Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Thirsty, Violent World

They say you learn something new everyday. For me, this day qualifies. Michael Specter writes at the New Yorker on the increasingly dire prospects for water -- of the clean, unpolluted kind -- for a clamoring humankind and of the water wars that are surely on the horizon.

And he has this, on the origins of the word "rivals": "After all, the word 'rivals' has its roots in battles over water—coming from the Latin, rivalis, for 'one taking from the same stream as another.'” Who knew? Not me. Specter's prognostication on our looming water disasters is a grim but important read and not just for Pakistanis or Nigerians, but for us in a country in which California is parched for water in a prolonged drought and researchers are predicting humongous droughts coming later in the century for our breadbasket, the Midwest! TomDispatch

A Thirsty, Violent World

Angry protesters filled the streets of Karachi last week, clogging traffic lanes and public squares until police and paratroopers were forced to intervene. That’s not rare in Pakistan, which is often a site of political and religious violence.

But last week’s protests had nothing to do with freedom of expression, drone wars, or Americans. They were about access to water. When Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defense, Power, and Water (yes, that is one ministry), warned that the country’s chronic water shortages could soon become uncontrollable, he was looking on the bright side. The meagre allotment of water available to each Pakistani is a third of what it was in 1950. As the country’s population rises, that amount is falling fast.

Dozens of other countries face similar situations—not someday, or soon, but now. Rapid climate change, population growth, and a growing demand for meat (and, thus, for the water required to grow feed for livestock) have propelled them into a state of emergency. Millions of words have been written, and scores of urgent meetings have been held, since I last wrote about this issue for the magazine, nearly a decade ago; in that time, things have only grown worse.

The various physical calamities that confront the world are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. Each problem fuels others, particularly in the developing world—where the harshest impact of natural catastrophes has always been felt. Yet the water crisis challenges even the richest among us.

California is now in its fourth year of drought, staggering through its worst dry spell in twelve hundred years; farmers have sold their herds, and some have abandoned crops. Cities have begun rationing water. According to the London-based organization Wateraid, water shortages are responsible for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram; there are places in India where hospitals have trouble finding the water required to sterilize surgical tools.

Nowhere, however, is the situation more acute than in Brazil, particularly for the twenty million residents of São Paulo. “You have all the elements for a perfect storm, except that we don’t have water,” a former environmental minister told Lizzie O’Leary, in a recent interview for the syndicated radio show “Marketplace.” The country is bracing for riots. “There is a real risk of social convulsion,” José Galizia Tundisi, a hydrologist with the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, warned in a press conference last week. He said that officials have failed to act with appropriate urgency. “Authorities need to act immediately to avoid the worst.” But people rarely act until the crisis is directly affecting them, and at that point it will be too late.

It is not that we are actually running out of water, because water never technically disappears. When it leaves one place, it goes somewhere else, and the amount of freshwater on earth has not changed significantly for millions of years. But the number of people on the planet has grown exponentially; in just the past century, the population has tripled, and water use has grown sixfold. More than that, we have polluted much of what remains readily available—and climate change has made it significantly more difficult to plan for floods and droughts.

Success is part of the problem, just as it is with the pollution caused by our industrial growth. The standard of living has improved for hundreds of millions of people, and the pace of improvement will quicken. As populations grow more prosperous, vegetarian life styles often yield to a Western diet, with all the disasters that implies. The new middle classes, particularly in India and China, eat more protein than they once did, and that, again, requires more water use. (On average, hundreds of gallons of water are required to produce a single hamburger.)

Feeding a planet with nine billion residents will require at least fifty per cent more water in 2050 than we use today. It is hard to see where that water will come from. Half of the planet already lives in urban areas, and that number will increase along with the pressure to supply clean water.

“Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face, in terms of the crises, as far as water is concerned,” Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, said at a conference on water security earlier this month. “If you look at agricultural products, if you look at animal protein, the demand for which is growing—that’s highly water intensive. At the same time, on the supply side, there are going to be several constraints. Firstly because there are going to be profound changes in the water cycle due to climate change.”

Floods will become more common, and so will droughts, according to most assessments of the warming earth. “The twenty-first-century projections make the [previous] mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the garden of Eden,” Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said recently. At the same time, demands for economic growth in India and other developing nations will necessarily increase pollution of rivers and lakes. That will force people to dig deeper than ever before into the earth for water.

There are ways to replace oil, gas, and coal, though we won’t do that unless economic necessity demands it. But there isn’t a tidy and synthetic invention to replace water. Conservation would help immensely, as would a more rational use of agricultural land—irrigation today consumes seventy per cent of all freshwater.

