Climate change, beyond the challenges

Climate change, beyond the challenges

Sunrise in Hannover (Germany), with a coal-fired power station as the backdrop, August 2017.

(Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)

As of today, Friday, Equal Times is launching a series of summer specials.

We are starting with this collection of articles focusing on one of the great challenges of our time, climate change, which has implications for the way we produce and eat, and the future of jobs linked to fossil fuels. Our journalists working on the ground in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas look into the change of mindset seen in government and business circles since the Paris climate agreement (2015) and the role played by civil society and social actors.

“There are no jobs on a dead planet,” trade unions have been saying for some time now.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), explains that, “workers are committed to seeing through the urgent action that is needed,” and that is why the ITUC has established climate justice and industrial transformation as one of its frontline priorities.

The article by Morgane Pellennec shines the spotlight on Sweden, a country pioneering a “seamless” energy transition.

Swedish businesses that used to see the energy transition as “a burden that they had to take a share of”, now see it as “a real business opportunity, as a way of winning new markets,” according to one of the experts interviewed.

In Africa, some 70 per cent of the African population depends on agriculture for a living, a sector generating between 25 and 35 per cent of all direct jobs and that is highly vulnerable to the extreme effects of climate change. Despite emitting less than four per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is home to seven of the ten countries most affected by climate change, points out Dominic Kirui from Kenya, which is why “climate-smart agriculture” is starting to gain traction.

Farmers, reports Kirui, are learning about a combination of agricultural techniques designed to help them make the most of their own land, at the same time as contributing to food security and economic empowerment through the sale of surplus crops. As the experts interviewed nonetheless indicate, climate-smart farming alone is not enough to overcome food insecurity.

Turning to Asia, our correspondent Laura Villadiego reports on business and government initiatives seeking to mitigate the impact of agriculture and aquaculture in Vietnam’s most fertile region.

Since Vietnam opened its economy to the outside world, just over three decades ago, production in the agriculture, livestock and aquaculture sectors has risen sharply, and the pesticides, fertilizers and waste from farms – as well as household waste – end up in the waters of the Mekong.

Over to the American continent and Fabiola Ortiz, reporting from one of the lungs of the planet, covers both the challenges presented by climate change and the “simple” response offered by indigenous communities from the Amazon basin, that is, recognition of their existence and their land rights.

“We are the ones standing in the path of the rampant deforestation brought on by the global hunger for soy, beef, palm oil, paper and timber. And we are the ones being murdered for protecting our forests. If you want to stop the devastation, you need to invest in us and in protecting our rights. The mother of all battles is going on in the rainforest.”

And we conclude this series with a photo report by Joan Alvado, featuring a shepherding school in the northeast of Spain, not a relic of the past but part of a growing trend among the young generations looking not only for a job opening when other doors are closed, but another way of doing things: sustainably, on a small scale and with respect for the environment.

Sweden’s smooth energy transition

By Morgane Pellennec

Sweden, which turned away from oil following the crises of 1973 and 1979, currently has the highest renewable energy share in Europe, having taken it to 53 per cent of its total energy consumption in 2014.

Photo: AP/Noah Berger

Sweden’s goal is to become carbon neutral. During the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in 2015, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that Sweden would become one of the world’s first fossil-fuel free states, and that it would no longer emit greenhouse gases by 2050. This deadline was finally brought forward by five years with the passing of a climate law on 15 June 2017.

Sweden, which turned away from oil following the crises of 1973 and 1979, currently has the highest renewable energy share in Europe, having taken it to 53 per cent of its total energy consumption in 2014.

In addition to robust environmental taxes designed to stimulate the transition, Sweden is making good use of its extensive natural resources. Almost half of the country is covered in forests and the organic matter produced is turned into biofuel, used mainly for heating, in urban areas, and to generate electricity.

Its many lakes and watercourses feed over 2000 hydropower plants, which provide almost half of the country’s electricity output. Wind and solar energy is still relatively limited, but the country is planning to build the largest onshore wind farm in Northern Europe on its own soil.

Read the full article on Equal Times.

Can Kenyan farmers combat food insecurity with climate-smart agriculture?

By Dominic Kirui

Seventy per cent of the African population depends on agriculture to make a living. The sector also generates between 25 and 35 per cent of all direct jobs on the continent.

Photo: Annie Bungeroth/CAFOD

It is midday at Kiliku village in Machakos County, about 90 kilometres east of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, and Nicholas Mutiso is sitting on a rock with a pen and a notebook, listening keenly to the words of local agricultural extension officer, Robert Kioko.

