Tuesday, 20 November 2012

EU: Balancing books on the backs of the poor

Leading NGOs call on EU leaders to protect EU development aid against short-sighted cuts ahead of this week’s special EU Budget summit. Cuts tabled last week disproportionately target EU development and humanitarian aid, a clear attempt to balance the EU’s books on the backs of the world’s poor. The latest negotiating paper being considered by EU governments to agree the EU budget 2014-2020 calls for aid cuts of up to €10.6 billion, compared to the proposals by the EU Commission & EU Parliament. Most affected would be the European Development Fund (EDF), the largest part of the EU aid budget that targets African countries. The EDF is facing a cut of 11% or €3.335billion while the overall cut is 7%.

In their attempts to reach agreement on the next 7-year EU budget, EU member states must preserve EU aid, a smart investment that represents just 6% of the overall budget, according to Concord, Oxfam International, Plan and ONE. In just six years, EU aid has made a lasting difference in the lives of millions and helped them out of poverty: 50 million people were stopped from being hungry, more than nine million children have enrolled in primary education, more than five million have been vaccinated against measles and more than 31 million people have been connected to drinking water. The positive results and effectiveness of EU aid have been cited by many independent reports. Reviews by institutions including the Center for Global Development and Brookings Institution, and the OECD have also ranked EU aid highly. Publish What You Fund’s 2012 Aid Transparency Index ranked the European Commission’s DG Development and Cooperation (DG DEVCO) 5th out of 72 aid organisations across 43 indicators.

Support for EU aid remains strong among European citizens. The results of a Eurobarometer survey released in October show that 85% of EU citizens believe that Europe should continue helping developing countries despite the economic crisis, while almost two thirds believe that aid to developing countries should be increased. It is telling that this support remains strong in Greece, Spain and Ireland – the European countries most affected by the crisis.

According to a report published last week by the Overseas Development Institute, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and ONE, looking at the economic impact of EU aid on donor and recipient countries, EU aid will also more than pay for itself by 2020. The research shows that as well as boosting GDP in sub-Saharan Africa and globally, EU taxpayers would recoup the funds for the world’s poorest with a 20% return on investment.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

World Social Forum 2013 in Tunis

The World Social Forum 2013 (WSF 2013) will take place in Tunis from the 26 to 30 March. Its website was launched on 15 October, and that kicked off the registration process for organizations and for proposals of activities. In the Tunisian Secretariat members of the WSF 2013 are listed the two focal point of Social Watch in that country: the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD). This decision on the venue was taken by the WSF International Council in Paris, and confirmed last July in Monastir, Tunisia, after several consultations among social movements from this country and others from the other North African countries.

The ATFD, the LTHD, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), Raid-Attac, the Tunisian Union of Unemployed University Graduates, the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD), the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT) and the Tunisian Bar make up the Tunisian Secretariat of the WSF 2013. The Secretariat was deployed to prepare the Monastir meeting, to start negotiations with the Tunisian authorities, to make efforts to involve new social movements, and to broaden the process in thematic as well as in geographical terms, despite the ongoing difficulties in Tunisia and in the whole Maghreb and Machrek region barely two years after the events that have shaken the region, remarked the Maghrebian Social Forum's Steering Committee.

The WSF 2013 Tunisian Secretariat has set up a number of commissions which have been working for several months and presented its plan, later endorsed by the Maghrebian Social Forum's Steering Committee, and which is the following :

● 15 October: Launching of the WSF 2013 website and of the registration process for organizations and proposals of activities;

● 1 December: End of the phase dedicated to proposals of activities, and publication of the proposals, including the contacts to get in touch with their promoters;

● 2-15 January 2013: Merging process;

● 16-31 January: Registration of the demands for assemblies and distribution of the rooms and spaces;

● 1-28 February: Production of the final program and translation into the main WSF working languages;

● 1-20 March: Logistical setting up, printing of the program and organization of the WSF physical space;

● 26-30 March: Worls Social Forum 2013;

● 30 March: Closing March;

● 31 March-1 April: Meeting of the WSF International Council in Tunis.

The Maghrebian Social Forum's Steering Committee and the WSF 2013 Tunisian Secretariat are inviting movements, unions, organizations and groups of activists of civil society from Tunisia, from the Maghreb, from the Machrek, from all Africa, from the Mediterranean region and from around the world to make a success of the 12th World Social Forum. “As in previous forums, the WSF 2013 will enable encounters between all the women and the men who fight, in their communities and their basic activities, against the neoliberal management of economy, the financial markets' diktats, social fragmentation, and who struggle to build democracy, equality for all, solidarity, justice and peace, to protect the environment and commons,” said the Maghrebian Social Forum’s Steering Committee in its statement. “To make the WSF 2013 a success, we call all social movements to participate, together, in the setting up of the process, to contribute to the internationalization of the preparatory commissions (methodology, logistics, finances, communication, mobilization, youth, women, culture...). More particularly, we call on you to seek the human and financial means that will foster the broadest participation in the WSF,” added the Committee.

The WSF 2013 will have an “extended” form, which means that it will allow civil society organizations, networks and movements that wish to do so to actively participate in the WSF 2013 wherever they will be in the world, and whatever the size of the delegation they can send to Tunis.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

After the IMF meeting: The trade union view

According to Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) the recent annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank confirmed what the ITUC and trade unions around the world have been saying for more than two years: The idea that you can create ‘growth through austerity’ is an illusion that has destroyed million of people’s livelihoods. “The IMF should use the important findings it made public this week and support a jobs- and income-led growth strategy, not let a few countries or its partners in the European ‘troika’ dictate a continuation of austerity policies.”

