilever, a Dutch-British company which ranks at the top of sustainability indices and has the stated goal of helping more than 1 billion people improve their health and quality of life.

Wilmar could not deny that huts were destroyed and shots were fired. But in a letter to customers and friends (including WWF partners like palm-oil financier HSBC), company executives downplayed the issue.

From Wilmar’s perspective, a socially oriented company had become the target of the dirty tricks of a few hooligans. In an internal email, Unilever at least admitted that there had been “wrongful activities” and suggested that there would be a “mediation process.” But the police campaign did not adversely affect Unilever’s business relationship with Wilmar. The palm oil giant has since erected temporary housing and agreed to pay compensation.

Many of the indigenous families fled from the Brimob thugs to nearby PT Reki, one of the last semi-intact forests in the region. But they were not allowed to stay there either, because the area is the site of a reforestation project funded by Germany’s KfW development bank and the German environmental organization Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU).

Founders, Benefactors and Big Game Hunters

The WWF headquarters in Gland near Geneva seems solidly green and respectable. Silver plaques there commemorate the people to whom the organization owes a great debt: the “Members of The 1001.” This elite group of undisclosed financiers was created in 1971 to provide financial backing for the organization.

To this day, the WWF does not like to disclose the names of the donors, probably because some of those appearing on the club’s list would not exactly help their image — people like arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and former Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Then-WWF President Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was able to recruit oil multinational Shell as his first major sponsor. In 1967, thousands of birds died after a tanker accident off the coast of France, and yet the WWF forbade all criticism. That could “jeopardize” future efforts to secure donations from certain industrial sectors, WWF officials said during a board meeting.

In the late 1980s, alleged poachers turned up in certain African national parks, which had been set up by whites during the colonial period. The WWF decided to fight back. The organization paid for helicopters to be used by the national park administration of Zimbabwe to hunt down poachers. Dozens of people were killed during the missions.

Still Welcome

In a secret operation, big game hunter Prince Bernhard and John Hanks, the WWF’s Africa director, hired mercenaries to break up the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn. But members of the South African military, seen as the biggest horn dealers at the time, infiltrated the group.

All of this happened a long time ago, says WWF spokesman Phil Dickie, noting that the organization has changed and no longer accepts money from the oil, nuclear, tobacco or arms industry. Still, no one is excluded. Representatives of these industries, for example oil multinational BP, are still welcome on the WWF boards.

John Hanks, still a member of the board of trustees, is in charge of giant cross-border nature parks in Africa today. The projects are called Peace Parks, and yet they are responsible for a great deal of strife. The German government donated about €200,000 to the WWF for so-called Peace Park dialogues in South Africa. One of the outcomes was that corridors were necessary for the Peace Parks — as was the relocation of local residents, who are putting up a fight.

Germany’s KfW development agency is even prepared to contribute €20 million for new corridors at the Kaza national park, another major WWF project. “For each euro from the WWF, at least five more are provided by governments,” estimates WWF’s Martina Fleckenstein. The organization seems to have enormous political influence.

Hunting is now permitted in the massive new parks. Spanish King Juan Carlos, for example, was recently in the news after he broke his hip while hunting elephants in Botswana. Juan Carlos is the honorary president of WWF Spain, which many find outrageous. In Namibia alone, the WWF has permitted trophy hunting in 38 conservation areas.

Rich Europeans or Americans are allowed to behave as if the colonial period had never ended. They are allowed to shoot elephants, buffalo, leopards, lions, giraffes and zebras, and they can even smear the blood of the dead animals onto their faces, in accordance with an old custom. A WWF spokesman defends this practice, saying that quotas have been established, and that the proceeds from this “regulated hunting” can contribute to conservation.

The Myth of Sustainability

Andrew Murphy, a young Harvard graduate with African experience in the US Peace Corps, works in the WWF’s “Market Transformation” team. He represents the new generation of conservationists. He sees the members of his team as “agents of change,” who can “turn” an entire market. Murphy has plenty of these slogans up his sleeve. He says he wants to make the largest producers of and dealers in commodities like soybeans, milk, palm oil, wood and meat more sustainable. And are there successes? Yes, he says, noting that companies now want to see where the commodities come from. “Bulletproof” monitoring systems have been set up, he adds. Murphy is referring to standards like the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS).

The organization invited industry to the RTRS in 2004. Wholesalers like Cargill and companies like Monsanto, which has donated $100,000 to the WWF over the years, had a strong presence at the meeting.

“It quickly became clear that this was greenwashing for the genetically modified soybean marketers,” says one attendee, referring to the practice of deceptively marketing a product as environmentally friendly. When a few Europeans wanted to talk about the dangers of the herbicide glyphosate, they were quickly silenced. “The Americans’ killer argument was that they were ‘technologically neutral.’”

The German branch of WWF, officially opposed to genetic engineering, ensured that those who support it were also welcome at the round table. The Germans even paid the travel expenses for representatives of the Argentine branch of the WWF, which was long run by a man with ties to the former military junta and an agricultural industrialist. No one at the round table was interested in the fact that the WWF, together with Swiss retailers, had already unveiled a stricter soybean standard a long time previously.

Undermining Itself

Undermining its own standards seems to be a specialty of the WWF. In fact, it is this flexibility that brings the organization millions in donations from industry. In the case of soybeans, the group attending the round table meeting negotiated and negotiated. It softened some standards and made some concessions, and then, finally, the first 85,000 tons of RTRS soybeans arrived in Rotterdam last June. “It was a success,” says biologist Fleckenstein, noting that the WWF had examined the soybeans carefully. “We were especially pleased that this product was genetically unmodified.” The soybeans had come from two giant farms owned by the Brazilian Maggi family.

The family conglomerate is considered the world’s largest soybean producer, with plantations covering large parts of the state of Mato Grosso in west central Brazil. The Maggis moved there from southern Brazil in the 1980s, bringing their workers with them. They cleared a large swath of the savannah rainforest and planted soybeans.

Blairo Maggi became the governor of the state, and in 2005 Greenpeace presented him with its “Golden Chainsaw” award. In no other Brazilian state was as much virgin forest cut down as in Maggi’s soybean republic. The areas now occupied by his RTRS model farms were cleared only a few years ago. According to RTRS, the two farms are the only suppliers of the 85,000 tons of certified soybeans that arrived in Rotterdam in June.

The only problem is that nothing on the Maggi farms is genetically unmodified.

Satisfying European Demand

A white tank, 10 meters tall and with a capacity of thousands of liters, stands in the shade of a warehouse at the Fazenda Tucunaré farm. The tank is labeled “Glifosato,” the Portuguese word for the herbicide glyphosate. The buildings housing the workers are only a few hundred meters away. Behind a fence, there are ditches full of foul-smelling water with a green, shimmering surface. Next to the ditches is a depot where signs with skulls on them warn: “Caution. Highly Toxic!”

Glyphosate is popular as an herbicide for genetically manipulated soybeans, because the plant is resistant to the agent, which kills weeds. Despite a growing number of critical studies showing, for example, that the agent causes reproductive problems in animals, the RTRS system permits its use.

Other pesticides are also not a problem for RTRS, which merely asks that they be “used sensibly,” says João Shimada, the sustainability manager at Grupo Maggi. It isn’t so easy to explain what happened with the 85,000 tons of soybeans, he says. “In truth, we provided those soybeans to satisfy demand coming from Europe.” Since then, companies like Unilever have boasted about using sustainable soybeans. In reality, no more than 8,000 tons came from the two farms.

“I don’t know where the other 77,000 tons came from, either,” says Shimada.

Cooperating with the Chinese

This magical proliferation of a supposedly sustainable commodity is known in the industry as “book and claim.” It is the result of the supposedly bulletproof monitoring system that the young WWF expert Andrew Murphy raves about. Some 300,000 tons of this allegedly sustainable commodity already exist.

In Gland, the sun is setting over Lake Geneva. Murphy is in a hurry. He is on his way to China to save nature there. Although the WWF still isn’t permitted to recruit members in China, cooperative agreements with party officials could certainly also be beneficial to the environment.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

Want to protect the rainforest? All it takes is €5 ($6.30) to get started. Save the gorillas? Three euros and you’re in. You can even do your part for nature with only 50 cents — as long as you entrust it to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which is still known by its original name of the World Wildlife Fund in the United States and Canada.

Last year, the WWF, together with German retail group Rewe, sold almost 2 million collectors’ albums. In only six weeks, the program raised €875,088 ($1.1 million), which Rewe turned over to the WWF.

