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Local People Know Best

Members of a fishing village in Pagudpud, Philippines untangle and prepare their fishing nets for late evening fishing off shore to catch small tuna. May 2015 (Photo by Wayne S. Grazio) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Members of a fishing village in Pagudpud, Philippines untangle and prepare their fishing nets for late evening fishing off shore to catch small tuna. May 2015 (Photo by Wayne S. Grazio) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, October 24, 2017 (Maximpact.com  News) – Standard ways of measuring community well-being and sustainability used by global organizations may be missing critical information that could lead to missteps in management actions, finds research that emerged this week from years of study and collaboration among people of many differing disciplines and cultures.

An international team of 40 scientists, policy-makers and on-the-ground practitioners published the paper  “Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales” October 23 in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution.”

The authors believe that the world views of local people should be the foundation of global and national approaches that address sustainability issues.

They say that “biocultural approaches” are critical to understanding social-ecological systems and the development of locally relevant sustainability indicators.

Biocultural, or ecocultural, approaches are those that start with and build on place-based cultural perspectives – encompassing indigenous values, knowledges, and needs – and recognize feedbacks between the state of the natural world and human well-being.

The authors say they recognize that choosing indicators of sustainability is a subjective process and that the decisions around which indicators are measured, and how they are measured, can impact management approaches and outcomes.

They suggest that evaluators add to the sustainability indicators already on their list standards that are grounded in the biocultural values of each unique community being evaluated.

“Well-being is a universally applicable concept, yet because it can mean so many different things to different people, pinning down an exact definition is difficult,” said lead author Eleanor Sterling, a conservation scientist at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“This paper is the result of years of collaboration among people from diverse disciplines and cultures to investigate methods and approaches to creating place-based indicators of well-being relevant for local communities,” said Sterling.

The research had its genesis in work the authors did in the Pacific. Scientists met with community members and local, regional, and national government experts to examine issues such as food security, access to fresh water, quality education, sustainable tourism, and protection of marine and terrestrial resources.

For instance, a common way to assess the sustainability of marine resources is to measure the extent of marine protected area (MPA) coverage.

But this metric ignores the appropriateness of the MPA’s location, design, or management effectiveness and may even exclude sustainably managed areas not formally considered as MPAs.

The authors suggest capturing these other crucial aspects of marine management, including customary and traditional management systems.

They cite a 2014 study about the experience of a Canadian First Nation, the Heiltsuk, in coastal British Columbia.

A collaborative team of Heiltsuk First Nation youth & leadership and scientists from elsewhere placed Heiltsuk observations of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) in the context of Gvi’ilas – customary law in which bear behavior is recognized as a voice to guide decision-making about whole ecosystems.

In this project, the Heiltsuk framed the research questions that shaped the basic bear studies and led the partnership to carry out data collection and communicate the findings to the broader community.

The research relied both on population and landscape genetics and on Heiltsuk ways of knowing. As it was embedded in Heiltsuk governance structures, the research led to changes in bear management objectives, sanctions on trophy hunting and outlines for a multi-nation grizzly bear sanctuary under formal co-management frameworks.

Another example of the disconnect between locally appropriate indicators and those used by many large organizations is the issue of food security.

One way some global organizations assess food security is to interview community members with a series of standardized questions, which includes the following, “During the last 12 months, was there a time when your household ran out of food because of a lack of money or other resources?”

But the researchers found that questions about food security that are framed around vulnerability may be inappropriate and not generate accurate data due to a strong cultural reluctance to admit to food shortages because of deep obligation felt by some communities to share food with their families and guests.

More appropriate questions could focus on resilience, by looking at the percentage of households that report having a stable food supply throughout the year and the average length of time for which households in the community have an emergency food supply after a disaster.

Biodiversity International is one of the organizations that took part in the study. Since 2009, Bioversity International has been working in many countries to mainstream community-based biocultural landscape approaches, designing incentive schemes to conserve priority threatened species, while also supporting indigenous farmer livelihoods and existing community institutions of collective action.

“This paper distills our thinking around how to approach environmental challenges in a way that is responsible, effective, and ethical,” Sterling said.

Sustainability is built right into community-based irrigation systems, community seedbanks, participatory plant breeding, community-supported agriculture, and the development of biocultural products and services.

“We discuss why inclusion of local peoples’ knowledges and myriad perspectives is crucial to developing appropriate indicators and management approaches for the intricately linked concepts of sustainability and well-being, and suggest ways to bridge between these locally derived solutions and broader scale efforts.”

The authors conclude that, “Global targets such as sustainability and well-being are best addressed through multi-level governance…” They argue that “biocultural approaches can create space for meaningful local metrics while supporting cross-scale application” from local to global.

They suggest that, “Future work could find ways to compare results from biocultural approaches to indicator development with those that did not include cultural aspects or feedbacks between humans and their environments, to see if outcomes differ.”

Institutions involved in this work include the American Museum of Natural History, Pace University, Australian Museum, The University of Queensland, The Field Museum, Bioversity International, Ecological Solutions Solomon Islands, Yale University, French National Center for Scientific Research, University of California Santa Barbara, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Michigan State University, Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries-United Nations, USDA Forest Service, Brown University, Kamehameha Schools, Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership, NYC Urban Field Station, Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Management, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Solomon Islands Ministry of Forests and Research, College of the Marshall Islands, MarTina Corporation, Barnard College, National Tropical Botanical Garden, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lynette and Richard Jaffe, and the Jaffe Family Foundation.


