Rio+20: The Moment in History to Ensure Our Future Survival?

Planet Under Pressure - State of the Planet Declaration Mar 29 2012.

Worlds’ Scientists Say Facing “Planetary Emergency”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, (IPS)

The upcoming Rio+20 conference has to be the moment in human history when the nations of the world come together to find ways to ensure the very survival of humanity, many science and environmental experts believe.

Except that governments, the media and the public aren’t paying attention to the “planetary emergency” unfolding around them. The situation is like firefighters yelling “fire” in crowded room and still no listens.

“The situation is absolutely desperate and yet there’s nothing on the front pages or on the agenda of world leaders,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the ETC Group, an international environmental organisation based in Ottawa.

“The lack of attention is a tragedy,” said Mooney, who has 40 years experience in international environment and development issues.

Humanity is failing in its stewardship of the planet. An incredible 85 percent of the world’s oceans are in trouble, said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group, a U.S. organisation.

Rio+20 is a major opportunity to turn this around, Lieberman told IPS.

The Jun. 20-22 Rio+20 meet is timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio. The Earth Summit captured world attention, with leaders from most countries and some 10,000 media attending.

It gave birth to the most important environmental treaties on climate change, biodiversity and land degradation and desertification. World leaders also endorsed Agenda 21, a detailed blueprint on how nations can practice sustainable development.

Years of preparation went into the 1992 Summit, while only months have gone into Rio+20.

“There hasn’t been nearly enough preparation to be able to sign treaties,” said Lieberman. It’s been a struggle to get many governments like such as the US to focus on Rio+20 at all she said.

“Governments are not giving this opportunity enough importance given the mess we are in,” said Lisa Speer, director of the international oceans programme at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. NGO. Continue reading

Hunt for Metals, Minerals, Gas and Oil Triggers Global Land Rush: No Place Is Off Limits

 Need global moratorium on new large-scale mining, extraction and prospecting

 The average U.S. citizen uses an astonishing 22,000 times their weight in minerals, metals and fuels in their lifetime 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada – March 1 2012, IPS

A global scramble for land and mineral resources fuelled by billions of investment dollars is threatening the last remaining wilderness and critical ecosystems, destroying communities and contaminating huge volumes of fresh water, warned environmental groups in London Wednesday.

No national park, delicate ecosystem or community is off limits in the voracious hunt for valuable metals, minerals and fossil fuels, said the Gaia Foundation’s report, “Opening Pandora’s Box”. The intensity of the hunt and exploitation is building to a fever pitch despite the fact the Earth is already overheated and humanity is using more than can be sustained, the 56-page report warns.

“We’re calling for a global moratorium on new, large-scale mining, extraction and prospecting,” said Teresa Anderson of The Gaia Foundation, an international NGO headquartered in London, UK that works with local communities.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recently warned of the threats to World Heritage Sites from planned mining and oil and gas projects. One in four iconic natural areas in Africa is negatively affected, the report notes.

“No matter where you live, land acquisitions for mining, oil or gas are coming,” Anderson told IPS following the report’s launch in London.

The easy-to-get resources are gone. Now the extractive industries, funded by pension funds and commodities speculators, are using new technologies like fracking for natural gas to get at previously unprofitable resources. Continue reading

Become a Partner in Independent Enviro Journalism

A personal message from Stephen Leahy

“Journalism and media are society’s mirror providing accurate and essential information.

That is no longer the case.

Media are now controlled by a few major corporations like Murdoch’s News Corp. Coverage of environment and science has been gutted. If there is coverage it rarely digs below the surface. It’s not just TV, it’s all media.

After 18 years of being published in major publications on two continents I now count myself lucky to get $150 to $200 for an in-depth article. The few independent media outlets are either non-profits or struggling.

Urgent environmental issues didn’t go away just because most media stopped covering them.

More than 20,000 people attended the international climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico and it received one ten second clip on US network TV according to a Drexel University media study. (Coverage was even worse at last climate meet in Durban)

Nearly every indicator proves things are getting worse but less and less people know about this.

Many people, including leading scientists, tell me: ‘we need people like you to write about these issues‘. I’d like to do far more but it is impossible to continue without your help in what I’m calling Community Supported Journalism. People directly support independent journalists who craft honest and thoughtful articles about important subjects the mainstream media ignores or gloss over.

Community Supported Environmental Journalism Works

In 2010 dozens of people offered their help, donating $5,750 which helped ensure many breaking international stories were covered including the first media reports on the global die-off of corals and how climate change may be bringing colder winters to Europe and eastern North America. Those donors — I prefer to call them partners — enabled me to cover important international meetings like the UN Convention on Biodiversity, UNFCCC climate change conference and much more.

Thanks for reading.” — Stephen

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Letters of Support:

We need people like you. In tough economic times, where information flow is increasingly channeled and controlled, you perform a simply critical role. Hang in there. You are an admirable role model for the future.”

– E. Ann Clark, Associate Professor, University of Guelph.

“Stephen Leahy has done a superb job exposing the enormous sums the US government is spending on corporate welfare for big oil.”

Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer-prize winning editor and author of The Heat is On

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Toxic Pollution Shortens Lives By More Than a Decade

Haina, Dominican Republic - Children are developmentally impaired as a result of lead poisoning

Toxins and pollutants are major cause of illness

100 Million affected by 2000 toxic sites

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 14, 2011 (IPS)

Toxic pollution affects the health of more than 100 million people, shortening their productive life spans by an astonishing 12.7 years on average.

