(September 1, 2017) VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Environmental destruction is a sign of a “morally decaying scenario” in which too many people ignore or deny that, from the beginning, “God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment,” said the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Marking the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for Creation, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a joint message.
They urged government and business leaders “to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”
Looking at the description of the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, the pope and patriarch said, “The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy.”
But, they said, “our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets — all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation.”
“We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession,” the two leaders said. “We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”
Ignoring God’s plan for creation has “tragic and lasting” consequences on both “the human environment and the natural environment,” they wrote. “Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.”
The pope and the patriarch said prayer is not incidental to ecology, because “an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.”
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989. In 2015, shortly after publishing his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis established the day of prayer for Catholics as well.
The object of Christian prayer and action for the safeguarding of creation, the two leaders wrote, is to encourage all Christians “to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”
Echoing remarks Pope Francis made Aug. 30 when the pontiff announced he and the patriarch were issuing a joint message, the text included a plea to world leaders. “We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized,” they wrote. No enduring solution can be found “to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew also highlighted how “this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people,” especially the poor, in a more pronounced way.
“Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures,” they said. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.”
SANTIAGO, Aug 29 2017 (IPS) – “There are 33 million rural dwellers in Latin America who are still living in extreme poverty and can’t afford a good diet, clothes or education, and we are not going to help them move out of poverty if we use the same strategies that worked 20 years ago,” FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.
Since 1990, rural poverty in the region was reduced from 65 per cent to 46 per cent, while extreme poverty fell from 40 per cent to below 27 per cent.
But while the proportion of rural extreme poor decreased by 1 percentage point a year between 1997 and 2007, the rate of decrease was only 0.2 per cent a year between 2007 and 2014.
To break that pattern in the most vulnerable rural group, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are launching this last week of August in Santiago, Chile the “Alliance to end rural poverty in Latin America.”
“There is a strong deceleration in the reduction of poverty, five times slower than before, only just 0.2 per cent per year,” noted with concern Berdegué, who attributed the phenomenon, among other causes, to a regional economic slowdown which has had an impact on employment and incomes.
“The strong, sustainable, solid solution to rural poverty is economic development in rural areas. Quality jobs, better wages: that is the best strategy to reduce rural poverty,” said Berdegué, who is also FAO deputy director-general, in the body’s regional office in the Chilean capital.
For Berdegué, “social policies compensate for the effects of economic development, but what we want is for people to stop being poor because they have better jobs and not because of good social programmes…that is a second best option.”
In his interview with IPS, the Mexican senior U.N. official said the region has already done a great deal to reduce poverty and extreme poverty and what remains is to eradicate the most difficult part of poverty, harder to combat because it is structural.
He cited the example of Chile, where less than three per cent of the rural population suffer from extreme poverty, but the people affected are indigenous women in remote areas, which makes the task of rescuing them from deep poverty especially complicated.
According to Berdegué, the policies and programmes created and implemented in Latin America to eradicate poverty successfully served their purpose ,“but not necessarily the same strategies and same programmes are the ones that will work for us in the final push” of putting an end to hard-core, entrenched poverty.
Luiz Carlos Beduschi, a Brazilian academic and policy officer in the FAO regional office,pointed out to IPS that one of the most significant programmes to combat poverty in Nicaragua consisted of giving extremely poor people chickens, pigs or pregnant cows along with technical assistance.
Specific policies for women
“The same policies that help rural men move out of poverty don’t work for rural women,” said Julio Berdegué, who stressed that in the region “we have a generation of women with levels of education that their mothers never dreamed of.”
“We must soon achieve labour policies that allow these women to fully accede to formal employment. They are all working a lot, but on their farms or in unpaid, informal work,” he explained.
“These young rural women under 35 are going to stay on their farms producing food, but many of them are going to be employed in manufacturing and services, in nearby cities or in the rural communities themselves,” he added.
The FAO senior official stressed that “economic empowerment and autonomy are key, absolutely key, and this requires policies designed with a gender perspective. Without this, we are not going anywhere.”