Before the 12-14 October meetings opened in Tokyo, the IMF’s chief economist revealed that the Fund had seriously underestimated the impact of budget-cutting austerity measures on national economies, apparently due to using an incorrect “multiplier” in their economic models. However the final communiqué of the IMF’s ministerial committee (IMFC) asserted that only emerging-market economies, not industrialized countries, should “use policy flexibility [to] support growth”, even though ten European economies are expected to be in recession in 2012. “It is incomprehensible for the IMFC to tell Europe to pursue structural adjustment and fiscal austerity, even though it is in recession, while only countries that are already enjoying growth are encouraged to support pro-growth policies. It seems evident that this totally incoherent approach came from some industrialized-country governments that have obviously not learned the lessons of the IMF’s research revisions,” said Burrow.

Burrow also praised the G24 group of emerging and developing countries at the international financial institutions for drawing appropriate conclusions from the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2013 on the theme of employment. The G24 stated in a communiqué issued at the Tokyo meetings: “We note the finding of the World Bank’s recent World Development Report that a focus on jobs is the most effective means to reduce poverty, empower people, and promote social cohesion.” According to Burrow the World Bank and IMF should re-examine all of their policies through the ‘jobs lens’ as the WDR proposes. “We also agree with the G24 that it is unacceptable that governments have missed the deadline for the 2010 quota reform by not ratifying in sufficient number a modest shift of some votes at the IMF to emerging economies. The G24 also made important suggestions, which we share, about the need for the IFIs to do more to combat commodity price volatility, especially in light of the recent food price hike which will drive millions more people in developing countries into extreme poverty.”

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Europe’s engagement with civil society: Policy inconsistencies

The European Commission recently published a new communication aiming to set out a more strategic engagement with civil society organisations (CSOs). Entitled The Roots of Democracyand Sustainable Development; Europe’s Engagement with Civil Society in External Relations, the communication draws on a “structured dialogue – for an efficient partnership in development” with CSOs as well as a public consultation undertaken earlier this year. The Communication credits civil society as being ‘an asset in itself’ and a great contributor for bringing about development outputs. However, as Frauke de Weijerin of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) notes, the Communication fails to explain how the new strategic engagement with CSOs will actually translate into practice.

Although it emphasises the importance of civil society at country level, the Communication is unclear as to how it plans to engage with CSOs, particularly those with who it is less familiar, such as faith-based organizations, unions or even social movements from these countries. For CSOs to be eligible for inclusion in policy dialogue the Commission wants them to be ‘accountable and transparent and share its fundamental values’. However, as Weijerin argues, the ‘full spectrum of perspectives’ must be brought on board in order for the development policy to be broadly owned by society.

A 2008 evaluation of EC aid delivery through civil societyorganizations found an inconsistency between the Commission’s policy objectives and the actual use of the civil society channel. For example, it noted an inability of the Commission to mobilise the CSO potential in governance related processes and a tendency to utilise European NGOs at the expense of local civil society organisations. Additionally, the evaluation noted the existence of an institutional culture within the Commission which is not conducive to the proper engagement of CSOs – mainly due to limited political backing from the top. While institutional changes have been made since the evaluation was undertaken and it is hoped that the new communication will provide the necessary push to remove the barriers to a proper engagement with civil society, according to the EuroStep network.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

EU reducing biofuel target?

The Commission announced a proposal last week to reduce biofuel mandates to 5% by 2020, revising the controversial target of 10% of fuel transport to come from renewable sources by 2020. The 10% target was primarily envisaged as being met from biofuels. While recognising this was a step forward, aid agency Oxfam is calling on EU leaders to completely scrape the target. “The EU must recognise the devastating impact its biofuel policies are having on the poorest people through surging food prices, worsening hunger and contributing to climate change”, said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive.

Introduced in 2009 in an attempt to fight climate change, biofuel targets have increasingly become controversial as this resulted land being used to produce biofuel in place of food, impacting on supplies of food and contributing to increasing food prices. International Land Coalition estimates that around two-thirds of all large-scale land deals around the world in the past 10 years have been acquisitions in order to grow biofuel. Many such deals have displaced local communities with claims on the land or have involved laying claim to water rights. “Europe has helped spark a global rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits. Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers' money down the drain, whilst depriving millions of people of food, land and water,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office. According to Oxfam, in 2008 €3bn was spent in the EU on incentives for biofuel production, levels comparable to the cuts agreed in the Greek bailout mechanism earlier this year.
Oxfam’s alarm bell comes in the context of an informal energy ministers’ meeting in Cyprus last week where European Energy Commissioner Oettinger recognised the fact that the current EU policy had lead to “unfavourable developments such as the tearing down of rainforest to produce biofuel”. The ministers agree that anything over the 5% cap should be achieved without using food crops, but Oxfam calls the 5% cap itself ridiculous. “At this moment the biofuel use in the EU is only at 4.5%. So the new cap of 5% is actually an increase of what we’re using at the moment”, says Ruth Kelly, Oxfam’s economic policy advisor. The land used for growing the crops for biofuels in 2008, could have fed 127 million people according to Oxfam calculations revealed in its last week report, The Hunger Grains.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Norway: First creditor ever to carry out a debt audit

On 15 August 2012 the Norwegian Minister of Development Heikki Holmås announced that Norway will make an assessment of the legitimacy of developing countries’ debt to Norway. This means that the Norwegian government will be the first to ever carry out a creditor’s debt audit. Since being elected in 2009, the Norwegian government has promised to carry out a debt audit, as well as working to establish binding guidelines for responsible lending. Now Holmås promised that the audit will now be launched, to be followed up with new and stronger guidelines for responsible lending.

