By Edgardo Ayala

EL PAISNAL, El Salvador, Feb 10 (IPS) - The memory of a priest killed shortly before civil war broke out in El Salvador is so alive in this small town that it is now the main attraction in a community tourist initiative aimed at providing employment and injecting money into the local economy.

The Historical Memory Tourist Route is the name of the project in Paisnal, 36 km north of San Salvador. The initiative revolves around Rutilio Grande, a locally born Jesuit priest who was killed by government forces in March 1977, before the start of the 1980-1992 civil war.

"Father Rutilio taught people about liberation and commitment to the needy, and that's why they killed him," said 62-year-old María Dolores Gómez who, before she joined the guerrillas in 1980, was a catechist and met the priest. Now she forms part of the El Paisnal Municipal Tourism Committee.

The tourism project, whose first stage begins in March, is part of a growing trend in this formerly war-torn Central American country to draw visitors interested in the political and historical context of the armed conflict and the prewar period. And in the case of this town in particular, in the life of the famous Jesuit priest.

Rutilio Grande was the first priest killed in El Salvador in the context of the 12-year civil war, which left over 70,000 people – mainly civilians – dead and 8,000 disappeared before the 1992 peace agreement put an end to it.

After decades of electoral fraud by the military and the local elites, opponents of the system took up arms and formed insurgent groups to push the military regimes out of power and usher in socialism.

Grande, accompanied by Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16, was driving near the town of El Paisnal on Mar. 12, 1977 when the three of them came under machine gun fire and were killed. They are buried in the village churchyard, which is already a pilgrimage spot for visitors from within and outside the country and will be an obligatory stop on the new tourist route.

Historians and theologians say that after Grande's murder, the conservative views of the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, radically changed in favour of the poor.

Romero himself was assassinated three years later, in March 1980, while saying mass in a small chapel in San Salvador.

The Truth Commission set up by the United Nations after the end of the conflict to investigate the human rights violations blamed army Major Roberto D'Aubuisson for planning the assassination.

D'Aubuisson was the founder of the far-right Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA), which governed El Salvador from 1989 to 2009, when the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power. The former guerrilla group won the national elections a second time in March 2014.

Before and during the war, a segment of the Catholic Church in El Salvador espoused liberation theology, which promoted the fight against poverty and broke with the church's traditional alliance with those in power.

The new tourist route starts at a place known as Las Tres Cruces (the three crosses), halfway between El Paisnal and the neighbouring village of Aguilares, where a small monument marks the spot where the priest and the other two men were killed.

"We have delegations of foreign and local visitors who come to commemorate the murder of Father Grande, and the tourist project aims to create the infrastructure needed to give them a better reception," town councilor Alexander Torres told IPS.

He explained that the El Paisnal local government is going to invest 350,000 dollars in establishing basic infrastructure catering to tourists, such as rural hostels and small restaurants, which will be run by local residents and people from nearby villages.

"The good thing is that the community is actively participating," 62-year-old former insurgent Florentino Menjívar, María Dolores Gómez's husband, told IPS.

"This was conceived of to generate possibilities of growth for our local communities," he added.

The couple lives in Comunidad Dimas Rodríguez, a settlement of former guerrillas founded in December 1992 near El Paisnal after the demobilisation of the armed groups.

The community, which forms part of the tourist route, was named Dimas Rodríguez in honour of one of the commanders who led the guerrillas in this area, members of the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), one of the five armed groups that made up the FMLN.

Every Dec. 15, the date of the founding of the community, the local residents hold a guerrilla military parade to remember their commander, who was killed in combat in 1989, and to keep alive the history of the settlement. The event is attended by local and foreign tourists.

In the last few years, government officials who used to live in the settlement of former guerrillas have also attended the parade.

"The country's current vice president led the forces here, when we were demobilising," said Víctor Escalante, referring to Vice President Oscar Ortiz.

Since June 2014 the president of El Salvador is another former guerrilla, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

There are plans to open a museum, where visitors will be able to see the original weapons used by the insurgents, which were surrendered and rendered useless after the peace deal was reached. And a rebel camp will be recreated in a forested area near the town.

"I still have my backpack, and other people have radios and other artifacts from the war, and all of us together can set up the museum," said Escalante, 45.

The local residents are organising to provide services to tourists, and there are groups working in the areas of food, crafts and other activities tied to the new initiative.

Employment is hard to come by in El Paisnal, a town of 4,500, where most of the locals are dedicated to agriculture and up to now there have been few opportunities for work in other areas.

The route also includes an ecotourism component, with visits to the El Chino hill, seven km from El Paisnal, and to Conacastera, a beach on the Lempa river.

The tour will also take the visitors to the San Carlos Cooperative, which is getting ready to host tourists who want an up-close look at the cooperative's agricultural production processes.

Similar initiatives have been developed in other parts of the country over the last few years.

The town of Perquín in the eastern department or province of Morazán is the best-known for its war-tourism projects. In the local museum, visitors can learn about the civil war and see war memorabilia like guns, artillery pieces and even helicopters shot down by the guerrillas.

And in some rural areas, tourists can visit mountain caves and other bunkers used by the guerrillas as hideouts or even field hospitals.

In this country of 6.7 million people, Central America's smallest, the Tourism Ministry reported that the tourism industry brought in 650 million dollars in the first half of 2014 – a 33 percent increase with respect to the same period in 2013.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

I often think of Belize as, as much of a rainbow nation as one is likely to find!

