Thursday, 31 January 2008

New website ‘Whither EC Aid?’

The European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) and ActionAid International launched a new website for their joint project ‘Whither EC Aid?’ This project aims to re-position the debate on monitoring the effectiveness of European Commission aid by seeking to open it up and bring in the views of a wide variety of stakeholders. The next five years will be decisive for the future direction of international development co-operation in general and European Union co-operation in particular. The European Commission (EC) plays a crucial role in EU development co-operation, as a facilitator as well as a sizeable donor in its own right. Despite ambitious international aid goals, there is a lack of shared understanding of key underlying issues that shape the EC aid effectiveness debate.

On the basis of the outcomes of the research and consultation phases, a final report on “Whither EC Aid?” will be written and completed in spring 2008.

To participate or send your comments and suggestions, go to >>>

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Oxfam welcomes 'Call to Action' on poverty at Davos

International agency Oxfam welcomed the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's 'Call to Action' to end world poverty made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but warned that concrete proposals must emerge at the UN meeting in New York in September this year to turn the rhetoric into reality.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, rock star Bono, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan joined Ban in a joint call for urgent action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, progress on which is sorely lacking in most areas. A number of companies also supported the call.

Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam GB, who is attending the meeting, said: "There is no reason and no excuse for the enduring and obscene levels of poverty in the world. Concerted action from political leaders in response to the demands of global citizens could overturn this inequity. Today's call is welcome, but it will only be meaningful if it is followed by concrete proposals and genuine action from all the major players. We must look back this in years to come and see it as a turning point, not a talking shop."

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. All the world's governments and leading development institutions have agreed to them. Stocking: "These goals are ambitious but they were chosen precisely because they are reachable. Frankly they are the absolute minimum that we ought to achieve. They are non-negotiable and yet here we are, half way through the time we have to deliver on them, too far away from too many of them. Leaders gathered here in Davos, and those around the world watching the meeting, must redouble their efforts to make sure we don't miss this target, for our own sakes, as well as the sake of future generations."

Friday, 25 January 2008

Davos: Dangerous complacency over global economy

Political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos are showing few signs of recognising their failure to tackle governance of the global economy, according to the international trade union delegation attending the gathering. “Governments have got it badly wrong and are showing dangerous complacency even as the obvious cracks in the world economy are widening”, said Guy Ryder, General Secretary if the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The global union movement, in its statement to the Davos meeting, has set out a series of urgently-needed measures to deal with the falling share of national income going to wages around the world, the need for proper regulation and transparency in financial markets, stimulating growth in key economies, tackling unemployment and poverty, and arresting the decline in social institutions and public services. The four pillars of decent work – employment, workers’ rights, social protection and social dialogue – are necessary components of the remedy to the current crisis.

“Governments are faced with a stark choice – business as usual, with a roller-coaster economy where working people receive few of the benefits of upswings and bear most of the brunt of the bad times, or coherent and responsible global cooperation. Governments have to understand the need for proper financial regulation, and this time, they need to get it right”, said John Evans, General Secretary of the OECD Trade Union Advisory Committee.

The union statement highlights inequality as a major factor in the current instability, with the share of national income going to wages decreasing continuously over recent decades in the vast majority of developing and industrial countries. “The 'golden era' of globalization has made a lucky circle very rich indeed, but most people are missing out on the benefits. When workers get a fair share of the pie, economies work better because they have the purchasing power to simulate growth. The world desperately needs politicians to show the courage to make this happen”, said Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. Another key message from the unions at Davos is the pressing need to invest in “green jobs”, with the twin aims of tackling climate change and creating high quality employment.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

The EU’s climate and energy package fails to help the poor

Europe set itself up in Bali as a world leader on tackling climate change but is in danger of falling at the first hurdle, international agency Oxfam and Friends of the Earth Europe warned yesterday. The European Union has missed a crucial opportunity with its Energy Package to help the world's poor - the very people who suffer most from climate change. Biofuels could be part of the solution to tackle climate change and poverty alleviation, but not under the EC's current plans. Its own internal report has shown that the EC has failed to think through its 10% target for transport fuels by 2020 and that the costs of its biofuels policy will outweigh the benefits. The EC's headlong rush into biofuels has already caused a big scramble by poor countries keen to cash in.