Featured Image: Drummers of the Heiltsuk nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, Canada, 2014 (Photo by Kris Krüg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

CapacityBuilding

Equator Prize Winners Demonstrate Maximum Impact

2017EquatorPrizeStage

2017 Equator Prize winners celebrate together on the stage at New York’s Town Hall Theatre to the music of American singer-songwriter Morley, September 17, 2017 (Photo by Arnaldo Vargas courtesy UNDP) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, September 19, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Outstanding local and indigenous community initiatives that resolve climate, environment and poverty issues are honored with the Equator Prize, just as the United Nations General Assembly opens at UN headquarters in New York.

This year, on the 15th anniversary of the biennial Equator Prize, 15 community groups from 12 countries each was awarded a $10,000 prize at a gala celebration Sunday at The Town Hall theater, hosted by the Equator Initiative, a part of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). All the winners were supported to attend the award ceremony.

The Equator Initiative brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.

This year’s winners are protecting, restoring and sustainably managing marine, forest, grassland, dryland and wetland ecosystems, while creating jobs, protecting endangered wildlife, and decreasing risks from natural disasters.

Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator, presented the awards to the 15 winners, who hail from: Belize, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan and Thailand.

Steiner, a former head of the UN Environment Programme, said, “The 15 communities we honor tonight, together with the more than 200 previous prize winners, and more than 5,000 nominations we have received to date, are weaving together a global tapestry of local solutions to tackle some of the biggest global challenges we face.”

“These solutions show us that when we invest in nature, we can achieve our global goals of obtaining food, water, peace, gender parity, and security in a truly sustainable manne,” Steiner said. “By thinking globally and acting locally, the 2017 Equator Prize Winners helped not only their communities but also communities worldwide facing sustainable development challenges.”

The winners called on governments, civil society, donors and all stakeholders to “join hands in protecting Mother Earth, our shared heritage.”

“By safeguarding nature we are investing in sustainable development,” they said.

The winners also expressed the belief that without empowering women there can be no social change; they emphasized the need of land rights for women farmers and entrepreneurs.

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister of climate and environment, reminded the audience of the fearful price paid every day by defenders and protectors of the Earth.

“The remarkable communities here tonight demonstrate that indigenous and local communities, working together, can safeguard their lands and forests, and realize their own sustainable development goals,” said Helgesen. “However, we must recognize that protecting forests and traditional lands comes at a steep price. Nearly four people were killed every week last year defending their land rights against destructive industries and illegal activities. This must end.”

Equator Prize winners are selected based on the impact they have, and also the partnerships they build with other community groups, the private sector, governments, research and academic institutions, as well as public or private foundations

To qualify for the prize, the groups must demonstrate that their practical, innovative solutions result in at least three years of successful changes in local socio-economic conditions and have positive impacts on biodiversity.

Their initiatives must demonstrate new and adaptable approaches that overcome prevailing constraints, incorporate social and cultural diversity, promote gender equality, and empower local people, especially marginalized groups.

They must demonstrate leadership that inspires action and change consistent with the vision of the Equator Initiative – of “sustainably managing nature to achieve local sustainable development, such as food security, water security, sustainable jobs and livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction.”

Crosscutting issues include advocacy for land and water rights, social and environmental justice, and gender equality.

Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson, Global Environment Facility, said at the awards gala, “Communities have shown that they can be an engine of innovation and learning, and for that reason, the GEF has invested $450 million to support over 14,500 community-based projects in over 125 countries. It gives me great pleasure to see that six of the Equator Prize winners tonight are recipients of SGP [Small Grants Programme] awards, demonstrating that by investing in communities, we can achieve lasting results that help provide a pathway toward a just, resilient and sustainable future.”

Following a global call for nominations, the Equator Initiative received a 806 nominations from 120 countries.

The winners were selected during an extensive months-long review process guided by a Technical Advisory Committee of international experts.

And the Winners Are:

Sub-Saharan Africa

1. Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, oceans, coasts, wetlands, wildlife

Started in 2013, Mikoko Pamoja brings together two communities in southern Kenya’s Gazi Bay to sell carbon credits from mangrove conservation, trading 3,000 tons CO2-equivalent per year in the voluntary carbon market.

Mikoko Pamoja is the first community-based project of this kind in the world to successfully trade mangrove carbon credits.

Benefits are reinvested in the community to improve clean water access for 3,500 community members, provide educational materials to 700 school children, and to ensure the 117 hectare mangrove forest remains protected.

Ecotourism provides a further source of income for this initiative, which is in the process of being replicated in other regions in Kenya and other countries.

2. The Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association, Kenya

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: ocean restoration, coasts

The Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association (KCWA) was set up in 2003 by community members concerned about the degradation of their seas by overfishing, climate change and uncontrolled fish and coral collection by the aquarium trade.

In Vipingo, Kilifi County, Kenya, elders who could recall how healthy and productive the sea had been decades ago felt it necessary to take restorative action before it was too late.

In 2005 they set aside a 30 hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA), the first coral-based Locally Managed Marine Area in Kenya. Twelve years later, the area has recovered.

With fishing prohibited within the MPA, fish have grown in abundance, size and diversity. The area has become a breeding ground, leading to an increase in fish outside the MPA. Local fishermen see greater catches and at the same time, biodiversity has blossomed.

Kuruwitu has become an eco-tourism destination, creating jobs for guides, boat captains and rangers.

KCWA is working with the local Beach Management Unit, the Kenyan State Department of Fisheries, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop a co-management plan that will cover a 800 hectare area of ocean off the Kenyan coast. With this co-management plan, KCWA will collaborate with local fishermen to promote the sustainable use of marine resources, to reduce post-harvest losses and improve fish marketing.

3. The Mali Elephant Project, Mali

Area of Focus: Wildlife

In a drought-prone zone rife with resource conflicts and violent extremism, the Mali Elephant Project brings together various ethnic groups to manage local resources and protect an internationally important population of 350 endangered African elephants.