The WWF has promised to do a lot of good things with the money, like spending it on forests, gorillas, water, the climate — and, of course, the animal the environmental protection group uses as its emblem, the giant panda.

Governments also entrust a lot of money to the organization. Over the years, the WWF has received a total of $120 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For a long time, German government ministries were so generous to the organization that the WWF even decided, in the 1990s, to limit the amount of government funding it could receive. The organization was anxious not to be seen as merely an extension of government environmental protection agencies.

Illusion of Aid

But can the WWF truly protect nature against human beings? Or do the organization’s attractive posters merely offer the illusion of help? Fifty years after the organization was founded, there are growing doubts as to the independence of the WWF and its business model, which involves partnering with industry to protect nature.

The WWF, whose international headquarters are located in Gland, Switzerland, is seen as the world’s most powerful conservation organization. It is active in more than 100 countries, where it enjoys close connections to the rich and the powerful. Its trademark panda emblem appears on Danone yoghurt cups and the clothing of jetsetters like Princess Charlene of Monaco. Companies pay seven-figure fees for the privilege of using the logo. The WWF counts 430,000 members in Germany alone, and millions of people give their savings to the organization. The question is how sustainably this money is actually being invested.

SPIEGEL traveled around South America and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to address this question. In Brazil, an agricultural industry executive talked about the first shipload of sustainable soybeans, certified in accordance with WWF standards, to reach Rotterdam last year, amid a flurry of PR hype. The executive had to admit, however, that he wasn’t entirely sure where the shipment had come from. In Sumatra, members of a tribal group reported how troops hired by WWF partner Wilmar had destroyed their houses, because they had stood in the way of unfettered palm oil production.

Inconvenient for Some

Representatives of independent German non-governmental organizations like Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) and Robin Wood also no longer see the aid organization as merely a custodian of animals. Instead, many view the WWF as an accomplice of corporations. In their opinion, it grants those corporations a license to destroy nature, in return for large donations and small concessions.

The organization, which now takes in about €500 million a year, has certainly notched up some important achievements. The Dutch section of WWF helped pay for Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior. To prevent dam projects on the Danube and Loire Rivers, activists occupied large construction sites, sometimes for years. In the 1980s, the Swiss section fought so vehemently against nuclear energy that the federal police classified its managing director as an enemy of the state.

While the WWF can be very inconvenient for some, it can also be quick to cozy up to others. The organization’s managers typically react with irritation to criticism of its cooperative efforts. Last year, a film made by Germany’s WDR television network, “The Pact with the Panda,” reached devastating conclusions about the WWF’s work. German author Wilfried Huismann held the conservationists partly responsible for increasing the threat to the rainforest — a charge the WWF vehemently denies.

The film was “inaccurately researched” or even “deliberately false,” says Martina Fleckenstein, who has been a biologist with the WWF for the last 20 years. She works in Berlin, where she heads the WWF’s Agriculture Policy section. Hardly any meetings with industry take place without her, and she is a queen of compromise. Nevertheless, after the film was released, the WWF was flooded with protest emails, and more than 3,000 supporters cancelled their memberships. The conservation organization had never experienced such a bloodletting before.

Of Tigers and People

The animal used in the WWF’s logo is a cute and cuddly-looking creature, threatened with extinction because of its very low birthrate. But the panda does not elicit our emotions as much as great apes or big cats, which are more effective at drumming up donations. In 2010, the WWF took its cue from the Chinese calendar and proclaimed the “Year of the Tiger.”

The WWF has pursued its tiger mission for a long time. In the early 1970s, with the help of a large donation, it convinced the Indian government under then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to identify protected areas for the threatened big cats. According to Indian estimates, there were more than 4,000 tigers living in the country at the time. Today that number has dwindled to 1,700. Nevertheless, the WWF sees the Indian tiger program as a success. Without its efforts, says a spokesman, India’s tigers could “quite possibly be extinct by now.”

Less widely publicized is the fact that people were displaced to achieve this success. Villages were “resettled, but not against their will,” says Claude Martin, a Swiss national who was general director of WWF International from 1993 to 2005. “We were always convinced that this issue was handled properly.” But there are even doubts about that.

About 300,000 families had to leave their homes to create a conservation zone for wild animals, writes Mark Dowie in his book “Conservation Refugees.” According to Dowie, the displacement was the result of a concept called “fortress conservation,” which the WWF has always proclaimed as one of its policies. There is no room for human beings in these conservation zones, writes Dowie. The WWF says that it is opposed to forced relocation. But Bernhard Grzimek, a German TV zoologist and long-standing member of the WWF board of directors, also advocated the concept of national parks with no human presence in them. The WWF was established in 1961, following his successful film “Serengeti Shall Not Die.

Conservation Refugees

The Swiss founders and the German zoologist were united by a mixture of conservation and neo-colonialism. This legacy also includes the forced displacement of the Massai nomads from the Serengeti.

Experts estimate that in Africa alone, conservation efforts have created 14 million “conservation refugees” since the colonial era. In this model, some of the indigenous people, if they were lucky enough, could work as park wardens, preventing their relatives from entering the protected zones.

The Tesso Nilo National Park is one of those typical conservation zones promoted by the WWF. Martina Fleckenstein describes it as “a successful project for protecting tigers and elephants.” The area is in the heart of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The WWF office in the city of Pekanbaru manages the project.

“Save His Habitat,” reads a German tiger poster in the Pekanbaru office, which is funded with German WWF money. German TV talk show host Sandra Maischberger conducted a campaign to raise money for the last 500 Sumatra tigers. Many of them supposedly live in the Tesso Nilo, only a few hours from the WWF office.

Sunarto is a biologist who has long worked as a tiger researcher in the Tesso Nilo. But he has never seen a tiger there. “Tiger density is very low here, because of human economic activity,” says Sunarto, who like some Indonesians goes by only one name. He also points out that there are still some woodland clearing concessions within the conservation area.

To enable them to track down tigers, the WWF has provided the scientists with high-tech measuring equipment, including GPS devices, DNA analysis methods for tiger dung and 20 photo traps. During the last photography shoot, which lasted several weeks, the traps only photographed five tigers.

Off-Limits for Locals

The WWF sees its work in Sumatra as an important achievement, arguing that the rainforest in the Tesso Nilo was successfully saved as a result of a “fire department approach.” In reality, the conservation zone has grown while the forest inside has become smaller. Companies like Asia Pacific Resources International, with which the WWF previously had a cooperative arrangement, cut down the virgin forest, says Sunarto.

His colleague Ruswantu takes affluent eco-tourists on tours of the park on the backs of tamed elephants. The area is off-limits for the locals, and anti-poaching units funded by the Germans make sure that they stay out. “The WWF is in charge here, and that’s a problem,” says Bahri, who owns a tiny shop and lives in a village near the entrance to the park. No one knows where the borders are, he says. “We used to have small fields of rubber trees, and suddenly we were no longer allowed to go there.”

Feri, an environmental activist, calls this form of conservation “racist and neocolonial,” and notes: “There has never been forest without people here.” According to Feri, thousands of small farms were driven out of the Tesso Nilo, and yet the number of wild animals has actually declined since the conservationists arrived. “Tesso Nilo is not an isolated case,” he says.

Nowadays, multinational companies and conservationists work hand-in-hand. “The WWF is involved in the transformation of our world into plantations, monoculture and national parks,” says Feri, who supports the Indonesian environmental protection organization Walhi.

The Palm Oil Business

According to a map hanging in the office of tiger conservationist Sunarto, which shows the extent of clear-cutting on Sumatra, the world’s sixth-largest island, enough wood to cover 88 soccer fields is cut down every hour — mostly to make way for palm oil plantations.Indonesia is thriving as a result of a boom in palm oil. The Southeast Asian nation accounts for 48 percent of global production. The multifunctional oil is used in biodiesel, food products like Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread, shampoo and skin lotion. But the heavy use of pesticides on the monocultures is polluting rivers and ground water. Slash-and-burn agriculture has turned Indonesia into one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2.

Despite claims of sustainability, many companies continue to deforest the area. A concession costs about $30,000 in bribes or campaign contributions, reports a former WWF employee who worked in Indonesia for a long time. “Sustainable palm oil, as the WWF promises with its RSPO certificates, is really nonexistent,” he says.