The result of continued inaction is clear. Development experts, who rarely agree on much, all agree that water wars are on the horizon. That would be nothing new for humanity. After all, the word “rivals” has its roots in battles over water—coming from the Latin, rivalis, for “one taking from the same stream as another.” It would be nice to think that, with our complete knowledge of the physical world, we have moved beyond the limitations our ancestors faced two thousand years ago. But the truth is otherwise; rivals we remain, and the evidence suggests that, until we start dying of thirst, we will stay that way. More


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

“If we win, then every coastal city in the world wins, every fishing village in the world wins.” Seychelles Ambassador to the UN Ronny Jumeau

2015 is big year for the world. A final draft of the Sustainable Development Goals are due by the time heads of state gather in New York for the UN Summit in September.

Ambassador Ronny Jumeau

Then, six weeks later diplomats gather in Paris for the last best chance at striking a global agreement on climate change. Today we are kicking off a regular series we are calling “Meet a 2015er” that will offer glimpses into the life of the UN officials, NGO people, diplomats and advocates as they help shape the international development and climate change agenda this year.

We kick off this series in with Ronny Jumeau, the Seychelles Ambassador to the United Nations. Jumeau often represents the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) in climate change negotiations, but wants to emphasize that these are his own views.

So, we’re sitting here in a snow storm in New York and you are headed to equally cold Geneva for the adaptation meeting of the UNFCC. Let’s talk about the climate change SDG. What is your role in all these negotiations?

My job is to explain things in a way that people understand, without the jargon. We need to move past that and look at the people involved in climate change. We can’t just focus on the science or graphs and figures.

How are the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) feeling about the pace and status of the climate SDG and the climate talks leading up to Paris?

There are so many issues [left] unresolved [by the Lima round of talks in December]. Everybody’s frustrated. Well, maybe not everybody but if you want a strong, ambitious agreement in Paris of course you’re frustrated!

It’s unfortunate that the climate change process has reached a stage where we always say…at least it’s better than nothing. That’s a poor judgement. We say, ‘it could have been worse.’ Everything could have been worse! As long as you’re not dead, it could have been worse.

Sounds quite depressing for the fate of the climate SDG and Paris agreement.

[Laughing] Most resilient of us all are the islands. We are certainly the ones who smile the most, it’s our way of coping. Once you know the worst that can happen [it’s not so bad] — it’s when you don’t know that is the worst. We already know the bottom line…our countries will disappear. We just don’t want that narrative to take over.

There are countries that have approached us who say, you do know if the science is right, that even if we cut all emissions tomorrow, sea level will continue rising. That’s one of the problems AOSIS faces, but the moment you start that conversation, then no one has to listen to you anymore.

What does that mean for how you look at parallel SDG negotiations and Paris climate talks?

The more we make climate change a development narrative, the more attention we get. Tackling climate change cannot be seen as a barrier to pulling people out of poverty. I think we’ve kept that divorced too much. Between pulling out of poverty and climate change, I know which ones will ‘win votes’ as a politician: it’s the poverty reduction.

Our first priority is to make sure that we are still around! So for us, the SDGs and climate change action are one in the same.

Every year AOSIS has a luncheon with the Secretary General. The last time we had lunch and the Ambassadors were speaking, I told them a weak climate agreement will ensure that the SDGs will not succeed. For the SIDS, there can be no sustainable development if the SIDS are not around [due to the affects of climate change.] They go hand in hand.

Can you explain that a bit further?

Most SIDS are heavily dependent on tourism and fisheries. How can we in the SIDS plan the sustainable development of our fisheries, if we don’t know what ocean acidification is going to do? And that’s a climate issue. So until we know how the climate is going to affect the oceans, we can’t plan our biggest industry. Same with agriculture.

Another example is the airport in Seychelles which [ according to the data] will need a new runway to be built at a level that is higher than the whole airport is currently. We need the additional runway to increase tourism, but how do you build it without knowing how high the ocean level will rise and when?

The Secretary General gets it. His Cabinet gets it. But politics comes into play.

We’ll continue the SDGs, of course, but…everyone is saying: whatever you say in the SDG on climate must not pre-judge the Paris agreement [without understanding] that the two cannot be divorced.

Is there hope for a more effective climate SDG

I think we’re going to have SDGs that sound strong, but as long as it’s not strong on the financing! They look good, until someone will say ‘by the way, how are we going to pay for all this?’

Is it really about finance?

It’s all about finance. I think the development narrative has more staying power than the climate narrative because development is about the politics of the developing world. It’s more tangible. That’s what people are elected to do; pull people out of poverty, create jobs. The climate part of that is creating ‘green’ jobs.

One of the ways of getting traction for climate is to say you cannot develop without climate action.

