Brazil’s Forest Code and Land Speculators To Amp Up Amazon Deforestation Rates

90% of Forest in Apuí Converted into Pasture But the Real Profit is in Land Sales

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 28, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Many migrants from southern Brazil who clear forests in Brazil’s state of Amazonas are making their living as small-scale land speculators and not as farmers or as cattle ranchers, new research has found.

This on-the-ground reality and the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code are likely to ramp up deforestation rates again, despite the country’s commitment to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020, experts say.

The Forest Code (Law 4771) was adopted in 1965 and has undergone numerous reforms, the most recent in 2001. This past May 24, an overwhelming majority in the Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of a bill to relax its requirements with regard to forest conservation. The bill is currently under study in the Senate. [Update Dec 28 2011]

A detailed study conducted in the municipality of Apuí along the Transamazon Highway in Amazonas found that many families in the region earned little income from cattle.

Instead, they were clearing the land in order to claim land titles to sell the land to large corporate ranchers, according to the study “Forest Clearing Dynamics and the Expansion of Landholdings in Apuí, a Deforestation Hotspot on Brazil’s Transamazon Highway”, published in the journal Ecology and Society in June.

From the early 1990s the population of Apuí has tripled, and the municipality has had some of the highest rates of deforestation in all of the state of Amazonas. Approximately 90 per cent of the area has been converted into pasture, the study found.

“These families are always moving into new forest areas to deforest so they can claim land title. And after a few years they sell it for a much higher price,” said study co-author Gabriel Carrero of the Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development of Amazonas (IDESAM). Continue reading

Plastic Circulating Endlessly in Oceans Killing Huge Numbers of Birds, Turtles, Fish and Marine Animals

“Degradable or compostable plastic should be banned….bio-plastics simply break down into microplastic particles”– scientist

By Stephen Leahy

HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Mar 24, 2011 (IPS)

That plastic bottle or plastic take-away coffee lid that has 20 minutes of use can spend decades killing countless seabirds, marine animals and fish, experts reported here this week.

On remote Pacific island atolls, diligent albatross parents unknowingly fill their chicks’ bellies with bits of plastic that resemble food. The chicks die of malnutrition, and when their bodies decay all those plastic bottle tops, disposable lighters, and the ubiquitous bits of plastic detritus get back into the environment in a cruel perversion of ‘recycling’.

There is now so much plastic in the oceans it is likely that virtually every seabird has plastic in its belly if its feeding habits mean it mistakes plastic bits for food. The same is true for sea turtles, marine animals or fish, experts say.

Northern fulmars, a common seabird numbering in the millions, have a collective 45 tonnes worth of plastic bits in their bellies, estimates Jan Andries van Franeker, a biologist with the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies at the University of Wageningen in Holland.

At least 95 percent of fulmars in the North Sea where van Franeker has been working for three decades have one to several dozen bits of plastic in their stomachs. The same is true for related species like the tiny Wilson’s storm petrels, which unknowingly transport an estimated 35 tonnes of plastic from their wintering grounds in the North Atlantic to breeding grounds in the Antarctic, he says.

“If a seabird’s feeding habits mean it could mistake plastic for food, then it will likely have plastic in its stomach,” he said in an interview at the week long Fifth International Marine Debris Conference, which ends Friday in Honolulu, Hawaii. Continue reading

Durban May Be Last Chance to Stabilise Climate Under Two Degrees — Africa, Russia To Cook by 2020; Most of Canada and China by 2030

By Stephen Leahy

The International Energy Agency estimates that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in.

CHANGWON, South Korea , Oct 23, 2011 (IPS)

The window to limit global warming to less than two degrees C is closing so fast it can be measured in months, a new scientific analysis revealed Sunday.

Without putting the brakes on carbon emissions very soon, large parts of Africa, most of Russia and northern China will be two degrees C warmer in less than 10 years. Canada and Alaska will soon follow, the regional study shows.

“If one is sincerely committed to limit global temperature increase to below two degrees C… (governments) committing to a global peak emission level and peak year makes sense from a science perspective,” said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. [See NCC editorial “Crossing the threshold”]

Governments will be meeting in Durban, South Africa starting Nov. 28 to launch the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which so far have failed to ensure their goal of less than a two-degree C increase will be achieved.

