Category Archives: endangered species

Governing the Oceans: a Dysfunctional Family

manganese nodules in seabed. Image from wikipedia

About 3 billion people live within 100 miles (160km) of the sea, a number that could double in the next decade as humans flock to coastal cities like gulls. The oceans produce $3 trillion of goods and services each year and untold value for the Earth’s ecology. Life could not exist without these vast water reserves—and, if anything, they are becoming even more important to humans than before.

Mining is about to begin under the seabed in the high seas—the regions outside the exclusive economic zones administered by coastal and island nations, which stretch 200 nautical miles (370km) offshore. Nineteen exploratory licences have been issued. New summer shipping lanes are opening across the Arctic Ocean. The genetic resources of marine life promise a pharmaceutical bonanza: the number of patents has been rising at 12% a year. One study found that genetic material from the seas is a hundred times more likely to have anti-cancer properties than that from terrestrial life.

But these developments are minor compared with vaster forces reshaping the Earth, both on land and at sea. It has long been clear that people are damaging the oceans—witness the melting of the Arctic ice in summer, the spread of oxygen-starved dead zones and the death of coral reefs. Now, the consequences of that damage are starting to be felt onshore...

More serious is the global mismanagement of fish stocks. About 3 billion people get a fifth of their protein from fish, making it a more important protein source than beef. But a vicious cycle has developed as fish stocks decline and fishermen race to grab what they can of the remainder. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a third of fish stocks in the oceans are over-exploited; some estimates say the proportion is more than half. One study suggested that stocks of big predatory species—such as tuna, swordfish and marlin—may have fallen by as much as 90% since the 1950s. People could be eating much better, were fishing stocks properly managed.

The forests are often called the lungs of the Earth, but the description better fits the oceans. They produce half the world’s supply of oxygen, mostly through photosynthesis by aquatic algae and other organisms. But according to a forthcoming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; the group of scientists who advise governments on global warming), concentrations of chlorophyll (which helps makes oxygen) have fallen by 9-12% in 1998-2010 in the North Pacific, Indian and North Atlantic Oceans.

Climate change may be the reason. At the moment, the oceans are moderating the impact of global warming—though that may not last.,,Changes in the oceans, therefore, may mean less oxygen will be produced. This cannot be good news, though scientists are still debating the likely consequences. The world is not about to suffocate. But the result could be lower oxygen concentrations in the oceans and changes to the climate because the counterpart of less oxygen is more carbon—adding to the build-up of greenhouse gases. In short, the decades of damage wreaked on the oceans are now damaging the terrestrial environment.

Three-quarters of the fish stocks in European waters are over-exploited and some are close to collapse... Farmers dump excess fertiliser into rivers, which finds its way to the sea; there cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) feed on the nutrients, proliferate madly and reduce oxygen levels, asphyxiating all sea creatures. In 2008, there were over 400 “dead zones” in the oceans. Polluters pump out carbon dioxide, which dissolves in seawater, producing carbonic acid. That in turn has increased ocean acidity by over a quarter since the start of the Industrial Revolution. In 2012, scientists found pteropods (a kind of sea snail) in the Southern Ocean with partially dissolved shells...

The high seas are not ungoverned. Almost every country has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which, in the words of Tommy Koh, president of UNCLOS in the 1980s, is “a constitution for the oceans”. It sets rules for everything from military activities and territorial disputes (like those in the South China Sea) to shipping, deep-sea mining and fishing. Although it came into force only in 1994, it embodies centuries-old customary laws, including the freedom of the seas, which says the high seas are open to all. UNCLOS took decades to negotiate and is sacrosanct. Even America, which refuses to sign it, abides by its provisions.

But UNCLOS has significant faults. It is weak on conservation and the environment, since most of it was negotiated in the 1970s when these topics were barely considered. It has no powers to enforce or punish. America’s refusal to sign makes the problem worse: although it behaves in accordance with UNCLOS, it is reluctant to push others to do likewise.

Specialised bodies have been set up to oversee a few parts of the treaty, such as the International Seabed Authority, which regulates mining beneath the high seas. But for the most part UNCLOS relies on member countries and existing organisations for monitoring and enforcement. The result is a baffling tangle of overlapping authorities that is described by the Global Ocean Commission, a new high-level lobby group, as a “co-ordinated catastrophe”.