It looks like the meeting in Ethiopia [The Conference on Financing For Development to be held in Addis Ababa this July] is everything. I think that meeting is becoming the whole thing, incredibly important. But, I think people will be saying [once they get to Addis], ‘we’re talking about financing for what now?’

If you take development as something separately from climate change, what are we discussing financing exactly – development projects or climate projects? For the SIDS and [Least Developed Countries] they still go hand in hand, especially in financing context.

Is it necessarily a bad thing to be so focused on finance?

When countries like China and U.S. are interested in solar power, its not because of climate change – it’s business and economic development. I’m not going to argue with that though – whatever it takes to get you to the table!

Will the climate SDG and any agreement that comes out of Paris be completely, separately formulated then?

They [SDGs and UNFCCC] will come together but unfortunately after 2015. We’re so focused now on delivering separately the SDGs, post-2015 development agenda, Paris agreement – but they’re all inter-related. I can understand if someone says, ‘look when it comes to climate change, let’s just develop Paris and not complicate it further.

The trouble is on the one hand: delivering it, on the other hand: are we going to deliver something weak and then start talking?

What happens if there is a weak climate SDG and subsequently, a weak deal in Paris? Why should other countries care what happens to the SIDS as a result?

At first we said ‘you can’t wipe out whole countries, ancient cultures, and so on.’ Then we realized, it’s not us vs. them.

If we win, then every coastal city in the world wins, every fishing village in the world wins.

You cannot take a globe and with blue paint, paint out all those little dots because every continental coastline will change too. We would have to redraw every single continent in the entire world. We’re trying now to say: you save us, you’re saving everybody. As long as we stay above water, everybody else does. If you sacrifice us, who’s next? If we go, we won’t go alone. Just because we disappear, at that point we’ll have runaway climate change, it won’t stop with us. More


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Row Erupts over Jamaica’s Bid to Slow Beach Erosion

KINGSTON, Feb 2 2015 (IPS) - A plan that government says will slow the rate of erosion on Jamaica’s world-famous Negril beach is being opposed by the people whose livelihoods it is meant to protect.

Jamaica's Negril beach

Work is set to begin in March, but some in the tourist town continue to resist the planned construction of two breakwaters, which experts say is one of a series of actions aimed at protecting the beach and slowing persistent erosion. Those opposing the plan say the structures will do more damage than good.

The construction of the two breakwaters 1.2 kilometres offshore follows on previous work to strengthen the natural ecosystem protection of the coastal communities by replanting sea grass beds and mangroves in several vulnerable communities, including Negril.

“Building breakwaters is not what stakeholders here want. These hard structures cause more erosion than they prevent,” Couples Resort’s Mary Veira told IPS.

There is fear, Veira explained, that the structures will hinder the natural regeneration of the beach that currently occurs after each extreme weather event.

Government targeted the ‘Seven Mile’ stretch of Negril’s coast as its climate change adaptation project after several studies indicated that more than 55 metres of beach had been eroded in the last 40 plus years. The tourist Mecca is said to account for 25 per cent of the earnings of an industry that is responsible for about half of Jamaica’s GDP.

Veira is one of a group of hoteliers calling for a halt to the breakwater project, fearing its construction will irreparably damage Negril’s tourism industry. The environmental activist also pointed out that the structure is significantly different to that proposed by Smith Warner International (SWI) in 2008, in a consultation paid for by the community.

In addition she said, “The engineers who have been awarded the job are not coastal engineers.”

In a newspaper article dated May 2014, Veira noted: “Also of concern to stakeholders is the fact that the Environmental Engineer of National Works Agency, Dr. Mark Richards, admits such a major project of sea defense has really never been done.”

Taken Apr. 19, 2014, this photo shows a fully restored beach at Negril. The sand is taken away by storms and returns a few months later. Hoteliers fear that the breakwater will prevent the natural generation from occuring. Credit: Mary Veira/IPS

Business owners expressed concerns that boulders from the two “large rubble mound breakwaters” could break loose and destroy properties during rough weather. They also worry that it will create an eyesore as well as cause further damage to the fragile marine ecosystem, effectively killing snorkeling beds.

Both the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which overseas environment and planning on the island, and the National Works Agency (NWA), the entity overseeing the project, are adamant that the fears are unwarranted. Many hoteliers, however, continue to dig in.

The government has accused Veira and others of conducting a misinformation campaign to undermine the project’s credibility and the issue has divided the community.

The construction of the two breakwaters 1.2 kilometres off shore follows on previous work to strengthen the natural ecosystem protection of the coastal communities by replanting sea grass beds and mangroves in several vulnerable communities, including Negril. The structures are expected to break wave action and allow other remedial work to take place.