The Norwegian government has previously admitted their responsibility as a creditor for dirty debts attached to a particular set of loans for developing countries to buy Norwegian ships. In 2006 the government announced that they would cancel debts for seven countries because the original loans had been a “development policy failure”. The Norwegian Coalition for Debt Cancellation (SLUG) has done its own investigation of debts owed to Norway. The research reveals that a part of Indonesia’s current debt to Norway is clearly illegitimate. SLUG shows that the people of Indonesia is still paying for a wave power plant that was never built, and failed technology for sea monitoring systems.

Norwegian initiatives have led to the establishment of international principles for responsible lending and borrowing in the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The principles will be applied in the Norwegian debt audit. In April, the UK government unsuccessfully tried to stop UNCTAD working on responsible lending and borrowing principles. Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt, Eurodad representative at the UNCTAD expert group on responsible sovereign borrowing and lending, said: “To apply the UNCTAD Principles in the Norwegian debt audit is a solid way of showing that the Norwegian government takes the Principles seriously and that they take their responsibility as a creditor seriously.” Development Minister Holmås announced that the plan is for the audit to be concluded within a year.

* For more information >>> here

Friday, 31 August 2012

Advocacy week on EU-Arabic relations in Brussels

A “Week of advocacy on policies and issues of cooperation and partnership between the European Union and Arab countries”, arranged by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) in cooperation with Eurostep and CNCD-11.11.11, will engage civil society organizations from both regions. The meetings between 17 to 21 September in Brussels are to see exchanges also between Arab representatives and European policy makers on issues of common concern. It will serve as an opportunity to deepen the discussions on the outlined issues, clarify the demands and propositions from civil society groups, and elaborate on ways of cooperation and possible collective campaigning on priority policy areas. It will also be an opportunity to articulate these demands to policy makers at the European Union level, including in the European Parliament and European Commission, remarked the ANND in a press release.

The Arab region has been witnessing a period of change and quest for new societal relations between the citizen and the state, based on respect of fundamental freedoms, rights, dignity, and rule of law. Along the multiplicity of factors including political repressions, corruption, and lack of accountability and legitimacy of Arab regimes, the peoples’ uprisings and revolutions in multiple Arab countries have reflected a failure of social and economic policies, according to the Network. Indeed, citizens are calling for a new development paradigm, which re-enforces the right to development and economic and social rights and justice. Accordingly, the democratic process and practice in the region necessitates revising the approach to the economic and social policies and policy making, aligned with reforms of political systems and enhancing the role of civil society, observed the ANND.

These changes in the Arab countries necessitate a re-thinking of priorities and policy approaches in the cooperation and partnerships with the European Union, on various fronts whether political, economic, social, and cultural. One of the main challenges to be addressed is seeking coherence among the various levels of cooperation between the EU and Arab countries, specifically among the development cooperation and the economic partnership, including the trade and investment relations. Furthermore, the region witnesses have swept across the whole Arab region, including the Maghreb, Mashreq, and Gulf countries, thus requiring a holistic approach in the revision of the relation between the EU and the various Arab countries.

Find more information >>> here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Environment and development at Rio+20: Splitting them up again?

The Rio+20 Summit will fail if it agrees to current proposals, which risk worsening the divide between environment and development efforts, warned anti-poverty and environmental campaigners. Agreement on Sustainable Development Goals is expected to be one of the major outcomes from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which starts on 20 June in Rio de Janeiro.  

The UN has already begun to deliberate on the post 2015 global development framework, starting with a review of lessons learnt from the existing Millennium Development Goals and options for after they expire in 2015. The current proposal on the table in Rio would effectively create a second process for global goals in the post-2015 period. A separate process focused on the environment will not provide the solution urgently needed to end poverty and inequality while protecting the planet, said international agency Oxfam and the international campaigns, Beyond 2015 and the Global Campaign against Poverty (GCAP).

“Ending poverty and protecting the environment are inextricably linked and cannot be addressed in isolation. The current proposals are a recipe for diluted commitment, duplicated effort, and dispersed focus,” said Antonio Hill of Oxfam. “The world’s poorest people, who still suffer a lack of quality healthcare and education, are also denied their fair share of water, land and clean air. Poor people will be the first to lose out if Rio+20 fails to aim for one set of goals for one planet. We need a single guiding framework whose purpose is to end poverty and restore the living world that sustains us all. “

The groups believe that commitment in Rio to a single process that brings together the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development framework could represent a landmark agreement to eradicate poverty and ensure prosperity for all by sharing the Earth’s limited resources. But the move could fail if this integration does not happen from the start. The groups also warn that the success of any future goals hinge on the progress made towards ending poverty through the Millennium Development Goals. “Governments in Rio are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while 1.4 billion people still live in poverty, in a daily struggle for food, water and energy. For these people environment and development are not separate choices. We need a race to deliver the existing Millennium Development goals, and a single framework to succeed them,” said Rajiv Joshi from GCAP.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Civil Society Reflection Group seeks post-2015 agenda

On the eve of the United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), 18 leading civil society activists and scholars from around the globe proposed concrete measures to effectively overcome the obstacles that prevent the world population to achieve a real sustainable development that enhances social equality and protects the environment. In its report, No FutureWithout Justice, the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives “describes the root causes of the multiple crises” that suffers the planet, “reconfirms the framework of universal principles and rights, reconsiders development goals and indicators, and draws conclusions for the post-2015 development agenda.”