Individually, some of the institutions work well enough. The International Maritime Organisation, which regulates global shipping, keeps a register of merchant and passenger vessels, which must carry identification numbers. The result is a reasonably law-abiding global industry. It is also responsible for one of the rare success stories of recent decades, the standards applying to routine and accidental discharges of pollution from ships. But even it is flawed. The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, a German think-tank, rates it as the least transparent international organisation. And it is dominated by insiders: contributions, and therefore influence, are weighted by tonnage.

Other institutions look good on paper but are untested. This is the case with the seabed authority, which has drawn up a global regime for deep-sea mining that is more up-to-date than most national mining codes... The problem here is political rather than regulatory: how should mining revenues be distributed? Deep-sea minerals are supposed to be “the common heritage of mankind”. Does that mean everyone is entitled to a part? And how to share it out?

The biggest failure, though, is in the regulation of fishing. Overfishing does more damage to the oceans than all other human activities there put together. In theory, high-seas fishing is overseen by an array of regional bodies. Some cover individual species, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT, also known as the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna). Others cover fishing in a particular area, such as the north-east Atlantic or the South Pacific Oceans. They decide what sort of fishing gear may be used, set limits on the quantity of fish that can be caught and how many ships are allowed in an area, and so on.

Here, too, there have been successes. Stocks of north-east Arctic cod are now the highest of any cod species and the highest they have been since 1945—even though the permitted catch is also at record levels. This proves it is possible to have healthy stocks and a healthy fishing industry. But it is a bilateral, not an international, achievement: only Norway and Russia capture these fish and they jointly follow scientists’ advice about how much to take.  There has also been some progress in controlling the sort of fishing gear that does the most damage. In 1991 the UN banned drift nets longer than 2.5km (these are nets that hang down from the surface; some were 50km long). A series of national and regional restrictions in the 2000s placed limits on “bottom trawling” (hoovering up everything on the seabed)—which most people at the time thought unachievable.

But the overall record is disastrous. Two-thirds of fish stocks on the high seas are over-exploited—twice as much as in parts of oceans under national jurisdiction. Illegal and unreported fishing is worth $10 billion-24 billion a year—about a quarter of the total catch. According to the World Bank, the mismanagement of fisheries costs $50 billion or more a year, meaning that the fishing industry would reap at least that much in efficiency gains if it were properly managed.

Most regional fishery bodies have too little money to combat illegal fishermen. They do not know how many vessels are in their waters because there is no global register of fishing boats. Their rules only bind their members; outsiders can break them with impunity. An expert review of ICCAT, the tuna commission, ordered by the organisation itself concluded that it was “an international disgrace”. A survey by the FAO found that over half the countries reporting on surveillance and enforcement on the high seas said they could not control vessels sailing under their flags. Even if they wanted to, then, it is not clear that regional fishery bodies or individual countries could make much difference.

But it is far from clear that many really want to. Almost all are dominated by fishing interests. The exceptions are the organisation for Antarctica, where scientific researchers are influential, and the International Whaling Commission, which admitted environmentalists early on. Not by coincidence, these are the two that have taken conservation most seriously.

Countries could do more to stop vessels suspected of illegal fishing from docking in their harbours—but they don’t. The FAO’s attempt to set up a voluntary register of high-seas fishing boats has been becalmed for years. The UN has a fish-stocks agreement that imposes stricter demands than regional fishery bodies. It requires signatories to impose tough sanctions on ships that break the rules. But only 80 countries have ratified it, compared with the 165 parties to UNCLOS. One study found that 28 nations, which together account for 40% of the world’s catch, are failing to meet most of the requirements of an FAO code of conduct which they have signed up to.

It is not merely that particular institutions are weak. The system itself is dysfunctional. There are organisations for fishing, mining and shipping, but none for the oceans as a whole. Regional seas organisations, whose main responsibility is to cut pollution, generally do not cover the same areas as regional fishery bodies, and the two rarely work well together. (In the north-east Atlantic, the one case where the boundaries coincide, they have done a lot.) Dozens of organisations play some role in the oceans (including 16 in the UN alone) but the outfit that is supposed to co-ordinate them, called UN-Oceans, is an ad-hoc body without oversight authority. There are no proper arrangements for monitoring, assessing or reporting on how the various organisations are doing—and no one to tell them if they are failing.

