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Entries tagged "Sustainable Development"
June 16, 2012 · By Oscar Reyes
President Barack Obama may be steering clear of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, but thousands of government delegates, civil society activists, and business lobbyists are already streaming into Brazil.
I arrived last night and will blog throughout this UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I'll bring you the latest about the talks among those somber-suited delegates who'll buzz around a complex of aircraft hangars on the edge of the city. And I'll sum up the action at the tent city that has sprung up in Rio's vast and verdant Flamengo Park — where the People's Summit for Social and Environmental Justice is taking place.
To kick things off, here's some recommended reading for anyone who's about to board a plane to Rio to attend the summit from June 20-22, or to help you follow the action if you're not. To learn what's at stake, I recommend reading the Rio Conventions, which world leaders agreed to follow during the meeting they held here in 1992. These landmark treaties laid out the principles under which key issues of environmental protection are to be discussed. The three landmark conventions address climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.
Then there's Agenda 21 — a modest and rather toothless action plan for supposedly "sustainable development." (While over-excited tea partiers may consider that document to be a Soros-funded, left-wing conspiracy for the United Nations to achieve world domination, it never had much impact.)
And although the first Rio Earth Summit successfully established a framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, its impact has remained limited. Nature magazine's damning report card, which makes that clear, is also very disturbing. Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen at even faster rates than before. We continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. Land degradation is causing the continued spread of deserts.
For this reason, many delegates in Rio this time around are simply calling for measures to implement existing commitments. They say that would be better than creating any new corporate-driven initiatives or issuing yet more empty promises. The Third World Network has a comprehensive overview of the key issues, and is publishing regular updates with details of who said what at the Rio+20 talks.
"Green economy" proposals have proven to be some of the most contentious so far. On June 14, the 133 countries that comprise the G77+China (the largest negotiating bloc, representing the majority of the world's population) walked out of talks on this element of the text. They cited a lack of progress on funding to help developing countries achieve more sustainable development and "technology transfer" mechanisms that could ease patent restrictions to promote the spread of cleaner technologies. Today, they kicked out of the agreement text that would have advocated a "transition to a green economy."
That's a win for progressives. Really. Wait — don't we want a greener economy? Of course we do, but as this briefing, this video , this animation, and this report clearly show, there's widespread concern that the term "green economy" is being used as a cover by rich countries lobbying for new markets to be created in biodiversity and ecosystems, and new avenues for financial speculation. A truly green economy, by contrast, would recognize the limits of what can be "financialized." It would protect both the common good and public resources.
The battle between these very different worldviews will continue here over the coming days. The Rio+20 negotiating text remains littered with language that could be used to promote markets for environmental services. And the fight against the anti-democratic variety of green economics must be waged outside this conference too, because the World Bank and other powerhouses are busily building institutions to support these new markets.
Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies' Sustainable Energy & Economy Network. www.ips-dc.org
February 28, 2011 · By Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
As countries struggle with rising costs for wheat, corn, and other food imports, there is a renewed call by many around the world for governments to support small-scale sustainable farmers as a way to reduce dependence on volatile global food markets.
In the Philippines, we have the opportunity to ask dozens of organic farmers what they think of their new government, and what it could do to help the transition to more sustainable farming. In 2010, Benigno Aquino Jr. was elected Philippine president. We tell farmers that Aquino’s new Agriculture Secretary, Proceso Alcala, has emphasized two goals in his early pronouncements that might surprise them: achieving Philippine rice self-sufficiency within three years, and promoting organic farming.
Many farmers are pleased to hear this, but almost all are wary about how much will really change. After all, in the decades since Aquino’s mother, Cory, had become president as a result of the 1986 “People Power” uprising against dictator Ferdinand Marcos, national government policies have largely reflected elite and corporate interests. They have favored exports and what we have termed a “vulnerable” model of development. Still, the farmers acknowledge that they need help. So, we push them to tell us what the national government can do to assist them and to reach Secretary Alcala’s two goals. We get a wide range of answers, but here are the five responses we hear most consistently, answers that could help build a more rooted farming future:
- Training: These organic farmers want more training and education to help them farm efficiently; consumers need more education about organics. But, farmers stress, the so-called “experts” need different training. Farmers report that their main interaction with the national government is via agricultural extension workers who mostly promote chemical farming and hybrid seeds. “Train the extension workers to promote organics and have them give out traditional seed varieties,” is one farmer’s advice. Carlito, the self-trained “farmer scientist” we introduced in our last blog, suggests that the government should invite “farmer scientists” like him to train its thousands of extension workers, who could then share such “zero-chem” expertise with other farmers.
- Education: More than one farmer stresses that this shift in content needs to begin immediately in the agriculture schools. Indeed, graduates of such schools describe to us how chemical agriculture is often all that is taught—making it not surprising that it's what Agriculture Department extension workers know. Others suggest that the change needs to start in elementary schools with big shifts in curriculum: “Put organic farming in the social studies and science curriculum. Focus on the children; they will understand the health and environmental issues.”
- Irrigation: Many farmers emphasize that rather than pushing major technological “modernization,” the government must take better care of the existing infrastructure. Most of the irrigation canals in the country are decades old and farmers need them repaired and upgraded. Agricultural experts at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and at Rice Watch and Action Network declare that such an upgrade could add 10-20 percent to the country’s rice output, so that this alone could eliminate the need for rice imports.