Through the formation of community-based natural resource management committees, the provision of additional income through support for women’s groups engaged in sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products, and anti-poaching measures involving ‘eco-guardian’ youth community members, the initiative has reduced poaching of elephants in the 32,000 km² area.

The Elephant Project has improved social cohesion between different local communities, and contributed to peace-building efforts by providing alternatives to joining extremist groups.

Communities have created rules for local use of natural resources, set aside forests for elephant use, formed pasture reserves, and designated seasonal water sources to be shared by people, livestock, and elephants.

Latin America and the Caribbean

4. Alianza Internacional de Reforestación (AIRES), Guatemala

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, mountains

For 24 years, AIRES has utilized the expertise of indigenous Maya forestry professionals to support more than 130 low-income communities in Guatemala’s Chimaltenango province to fight erosion and prevent deadly mudslides, improve food crops and nutrition, and prevent lung disease.

Working with community members, AIRES promotes sustainable farming methods and environmental education programs, builds efficient stoves, and has planted almost five million trees.

Almost 3,000 farmers, 70 percent of them women, have been trained by indigenous peers, 200 nurseries established, and 860 cook stoves built.

5. Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia Apiwtxa, Brazil

Area of Focus: Sustainable Forestry

To protect their 87,205-hectare territory Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia from deforestation and to defend Ashaninka rights and culture, Apiwtxa has used participatory 3D mapping to demarcate and support community-based management of indigenous lands.

With this innovative technology and broad community engagement, Apiwtxa has created a management plan for the Ashaninka territory.

The group has also set up an educational center that promotes sustainable agroforestry practices with Ashaninka communities in Brazil and Peru as well as other indigenous and non-indigenous groups and educational centers.

The schools place cultural exchange and social inclusion at the heart of environmental education, while leading restoration activities, and selling handicrafts and non-timber forest products through a cooperative in a cohesive strategy to defend indigenous lands and enhance community livelihoods.

6. Associação Terra Indígena Xingu (ATIX), Brazil

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests

Founded 22 years ago by 16 indigenous communities in the 27,000 km² Terra Indígena Xingu to manage their land and defend their rights, Associação Terra Indígena Xingu is the first community-based organization in Brazil to obtain permits from the Ministry of Agriculture as a certifying entity for community-based organic products.

Two tons of honey are sold every year, and the organization has developed a new certification called ‘Selo dos Origens Brasil,’ highlighting the preservation of traditional knowledge and customs.

ATIX advocates for the recognition of indigenous land rights in the face of powerful pressures on the forest.

7. Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG), Belize

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, Wetlands, Rivers, Wildlife

Led by women from seven communities in the northern coastal plain of Belize, the Community Baboon Sactuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG) supports the conservation of the black howler monkey, or baboon, in the 6,000-hectare Community Baboon Sanctuary.

CBSWCG brings together 240 landowners, each of whom voluntarily participates in conservation efforts through a pledge system.

The sanctuary has produced a sustainable land management plan with environmental, economic and social benefits.

Maintaining interconnected wildlife corridor integrity and a comprehensive sustainable natural resource management strategy are among CBSWCG’s achievements.

A micro-credit fund has backed projects in sustainable oil harvesting, tilapia farming, organic agriculture, and livestock rearing while the Bel-riv Commerce and Eco-Tourism Expo, created by the group in 2013, offers improved market access for farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, and artisans.

The successful protection of the sanctuary has led not only to an increase in the baboon population from 800 in 1985 to 6,000 in 2011, but also to the recovery of vulnerable populations of jaguar, ocelot, margay, puma and over 200 species of birds.

8. Federacion Tribus Pech de Honduras (FETRIPH), Honduras

Area of Focus: Sustainable Forestry

Federación Tribus Pech de Honduras unites 12 Pech communities in northeastern Honduras to fight for the protection of their forests against illegal occupation by settlers and to promote alternative livelihoods in a unique Access and Benefit Sharing scheme.

The group has founded a cooperative to sell liquidambar, an ingredient important in the fragrance and flavor industry, and has set production standards that ensure sustainability while addressing scarcity concerns in the international market, as well as guaranteeing a fair income for producers and the protection of Pech traditional knowledge.

Sixty percent of revenues directly benefit producers, providing a stable income for 60 families; the remaining 40 percent of revenues are directed to a community social fund that promotes education and public health.

FETRIPH successfully opposed the creation of a ‘people free’ national park, which would have stripped the Pech from the right to sustainably use liquidambar trees.

The government has instead signed an agreement with FETRIPH for co-management of the 34,000-hectare Anthropological and Forest Reserve ‘Montaña del Carbón,’ which provides the community with stewardship over their forest.

9. Organización para la Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), Ecuador

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, Mountains, Rivers, Wildlife

Founded in 1995 to confront a big mining project threatening communities and environment in the Intag Valley, DECOIN promotes alternative livelihoods and measures to advance conservation of the area’s Andean biodiversity.

Over the past 22 years, the organization has created community-based forest reserves to protect watersheds in 38 communities, totaling 12,000 hectares.

Sustainable agricultural activities such as small holder organic coffee production, aquaculture, poultry farming, and egg production, as well as eco-tourism ventures, provide additional income and viable alternatives to mining, which remains a strong pressure in the area.

Eastern Europe & Central Asia

10. Public Foundation “Zhassyl Azyk,” Kazakhstan

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Drylands, ecosystem restoration

Concerned with extensive soil degradation, five farming communities near Almaty, Kazakhstan created the Community Fund ‘Zhasil Azik’ to restore the productivity of low-fertility lands by sustainably cultivating alfalfa.

