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The Return of Famine
by Alex de Waal, World Peace Foundation
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
 
Famine is an age-old scourge that almost disappeared in our lifetime. On the basis of our relevant scholarly and professional expertise, we, members of the faculty, staff and students of Tufts University, make the following declaration about the grave public ill that is famine, and our responsibility, as a university, a nation, and members of the international community, to end famine once and for all.
 
Between 2000 and 2011 there were no famines. Deaths in humanitarian emergencies have been much reduced. This progress is partly due to greater expertise in predicting, preventing, mitigating and responding to crises before they reach famine. International humanitarian law is stronger. Humanitarian lesson-learning is more robust. Over a generation, the humanitarian agenda was ascendant.
 
Yet famines have returned. In 2017, the United Nations identified four situations of acute food insecurity that threatened famine or breached that threshold—in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Today Yemen is the most severe crisis. Several additional countries may also be at risk this year and next.
 
The return of famine has revived myths that must be debunked. Famine is not the product of drought or overpopulation; it is not particular to Africa; it is not just a severe version of hunger. Famines are multi-causal; they occur when different kinds of adversity combine to create a vortex of calamity: agro-climatic, economic, conflict- and governance-related, and increasingly, failures of states and international actors to intervene in a timely manner. Even while global indicators for poverty, hunger, nutrition and health are improving, for some populations matters are worsening.
 
Above all, political choices have driven famine’s re-emergence in this century. Some famines derive from intentional political and military decisions, while others are allowed to develop because the most powerful actors have other priorities, such as security, that overrule an effective response.
 
Every famine today is occurring in the context of armed conflict. Indeed, all result from military actions and exclusionary, authoritarian politics conducted without regard to the wellbeing or even the survival of people. Violations of international humanitarian law including blockading ports, attacks on health facilities, violence against humanitarian workers, and obstruction of relief aid are all carried out with a sense of renewed impunity. Famines strike when accountability fails.
 
Addressing this demands a new infusion of resources and energy, to ensure that there is sufficient political will to end the political and military practices that cause famine.
 
At a time when more authoritarian, militaristic, xenophobic and cynically self-interested politics are on the rise, we must defend the humanitarian imperative and the right of life and dignity.
 
Our ultimate goal is to render mass starvation so morally toxic, that it is universally publicly vilified. Because mass starvation demonstratively can be ended, it cannot be tolerated. We aim to make mass starvation unthinkable, such that leaders in a position to inflict it or fail to prevent it will unhesitatingly ensure that it does not occur, and the public will demand this of them.
 
* A conference On the Return of Famine held at Tufts University in May brought together faculty and researchers from across the University, in conversation with outside experts. Panels addressed why famine has returned, today’s humanitarian challenges, legal and political issues related to criminalizing famine, and the most pressing famine of today, Yemen. Watch videos of panelists’ presentations at the May conference via the link below: http://bit.ly/2KyJfZi http://hilalelver.org/media_coverage/famine-watch/


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Biodiversity is under serious threat in many regions of the world
by UNEP, CBD, IPBES, Guardian News, agencies
 
Nov. 2018
 
The world has two years to secure a deal for nature to halt a ‘silent killer’ as dangerous as climate change, says biodiversity chief. (Jonathan Watts for The Guardian).
 
The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.
 
Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pasca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
 
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”
 
Pasca Palmer is executive director of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends.
 
Its 196 member states will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
 
Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity.
 
The last two major biodiversity agreements – in 2002 and 2010 – have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs.
 
Eight years ago, under the Aichi Protocol, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.
 
The issue is also low on the political agenda. Compared to climate summits, few heads of state attend biodiversity talks. Even before Donald Trump, the US refused to ratify the treaty and only sends an observer; it is the only UN state not to participate.
 
Pasca Palmer says there are glimmers of hope. Several species in Africa and Asia have recovered (though most are in decline) and forest cover in Asia has increased by 2.5% (though it has decreased elsewhere at a faster rate). Marine protected areas have also widened.
 
But overall, she says, the picture is worrying. The already high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution and invasive species will accelerate in the coming 30 years as a result of climate change and growing human populations.
 