RSPO stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The certificate makes it possible to crank up production while simultaneously placating the consciences of customers. Henkel, the Düsseldorf-based consumer products company, advertises its Terra range of household cleaning products with the claim that it supports “the sustainable production of palm and palm kernel oil, together with the WWF.”

Second-Class Rainforest

In doing so, the company claims, it is making “a contribution to protect the rainforest.” But how exactly is the forest being protected if it has to be cut down first?

The WWF argues that some areas are “degraded” terrain, that is, second-class forest and wasteland. It insists that plantation monocultures and conservation are not contradictory ideas. The WWF calls this approach “market transformation.” It embodies the belief that more can be achieved with cooperation than confrontation.

The organization launched the RSPO initiative in 2004, together with companies like Unilever, which processes 1.3 million tons of palm oil a year, making it one of the world’s largest palm oil processors. Another company involved is Wilmar, one of the world’s major palm oil producers.

Wilmar has completed “a transformation,” says the WWF’s Fleckenstein. She points out that the company has a clear schedule for certification, and that social criteria are taken into account.

‘Then They Started Shooting’

The indigenous people with the Batin Sembilan tribe haven’t seen much evidence of that. They live in the middle of Wilmar’s Asiatic Persada plantation, south of the city of Jambi. At 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres), it is about half the size of Berlin, and it is scheduled to be RSPO-certified by the German certification agency TÜV Rheinland. Someone has scrawled “bloodsuckers” at one of the plantation entrances.

Roni, the village elder, is standing in the midst of the oil palms with several dozen people. Many are barefoot, and one is carrying a spear that he uses to hunt wild boar. Crushed wooden slats litter the ground behind him, where the tribe’s village once stood.

On Aug. 10 of last year, the notorious Brimob police brigade destroyed the houses. Before the incident, a village resident had tried to sell palm fruits that Wilmar claims it owns.

“They arrested 18 people early in the morning, and some they beat up,” reports Roni. “Wilmar managers collaborated with Brimob. Then they started shooting, and we took the women and children and ran into the forest.” The villagers see the forest as their forest. “We have been living here since the days of our ancestors,” says Roni.

The loggers came in the 1970s, but there was enough forest into which Roni’s tribe could move. But now his people are surrounded by palm trees. The company that preceded Wilmar illegally planted 20,000 hectares, or about half the plantation. This doesn’t seem to bother Wilmar. Roni even has attested rights for his tribe, but it hasn’t helped them.

‘Wrongful Activities’

After the destruction of the village, organizations like Rettet den Regenwald and Robin Wood claimed that Rama margarine, which is made by Unilever, a customer of Wilmar, was tainted with the blood of indigenous people. Some of them even camped out in front of the German Unilever headquarters in December.

This, in turn, was not well received at Unilever, a Dutch-British company which ranks at the top of sustainability indices and has the stated goal of helping more than 1 billion people improve their health and quality of life.

Wilmar could not deny that huts were destroyed and shots were fired. But in a letter to customers and friends (including WWF partners like palm-oil financier HSBC), company executives downplayed the issue.

From Wilmar’s perspective, a socially oriented company had become the target of the dirty tricks of a few hooligans. In an internal email, Unilever at least admitted that there had been “wrongful activities” and suggested that there would be a “mediation process.” But the police campaign did not adversely affect Unilever’s business relationship with Wilmar. The palm oil giant has since erected temporary housing and agreed to pay compensation.

Many of the indigenous families fled from the Brimob thugs to nearby PT Reki, one of the last semi-intact forests in the region. But they were not allowed to stay there either, because the area is the site of a reforestation project funded by Germany’s KfW development bank and the German environmental organization Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU).

Founders, Benefactors and Big Game Hunters

The WWF headquarters in Gland near Geneva seems solidly green and respectable. Silver plaques there commemorate the people to whom the organization owes a great debt: the “Members of The 1001.” This elite group of undisclosed financiers was created in 1971 to provide financial backing for the organization.

To this day, the WWF does not like to disclose the names of the donors, probably because some of those appearing on the club’s list would not exactly help their image — people like arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and former Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Then-WWF President Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was able to recruit oil multinational Shell as his first major sponsor. In 1967, thousands of birds died after a tanker accident off the coast of France, and yet the WWF forbade all criticism. That could “jeopardize” future efforts to secure donations from certain industrial sectors, WWF officials said during a board meeting.

In the late 1980s, alleged poachers turned up in certain African national parks, which had been set up by whites during the colonial period. The WWF decided to fight back. The organization paid for helicopters to be used by the national park administration of Zimbabwe to hunt down poachers. Dozens of people were killed during the missions.

Still Welcome

In a secret operation, big game hunter Prince Bernhard and John Hanks, the WWF’s Africa director, hired mercenaries to break up the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn. But members of the South African military, seen as the biggest horn dealers at the time, infiltrated the group.

All of this happened a long time ago, says WWF spokesman Phil Dickie, noting that the organization has changed and no longer accepts money from the oil, nuclear, tobacco or arms industry. Still, no one is excluded. Representatives of these industries, for example oil multinational BP, are still welcome on the WWF boards.

John Hanks, still a member of the board of trustees, is in charge of giant cross-border nature parks in Africa today. The projects are called Peace Parks, and yet they are responsible for a great deal of strife. The German government donated about €200,000 to the WWF for so-called Peace Park dialogues in South Africa. One of the outcomes was that corridors were necessary for the Peace Parks — as was the relocation of local residents, who are putting up a fight.

Germany’s KfW development agency is even prepared to contribute €20 million for new corridors at the Kaza national park, another major WWF project. “For each euro from the WWF, at least five more are provided by governments,” estimates WWF’s Martina Fleckenstein. The organization seems to have enormous political influence.

Hunting is now permitted in the massive new parks. Spanish King Juan Carlos, for example, was recently in the news after he broke his hip while hunting elephants in Botswana. Juan Carlos is the honorary president of WWF Spain, which many find outrageous. In Namibia alone, the WWF has permitted trophy hunting in 38 conservation areas.

Rich Europeans or Americans are allowed to behave as if the colonial period had never ended. They are allowed to shoot elephants, buffalo, leopards, lions, giraffes and zebras, and they can even smear the blood of the dead animals onto their faces, in accordance with an old custom. A WWF spokesman defends this practice, saying that quotas have been established, and that the proceeds from this “regulated hunting” can contribute to conservation.

The Myth of Sustainability

Andrew Murphy, a young Harvard graduate with African experience in the US Peace Corps, works in the WWF’s “Market Transformation” team. He represents the new generation of conservationists. He sees the members of his team as “agents of change,” who can “turn” an entire market. Murphy has plenty of these slogans up his sleeve. He says he wants to make the largest producers of and dealers in commodities like soybeans, milk, palm oil, wood and meat more sustainable. And are there successes? Yes, he says, noting that companies now want to see where the commodities come from. “Bulletproof” monitoring systems have been set up, he adds. Murphy is referring to standards like the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS).

The organization invited industry to the RTRS in 2004. Wholesalers like Cargill and companies like Monsanto, which has donated $100,000 to the WWF over the years, had a strong presence at the meeting.

“It quickly became clear that this was greenwashing for the genetically modified soybean marketers,” says one attendee, referring to the practice of deceptively marketing a product as environmentally friendly. When a few Europeans wanted to talk about the dangers of the herbicide glyphosate, they were quickly silenced. “The Americans’ killer argument was that they were ‘technologically neutral.’”

The German branch of WWF, officially opposed to genetic engineering, ensured that those who support it were also welcome at the round table. The Germans even paid the travel expenses for representatives of the Argentine branch of the WWF, which was long run by a man with ties to the former military junta and an agricultural industrialist. No one at the round table was interested in the fact that the WWF, together with Swiss retailers, had already unveiled a stricter soybean standard a long time previously.

Undermining Itself

Undermining its own standards seems to be a specialty of the WWF. In fact, it is this flexibility that brings the organization millions in donations from industry. In the case of soybeans, the group attending the round table meeting negotiated and negotiated. It softened some standards and made some concessions, and then, finally, the first 85,000 tons of RTRS soybeans arrived in Rotterdam last June. “It was a success,” says biologist Fleckenstein, noting that the WWF had examined the soybeans carefully. “We were especially pleased that this product was genetically unmodified.” The soybeans had come from two giant farms owned by the Brazilian Maggi family.

The family conglomerate is considered the world’s largest soybean producer, with plantations covering large parts of the state of Mato Grosso in west central Brazil. The Maggis moved there from southern Brazil in the 1980s, bringing their workers with them. They cleared a large swath of the savannah rainforest and planted soybeans.