Alfalfa cultivation serves as an entry point to restore soil fertility, counter the effects of monoculture, make more efficient use of scarce water supplies, and improve smallholder income.

New opportunities for livestock breeding through the availability of alfalfa have further enhanced food security.

The innovative approaches utilized by the group accelerate recovery of soil fertility, do not require large financial investments, are technologically accessible for smallholder agricultural producers, and have increased income by 20 percent.

More than 200 jobs have been created through the initiative’s work, and the national government has integrated these techniques into the National Program for the Development of Agro-industrial Complex, effectively providing the support to scale up these practices to the national level.

Community Fund ‘Zhasil Azik’ mobilizes local communities to deliver on solutions that address global challengess of food security, land degradation, water scarcity, and adaptation to climate change.

Asia & the Pacific

11. Asosiasi Usaha Homestay Lokal Kabupaten Raja Ampat (AUHLKRA), Indonesia

AUHLKRA is a growing network of 84 community-owned businesses in Papua and West Papua, offering ecotourism services that connect tourists directly with family-run homestays through a user-friendly web portal, Stay Raja Ampat, and an SMS booking system.

More than 600 new jobs have been created in homestays, fishing, and agriculture, including for youth and women, providing viable alternatives to the resort industry. The association sets hospitality and environmental standards for all member community-owned businesses.

Pressures on ecosystems have been reduced through community forest patrols, peer-pressure enforcement of no-take fishery zones, and a participatory system to report illegal activities.

12. Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO), Pakistan

The Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization protects Baltistan’s snow leopards by providing economic incentives to local farmers in 17 villages through insurance schemes and financial compensation against livestock losses following snow leopard attacks.

Damages are paid after verification through joint decisions between BWCDO and Village Insurance Committees established for this purpose.

Communities have also set up predator-proof fencing, and received training to improve herding techniques. Vaccination campaigns protect both livestock and wildlife.

BWCDO’s achievements have reduced economic losses to farmers. An educational program raises awareness and provides opportunities for girls, proactively engaging youth in conservation and development.

13. Community Mangrove Forest Conservation of Baan Bang La, Thailand

Area of Focus: Forests, oceans, coasts, wetlands, wildlife

In 2004, Bang La was protected from the worst of a catastrophic tsunami by a 192-hectare mangrove forest. Recognizing the importance of this natural habitat for disaster risk reduction, Bang La community residents formed an association to advance the protection of mangroves through co-management, community dialogues, and education programs. This enabled them to resist the expansion of urban housing developments into the publically-owned land.

The community has secured a Memorandum of Understanding from the provincial government, which provides them with the rights to establish a community-managed mangrove forest conservation area.

The community’s sustainable management of this area has triggered the return of the protected Phuket Sea Otter, and places this endangered species at the center of awareness campaigns that engage women and youth in natural resource management.

The group has established a savings and microcredit scheme to support small-business opportunities and retain the traditional character of the community.

14. Swayam Shikshan Prayog, India

Area of Focus: Grasslands, drylands

Swayam Shikshan Prayog empowers 72,000 women in the drought-prone state of Maharashtra to act as decision-makers, improving their health and economic well-being.

At the nexus of nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and gender, SSP has created 5,500 self-help and saving groups that support women to engage as farmers, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

SSP trains women to negotiate with their families to obtain their own plot of land for cultivation, usually about 0.4 hectares each. Low-input sustainable farming techniques, including efficient water use, organic farming, mixed cropping, and increased crop cycles, enable the women to improve food security, increase climate resilience, enhance agrobiodiversity, and reduce stress on water resources.

Through these projects, women develop capacity to influence household decision-making, improve nutrition, and increase water availablity in the region. The initiative provides a space for local women to co-create their own development solutions and to connect with likeminded women and organizations to spread their knowledge and experise in a broader network, creating a mechaism for widespread sustainable change.

15. Yayasan Planet Indonesia

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, coasts

Fighting economic activities detrimental to the environment, Planet Indonesia identifies, led by the benefiting Dayak communities, sustainable livelihood opportunities through the development of conservation compacts and community businesses.

Activities range from forest protection to anti-wildlife trafficking to securing land rights.

Business groups have been set up in more than 50 villages, comprising 2,100 members, more than two-thirds of whom are women and/or indigenous.

Community members are trained to run small-scale businesses, savings and loans programs build community capital, a revolving fund covers damages and operational costs, and coaching and mentoring ensures long-term sustainability of each community business.

An annual fellowship program provides 50 high school students with funds to conduct adaptation and mitigation projects. To date, 30,000 hectares of forest have been protected and over 40,000 seedlings planted.

Since its inception in 2002, the Equator Prize has recognized the innovative work of 223 community initiatives that are helping to protect the environment and tackle climate change while advancing their sustainable development priorities.

This year’s Equator Prize was made possible by the generous support of the Governments of Germany, Norway, and Sweden, National Geographic, Pvblic Foundation, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, Rainforest Norway, The Nature Conservancy, and the individuals who contributed to the Equator Initiative crowdfunding campaign.


Featured image: Equator Prize 2017, Equator Initiative www.equatorinitiative.org
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Banks Feel Pipeline Pressure Points

DAPLProtestWhiteHouse

Some 300 environmental justice activists gathered in front of the White House to protest the Army Corps Of Engineers approval of an easement allowing construction of the last leg of the Dakota Access pipeline, February 8, 2017 (Photo by Stephen Melkisethian) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SEATTLE, Washington, February 14, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – In a unanimous vote Tuesday, Seattle City Council punished Wells Fargo Bank for investing in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by taking away about $3 billion in city business annually.