Rob HironsRob Hirons was born and raised in England and left immediately upon completion of a degree in History and Russian Studies from the University of Keele. He began by teaching English as a Foreign Language in Thessaloniki in Greece and spent the next twenty-five years as a teacher, teacher trainer and a manager with the British Council in Iran, Portugal, Kuwait, Syria and Egypt. He moved to Belize in 2001 to establish the Lodge at Big Falls, one of the first lodges in what was at the time the most remote and inaccessible part of the country. He has served as Chair of the local chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association and has written and edited The Toledo Howler since 2007. The paper tells stories about the south of Belize aiming to give more people reasons to come and discover Toledo's natural attractions, the rich cultural traditions of the Maya, Garifuna and East Indians as well the opportunities for adventure in the rainforest or under water on the hundreds of offshore coral and mangrove cayes.

 

ECOCLUB.com: You are a member of an elite global group of expats who have succeeded in founding and operating an award-winning Ecolodge in harmony with the local community. How or why did you choose Belize and that particular location for your Ecolodge?

Rob Hirons: My wife and I originally came to Belize for a vacation that she had organized. We were looking for a place where we could go snorkeling and diving and also do some bird watching in the rainforest. Belize was the ideal location for both and we visited five or six times before finally moving in 2001. So we chose Belize for its natural attractions; its stability as a functioning democracy, the fact that it is English-speaking and because of its proximity to the huge north American market. Locating inland fitted more closely to our particular interest in birds and nature and we decided at that time that the market in Cayo district about 160 miles north of here was already fairly crowded and that we would prefer to establish ourselves in a new destination. That was not the best business decision and the lodge has grown slowly partly because of the lack of infrastructure in Toledo and because as a result it was less well known.

 

ECOCLUB.com: You have been instrumental in organising your tourism industry peers in the region, in launching numerous festivals and producing and editing The Toledo Howler, an excellent Tourism Newspaper. How easy is it to coordinate and cooperate with supposed business competitors, is it easy to explain that it is a win-win situation?

Rob Hirons: Having made the decision to base ourselves in Toledo we quickly realized that we would not only have to market the lodge at Big Falls but also Toledo itself. Visitors would be coming to stay at the lodge because of what we offered access to rather than for the lodge itself. So, for myself, it seemed obvious that time spent in working to develop the destination would directly or indirectly be helping the lodge as well as other local businesses. What may seem blindingly obvious to me is not necessarily so to anyone else and the Belize Tourism Industry Association has a core of members who roll up their sleeves and work on behalf of all and others who keep a very narrow focus on the their own enterprise.

 

The Lodge at Big Falls, Toledo, BelizeECOCLUB.com: What are in your view Southern Belize's unique attractions for tourists and how satisfied are you that they are being protected?

Rob Hirons: Tour operators always want to know why they should send their clients to one's destination. In Cayo the answer is for access to Tikal, Caracol and other Mayan sites. On the coast and cayes the answer is snorkelling and diving. The answer in Toledo is less obvious. We have small Mayan sites in Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit and the reef is 35 miles offshore here compared with half a mile offshore in Ambergris Caye. What has come into focus over the past few years is the rich diversity of cultural experiences in both the Maya, Garifuna and Creole cultures that is unique to the south of the country. It means that even if it rains there are indoor activities like learning to drum; making hand-made chocolate and tasting local chocolate flavors from salt to ginger to chili chocolate; trying their hands at traditional craft making or learning about the traditional Mayan lifestyle and household culture. These have come about through some well-directed small projects through the Belize Tourism Board's Sustainable Tourism Program with funding from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB). They had great success because the projects aimed loans at motivated local individuals and families with no requirement that the benefits be communal. This kind of small enterprise is "self-protecting"; the family focus avoids conflict within a vestigial business; the focus on culture reinforces for the younger generation how their own culture is valued and of interest to visitors.

 

ECOCLUB.com: Accessing Southern Belize used to be a small adventure in itself, but improved road and air links have changed all that. Is this a mixed blessing?

Rob Hirons: Not so far. Since 2001 we have been linked to the rest of country by a modern 80-mile highway. We have been linked to the national electricity grid. We have mobile phone service now. In 2001 we had to drive 18 miles to make a phone call. Not having that infrastructure was a problem. We have ten flights a day in and out and hourly buses from Belize City. But growth has remained slow and "organic". In 2016 there will be a new southern border opening between Toledo and Guatemala forty miles west of here. I expect that to be a mixed blessing. There is likely to be an increase in cross-border crime and illegal logging in areas that are now more inaccessible. Balanced against that is a general economic stimulus for Toledo and for tourism. Until now Toledo has been a cul-de-sac for tourists who came down here and returned the same way. Next year we will be able to co-ordinate with Guatemalan tour operators for tours that enter Belize via Toledo and go on to the coast and Cayo.

 

ECOCLUB.com: In particular, there have been ongoing protests, from local people, environmentalists but also the Belize Tourism Industry Association, against the expansion of Cruise Tourism in Southern Belize and in particular the creation of cruise infrastructure near the quaint and fragile Placencia area, to no avail it seems as works for a dedicated cruise port in Harvest Cay started late in Autumn 2014. Do you consider the expansion of the cruise sector as a environmental threat or as an economic opportunity, or both perhaps?

Rob Hirons: I think cruise tourism down here is a huge environmental threat and there are still many questions to be asked about water and waste management on Harvest Caye. It is unlikely to be an economic opportunity for the Belize government. The per person head tax is low and unlikely to yield more than a few million Belize dollars. That might be eaten up by the cost of the infrastructure maintenance that will be demanded by the cruise operator. Belize will pay for the environmental degradation caused by hundreds of thousands of cruise ship visitors. Local Mayan sites will benefit from increased visitor entrance fees and local cultural experiences may also benefit from being visited by the cruise tour operator. Overall it is not really enough to justify the threat to the environment and to the much more valuable overnight tourism business. BTB figures a few years ago gave cruise ships around 80% of the total visitors to Belize and generating just 14% of the income from tourism. So the Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) would guide the rational planner to focus on growing overnight tourism.