IPS asked Rogelj if government delegates in Durban ought to set a specific year by which global emissions will peak and then decline to ensure the two-degree C target will be met.

“Committing to such targets would ensure that we embark globally on a technologically and economically feasible low-emission path,” Rogelj said.

Rogelj and a group of leading experts show in this state-of-the-art analysis that to have a 66-percent or better probability of staying below two degrees C this century, global carbon emissions must peak before 2020. Global emissions ought to be around 44 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020. That is four billion tonnes (also called gigatonnes, Gt) less than the estimated emissions for 2010.

After 2020 emissions must decline rapidly, about two to three percent less each year until they fall to 20 Gt by 2050, according to the computer models. This is an emissions “pathway that will be very challenging to achieve”, Rogelj and colleagues conclude in their study.

Very challenging” is scientist-talk for something that will be extremely difficult to do. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than two degrees C,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA, last May. Continue reading

Cook Islands Aims for 100 Percent Green Energy by 2020

President of Cook Islands – Henry Puna

 Cook Islands’ Carbon Footprint is the size of a town of 3,000 in America

Stephen Leahy interviews HENRY PUNA, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands

VIENNA, Jul 13, 2011 (IPS) –

“One hundred percent renewable energy by 2020… It is ambitious but it is not impossible,” Henry Puna, prime minister of the Cook Islands, told IPS in a recent interview.

The Cook Islands is one of those low-lying island countries that will drown without serious cuts in the carbon emissions that are warming the planet and melting the world’s ice sheets.

Home to just 14,000 people, the Cook Islands is made up of 15 small islands spread over an area the size of India in the middle of the South Pacific. The entire country’s carbon emissions are about equal to those of the average U.S. or Canadian town of 3,000 people.

With an action plan born of desperation, it wants to be the world’s first zero-carbon emissions country by 2020. With little renewable energy at present and dependent on foreign aid, the Cook Islands plans to generate half of its energy with renewables just four years from now and reach 100 percent by 2020.

IPS senior environmental correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Prime Minister Puna at the Vienna Energy Forum in June, where 1,200 delegates from 120 countries and over 40 government ministers discussed how to bring clean, reliable and affordable energy services to everyone on the planet.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: The Cook Islands have a tiny carbon footprint. Why are you making this commitment to be 100-percent renewable?

A: Statistically, our carbon emissions don’t register. As a people we want to do something about climate change, if not for the world than for ourselves.

Nearly all of our energy comes from oil [diesel and petrol] and we spend half of our national budget on oil. That’s tens of millions of dollars that leaves our islands. We want to keep those millions in our local economy. Cook Islanders people are strongly supportive of our dream is to be the cleanest and greenest destination in the world. One day the world will want to know how we got to 100 percent.

Q: Are you hopeful the international community will finally agree to make the necessary carbon emissions cuts to keep global warming to less than two degrees C?

A: The reality is that things move very slowly at the international level. At the [Vienna] forum, I urged the international community to ensure that global carbon emissions peak by 2015 and begin to decline. We need to act fast. This is the decade where we must bring emissions of climate change under control.

Our circumstances differ, we have different life experiences….but we are all part of Mother Earth and should share responsibility to keep her livable for all of us and not just for some.

Q: Are Cook Islanders worried about climate change?

A: The Cooks are already suffering from sea level rise, coral bleaching, more frequent and stronger cyclones, changes in precipitation, and increases in coastal erosion. We live off the sea and the land – we depend on nature for our livelihoods. Anything affecting nature causes alarm amongst people. Climate change threatens our very survival. There is a general sense of apprehension about the future.

Q: What makes you believe you can achieve your ambitious target?

A: Yesterday, I visited Güssing [in Austria], an impoverished town in the 1990s that re-made itself by going 100-percent renewable energy. They got rid of fossil fuels and achieved energy independence. They also attracted lots of clean and green businesses and become a tourist centre.