Passage of the measure starts a bidding process aimed at finding a new bank to hold the city’s operating budget, ending an 18 year relationship with Wells Fargo, where total deposits added up to more than $1 trillion last year.

 Acknowledging the move is “a drop in a very big bucket,” Seattle Council member Debra Juarez said, “The City must trust the practices and integrity of the institutions that handle our public funds. Council wants to strengthen the City of Seattle’s policies for conducting City business with partners that are committed to fair business practices.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which is nearly complete except for an easement to cross the Missouri River, would carry up to 570,000 barrels a day of oil fracked from shale 1,170 miles from western North Dakota to pipelines in Illinois.

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction, July 1, 2016 (Photo by Lars Plougmann) Creative Commons license via Flickr

On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the easement needed to complete the US$3.8 billion pipeline, terminating the Environmental Impact Statement process ordered by former President Barack Obama.

More court challenges and demonstrations against the project are expected.

 Now that the easement has been issued, construction can start at once, but pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners has not made its schedule public.

 During his first week in office, President Donald Trump ordered the Army Corps to move the pipeline forward over months of objections from thousands of protesters from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, many other tribes and their supporters across the country, including thousands of military veterans.

Camps were established, demonstrations were held and many hundreds of protesters have been arrested, some violently.

Calling themselves water protectors, the protesters fear that the pipeline, to be routed under Lake Oahe half a mile north of sovereign tribal territory, could spring a leak, polluting their drinking water and that of millions of people downstream.

The pipeline was originally routed under the Missouri River north of Bismark, the capital of North Dakota, but the route was changed after the city objected to the risk of an oil spill into the river, source of drinking water for the 67,000 Bismark residents.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday, “Today’s reversal on the environmental impact statement by the Army Corps is clearly a political decision made with complete disregard for the impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline on tribal lands and the environment. Setting such a dismissive and careless precedent continues a historic pattern of violating tribal treaty rights.”

Complete disregard for tribal rights and interests sets a dangerous course not only for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but also has the potential to reverberate throughout Indian Country. This action also shows no respect for the right to clean drinking water for all. We, as allies, must add our voices and put a stop to this injustice.

The tribe continues to fight this battle in court and the City of Seattle continues to stand behind them,” said Mayor Murray. “We will not stand by as tribal citizens are treated as second class communities.

Within the United States, tribes are sovereign nations. The essence of tribal sovereignty is the ability to govern and to protect and enhance the health, safety, and welfare of tribal citizens within tribal territory, explains the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Tribal governments are responsible for a broad range of governmental activities on tribal lands, including education, law enforcement, judicial systems, health care, environmental protection, natural resource management, and the development and maintenance of basic infrastructure such as housing, roads, bridges, sewers, public buildings, telecommunications, broadband and electrical services, and solid waste treatment and disposal.

Seattle is not the only U.S. city ready to move its accounts from Wells Fargo because the bank has loaned close to $500 million for the pipeline’s construction.

After the January 11 Santa Fe, New Mexico City Council meeting, Mayor Javier Gonzales signaled with a tweet that his city might abandon its four-year long banking relationship with Wells Fargo because of its part in financing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Mayor Gonzales tweeted, “Great to hear tonight from so many citizens passionate about #NoDAPL and asking city to find a new bank. I share concerns, will push for broader bidding process this yr, incl. local options. We can/should find better ways to manage funds.

On January 24, Mayor Gonzales tweeted his opposition to President Trump’s executive order to push pipelines forward. “The actions on DAPL, Keystone lock us into unsustainable energy strategies, threaten Native sovereignty, delay economic boom in green tech.

Now, a San Francisco tech startup devoted to socially responsible investing is making it easier for individuals to divest from companies backing DAPL.

OpenInvest’s chief strategy officer Joshua Levin told CBS San Francisco that his five-month-old company has designed a feature that automatically pulls from an investor’s portfolio companies funding the pipeline, as well as the energy companies that will benefit from it. The portfolio is then automatically rebalanced with new investments.

Levin said OpenInvest built the algorithms and launched the feature just days after President Trump issued his executive order directing approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Wells Fargo is by no means the only bank providing funding to the controversial pipeline.

There are 17 banks directly funding pipeline construction: Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, BayernLB, BBVA Compass, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Crédit Agricole, Norway’s largest bank DNB ASA, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Dutch ING Group, Intesa Sanpaolo, Mizuho Bank, the French corporate and investment bank Natixis, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Société Générale, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and TD Bank, in addition to Wells Fargo.

The 17 banks involved in directly financing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the many others providing credits to the companies behind the project, continue to be targeted by campaigners demanding an end to their support for the project.

Activists this week showed up at bank headquarters in New York, Montreal, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam, San Francisco and elsewhere, demanding the withdrawal of the 17 banks involved in the construction loan to Energy Transfer Partners.

More actions are planned for next week in Washington, DC, and Palo Alto, California. A full list of ongoing #NoDAPL 2017 actions click here 

Over 700,000 people have signed one of six petitions demanding that the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline withdraw their support of the project. This number includes individuals who collectively report having over US$2.3 billion invested in these banks through checking, mortgage, and credit card accounts, which they are ready to divest if the banks continue financing DAPL. Thousands have already closed their accounts at those banks, removing over US$55 million.

In December, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous leaders requested that each of these banks meet with tribal representatives to hear their concerns.

The deadline for banks to respond to the Tribe’s meeting request was January 10. To date, four banks have declined: BayernLB, BNP Paribas, Mizuho Bank, and Suntrust.

Six banks have not responded at all: Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, BBVA Compass, ICBC, Intesa Sanpaolo, Natixis, and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

Seven banks have met or agreed to meet with the Tribe and its allies: Citi, Crédit Agricole, DNB, ING, Société Générale, TD, and Wells Fargo.

