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Modern time tyranny- Is Monsanto alone to blame?

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This is not an article about the genetically modified organisms (gmos) and whether they are harmful or not. It is not about the health of humans and the environment. It is an article on the political economy of bio-industries; it is about food security, politics and civil freedoms. How can a seed industry blackmail citizens and still governments bow in front of them?

It is not about what Monsanto merchandizes, it is about how it does it. It is about Mafia-like-running companies defining food security and civil liberties.

The politics of policy making is an arena where different sets of actors, not necessarily only political, contest and interact in order to influence policy emergence and its application. This process is of course legitimate, as long as the market actors do not overrun or even move like puppets the political, elected by the citizens, actors.

It is of great interest to take a closer look in the US and the bio-tech monolith Monsanto. The United States Department of Agriculture recently approved Monsanto’s controversial herbicide-resistant genetically modified strains of soybean and cotton, something that many critics see as a bow to probably the most powerful bio-industry, at the expense of human health and environmental conservation. Moreover, the company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their milk production, and it is taking aggressive steps to bring those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

The research studies that have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions, such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects, are merely besides the point here. And the fact that something like this is beside the point, in my opinion means, that the whole systemic problem that Monsanto represents is simply absurd.

In the United States, the FDA, the agency responsible for ensuring food safety for the population, is lead by ex-Monsanto executives, and apparently this is a dubious conflict of interests. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president passed the “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, prohibits courts from ceasing the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.

For decades, Monsanto has not only been the benefactor of political favoritism, but on top of that have received considerable corporate subsidies. For instance, Monsanto received millions to expand its activities in Africa; and I will come to this later on.  This is not wrong because of its potentially harmful merchandize, which for many scientists is not even proven; but because Monsanto forces an annihilating monopoly in the seed market and the world’s food supply, with the buying up of conventional-seed companies and by acquiring exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup; over life forms. It is absurd because Monsanto’s seed police, blackmails, threatens, humiliates and financially destroys farmers that do not comply with its preposterous seed policy. It is absurd because Monsanto launches incredibly expensive campaigns to fight Act initiatives, attempting to regulate the industry, causing in fact, the nullification of democracy; as money so easily silences political voices coming from both elected representatives and citizens alike. Monsanto exerts overwhelming influence over the government through campaign donations and lobbying, turning the government into a marketing spokesperson for Monsanto products.

Everyone sees the problem through the lenses of human and environmental health, and this is absolutely reasonable. But let us say, for the sake of the argument, that a corporation that sells “ambrosia”, implements the same tactics; would that be acceptable. Wouldn’t that be tyranny as well? Protection of civil liberties, in all levels, has a value on its own. The concept of the benevolent tyrant exists only in Plato’s world of ideas, and there is a reason for that; that is because absolute, all-consuming power in one’s hands is dangerous, no matter what. History of humanity proves it.

And why am I saying benevolent tyrant. For instance, in Mr. Friedberg’s view, Vice President of Monsanto, genetically modified seeds enable farmers to grow larger crops with less resources and represent a way to help sustain the growing world population. Some of Monsanto’s critics “want to live in a natural world where we’re all living in treehouses in the rainforest and picking coconuts out of the tree,” Mr. Friedberg said. “Maybe it would be possible if we had 100,000 people living on earth, but that’s not the reality that we’re living in today.”

Nonetheless, even if there is a point in this argument, and I am not saying there isn’t, citizens of a democratic country should have the real freedom to choose otherwise. The example of what happened in the state of Hawaii is one of many. According to a local news website, Honolulu Civil Beat (HCB), Monsanto and Dow — two of the world’s largest biotech and agricultural conglomerates, have thrown $8 million to beat back a Maui County voter initiative that would prohibit temporarily all GMO farming, according to documents of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission. On the other hand, proponents of the measure have spent less than $83,000; and apparently they lost. These numbers show the absence of real democracy, when policies depend on who can spend more in lobbying and campaigning.

This example is actually one of the civilized actions of Monsanto. Monsanto relies on a dirty army of private investigators and agents to spread fear among farmers. They strike into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers and store owners. They ambush farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics. Investigators have actually shown farmers a photo of themselves coming out of a store, to let them know they have been followed. Not surprisingly, the numbers of farmers who settle because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto are overwhelming.

Besides the fact that the loss of biodiversity of seeds, particularly in a time of climate change, threatens the resilience of food supply; there is another side of this problem, which I believe is wildly understated. Traditionally and until the late twentieth century, plant genetic resources belonged to a global commons and were considered the ‘‘common heritage of humankind’’. Who owns biodiversity after all?