 

ECOCLUB.com: Unlike many of its neighbours multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Belize has traditionally avoided violent race and class violence. Still, ethnic tensions may be rising as reports indicate notable income and occupational differences among ethnic communities and little intermarriage between different ethnicities. The rural poor are reportedly mostly Mayans, the original inhabitants. From your experience and with reference to Southern Belize, is tourism and ecotourism in particular currently providing sufficient opportunities for the local Mayan people?

Rob Hirons: My initial reaction is that it is much more complicated and nuanced than that. I often think of Belize as, as much of a rainbow nation as one is likely to find. My colleague Catarina Choco is a K'ekchi Maya with an East Indian partner. We both think that there is much more intermarriage than you suggest and that the Garifuna are another group who have been considered poor. Poverty is relative. Many a poor Mayan has their own 20-30 acre plantation from which they can subsist and produce cash crops. Being poor in the city or town is an entirely different level of poverty. Tourism will never benefit everyone. Those people who live along paved roads or not far from them have the potential to benefit as do those who live close to resorts and lodges. For many years Mayans have found work in tourism elsewhere in Belize and are highly sought after employees. Now they have the opportunity to work in tourism and stay in Toledo. All our staff is K'ekchi Maya who live in Big Falls and walk or cycle to work.

 

ECOCLUB.com: In the course of a few years peaceful Belize has come to be ranked, unfairly perhaps, by the UN as the 6th most violent country in the world, with about 95% of murders relating to gangs and the international drugs transshipment trade. Following a related incident, the mayor of the best-known Belizean island destination of Ambegris Caye, is quoted in a recent report in Vice magazine as indirectly linking crime to tourism, arguing that "The big hotels, the big condos, the big restaurants are all owned by foreigners" and that this creates a large wealth discrepancy between foreigners and locals. Do you share this view, and is Belize's overall tourism model really worsening as well as threatened by the crime rates?

Rob Hirons: There are some people who will always characterize inward investment as the foreigner taking over and others who will welcome it. There is an increasing number of Belize owned accommodations and a vast majority of Belize owned restaurants outside of hotels. But it was kick-started by inward investment. That created jobs that created wealth and gave the employees experience and skills enough to begin their own enterprises. The BTB's own advertisements used to claim that direct employment in tourism accounted for 25% of all jobs. Employment reduces wealth inequality between those who have work and those who do not. Nationality is not the issue. On a per capita basis (murders per 100,000)Belize City is one of the most dangerous in the world. Most travelers pass briskly through Belize City to rural areas that are among the most peaceful.

 

ECOCLUB.com: According to recent reports poaching, including the poaching of endangered scarlet macaws - just 100 pairs remaining - and illegal logging of mahogany and cedar are a problem even within Chiquibul, Belize's largest national park. The average annual deforestation rate has been estimated at 0.6% between 1980-2010, while most extractable timber reserves are in private hands and with no tax incentives to preserve the forest. Beyond funding more park rangers, what more should the tourism sector, environmental NGOs and the government be doing to protect Belize's pristine natural beauty which after all is the biggest attraction for visitors?

Rob Hirons: Belize needs a legal regulatory framework relating to sustainable forestry and responsible stewardship of natural resources. This is needed to allow the export of finished wood products to European markets, for example. Without that wood is exported as logs mainly to China with no value added here in Belize. With such a framework an export industry, focused on fine finished wood products, would create jobs and give owners a vested economic interest in reforestation etc.

 

ECOCLUB.com: As an employer, what is your position and experience in relation to volunteer tourism? Some argue, rather sweepingly perhaps, that their only real impacts are stealing jobs from the local community and removing the need for local training infrastructure.

Rob Hirons: I tend towards the sweeping generalization. We do get individual requests from people who want to volunteer at the lodge but since we are almost always staffed with the people we need have so far declined such offers. Guests have asked us to arrange volunteer assignments but only for a day or two. It is very difficult for them to make much of a contribution in such a short time. In fact briefing and training volunteers creates work for the host. WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms/ Willing Workers on Organic Farms) do seem to carry out work that in their absence would be done by a paid local employee. An organization in Punta Gorda focused on volunteers has done some useful small infrastructure projects around the district. So voluntourism seems to work better in organizations focused on this niche but does not really fit my own market. And the point is moot whether the volunteer or those being volunteered upon get more out of the transaction.

 

ECOCLUB.com: What future plans do you have at The Lodge at Big Falls and beyond, perhaps in connection with some of the topics we have discussed in this interview?

Rob Hirons: I have high hopes that the new road from Guatemala will provide a stimulus to really boost tourism in our area. With a larger market we would invest in more cabanas, probably up to a total of fifteen and a multi-purpose space for workshops and seminars, meditation and yoga or educational groups. That would go hand in hand with developing the birding market which is one of our specializations. And when I am exhausted I will shuffle off into retirement.

 

ECOCLUB.com: Finally, what advice, if any, would you like to offer to those pondering operating an Ecolodge and in particular those mistaking it for owning a summerhouse in the tropics?

Rob Hirons: I do take exception when visitors ask when I "retired" here. General pearls of wisdom would include: do lots of research especially financial and make sure that your projections are very conservative unless living by the sea that sells itself; talk to people who have already been through it but are not necessarily direct competitors; listen to local advice but not the advice of the first person who takes hold of your elbow and wants to be your friend; use local suppliers if they are of the quality you require and avoid duplicating and competing with existing services; focus your business primarily on quality for the customer and not fairness for the community where you live. Do not underestimate the strain it can put on a couple and make sure that both partners are equally committed to the adventure. Understand that in creating skilled jobs that make women economically independent you may be subverting the established order in your community. And never forget that it's no fun if it's not fun. So enjoy yourself.

