Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How do agri-food systems contribute to climate change?

Agriculture and food security are exposed to impacts and risks related to the changing climate in several ways. On the other hand, agriculture and food production activities are also responsible for part of the greenhouse gas emissions that in turn cause climate change.

According to the latest conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, together with deforestation and other human actions that change the way land is used (codename: AFOLU, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use), accounts for about a quarter of emissions contributing to climate change.

GHG emissions from farming activities consist mainly of non-CO2 gases: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) produced by bacterial decomposition processes in cropland and grassland soils and by livestock’s digestive systems.

The latest estimates released in 2014 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization [pdf] showed that emissions from crop and livestock production and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years, from 2.7 billion tonnes CO2e in 1961 to more than 5.3 billion tonnes CO2e in 2011.

During the last ten years covered by FAO data (2001-2011) agricultural emissions increased by 14 percent (primarily in developing countries that expanded their agricultural outputs), while almost in the same years (2001-2010) net GHG emissions due to land use change and deforestation decreased by around 10 percent (due to reduced levels of deforestation and increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks).

The current situation, as highlighted by a recent study led by FAO and published in Global Change Biology, sees farming activities more responsible for climate pollution than deforestation. Even thought emissions from agriculture and land use change are growing at a slower rate than emissions from fossil fuels, emissions reduction achieved thanks to better forest and soil management are cancelled out by a more intensive and energy-consuming food production systems. The FAO estimated that without increased efforts to address and reduce them, GHG emissions from the sector could increase by an additional 30 percent by 2050.

In a recent study published on Nature Climate Change, scientists pointed out that “the intensification of agriculture (the Green Revolution, in which much greater crop yield per unit area was achieved by hybridization, irrigation and fertilization) during the past five decades is a driver of changes in the seasonal characteristics of the global carbon cycle”.

As shown in the graph below, livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed nearly two-thirds of the total GHG agricultural emissions produced in the last years, with synthetic fertilizers and rice cultivation being the other major sources.

According to another report by FAO (“Tackling climate change through livestock”, accessible here in pdf), the livestock sector is estimated to emit 7.1 billion tonnes CO2-eq per year, with beef and cattle milk production accounting for the majority of the sector’s emissions (41 and 19 percent respectively).

Emission intensities (i.e. emissions per unit of product) are highest for beef (almost 300 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of protein produced), followed by meat and milk from small ruminants (165 and 112kg respectively). Cow milk, chicken products and pork have lover global average emission intensities (below 100 CO2-eq/kg). However, emission intensity widely varies at sub-global level due to the different practices and inputs to production used around the world. According to FAO, the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change and has a high potential for emission reduction.

Together with increasing conversion of land to agricultural activities and the use of fertilizers, increasing energy use from fossil fuels is one of the main drivers that boosted agricultural emissions in the last decades. FAO estimated that in 2010 emissions from energy uses in food production sectors (including emissions from fossil fuel energy needed i.e. to power machinery, irrigation pumps and fishing vessels) amounted to 785 million tonnes CO2e.

FAO latest data show that in the past two decades around 40 percent of GHG agricultural outputs (including emissions from energy use) are based in Asia. The Americas has the second highest GHG emissions (close to 25 percent), followed by Africa, Europe and Oceania.

According to FAO, since 1990 the top ten emitters are: China, India, US, Brazil, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, Argentina, Pakistan and Sudan.

Agricultural emissions plus energy by country, average 1990-2012. FAOSTAT database

The need for climate-smart agriculture and food production systems becomes even more compelling when considering the shocking level of waste within the global food system. According to the first FAO study to focus on the environmental impacts of food wastage, released in 2013 (accessible here in pdf), each year food that is produced and gone to waste amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.

Food wastage’s carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere per year, to which must be added significant amounts of agricultural areas (1.4 billion hectares, globally) and water (250km3) used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.

How to meet global food needs (with global population projected to reach 9 billion in 2050) without overexploiting soil and water, and with lower emissions contributing to climate change (whose impacts in turn affect water and food security) is the greatest farming challenge of of today’s and tomorrow’s world. More

Credit: Best Climate Practices


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

CARICOM Special Meetings Focus on CCREEE, Sustainable Energy

5 February 2015: The Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) and the Caribbean region's sustainable energy strategies were at the center stage at two Special Meetings of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The ministerial meetings on energy and the environment focused on the establishment of the CCREEE, regional energy coordination and sustainable energy strategies, and the post-2015 development agenda, among other themes.

The establishment of the CCREEE, which was endorsed by COTED in November 2014, was on the agenda of the Special Meetings on Energy, and Energy and the Environment, held in Georgetown, Guyana, from 4-5 February. The meetings, among other things, explored “the full ramifications and optimum exploitations of CCREEE.” CCREEE is currently in the process of being established with the assistance of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Austrian Government and SIDS DOCK initiative of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The Centre's mandate will be technical, namely to support and coordinate the execution of CARICOM's sub-regional and regional renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes, projects and activities.