Blairo Maggi became the governor of the state, and in 2005 Greenpeace presented him with its “Golden Chainsaw” award. In no other Brazilian state was as much virgin forest cut down as in Maggi’s soybean republic. The areas now occupied by his RTRS model farms were cleared only a few years ago. According to RTRS, the two farms are the only suppliers of the 85,000 tons of certified soybeans that arrived in Rotterdam in June.

The only problem is that nothing on the Maggi farms is genetically unmodified.

Satisfying European Demand

A white tank, 10 meters tall and with a capacity of thousands of liters, stands in the shade of a warehouse at the Fazenda Tucunaré farm. The tank is labeled “Glifosato,” the Portuguese word for the herbicide glyphosate. The buildings housing the workers are only a few hundred meters away. Behind a fence, there are ditches full of foul-smelling water with a green, shimmering surface. Next to the ditches is a depot where signs with skulls on them warn: “Caution. Highly Toxic!”

Glyphosate is popular as an herbicide for genetically manipulated soybeans, because the plant is resistant to the agent, which kills weeds. Despite a growing number of critical studies showing, for example, that the agent causes reproductive problems in animals, the RTRS system permits its use.

Other pesticides are also not a problem for RTRS, which merely asks that they be “used sensibly,” says João Shimada, the sustainability manager at Grupo Maggi. It isn’t so easy to explain what happened with the 85,000 tons of soybeans, he says. “In truth, we provided those soybeans to satisfy demand coming from Europe.” Since then, companies like Unilever have boasted about using sustainable soybeans. In reality, no more than 8,000 tons came from the two farms.

“I don’t know where the other 77,000 tons came from, either,” says Shimada.

Cooperating with the Chinese

This magical proliferation of a supposedly sustainable commodity is known in the industry as “book and claim.” It is the result of the supposedly bulletproof monitoring system that the young WWF expert Andrew Murphy raves about. Some 300,000 tons of this allegedly sustainable commodity already exist.

In Gland, the sun is setting over Lake Geneva. Murphy is in a hurry. He is on his way to China to save nature there. Although the WWF still isn’t permitted to recruit members in China, cooperative agreements with party officials could certainly also be beneficial to the environment.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Cross-posted from Global Transition 2012

Rio+20 will be the most important global summit for decades as the world faces financial, energy, climate, ecological and food crises. Multinational companies and developed countries want to impose the “green economy” at Rio+20 to save the capitalist system, says the Bolivian Climate Change Platform*.

The proposed version of the green economy aims to turn nature´s functions and cycles such as carbon capture and oxygen generation by trees into fictitious products, referred to as “environmental services”, to be bought and sold on markets. Not only does this fail to make sense in the real world (how do you sell air on a stock exchange?) but it is presented as the solution to all of our problems. Can proponents of the green economy really expect the same financial instruments that plunged the global economy into recession, will somehow protect nature and at the same time reduce poverty?

Putting a price on nature is not the solution and will only benefit big capital, while deepening the multiple crises we are facing.

It gets worse. The green economy could potentially violate human rights recognised in international treaties. This includes the rights to: life, health, water, a healthy environment, a dignified life, and the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and territory. A letter by local communities in the Amazonian region of Acre argues that the selling of “environmental services” from the rainforest directly limits their access to the territories they depend on to survive.

Over the last few decades the word “green” has been associated with environmental policies and renewable energy, but it has been hijacked by multinational companies to improve their image while they continue their control and destruction of the environment.

Just one example is a subsidiary of mining company Goldcorp contaminating local communities water supplies in Honduras while the NGO WWF says

Goldcorp is committed to responsible mining practices and…has the potential to lead significant conservation successes.

The flawed green economy

If we want to protect the environment for future generations we cannot accept the current version of the green economy which is based on UNEP reports. This is because it continues to pursue the false idea of limitless economic growth in a world that has limits.

The green economy is a distraction that does not resolve our dependency on extractive industries and fossil fuels. It is simply a way of maintaing the same capitalist model that is destroying the environment and deepening climate change with token “green” changes and a whole new set of markets to invest in “natural capital”.

Scientists have warned us that even with current country commitments the planet will see a 4°C increase in global average temperature by 2100 (IPCC) leading to hundreds of millions being displaced and made even poorer.

The mainstream vision of the green economy is based on the idea that multinationals or countries can simply offset their emissions by investing in “environmental services” which give them the license to continue polluting at exactly the same levels as they are now. We reject these false solutions such as carbon markets, nuclear energy, artificial carbon capture and storage (CCS) and biofuels that are also proposed to be part of the green economy.

Alternatives to the Green Economy

We do not own nature; we are part of Mother Earth.

It will not be possible to find a solution to the current crisis in an economic vision based on the ownership of nature. We do not own nature; we are part of Mother Earth. There is an urgent need to change the paradigm of capitalist development and to begin a transition to a new global economic model to re-establish the balance with Mother Earth. But, alternative visions already exist.

The vision of Living Well (Vivir Bien) and the Rights of Mother Earth is to live in harmony with nature on the basis of complementarity and solidarity between peoples. There needs to be an equal redistribution of wealth and production models must be directed to meet the needs of women and men, whilst respecting and caring for Mother Earth rather than promoting the accumulation of wealth.

These ideas form the basis of the concrete proposals put forward by global civil society when over 30,000 people met at the World People´s Conference on Climate Change held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010. Proposals for other forms of development must respect and recognise the cosmovisions (world views) of indigenous peoples such as the right to collective territory, ancestral knowledge and holistic management of their economies.

We need to go beyond the concepts of “environmental services” and “natural capital”. Indigenous peoples have applied alternative models for the holistic management and use of forests, water and land for generations. There are ways to care for the environment without buying and selling it.

The following projects that destroy Mother Earth must be stopped:

  • opencast mining,
  • large scale dams (so called “clean energy”),
  •  oil and gas exploitation in ecologically sensitive zones, and
  • the road through the TIPNIS national park in Bolivia.

The green economy in Bolivia

As Bolivian civil society we know that the green economy is not the solution and will resist it being imposed in our country. The Bolivian Climate Change Platform demands that the Bolivian government is not complicit with this new strategy of capitalism and does not sign the Rio+20 agreement because the green economy will violate rights enshrined in the Bolivian Constitution including among others: the essential right to water, self-determination of indigenous peoples and sovereignty.

As well as a discourse in defence of Mother Earth the Bolivian government should implement specific policies to begin a gradual transition to a new model.

So in the run up to Rio+20 and beyond, we call upon social movements and international civil society to build alliances to resist the the mainstream ideas of the green economy in the next few years. Instead, we should work together to build a new development model to achieve the goal of Living Well (Vivir Bien) in harmony with Mother Earth.

* The complete text of the Bolivian Climate Change Platform position on Rio+20 can be found at this link(http://www.cambioclimatico.org.bo/derechosmt/052012/100512_2.pdf). The Platform is a civil society network with representatives from the two main indigenous movements who represent 36 indigenous nations, water movements, small-scale farming associations and key NGOs from across Bolivia. Website:http://www.cambioclimatico.org.bo/

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

Cross-posted from Global Transition 2012

Rio+20 will be the most important global summit for decades as the world faces financial, energy, climate, ecological and food crises. Multinational companies and developed countries want to impose the “green economy” at Rio+20 to save the capitalist system, says the Bolivian Climate Change Platform*.

The proposed version of the green economy aims to turn nature´s functions and cycles such as carbon capture and oxygen generation by trees into fictitious products, referred to as “environmental services”, to be bought and sold on markets. Not only does this fail to make sense in the real world (how do you sell air on a stock exchange?) but it is presented as the solution to all of our problems. Can proponents of the green economy really expect the same financial instruments that plunged the global economy into recession, will somehow protect nature and at the same time reduce poverty?

Putting a price on nature is not the solution and will only benefit big capital, while deepening the multiple crises we are facing.

It gets worse. The green economy could potentially violate human rights recognised in international treaties. This includes the rights to: life, health, water, a healthy environment, a dignified life, and the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and territory. A letter by local communities in the Amazonian region of Acre argues that the selling of “environmental services” from the rainforest directly limits their access to the territories they depend on to survive.

Over the last few decades the word “green” has been associated with environmental policies and renewable energy, but it has been hijacked by multinational companies to improve their image while they continue their control and destruction of the environment.