Another thing that is essential, he added, is access to financing because “a poor woman farmer goes to ask for a loan and a poor male farmer goes, and the chances that the woman and the man get it are very different.”
“In all elements that are necessary for the development of family agriculture: access to markets, to technical assistance, land, etc, we need to multiply them by two, three or four in order to guarantee women equal opportunities,” he concluded.
“A woman from District 7, in the periurban area of Managua, discovered a dormant entrepreneurial potential. She was given a cow, and today, eight years later, she has 17 cows. Her oldest daughter left to study and graduated as a dentist. The woman sold three cows to finance a clinic (for her daughter) in the neighbourhood. She is now involved in the economic and social fabric of that area,” Beduschi said. Her second daughter is now studying medicine.
He added that the beneficiaries of this programme do not so much need advice as other elements such as credit at an interest rate lower than the 20 to 30 per cent offered by local creditors.
“We have to design a new plan for new times,” he concluded.
Launching the new Alliance
More than 25 experts, researchers and decision-makers are meeting Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 in Santiago, summoned by FAO and IFAD to seek new strategies and instruments to combat rural poverty.
In this new Alliance Launch Workshop, the participants are identifying and disseminating a politically viable and technically feasible package of proposals to be implemented by Latin American governments, for each country to face the challenge of ending rural poverty from an innovative perspective.
The activities of this initiative will be carried out from now until July 2019, and will count on FAO resources for the initial phase.
Berdegué said the first successful result of the Alliance was bringing together this group of experts with the commitment of “putting their shoulders to the wheel” in seeking innovative solutions to put an end to rural poverty.
“We want to release the 1.0 version of a proposal that we are going to offer to the countries. Not more of the same, because that has us at a five times slower rate. And we want to produce the first ideas, the best that we can, but we don’t want to spend the next six months writing documents. The best that we can, the sooner we can, and with those instruments we will go to the countries,” he said.
“The meeting will be a successful one if we come out of it with a very concrete working plan, detailed in such a way that the following week we can be going to the countries, as we have already started to do in Ecuador and Nicaragua,” he told IPS.
“We have a specific work agenda for collaboration to put these ideas into practice, with public programmes and policies,” he added.
Among the new tools that are being discussed in the world and in Latin America, Berdegué pointed out the concept of a universal basic income, which has its pros and cons, and is hotly debated.
There is also the issue of rural labour markets “which are in general in a state of true disaster, with high levels of informality and very low female participation rates, among them young women who have received 10 to 12 years of schooling and have no job offers in line with this human capital they have acquired.”
And a crucial issue in the new agenda, not taken into account in the past decades, is inequality.
“Many of these 33 million poor are poor because they are first victims of inequality. A rural indigenous woman, in a less developed area, is victim of more than four inequalities: gender, ethnicity, rural and territorial. Besides, economic inequality, on grounds of social class,” Berdegué said.
“Good quality employment, better wages, that is the best strategy for reducing rural poverty. And we have an accumulation of inequalities that, if we do not solve them, it will be very hard to return to the rate of one percentage point of reduction of rural extreme poverty,” he concluded.
Academics, as well as government officials and representatives of social organisations are taking part in the FAO and IFAD meeting, joining forces to think about how to keep on combating rural poverty with the goal of eradicating it.
After the signing Tuesday, more than 150 Tribes in the U.S. and Canada, including the Nations all along the KXL route in Alberta, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and now Nebraska, will have committed to standing together to stop Keystone XL and the other three tar sands pipelines: Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion through British Columbia and TransCanada’s Energy East.
“Along with our Indigenous allies all along the KXL route like the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) and all over Turtle Island (North America), we recognize the grave dangers in allowing this ‘Black Snake’ to enter our homelands,” said Chairman Larry Wright Jr. of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. “As the State of Nebraska stands poised to make a potentially life-altering decision about permitting this poisonous bitumen to be inflicted on its population, we stand poised to protect all life now and in the future.”