I spent time with the mayor. They’re going to come to the Cooks and give us advice. They are willing to share their experience. I’m absolutely excited by this.

Q: Your country has few financial resources. Do you really think the Cooks can do what Güssing has done?

A: It’s a small town and we’re a small country. What I learned from Güssing is that if there is the political will backed by public support, then anything can happen. We already have a plan for a two- megawatt solar plant in one of our islands. We have support from Japan, New Zealand and UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme].

Q: What are some of the obstacles you have to overcome?

A: The technology to generate all of our energy already exists but energy storage is the key. We also need to make sure some of this will be able to be used and maintained by isolated communities without the technical skills.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Knowing we are taking action helps us feel good even if the world does nothing. We’re not doing this just for the Cook Islands. It is our contribution to improve the overall global environment.

First published as Q&A: Cook Islands Aims for 100 Percent Green Energy by 2020 – IPS ipsnews.net.

Gov’ts Fail to Invest in Hungriest, Poorest Regions Creating Crisis After Crisis

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 21, 2011 (IPS)

For millennia, people have coped with drought in the Horn of Africa, comprised mainly of drylands. Yet today, more than 13 million people there are starving because of political instability, poor government policies and failure to invest in the world’s poorest people, say experts here in Changwon.

2.5 billion dollars in humanitarian aid is needed to cope with a devastating hunger crisis in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Two billion people, half of whom are extremely impoverished, live in drylands around the world, according to Anne Juepner of the Drylands Development Centre at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Nairobi.

“Drylands are not wastelands, as is often thought. More than half of the world’s cattle, sheep, goats and most of its grains are grown in drylands,” Juepner told IPS in an interview outside of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) in Changwon.

Juepner is here to launch UNDP’s “The Forgotten Billion”, a report to call attention to the fact that despite its productivity, drylands that comprise one third of the world’s land mass are also home to world’s poorest and most at-risk people. Continue reading

Looking to the Sahel for Lessons in Pushing Back Deserts To Feed Billions

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 17, 2011 (IPS)

Nearly all our food comes from the Earth’s limited food- producing lands, but those lands continue to be degraded, guaranteeing far higher food prices and less food in the future, experts warn.

But degradation and desertification can be halted and reversed, as evidenced by once barren parts of Africa’s dry Sahel Region that are now green and thriving thanks to local efforts.

“Without reversing ongoing land degradation, studies show food prices will be 30 percent [higher] and 12 percent less food available” by 2035, said Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which is meeting here in Changwon, South Korea.
We can’t afford to deplete our food-producing lands when there will be nine billion people by 2050,” Gnacadja said.

Food security is a major theme at this 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) under the UNCCD, the international governmental convention charged with finding ways to end desertification and land degradation.

Although the world can produce enough food for everyone, roughly one in seven people will go hungry. Why? They simply cannot afford to buy enough food. World food prices remain 15 percent higher than a year ago, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Food commodity speculation and climatic change that is bringing increased heat and changes in precipitation patterns, along with increasing demand for biofuels, have been blamed for rising food prices in recent years.

Largely unseen in the growing concern about feeding the world is the decline in the fertility of soils due to erosion and overuse. Every year, this results in the effective loss of some 12 million hectares of land. Continue reading

Persistent La Niña Is Back Again — And Driving Up Food Prices

By Stephen Leahy *

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 11, 2011 (Tierramérica)

La Niña is back less than three months after the end of its last appearance, a particularly strong event that contributed to driving up global food prices.

The new La Niña will continue the largely dry conditions in important agricultural regions in Brazil and Argentina as well as the southern United States and hurt yields of soy and wheat, experts say.

“Multi-year La Niñas are not uncommon,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground, the web’s first commercial weather service.

“The last was between 1998 to 2001 with a few months of neutral conditions like this year,” Masters told Tierramérica.

La Niña and El Niño are, respectively, the cold and warm phases of the famous El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.

ENSO is part of the system that regulates heat in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and is driven by changes in surface ocean temperature and air pressure.