Governing the high seas: In deep water, Economist, Feb. 22, 2014, at 51

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Conservation as a Paramilitary Operation

image from http://www.iapf.org/en/

Mander, founder and chief executive officer of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) – registered in Houston, headquartered in Zimbabwe, and training rangers across Southern Africa [states]..."while we're trying to win people [over], tens of thousands of animals are being killed every year. We need to do something now, on the ground, to stop the hemorrhaging. Otherwise there won't be anything left by the time we've won all the hearts and minds."

Mander's urgency is not misplaced. Poachers in South Africa killed the equivalent of one rhino every eight hours in 2013. They hacked or sawed off their horns and sold them on the world market for as much as $27,000 per pound – more than the price of gold. That makes the average horn on the average rhino worth close to a quarter-million dollars.  Across Africa, the number of elephants has fallen from 1.3 million 40 years ago to fewer than 400,000 today. Each year, the continent loses somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of those that remain. This has prompted organizations such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to predict that Africa will lose a fifth of its elephants in 10 years.  Other groups warn that the African elephant could be extinct within a generation, consigned to picture books, zoos, and eventually fairy tales, like the unicorn.

Mass killings of Africa's wildlife have happened before, notably in the 1970s and '80s, a period known as the "ivory holocaust." In 1989, an international ban on trade in elephant ivory curtailed the supply of illicit animal parts, and populations of the hardest-hit wildlife began creeping up again.  But so did the demand. Asia's growing middle class increasingly sought out the animal contraband that serves both as ancestral trappings of wealth and a source of traditional medicines.

To supply these expanding markets, poaching has surged again. But this time the sophistication, funding, and malevolence of the poachers and their big-time criminal underwriters have reached new heights. The few who are caught are often found with their own night-vision goggles, sniper rifles, bandoliers of ammunition, and other specialized gear. Big-money backers equip the gunmen with helicopters to land inside the electric fences that guard wildlife. They bribe veterinarians to supply the poachers with powerful animal tranquilizers, which are used to fell the beasts all the more quickly.

In the face of this onslaught, the world's conservation organizations have significantly increased their efforts despite chronic underfunding. But Mander argues that the conservation "industry," as he calls it, is "dangerously fragmented" and wasting energy pulling in different directions."It's a world wildlife war. Don't let anyone tell you it's anything else," he says back at his main encampment in Zimbabwe. "And the way we're heading, we're going to lose."

Mander is an unlikely poster boy for an environmental conservation movement... At age 19, he joined the Australian Navy and soon transferred into the force's equivalent of the US Navy SEALs. Six years later, he had become a fully trained Special Forces sniper and specialist diver. But his commission ended, and he shifted into private security and protection of VIPs in Iraq. Twelve tours and three years later, he'd become a wealthy man but decided to quit. …

In Zimbabwe, a wildlife reserve manager with a team of rangers out in the bush decided that hiring Mander was worth a try…Seeing the need to teach rangers about military tactics, and using money from investments he had made during his high-paying days in Iraq, Mander set up the IAPF in 2009. To date, it has trained rangers from 10 separate wilderness areas in Zimbabwe and is expanding into Mozambique. IAPF is also leading efforts from South Africa to create an international standard for wildlife rangers around Africa and beyond….

He teaches intelligence gathering and analysis, as well as overt and covert patrolling. He shows them how to set up observation posts, how to use force properly, and how to deal with battlefield casualties. Mander deploys the gear he used when he was in Iraq, the night scopes and the infrared lights. He's working on a new gas-driven drone that can spend five hours in the air scouring the landscape for poachers. His rangers go through physical training drills every morning. Their uniforms are new and spotless. "People will try to package it up in a softer way – I don't know why – but antipoaching is a paramilitary operation," he says. "Law enforcement should be a ranger's No. 1 job, but it's been turned into a minor role."…

Mander is not the only one militarizing ranger training. In Kenya, the British Army is helping teach similar battlefield techniques. In South Africa, former special forces soldiers are doing the same. Drones are undergoing trials in a dozen wildlife reserves across Africa. The key ingredient in Mander's approach is a perpetual show of force, which he believes acts as a deterrent...