By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse. The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.
 
“The numbers are staggering,” she says . “I hope we aren’t the first species to document our own extinction.”
 
“We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed. It’s still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing fast. We need higher levels of political action in support of nature.” http://bit.ly/2AL4iVF
 
Mar. 2018
 
Unsustainable exploitation of the natural world threatens food and water security of billions of people, major UN-backed biodiversity study.
 
Human destruction of nature is rapidly eroding the world’s capacity to provide food, water and security to billions of people, according to the most comprehensive biodiversity study in more than a decade.
 
Such is the rate of decline that the risks posed by biodiversity loss should be considered on the same scale as those of climate change, noted the authors of the UN-backed report.
 
Among the standout findings are that exploitable fisheries in the world’s most populous region – the Asia-Pacific – are on course to decline to zero by 2048; that freshwater availability in the Americas has halved since the 1950s and that 42% of land species in Europe have declined in the past decade.
 
Underscoring the grim trends, this report was released in the week that the decimation of French bird populations was revealed, as well as the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros, leaving the species only two females from extinction.
 
“The time for action was yesterday or the day before,” said Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which compiled the research. “Governments recognise we have a problem. Now we need action, but unfortunately the action we have now is not at the level we need.”
 
“We must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature or risk not only the future we want but even the lives we currently lead,” he added.
 
Divided into four regional reports, the study of studies has been written by more than 550 experts from over 100 countries and taken three years to complete. Approved by the governments of 129 members nations, the IPBES reports aim to provide a knowledge base for global action on biodiversity in much the same way that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is used by policymakers to set carbon emission targets.
 
Although poaching often grabs the headlines for the demise of the rhino and other animals, worldwide the biggest threats to nature are from habitat loss, invasive species, chemicals and climate change.
 
Conversion of forests to croplands and wetlands to shrimp farms has fed a human population that has more than doubled since the 1960s, but at a devastating cost to other species – such as pollinating insects and oxygen-producing plants – on which our climate, economy and well-being depend.
 
In the Americas, more than 95% of high-grass prairies have been transformed into farms, along with 72% of dry forests and 88% of the Atlantic forests, notes the report. The Amazon rainforest is still mostly intact, but it is rapidly diminishing and degrading along with an even faster disappearing cerrado (tropical savannah). Between 2003 to 2013, the area under cultivation in Brazil’s northeast agricultural frontier more than doubled to 2.5m hectares, according to the report.
 
“The world has lost over 130m hectares of rainforests since 1990 and we lose dozens of species every day, pushing the Earth’s ecological system to its limit,” said Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme. “Biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports are not only the foundation for our life on Earth, but critical to the livelihoods and well-being of people everywhere.”
 
The rate of decline is moreover accelerating. In the Americas – which has about 40% of the world’s remaining biodiversity – the regional population is gobbling up resources at twice the rate of the global average. Despite having 13% of the people on the planet, it is using a quarter of the resources, said Jake Rice, a co-chair of the Americas assessment.
 
Since the start of colonisation by Europeans 500 years ago, he said 30% of biodiversity has been lost in the region. This will rise to 40% in the next 10 years unless policies and behaviours are transformed.
 
“It will take fundamental change in how we live as individuals, communities and corporations,” he said. “We keep making choices to borrow from the future to live well today. We need a different way of thinking about economics with a higher accountability of the costs in the future to the benefits we take today,” Rice said.
 
“It’s because of us,” added Mark Rounsevell, co-chair of the European assessment. “We are responsible for all of the declines of biodiversity. We need to decouple economic growth from degradation of nature. We need to measure wealth beyond economic indicators. GDP only goes so far.”
 
The authors stressed the close connection between climate change and biodiversity loss, which are adversely affecting each other. By 2050, they believe climate change could replace land-conversion as the main driver of extinction.
 
In many regions, the report says current biodiversity trends are jeopardising UN global development goals to provide food, water, clothing and housing. They also weaken natural defences against extreme weather events, which will become more common due to climate change.
 
Although the number of conservation areas has increased, most governments are failing to achieve the biodiversity targets set at the 2010 UN conference in Aichi, Japan. In the Americas, only 20% of key biodiversity areas are protected.
 