 

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much, we are certain that our readers will enjoy this interview!

 

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPSBy Neena Bhandari

MOSSMAN, Queensland, Australia, Jan 26 (IPS) - Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, would watch thousands of tourists and vehicles trampling his pristine land while working on the sugarcane fields in Far North Queensland. His people were suffering and their culture was being eroded. The native wildlife was disappearing. He dreamt of turning this around.

It took 20 years to bring his vision to fruition, but today the Mossman Gorge Centre is a successful indigenous ecotourism business in the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia.

With more people travelling the world and seeking authentic experiences, tourism has acted as a catalyst for preserving indigenous culture, providing employment, education and training opportunities and protecting the environment - especially in remote locations such as the Mossman Gorge, the ancestral home of the Kuku Yalanji people in the southern tip of the Daintree National Park.

Roy and the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community worked in collaboration with the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), to build the Centre, which has a 90-percent indigenous workforce – 61 employees and 21 trainees.

Roberta Stanley, 18, who joined the Centre as a trainee along with her twin sibling, says, "Every morning, when I step out of home in my work uniform, I can't stop smiling. It has helped me reconnect with our history, legends, languages, music and the arts. I feel a sense of immense pride and have the confidence to pursue my dream of becoming an artist and dancer."

This was something young people like her couldn't do before the Centre began providing accredited skills training in tourism, hospitality, retail and administration. Both her parents also work at the Centre. With four members of the Stanley family employed, it has made life easier.

In 2011, an estimated 207,600 indigenous people were in the labour force. About two in five (42 percent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over were employed, compared with about three in five non-indigenous people (61 percent).

With limited employment opportunities, pursuing their dreams is not something every native Australian is free to do.

Pamela Salt, 41, used to be a cleaner and paint in colours representing the rainforest and sea during her spare time. Since she began working at the Mossman Gorge Centre, she feels a sense of ownership with the place.

"Physically, mentally and emotionally, it has given our people the confidence that we can do it. One of my daughters is also employed here," Pamela told IPS. A self-taught artist with no formal training, today her work is on display in the Centre's gallery and bought by national and international visitors.

Since July last year, 250,000 tourists, 40 percent of them international, have visited the Centre. As Mossman Gorge Centre's General Manager Greg Erwin told IPS, "Indigenous tourism is gaining momentum. It will add a cultural depth to the experiences that visitors have in any destination. The Kuku Yalanji people, like other Aboriginal communities, have been nurturing and looking after the environment for thousands of years. It is their supermarket and their pharmacy."

In the next 10 to 15 years, the business will be totally owned by the aboriginal people of the Gorge – a long way from the 'Stolen Generation': the tens of thousands of children who were forcibly removed from their families between 1900 and 1970 under Australian government assimilation policies to "breed out" their Aborigine blood and supposedly give them a better life.

Roy, 58, who also belongs to the 'Stolen Generation', doesn't want his people to ever experience that psychological trauma again.

"This Centre is a role model for our younger generation dreaming of a better life." He, along with other indigenous guides, takes visitors on "dreamtime walks" highlighting the nuances of the world's oldest rainforest, relating stories spun around creation, food sources, flora and fauna, the caves and Manjal Dimbi (Mt. Demi), a mountain with spiritual significance for the indigenous people.

"Now we are able to protect our ecosystem and at the same time provide visitors an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of the Kuku Yalanji people and their connection to the natural environment. Our emphasis is on sustainability," Roy told IPS.

Stimulating positive change

Sustainable indigenous businesses like the Mossman Gorge Centre are not only helping protect and preserve the ecosystem, but lifting out of poverty some of the most disadvantaged communities that suffer from alcohol abuse, domestic violence, chronic diseases, unemployment and high suicide rates.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australians; about half of the young people in juvenile detention are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Meanwhile, indigenous women are hospitalised for family violence-related assaults at 31 times the rate of non-indigenous women, according to the 2014 Social Justice and Native Title Report.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people. The remoteness of places where many indigenous people reside plays a large part in this.

Still, Tourism Research Australia's 2014 figures show 14 percent of international visitors enjoy an indigenous experience and these visitors spent 5.2 billion dollars in Australia, highlighting a huge demand for authentic experiences in out-of-the-way locations.

ILC subsidiary, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, offers unique experiences in iconic locations around Australia. Besides the Mossman Gorge Centre, it manages the Ayers Rock Resort and Longitude 131° in the Northern Territory, Home Valley Station in The Kimberley in Western Australia.

While the ILC is focused on acquiring land and assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders manage that land to provide sustainable benefits, Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) is a commercially focused organisation providing sustainable economic development opportunities for indigenous Australians.

As IBA's CEO Chris Fry said, "Our Business Development and Assistance Programme (BDAP) assists indigenous entrepreneurs to start and grow their own enterprises, and indigenous-owned businesses to be strong employers of indigenous peoples."

Jo Donovan, a beneficiary of the programme, turned her hobby into a business after attending IBA's BDAP. She formed Bandu Catering with her son Aaron Devine and daughter Jessica, both chefs. Bandu ('food' in the Dhanggati language) provides quality food, blending native ingredients and flavours with innovative, contemporary Australian cuisine.

The BDAP, which has partnered with the banking sector, has provided over 90 loans valued at 55 million dollars during the last financial year.

"Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners currently hold more than 68 million dollars in equity across a range of commercial businesses and assets through IBA's Equity and Investment Programme and the IBA purchased over 2.4 million dollars [of] goods and services from approximately 30 indigenous businesses," Fry told IPS.