Critics in the conservation community worry that militarizing the antipoaching movement raises the risk of innocent people getting caught in the crossfire. They think it sidesteps the judicial process at a time when courts are beginning to impose harsher sentences on poachers….

"A lot of people will argue that we need to be focused less on the military approach I'm trying here and more on community work and hearts and minds and sustainable alternatives for communities," Mander goes on. "Look, I'm all for that. Let's have people out there working on that. But while they're at it, I'm going to be here on the ground trying to stop the bleeding and hold on to what we've got left before everything's dead."

Excerpt, Mike Pflanz, The ivory police, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 2, 2014

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Saving the Elephant: the $300 Million Question

elephant

Six tonnes of elephant tusks and ivory trinkets were destroyed in a tarmac crusher in the factory city of Dongguan in China on January 6th, 2014.  Most of the 33-tonne stockpile of Hong Kong—home to many of the world’s most avid buyers of ivory—as well as those of several European countries will soon meet the same fate. In the past few years ivory has also been destroyed in the United States, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines.

These scenes lack both the curling smoke and dramatic setting of the vast pyre of tusks burned in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park in 1989. (Most ivory is now destroyed by crushing, rather than burning, to avoid polluting the atmosphere.) But they may prove equally significant in the long fight to stop poaching and save the elephant from extinction.  The bonfire near Nairobi was the prelude to a global ban on trade in ivory, a collapse in demand and a lull in poaching that gave the African elephant population time to recover. But in the past five years poaching has picked up again. An estimated 25,000 elephants are killed each year by poachers, many of them linked to organised crime. In some places the species is close to being wiped out...

Links between ivory traffickers and African militias such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, a thuggish band of guerrillas that originated in Uganda, have put the issue on the national-security agenda in America and elsewhere. The result is attention from political heavyweights including Bill and Hillary Clinton; John Kerry, America’s secretary of state; and David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister. African governments have agreed to to beef up park patrols, create anti-poaching police units in the states where elephants roam and strengthen anti-poaching laws. The measures have so far been underfunded. Making them stick would cost an estimated $300m over ten years, much of which it is hoped will come from the rich countries at the conference.

Though campaigners welcome the plan they argue that curbing the supply of ivory is not enough. Since 1989 countries with elephant populations have twice been allowed to sell stockpiled ivory from elephants that died naturally under CITES, a global agreement on international trade in endangered species. Before the second sale, in 2008, conservationists warned that it would revive the market in China, where ivory ornaments have long been prized, and make poaching profitable once more. They were right. The ivory bought by the Chinese government is drip-fed onto the domestic market at a rate of five tonnes a year. That comes nowhere close to meeting demand, estimated at 200 tonnes a year. And the sales have coincided with an explosive increase in poaching.

The ivory trade: Up in smoke, Economist,Feb. 8, 2014, at 60

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Madagascar Sells Polluting Rights to Microsoft

madagascar

Madagascar's government has agreed to sell forest-related carbon credits to Microsoft and Zurich's zoo, which will help protect the Makira National Park, in the first sale of state-owned REDD+ credits in Africa, according to the group that manages the park.  The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an international charity headquartered in New York City, said the revenues from selling carbon credits generated by avoided deforestation in Makira will finance the conservation of one of Madagascar's most pristine rainforest ecosystems, while supporting the livelihoods of local people.

The funds will be used by the government for activities under its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation "plus" conservation (REDD+) programme, and by WCS to manage Makira park. But the largest share - half of the proceeds - will go to support local communities in areas around Makira for education, health and other projects, WCS said.

The Makira forest, which spans nearly 400,000 hectares (over 1,500 square miles), is home to an estimated 1 percent of the world's biodiversity, including 20 lemur species, hundreds of species of birds, and thousands of plant varieties, some unique to the location. The forests also provide clean water to over 250,000 people in the surrounding landscape.

Jonathan Shopley, managing director of The CarbonNeutral Company, which handled the purchase for Microsoft, said its clients are increasingly looking for opportunities to manage the entire environmental impact of their organisation, driven by the need to make their supply chains more resilient...In Madagascar, burning for agricultural land and extraction of wood for household energy leads to around 36,000 hectares (139 square miles) of natural forest being lost each year, WCS said.