Oxfam believes the EU should scrap its current plan for biofuels. When it goes back to the drawing board it must ensure that the use of biofuels will contribute to cost-effective CO2 emissions and development - not potentially make both worse. The European Commission must also rethink its targets for emissions cuts by member states. The current calculations that focus on a 20% cut in emissions will mean Europe has to abandon its objective of keeping temperature increase below the EU-approved target of 2° Celsius.

Friends of the Earth Europe also warned that plans to cut the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by only 20% will not be sufficient to avert dangerous climate change. The environment group says the Commission has backtracked on its position at international climate negotiations just weeks ago and calls on the Parliament and the Council of Ministers to dramatically strengthen the target.
Friends of the Earth Europe is also highly critical of the Commission's support for agrofuels (also known as biofuels) against the advice of their own scientists and growing international concern. Bigger emission cuts are needed if the EU is to meet its own target of limiting temperature increases to 2° Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

Emissions under the European Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) will deliver the other part of the cuts needed for the EU emission target for 2020. Friends of the Earth Europe welcomes the new EU wide CAP as a good move towards stricter emission cuts but demands that the ETS cap be set in line with a target of at least 30% domestic emission cuts and that the number of external credits obtained from projects outside the EU be restricted. Instead of the Commission's weak auctioning proposals which allow significant free allocations to industrial sectors, certificates should be fully auctioned in all sectors.

Friends of the Earth Europe welcomes the implementation of an overall share of 20% renewable energy by 2020 and the Commission's move to take out mandatory trading from this directive. As the text reads now, trading of renewable electricity (known as Guarantees of Origin) is better regulated and only those Member States that have reached their national interim targets may transfer Guarantees of Origin to other underachieving countries. This is a positive move and will not hamper the development of all types of renewables across the EU.

A target to improve the EU's energy efficiency by 20% by 2020 as agreed by the EU last year is completely lacking from the package. Energy efficiency represents the EU's biggest potential for reducing emissions and reports from the EU state that 20% more energy efficiency could be reached at zero net costs. According to Friends of the Earth Europe energy efficiency remains a non-topic as discussions in the EU on climate protection move on.

Monday, 14 January 2008

EU biofuel target: Rethinking underway

Last Friday, a group of 17 NGOs - including Oxfam, Brot für die Welt (‘Bread for the World’) and Friends of the Earth - sent a letter to EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs, asking him to introduce much tougher standards for biofuel production or give up mandatory transport biofuel targets altogether. They argued that the existing draft legislation does not provide protection for important ecosystems, such as savannas or permanent grasslands "that may be threatened by expanding agriculture to meet the EU's biofuel target." "Destruction of these carbon sinks would lead to large emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby reducing or neutralising the benefits from growing biofuels. Neither does the draft text provide any safeguards to protect water and soil resources," they said in a statement. They also noted that "large scale biofuel production can cause negative indirect or knock-on impacts such as increasing food and feed prices and increasing water scarcity which would lead to negative impacts on the world's poor," in line with earlier studies by a number of experts on the issue.

In reaction, EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas suggested the pending guidelines should be altered, saying it would be better to miss the biofuels target than to hurt the poor or damage the environment. "We have seen that the environmental problems caused by biofuels and also the social problems are bigger than we thought they were. So we have to move very carefully," Mr Dimas told the BBC. "We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from biofuels," he added.