IPRs in the area of biodiversity are not merely a matter of transfer of technology but become ground for intercultural dialogue. For many communities, knowledge and biological resources are inalienable. In the hill regions of India, for example, people value their seeds more than their lives. For traditional societies, biodiversity is common property, and knowledge related to it is in the intellectual commons. For biotechnology corporations, biodiversity becomes private property through their investments, and IPRs are the means for such privatization.

The emergence of genetic engineering has encouraged the emergence of patents and lPRs for products originating from biodiversity. Instead of being treated as the common property of local communities or as the national property of sovereign states, the Global South’s biodiversity has in recent years been treated as the common heritage of the world. In contrast, the modified biodiversity is patented and sold back to them as high-priced and patented seeds. Funny enough, this is as well happening in the “free world” as well, the U.S. There is no epistemological justification for treating some germplasm as valueless and common heritage and other germplasm as a valuable commodity and private property. This distinction is not based on the nature of the germplasm but on the nature of political and economic power.

That brings us to the subsidized by the US government presence of Monsanto in Africa. In 2010, the Obama administration pushed a humanitarian initiative focused in increasing the food supply of Africa. In order to solve the hunger problem in Africa, they started promoting industrial, mono-crop farming and genetically modified goods rather than investing in local farms; with devastating results for both biodiversity of the land and cultural diversity of the local population.  
    
Don’t get me wrong. Monsanto is just an example. The same applies to the weapon industry as well. And the list can go and on. People around the globe deserve freedom and deserve governments that protect unconditionally their liberties from private actors. Otherwise politicians lose purpose of existence; and this kind of delegitimization leads always, with mathematical accuracy, to armed revolutions. Maybe Monsanto is not to blame after all; when the elected guardians of the peoples and the peoples best interests, not only turn their face away, but actually concur in the modern slavery imposed upon us by transnational conglomerates, which decide on a global scale, what people shall harvest and eat with no deviation. That is modern time tyranny, and to the best of my knowledge tyranny starts and ends with political decisions.

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Green Planet

The solution to marine plastic pollution is plural, and plastic offsetting is one of them

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Due to growing concerns around environmental protection, businesses, individuals and governments have been looking for solutions that can be largely implemented to close the tap on plastic pollution.

In the last five years, businesses have strengthened their Sustainability Approach to acknowledge the need to take responsibility for their plastic production and consumption.

If targets have been defined and strong policies followed them to ensure high recycling rates of plastic products, a problem remains. What is the solution for low-value non-recyclable plastics?

This is where plastic offsetting enters the scene. As a derivative of the Carbon Offsetting concept, where trees are planted or protected to capture CO2 emissions, Plastic offsetting also known as Plastic Neutralization, enables companies to take responsibility for their plastic footprint.

Put simply, neutralizing means funding the collection and treatment of plastic, equivalent to the plastic impact of the business. Therefore, giving it the opportunity to compensate for every ton of plastic it has produced by ensuring there is one ton less in the environment.

From linear to Circular Economy Itis also a breakthrough in our traditional model of production, the linear economy. By extending the producer responsibility (EPR), this concept allow to build the bridge that lead to the ideal model, the circular economy, where no waste remains.

This innovative solution brings with it diverse positive impact. To the environment, by protecting ecosystems from plastic pollution, reducing landfilling and CO2 emissions. A strong social impact, by local communities by empowering local communities with work and better incomes. But also businesses, by becoming more sustainable with the reduction of the plastic footprint and a strengthen corporate social responsibility.

TONTOTON, a Vietnamese company, based in Ho Chi Minh City has succeed to connect all stakeholders to create a new market for low-value non-recyclable post-consumer plastic, on the scheme of circular economy.

TONTOTON Plastic Neutralization Program

Following the idea that the informal sector achieve to collect and recycle large amount of plastic in poor waste management areas, Barak Ekshtein, director of TONTOTON decided to look closer to the problem. In fact, a study shows that ‘97% of plastic bottles were collected by informal waste pickers.

The problem therefore does not lie in the logistics but in the price. By giving a market price to non-recyclable plastic, it allows waste collectors to collect and treat waste and thus avoid plastic pollution.

TONTOTON currently works in Southern Vietnamese Islands, Hon Son and Phu Quoc, and has already few tons of low-value plastic waste. To do so, it collaborates with local waste-pickers and thus provide them better incomes. The program focuses on preventing ocean plastic by following the Ocean Bound Plastic Certification. Their activities are audited by a 3rd party control body, the internationally recognized company, Control Union.