Calling for a “cohesive regional effort” to achieve sustainable energy security, Chair of the Special Meeting on Energy, and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining of Jamaica Phillip Paulwell said that “although sustainable energy solutions have made great strides” in the CARICOM region, significant gaps and barriers remained in the areas of renewable energy access, energy efficiency and reliable grid development and deployment.

CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General Manorma Soeknandan similarly noted that, despite progress made, “significant additional changes” would need to be made to meet the demands for reliable, secure, efficient and cost-effective energy services, suggesting that “energy is about sustainable livelihoods and job creation alike.”

The 54th and 55th Special Meetings of COTED, held at the CARICOM Secretariat, were preceded by preparatory sessions among regional officials from the fields of energy and the environment. [CARICOM Today Press Release on CCREEE] [CARICOM Today Press Release on Paulwell's Speech] [CARICOM Today Press Release on Soeknandan's Speech]


Monday, February 16, 2015

Branson urges students to lobby leaders for clean energy

Cayman could be ‘carbon neutral’ in six years, says entrepreneur

Sir Richard Branson told Cayman Islands students they need to lobby their government to go green. He said the island could save money and be “carbon neutral” within six years if leaders committed to clean energy.

Sir Richard Branson

Speaking at a forum for students at Camana Bay on Friday, Sir Richard sounded a dire warning for the world’s coral reefs, saying it may already be too late to save marine ecosystems from the impact of global warming.

But he said more could be done to move toward clean energy and lessen the impact of carbon emissions on the environment.

And he said young people would need to lead the campaign for more environmentally friendly policies from their governments.

“If a group of you, just the people here, put placards above your head and went to the government, you’ve got a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

“The Cayman Islands could be carbon neutral in five or six years and save themselves a lot of money, but it needs absolute determination from the government to get you there.”

Sir Richard acknowledged it is difficult to get governments to think beyond the short term. But he said he is optimistic that international leaders would put the necessary policies in place to achieve total clean energy across the globe within the next 50 years.

The billionaire businessman, who owns his own Caribbean island powered completely from renewable sources, believes the energy revolution can start in the region.

He has launched a “10-island challenge,” starting in Aruba, to assist small islands in moving toward 100 percent renewable energy.

“It would be great if we could get the Cayman Islands to join and make it the 11-island challenge,” he said.

“I’ll be bending the arm of your prime minister [sic] later today to see if we can get him on board.”

Sir Richard believes the Caribbean can be a hot house of innovation in the clean energy sector, and he told the students there would be many opportunities for scientists and entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s problems.

“If we move forward to when you are 50 or 60, I hope the world will be powered completely by clean energy. It is definitely doable,” he added. More


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Row Erupts over Jamaica’s Bid to Slow Beach Erosion

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

Jamaica's Negril beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, February 6, 2015

We are building a network of Climate Change Clubs!

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

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

The participating schools are:

Belmopan Comprehensive High School

Belize Christian Academy

Belmopan Baptist High School

Our Lady of Guadalupe High School

Belmopan Methodist High School

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

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

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



Monday, February 2, 2015

Caribbean Energy Security Summit Commits to Energy Transition

Twenty-six countries, together with seven regional and international organizations, have released a joint statement in support of the transformation of the energy systems of Caribbean countries. The signatories of the statement, signed during the Caribbean Energy Security Summit, commit to pursuing comprehensive approaches to an energy transition toward "clean sustainable energy for all" and reforms that support the creation of favourable policy and regulatory environments for sustainable energy.

The Summit, which was co-hosted by the US Department of State, the Council of the Americas and the Atlantic Council, brought together finance and private sector leaders from the US and the Caribbean, and representatives of the international community. The event showcased the initiatives under the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) in the areas of improved governance, access to finance and donor coordination, and featured discussions by partner countries on comprehensive energy diversification strategies.

During the event, the US Government announced enhanced support for technical assistance and capacity-building programs in the Caribbean, through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) initiative, among others, with the aim of promoting a cleaner and more secure energy future in the region. Caribbean leaders agreed to pursue comprehensive energy diversification programs and facilitate the deployment of clean energy.

Furthermore, presentations and updates were provided by, inter alia: Caribbean leaders on energy sector goals; the World Bank on a proposed Caribbean Energy Investment Network for improved coordination and communication among partners; and the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) on a new focus on clean energy project development in the Caribbean, which includes US$43 million in financing for a 34 MW wind energy project in Jamaica.

Highlighting the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in supporting the transition to sustainable energy in the Caribbean, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said the past five years had seen an "unprecedented push" in the Caribbean toward the development of the region’s renewable energy sources, noting this was "doubly impressive" "in a time of low oil prices."

The Summit, which took place on 26 January 2015, in Washington, DC, US, is part of CESI, launched by US Vice President Joseph Biden in June 2014. The regional and international organizations signing the statement were the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Caribbean Development Bank, the EU, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the OAS and the World Bank.

The joint statement was also signed by the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, and the United States. More

Credit: SIDS Policy & Practice IISD



Sunday, February 1, 2015

Q&A with Matthieu Ricard: "I hope millions will march in the streets before Paris 2015"

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, author and photographer. The dialogue with his father, French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel, The Monk and the Philosopher, was a best seller in Europe and was translated into 21 languages. We caught up with him during the Davos World Economic Forum on January 23rd, 2015.