Just one example is a subsidiary of mining company Goldcorp contaminating local communities water supplies in Honduras while the NGO WWF says

Goldcorp is committed to responsible mining practices and…has the potential to lead significant conservation successes.

The flawed green economy

If we want to protect the environment for future generations we cannot accept the current version of the green economy which is based on UNEP reports. This is because it continues to pursue the false idea of limitless economic growth in a world that has limits.

The green economy is a distraction that does not resolve our dependency on extractive industries and fossil fuels. It is simply a way of maintaing the same capitalist model that is destroying the environment and deepening climate change with token “green” changes and a whole new set of markets to invest in “natural capital”.

Scientists have warned us that even with current country commitments the planet will see a 4°C increase in global average temperature by 2100 (IPCC) leading to hundreds of millions being displaced and made even poorer.

The mainstream vision of the green economy is based on the idea that multinationals or countries can simply offset their emissions by investing in “environmental services” which give them the license to continue polluting at exactly the same levels as they are now. We reject these false solutions such as carbon markets, nuclear energy, artificial carbon capture and storage (CCS) and biofuels that are also proposed to be part of the green economy.

Alternatives to the Green Economy

We do not own nature; we are part of Mother Earth.

It will not be possible to find a solution to the current crisis in an economic vision based on the ownership of nature. We do not own nature; we are part of Mother Earth. There is an urgent need to change the paradigm of capitalist development and to begin a transition to a new global economic model to re-establish the balance with Mother Earth. But, alternative visions already exist.

The vision of Living Well (Vivir Bien) and the Rights of Mother Earth is to live in harmony with nature on the basis of complementarity and solidarity between peoples. There needs to be an equal redistribution of wealth and production models must be directed to meet the needs of women and men, whilst respecting and caring for Mother Earth rather than promoting the accumulation of wealth.

These ideas form the basis of the concrete proposals put forward by global civil society when over 30,000 people met at the World People´s Conference on Climate Change held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010. Proposals for other forms of development must respect and recognise the cosmovisions (world views) of indigenous peoples such as the right to collective territory, ancestral knowledge and holistic management of their economies.

We need to go beyond the concepts of “environmental services” and “natural capital”. Indigenous peoples have applied alternative models for the holistic management and use of forests, water and land for generations. There are ways to care for the environment without buying and selling it.

The following projects that destroy Mother Earth must be stopped:

  • opencast mining,
  • large scale dams (so called “clean energy”),
  •  oil and gas exploitation in ecologically sensitive zones, and
  • the road through the TIPNIS national park in Bolivia.

The green economy in Bolivia

As Bolivian civil society we know that the green economy is not the solution and will resist it being imposed in our country. The Bolivian Climate Change Platform demands that the Bolivian government is not complicit with this new strategy of capitalism and does not sign the Rio+20 agreement because the green economy will violate rights enshrined in the Bolivian Constitution including among others: the essential right to water, self-determination of indigenous peoples and sovereignty.

As well as a discourse in defence of Mother Earth the Bolivian government should implement specific policies to begin a gradual transition to a new model.

So in the run up to Rio+20 and beyond, we call upon social movements and international civil society to build alliances to resist the the mainstream ideas of the green economy in the next few years. Instead, we should work together to build a new development model to achieve the goal of Living Well (Vivir Bien) in harmony with Mother Earth.

* The complete text of the Bolivian Climate Change Platform position on Rio+20 can be found at this link(http://www.cambioclimatico.org.bo/derechosmt/052012/100512_2.pdf). The Platform is a civil society network with representatives from the two main indigenous movements who represent 36 indigenous nations, water movements, small-scale farming associations and key NGOs from across Bolivia. Website:http://www.cambioclimatico.org.bo/

By Patrick Bond

The debate over the Green Economy rages on next month in Rio de Janeiro, at theInternational Society for Ecological Economics meetings, the Cupula dos Povos alternative people’s summit, and the UN’s Rio+20 Earth Summit. Proponents and critics of ‘green growth’ capitalism will butt heads using narratives about valuations of nature and the efficacy of markets.

Boiling down a complex argument from her book Eco-Sufficiency Global Justice, University of Sydney-based political ecologist Ariel Salleh observes how a triple externalization of costs ‘takes the form of an extraction of surpluses, both economic and thermodynamic: 1) a social debt to inadequately paid workers; 2) an embodied debt to women family caregivers; and 3) an ecological debt drawn on nature at large.’

At minimum, addressing these problems requires full-fledged re-accounting to toss out the fatally-flawed GDP indicator, and to internalize environment and society in the ways we assess costs and benefits. This exercise would logically both precede and catalyze a full-fledged transformation of financing, extraction, production, transport and distribution, consumption and disposal systems.

But it is only in the struggle for transformation that we learn how institutions of power hold fast to their privileges, and why genuine change won’t happen through mere tampering with national income accounts: ‘torturing the data until they confess’, the old economists’ adage.

The World Bank is one such institution, in part because the man taking charge next month,Jim Yong Kim, is a progressive medic and anthropologist. It’s fair to predict that he’ll add style to the Bank’s ‘talk left, walk right’ break-dance repertoire, spinning out arguments that will make our heads spin, while business continues more or less as usual.

A good example of environmental reformist PR can be found in the new Bank report,Inclusive Green Growth. ‘Care must be taken to ensure that cities and roads, factories, and farms are designed, managed, and regulated as efficiently as possible to wisely use natural resources while supporting the robust growth developing countries still need,’ argue Bank staff led by Inger Andersen and Rachel Kyte, in order to move the economy ‘away from suboptimalities and increase efficiency – and hence contribute to short-term growth – while protecting the environment.’

Of course, certain uses of resources are off limits for polite discussion, as Bank staff dare not question financiers’ commodity speculation, export-led growth or the irrationality of so much international trade, including wasted bunker fuel for shipping not to mention truck freight.

Yet the Bank cannot help but momentarily inject a power variable into its technicist analysis: ‘That so much pricing is currently inefficient suggests complex political economy considerations. Whether it takes the form of preferential access to land and credit or access to cheap energy and resources, every subsidy creates its own lobby. Large enterprises (both state owned and private) have political power and lobbying capacity. Energy-intensive export industries, for example, will lobby for subsidies to maintain their competitiveness.’

Would the Bank dare practice what it preaches about ending ‘inefficient’ subsidization, given how it amplifies irrational power relations when maintaining the world’s largest fossil-fuel financing portfolio? When Inclusive Green Growth argues that ‘Governments need to focus on the wider social benefits of reforms and need to be willing to stand up to lobby groups’, we cannot forget the Bank’s own largest-ever project credit, granted just two years ago. The $3.75 billion loan for a 4800 MW coal-fired power plant (‘Medupi’) was, according to outgoing Bank president Robert Zoellick and his colleagues, aimed at helping poor South Africans.

In reality the benefits are overwhelmingly to mining houses which get the world’s cheapest electricity (around US$0.02/kWh). The costs of Medupi and its successor Kusile are borne not just by all who will suffer from climate change (including an estimated 180 million additionally dead Africans this century). All South Africans are losing access to electricity through disconnections, and as a result, engaging in world-leading rates of community protest because to pay for Medupi and Kusile, price increases have exceeded 100 percent over the past four years.

The Bank’s Inclusive Green Growth arguments always return to profit incentives: ‘If the environment is considered as productive capital, it makes sense to invest in it, and environmental policies can be considered as investment.’

The nature-as-capital narrative leans dangerously close to the maniacal positioning of former Bank officials Larry Summers and Lant Pritchett, who in 1991 wrote their infamous memo in preparation for the original Rio conference: ‘The economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste on the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.’

Facing up to pollution externalities is deceptively simple within the Bank’s pre-existing neoliberal narrative, of fixing a market problem with a market solution. For example, ‘Lack of property rights in the sea has led to overfishing – in some cases with devastating results. The use of individual transferable quotas can correct this market failure, increasing both output and employment in the fishing industry.’

The Bank’s banal reversion to transferable quotas – also known as cap-and-trade – is most extreme in the greenhouse gas markets, where its writers fail to acknowledge profound flaws that have crashed the price of a ton of carbon from €35 to €7 these last six years. The Bank, which subsidizes carbon trading, mentions only a few allegedly-fixable European Union Emissions Trading Scheme design problems. It ignores the deeper critique of carbon markets developed, for example, in our new report, “CDMs Cannot Deliver the Money to Africa.”