BY MEGAN ROWLIN, Madagascar: Microsoft Buys Carbon Credits From Madagascar Rainforest, AllAfrica.com, Feb. 13, 2014

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Bonga Oil Spill: the Nigerian Perspective against Shell

The Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi has slammed Anglo Dutch oil giant, Shell for the way and manner it handles oil spill in the country, especially in the oil and gas rich Niger Delta region.  He said the response of the foremost oil firm to oil spillages in the country fell short of international standards and practices.  The helmsman of Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory authority spoke against the backdrop of the Bonga oil spill incident which wreaked havoc in many communities in the Niger Delta region in 2011.

The National Assembly had last week through the House of Representatives Committee on Environment, organised a public hearing over the incident.  Recounting NIMASA's experience during the incident, Akpobolokemi said that the oil giant tried as much as possible to frustrate the agency's attempts to move to the site of the spill.  As a stop gap measure, he explained that the agency provided some relief material to some of the communities affected by the spill.  Akpobolokemi flayed Shell for it poor response and nonchalant attitude towards spill incidents in the Niger Delta area and called for an immediate stop to this.

Said he: “The kind of impunity Shell and its allies have demonstrated so far in the Niger Delta area in the past must stop if the future of the people of Nigeria and the environment are to be protected," adding that in other countries when spills like this occur, the first thing is remuneration, attention to the affected communities and finding ways of reducing the sufferings of the people and restoring the ecosystem, which Shell has failed to do. "Shell fell short of all these criteria and of course it is sad that it is only in Nigeria that we can witness this degree of impunity.

“We in NIMASA see this as a serious infraction to our laws, communities and the damage done to the communities and the ecosystem can be seen as genocide. When a similar spill occurred in the gulf of Mexico, Shell was alive to its responsibilities, they were made to pay compensation to the affected communities but today in Nigeria, any spill that occur, a claim of sabotage or third party claims are the order of the day." He said NIMASA had made presentations before the House Committee on Environment, asking SNEPCO to pay compensation, not an administrative fee, to the communities totalling $6.5 billion.

“The response from Shell was evasive and do not suggest that it is a company that is alive to its responsibility. It believes that the culture of impunity can continue to go on, thereby playing with our legal system. May we use this opportunity to correct the wrong that has been done to the Nigerian environment because of the callousness of this company and we stand by our position that compensation must be paid to the communities.

"What we expect Shell to do is to come to the negotiating table and discuss with the affected communities on the means of payment so that the communities can get back their natural eco-system”.

John Iwori, Bonga Oil Spill: NIMASA Slams Shell, http://www.thisdaylive.com/,  Feb. 14, 2014

Shell Response

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What Conservation Drones Can and Could Do

conservation drones.  Image from conservation drones.org

A South African foundation on Wednesday received a 232.2-million-rand (about 21-million-U.S.- dollar) grant for combatting unchecked rhino poaching in Southern Africa.  The grant was donated to Peace Parks Foundation from the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries. Of the total donation, 217 million rands (about 19 million dollars) came from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, while 15.2 million rands (about 13.7 million dollars) was contributed by the Swedish Postcode Lottery.

“This is the largest single contribution made by the private sector to combat rhino poaching and wildlife crime. We welcome this public-private partnership to help ensure the survival of the species,” South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa said.

The South African government and its public entities—South African National Parks (SANParks) and Ezemvelo KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) Wildlife (Ezemvelo), are working closely with Peace Parks Foundation to develop a multi-pronged approach to combat rhino poaching and wildlife crime, the minister said.

The main focus will be the devaluation of the horns of live rhino, through a combination of methods, including the physical devaluation and contamination of the horn, as well as the use of tracking and monitoring technology...In particular, the emphasis will be on intelligence gathering and on technology applications such as conservation drones and other specialist equipment. It will also include training and capacity building, as well as incentives and rewards for rangers, communities and members of the public who support the conservation of rhino...The Peace Parks Foundation was established in 1997 to assist the region’s governments in their development of transfrontier conservation areas.