To treat the waste, TONTOTON partners with a certified cement plant, through co-processing, to valorize waste as an alternative energy and raw material. “Our system can solve two issues. Plastic is made of fossil fuels and contains more energy than coal. Thus we can replace industrial coal consumption with non-recyclable plastic waste. The plastic will not end up in landfill or oceans, therefore reduce levels of coal consumption and thus also CO2 emissions.”, says Barak Ekshtein.

Businesses engaged in their program can claim plastic neutrality on the amount of plastic neutralized to share their sustainability efforts. Moreover, indicate it on their neutralized product by bearing the “Plastic Neutral Product” label.

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Green Planet

Climate Change in Vanuatu: Problems Ensue

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Authors: Harsh Mahaseth and Shubham Sharma*

Vanuatu announced its intention to seek legal action against corporations and governments who have benefited from products which had caused climate change. Minister Regebvanu, in the 2018 Climate Vulnerable Summit sought to explore legal actions against companies, financial institutions and governments liable for the damages caused to Vanuatu due to climate change, either by direct to indirect actions of the said parties. Vanuatu, like other small island nations, is seeking damage claims against carbon emitters who have contributed to climate change and benefited from it. Vanuatu seeks to claim reparations for damage caused by events related to climate change such as the 2015 cyclone which wiped out an estimated 64 per cent of Vanuatu’s GDP.

A case of action against global polluters isn’t novel. Climate Change litigation has its precedence, with over 1300 cases having been filed across 28 countries, where various public and private entities have petitioned the Courts for environmental action or relief. The source of the litigation comes for various multilateral treaties, such as the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and others treaties combating pollution.

For Vanuatu, one of the major obstacle, other than the likely opposition from powerful States, includes finding a suitable forum; identifying relevant substantive obligations and various challenges relating to attribution, causation and evidence before they are able to make successful climate litigation before an international body such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), scholars have argued that a path for successful litigation exists through Article 36, paragraph 2 of the ICJ Statute, where by accepting compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJa case for prevention obligations under the lex special is of the UNFCCC, human rights law or customary international law.

Strategic Public Climate Litigation, an injunctive relief solution where the aim is to influence public policy or policy decisions primarily through the attainment of injunctive relief by asserting governmental failure to account for GHG emissions associated with public projects and cases of judicial review of public regulatory action (or inaction) on climate change, has already achieved some degree of success. An example would be the Australian Conservation Foundation et al. v. Minister for Planning where there were concerns with regards to GHG emissions of a new coal mine which lead a tribunal to determine the lasting significant environmental effects of the coal mine in the future would be against the objective of the act which is to “maintenance of ecological processes” and the “future interest of all Victorians.” Another example is that of the State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation, where an injunction was sought to compel the Dutch government to reduce GHG emissions, the supreme court of appeals, upheld this view and ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by the end of 2020, compared with 1990 level.

The second option for Vanuatu is to cast a wide net of a variety of legal theories, such as domestic tort law against carbon majors similar to the petition brought before the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, which investigate the responsibility of 47 investor-owned carbon majors for human rights violations due to climate change. For this approach, the initial challenge Vanuatu faces is the lack of a national human rights institution who can bring rights violations caused by climate change. However, the lack of a human rights institution can be mitigated by Vanuatu’s independent judicial system, as it is competent to address claims for damage caused by climate change by the polluters. The major hurdle Vanuatu faces is establishing the causation between the defendants’ conduct and its result, which is to say whether the action of the defendant lead to or contributed to the disaster, and secondly, the ability to certain specific damage sorted by Vanuatu on the other, especially in cases of non-economic loss and damage.

The recent surge in climate change litigation bodes well for Vanuatu, as the establishing precedence only strengthens their claim for damages. However, Vanuatu still faces major obstacles. Firstly, a lack of an international body to address the issue. Even if a case is brought before the ICJ, it can only be against a Member State. Thus, action against private entities cannot be brought before the ICJ. Secondly, identifying the rights violated and then assessing and assigning the damage liability to individuals, entities and governments. Thirdly, if Vanuatu pursues action in domestic courts, there are issues relating to the appearance of the party to the summons and the ability of Vanuatu to enforce the judgment. As the primary means of compliance for offenders in the international area are sanctions, Vanuatu without support from larger nations wouldn’t be able to handout sanctions to force compliance. There are many problems that Vanuatu faces but they cannot sit still now, and it is time to act and make the polluters liable.