Here’s an unintended consequence of Bank-think, however: if you do factor what it terms ‘natural capital’ into the national accounts, you find that when non-renewable resources are dug out of the soil, there should logically be a debit against genuine national savings (i.e. a decline in a country’s natural capital) instead of just a momentary credit to GDP.

Thus in many situations it becomes logical to leave resources in the ground (sacrilege!), especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, because since the commodity boom began in the early 2000s, according to another recent Bank report (The Changing Wealth of Nations), my home region has suffered negative genuine savings – ‘looting’ – mainly because of non-renewable resource decay in the context of resource-cursed neo-colonial politics.

 

I’ve had this argument with the Bank’s dogmatic chief Africa economist, Shanta Devarajan, and needn’t rehash it. Instead, let’s turn from Bank babble to listen to those at the base with more profound insights:

‘Today, those who have created the ecological crisis talk of the Green Economy. For them, the Green Economy means appropriating the remaining resources of the planet for profit — from seed and biodiversity to land and water as well as our skills, such as the environmental services we provide. For us, the privatization and commodification of nature, her species, her ecosystems, and her ecosystem services cannot be part of a Green Economy, for such an approach cannot take into account our traditions. The resources of the Earth are for the welfare of all, not the profits of a few.’

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society. This originally appeared at TripleCrisis blog: http://triplecrisis.com/inclusive-green-growth-or-extractive-greenwashed-decay/#more-6011

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Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

Cross-posted from IPS News

IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen Interviews BRANISLAV GOSOVIC, author and former staffer on the Brundtland Commission on Environment

Branislav Gosovic / Credit:Courtesy of Branislav Gosovic
Branislav Gosovic

Credit:Courtesy of Branislav Gosovic

UNITED NATIONS, May 29, 2012 (IPS) – The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was to a large extent derailed by a North-South divide: a battle between a coalition of rich industrial nations versus the world’s developing countries led by the Group of 77.

“North-South divide is deep and intense,” says Branislav Gosovic, who was a member of the South Centre delegation to the Earth Summit in June 1992.

In some ways, he pointed out, the current divisions are more so than at the time of the 1972 U.N. Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Sweden, the first major international conference on the environment, and the subsequent Earth Summit 20 years later.

“And no doubt the (North-South) division will affect the proceedings and outcomes of Rio+20,” predicted Gosovic, author of “The Quest for World Environmental Cooperation: The Case of the U.N. Global Environment Monitoring System,” and who served on the staff of the 1983Brundtland Commission which raised awareness of the world’s environmental and development problems.

Gosovic said tensions remain high between North and South, as witnessed at the UNCTAD XIII meeting in Qatar last month.

In an interview with IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen, he said that issues outstanding since 1964, when the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was launched, continue to spoil the North-South dialogue.

“These will be present at the Rio+20 encounter,” he added.

The Rio+20 summit, formally known as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), will take place in Brazil Jun. 20- 22.

Stressing the importance of the 1972 conference, Gosovic also insists on calling Rio+20 by another name: Stockholm+40.

As weeklong negotiations began Tuesday, in another attempt to finalise what is known as the “outcome document” for the summit, the 193-member Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) remained divided.

The deadlock between North and South is over several disputed issues, including financing and transfer of technology.

“It should not be surprising that developing countries are rather suspicious of the ultimate motivations and practical implications of the recently launched concept of ‘green economy’ and of the institutional moves to create a specialised agency on environment,” said Gosovic.

These, he said, would be outside the scope of the U.N. General Assembly, and more dependent for funding on developed countries and corporations.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: As someone who participated in the 1992 Earth Summit, how confident or sceptical are you on the final outcome of Rio+20? 

A: I am not optimistic about great achievements and major breakthroughs at Rio+20. This gathering is taking place at a difficult moment in global and national economies, and after 20 years of neoliberal globalisation predominance.

The former means that the heads of state will be preoccupied with responses to the current crisis they are not sure how to manage and overcome; the latter has done damage to the global sustainable development agenda, and has stalled or rolled back some of the policy and conceptual advances made in the earlier period, up to and at (the summit) in Rio.

Q: How much faith do you have in the Rio+20 outcome document currently under negotiation? 

A: The document negotiated keeps many of the ideas and objectives alive. But, weeks before the event, bracketed paragraphs (indicating disagreement) and ambiguous wording on key issues signal lack of agreement and mean that the international community is in for a continuing period of drought.

However, I dare be optimistic that in the longer run and following the neoliberal globalisation interlude, given the maturing of many issues and concerns and aggravation of global problems identified 40 years ago at Stockholm, Rio+20 may mark the onset of a more promising 20-year period of international cooperation on the way to the “Stockholm+60 i.e. Rio+40″ gathering.

Q: How best can these be achieved? 

A: This will require hard work, commitment and leadership of some countries that are in a position to offer it, and involvement of social forces in a genuine global movement.

And more importantly, it will entail major structural and paradigmatic changes in how the human society is organised, nationally and globally, a key which will open the door for achieving many of the currently elusive or unattainable goals.

To no surprise, such changes will be resisted and fought tooth and nail, with all means available, by those who oppose them.

Q: Do you think there is a repetition of the 1992 North-South divide in the current negotiations for the Rio+20 plan of action titled “The Future We Want”? 

A: The North-South divide has been there for more than six decades, since the very early days of the United Nations. It affected and determined the outcomes of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, and the manner in which the whole environmental agenda was conceptualised, as an environment-development agenda.

It was present in the report and proceedings of the Brundtland Commission, i.e. World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), and then at Rio 1992 and at Johannesburg 2002. And, as the negotiations of the draft outcome document illustrate, it is going to play a central role at Rio+20.

One can make a case that the environmental issues were piggy-backed on the international development agenda, and vice versa; global environmental problems could not be resolved and dealt with without the South and developing countries participating, developing and becoming equal partners in the undertaking.

Thus environment-development twin at UNCHE and its more recent version of sustainable development, adopted at UNCED (the 1992 Earth Summit). They cannot be wished away, as some in the developed countries do, trying to find divisions and differentiation within the South.

And they will continue until such time when the North changes its policy and assumes the position of solidarity and genuinely adheres to the Rio principle of “common and differentiated responsibilities”.

Instead, one witnesses eager efforts to morph the environmental agenda into a major business and job creation opportunity, and to project the image of key developing countries as the principal global environmental threat, and in climate change-related negotiations to pit against them smaller groupings of vulnerable developing countries in their never-ending efforts to divide the Group of 77.

In sum, North-South conflict is well and alive, it will be present at Rio+20 and it will continue for the foreseeable future.

Q. How does agenda 21 and Rio+20 stack up against the landmark Bundtland Commission report? Have we made any substantial progress since that report and also since the 1972 Stockholm conference on the environment?

A: The Rio+20 document is a product of committee drafting process and negotiations. As such, it cannot match WCED or UNCED outcomes, both of which were produced by teams dedicated to the task who worked together over a lengthy period of time.

On the other hand, most of the themes that were articulated in WCED report and Agenda 21 can be found in Rio+20 draft document, though often worded in a manner which indicates lack of consensus and of commitment to act.

While progress has been made in a number of areas since UNCHE, WCED and UNCED, but on key outstanding issues and underlying conflicts, there has been little or no movement. These continue to be topical and will play a major role at Rio+20.

As mentioned above, one of these conflicts has to do with North-South divisions, the international development agenda and the related issue of the existing global and political order which is being challenged.

The other conflict, less visible to the eye, has to do with the nature of the dominant socioeconomic order, or paradigm, which is challenged globally as non-sustainable socially and environmentally. This conflict is present within the North and within the South. There has been little progress in practice on fundamental issues of this kind.

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

By Ida Karlsson, cross-posted from IPS News

Ikeas wholly owned subsidiary, Swedwood, cuts down about 1,400 acres of virgin forest a year.  / Credit: William Murphy/CC-BY-SA-2.0
Ikea’s wholly owned subsidiary, Swedwood, cuts down about 1,400 acres of virgin forest a year. 

STOCKHOLM, May 29, 2012 (IPS) – The home furnishing giant Ikea, founded in Sweden in 1943, is facing heavy criticism for the logging and clear-cutting of old-growth forests in the north of Russian Karelia by its wholly owned subsidiary Swedwood.

According to leading environmental organisations, such logging is destroying ancient and unique forests that have a high conservation value.