Following the signing of the treaty at the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska, the chairmen of the Intertribal Coalition of Nebraska and other invited guests led a Prayer Walk to the State Capitol of Nebraska. This historic event took place amid the weeklong public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which is expected to make a final decision on the pipeline permit by the end of the year.
“We are standing together in prayer. We are aware of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and our Treaty Rights as they pertain to the permitting of the pipelines in our present and traditional territories,” added Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek on behalf of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. “In solidarity and with respect and love for our Mother Earth and future generations, we say NO to KXL.”
All Africa (Thomas Reuters Foundation)
By Stefanie Glinski
11 July 2017: Juba — A growing number of women deminers are clearing up bomb and unexploded ordnance – most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families
Margret has decided that South Sudan is not a place to raise children, but she is changing this for future generations.
That’s why – 10 years ago – the mother of two joined the country’s 400 to 500 deminers, digging up remnants of past and present wars – bombs, unexploded ordnances and landmines.
She’s one of a growing number of women to take up the risky business, most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families.
“It’s my way of contributing and making this country better,” she said. “I sent my children to Uganda, but I want them to come back one day. It’s a sacrifice for me, but a gain for those returning when the war is over.”
Landmines have a long history in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation that won independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and violent liberation struggle. After just two years, a political squabble escalated into renewed civil war in late 2013, fracturing the new nation along ethnic lines.
More than four million mines and explosive devices have been found and destroyed in South Sudan over the last decade, says the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). While some accidents are recorded, UNMAS believes that at least 90 percent go unreported.
WAR REMNANTS Margret currently works around Kolye village, a 30 minute drive on unpaved bumpy roads from the South Sudanese capital Juba in a lush setting of green fields and mango trees.
The area saw heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and southern rebels during Sudan’s long civil war which ended in 2005, paving the way for the South’s independence.
Deadly anti-personnel fragmentation mines were laid by Khartoum’s forces to protect their barracks.
More than a decade later, they are still killing civilians.
“Soldiers placing mines think carefully about how humans behave, where they go and what they do. That is why mines are found alongside roads, in market places or by water points,” said Jan Møller Hansen of DanChurchAid’s demining project, the organisation that also employs Margret.
While mines are easy to place, they are hard to remove. After an eight-week training course, Margret has dug out hundreds of them throughout her career and – on a good day – she can cover up to 30 square metres (320 square feet).
“We can use the safe land to build roads, hospitals and schools and that’s what excites me the most,” she smiled.
According to UNMAS’s demining chief, Tim Lardner, it will take at least another 10 years to clear up the whole country that is roughly the size of France.
South Sudan signed the Mine Ban Treaty less than six months after independence in 2011, deeming anti-personnel mines illegal and their removal mandatory.
Renewed war has complicated efforts to remove mines from previous conflicts, while rebel forces, without providing evidence, have accused the government of laying new explosives in violation of the treaty, a charge it denies.
Jens Martens is Executive Director of Global Policy Forum and coordinates the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
BONN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS) – At the High-Level Political Forum which currently takes place at the United Nations in New York several events, for instance a SDG Business Forum, are devoted to the critical role of business and public-private partnerships (PPPs) in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
But many civil society organizations and trade unions warn in their joint report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017 that the various forms of privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to implement the 2030 Agenda and its goals.
Weakening the State: A vicious circle The trend towards partnerships with the private sector is based on a number of assumptions, not least the belief that global problems are too big and the public sector is too weak to solve them alone.
But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?
In fact, the lack of capacity and financial resources is not an inevitable phenomenon but has been caused by deliberate political decisions. To give just one example, over the past three decades corporate income tax rates have declined in both countries of the global North and South by 15 to 20 percent. Hundreds of billions of US dollars are lost every year through corporate tax incentives and various forms of tax avoidance.
Through their business-friendly fiscal policies and the lack of effective global tax cooperation, governments have weakened their revenue base substantially. This has been driven not least by corporate lobbying.