It is a common misperception that disease is responsible for most illness, when in fact toxins and pollutants in the environment are a major source of illness and reduced life spans globally.

Unlike diseases, toxins and pollutants like lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides were created by humans and are often improperly disposed of in a classic example of fouling our own nests.

“To be honest, we were astonished the number was so large,” said Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute, a small international NGO that released its annual report “World’s Worst Pollution Problems Report 2011” last week.

At least 100 million people are affected based on assessments of 2,000 toxic sites in 47 countries. Most of these sites are right inside villages and towns – all are close to people.

“There are thousands more sites out there,” Ericson told IPS. Continue reading

EcoMobility Gaining Ground As Cars/Roads Become Too Expensive

Car Ownership Declines in Europe as Cities’ Focus on Walking, Bikes & Public Transit

Cost of Personal Car Ownership Tops $10,000 a year

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Nov 1, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Berlin is a big capital city of a country famed for making excellent automobiles, but it can no longer afford roads and is now moving people by transit, bike and especially through walking.

Berlin is not alone. Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Bogotá, New York City and other major cities simply cannot afford the cost, the pollution, the noise and the congestion of more cars. They are embracing a new concept called EcoMobility – mobility without private cars.

“EcoMobility is not only walking, cycling and public transportation. It is about these three systems clicking together: connectivity is the key,” Gil Peñalosa, former director of parks and recreation in Bogotá, Colombia, told those attending the EcoMobility Changwon 2011 congress.

The congress on Mobility for the Future of Sustainable Cities was organised by the South Korean city of Changwon and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, an association of local government members from more than 1,220 cities in 70 countries.

“The famous Times Square in New York City is now a permanent pedestrian mall. Who would have believed that could happen just three years ago?” Peñalosa commented to Tierramérica.

“Five years ago who would have thought Paris would have over 22,000 bikes as part of a tremendously successful bike sharing system?” added Peñalosa, who is now the executive director of 8-80 Cities, an NGO based in Toronto that promotes walking, cycling, parks and urban trails to improve the public life of cities.

“We need to build cities around people and not around cars,” he stressed. Continue reading

The Quiet Crisis: Lost Foodlands Cover Area Larger Than Canada and China Combined – Two Billion People Affected

12 Million Hectares Lost Every Year to Desertification

Dealing with desertification has a long history of failure.

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 13, 2011 (IPS)

Degradation of land is the world’s quiet crisis, undercutting food production, increasing water scarcity, impoverishing hundreds of millions of people and affecting two billion overall. Nearly 20 million square kilometres of the earth’s arable lands – an area twice the size of Canada – have already been degraded.

Each year, 12 million hectares of land, where 20 million tons of grain could have been grown, are lost to desertification. Unless this trend is reversed soon, feeding the world’s growing population will be impossible, experts say. However, the global community has failed for over two decades to address this serious challenge.

Now, delegates from 193 countries are meeting in South Korea under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to review progress on a ten-year plan to reverse the ongoing decline in the quality and quantity of land in food-producing regions.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) under the UNCCD, delegates will also consider creating a scientific body like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to serve as the global authority on desertification and land degradation.

“The UNCCD will take bold steps towards delivering critical services to the two billion people that face negative impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought,” Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UNCCD, told delegates during the opening session of COP 10 that began Oct. 10 and concludes Oct. 21.

Land degradation is mainly the consequence of poor land management in conjunction with changes in rainfall. Erosion and degradation most often result from ploughing fields, removing crop residues after harvest and overgrazing. It is akin to tire wear on cars – a gradual, less noticeable process with potentially catastrophic consequences if ignored for too long.

“People do not notice land degradation until there is a crisis,” said Pier Paolo Roggero, a scientist at University of Sassari in Italy. 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.

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

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

Cars Biggest Killer of Children; 2nd for Adults

Update March 2013: Changes in legislation are urgently needed to reduce traffic deaths, and especially among the most vulnerable, says Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and including data on the Americas gathered by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).  See also Fact sheets on road safety in the Americas — Stephen

 

More than 16,000 people killed or injured on roads EVERY day

Health costs $500 billion ++

By Stephen Leahy

LEIPZIG, Germany, May 31, 2011 (IPS)

The leading killer of children over the age of five is not malaria or dysentery, but cars and trucks. And ninety percent of those children are killed on roads in developing countries.

Each day, 3,500 people are killed and 13,700 injured in road accidents around the world. That death and injury toll is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent over the next decade without serious efforts to improve road safety, says Etienne Krug, director of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Krug was here in Leipzig to the launch of the United Nations the Decade of Action for Road Safety at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual International Transport Forum. The goal for the U.N. Decade is to stabilise the spiralling increase in death and injuries on the world’s roads.

“We have the potential to save five million of lives over the next decade through changes in road safety,” Krug told IPS.

“A cultural shift is needed to create the awareness of the need for road safety,” he said.


Around 90 percent of all road fatalities occur in emerging and developing countries, making it the sixth leading cause of death in those countries. The lack of road safety laws and enforcement combined with increasing vehicle usage and population growth are the major reasons for this, said Krug.

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Only 15 percent of countries in the world have good legislation on drinking and driving or use of helmets when driving scooters and motorcycles. “We want to push that to 50 percent by the 2020,” he said.

Legislation and enforcement can make a huge difference. Vietnam enacted a helmet law two years ago and the use of helmets went from only 20 percent to over 90 percent, he said. Brazil recently enacted strict drinking and driving laws, while Mexico has made wearing seatbelts mandatory.

“Much more of this is needed,” he said.
Continue reading