South African foundation receives multi-million-dollar grant for fighting rhino poaching, Xinhua, Feb. 8, 2014

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The Slow Death of Rhino: South Africa

 

limpopo transfrontier park

The Kruger National Park’s rhino population remains under heavy threat from poachers with no less than 63 carcasses found in the world famous game reserve in the first 30 days of the year...This equates to a national kill rate of 2.8 animals a day at the start of the year while arrests in connection with poaching stand at 21 for the first 30 days of the year...One of these gaps is widely seen to be the ease with which poachers come into and leave South Africa from particularly Mozambique. A proposal allowing for hot pursuit of suspected poachers across the international border has been put forward to the SANParks board and the Environmental Affairs Ministry for inclusion in a memorandum of understanding due to be entered into between South Africa and its eastern neighbour.  The memorandum was originally due to have been signed this month but Mozambique has indicated it is not yet in a position to sign.

Excerpt, Kim Helfrich, Rhino killing continues unabated, http://www.defenceweb.co.za/, Jan.  31, 2014

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A Humanitarian Crisis for the Sake of Conservation: the Sengwer in Kenya

Kerio River, Kenya

For decades, the Kenyan government has attempted to evict indigenous people from the forests of Embobut and Cherangany, in the western county of Elgeiyo Marakwet. Past tactics have even included torture and setting fire to homes, those affected say...The government - accused in recent weeks of preparing to carry out yet another forced eviction - maintains that communities living in 12 forest glades must leave so it can rehabilitate the degraded forest and the water services it provides to the surrounding regions and beyond.

“This is a government initiative aimed specifically at conserving the country’s second-largest water tower - nothing else,’’ said Inspector Stephen Chessa, who works for the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and is in charge of the Embobut eviction...

But one forest warder who preferred to remain anonymous told Thomson Reuters Foundation he and his colleagues had been instructed to evict forcefully anyone who resists the move.  On Monday, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, expressed deep concern about this prospect, urging the Kenyan government “to ensure that the human rights of the Sengwer indigenous people are fully respected, in strict compliance with international standards protecting the rights of indigenous peoples”.  Most families are asking for more time to assemble their things and harvest crops before leaving the forest.   But Solomon Mibei, head of conservation for the KFS, said families would not be given extra time and the evictions would continue as planned. “They have no reason to continue staying in the forest - they were compensated,’’ he said.

The situation is complex because there are different communities living in Embobut: the Sengwer indigenous people; groups displaced by disasters and political violence; and others who have come to benefit from cultivation opportunities.  “Why should the government treat us equally with the victims of post-election violence and landslides?’’ asked Sengwer spokesperson Yator Kiptum. “The forest is our home - our case is different, it’s not fair at all.”...According to Article 63 of the constitution, community land shall be vested in and held by communities identified on the basis of ethnicity, culture or similar community of interest. Community land consists of ancestral lands and lands traditionally occupied by hunter-gatherers.

Justin Kenrick of the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), a UK-based rights organisation, said the government’s justification for evicting people is forest conservation, but research has long since shown that forests are best preserved not by evicting ancestral communities but by supporting them to regain secure rights to their land.  Payments to evictees by the government are “intended to distract the public and the communities themselves from addressing the real issues”, Kenrick said. “According to international treaties to which Kenya is a party, the Sengwer should have been consulted, and accepted or rejected the proposal,’’ he added.  Kiptum, however, claims the Sengwer were not consulted, did not sign anything, and have not agreed to hand over their land for the small amount of money that has been paid into some people's bank accounts.  “You cannot create a humanitarian crisis for the sake of conserving biodiversity while there are other ways of doing it better,” said Stephen Cheboi, coordinator of the North Rift Human Rights Network based in nearby Eldoret town. He also called for an audit of the compensation process.

Excerpts from Caleb Kemboi, Indigenous rights clash with forest protection in Kenya, Reuters, Jan. 17,, 2014

See also Biodiversity and Human Rights

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China in Antarctica: the value of flagpoles

antarctica flags

Over the past two decades China's annual Antarctic spending has tripled to $55m, three times its Arctic investment... The Southern Ocean is full of fish. A large petroleum field was recently discovered in West Antarctica. The continent also has deposits of coal and other valuable minerals. The Protocol on Environmental Protection, a document signed in Madrid in 1991 by countries involved in Antarctica, has imposed a mining ban until 2048, when it is to be reviewed.

