Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle. The study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [groundwater that cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. Since there it cannot be replenished, tapping groundwater results in land subsidence (downward-shifting of ground surface) and a one-way transfer of water into the oceans. Researchers involved concluded that the deep tube-well drilling for water has contributed to sea level increases by an average of a millimeter every year since 1961. Neither the climate community nor the water community had paid attention to this aspect of tube-well drilling before.
IATP’s Steve Suppan is in Bonn, Germany blogging from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.
The UNFCCC negotiations have thus far been a pretty quiet affair. There are just over 3,000 government delegates, intergovernmental officials and accredited NGO observers going about their jobs, with just a handful of journalists to report the results. It is very unlikely that there will be any of the front-page drama of negotiators photographed huddling over the meaning of a phrase to come to an agreement to “save” the negotiations, as happened in Durban, South Africa, 36 hours after many developing country negotiators had gone home. Protest actions are few, small and polite, with none of the beatings of climate negotiations protestors that occurred in Durban and at previous Conference(s) of the Parties (CoP) to the UNFCCC. For example, today the Youth Nongovernmental Organizations staged a “marriage” between climate finance and climate science, complete with costumes and a blessing.
So instead of street fighting, there is a lot of infighting, some of it subtle and some not so subtle. On May 19, IATP went to two UNFCCC workshops called for by the Durban CoP. The workshops featured about two dozen presentations that are thematized here. The first had the title “Workshop on a framework for various approaches,” for financing projects to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and to adapt to climate change. The diplomatically cumbersome title notwithstanding, much of the workshop was about whether the trading of carbon emissions credits would result in any net reduction in GHGs to prevent a catastrophic global warming.
Climate change will have significant impacts on world food security in our lifetimes. Indeed, we have already begun to feel the impacts from extreme events—droughts, heat waves, torrential rains leading to floods, with consequent impacts on crop production in Russia, Texas and the U.S. Midwest, Pakistan, Thailand, to name a few recent high-profile locations. Scientists predict that in the changing climate, extreme events such as these will increase in frequency and magnitude.
More insidious and potentially more threatening are slow onset events that over time will incrementally diminish or eliminate crop production in some parts of the world. These slow onset events—temperature rise, salt-water intrusion, loss of soil moisture and water supplies, loss of productive coastal areas due to sea level rise—will reduce crop yields and eliminate agriculture as a livelihood strategy for many.
So the decision by the newly reformed Committee on World Food Security to request its High-level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to conduct a study on climate change and food security was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by many of the civil society organizations working on food and climate change. At the end of 2011, the HLPE established a project team of experts from around the world to write the report. The mandate given to the team was to “review existing assessments and initiatives on the effects of climate change on the most affected and vulnerable regions and populations and the interface between climate change and agricultural productivity, including the challenges and opportunities of adaptation and mitigation policies and actions for food security and nutrition.”
In January of 1969 the Santa Barbara Channel was the site of an oil well blowout that still ranks today as the third-largest oil spill in U.S. waters, after the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson went to Santa Barbara to see what happened when an estimated 100,000 gallons of crude oil washed up on the coast of California killing sea life and birds, and destroying the shoreline. His anger at the environmental damage from off-shore oil drilling led Senator Nelson, along with activists Dennis Hayes and John Gardner, to found the first Earth Day in 1970.
Earth Day launched a national environmental movement that quickly achieved significant regulatory and policy goals. By December of 1970, President Nixon was calling for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The long hard work of so many environmental heroes like Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, was taking hold. Teach-ins were happening at campuses across the country. A new generation was defining environmentalism.
As Earth Day 2012 approaches, we are left looking back at a 40-year battle to protect the earth from corporate pillage and abuse. Major off-shore oil spills have occurred every 20 years since then, with the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and Deepwater Horizon in 2010. A National Geographic map of oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico shows a mass of red dots that looks like an open wound; there are literally thousands of wells in the Gulf.
Today, even as the world celebrates World Water Day, some countries at the United Nations are trying to remove the reference to the “right to water” from a document that will guide the international development path in the coming decade.
It was less than two years ago, in the summer of 2010, that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution recognizing water as a human right. This was followed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopting a resolution on “human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” which made these rights legally binding. The recognition of the right to water at these U.N. bodies, and the developments since, such as the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on right to water and the resolution by the World Health Assembly recognizing right to water, have helped place water rights on the global agenda.