Before you became a Buddhist monk, you were a molecular biologist at the Institut Pasteur in France. You said once that the reason why you gave up that career was because you had met many people from all walks of life, at the top of their fields – and yet many of them did not show similar excellence on the human side. You are here at Davos among the global elite, the most powerful people in the world. How do you see your role here and what impact can you have?

I have to be humble about my role. It is a drop in the ocean and it is freezing outside, that drop might freeze too! It’s my seventh year here, and the Forum is giving me a voice, so I use it freely to speak about cooperation, altruism and about transforming oneself to better serve others.

There are a lot of stereotypes about Davos, such as thousands of people arriving in private jets. But there is also a community of people like Johan Rockström and his colleagues who are totally committed to bring about a better world. Klaus Schwab said in his inaugural speech that this week should be dedicated to care and compassion. The words are in the right direction, but they need to be followed by actions.

And a good part of the population is open to that. We now have much more consideration for future generations. If you have a house you don’t burn it down before leaving it to your children. You try to leave it in good condition.

There are billions and billions of human beings, as well as numerous other living beings that will follow us on this planet and we are shaping their future in a major way. Not to build up their suffering through our inconsiderate actions is the main challenge of our time. Even with a 2 degree increase the planet will be very different from the one we know now.

Today we need an even more intense level of cooperation to face the many challenges that confront us. Each of these challenges has its own temporality and priority. We need to reconcile these different time scales and types of preoccupations: the economy in the short-term, life satisfaction in the mid-term, and environment in the long-term.

Life satisfaction is measured on the scale of a life project, a career, a family, a generation and a lifetime. The evolution of the environment used to be measured in terms of millennia and era, but the pace of environmental change has now considerably accelerated and changed our sense of measurement. The economy and financial world are also evolving at an ever-faster pace.

We need to reconcile these three time scales. Altruism is the vital thread that can link them together and harmonize their requirements.

If we have more consideration for others, we will turn to caring economics, where the financial world is at the service of society and not the opposite. If we have more consideration for others, we will care for the quality of life of those around us, Gross National Happiness, and make sure that their situation improves. Finally, if we have more consideration for future generations, we will not blindly sacrifice the world that we hand down to them in favour of our short-term wants and desires.

At Davos, you attended a session where Johan Rockstrom presented the Planetary Boundaries concept. It is clear that humanity is on an unsustainable course and science is telling us that things are getting much worse, much faster. How can we adjust and re-calibrate for a more sustainable future? Do we need a mindset shift?

The mindset shift is happening, but not quickly enough. Cultural change usually takes a generation. When Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” came out 30 years ago, in France, only a few people paid attention. It took a generation for environmental questions to enter mainstream discussion.

We need ways to make the risk palpable, so people can feel it in their flesh. Like if you are told you can’t go to the beach because of excess of UV light coming from the depletion of the ozone layer, that’s something real.

People also need to feel that their concerns are heard by politicians. Many people are overwhelmed when research continues to show that the risk for our planet keeps increasing. They feel powerless. I hope that millions of people will march in the streets before Paris 2015 to show that it’s no longer acceptable that politicians move at such a slow pace to take the necessary measures to mitigate climate change.

Mindfulness meditation is all the rage in international conferences. Here at Davos there are daily sessions. Is this just a fad, or do you see it as a sign of the mindset shift that we are looking for?

This year it is my friend, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a wonderful teacher, who is leading those sessions. The scientists who did the research on meditation, Richard Davidson and Tania Singer are also here. Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable that every single day of the World Economic Forum begins with a meditation session. It turns out that many people are closet meditators.

I personally think that we should not speak simply of “mindfulness” but “caring mindfulness”, to make sure that we don’t end up with mindful snipers and mindful psychopaths.

As for the sessions on the environment, like those Johan Rockstrom and Mattias Klum are conducting, they should all take place in the main hall! It is so important.

Can you talk a bit about the state of debate on climate change in the Buddhist community?

You know, in Tibet, local people have never heard of climate change, but they all know twenty years ago they could cross the rivers on ice with yaks and trucks during three to four months in the winder, and now they can only do so during one or two months.

Countryside people in Nepal also say the Himalayas have become “black”. Now, only the tops above 5000 metres are white with snow. It is so sad. In the Himalayas, there are now so many lakes with no names because they just appeared in the last 30 years as glaciers are melting.

The Dalai Lama speaks of non violence against humans, non-violence against animals and non-violence against the environment. This reflects the Buddhist idea of interdependence. We are all in the same boat. On the Tibetan plateau, until the late 1950s, people would not cut the forests and they would leave the gold in the rivers. They thought that the magnificence of nature needed to be respected. Since then, because of new government policies, 40% of all forests have been cut. Conversely, in Bhutan, natural coverage has increased in 65% of the territory, while fishing and hunting are prohibited.

In essence, we should promote altruism on the level of society through education, through institutions that respect the rights of every individual, and through political and economic systems that allow everyone to flourish without sacrificing the good of future generations. To sum up in one sentence, as Martin Luther King told us: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” More