In fact, in November, the largest bank in Norway, DNB, announced that it has sold its assets in the Dakota Access pipeline.

The news follows the delivery of 120,000 signatures gathered by Greenpeace Norway and SumOfUs.org regarding DNB’s investment in the pipeline urging the bank and other financial institutions to pull financing for the project.

DNB recently indicated that it is reconsidering the loan it provided, which amounts to 10 percent of the pipeline’s total funding.

Energy Transfer Partners said Wednesday, “With the receipt of the easement, ETP expects to complete approximately $2.6 billion of committed debt financing and equity transactions within the next several days, including access to the remaining $1.4 billion of the previously announced $2.5 billion project financing for Dakota Access and $1.2 billion from the closing of the previously announced sale by ETP of a minority interest in the Bakken Pipeline to MarEn Bakken Company LLC.

But the indigenous water protectors and their allies are not prepared to accept this outcome and have pledged to continue their resistance to the pipeline.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said, “By attempting to fast track DAPL, President Trump has made it clear that his priorities lie with his wealthy contributors rather than the public interest. Banks now have an opportunity to take a stand against this reckless assault on our treaty rights and water, or be complicit and continue to lose millions.”

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In the Ground Campaigner, Indigenous Environmental Network, had this to say. “President Trump wishes to fast-track the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, against federal law and tribal treaty rights. Indigenous nations and communities will not be the sacrifice zones for President Trump’s fossil fuel regime.

We must remind the investors of this pipeline,” said Goldtooth, “that they, via their financing, are threatening the lives of water protectors and it’s time to be held accountable for that.

From the water protectors’ Sacred Stone Camp Ladonna Bravebull Allard said, “I want the banks to know that the power of their investment comes from the people, and the people are saying we have the right to water, and we will stand for the water. Stop investing in destruction of the Earth.”


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Paris Climate Pact Supports REDD+ Forest Credits

ColombiaForestCIATBy Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 29, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – When forests are cleared, climate warming is accelerated as the trees that were cut can no longer store carbon dioxide (CO2). Support for financial incentives that encourage the conservation of forested lands, known as REDD+, is included in the Paris Climate Agreement that 195 governments reached in December.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an international effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests through a market in carbon credits.

The UN-REDD Programme donors are Denmark, the European Union, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. To date, donor contributions total US$215.2 million. For an overview of current funds and budget allocations, see the Programme’s Multi-Partner Trust Fund Gateway

The UN-backed program encourages results-based payments for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.

REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

REDD+ was developed by Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to create an incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, conserving biodiversity and assisting the global fight against climate change.

In addition to the environmental benefits, REDD+ offers social and economic benefits and is being integrated into green economy strategies. REDD+ projects have been opened in at least 47 developing countries.

The role of REDD+ in reducing climate change is recognized in the Paris Climate Agreement that 195 governments reached in December. The agreement will be opened for signature at UN Headquarters in New York on Earth Day, April 22, 2016.

The pact will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Article 5.2 of the Paris Agreement is devoted to REDD+, capping a decade of negotiations. It cements REDD+ as a core element of the global climate regime.

The Warsaw Framework for REDD+, agreed in March 2014, outlines key UNFCCC requirements that must be met by developing countries in order to realize results-based payments for REDD+ actions.

“REDD+ can be put in place as an incentive system through which sustainable development can take place without having to cut down the forests,” said Mario Boccucci, who heads the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat.

In an interview with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, he gave examples that include: increasing agricultural productivity; shifting toward agroforestry practices; and finding, financing, investing in and rewarding land-use management practices that do not reduce the forest cover.

Boccucci called the Paris Agreement “a turning point for humanity and for climate change” because “it sends a very strong and powerful signal that a global transformation towards a low-emission economy is not only needed, but it’s possible and it’s underway.”

The agreement brings together in a very powerful way the climate change agenda with the sustainable development agenda, said Boccucci. “It says: You have to do these two things together to reach the level of emissions reductions needed to meet the climate change mitigation target of keeping this planet at a less-than-2°C temperature increase, or as close as possible to 1.5°C.”

The inclusion of REDD+ in the agreement, “really signals that there is both political and financial confidence in REDD+ as a climate change mitigation solution that can work at scale in the near future,” Boccucci declared.

“This signal will energize, catalyze and scale up actions that so far we have seen delivered on a more opportunistic or smaller scale, as the level of investment that will be required will start to flow,” he said.

“Countries are now able to implement forest management policy changes with the confidence that they will be rewarded through a climate change regime that recognizes the value of emissions reduction produced through the forest system.”

The UN-REDD Programme donors are Denmark, the European Union, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. To date, donor contributions total US$215.2 million. For an overview of current funds and budget allocations, consult the Programme’s Multi-Partner Trust Fund Gateway .

At an official COP21 side event on December 8 in Paris, Helen Clark, UNDP administrator and UN Development Group chair said, “The UN-REDD Programme can make a strong contribution to strengthening delivery of REDD+ support post-2015.”

“The new UN-REDD Strategic Framework for 2016-2020  will be important in this regard,” said Clark. “It prioritizes national-level actions, helping governments to craft and implement policies and measures for REDD+, supported by multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships to address key drivers of deforestation.”

One example is a REDD+ project that has been operating since 2014.

The Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project is reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation on 38,781 hectares of privately-owned land in Zambia’s Rufunsa District.

Known as the Rufunsa Conservancy, this is one of the last intact areas of forest within Lusaka Province. It provides a 60-kilometer buffer to Lower Zambezi National Park, a strategic protected area in Zambia in a globally significant trans-frontier conservation area.