These successes were partly the result of collective efforts of water justice activists over the last 10 years. IATP's own advocacy on right to water was a direct response to the reference to water as a “need” [instead of a right], in the Ministerial Declaration of the 2nd World Water Forum in 2000.
Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hear arguments to expand the federal crop insurance program in the 2012 Farm Bill. Most likely, proponents of this expansion will point to the devastating crop losses wrought by extreme weather last year. Indemnity payouts for 2011 have so far cost taxpayers a record $10 billion, a number expected to grow as claims are processed.
Crop insurance proponents are right: Farming is getting riskier all the time. Last year we saw more extreme storms, more record heat, more droughts and more floods than in almost any previous year. According to climatologists, it’s a pattern that’s only going to get worse as the effects of climate change grow. Right now, our federal crop insurance program only protects farmers from being wiped out financially from extreme weather. Farmers need that protection, but the rest of us—the eaters—also need a secure, reliable food system.
There are ways to make agriculture more resilient to extreme weather. Farmers can plant more perennial crops, which require less water and hold on better to soil during floods. In drought-prone regions, they can select drought-tolerant crop varieties or change grazing or irrigation methods, among other strategies. Farming techniques that protect and enhance the soil, and use less water and energy, are those that stand the best chance of holding on when the weather turns bad.
I am in Marseille, France this week, home to some of the biggest water multinationals, to participate in two parallel events on water in a resource-constrained world. From March 12–17, the 6th World Water Forum brings together multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, governments, water professionals, water technologists, development organizations and of course the multinational corporations involved in water. Many development organizations participate in the event because the discussions here influence national and regional decisions that affect poor and marginal groups around the world.
On the outside, I will also be participating in the Alternative Water Forum, a parallel event for water advocates promoting water solutions that are inclusive, fair and rights based. IATP has been involved since 2002 in the planning of these alternative water events.
Much of our advocacy inside the WWC-organized forum has been in response to the refusal by the ministerial of the forum to recognize water as a right. In fact IATP’s campaign on the right to water began in response to the 2nd World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration in 2000, which said that “water is a need,” despite demands to have it recognized as a basic human right.
The issue has come a long way since then as a result of struggles around the world, and work by committed individuals in CSOs and governments at various levels. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly (resolutions A/RES/64/292, A/HRC/RES/15/9, A/HRC/RES/16/2, A/HRC/RES/18/1 and WHA 64/24).
IATP has submitted three short papers in response to requests for comment from the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The papers concern three issues: 1) what work the UNFCCC’s Substantive Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) should undertake on agriculture and climate change; 2) “various approaches,” including the use of carbon emissions credit trading, to finance projects to reduce greenhouse gases; 3) the definition of a New Market Mechanism that would include carbon trading but also provide more accounting flexibility for developed country Parties to meet their GHG emissions reduction targets. These papers and many others will discussed by government delegates during workshops at the UNFCCC negotiations, May 14–25, in Bonn, Germany.
It’s all too easy, especially in the United States, to take water access for granted—turn on the tap, and fill up a glass—but across the world, lines are being drawn as governments and financially interested multi-national corporations ask the same question: Who will control the world’s water and how will it be allocated? India’s draft national water policy, released in January, is the latest example of a policy that, if passed as currently written, will continue to marginalize small-scale farmers and low-income communities, ultimately failing to reinforce water as a fundamental human right.
In a new report, IATP’s Shiney Varghese analyzes India’s draft policy and why, even though at first glance “it appears […] a holistic approach,” it comes up short—both in protecting people and the environment—and may set a dangerous precedent for water management worldwide. The People’s Campaign for the Right to Water has organized an e-petition, opposing “the very concept of water as an economic good” and India’s draft national water policy.
Read the new IATP paper, Corporatizing Water: India's Draft National Water Policy, for more, or see Shiney Varghese’s recent op-ed, “Turning off the tap on water as a human right” in India’s national daily, The Hindu. Take action by signing the Peoples Campaign for Right to Water e-petition.
The chief U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, explained to the delegates at the Conference of Parties (COP) at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that the United States sought “legal symmetry” among all parties. The New York Times dutifully reported the U.S. position, together with the U.S. view that China and India were blocking the “modernization” of the UNFCCC by not agreeing to assume the same obligations as developed countries in the new “legal framework” (in the U.S. phrasing), in effect would replace the UNFCCC and its foundational principles. The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Changte, Todd Stern, said that the U.S. was fully satisfied with the outcome of the “Durban Platform” and implicitly with the replacement of the UNFCCC’s foundational principles with the U.S. principle of “legal symmetry.”