IBA also has a scholarship programme for mature-age, full-time indigenous students to complete tertiary qualifications in business, financial, commercial or economic management disciplines.

As the international community prepares for a new era of development, one that puts sustainability at the heart of poverty-eradication, initiatives like these can provide a blueprint for inclusive and equal growth.

Edited by Kanya D'Almeida

 

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

New York, USA / Madrid, Spain, 14 January 2015 (UNWTO): A milestone resolution recognizing the contribution of sustainable tourism to poverty eradication, community development and the protection of biodiversity has been adopted by consensus by the United Nations General Assembly.

Emphasizing the need to optimize the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits stemming from sustainable tourism, particularly in developing countries, the resolution entitled "Promotion of sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, for poverty eradication and environment protection" calls upon the UN System to promote sustainable tourism as an instrument that can contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The resolution, significantly broader in scope than previous ones on the subject, builds on a 2012 UN resolution on ecotourism and draws on a report prepared by UNWTO. In line with UNWTO recommendations, it underlines the importance of appropriate national policies, guidelines and regulations for promoting sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, and encourages UN Member States and regional and international financial institutions to support sustainable tourism projects, enabling the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises, promoting cooperatives and facilitating access to inclusive financial services, including microcredit initiatives for the poor, local and indigenous communities.

The resolution was adopted by consensus and sponsored by an impressive total number of 107 Member States, including Morocco, which, as on previous occasions, was the lead sponsor and in that capacity had steered the whole negotiating process to a successful conclusion.

"UNWTO welcomes this remarkable acknowledgement of tourism's ability to advance sustainable development across the world", said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. "The wide-ranging support to this resolution mirrors the increasing awareness of the vital role tourism plays in a sustainable future for all and opens the doors for supportive national policies and international financing for sustainable tourism."

The resolution places sustainable tourism firmly on the UN post-2015 agenda as it requests UNWTO and other United Nations agencies to develop "... recommendations on ways and means to promote sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, as a tool for fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development ..." to be submitted to the seventy-first session of the UN General Assembly in 2016.

Useful links:

Resolutions from the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Press release: UN General Assembly: Ecotourism key to eradicating poverty and protecting environment

Press release: Harnessing the power of one billion tourists for a sustainable future

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio

 

A boy grazes his cattle on farmland close to the site of a landslide in northern Pakistan's Bagrot valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPSBINDO GOL, Pakistan, Jan 15 (IPS) - Khaliq-ul-Zaman, a farmer from the remote Bindo Gol valley in northern Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has long lived under the shadow of disaster.

With plenty of fertile land and fresh water, this scenic mountain valley would be an ideal dwelling place – if not for the constant threat of the surrounding glacial lakes bursting their ridges and gushing down the hillside, leaving a trail of destruction behind.

There was a time when families like Zaman's lived in these distant valleys undisturbed, but hotter temperatures and heavier rains, which experts say are the result of global warming, have turned areas like Bindo Gol into a soup of natural hazards.

Landslides, floods and soil erosion have become increasingly frequent, disrupting channels that carry fresh water from upstream springs into farmlands, and depriving communities of their only source of fresh water.

"Things were becoming very difficult for my family," Zaman told IPS. "I began to think that farming was no longer viable, and was considering abandoning it and migrating to nearby Chitral [a town about 60 km away] in search of labour."

He was not alone in his desperation. Azam Mir, an elderly wheat farmer from the Drongagh village in Bindo Gol, recalled a devastating landslide in 2008 that wiped out two of the most ancient water channels in the area, forcing scores of farmers to abandon agriculture and relocate to nearby villages.

"Those who could not migrate out of the village suffered from water-borne diseases and hunger," he told IPS.

Now, thanks to a public-private sector climate adaptation partnership aimed at reducing the risk of disasters like glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), residents of the northern valleys are gradually regaining their livelihoods and their hopes for a future in the mountains.

Bursting at the seams

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), there were some 2,400 potentially hazardous glacial lakes in the country's remotest mountain valleys in 2010, a number that has now increased to over 3,000.

Chitral district alone is home to 549 glaciers, of which 132 have been declared 'dangerous'.

Climatologists say that rising temperatures are threatening the delicate ecosystem here, and unless mitigation measures are taken immediately, the lives and livelihoods of millions will continue to be at risk.

One of the most successful initiatives underway is a four-year, 7.6-million-dollar project backed by the U.N. Adaptation Fund, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Pakistan.

Signed into existence in 2010, its main focus, according to Field Manager Hamid Ahmed Mir, has been protection of lives, livelihoods, existing water channels and the construction of flood control infrastructure including check dams, erosion control structures and gabion walls.

The project has brought tremendous improvements to people here, helping to reduce damage to streams and allowing the sustained flow of water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation purposes in over 12 villages.

"We plan to extend such infrastructure in another 10 villages of the valley, where hundreds of households will benefit from the initiative," Mir told IPS.

Further afield, in the Bagrot valley of Gilgit, a district in Gilgit-Baltistan province that borders KP, NGOs are rolling out similar programmes.

Zahid Hussain, field officer for the climate adaptation project in Bagrot, told IPS that 16,000 of the valley's residents are vulnerable to GLOF and flash floods, while existing sanitation and irrigation infrastructure has suffered severe damage over the last years due to inclement weather.

Located some 800 km from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, Bagrot is comprised of 10 scattered villages, whose population depends for almost all its needs on streams that bubble forth from the Karakoram Mountains, a sub-range of the Hindu Kush Himalayas and the world's most heavily glaciated area outside of the Polar Regions.

Residents like Sajid Ali, also a farmer, are pinning all their hopes on infrastructure development that will preserve this vital resource, and protect his community against the onslaught of floods.