The authors urged an end to subsidies for agriculture and energy that are encouraging unsustainable production. The European Union’s support for fishing was among those cited for criticism. Watson also urged people to switch to a more sustainable diet (less beef, more chicken and vegetables) and to waste less food, water and energy.
 
There are glimmers of hope. In northern Asia, forest cover has increased by more than 22% as a result of tree-planting programs, mostly in China. But this was from a very low base and with far fewer species than in the past. In Africa, there has been a partial recovery of some species, though there is still a long way to go.
 
Watson – a former chair of the IPCC and a leading figure in the largely successful campaign to reduce the gases that were causing a hole in the ozone layer – said the biodiversity report was the most comprehensive since 2005 and the first of its type that involved not just scientists, but governments and other stakeholders.
 
Despite the grim outlook, he said there was cause for hope. The report outlines several different future paths, depending on the policies adopted by governments and the choices made by consumers. None completely halt biodiversity loss, but the worst-case scenarios can be avoided with greater conservation efforts. The missing link is to involve policymakers across government and to accept that biodiversity affects every area of the economy. Currently, these concerns are widely accepted by foreign and environment ministries; the challenge is to move the debate to incorporate this in other areas of government, such as agriculture, energy and water. Businesses and individual consumers also need to play a more responsible role, said Watson.
 
“We don’t make recommendations because governments don’t like being told what to do. So, instead, we give them options,” he said.
 
The IPBES report will be used to inform decision-makers at a major UN conference later this year. Signatories to the Convention for Biodiversity will meet in Sharm El-Sheikh in November to discuss ways to raise targets and strengthen compliance.
 
But there have been more than 140 scientific reports since 1977, almost all of which have warned of deterioration of the climate or natural world. Without more pressure from civil society, media and voters, governments have been reluctant to sacrifice short-term economic goals to meet the longer-term environmental challenge to human wellbeing.
 
“Biodiversity is under serious threat in many regions of the world and it is time for policymakers to take action at national, regional and global levels,” said José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
 
Others have put the crisis in starker terms. Biologist Paul Ehrlich, has warned that civilisational collapse is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to the destruction of the natural world. http://bit.ly/2pxpdFE
 
24 Mar. 2018
 
Biodiversity – the essential variety of life forms on Earth – continues to dangerously decline, by Professor Robert Watson, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
 
Human destruction of nature is rapidly eroding the world’s capacity to provide food, water and security to billions of people, according to the most comprehensive biodiversity study in more than a decade.
 
Biodiversity – the essential variety of life forms on Earth – continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s well-being.
 
This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere, according to four landmark science reports released today, written by more than 550 leading experts, from over 100 countries.
 
The result of three years of work, the four regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services cover the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, as well as Europe and Central Asia – the entire planet except the poles and the open oceans. The assessment reports were approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), in Medellín, Colombia, at the 6th session of its Plenary. IPBES has 129 State Members.
 
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives,” said the Chair of IPBES, Robert Watson, “Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life.
 
The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead. Fortunately, the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets.”
 
In every region, biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures – habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change.
 
“One of the most important findings across the four IPBES regional assessments is that failure to prioritize policies and actions to stop and reverse biodiversity loss, and the continued degradation of nature’s contributions to people, seriously jeopardises the chances of any region, and almost every country, meeting their global development targets,” said Dr. Anne Larigauderie, the Executive Secretary of IPBES.
 
“Achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the Paris Agreement on climate change, all depend on the health and vitality of our natural environment in all its diversity and complexity. Acting to protect and promote biodiversity is at least as important to achieving these commitments and to human wellbeing as is the fight against global climate change”.
 
“Richer, more diverse ecosystems are better able to cope with disturbances – such as extreme events and the emergence of diseases. They are our ‘insurance policy’ against unforeseen disasters and, used sustainably, they also offer many of the best solutions to our most pressing challenges.”
 
The assessment of the Americas concludes that continued biodiversity loss may well undermine the achievement of a number of the SDGs as well as some of the international climate-related goals, targets and aspirations.
 