A recent analysis by Oxfam America estimates that between 2009 and 2015, the USA’s 50 largest companies spent approximately US$ 2.5 billion on lobbying, with approximately US$ 352 million lobbying on tax issues. In the same period, they received over US$ 423 billion in tax breaks.
What we see is a vicious circle of weakening the State: the combination of neoliberal ideology, corporate lobbying, business-friendly fiscal policies, tax avoidance and tax evasion has led to the massive weakening of the public sector and its ability to provide essential goods and services.
These failures have been used by the proponents of privatization and PPPs to present the private sector as the better alternative and to demand its further strengthening. This in turn further weakened the public sector – and so on….
In parallel, the same corporate strategies and fiscal and regulatory policies that led to the weakening of the public sector enabled an unprecedented accumulation of individual wealth and increasing market concentration, often at the expense of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Concentrated power According to various statistics of the largest national economies, transnational corporations, banks and asset management firms, among the 50 largest global economic entities are more private corporations than countries. The assets under management by the world’s largest asset management company BlackRock are US$ 5.12 trillion (end of 2016), thus higher than the GDP of Japan or Germany.
Large institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are also the drivers of a new generation of PPPs in infrastructure, forcing governments to offer ‘bankable’ projects that meet the needs of these investors rather than the needs of the affected population.
Particularly alarming for the implementation of SDG 2 on food security and sustainable agriculture are the announced mega-mergers in the food and agriculture sector, especially the acquisition of Syngenta by China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina), the merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont and the takeover of Monsanto by Bayer.
If all of these mergers are allowed, the new corporate giants will together control at least 60 percent of global commercial seed sales and 71 percent of global pesticide sales.
Devastating impacts The Spotlight Report 2017 clearly shows, that privatization, PPPs and the rise of corporate power affect all areas and goals of the 2030 Agenda. One example is the mushrooming of private, fee-charging, profit-making schools in Africa and Asia.
Detrimental corporate influence occurs in the energy sector with the still dominant role of coal and fossil fuel industries, undermining effective measures against climate change and the transformation towards sustainable energy systems.
Studies by scholars, CSOs and trade unions like Public Services International (PSI) have shown that the privatization of public infrastructure and services and various forms of PPPs involve disproportionate risks for the affected people and costs for the public sector. They can even exacerbate inequalities, decrease equitable access to essential services, and thus jeopardize the fulfilment of human rights, particularly the rights of women.
Counter-movements and breaking ranks Responding to the experiences and testimonies from the ground about the devastating impacts of privatization and PPPs, counter-movements emerged in many parts of the world. Over the past 15 years there has been a significant rise in the number of communities that have taken privatized services back into public hands – a phenomenon called “remunicipalization.” Remunicipalization refers particularly to the return of water supply and sanitation services to public service delivery. Between March 2000 and March 2015 researchers documented 235 cases of water remunicipalization in 37 countries, affecting more than 100 million people.
Furthermore, some pioneering companies are already on the path towards – at least environmentally – sustainable development solutions, for instance in the area of renewable energies.
The private sector is in no way a monolithic bloc. Firms in the social and solidarity economy, social impact investors and small and medium-sized businesses are already making a positive difference, challenging the proponents of global techno-fix solutions and the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel lobby.
Even the firm opposition to international corporate regulation in the field of business and human rights by those pretending to represent business interests is showing cracks. A survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that 20 percent of business representatives who responded to the survey said that a binding international treaty would help them with their responsibilities to respect human rights.
What has to be done? To be sure, the business sector certainly has an important role to play in the implementation process of the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable development will require large-scale changes in business practices.
However, acknowledging corporations’ role should not mean promoting the accumulation of wealth and economic power, giving them undue influence on policy-making and ignoring their responsibility in creating and exacerbating many of the problems that the 2030 Agenda is supposed to tackle.