The text “seeks to stimulate debates about alternative development paths, participatory and inclusive governance structures, and the transformation in politics and societies that future justice for all will require,” reads a statement launched by the Group, comprised of members of Social Watch, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, terre des hommes, Third World Network, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, DAWN and the Global Policy Forum. “Governments failed to bring their policies into line with the agreed principles of sustainability and human rights. Instead, policies are still too often sectorally fragmented and misguided, with an overreliance on economic growth and self-regulation of the ‘markets’. New concepts like ‘green growth’ are, at best, attempts to treat the symptoms of the problems without tackling their root causes,” warns the Group.

“All too often, national and international policies have not aimed at reducing inequalities,” summarizes the statement. “The dedication to stimulating economic growth has provided the incentive to exploit nature, rely on the use of fossil fuels and deplete biodiversity, undermining the provision of essential services. Women, especially the poor, continue to suffer from social and economic discrimination and in many places are deprived of their bodily, reproductive and sexual rights. Biodiversity and the bounty of nature, while cherished, are not respected, protected or valued. Communities and populations that seek to live in harmony with nature find their rights ignored and their livelihoods and cultures jeopardized.”

“We have exceeded the ecological limits and ignore the planetary boundaries. With the climate change threat we are already living on borrowed time. However, we refuse to cut back on emissions and allocate the scarce resources to those who have not yet benefitted from their exploitation,” warned the Reflection Group. The activists and experts propose “fundamental changes at three levels”: (1) “changes in the mindset, the guiding concepts and indicators of development and progress”; (2) “changes in fiscal and regulatory policies at national, regional and international levels in order to effectively overcome social inequalities and the degradation of nature and to strengthen sustainable economies”, and (3) “changes in institutions and governance mechanisms at national, regional and international levels.”

“To date, a holistic approach of sustainability has not been adopted for action. It is necessary to redefine, for public policy and public life, the concepts of development and well-being, along with their content, their metrics and their strategies,” adds the Group and remarks that “every concept of development, well-being and progress in societies is based on a set of fundamental principles and values” that “are rooted deeply in our cultures, our ideologies and our belief systems.” In that sense, it proposes a “set of eight principles as the foundation for a new sustainability rights framework”, that “are interconnected and must not be applied in isolation” and “should build the cornerstones of a universal sustainability rights framework”. They are the “solidarity principle”, the “’Do no harm’ principle”, the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”, the “’polluter pays’ principle”, the “precautionary principle”, the “subsidiarity principle”, the “principle of free, prior and informed consent”, and the “principle of peaceful dispute settlement”.

The statement also refers to “fundamental values, which are also essential to international relations,” some of them included in the Millennium Declaration, such as “freedom, equality, diversity and respect for nature”. But most of the governments “have mostly failed to translate them into enforceable, guaranteed obligations and specific policies.” The document postulates “a framework for global sustainability goals”, with a preliminary list that is the “result of a joint brainstorming exercise of Reflection Group members”. It is made up by six “core goals”: “dignity and human rights for all”, “promoting equality and justice”, “respect for nature and the planetary boundaries”, “building peace through disarmament”, “fostering fair and resilient financial systems”, and “strengthening democratic and participatory governance”.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

G20 must tackle hunger by fighting its roots causes

The Caritas-CIDSE G20 Network of Catholic agencies says making sure all people have access to appropriate food must be the priority for the leaders of G20 economies as they meet 18-19 June in Mexico. There are 925 million people in the world without enough to eat. About 300 children die from malnutrition every hour while one in four children is stunted, and in developing countries that figure rises to one in three. Yet we produce more than enough food globally to feed everyone. The Caritas-CIDSE G20 Network says reducing inequality and promoting sustainable development must be at the heart of the G20s plans to address food insecurity in the short, medium and long term.

Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Michel Roy said, “Hunger is not inevitable. It must be tackled by fighting its structural causes, primarily by promoting sustainable agricultural development of poor countries.” CIDSE Secretary General Bernd Nilles said, “The Mexican G20 has a real opportunity to show leadership on the issue of food security by ensuring better regulation of markets, strengthening of local food production and creating better access to markets for small-holder farmers. The G20 also have a particular responsibility to lead the fight against global poverty, since more than half of the world's poorest people live in G20 countries.”

Caritas-CIDSE G20 Network calls on the G20 to live up to the promises they made in Seoul in 2010. The Caritas-CIDSE G20 Network says increasing food production alone will fail without addressing the problems of access and distribution by building food reserves, curbing speculation in commodities´ markets and introducing social protection schemes. The G20 must act on the financial markets where under-regulated speculation is increasing food prices that are harming the poor. Tackling this problem requires greater intervention by public authorities, including at a global level, to rein in speculation, improve supervision of and increase transparency of markets. Emergency reserves and buffer stocks are needed in the poorest countries to protect the most vulnerable and stabilise market prices.

The Caritas-CIDSE G20 Network is a Network of 180 Catholic agencies working in collaboration to advocate at the G20 for the most vulnerable in our world.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Business-as-usual won’t do at Rio+20 summit: New agenda needed

A group of leading international humanitarian, development, social justice, environmental, and workers’ organizations warned last weekend that next month’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) looks set to add almost nothing to global efforts to deliver sustainable development. The group also warns that too many governments are using or allowing the talks undermine established human rights and agreed principles such as equity, precaution, and ‘polluter pays.’ The warning from Development Alternatives, Greenpeace, the Forum of Brazilian NGOs and Social Movements for Environment and Development (FBOMS), International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC), Oxfam, the Slow Food Movement and Vitae Civilis comes at the end of two weeks of negotiations between governments on the conference outcomes, with less than 50 days before the summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 - 22 June.