An even bigger concern, he told IPS, is the spread of water-borne diseases as floods and landslides leave behind large silt deposits upstream.

Preparing for the worst

Just as risk reduction structures are key to preventing humanitarian crises, so too is building community resilience and awareness among the local population, experts say.

So far, some two million people in the Bindo Gol and Bagrot valleys have benefitted from community mitigation schemes, not only from improved access to clean water, but also from monitoring stations, site maps and communications systems capable of alerting residents to a coming catastrophe.

Khalil Ahmed, national programme manager for the project, told IPS that early warning systems are now in place to inform communities well in advance of outbursts or flooding, giving families plenty of time to evacuate to safer grounds.

While little official data exists on the precise number of people affected by glacial lake outbursts, Ahmed says, "We can safely say that over 16,000 have been displaced, and remain so even after several months."

Over the past 17 months alone, Pakistan has experienced seven glacial lake outbursts that not only displaced people, but also wiped out standing crops and ruined irrigation and water networks all throughout the north, according to Ghulam Rasul, a senior climatologist with the PMD in Islamabad.

The situation is only set to worsen, as temperatures rise in the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan and scientists predict more extreme weather in the coming decades, prompting an urgent need for greater preparedness at all levels of society.

Several community-based adaptation initiatives including the construction of over 15 'safe havens' – temporary shelter areas – in the Bindo Gol and Bagrot valleys have already inspired confidence among the local population, while widespread vegetation plantation on the mountain slopes act as a further buffer against landslides and erosion.

Scientists and activists say that replicating similar schemes across the northern regions will prevent unnecessary loss of life and save the government millions of dollars in damages.

Edited by Kanya D'Almeida

 

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015) 

New Worldwatch Institute analysis explores the debate about our planet's future population

Washington, D.C.----The human population nearly tripled from 2.5 billion people in 1950 to 7.3 billion today and will continue growing through 2070, according to two recent demographic projections. After that, demographers disagree on whether populations will begin to shrink or continue to rise into the next century, write Worldwatch Institute Senior Fellow Robert Engelman and Research Assistant Yeneneh Terefe in the Institute's latest Vital Signs Online article (www.worldwatch.org).

Two population projections----one from the United Nations Population Division, the other from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)---- agree on how population has grown until now. But their future scenarios document a breakdown in consensus.

U.N. demographers rely on a methodology that applies past behavior and expert opinion about the future to assign quantified probabilities to various population outcomes. Defying a widespread media and public perception that a stationary world population of 9 billion in 2050 is a near certainty, the U.N. analysts report that the most likely long-term future is for continued growth into the 22nd century.

Demographers associated with IIASA, based in Laxenburg, Austria, however, differ with this analysis. They foresee world population peaking around 2070 at 9.4 billion people and then gradually shrinking to 8.9 billion by the century's end.

The disagreement between these two respected groups of population researchers lies in their varying assumptions, mostly regarding two topics: Africa and the future of education. The U.N. demographers point to recent surveys showing that human fertility (defined as the average number of children that women in a population give birth to over their lifetimes) is not falling in some countries as earlier projections had assumed they would.

The IIASA demographers, by contrast, focus largely on educational trends. In every region of the world, including Africa, the proportion of young people enrolled in school has generally been rising. and these rates are likely to continue to rise, the analysts argue. Because even moderately high levels of educational attainment are associated with reductions in fertility, fertility even in high-fertility countries is likely to fall more than current fertility trends on their own suggest, the demographers reason.

Two Australian environmental scientists, Corey J. A. Bradshaw and Barry W. Brook, recently published another set of population projections---- with a twist. They add scenarios in which humanity experiences increases in the deaths of children due to climate change or outright demographic catastrophes due to "global pandemic or war." In their most extreme scenario, 6 billion people die in the early 2040s, in which case human population would decline to about 5 billion by 2100.

The Australian analysts are non-demographers engaging in a one-off thought exercise. But the significant differences among the various projections tell us something important about population and the human future. Despite general perceptions that demographers confidently forecast future population, no one knows when population will stop growing or the level at which it will peak. Moreover, the future of population growth may respond to decisions made today, so ideally these decisions would support a reduced incidence of unintended pregnancy (now about 40 percent of all pregnancies globally) rather than allow environmental and social conditions to deteriorate until death rates reverse their historic decline.

 

About the Worldwatch Institute:
Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute's State of the World report is published annually in more than a dozen languages. For more information, visit http://www.worldwatch.org



Analysis by Jeff Conant, International Forests Campaigner for Friends of the Earth-U.S

 

Berkeley, California, Dec 18 2014 (IPS) - Dercy Teles de Carvalho Cunha is a rubber-tapper and union organiser from the state of Acre in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, with a lifelong love of the forest from which she earns her livelihood – and she is deeply confounded by what her government and policymakers around the world call "the green economy."

"The primary impact of green economy projects is the loss of all rights that people have as citizens," says Teles de Carvalho Cunha in a report released last week by a group of Brazilian NGOs. "They lose all control of their lands, they can no longer practice traditional agriculture, and they can no longer engage in their everyday activities."

Referring to a state-run programme called the "Bolsa Verde" that pays forest dwellers a small monthly stipend in exchange for a commitment not to damage the forest through subsistence activities, Teles de Carvalho Cunha says, "Now people just receive small grants to watch the forest, unable to do anything. This essentially strips their lives of meaning. "

Her words are especially chilling because Teles de Carvalho Cunha is not just any rubber tapper – she is the president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri – the union made famous in Brazil when its founder, Chico Mendes, was murdered in 1988 for defending the forest against loggers and ranchers.