* Shubham Sharma is a graduate from NALSAR University of Law. He has worked on several research projects relating to human rights, juvenile justice, and climate change.

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Five years on, the Paris Climate Accord needs political will more than ever

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December 12, 2020 marked five years since the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement, or the Paris Accord. A total of 196 countries agreed on a coordinated plan of action to tackle global heating at the 21st annual meeting of Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris in 2015. It entered into force on 4 November 2016.

What is to be achieved by this Accord?

The Paris Accord is a ‘legally binding’ international treaty and a watershed moment in multilateral diplomacy, considering that a truly global response to the looming climate crisis was agreed upon for the first time bringing almost all nations together specifically for this cause.

The Paris Accord sets an ambitious long-term goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5, compared to pre-industrial levels, taking into account the rising levels of global heating that threatens lives and livelihoods by causing extreme weather events such as melting of icebergs, submerging of low-lying areas, frequent floods, bushfires, and cyclones in various parts of the globe.

Support for the needy countries

Although the climate issue is global in scale, some countries are more vulnerable than the other where the people fear loss of lives and livelihoods and in some cases even creating a new category of ‘climate refugees’, mostly developing and under-developed countries.

As per the UN Refugee Agency, year 2017 recorded about 18.8 million new disaster-related internal displacements, and among them many are climate-induced. All countries aren’t capable enough to deal with this looming threat. Therefore, the developed countries, particularly in the West, were stipulated by a framework to provide financial and technological assistance to countries that are mostly in need of it.

What all have changed in the past five years?

A lot of events have occurred in these five years since the signing of the agreement in 2015. In the fight against climate crisis, the actions of individual countries do matter as important as multilateralism alone and domestic politico-economic factors of these countries play a significant role in their national responses.

The world needs leaders who believe in climate science and cooperate with each other to build a collective response, particularly with regard to powerful and industrialized countries or power blocs such as the United States and the European Union.

The Trump challenge and the hope of a Biden presidency

The conduct of the US leadership under the outgoing US President Donald Trump was disappointing, given the tremendous influence and power it yields in the global stage.

Trump’s unilateral acts such as pulling the United States out of the Accord, just 18 months after signing it, was so unbecoming of a country of that stature.

Trump stated that it puts a huge financial burden on developed countries such as the US, the world’s second largest carbon emitter, and is favourable to the interests of other countries.

But, hope is still on as the US awaits a leadership transition next year, as President-elect Joe Biden promised to rejoin the Accord as soon as he assumes office.

Many countries reassured their commitments to the climate cause by setting deadlines for net carbon neutrality, meaning to strike a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

How other countries responded

The UK became the first country in the world to declare a ‘climate emergency’ in 2019, followed by Ireland, Canada and France the same year. Many countries and subnational entities have followed the move in the later months and in this year, with New Zealand being the latest in the league. More countries are expected to follow soon enough.

Being the largest carbon emitter on the planet owing to its enormously large levels of domestic manufacturing activity, China is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases causing global heating and has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Japan, South Korea, and the European Union have also set deadlines for net zero emissions or carbon neutrality.

Meanwhile, theper capita emissions of another key nation, India, were 60% lower than the global average. But, emissions grew slightly in 2019, but still much lower than it’s per annum average over the last decade.

At the recently concluded Climate Ambition Summit this month, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on world leaders to declare a state of ‘climate emergency’ in their respective nations.

Role of people and non-state actors

Apart from national governments and international organisations, more and more people and non-state actors are becoming aware of the climate crisis as each day passes, particularly with the rising popularity of movements such as ‘Global Climate Strike’ and ‘Fridays For Future’ led by activists such as Greta Thunberg who keeps on pushing for global action on the climate crisis. They are evolving a powerful force to persuade timely policy action.

The way ahead

The Paris Accord envisages a step-by-step ‘climate action’ based on a five-year cycle wherein greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced, thereby achieving a climate neutral world by 2050.

Accordingly, as the first step, countries that are parties to the Accord were directed to submit their national plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by this year.

The pandemic has caused disruptions, but most of the countries still remain wholeheartedly committed to what they’ve agreed five years back. But, the developed countries should not shy away from supporting low-income countries to achieve their respective NDCs.

The Accord’s journey so far, therefore, throws light on the need to have a resolute and well-informed political will, both at domestic and multilateral levels, to realise the goals set for a co-ordinated climate action, rooted in science and mutual cooperation.

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