Lower Zambezi National Park is adjacent to Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some 8,300 people live in 28 villages in the project area. The project proponent is BioCarbon Partners.

Carbon credits are authenticated by the Verified Carbon Standard Project Database, a global benchmark for carbon.

Every Verified Carbon Unit in the program can be tracked from issuance to retirement in the database, allowing buyers to ensure every credit is real, additional, permanent, independently verified, uniquely numbered and fully traceable online.

NoREDDProtestBut critics say financing reduction of deforestation through the trade of carbon credits is unworkable.

While the Paris agreement permits such trading in principle, it requires that the sale of carbon credits needthe consent of the country in which a project is located, dampening the enthusiasm of the private sector for this international trade mechanism, writes Jutta Kill in “German Climate Finance” of February 23.

“Even after almost ten years of ‘REDD+ Readiness,’ there is no evidence that REDD+ is an effective instrument against large-scale forest destruction,” writes Kill.

Problems in the implementation of REDD+ are increasingly apparent, according to the case book “REDD+ on the Ground” by the Center for International Forestry Research, which states, “Following the Bali COP in 2007, international funding for REDD+ quickly ramped up, with large pledges from governments and the development of voluntary markets. Since 2010, however, the flow of funds has been smaller…”

Also critical is the World Rainforest Movement, an international NGO and Indigenous Peoples’ Groups network. In 2014, this group published “REDD: A Collection of Conflicts, Contradictions and Lies,” an account of 24 controversial REDD+ initiatives.

“As offset projects, they all fail to address the climate crisis because by definition, offset projects do not reduce overall emissions: emission reductions claimed in one place justify extra emissions elsewhere,” claims the World Rainforest Movement.

Winnie Overbeek, international coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, said in an August 2015 interview  “REDD is not only a false solution to climate change, REDD also represents a severe threat for communities that depend on forests. This is what we have learned from communities affected by REDD+ projects that we could visit and/or whom we have talked with over the years.”

Even so, UN officials still see the REDD+ mechanism as a sharp tool in the fight against climate change.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said, “REDD+ and the significant investments we are seeing can act as a catalyst for a green economy transformation. This is more true as we increasingly engage the private sector in our efforts. Like a rising tide that lifts all ships, investments into REDD+ readiness and implementation can also trigger broader policy changes.”

Boccucci said, “The Paris Agreement demonstrates an unprecedented level of ambition and commitment by global leaders to address climate change issues. The UN-REDD Programme stands ready and prepared in this post-Paris ‘era of implementation’ to continue to support developing countries to realize their reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation goals and harness the long-term social, environmental and economic benefits of REDD+.”


Featured image: An elephant in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia, a REDD+ project, October 2014 (Photo by Naiyaru) Creative Commons license via Flickr
Header image: Measuring carbon in Reserva Natural El Hatico, familia Molina Durán, near Palmira, Colombia, as part of a workshop on REDD+ hosted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), May 2011. (Photo by Neil Palmer / CIAT)
image 01: Friends of the Earth International, Alliance against REDD, Indigenous Environmental Network, Grassroots Global Justice, No REDD+ in Africa Network and Global protest in solidarity with the communities threatened by REDD+, December 8, 2015 at the COP21 climate conference, Le Bourget, Paris, France. (Photo by Friends of the Earth International) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Nonprofit Lawyers: It’s not an Oxymoron, It’s ELAW

ELAWlawyersBy Sunny Lewis

EUGENE, Oregon, October 19, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The nonprofit Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) is the go-to organization for 300+ lawyers in more than 70 countries who act as environmental defenders.

Based in an historic house in downtown Eugene, the ELAW Secretariat helps its partners around the world gain skills and build strong organizations of their own that will work to protect the environment for years to come.

ELAW Executive Director Bern Johnson says, “Our work is better known in Jakarta or Mexico City or New Delhi than it is in Eugene.”

Since 10 lawyers started ELAW in 1989, the organization has offered the legal tools to help associates strengthen existing environmental laws, bring enforcement actions, critique proposed statutes, and replicate model laws.

These advocates rely on ELAW staff scientists to critique plans for proposed developments, develop systems to monitor environmental conditions, provide expert testimony, and recommend cleaner alternatives.

ELAW has hosted more than 100 lawyers for fellowships. They come to Eugene to gain language skills, tap legal and scientific resources, work closely with ELAW staff, and learn from U.S. efforts to protect communities and the environment.

Funded by donations from foundations and private citizens, ELAW has a budget for helping lawyers challenging injustice, who often face serious legal or other consequences for their advocacy.

 

IndiaPollutedRiver

Clearing India’s Ganges River of Industrial Polluters

For 30 years, ELAW partners in India, led by the pioneering Goldman Prize winner M.C. Mehta, have fought to clean up the Ganges River. Contamination in the Ganges far exceeds World Health Organization standards.

A case that began in 2013 when ELAW partners Rahul Choudhary and Ritwick Dutta filed a suit in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against a single polluter in the town of Simbhaoli has mushroomed into a case against some 1,000 industrial polluters along the Ganges River in five states.

Last fall, the Supreme Court gave the NGT exclusive jurisdiction to clean up the Ganges, and the NGT responded by sending teams of inspectors to investigate each polluting industry.

ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik is reviewing inspection reports and helping partners identify which polluters are violating the law and harming the Ganges.

This approach is yielding results. More than 60 industries that had been operating without wastewater pollution controls have been closed, including dozens of tanneries in the notorious Jajmau industrial district of Kanpur.

Read a report from ELAW on Cleaning up the Ganges.

 

UkraineDam

Ukraine’s Rivers Dammed to Trickles

Remote rivers in Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains are among the world’s most beautiful, but ELAW advocates allege that “corrupt investors” are “installing small hydropower projects that are reducing rivers to a trickle, stranding fish.”