Mendes' gains have been consolidated in tens of thousands of hectares of 'extractive reserves,' where communities earn a living from harvesting natural rubber from the forest while keeping the trees standing. But new policies and programmes being established to conserve forests in Acre seem to be having perverse results that the iconic leader's union is none too happy about.

Conflicting views on the green economy

As Brazil has become a leader in fighting deforestation through a mix of public and private sector actions, Acre has become known for market-based climate policies such as Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes, that seek to harmonise economic development and environmental preservation.

Over the past decade, Acre has put into place policies favouring sustainable rural production and taxes and credits to support rural livelihoods. In 2010, the state began implementing a system of forest conservation incentives that proponents say have "begun to pay off abundantly".

Especially as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to fail in its mission of bringing nations together around a binding emissions reduction target – the latest failure being COP20 in Lima earlier this month – REDD proponents highlight the value of "subnational" approaches to REDD based on agreements between states and provinces, rather than nations.

The approach is best represented by an agreement between the states of California, Chiapas (Mexico), and Acre (Brazil).

In 2010, California – the world's eighth largest economy – signed an agreement with Acre, and Chiapas, whereby REDD and PES projects in the two tropical forest provinces would supply carbon offset credits to California to help the state's polluters meet emission reduction targets.

California policymakers have been meeting with officials from Acre, and from Chiapas, for several years, with hopes of making a partnership work, but the agreement has yet to attain the status of law.

Attempts by the government of Chiapas to implement a version of REDD in 2011, shortly after the agreement with California was signed, met strong resistance in that famously rebellious Mexican state, leading organisations there to send a series of letters to CARB and California Governor Jerry Brown asking them to cease and desist.

Groups in Acre, too, sent an open letter to California officials in 2013, denouncing the effort as "neocolonial,": "Once again," the letter read, "the former colonial powers are seeking to invest in an activity that represents the 'theft' of yet another 'raw material' from the territories of the peoples of the South: the 'carbon reserves' in their forests."

This view appears to be backed up now by a new report on the Green Economy from the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. The 26-page summary of a much larger set of findings to be published in 2015 describes Acre as a state suffering extreme inequality, deepened by a lack of information about green economy projects, which results in communities being coerced to accept "top-down" proposals as substitutes for a lack of public policies to address basic needs.

Numerous testimonies taken in indigenous, peasant farmer and rubber-tapper communities show how private REDD projects and public PES projects have deepened territorial conflicts, affected communities' ability to sustain their livelihoods, and violated international human rights conventions.

The Earth Innovation Institute, a strong backer of REDD generally and of the Acre-Chiapas-California agreement specifically, has thoroughly documented Brazil's deforestation success, and argues that existing incentives – farmers' fear of losing access to markets or public finance or of being punished by green public policies – have been powerful motivators, but need to be accompanied by economic incentives that reward sustainable land-use.

But the testimonies from Acre raise concerns that such economic incentives can deepen existing inequalities. The Bolsa Verde programme is a case in point: according to Teles de Carvalho Cunha, the payments are paltry, the enforcement criminalises already-impoverished peasants, and the whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

A related impact of purely economic incentives is to undermine traditional approaches to forest management and to alienate forest-dwellers from their traditional activities.

"We don't see land as income," one anonymous indigenous informant to the Acre report said. "Our bond with the land is sacred because it is where we come from and where we will return."

Another indigenous leader from Acre, Ninawa Huni Kui of the Huni Kui Federation, appeared at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru this month to explain his people's opposition to REDD for having divided and co-opted indigenous leaders; preventing communities from practicing traditional livelihood activities; and violating the Huni Kui's right to Free, Prior and Informed Consents as guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

One of the REDD projects the report documents (also documented here) is the Purus Project, the first private environmental services incentive project registered with Acre's Institute on Climate Change (Instituto de Mudanças Climáticas, IMC), in June 2012.

The project, designed to conserve 35,000 hectares of forest, is jointly run by the U.S.-based Carbonfund.org Foundation and a Brazilian company called Carbon Securities. The project is certified by the two leading REDD certifiers, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Standard (CCBS).

But despite meeting apparently high standards for social and environmental credibility, field research detected "the community's lack of understanding of the project, as well as divisions in the community and an escalation of conflicts."

One rubber tapper who makes his living within the project area told researchers, "I want someone to explain to me what carbon is, because all I know is that this carbon isn't any good to us. It's no use to us. They're removing it from here to take it to the U.S... They will sell it there and walk all over us. And us? What are we going to do? They're going to make money, but we won't?"

A second project called the Russas/Valparaiso project, seems to suffer similar discrepancies between what proponents describe and what local communities experience, characterised by researchers as "fears regarding land use, uncertainty about the future, suspicion about land ownership issues, and threats of expulsion."

The company's apparent failure to leave a copy of the project contract with the community did not help to build trust. Like the Purus Project – and like many REDD projects in other parts of the world whose track record of social engagement is severely lacking – this project is also on the road to certification by VCS and CCB.

Concerns like criminalising subsistence livelihoods and asserting private control over community forest resources, whether these resources be timber or CO2, is more than a misstep of a poorly implemented policy – it violates human rights conventions that Brazil has ratified, as well as national policies such as Brazil's National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities.

The report's conclusion sums up its findings: "In the territories they have historically occupied, forest peoples are excluded from decisions about their own future or—of even greater concern – they are considered obstacles to development and progress. As such, green economy policies can also be described as a way of integrating them into the dominant system of production and consumption.

"Yet, perhaps what is needed is the exact opposite – sociocultural diversity and guaranteeing the rights of the peoples are, by far, the best and most sustainable way of slowing down and confronting not only climate change, but also the entire crisis of civilization that is threatening the human life on the planet."