Instead of further promoting the misleading discourse of ‘multi-stakeholderism’ and partnerships between inherently unequal partners a fundamental change of course is necessary. In order to achieve the SDGs and to turn the vision of the transformation of our world, as proclaimed in the title of the 2030 Agenda, into reality, we have to reclaim the public policy space.
Governments should strengthen public finance at all levels, fundamentally rethink their approach towards trade and investment liberalization, reconsider PPPs, create binding rules on business and human rights, take effective measures to dismantle corporate power and prevent the further existence of corporate ‘too big to fail’ entities.
But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2017 (IPS) – A former French judge has been appointed as the head of an independent team tasked with investigating war crimes in Syria.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to lead a panel known as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which aims to gather, preserve, and analyze potential evidence of serious violations of international law committed in Syria since 2011 for use by courts or an international tribunal.
The legal team, established in Geneva, was created by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 after facing longstanding resistance from Russia which has used its veto power eight times in the Security Council to block investigations and action on the conflict.
Marchi-Uhel is the first head of the panel and has extensive experience in international criminal law, previously serving as an international judge with the UN mission in Kosovo and in Cambodian courts prosecuting leaders of the Khmer Rouge. She was the Head of Chambers at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and worked in various legal positions at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with UN peacekeeping missions.
Most recently, Marchi-Uhel has been serving as the ombudsperson for the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.
Many applauded the move, including Human Rights Watch who noted that the team is “critical” for the “long march to justice,” stating: “For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair, and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.”
Though the exact figure is uncertain, estimates of casualties from the 7-year long war range from 320,000 to over 400,000.
A UN International Commission of Inquiry has comprehensively documented atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, including systematic attacks on hospitals and schools.
One of the deadliest attacks in Syria came in October 2016 when a series of airstrikes hit a complex of schools in Haas, killing a total of 36 civilians, 21 of whom were children between the ages of 7 and 17. Another 114 people were injured in the attack including 61 children. Afraid of future attacks, the school was closed.
“A Syrian Air Force attack on a complex of schools in Haas (Idlib), amounting to war crimes, is a painful reminder that instead of serving as sanctuaries for children, schools are ruthlessly bombed and children’s lives senselessly robbed from them,” the commission stated.
Such attacks in Syria are estimated to account for half of global attacks on schools from 2011 to 2015.
Several countries have already begun their own investigations into war crimes in Syria including Sweden which prosecuted a former Syrian opposition fighter for war crimes in December 2016.
The International Mechanism headed by Marchi-Uhel is expected to further these efforts around the world.
However, the team, funded by voluntary contributions, has only received half of the $13 million that its work is estimated to cost in its first year with 26 contributing countries as of June.
Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Qatar are among the group’s top donors.
7 July 2017 – Countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years.
“The treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons,” the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres said following its adoption.
“The Secretary-General hopes that this new treaty will promote inclusive dialogue and renewed international cooperation aimed at achieving the long overdue objective of nuclear disarmament,” Stéphane Dujarric added.
The treaty – adopted by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.
“We feel emotional because we are responding to the hopes and dreams of the present and future generations,” said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, who serves as the President of the conference that negotiated the treaty in response to a mandate given by the UN General Assembly.
She told a news conference at UN Headquarters that with the treaty the world is “one step closer” to a total elimination of nuclear weapons.
The treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in New York on 20 September 2017, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries.
However, a number of countries stayed out of the negotiations, including the United States, Russia and other nuclear-weapon States, as well as many of their allies. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not join the talks either.
In a joint press statement issued today, the delegations of the United States, United Kingdom and France said they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
“This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment,” they said. “Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”
In response to questions on the joint statement, Ms. Whyte Gómez recalled that when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted decades ago, it did not enjoy a large number of accessions.
Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. Then in 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States that are the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the beginning, it was unimaginable that those States would be parties to the NPT, she noted. “But the world changes and the circumstances change.”
She added that the hibakusha, survivors of nuclear bombs, have been the driving force in the creation of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. The experiences they have been sharing “touch the human soul,” she said, adding that the negotiations were a “combination of reason and heart.”