“After four months of talks on the so-called ‘zero draft’ outcome document, the Rio+20 talks are stuck at zero. Little or nothing has emerged that will deliver on what governments agreed was needed 20 years ago at the Earth Summit,” said Antonio Hill of Oxfam. “The 1992 Earth Summit was a milestone that united development and environment efforts. The challenge set then – to provide prosperity for all without exceeding ecological limits – is even more urgent today. Now’s the time to end deforestation, achieve high seas protection, and deliver the energy revolution – that is a future worth choosing,” said Daniel Mittler of Greenpeace.

The group argues that the current financial crises, growing inequalities, broken food system, global climate change and shrinking natural resources require a new approach to economic development but the current negotiating text offers just more of the same. Together with workers, citizens, producers and consumers around the world, these organizations are working to delivering well-being, economic equality, and a prosperity that restores the natural environment upon which we all depend. “We hear the voices of citizens everywhere calling for a better future. Millions of people are demanding their rights and expecting fair and green solutions to poverty and suffering now. The message is clear: it’s time to change course and put the future of people and the planet first,” said Alison Tate of ITUC.

As a benchmark against which to assess what governments achieve in Rio+20, the organisations have set out a 10-point agenda for the global transformation urgently needed to deliver sustainable development. They jointly call on governments to:

1. Agree an ambitious set of global goals for sustainable development, designed to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, and realise justice and human rights while respecting the finite limits of Earth’s natural resources.

2. Provide new and additional resources for sustainable development, including innovative sources of public finance such as financial transaction taxes to tackle poverty and climate change, and commit to far-reaching budget reforms, including re-directing money from harmful subsidies towards sustainable fishing, renewable energy access, and smallholder agriculture.

3. Enact reforms of the system of global governance to ensure strong institutions with real power to enforce international rules and commitments on environment and development, and launch talks on a global treaty to realise rights of public access to information, greater participation, and access to justice, in order to strengthen accountability and citizen monitoring of environmental and development performance at the national, regional, and global levels.

4. Commit to invest a share of national income in green and decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods, ensuring social equity, gender equality, trade union rights, democracy, and a just transition from today’s economies.

5. Establish a universal Social Protection Floor to realize human rights and support decent living standards worldwide, including allocating resources to establish an adequate level of social protection in the least developed countries.

6. Agree a plan to move quickly towards sustainable patterns of production and consumption, including greater investment in small- and medium-scale enterprises, producer cooperatives, and informal sectors, as well as public procurement policies and incentives for fair and green products and services.

7. Agree a global framework of rules to strengthen corporate reporting on social and environmental impacts worldwide, consistent with the Rio Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and encompassing the full range of impacts associated with corporate activities.

8. Kick-off a major shift towards adequate, nutritious, and healthy food for all, including policies and investments to support small farms, women producers, and secure access to (and protection of) the water, land, soils, biodiversity, and other resources upon which our food security depends.

9. Take decisive action to recover healthy, productive and sustainable oceans – launch a new agreement to protect high seas marine life under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and take steps to reverse over-exploitation, enable sustainable, marine-based livelihoods, and guarantee abundant marine life for the future.

10. Provide fair and lasting energy solutions that put poor people first and help cut greenhouse gas pollution, including new financial and technical support to developing countries that focuses on providing the full range of energy services needed to help pull people out of poverty.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

NGOs call on EU to keep its development commitments ahead of Rio+20

With just a few weeks to go until the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Eurostep in collaboration with ANND, Social Watch, Third World Network and ALOP have called on the EU not to shy away from its commitments to a global sustainable development agenda. In a letter sent to EU officials and member state representatives, the coalition points to a move away from a rights-based approach to development during the conferences’ preparatory process, and avoidance of any discussion about the current unsustainable consumption and production patterns in developed countries.

The letter points out that in the context of the massive Eurozone debt crisis — which has been dominating the EU’s agenda — it is more important than ever that the EU adheres to its core principles — including human rights and equity. In the zero draft outcome document for Rio+20 on the other hand, some UN members, including the EU, have weakened or even undermined these core principles. “In such critical times, the focus of some actors is simply not acceptable — whether that focus is on preserving short term and narrow interests or on trying to dismantle the core pillars of the UN development agenda to the detriment of wider and future populations”, they warn.

EU officials are urged to reaffirm key principles agreed on in previous conferences regarding sustainable development. Most important is the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) among developed and developing countries. This principle is being contested in the negotiations, with developed countries trying to diminish their share in responsibilities, to the detriment of developing countries. “Even though this principle is at the core of the development and sustainable development agendas, it is crucial to stress that while new countries have emerged as economic powers, developed countries are historically responsible for the current state of the planet and are still the greatest per capita emitters of CO2 emissions”, the letter states. “Recognizing the CBDR principle is about acknowledging responsibility, ensuring the realisation of the right to development, striving for more equity, committing to differentiated targets for sustainable development and about providing an enabling environment for developing countries in international relations and assistance according to countries’ needs”, it continues.

Eurostep and its partners call on the EU and its member states to spell out — in the outcome document — certain rights, including the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, and to reiterate the EU’s core principle to uphold and promote all human rights. “Human rights are legal guarantees that contribute to people’s empowerment and improved equity and ensure equal protection of people before the law; they are fundamental requirements for a sustainable world. Given the EU’s laudable engagement on human rights, to improve democracy, inclusiveness and participatory approaches and increase the role of civil society organizations in decision making processes, we urge the EU to listen to these pleas”, the letter concludes.