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2014)

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari

CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS) - As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were biting when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

"The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish," said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people.

"Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia's nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

"But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating," Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

"We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island", said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. "Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm," Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia's warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology's Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

"On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle," said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, "The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated."

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

"There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity," says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University's Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, "Global warming isn't just a theory in Torres Strait, it's lapping at people's doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies."

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia's emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government's climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia's second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world's coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world's energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. "Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change," she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2014)

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz

 

LIMA, Dec 14 2014 (IPS) - After a 25-hour extension, delegates from 195 countries reached agreement on a "bare minimum" of measures to combat climate change, and postponed big decisions on a new treaty until the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21), to be held in a year's time in Paris.

After 13 days of debates, COP 20, the meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), failed to resolve key issues such as the monitoring of each country's commitment to emissions reductions, recognition of loss and damage caused by climate alterations and immediate actions, representatives of observer organisations told IPS.

The agreed document was the third draft to be debated. The Lima Call for Climate Action, as it is known, stipulates that countries must propose national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by October 2015.

It also "urges" developed countries to "provide and mobilise financial support for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions" to countries affected by climate change, and "invites" them to pledge financial contributions alongside their emissions reduction targets. This exhortation was a weak response to the demands of countries that are most vulnerable to global warming, and it avoided complete disaster.

But observers complained that the Lima Call pays little attention to the most vulnerable populations, like farmers, coastal communities, indigenous people, women and the poorest sectors of societies.

"There were a number of trade-offs between developed and developing countries, and the rest of the text has become significantly weaker in terms of the rules for next year and how to bring climate change action and ambitions next year," Sven Harmeling, the climate change advocacy coordinator for Care International, told IPS. "That has been most unfortunate," he said.

The 2015 negotiations will be affected, as "they are building up more pressure on Paris. The bigger issues have been pushed forward and haven't been addressed here," he said.

Harmeling recognised that an agreement has been reached, although it is insufficient. "We have something, but the legal status of the text is still unclear," he said. If there is really a "spirit of Lima" and not just a consensus due to exhaustion, it will begin to emerge in February in Geneva, at the next climate meeting, he predicted.

The countries of the South voted in favour of the text at around 01:30 on Sunday Dec. 14, but organisations like Oxfam, the Climate Action Network and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) were very critical of the result. The Lima negotiations "have done nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change," according to FoEI.

More than 3,000 delegates met Dec. 1-13 for the complex UNFCCC process, with the ultimate goal of averting global warming to levels that would endanger life on Earth.
Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the COP 20, extended the meeting in order to build bridges between industrialised countries, the largest carbon emitters, who wanted less financial pressure, and developing countries who sought less control over their own reductions.

"Although we seem to be on opposite sides, we are in fact on the same side, because there is only one planet," said Pulgar-Vidal at the close of the COP.

The specific mandate in Lima was to prepare a draft for a new, binding climate treaty, to be consolidated during 2015 and signed in Paris. Methodological discussions and fierce debates about financing, deadlines and loss and damage prevented a more ambitious consensus.

"What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path," Tasneem Essop, climate coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told IPS.

"We need to protect the rights of climate impacted communities," she said. The defencelessness of the most vulnerable people on the planet is what makes action a matter of urgency.

However, the Lima agreement contains few references to mechanisms for countries to use to reduce their emissions between 2015 and 2020, when the new treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol is due to come into force.

These actions need to start immediately, said Essop, as later measures may be ineffective. "What governments seem to be thinking is that they can do everything in the future, post 2020, when the science is clear that we have to peak before that," she told IPS.
Unless action is taken, year by year extreme climate, drought and low agricultural yields will be harder on those communities, which bear the least responsibility for climate change. Essop believes that governments are waiting for the negotiations in Paris, when there were urgent decisions to be taken in Lima.

Among the loose ends that will need to be tied in the French capital between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11, 2015, are the balance to be struck between mitigation and adaptation in the new global climate treaty, and how it will be financed.

"If we hadn't come to the decision we have taken (the Lima Call for Climate Action), thing would be more difficult in Paris, but as we know there are still many things to be decided bewteen here and December 2015, in orden to resolve pending issues," Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said in the closing plenary session.

The goal of the agreement is for global temperature to increase no more than two degrees Celsius by 2100, in order to preserve planetary stability. Reduction of fossil fuel use is essential to achieve this.

Mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are the pillars of the new treaty. The last two issues are vital for countries and populations disproportionately impacted by climate change, but faded from the agenda in Lima.

"It's disastrous and it doesn't meet our expectations at all. We wanted to see a template clearly emerging from Lima, leading to a much more ambitious deal," said Harjeet Singh, manager for climate change and resilience for the international organisation ActionAid.

"What we are seeing here is a continuous pushback from developed countries on anything related to adaptation or loss and damage," he told IPS.

These are thorny issues because they require financial commitments from rich countries. The Green Climate Fund, set up to counter climate change in developing countries, has only received 10.2 billion dollars by this month, only one-tenth of the amount promised by industrialised nations.

The Lima Call for Climate Action did determine the format for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), for each country to present its emissions reduction targets.

However, the final agreement eliminated mechanisms for analysing the appropriateness and adequacy of the targets that were contained in earlier drafts.

Negotiators feel that the sum of the national contributions will succeed in halting global warming, but observers are concerned that the lack of regulation will prevent adequate monitoring of whether emissions reductions on the planet are sufficient.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

 

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2014)

By Malini Shankar 

PICHAVARAM, India, Dec 10 2014 (IPS) - When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn't bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flooded to India's southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out. They were finally included on the government's List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Edited by Kanya D'Almeida

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2014)

 

 

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