Information of Interest, Mar 2012
1. U.N. Agencies Unveil Proposals to Safeguard Ocean
(www.unesco.org) – The Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability sounds the alarm about the health of the ocean and explains how it influences everyday life by regulating climate, by providing highly nutritious food and by sustaining livelihoods and economies. It recalls that although the ocean accounts for 70 percent of the surface of the planet, only 1 percent is protected. The Blueprint’s 10 proposals include:
- Create a global blue carbon market as a means of creating direct economic gain through habitat protection;
- Fill governance gaps in the high seas by reinforcing the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea;
- Support development of green economies in small island developing states;
- Promote research on ocean acidification – how to adapt and mitigate;
- Increase institutional capacity for scientific monitoring of oceans and coastal areas;
- Reform and reinforce regional ocean management organizations;
- Promote responsible fisheries and aquaculture in a green economy;
- Strengthen legal frameworks to address aquatic invasive species;
- “Green” the nutrient economy to reduce ocean hypoxia and to promote food security;
- Enhance coordination, coherence and effectiveness of the U.N. system on ocean issues.
The Blueprint emphasizes that 60 percent of the world’s major marine ecosystems have been degraded or are being used unsustainably, thus resulting in huge economic and social losses. Mangrove forests have lost 30 to 50 percent of their original cover in the last 50 years while coral reefs have lost 20 percent, thus increasing the vulnerability of many highly populated coastal areas. The ocean absorbs close to 26 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is provoking acidification (see this issue’s Arctic Report Card: 2011 Update) that is already threatening some varieties of plankton and poses a threat to the entire marine food chain and dependent socio-economic activities.
Some of these phenomena are not new but are aggravated by cumulative pressures, such as climate change, intensified human activity and technological advances. Furthermore, ecosystems situated in the deep ocean, where biodiversity and habitats often have major value but are not generally well understood, have virtually no protection at all.
The international community pledged to tackle these challenges at the Summits of Rio (1992) and Johannesburg (2002). However, the commitments made remain largely ineffectual and their objectives have not been met. Such has been the case for the pledge to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015 and the promise to create networks of protected marine areas by 2012. Few countries have adopted legislation to reduce land-based marine pollution, leading to an increase in the number of dead ocean areas. More than 400 marine areas have been listed as “biologically dead” to date.
The Blueprint was prepared by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commissions (IOC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
2. Tribal Peoples’ Observations of Climate Change
(www.survivalinternational.org) – According to The Most Inconvenient Truth of All: Climate Change and Indigenous People, from the Amazon to the Arctic, tribal peoples typically have the smallest ecological footprints, having practiced sustainable ways of life for thousands of years. But, they are also more vulnerable to climate change than anyone else and bear the brunt of mitigation measures, such as biofuels, hydroelectric dams and conservation projects.
Most tribal peoples have developed an intimate knowledge of their surroundings and, thus, they observe minute changes in their ecosystems. Their observations include:
- Inuit hunters of Northwest Canada report thinning sea ice, shorter winters and hotter summers, changes to permafrost and rising sea levels;
- The Innu people of Northeast Canada report observing birds in Northern Labrador, such as blue jays, that are typically only found in southern Canada or the U.S.; less snow during the coldest months of the year and fewer mosquitoes during the summer months;
- Nenet reindeer herders of Siberia report that frozen rivers are melting earlier in the season, which hinders their reindeers’ spring migration, thus forcing them to swim instead of walk across the ice; they also report fewer mosquitoes;
- Tsaatan reindeer herders of Mongolia report that the growth of lichen and moss that nourish their reindeer is being adversely impacted;
- The Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon report a change in the pattern of the rainfall in the rainforest. They urge the world to recognize the vital role of the Amazon in the regulation of the world’s climate and the contribution of deforestation to global warming.
“Climate change has started in our country,” says David Kopenawa, spokesman for the Yanomami people. “The rains come late. The sun behaves in a strange way. The world is ill. The lungs of the sky are polluted. We know it is happening. You cannot go on destroying nature. We will all die, burned and drowned.
“The rich countries have burned and destroyed many kilometers of Amazon forest. If you cut down big trees and set fire to the forest, the Earth dries up. The world needs to listen to the cry of the Earth, which is asking for help.”
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Inuit activist, said, “Hunters have fallen through the sea ice and lost their lives in areas long considered safe. The Arctic is considered the health barometer for the planet. If you wish to see how healthy the planet is, come and take its pulse in the Arctic.”
“Traditional weather reading skills can’t be trusted anymore,” said Veikko Magga, a Saami reindeer herder. “In the olden times, one could see beforehand what kind of weather it will be. These signs and skills hold true no more.”