These concerns have been echoed by a wide range of international actors including civil society organisations and UN representatives. In an Open Letter, 22 Human Rights Councils‘ independent experts called on all states negotiating the Rio+20 Outcome Document “to incorporate universally agreed international human rights norms and standards in the Outcome Document of the Rio+20 Summit with strong accountability mechanism to ensure its implementation“.

In anotheropen letter, international civil society and non-governmental organisations address the Secretary General for Rio+20 and UN member states to bring the “negotiations back on track“, so that Rio+20 can deliver “the realization of rights, democracy and sustainability” while adhering the principles of transparency and accountability and thus strengthen the foundations of peace and prosperity.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Greenwashing of dams at World Water Forum

Activists created a living river and inflated a large dam in central Marseille today against the corporate greenwashing of dams at this week's 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France. The colourful manifestation of over 50 protestors from China, Turkey, Brazil, Vietnam, France, and others called attention to how dams are destroying the world's freshwater biodiversity and causing irreversible losses to the world's cultures. Ronack Monabay of Friends of the Earth – France, stated that “large dams are not green. 60% of the world's rivers are dammed, and freshwater ecosystems are losing species and habitats faster than any other type of ecosystem. Millions of people have been displaced because of dams worldwide. These are the reasons why we are protesting today. Life depends on healthy rivers.”

Yet, the world's banks are rushing to finance big dams. Since 2003, the European Investment Bank (EIB) alone has spent close to €1bn in financing dams in the global South under the guise of clean energy access, though the dams primarily benefit manufacturers and large industries looking for cheap electricity to produce export goods. The protestors warned that the World Water Forum has turned into a trade show for corporate initiatives to greenwash the dam industry. At the Forum, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) presented the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, a voluntary self-policing scorecard for dam builders. This Protocol is “a greenwash of the world's dam industry,” said Zachary Hurwitz, Policy Coordinator of International Rivers. “The Protocol allows dam builders to claim they are sustainable while they continue to violate international and national environmental and human rights law. In order to not repeat the errors of the past, dam builders must be held accountable to the highest social and environmental standards.”

One of the World Water Forum's twelve priorities for action, “Harmonize Water and Energy,” calls for 20 countries to adopt the Protocol by 2015. The IHA is lobbying governments, the European Union, and international agreements, such as the EU Emissions Trading System and Water Framework Directive, to use the Protocol in place of existing high standards. Instead of adopting the IHA Protocol, the protestors are calling on corporations, governments and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and European Investment Bank to comply with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, and international standards such as the Conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). They also call on governments and international financial institutions to stop to finance large dams and to diversify their energy portfolio towards more sustainable energy alternatives.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Gender equity: Germany behind Nordic countries and Spain

In terms of gender equity Germany places itself well above the European average, but below the Nordic countries and Spain. This is made apparent by the Gender Equity Index (GEI) 2012, published by Social Watch on the eve of Women’s International Day, 8 March. The GEI prepared annually by Social Watch measures the gap between women and men in education, the economy and political empowerment. The index is an average of the inequalities in the three dimensions. In literacy, it examines the gender gap in enrolment at all levels; economic participation computes the gaps in income and employment; empowerment measures the gaps in highly qualified jobs, parliament and senior executive positions.

Social Watch measures the gap between women and men, not their wellbeing. Thus, a country in which young men and women have equal access to the university receives a value of 100 on this particular indicator. In the same fashion, a country in which boys and girls are equally barred from completing primary education would also be awarded a value of 100. This does not mean that the quality of education in both cases is the same. It just establishes that, in both cases girls are not less educated than boys.

Germany’s 80 points rank it among those countries with LOW GEI. The country’s index is seven points higher than Europe’s average – which is 73 – and places it also above neighbouring Luxembourg (68), Czech Republic, Austria (both with 73), Poland (76), France (77), Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland (the three with 79), but below its other neighbour Denmark (84). It should be noted that only the eight countries leading the score (Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Spain and Mongolia) have reached the minimum of 81 points that places them as countries with a MEDIUM GEI.

The five levels according to which the index measures the gender gap are: CRITICAL, VERY LOW, LOW, MEDIUM AND ACCEPTABLE. It should be noted that no country has reached 90 points or more, meaning that no country has yet reached the ACCEPTABLE level.

The only dimension in which Germany reaches an acceptable value is education (100 points), while in economic participation and empowerment the country’s performance is much less praiseworthy: 78 and 62 respectively (LOW in both cases). Norway, Finland and Iceland are at the top of Europe and also the world, with 89, 88 and 87 points respectively. The three European countries that present largest gender gaps are Malta (63), Albania (55) and Turkey (45).

Out of the 154 countries computed by the IEG 2012 those five in the worst global situation are the Republic of Congo (29), Niger (26), Tchad (25), Yemen (24) and Afghanistan (15).

Social Watch members are spread across all regions. The network fights for the eradication of poverty and its causes, the elimination of all forms of discrimination and racism and to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and the realization of human rights.

For a detailed description of methodology sources see www.socialwatch.org

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Women’s Day: Gender pay gap remains unchanged for 10 years

Whereas mainstream debate points to women’s underrepresentation in corporate boardrooms a new report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reveals that worldwide, women are paid 18% on average less than their male counterparts at work. The report, Frozen in time: Gender pay gap unchanged for 10 years, released on the eve of International Women's Day, looks at women's wages in 43 countries, twice the number of previous studies. "For the last decade we have seen women's wages hitting a road block. The pay gap remains frozen in time almost everywhere. Asia is the continent with the greatest wage differential between men and women with no progress made to close the gap for over a decade," said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

For the first time, researchers have ranked industries internationally by analysing the differences in wages in 15 sectors from construction to domestic workers. The report also includes detailed statistics from official sources in 18 countries. More unionised sectors such as the public sector tend to have lower pay gaps. Those with low unionisation rates and low wage levels, such as retail, hotels and restaurants as well as agriculture tend to have higher gaps. Part of the problem is that many workers are not paid a decent minimum wage.