Thirty-year-old Mutiso is a farmer and one of over 300 men and women attending a series of trainings organised by the Machakos County local government in partnership with Greenpeace Africa and the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE), a Kenyan NGO focused on environmental and resource management.

Participants are being taught about climate-smart agriculture, farming methods that will enable them to make the most of their own land by helping to ensure food security and economic empowerment from the sale of surplus crops such as sorghum, millet, green grams (mung beans), cassava and cow peas.

“Apart from the good farming practices we are taught, we are also encouraged to plant trees in order to reclaim our area as we are sitting on the foot of Ol Donyo Sabuk (Kilimambogo) mountain which was once a forest full of wild animals. But since it was cleared for charcoal, now we have limited rain,” Mutiso explains.

Read the full article on Equal Times.

Mekong Delta fights for survival amidst climate change and unbridled development

By Laura Villadiego

A technician casts a net to test the quality of the shrimps growing at Green Farm, in Soc Trang, in the Mekong Delta.

Photo: Laura Villadiego

At a glance, Green Farm looks like any other shrimp farm. The 35-hectare facility is divided up into 46 ponds, between 1 and 1.5 metres deep, aerated by turbines that run around the clock. The shrimps are separated by species and size and some of the ponds are left empty whilst they are cleaned.

The shrimps at Green Farm do not, however, grow in the same way as those in most of the farms dotted across the Mekong Delta, in the south of Vietnam. At Green Farm, antibiotics cannot be used, the waste water cannot be released without being treated, and the company has to trace the origin of the raw materials used in the feed given to the shrimps, along with a wide range of other standards that have to be met for sustainable certification by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). The company was ASC certified in September 2016.

The requirements are strict and the costs higher, but certification had become crucial to the survival of Stapimex, the company that owns Green Farm, in a sector hard hit by the changes in climate patterns in the region, as well as the pollution that has built up over the decades due to the excesses of various industries. “We wanted a business that was sustainable in the long term,” explains Nguyen Dang Khoa, quality manager at the company. “You can also earn more by investing more money,” he says.

Read the full article on Equal Times.

Strengthening community forest rights – a key front in the battle against climate change

By Fabíola Ortiz

A pilot project in the Madre de Dios River region of the Peruvian Amazon was one of the first pilot projects financed by the brand-new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility.

Photo: The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility

Indigenous peoples and other local communities play a vital role when it comes to mitigating the impact of climate change. But despite inhabiting 50 per cent of the world’s land, these communities legally own just 10 per cent of it. As a result, civil society groups are calling on governments around the world to scale up the protection of customary land rights.

The lands managed by community groups serve as important carbon sinks by allowing standing forests to work as reservoirs, absorbing CO2 and preventing its harmful emission into the atmosphere. In fact, collectively, the world’s forests store more carbon than is currently present in the atmosphere. If indigenous communities are not given legal recognition and government protection, and the current rate of deforestation continues unabated, these forests are likely to become a dangerous source of CO2 emissions.

Julio Ricardo Cusurichi Palacios, a Shipibo indigenous leader from Peru and the winner of the 2007 Goldman Prize for grassroots environmental activism, told Equal Times that the solution lies in genuine community engagement. “We want to have a bottom-up approach rather than an imposed one, so that we can collectively offer solutions,” he said.

Read the full article on Equal Times.

Sowing the seeds of shepherding

By Joan Alvado

Eloy González, from Mataro (Barcelona), studied at the Shepherding School in 2010.

Photo: Joan Alvado

The Escola de Pastors de Catalunya (Shepherding School of Catalonia), an ambitious project aimed at restoring and injecting new life into the livestock sector, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, unfazed by the pessimistic views of those quick to dismiss shepherding as a dying profession.

One of the chief aims of the initiative is to ensure the generational renewal critically needed in the livestock sector, as most rural regions in Spain are suffering from high levels of depopulation, with the flight of younger generations to the cities and ageing populations becoming almost chronic trends.

The students, around twenty on each course, undergo two months of theoretical training and four months of hands-on training in livestock farms across Catalonia and the French Pyrenees. As in previous years, the school has welcomed students from all the provinces of Catalonia, as well as other parts of Spain, such as Aragon and the Basque Country, and an ever-increasing range of other countries.

Most are young, in their late twenties, early thirties, and have chosen to take the course primarily out of vocation. In addition to training, the school offers its students access to a range of associated projects, including a land bank, a job pool, advice on new agricultural projects and artisanal product marketing.

Read the full article on Equal Times.

This article has been translated from Spanish.