Wood is by far the primary raw material in Ikea’s products. Roughly 60 percent of the products stocked in the multinational’s 300 department stores around the world contain wood in any form.

For years, the company has used the “We Love Wood” slogan to promote the fact that Ikea only uses wood obtained in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way.

But recent reports and studies prove that this proclamation is a myth.

An investigative report released last month by Swedish public service television found that Swedwood cuts down about 1,400 acres of forest a year.

“We have a (limited) amount of old-growth forest in the north of Russian Karelia with high conservation value. Ikea says they don’t operate in old-growth forests but it is not true,” Olga Ilina, head of the forest department of the NGO SPOK, the Karelia Regional Nature Conservancy, told IPS.

Now only about 10 percent of the ancient old-growth forests remain in Karelia, according to Ilina.

The Global Forest Coalition, an alliance of NGOs in more than 40 countries, strongly condemned Ikea’s activities in Russia.

Protect the Forest, Sweden, a nature conservation organisation, has documented that Ikea, through Swedwood, clear-cut areas of old-growth forest containing 200-600 year-old trees in the northwest of Karelia, near the Finnish border, a process that is having deep ramifications on the invaluable forest ecosystems.

The belt of virgin forest in Russia, together with the tropical rainforests along the equator, performs vital functions for life on earth: forest belts bind huge amounts of carbon dioxide and are home to hundreds of thousands of unique animal and plant species.

The report also stressed that Swedwood is certified by the international forestry organisation Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which claims to ensure “responsibly managed forests”.

On paper FSC has strict rules for certification that ensure protection of ancient forests. But in reality there are some gaps in regulation, according to Andrei Ptichnikov, general manager of FSC in Russia.

“You can’t say that FSC can protect all forests. If we (claimed) to protect every tree, no company would (register) with FSC. It is not realistic. It is always a compromise,” he told Swedish TV journalists recently.

Anders Hildeman, forest manager at Ikea, acknowledged the charges but stood by the company line that Ikea takes high conservation values into account when they plan their logging.

“We will continue to work according to the principles that we agreed on together with Russian environmental organisations like SPOK. Our goal is to develop and improve forest management. Swedwood has played an important role in the advancement of forestry in Karelia,” he told IPS.

Hildeman says Swedwood was the first FSC-certified company in Karelia back in 2006. According to him FSC certification is a good basis for responsible forest management.

Ilina said Swedish and Russian NGOs had planned to meet with Ikea officials to discuss the situation in north Karelia but when company only agreed to meet with the Russian organisations, the meeting was called off.

“Swedwood operates in a better way than local Karelian companies but we think they can do much better considering their resources. They could plan their forestry better and make it more ecologically friendly. They should log secondary forests that are not so valuable instead of virgin forestry. Ikea has the means to do this,” Ilina told IPS.

Ikea’s total profits between 2000 and 2008 amounted to some 30 billion dollars, according to the company’s annual financial reports.

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Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

San Francisco, CA – At a press conference today, labor and community leaders from Brazil, Ecuador, Nigeria, Angola, California and Texas revealed the true cost of Chevron’s operations in the places where they live.

They will take their message to Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, May 30 where they will make clear that those paying the price for Chevron’s profits will no longer tolerate or subsidize its bad corporate citizenship and negligent, risky and dangerous operations.

“Tomorrow, I join with the United Steelworkers to call on Chevron to increase the safety of its oil rigs and refineries the world-over and to tell Chevron that its outrageous neglect for local communities and the environment from Brazil to Ecuador, from Nigeria to California, will not go unanswered,” said João Antonio de Moraes, National Coordinator of Brazil’s largest oil workers union, the United Federation of Oil Workers (FUP).

The FUP filed suit in March demanding the cancelation of all of Chevron’s oil and gas contracts in Brazil in the wake of the companies offshore oil spills there.

“After 18 years, we won a historic legal victory against Chevron, but it doesn’t want to accept responsibility for the environmental crimes caused in our lands,” said Robinson Yumbo, President of the National Indigenous Federation of the Cofan Tribe, Ecuador. ”The Cofan people, just like thousands of others, have suffered so much at the hands of Chevron. I plan to inform the company that all of the human pain they have caused will soon turn into financial pain for the company.”

“Chevron’s legal problems are on the rise and with them investors are being exposed to greater financial risk,” said Ginger Cassady of Rainforest Action Network. “Last week, Institutional Shareholders and Glass Lewis announced their support for a resolution calling for a separation of Watson’s role as board chairperson and CEO. The impetus for the resolution was due to Watson’s mishandling of the Ecuador oil contamination case.”

Chevron’s AGM takes place under a darkening cloud of mounting pressure from governments, shareholders, global labor and community leaders and the increasingly organized 99%. Joining a historic season of revolt at shareholder meetings across the country, representatives from Brazil, Ecuador, Nigeria, Angola, Richmond, and more will attend the AGM and participate in a shareholder revolt, presenting seven critical resolutions. Outside, the 99% Power Coalition, MoveOn, Occupy, United Steelworkers, 350.org, and local community organizations will hold a colorful, creative, and conspicuous protest.

“Chevron is killing people for profit,” said Cristóvão LuembaRádio Ecclesia correspondent, Cabinda, Angola. ”Chevron’s constant offshore oil spills have decimated fisheries and compromised the livelihoods and subsistence of coastal communities. Its constant acts of impunity aresupported by an authoritarian regime that cares more about oil revenues than the lives of its people.”

“On January 16, the world stood still for the people of Nigeria’s Bayelsa state when a giant explosion came from Chevron’s Apoi North Gas Wellhead, killing two workers,” said Emem Okon, of the Kebetkache Women Development Resource Centre in Nigeria. “The fires burned for months and the evidence of Chevron’s destruction still floats on the waters and the people have yet to recover.”

“Chevron’s Richmond Refinery is the largest industrial greenhouse gas emitter in California and the largest source of CO2 and criteria air pollutant emissions in Richmond,” said Nile Malloy of Communities for a Better Environment of Oakland, California. “Will Chevron commit to support policies that protect community health and our environment from increased and prolonged pollution caused by refining heavier, dirtier oil?”

More Events:

PROTEST, RALLY SHARHEOLDER REVOLT

Wednesday, May 30 8:00-11:00am PST

Chevron World Headquarters, 6001 Bollinger Canyon, San Ramon, CA

Contacts: Antonia Juhasz, cvxmedia@gmail.com, 415-846-5447

Kerul Dyer, Kdyer@ran.org, 415-866-0005

####

The True Cost of Chevron began as a handful of Chevron-impacted communities nearly a decade ago, and grew to a network of over 40 community and national organizations, from or representing 20 countries or U.S. states, working together to mount direct challenges to Chevron’s human rights, environmental, climatic, public health, workers rights other abuses. It has produced three Alternative Annual Reports for Chevron.

 

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Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

Cross-posted from Agence France-Presse

On a mountain of trash, a man takes a quick break in a sliver of shade before resuming his sorting work in Latin America's largest garbage dump hugging Rio's famed Guanabara Bay. But soon, he'll have to look for a new job. Ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development summit next month, which will draw tens of thousands of people into the city, authorities are shutting down the 36-year-old landfill known as Gramacho. Built on a swamp, it swallows up 70 percent of the garbage produced by this huge metropolis of 11.8 million people. But the ground is unstable and shakes under the weight of the trucks that rumble through. The dump's pending demise, repeatedly postponed and now slated for June 1, has left thousands of trash pickers -- called catadores -- wondering what will become of them. The closure of the dump will have a very big impact on us since for many this was the only source of income, 32-year-old Ana Carla Nistaldo, who has spent half of her life in the nearby town of Gramacho, home to 20,000 people, told AFP. What will happen to the families? Catadores run a myriad of risks to sift through refuse and separate out recyclable materials -- plastics, cans, paper or soda bottles -- and sell them either to middlemen or directly to one of 42 local recycling centers. They can make up to $45 a day in a country where the minimum monthly wage is $306. City officials say the trash-picking business has brought in a total of nearly $12 million since the dump was opened in 1976. It is better to be a 'catador' in a dump than to be a thief to earn a living, said 57-year-old Giova Correia dos Santos. I earn clean and honest money. Authorities had initially tried and failed to shut down Gramacho in 2004, when it was taking in some 8,000 tons of trash a day, after a series of leaks. But when word spread that the dump was finally being closed next month, some 2,000 catadores banded together in protest to demand compensation. As a result, the city rewarded 1,600 of them with a $7,500 payoff. To get $7,500 is nothing for those who have worked here all their lives, said Nistaldo, whose home boasts two television sets, a microwave and a DVD player. I raised my children with money from the garbage and they had everything they needed, she added. Others are also at a loss on how to survive going forward. My dreams are over, echoed 34-year-old Valeria da Silva. I have nothing left. As of June, trash from Gramacho will now be transferred to another, privately-owned dump. Another firm will handle methane gas from Gramacho, which over a 15-year period will earn some $232 million in carbon credits, according to city officials. Carbon credits -- one credit being equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide -- is awarded to organizations or countries which have cut their greenhouse gas emissions below their set quota. These credits can then be used and traded on an international market. Known as Rio+20, the June 20-22 UN summit is the fourth major meeting on sustainable development since 1972 and is expected to draw 115 world leaders and 50,000 participants. Topics to be discussed include food security, water access, energy and biodiversity.  (AFP)

But soon, he’ll have to look for a new job.

Ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable developmentsummit next month, which will draw tens of thousands of people into the city, authorities are shutting down the 36-year-old landfill known as Gramacho.

Built on a swamp, it swallows up 70 percent of the garbage produced by this huge metropolis of 11.8 million people. But the ground is unstable and shakes under the weight of the trucks that rumble through.

The dump’s pending demise, repeatedly postponed and now slated for June 1, has left thousands of trash pickers – called “catadores” — wondering what will become of them.

“The closure of the dump will have a very big impact on us since for many this was the only source of income,” 32-year-old Ana Carla Nistaldo, who has spent half of her life in the nearby town ofGramacho, home to 20,000 people, told AFP. “What will happen to the families?”

“Catadores” run a myriad of risks to sift through refuse and separate out recyclable materials — plastics, cans, paper or soda bottles — and sell them either to middlemen or directly to one of 42 local recycling centers.

They can make up to $45 a day in a country where the minimum monthly wage is $306. City officials say the trash-picking business has brought in a total of nearly $12 million since the dump was opened in 1976.

“It is better to be a ‘catador’ in a dump than to be a thief to earn a living,” said 57-year-old Giova Correia dos Santos. “I earn clean and honest money.”

Authorities had initially tried and failed to shut down Gramacho in 2004, when it was taking in some 8,000 tons of trash a day, after a series of leaks.

But when word spread that the dump was finally being closed next month, some 2,000 “catadores” banded together in protest to demand compensation. As a result, the city rewarded 1,600 of them with a $7,500 payoff.

“To get $7,500 is nothing for those who have worked here all their lives,” said Nistaldo, whose home boasts two television sets, a microwave and a DVD player.

“I raised my children with money from the garbage and they had everything they needed, she added.

Others are also at a loss on how to survive going forward.

“My dreams are over,” echoed 34-year-old Valeria da Silva. “I have nothing left.”

As of June, trash from Gramacho will now be transferred to another, privately-owned dump.

Another firm will handle methane gas from Gramacho, which over a 15-year period will earn some $232 million in carbon credits, according to city officials.

Carbon credits — one credit being equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide — is awarded to organizations or countries which have cut their greenhouse gas emissions below their set quota. These credits can then be used and traded on an international market.

Known as Rio+20, the June 20-22 UN summit is the fourth major meeting on sustainable development since 1972 and is expected to draw 115 world leaders and 50,000 participants. Topics to be discussed include food security, water access, energy and biodiversity.

Article source: GJEP Climate Connections Blog

Cross-posted from Agence France-Presse

On a mountain of trash, a man takes a quick break in a sliver of shade before resuming his sorting work in Latin America's largest garbage dump hugging Rio's famed Guanabara Bay. But soon, he'll have to look for a new job. Ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development summit next month, which will draw tens of thousands of people into the city, authorities are shutting down the 36-year-old landfill known as Gramacho. Built on a swamp, it swallows up 70 percent of the garbage produced by this huge metropolis of 11.8 million people. But the ground is unstable and shakes under the weight of the trucks that rumble through. The dump's pending demise, repeatedly postponed and now slated for June 1, has left thousands of trash pickers -- called catadores -- wondering what will become of them. The closure of the dump will have a very big impact on us since for many this was the only source of income, 32-year-old Ana Carla Nistaldo, who has spent half of her life in the nearby town of Gramacho, home to 20,000 people, told AFP. What will happen to the families? Catadores run a myriad of risks to sift through refuse and separate out recyclable materials -- plastics, cans, paper or soda bottles -- and sell them either to middlemen or directly to one of 42 local recycling centers. They can make up to $45 a day in a country where the minimum monthly wage is $306. City officials say the trash-picking business has brought in a total of nearly $12 million since the dump was opened in 1976. It is better to be a 'catador' in a dump than to be a thief to earn a living, said 57-year-old Giova Correia dos Santos. I earn clean and honest money. Authorities had initially tried and failed to shut down Gramacho in 2004, when it was taking in some 8,000 tons of trash a day, after a series of leaks. But when word spread that the dump was finally being closed next month, some 2,000 catadores banded together in protest to demand compensation. As a result, the city rewarded 1,600 of them with a $7,500 payoff. To get $7,500 is nothing for those who have worked here all their lives, said Nistaldo, whose home boasts two television sets, a microwave and a DVD player. I raised my children with money from the garbage and they had everything they needed, she added. Others are also at a loss on how to survive going forward. My dreams are over, echoed 34-year-old Valeria da Silva. I have nothing left. As of June, trash from Gramacho will now be transferred to another, privately-owned dump. Another firm will handle methane gas from Gramacho, which over a 15-year period will earn some $232 million in carbon credits, according to city officials. Carbon credits -- one credit being equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide -- is awarded to organizations or countries which have cut their greenhouse gas emissions below their set quota. These credits can then be used and traded on an international market. Known as Rio+20, the June 20-22 UN summit is the fourth major meeting on sustainable development since 1972 and is expected to draw 115 world leaders and 50,000 participants. Topics to be discussed include food security, water access, energy and biodiversity.  (AFP)

But soon, he’ll have to look for a new job.

Ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable developmentsummit next month, which will draw tens of thousands of people into the city, authorities are shutting down the 36-year-old landfill known as Gramacho.

Built on a swamp, it swallows up 70 percent of the garbage produced by this huge metropolis of 11.8 million people. But the ground is unstable and shakes under the weight of the trucks that rumble through.

The dump’s pending demise, repeatedly postponed and now slated for June 1, has left thousands of trash pickers – called “catadores” — wondering what will become of them.

“The closure of the dump will have a very big impact on us since for many this was the only source of income,” 32-year-old Ana Carla Nistaldo, who has spent half of her life in the nearby town ofGramacho, home to 20,000 people, told AFP. “What will happen to the families?”

“Catadores” run a myriad of risks to sift through refuse and separate out recyclable materials — plastics, cans, paper or soda bottles — and sell them either to middlemen or directly to one of 42 local recycling centers.

They can make up to $45 a day in a country where the minimum monthly wage is $306. City officials say the trash-picking business has brought in a total of nearly $12 million since the dump was opened in 1976.

“It is better to be a ‘catador’ in a dump than to be a thief to earn a living,” said 57-year-old Giova Correia dos Santos. “I earn clean and honest money.”

Authorities had initially tried and failed to shut down Gramacho in 2004, when it was taking in some 8,000 tons of trash a day, after a series of leaks.

But when word spread that the dump was finally being closed next month, some 2,000 “catadores” banded together in protest to demand compensation. As a result, the city rewarded 1,600 of them with a $7,500 payoff.

“To get $7,500 is nothing for those who have worked here all their lives,” said Nistaldo, whose home boasts two television sets, a microwave and a DVD player.

“I raised my children with money from the garbage and they had everything they needed, she added.

Others are also at a loss on how to survive going forward.

“My dreams are over,” echoed 34-year-old Valeria da Silva. “I have nothing left.”

As of June, trash from Gramacho will now be transferred to another, privately-owned dump.

Another firm will handle methane gas from Gramacho, which over a 15-year period will earn some $232 million in carbon credits, according to city officials.

Carbon credits — one credit being equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide — is awarded to organizations or countries which have cut their greenhouse gas emissions below their set quota. These credits can then be used and traded on an international market.

Known as Rio+20, the June 20-22 UN summit is the fourth major meeting on sustainable development since 1972 and is expected to draw 115 world leaders and 50,000 participants. Topics to be discussed include food security, water access, energy and biodiversity.