The report also found:
* Male dominated sectors such as construction have the smallest gender pay gaps due to the relatively low numbers of women, and the fact that the women tend to be better educated.
* Domestic workers show the lowest level of earning and the largest gender pay gaps.
* The highest 'unexplained gender pay gaps' attributed to discriminatory practices are found in Chile, South Africa and Argentina.
* A 'child penalty' contributes to keeping women's wages low, particularly affecting women aged 30 - 39.

The report is the third study into the gender wage gap by the ITUC, following up on studies in 2008 and 2009. It was written by Dutch academics K.G Tijdens and M Van Klaveren and is based on country level wage data from the ILO, Eurostat as well as on individual-level wage data from the multi-country WageIndicator Foundation web survey. While previous ITUC reports show that official figures tend to underestimate the gender pay gap, data collection has improved in recent years, especially through the OECD and the EU.

The report can be read >>> here.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

(Bio-)fueling injustice? EU driving global biofuel production

The European Union’s biofuel policy continues to threaten food security and increase land grabs in Africa, shows a new report by the EuropAfrica platform and FIAN, (Bio)fueling injustice: Europe’s responsibility to counter climate change without provoking land grabbing and compounding food insecurity in Africa. The report is released as the EU is set to review its biofuel policy in 2012 in line with environmental impacts. “Imported industrial biofuels for European renewable energy exacerbate land grabs in Africa and fuel violations of the right to food”, says Nora McKeon coordinator of EuropAfrica. “The EU has to realise that its energy and agricultural policies have global impacts, often affecting the most vulnerable in poor countries. Decision makers cannot ignore the evidence; it’s time for a total re-think of biofuel policy.”

The report shows that 66% of the land grabs in Africa are intended for biofuel production, some 18.8 million hectares. Among the biggest investors are companies from Europe, as case studies from Senegal and Mali show, with European investments likely to increase further. “We want to grow food for people in Africa, not for fuelling cars in Europe. The switch to biofuel crops in Senegal has been a failure. Productivity has fallen sharply since we started trying the Jatropha biofuel crop, and many farmers are feeling cheated. We call on the European Union to drop its renewable energy target for biofuels until measures are in place which ensure that the right to food is not violated”, says Marius Dia, of CNCR (Conseil National de Concertation et de Coopération des ruraux du Sénégal).

Despite contrary claims, the EU is highly dependent on imports. Already in 2008, the EU imported almost 40 percent of its biofuels or biofuel feedstock. The study further finds that the EU and its Member States violate their human rights obligations by not having conducted an adequate assessment of the impact of the biofuel policy on human rights and by not regulating European companies and financial actors. According to Blandine Bouniol, Policy Coordinator at CONCORD, the European NGO Confederation of Relief and Development NGOs, the EU’s good intention to fight climate change by promoting renewable energy is turning into a disaster. Europe is outsourcing its production, getting a ready supply of biofuels at the expense of the environment and people in the developing world.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

UN responsibilities far outstrip funding

The United Nations' core budget in 2011 was $2.2bn, down from a peak of $2.5bn in 2009 and miniscule compared to the $66bn budget of the UN's host city, New York. The funds available to the key international organization have not kept pace with the expansion of the UN's duties since its founding in 1945, according to a new report published by the Worldwatch Institute for its “Vital Signs Online” publication. The report reveals a disconcerting shift in the sources of UN funding. The level of voluntary contributions from the organization's wealthier member nations, including the United States, Germany, and Japan, is growing, helping to fund the core budget and various UN agencies and programs. Yet mandatory payments from all member nations are lagging: they account for just 14-18% of UN funds, down from 20-25% during the 1970s through 1990s. In effect, wealthier nations use their financial leverage to sidestep the regular UN decision making process, the report notes.

"The shift away from mandatory payments and toward voluntary contributions reflects the rich member nations' preference for agenda-setting through bilateral pressure, rather than democratic voting," write report authors Michael Renner and James Paul. "In this way, UN finance is increasingly a reflection of a world divided between countries of vastly different resources, priorities, and global aspirations." The report finds that private sources, including foundations and businesses, are increasingly funding UN operations. Many governments and experts are critical of this trend because they claim that private funding introduces external influences over the organization's regular governance process.

The UN's core or "regular" budget, which covers ongoing costs like staff salaries, meeting expenses, travel, security, conflict mediation, and human rights activities, among other tasks, is funded entirely by mandatory national payments. In 1971, this budget was $157m, and it has grown almost 14-fold since then in nominal terms. But in real terms (i.e., when adjusted for inflation), the budget has grown only threefold – not nearly enough to keep up with multiplying program mandates and the complexities that accompany a much-expanded membership, according to the report. Beyond the "regular" UN budget are the much larger peacekeeping budget and specialized agency budgets. In the 2011-12 budget year the UN peacekeeping budget was $7.8bn. Funding for specialized UN programs and agencies like the World Health Organization, the Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Development Programme totalled about $20bn in 2011. In total, the UN system's in 2011 amounted to about $30bn.