China acceded in 1983 to the Antarctic Treaty, which maintains the continent as a demilitarised science preserve and forms the basis of a system of governance. The goal of its current five-year polar plan, says Chen Lianzeng of China’s State Oceanic Administration, is to increase the country’s status and influence. On November 7th China’s 30th Antarctic expedition, complete with construction crew, set sail from Shanghai. It will scout a site for China’s fifth station, in Terra Nova Bay. Its fourth base, Taishan, is still unfinished.

Sovereignty in Antarctica is disputed. States assert themselves by building bases. “You put a huge flag on a flagpole close to the research station,” says Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at the University of London. “It is not very subtle.” If China builds all five planned stations it will have more than either Britain or Australia, and only one fewer than America.

Science matters, too. It gives cachet and influence in matters of joint governance. In 2008 China built Kunlun station, a base with capabilities for deep-space research in a place so remote that it took six attempts to get there. The ice underneath could help scientists work out the climatic record of the past 1.5m years, which would be a scientific coup.But the influx of new Antarctic actors has rattled the old establishment and its former scientific hegemony. “China is saying, ‘We don’t give a damn about Shackleton, Scott, all these white European heroes. You can keep that. What we’re interested in is the future,” says Mr Dodds. The Chinese have raised even more concerns by giving Chinese names to more than 350 places, including Great Wall Bay.  Chinese scholars call the Antarctic Treaty a “rich man’s club”, in which China has only second-class citizenship—with some justification, says Ms Brady, since the choicest spots for research stations were snapped up by the first countries to arrive. Publicly, though, China buries its grumbles and complies with protocol. An inspection regime installed by the treaty is ineffectual, and there is little check on states’ affairs.

Meanwhile, the exploitation of Antarctic resources may come sooner than predicted. At a recent meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, delegates from 24 countries failed to agree on proposals for two marine protected areas. Plans for the reserves have been discussed for decades, but consensus was required and China, Russia and Ukraine withdrew their support. If Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are to remain some of the planet’s last unspoilt wilderness, an updated framework is needed, and quickly.

Antarctic research: They may be some time, Economist, Nov. 16, 2013, at 50

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Water Sharing Agreement in the Middle East 2013

Dead Sea

Drained by farms along its banks, the River Jordan is barely a trickle by the time it dribbles into the Dead Sea, and most of that is sewage coming out of Jerusalem and West Bank settlements. Israeli and Jordanian factories also use the water to recover potash.So fast are the Dead Sea’s briny waters shrinking that it has already shed its southern half. Much of the seabed is now as crusty as the pillar of salt that Lot’s wife turned into after fleeing Gomorrah. Hotels built on the shores in the 1980s have a cliff-top view today. Arthritic pensioners keen on the sea’s therapeutic powers are reduced to swimming in saline hotel pools. By 2050, say Friends of the Earth, a conservation group, the sea will be little more than a pond the size of two football fields.

After years of regional squabbling, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian ministers signed a deal ( a Memorandum of Understanding)* on December 9th, 2013 to slow desiccation. Backed by the World Bank, they plan to build a desalination plant on the Red Sea and pipe the run-off 180km (112 miles) north to the Dead Sea.  Some see advantages in diluting the Dead Sea’s nose-twitchingly sulphurous tides with ocean water. But there are drawbacks. Mucky algae might spread, turning the sea red. “It’s playing with an entire ecosystem,” says Mira Edelstein of Friends of the Earth.

The Dead Sea: Emptying out, Economist, Dec. 14, 2013, at 58

*The MoU outlines in broad language three major regional water sharing initiatives that will be pursued over the coming months by the cooperating parties. These initiatives include the development of a desalination plant in Aqaba at the head of the Red Sea, where the water produced will be shared between Israel and Jordan; increased releases of water by Israel from Lake Tiberias for use in Jordan; and the sale of about 20-30 million m3/year of desalinated water from Mekorot (the Israeli water utility) to the Palestinian Water Authority for use in the West Bank. In addition, a pipeline from the desalination plant at Aqaba would convey brine to the Dead Sea to study the effects of mixing the brine with Dead Sea water. In order to proceed with these actions, especially the desalination plant at Aqaba, technical work and studies will need to be undertaken.  See World Bank

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