- Speed Up Land Reform: As in many countries, the grossly unequal distribution of wealth remains at the root of many of the Philippines’ problems. As farmers stress to us, too much farm land remains in the hands of the few. Too many of the country’s small farmers do not own the land they till or have been forced to mortgage their land, and they are crushed under the burden of debts. Several farmers (and advocates) emphasize that, in his first year in office, President Aquino would do well to initiate land reform on his family’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita in central Luzon, something that his family has promised but failed to act on since his mother’s term in office. This action would have huge symbolic significance and could open the door to more meaningful redistribution of land and wealth.
- Protect Rice from “Free Trade” Agreements: Farmers want and need the Philippine government to offer protections against cheap, chemical-laden rice imports. Some farmers and their advocates tell us that rice should be included among the “special products” that World Trade Organization exempts from large tariff reductions. In addition to the WTO, there is a trade agreement among Southeast Asian nations which has member governments cutting or eliminating tariffs on many goods; again farmers and advocates want the Philippine government to fight to have rice exempted.
Organic rice farmers we interview are proud to tell us about the positive changes they have initiated in their rice fields, and they are clear about what they need from their national government. Moreover, time is of the essence for the Philippines and other governments to step up assistance to organic, “rooted” farmers; many governments are now rightly frightened about depending too heavily on food imports at a time of wildly fluctuating prices.
Trying to internalize the wisdom we learn in the Philippine rice fields: as we see it, the Philippine government faces an historic opportunity. The Philippines could be an organic rice frontrunner in Asia. It could make significant progress toward achieving what the global small farmers’ movement, Via Campesina, calls “food sovereignty”—that is, “defending small-scale farming, agro-ecology and local production.” And the beneficiaries would not just be farmers, but also the tens of millions of Filipinos who would eat healthier rice in a cleaner environment—and the rest of us who would have one more model of a less vulnerable and more rooted way forward.
John Cavanagh and Robin Broad wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Robin is a Professor of International Development at American University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John is on leave from directing the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group. They are co-authors of three books on the global economy, and are currently traveling the country and the world to write a book entitled Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability. Over the decades, this husband and wife team has worked in a number of countries, including the Philippines, where Robin first lived in 1977-78.
June 30, 2010 · By Kevin Shih
When people talk about Detroit, most are unaware that it is the largest metropolitan region in the US to offer casino resorts (unless, of course, they live around there, or they have read the city’s Wikipedia page). Although the casinos have provided a huge chunk of revenue to the City, it does not seem to be helping them create an effective budget that actually serves its residents.
The first thing a person notices when he/she walks around Detroit is how empty and deserted it is -- even though there are these beautifully constructed skyscrapers standing tall throughout the city. These skyscrapers are almost always abandoned and deserted, and they serve as a constant reminder that there was a time when Detroit was once one of the most prosperous cities in the country.
Another unsettling observation that you notice in Detroit is the lack of corporate chains/fast food restaurants in the city (and it pains me as a progressive to actually say that). It is a bizarre sight. Especially since those corporations are usually the first in line to abuse the economically disadvantaged. Yet, what you see on the streets is an empty city that even those motivated by greed are viewing as something of a lost cause because there is no wealth to exploit. The only lively thing about the City (besides the 15,000 people there for the US Social Forum) are the three casinos towering Detroit. So what is the deal here?
One of the main driving forces for the development of the MotorCity Casino, MGM Grand Detroit and Greektown Casino was the establishment of the Caesars Windsor across the Detroit River in Winsor, Ontario, Canada. The residents of Michigan were afraid that they would lose a huge chunk of its tourism to Winsor. So in 1996, they voted for Proposal E, which authorized three casinos to be built and operated in the city of Detroit.
By looking at the tax numbers, the establishments of these three casinos seem to be a good idea for the state and the city. According to The Michigan Gaming Control Board, the big three casinos have been contributing a sizable income to the state and the city of Detroit in the form of wagering taxes and licensing fees. In 2009 alone, the Detroit casinos made a whopping $1.3 billion in total, which yielded $122 million for the state and $149 million for Detroit. These are pretty big revenue numbers, and it makes up about 11.1% of the City’s revenue stream. However, are these casinos actually helping the residents of Detroit?
It is obvious that hardly any of this tax revenue is going back to the City’s residents. Just from a general observation of the players at the casino, most of them are senior local residents, people of color, who are there trying to stretch their social security checks and/or their minimum wage checks. We even heard a story of a mother who is there gambling so she can help pay for her studious son’s high school graduation that was being cancelled due to budget cuts. It was clear that she was not the only one there trying to make ends meet.
There is definitely something wrong with the way the City of Detroit is working if its residents are using the casinos as a way to make more money. These casinos were developed so it would create a constant revenue stream from attracting those outside of the locality. Yet, with the unemployment rate at 14.8% (April 2010) in the Detroit Metropolitan Area (not including the underemployed: part-time workers looking for full-time work, or those who have been unemployed for more than six months) these casinos are increasingly becoming a tool for the desperate to earn enough money to stay alive -- it is a lousy tool at that as well, since everybody knows that the house always wins.
Detroit’s city government needs to figure out a way to reconstruct its economy, to utilize its already established infrastructure, so its residents wouldn’t be sucked into the temptation of making it big through the slot machines or a round of Black Jack. Something needs to be done, and maybe here is a good way to start thinking about it all.