“Tribal peoples are the world’s original scientists,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International. “It’s self-evident that where they’ve been allowed to continue living on their lands, forest cover and biodiversity can be much higher than in other kinds of protected areas. And, without their ecological knowledge, many vital medicines might never have been developed.
“Now it is critical for us all that their knowledge and views are seen as legitimate. Tribal peoples should have a far greater role in policy decisions regarding climate change mitigation and their right to the ownership of their land needs to be recognized.”
According to Survival International, where they affect indigenous peoples, measures to mitigate the impact of climate change must:
- Involve indigenous people fully and draw on their unequalled knowledge of their environments; and
- Recognize and respect indigenous rights as enshrined in international law (ILO Convention 169) and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly their right to the ownership of their land and their right to give or withhold consent to developments in their territories.
3. EPA Clean Air Rules Boost Economy and Create Jobs
(www.ceres.org) – According to a February 2011 Ceres Report, New Jobs, Cleaner Air: Employment Effects Under Planned Changes to the EPA’s Air Pollution Rules, “Clean air safeguards have benefitted the United States tremendously. Enacted in 1970 and amended in 1990, the Clean Air Act (CAA) has delivered cleaner air, better public health, new jobs and an impressive return-on-investment – providing $4 to $8 in benefits for every $1 spent on compliance.
“. . . Since 1990, the CAA has reduced emissions of the most common air pollutants 41 percent while Gross Domestic Product increased 64 percent. Clean air regulations have also spurred important technological innovation, such as catalytic converters, that helped make the U.S. a world leader in exported environmental control technologies.”
Focusing on 36 states in the eastern U.S., the report “evaluates employment impacts of the electrics sector’s transformation to a cleaner, more modern fleet through investment in pollution controls and new generation capacity and through retirement of older, less efficient generating facilities.” Although the analysis considers only employment-related impacts, the reality, according to the report, is new “standards will yield numerous other concrete benefits, including better public health from cleaner air, increased competitiveness from developing innovative technologies and mitigation of climate change. Moreover, increased employment . . . will also benefit severely stressed state budgets through increased payroll taxes and reduced unemployment benefit costs.”
The report states that throughout the next five years, “investments in pollution controls and new generation capacity will create a significant number of new jobs in each of the states within the Eastern Interconnection, more than offsetting any job reductions from projected coal plant closures.
- The largest estimated job gains are in Illinois (122,695), Virginia (123,014), Tennessee (113,138), North Carolina (76,966) and Ohio (76,240).
- In states with net O&M reductions, projected gains in capital improvement jobs will provide enough work to fully offset the O&M job reductions.
- The construction of pollution controls will create a significant, near-term increase in new jobs. O&M job reductions are likely to occur later in the period.
“As Congress continues to debate how best to create jobs, we already know one area that is poised for more jobs – the utility sector. As companies invest in upgrades to their older, less efficient power plants to comply with EPA air pollution rules, jobs will be created at supplier’s manufacturing centers all the way down the supply chain to the actual construction sites,” said Ceres President Mindy Lubber. “Hands down, clear air is a good thing and putting these air pollution rules into effect at a time when new jobs and economic growth are desperately needed is the right thing to do.”
4. Policy Options and Actions for Progress in Mining
(www.un.org) – According to the United Nations 2011 Economic and Social Council Report, Policy Options and Actions for Expediting Progress in Implementation: Mining, “a number of significant changes have taken place in the mining sector since the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. Progress has been achieved on transparency and governance of the sector. Many companies have embraced progressive voluntary guidelines and principles as a framework for their operations while pursuing resource efficiency improvements. However, significant gaps remain.
“Many countries could enhance the contribution of their mineral wealth to their national economies. Steps remain to be taken towards increased transparency and disclosure from governments to citizens on mining activities and the revenues they generate. Respect of human rights, land rights and livelihoods of local and indigenous communities, environmental and social impacts of mining activities and more generally relations between governments, companies and citizens are areas where further progress is needed.”
The report provides detailed information and suggestions within five areas of improvement:
- Controlling the need for metals and minerals extraction,
- Strengthening the contribution of mining to national economies,
- Addressing the environmental and social impacts of mining,
- Improving governance in the mining sector, and
- Building and reinforcing national capacities.
During the discussions at the Commission on Sustainable Development-18, a global initiative for sustainable mining was proposed for consideration, encompassing such areas as facilitating policy dialogue, defining product standards, promoting responsible behavior and transparency, and encouraging greater resource efficiency and recycling. International cooperation to advance measures to strengthen governance, transparency and public accountability; to build technical and managerial capacities; to develop new mining technologies; to promote investment and technology transfer; and to ensure rehabilitation and benefit-sharing was also mentioned.