The Americas – which has about 40% of the world’s remaining biodiversity – the regional population is gobbling up resources at twice the rate of the global average. Despite having 13% of the people on the planet, it is using a quarter of the resources, said Jake Rice, a co-chair of the Americas assessment.
 
Since the start of colonisation by Europeans 500 years ago, he said 30% of biodiversity has been lost in the region. This will rise to 40% in the next 10 years unless policies and behaviours are transformed.
 
“It will take fundamental change in how we live as individuals, communities and corporations,” he said. “We keep making choices to borrow from the future to live well today. We need a different way of thinking about economics with a higher accountability of the costs in the future to the benefits we take today,” Rice said.
 
“It’s because of us,” added Mark Rounsevell, co-chair of the European assessment. “We are responsible for all of the declines of biodiversity. We need to decouple economic growth from degradation of nature. We need to measure wealth beyond economic indicators. GDP only goes so far.”
 
The authors all stressed the close connection between climate change and biodiversity loss, which are adversely affecting each other. By 2050, they believe climate change could replace land-conversion as the main driver of extinction.
 
In many regions, the report says current biodiversity trends are jeopardising UN global development goals to provide food, water and housing. They also weaken natural defences against extreme weather events, which will become more common due to climate change.
 
All the plausible future scenarios explored in the Africa assessment highlight that the drivers of biodiversity loss will increase, with associated negative impacts on nature’s contributions to people and human well-being. Achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the SDGs and the Aichi Targets is unlikely in three out of five scenarios explored.
 
The experts of the Asia-Pacific assessment point to the value of ecosystem based approaches and identify, among others, lack of solid waste management, as well as air, water and land pollution as factors undermining gains in a number of the Aichi Targets and SDGs for many countries (e.g. extinction of plant and animal species due to deforestation, rising temperature and water pollution).
 
“The Sustainable Development Goals aim to “leave no one behind”. If we don’t protect and value biodiversity, we will never achieve this goal. When we erode biodiversity, we impact food, water, forests and livelihoods. But to tackle any challenge head on, we need to get the science right and this is why UN Environment is proud to support this series of assessments. Investing in the science of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, means investing in people and the future we want.” - Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment
 
“Biodiversity is the living fabric of our planet - the source of our present and our future. It is essential to helping us all adapt to the changes we face over the coming years. These four regional reports are critical to understanding the role of human activities in biodiversity loss and its conservation, and our capacity to collectively implementing solutions to address the challenges ahead.” - Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
 
“The regional assessments demonstrate once again that biodiversity is among the earth’s most important resources. Biodiversity is also key to food security and nutrition. The maintenance of biological diversity is important for food production and for the conservation of the ecological foundations on which rural livelihoods depend. Biodiversity is under serious threat in many regions of the world and it is time for policy-makers to take action at national, regional and global levels.” - José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
 
“Tools like these four regional assessments provide scientific evidence for better decision making and a path we can take forward to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and harness nature’s power for our collective sustainable future. The world has lost over 130 million hectares of rainforests since 1990 and we lose dozens of species every day, pushing the Earth’s ecological system to its limit. Biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports are not only the foundation for our life on Earth, but critical to the livelihoods and well-being of people everywhere.” - Achim Steiner, Administrator of UNDP
 
“The time for action was yesterday or the day before,” says Robert Watson. “We must act now to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature or risk not only the future but the lives we currently lead”.
 
* Access the IPBES landmark science reports: https://bit.ly/2IIgRmF
 
http://www.cbd.int/ http://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2018
 
http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/ IPCC Summary (34pp): http://bit.ly/2y7hz9b http://unfccc.int/news/unfccc-secretariat-welcomes-ipcc-s-global-warming-of-15degc-report http://www.pnas.org/content/114/30/E6089 http://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species http://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/diverse-wild-species-vital-healthy-agricultural-production http://bit.ly/2CooBto http://www.iied.org/tag/un-convention-biological-diversity-cbd http://bit.ly/2D7GVay http://www.greenpeace.org/international/explore/nature/ http://e360.yale.edu/features/redrawing-the-map-how-the-worlds-climate-zones-are-shifting


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