“ENSO is undoubtedly being affected by climate change,” said Masters.  Continue reading

Carbon Markets Are NOT Cooling the Planet

Carbon markets have failed – prone to fraud – experts report

Climate change is the world’s biggest market failure so why would we expect carbon markets to save the day? There isn’t going to be a climate treaty for some years yet.It is simply too complex and politically charged. Don’t be too depressed about this. We are in uncharted waters as a species in trying to find an equitable way to manage the climate of our planet. But action is needed now and the best place is at our local neighbourhood level to save energy, use alternatives, build communities and inform people IMHO. — Stephen

By Stephen Leahy*

BONN, Jun 22, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Carbon markets have been widely promoted as the only way to generate enough money to enable industries and countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, which are largely responsible for global warming. The only problem is that nearly 20 years after their conception, they have failed to work, and have also been subject to fraud and other financial crimes.

Interpol, the world’s leading policing agency, has warned that carbon market schemes are easily taken advantage of by organised crime.

Earlier this year, carbon credits worth 38 million dollars went missing in the European Union’s carbon market after funds were transferred by computer hackers from the Czech Republic to Poland, Estonia and Liechtenstein before disappearing. That was the fourth time funds had been stolen or mislaid.

“A lawyer formerly involved in carbon trading told me that if markets are still trading carbon 10 or 15 years from now, then the global environment will be in very big trouble,” Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the U.S.-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), told Tierramerica.

“Carbon markets are open to fraud, misrepresentation and deceptive promotion,” Suppan said in an interview at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating sessions held in Bonn Jun. 6-17.

These markets have had huge support from governments and they still do not work to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Suppan, whose organisation works on trade, agriculture and environmental issues.
Continue reading

Reducing Fossil Fuel Use Only Way to Save Dying Corals

Another important reason why continuing to burn more fossil fuels is very dangerous for all of us. Excerpts from July 2008 article — Stephen 

‘The world’s fossil fuel economy is like the Titanic — we know its going to hit an iceberg but it takes a very long time to stop a really big ship..’

By Stephen Leahy

FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., July 12, 2008 (IPS)

The rapid decline of coral reefs around the world offers a potent warning that entire ecosystems can collapse due to human activities, although there is hope for reefs if immediate action is taken, coral experts agreed at the conclusion of a five-day international meeting Friday.

“Reefs are in serious trouble, but don’t write them off,” Terry Hughes, a marine ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University told 3,000 scientists, conservationists and policy makers attending at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“We can save reefs if we take immediate action,” Hughes said.

More than 20 percent of the world’s reefs have died, and large areas are failing due to a combination of climate change, overfishing, pollution and sea level rise. Most of the fabulous corals that attract tourists to the Caribbean are gone and half of remaining reefs in the U.S. are in serious decline.

[Update 2010 – Here’s a list of Stephen Leahy’s latest articles on corals Coral Reefs and Acid Oceans Series]

We may be facing ocean deserts in the future,” said Guillermo Dias-Pulido of Australia’s University of Queensland.

Continue reading

Rwanda Wins Gold for Forest Conservation Blueprint

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 26, 2011 (IPS)

Government policies are seldom lauded, yet Rwanda’s forest policy has resulted in a 37-percent increase in forest cover on a continent better known for deforestation and desertification.

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy has also resulted in reduced erosion, improved local water supplies and livelihoods, while helping ensure peace in a country still recovering from the 1994 genocide.

Now Rwanda can also be known as the winner of the prestigious Future Policy Award  for 2011.

“Rwanda has sought not only to make its forests a national priority, but has also used them as a platform to revolutionise its stances on women’s

rights and creating a healthy environment,” said Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement.

She issued a statement for the award ceremony in New York City last week just days before her death from cancer in Nairobi Monday at the age of 71. “Rwanda has been a very divided country since the 1994 genocide but this policy is helping to bring peace and value to the people,” said Alexandra Wandel, director of the World Future Council, which administers the Future Policy Awards.

The World Future Council is an international policy research organisation based in Hamburg, Germany that provides decision-makers with effective policy solutions.

“Our aim is to inspire other countries to adapt these successful policies to their individual needs.” said Wandel told IPS. Continue reading