Government has said the beach nurturing option is out of the question. In May 2014, director of environment in the project’s implementing agency the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) Clare Bernard told Negril’s business community in a meeting that the 5.4 million dollars earmarked for construction of the breakwaters could not be used for beach nourishment.

With the start date fast approaching, Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has thrown its weight behind the government’s plan. The popular hotel chain’s position was made clear in a Jan. 13 letter to the Jamaica Observer newspaper by SRI director of business processes and administration Wayne Cummings and reiterated at Friday’s meeting.

“It would be irresponsible of the agency to use government-guaranteed funds to reseed the beach for short-term gain, without treating with the known problems of wave action, only to see the beach retreat once again,” Cummings said in his statement.

Sandals operates three properties along what is said to be the most impacted section of the coastline – the Long Bay Beach also known as the Seven-Mile-Beach, as well as a ‘yet-to-be-developed’ property on the Bloody Bay Beach. The company has over the years invested in its own solutions to protect its properties.

“Let’s get this corrective phase done and commit to working with the Government to initiate a phase two for reseeding and maintaining the beach to bring Negril back to its world-class conditions,” Cummings continued.

On Jan. 23, those for and against faced off in a meeting that authorities hoped would have settled the matter once and for all. But both sides dug in and the meeting ended in a stalemate.

In addition to the fear of property damage from boulders, opponents contend that the current project bears no resemblance to that in a 2008 proposal by Smith Warner International (SWI).

In fact even more recent plans for the beach’s restoration included a comprehensive ecosystem upgrade to include sediment trend analysis, hydrological studies, artificial reefs and other “soft engineering approaches to build disaster resilience”, NEPA’s Manager of Strategic Planning and Policies Anthony McKenzie told IPS in 2012.

But authorities say the plans changed, in part because of the community’s advocacy. And the PIOJ and other government organisations have also expressed shock at the community’s apparent about-face. They have been in constant dialogue since the start, they said.

On Jan. 7, in a statement to the Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, NEPA’s CEO Peter Knight blamed the ongoing row on the lack of “institutional memory”, and a changing of the guard at the helm of various interest groups, such as the Negril Chamber of Commerce.

Knight told the house that as a precautionary measure, an experienced disaster mitigation expert had been contracted to review the plans, pushing the project six-months behind its original schedule.

A onetime head of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Cummings implored the Negril community to remain focused. He pointed out that the solutions now being presented by government came from its own ‘cause and effect study’ that highlighted the loss of the reef due to due to natural and man-made issues.

Cummings accepted the community’s arguments that businesses will be negatively affected during the construction phase of the project and called on government to help them by providing “economic breathing room” in the form of tax breaks to keep companies afloat.

But marine biologist Andrew Ross understands why the community is upset.

“The engineering reports to which these proposed groynes are modelled only look at the current state and make no reference to the ecosystem services that accumulated sands for the grass meadows, beach and dunes over the previous thousands of years, namely the coral reef ticket,” he noted.

Ross, who specialises in the restoration of coral reefs, added that, “Any sand-targeted engineered solution can only be a band-aid, at best.”

In fact, the sea grass beds replanted two years ago in a multi-sector project funded by the European Union is all but gone, washed out by storms after only a few months. And the introduction of Shorelock, a so-called ‘sand-magnet’ chemical being used on the beach, has not rested well with folks.

Both Cummings and Ross agree on one thing: with all efforts combined, “Negril’s ecosystem can be fixed.” But as Cummings puts it, “As long as the finished product ‘plugs the holes’ identified as being the main causes of the aggressive wave actions.” More


Friday, February 6, 2015

We are building a network of Climate Change Clubs!

The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) welcomed a group of 25 students from the Belmopan Comprehensive High School today for an interactive climate change exchange.

The visit forms part of a broader engagement with young people in an effort to create a network of school-based environmental clubs with a strong climate change focus across the region. The initiative is being piloted by the Centre in five (5) schools in Belmopan, Belize with support from the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development (MFFSD) under the "Enhancing Belize’s Resilience to Adapt to the Effects of Climate Change" project which is funded by the European Union.

The participating schools are:

Belmopan Comprehensive High School

Belize Christian Academy

Belmopan Baptist High School

Our Lady of Guadalupe High School

Belmopan Methodist High School

Through this means of youth engagement, we are using a mixture of specially designed games, discussions, music and other tools to:

  1. Increase sensitisation and awareness of climate change impacts and community vulnerability;
  2. Heighten ability to link personal actions to the broader climate change discussion;
  3. Increase capacity to conduct vulnerability assessments of communities; and
  4. Identify practical adaptation measures to reduce vulnerability.

This initiative will include 60 to 90 minute weekly meetings, experiential learning including presentations, highly interactive group exercises, discussions and outreach efforts. These clubs are intended to be student-led entities with the support of a designated staff member. More