Last September, the EU's plan to boost the use of biofuels as part of wider plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions received a serious blow from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), grouping the world's 30 most developed countries. The Paris-based body argues that state subsidies for biofuels could lead to food price hikes and damage to forests and natural habitats while its impact in terms of the fight against climate change may only be limited.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

'Sustainable palm oil' advert false, says watchdog

Friends of the Earth Europe has welcomed a ruling on 9 January by the UK advertising watchdog that describing palm oil as "sustainably produced" is false advertising. The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling followed a Friends of the Earth Europe complaint against an advert by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. The advert, which appeared on the TV channel BBC World in the summer of 2007, was deemed to have used highly misleading wording and imagery. Footage of a palm oil plantation was interspersed with shots of pristine rainforest, and accompanied with claims that palm oil is "a gift from nature, a gift for life", that "its trees help our planet breathe", and declaring that Malaysian palm oil has been "sustainably produced since 1917". Friends of the Earth Europe complained that the statement "sustainably produced since 1917" is untrue: most palm oil is produced in a way that is not at all socially or environmentally sustainable.

The campaigning group also protested that the advert as a whole was misleading because it implied that palm oil production benefits the environment. Research shows that 86% of all deforestation in Malaysia between 1995 and 2000 was attributed to palm oil development, threatening species such as the orangutan and the proboscis monkey as well as causing social problems for the people who live or depend on the forests. The draining and deforesting of weatlands in South-East Asia, predominantly to make way for palm plantations, releases huge amounts of soil carbon into the atmosphere, accounting for a massive 8% of global annual CO2 emissions.

The ASA fully upheld Friends of the Earth Europe's complaints and condemned the statements for implying universal acceptance that palm oil is being sustainably produced. The watchdog ruled that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council had not provided the necessary evidence to back up such statements. The ASA also concluded that the adverts were misleading, "because there was not a consensus that there was a net benefit to the environment from Malaysia's palm oil plantations" and said that this advert should not be broadcast again.

European Heads of State agreed in March 2007 that by 2020, 10% of transport fuels in Europe should consist of plant-based agrofuels like palm oil. In addition, palm oil is being imported to fuel power stations in the EU. To meet growing international demand for palm oil, Indonesia and Malaysia plan to double their oil palm plantations area to 18-22 million hectares, an area more than five times the size of the Netherlands. A recent study by Friends of the Earth showed that there are grave environmental and social problems on palm oil plantations.

Friday, 11 January 2008

EPAs: Trade unions criticise the Commission’s lack of flexibility

As African and European trade unionists demonstrate in Brussels today against current Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) says in a statement, that these Agreements being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries require fundamental changes in order to promote genuine trade and development opportunities for the ACP. In the demonstration today, several hundred people mainly from Senegal and Europe are coming together to gather in front of the European Commission to protest against the current EPA negotiations. Civil society organisations from Senegal including the ITUC affiliates CNTS, CSA, CNTS-FC, UDTS and UNSAS, as well as employers’ organisations and several NGOs are taking part.

Despite growing opposition to EPAs from the ACP, the European Commission has not showed much flexibility in the negotiation process. Using the argument that a WTO waiver expired at the end of 2007, the European Union is currently insisting that ACP countries not in a position to sign full EPAs should at least initial interim agreements whereby they would accept to liberalise at least 80% of their trade in goods and commit themselves to further negotiations on opening up in services, investment, public procurement and competition policies.

At its General Council meeting in December 2007, the ITUC adopted a resolution on EPAs denouncing the lack of adequate time devoted to the negotiation process, leading some governments to sign up to interim agreements that may undermine existing regional integration processes, cause serious employment losses and deprive governments of tariffs revenues vitally needed for public services and investment. In its resolution the ITUC calls upon the EU to refocus its negotiating objectives towards obtaining real development for the African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The ITUC is equally concerned by the lack of a social dimension in the current draft agreements. Indeed, to avoid trade between the ACP and Europe leading to the exploitation of workers, it is essential that all parties to EPA agree to uphold workers’ fundamental rights such as the right to form trade unions and to bargain collectively. Yet, as of this date the inclusion of a social chapter has not been accepted by the West African region. This remains a source of serious concern to all trade unions both in Europe and in the ACP.