More than 300 small hydropower projects are proposed for the region.

ELAW Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel traveled to Verkhovyna in the Ivano-Frakivsk region in August to help Ukrainian partners protect the rivers.

Joining her were staff scientist Petro Testov and staff attorneys Marta Pankevych and Nataliia Kuts from ELAW’s partner organization, Environment-People-Law.

“What we saw was devastating,” Weiskel exclaimed. “Dams and pipes were siphoning most of the water out of rivers, leaving small fish ladders so poorly constructed that fish had no chance of survival. Sediment-filled water dumped by powerhouses compromised water quality for hundreds of meters downstream.”

The Carpathians are being destroyed, she says. “In the wake of the new roads servicing the dams and powerhouses, we saw illegal logging, fragmented landscapes, and the disruption of natural migration for many species.”

At a September 7 roundtable in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, Environment-People-Law Executive Director Olena Kravchenko called for a moratorium on small hydropower “until the government, investors, and developers can meet strict criteria to protect the viability of this watershed.”

Globally, water pollution is getting worse as the population grows.

The United Nations says 80 percent of all sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated into waterways. There is the legacy pollution of abandoned mines and drill sites, and polluting industries, such as leather and chemicals, seek to set up shop in emerging economies.

Read the UN report “Sick Waters? – The Central Role of Wastewater Management in Sustainable Development”

1478175758_6dffb8385a_b

Safeguarding Guatemala’s Clean Water

The Motagua River flows from Guatemala’s Western Highlands, gathering the waters of 29 other rivers as it runs to the Gulf of Honduras. But today it does not flow as cleanly as it has for centuries.

“Tons of domestic and industrial waste, untreated effluent, and sewage from urban and rural communities go right into the river,” says ELAW Staff Scientist Meche Lu who toured the Motagua this summer. “The neglect and level of contamination is appalling.”

In Guatemala, an ELAW staff scientist is working with the Guatemalan organization Environmental and Water Law Alliance to raise awareness about Motagua River pollution and engage citizens and government authorities in conservation

“Cleaning up the Motagua is not just about protecting nature, it’s about giving local people dignity,” says Lu.

PeruOilCommunityMeeting

De-Oiling Peruvian Rivers

Since 2002 ELAW has helped advocates in Peru protect indigenous communities and rivers of the Peruvian Amazon – the Corrientes, the Tigre, the Pastaza, and the Marañón rivers – from toxic oil industry pollution.

In the early 1970s, multinational oil companies, such as Oxy and PlusPetrol, began drilling for oil in these watersheds. Many pipelines have ruptured and the companies have released contaminated by-products into the water.

The contamination has harmed Quechuea, Achuar, and Cocama Cocamilla indigenous communities, who rely on these rivers for clean water and fish.

The contamination in the four river basins has become so severe that Peruvian authorities declared an environmental emergency in September 2013.

Lu has been helping the indigenous federations in collaboration with PUINAMUDT, an umbrella organization formally named Observatorio Petrolero de la Amazonia Norte.

She has interpreted dozens of water quality reports containing evidence of how the Corrientes, Tigre, Pastaza, and Marañón rivers have been harmed by oil and gas activities and presented this evidence at workshops with community leaders and government representatives.

In April, after lengthy debate, the Peruvian Congress set aside US$50 million to clean up contamination in these watersheds and plan to prevent and respond to future spills.

Now Lu is helping ELAW’s Peruvian partners design and implement a health and toxicology assessment of the affected communities.

ACC cement

Fuming Over Coal in Egypt’s Cement Industry

Egyptians are concerned that without citizen input their government is moving to allow multinational cement corporations to switch from clean burning gas to polluting coal-fired kilns.

The cement companies are facing lack of access to a reliable natural gas supply. The switch saves corporate dollars but threatens public health.

“Natural gas-fired cement plants do not emit any particulate matter or sulfur dioxide,” says ELAW Staff Scientist Chernaik. “By switching to coal, the plants will emit twice as much CO2 [carbon dioxide], and add particulates and SO2 [sulphur dioxide] on top.”

ELAW partners at the Habi Center for Environmental Rights say the plans by Lafarge and Suez Cement “violate the environmental rights of citizens, especially their right to health, healthy clean environment, right to information and participation.”

Habi and eight local organizations are demanding that the companies make public the environmental impacts of switching to coal.

Lafarge is experimenting with municipal waste as a fuel. There’s no access problem. Cairo produces 15,000 tons of municipal waste each day, while the El Sokhna Lafarge plant uses just 15-20 tons a day.

To ensure quality and regularity of supply, Lafarge involved the Zabbaleen, the local informal network who have sorted and resold Cairo’s recyclable waste for the past 80 years. A team of Zabbaleen people was hired and trained to collect, treat and recycle waste for Lafarge Egypt.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy agreed this month to assess the environmental impact of seven out of 19 cement companies that have conducted studies to use coal as an alternative source of energy.


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: ELAW Logo
Header image: ELAW lawyers, partner advocates, scientists and staff at the 2015 ELAW Annual International Meeting, Yachats, Oregon, March 2015.  (Photo courtesy ELAW)
Image 01: Waterway in the Jajmau industrial district of Kanpur, India. (Photo by Mark Chernaik courtesy ELAW)
Image 02: One of the small hydropower dams being built in Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains (Photo courtesy ELAW)
Image 03: Children Washing Hands at School Handwashing Station in Pahuit, Guatemala photo by Cecilia Snyder photo courtesy Flicker – Water For People/Nancy Haws
Image 05:  Egyptian cement bags courtesy PEi