Further highlights from the report:

* UN member states' individual military spending in 2010 totalled $1.6trillion, more than 200 times the UN's current annual peacekeeping spending of $7.8bn.
* The poorer UN states, voting in the G77 bloc, favour more UN activity in the social and economic field, while the rich countries generally prefer an emphasis on peacekeeping.
* In part because of budgetary shortcomings, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has failed to establish a strong international presence since its 1972 founding: in 2010, UNEP received just over $205 million, less than 1 percent of total UN funding.
* At the end of May 2011, the United States owed the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets a total of $1.3bn in arrears, or 42% of the total for all member states.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The alternative view from Washington: Greece

The agreement between the European authorities and Greece won’t resolve Greece’s economic crisis and is likely to make it worse, said Mark Weisbrot (see photo), economist and Co-Director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).“The European authorities seem more intent on punishing Greece than helping the economy recover,” said Weisbrot. “For two years now they have been pushing the Greek economy into recession, and there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel.” Weisbrot noted that the IMF has had to lower its projections for Greek GDP shrinkage by an enormous 7% of GDP in less than two years. Most of this downward revision has been in just the last five months.

A leaked document reported this week by Reuters and the Financial Times contains a “sustainability analysis” prepared for the European Finance Ministers. It portrays a grim scenario with explosive debt and Greece needing “about €245bn in bail-out aid, far more than the €170bn under the ‘baseline’ projections eurozone ministers were using.” “Given the underestimation of Greek losses so far, and the recessionary impact of budget tightening, mass layoffs, a 20% reduction of the minimum wage, and other austerity measures – I think the pessimistic scenario outlined in the leaked document is a very plausible scenario,” said Weisbrot.

Weisbrot also pointed out that the European authorities’ strategy of “internal devaluation” is not working even on its own terms. The ostensible purpose of Greece’s prolonged recession is to lower labour costs in order to lower the country’s real exchange rate and increase Greece’s international competitiveness. But Weisbrot noted that “after four years of recession, with unemployment rising from 6.6% to a record 20%, Greece’s Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER), according to the IMF, is higher than it was in 2006.”
The IMF is projecting that Greece will still have 17% unemployment in 2016.

“The bottom line is that you can’t shrink your way out of a recession – you have to grow your way out. What they are doing to Greece really makes no economic sense. At this point, it looks like the economy would do better if Greece were to exit from the euro, as opposed to enduring indefinite recession and stagnation, extremely high and persistent unemployment, and increasing poverty. The European authorities are certainly pushing Greece toward the exit and default option.” – A more detailed paper on the Greek economy and crisis by CEPR is available >>> here.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Trade unions back Guy Ryder as candidate for ILO Director-General

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has announced its backing for ILO Deputy Director-General Guy Ryder to succeed Juan Somavia as Director-General of the tripartite UN body in the election for the post in May. “The world is facing its greatest employment crisis since the 1930s, and the ILO’s role in the international arena is absolutely crucial. Guy Ryder has all the qualities and experience needed to lead the ILO in ensuring decent jobs and social justice are at the heart of the global response,” said ITUC Secretary-General Sharan Burrow. “His experience of the ILO, commitment to its values, knowledge of the role and content of labour standards, the supervisory system, labour market institutions, social dialogue and employment policies make him the candidate of merit.”

Prior to his current position, Ryder’s ILO experience included serving as Head of the organisation’s Workers’ Activities Bureau, and as chief of the Director-General’s office. In 2002 he was elected Secretary-General of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), and led the process of unification of the international trade movement culminating in the creation of the ITUC in 2006. He served as ITUC Secretary-General until returning to the ILO in 2010.

ITUC affiliates around the world are lobbying to support his candidacy in the election, which will take place at the ILO Governing Body meeting in late May. Twenty-eight government delegates and 14 delegates, each from employer organisations and trade unions, will vote in the election. The ITUC represents 175 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 308 national affiliates.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Eurostep response to the zero-draft of Rio+20

With preparations for the June United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) moving in higher gear, the importance of the meeting and the opportunities to put in place the actions and mechanisms needed to address the urgent challenges are being increasingly emphasized. The publication of the zero draft of the outcome document has been widely criticized for neither being sufficiently ambitious, nor stressing the urgent need to address the mounting challenges. In advance of the first meeting of UN member states in New York to consider the proposed outcome document Eurostep prepared its own initial response.

Six main messages make up the Eurostep response to the Zero Draft. Among these, Eurostep finds that the document lacks the necessary ambition and urgency for addressing the challenges that the world faces. “The outcome of the conference must take full account of the gravity of the situation and of the recent social, political and economic developments, and demonstrate the political will to put in place far reaching changes for implementation without delay”, the paper reads.

Moreover, Eurostep urges governments to reaffirm the underlying principles of sustainable development agreed 20 years ago in Rio, such as the Precautionary Principle by which technological innovation should develop under ‘transparent and participative mechanisms’ to ensure it does not hinder sustainable development.

Another crucial aspect identified by Eurostep pertains to the new economic model that should be implemented and which should take full account of the principles of sustainable development. In this respect, the Zero Draft “needs to comprise clearer definition of what the green economy is and how it will lead to poverty eradication’’, reads the Eurostep response.

In promoting sustainable development, governments should also recognize that all sectors in society have a role to play and the private sector should not remain the main focus. The latter can make important contributions to sustainability, but it is not inevitable as some will act in ways that hinder such a goal. “The private sector must be encouraged to contribute to achieving sustainable development within suitable regulatory frameworks that are consistent with and derived from the principles for sustainable development and human rights, various conventions, and other agreements adopted by the international community”, reads the Eurostep response.

The last message in the Eurostep response reflects the need for future global institutions and mechanisms that will ensure effective implementation of the agreed principles. “Sustainable development is too important an issue to be subject to voluntary commitments, this will again allow governments to implement what they want in a flexible way and poses serious questions about the effectiveness of any accountability framework and assessment mechanisms”, argues Eurostep.