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Faces of change: Fighting for a mercury-free future

MD Staff

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Charito Elcano turned 60 this year, a milestone in a life fraught with ups and downs, challenges and opportunities and – in her case – tragedy. A tragedy that took the life of her brother and son and made her a fierce advocate for non-mercury small-scale gold mining.

Charito yearns for the old days when they used a traditional method using local grass to extract gold and is keen to have a mercury-free gold processing facility in or near her community of Luklukan Sur, in the lush seaside province of Camarines Norte in the Philippines. While some miners remain sceptical of the dangers of mercury use, Charito says awareness is building.

“It is changing slowly”, she says, “thanks to the work of BAN Toxics in raising awareness among miners here.”

BAN Toxics is UN Environment’s partner in the Philippines for the Global Environment Facility-backed Global Opportunities for Long-Term Development of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining Sector programme – or GEF GOLD. The programme aims to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining and introduce and facilitate access to mercury-free extraction methods, while also working with governments to formalize the sector, promoting miners rights, safety and their access to markets.

The artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s annual gold production – but it is also the single largest source of man-made mercury emissions globally. Around the world, some 12-15 million people work in the sector – including 4.5 million women and over 600,000 children. In the Philippines, artisanal mining takes place in more than half of the country’s provinces, supporting more than 2 million people and producing 80 per cent of the nation’s gold supply each year.

Mercury is often used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining to separate gold from sediments or ore using rudimentary processing methods. The use of mercury can lead to serious neurological and health issues for miners – especially for pregnant women and children. A 2006 UN study found mercury levels as high as 50 times the World Health Organization level for safe exposure among surveyed gold miners in the Philippines.

A native of Luklukan Sur, where mining has been a mainstay for generations, Charito left her village for a career in the textile industry when she was young. But after years of regularly uprooting her family to follow work, in 1989 she decided it was time to return home. And – as for so many of her neighbours – for Charito and her family, returning home meant mining.

The heavy price of riches

Charito was one of the lucky ones, and after funding a dig on her family’s land, in 1990 she struck gold – a full 8 kgs of it [$320,000 at current market rates]. Afraid that word would get out and they would be robbed or extorted out of their find, Charito and her team decided to process the gold at home. Her memory of that evening is vivid.

“The team leader told me to get 10 kilos of mercury and we worked from morning till dawn the next day. Around 5 pm my son started coughing and I told him to take a break while everyone stopped to eat. Later, I went up to the room where my son slept, and on my way up, I noticed that the room was covered with ash.”

“I looked down at my foot and saw traces of mercury droplets from my shoes on the stairs,” she recounts. “I went to my son who was coughing. On my way, I stepped on my brother’s foot, his body was taut and tense. On my way back, I nudged him, and his body was rigid.”

Charito rushed her then nine-year-old son and her brother to the hospital, where they were hospitalized for three days. Her brother died on the second day. Her son passed on 15 years later from complications related to his mercury poisoning.

Her family tragedy drove Charito away from mining, but with few other opportunities in the province, within a few years she financed a new dig – although this time, she knew the dangers the lure of quick riches brought with them.

Risks and rights

Today, Charito is a peer educator on mercury risks, as well as the President of the Women Miners Association in Luklukan Sur. With 28 members, the Association was registered in October 2017 and aims to help women and family members of ‘players’ – parties who have a share in a mine – to understand and manage the risks of their trade.

“Women in mining suffer. They have to budget what their husbands give them and find other sources of income. Our members mostly work as cooks at mine sites. They also gather waste in mining sites and look for gold from among the waste,” she says.

With the bulk of mineral exploration rights in Camarines Norte held by just a handful of companies, even miners who own their own land still struggle for the right to exploit the riches that lie underneath it. Without permits, they operate outside the law, risking heavy fines and even jail time as they struggle to feed their families by pursuing the only the business they know. Charito says that when the authorities do crack down on miners, the cost of release is often as high as 25,000 pesos (more than $1,300) per head – a hefty sum for most miners, who often subsist on as little as $3-$7 a day.

While Charito has applied for permits for her mining site, the complicated processes involved and a lack of national-level support for the rights of artisanal miners mean the outcome is far from certain.

“Our mayor is very supportive of small-scale miners like us and also some international agencies,” she says. “I had a hard time because there was so much to prepare. I will also have to have meetings with right holders, miners and financers.”

Charito says she tries not to use mercury in her operations, but looks forward to mercury-free facilities and alternatives that she and her community can use. She is adamant that while they wait and even if she meets with resistance, she will continue to educate her peers on the dangers of mercury use and champion stopping its use. She knows the harm it can do. She has first hand experience of it.

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Caribbean Aims to Become World’s First Climate-Smart Zone

MD Staff

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A ground-breaking partnership to support the Caribbean’s ambition to become the world’s first ‘climate-smart zone’ launched today. 8 Times Olympic Gold Medal Winner Usain Bolt was in attendance to help fire the starting pistol for the Caribbean ClimateSmart Accelerator, which will be led by the Caribbean leaders to create the world’s first climatesmart zone.

The Accelerator has created an unprecedented coalition including 26 countries and over 40 private and public sector partners which will implement climate solutions for resilience, renewable energy, development of sustainable cities, oceans and transportation. This climate-smart zone will not only protect the region but create jobs and a new economy in climate-smart infrastructure.

The Caribbean Accelerator has a vision which builds from the strategies of regional governments and agencies, including CARICOM and OECS. Although it has only just launching, it has already started to lay the foundations for success with initial Caribbean Climate-Smart projects including:

IDB’s US$1billion commitment to climate-smart investments: The Inter-American Development Bank announced that it will partner with the Accelerator to program and implement the additional $1 billion in funds that it pledged for climate smart-investments across the Caribbean region at the Paris One Planet summit. This additional funding will build on an existing portfolio of over $200 million to support innovative solutions focusing on low carbon emissions, sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency projects in the wake of natural disasters, drawing from low-cost blended finance and contingent credit facilities.

The IDB also announced that they will provide $3 million as start-up funds to the Accelerator to help get this important initiative successfully up and running, with the first $1.5 million available this year.

Grenada Climate Smart City: The Government of Grenada announced the start of the implementation of a $300m project to create the world’s first “climate-smart city” with initial support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help catalyse the project. Closely following a recent GCF investment into Grenada for a $48.7m climate-smart water project

Ocean Resiliency: An anonymous entrepreneur is investing $2m to support the Belize government’s ocean protection efforts, ocean advocacy across the Caribbean, and entrepreneurs deploying business solutions to benefit the ocean like Algas Organics, which is turning the sargassum nightmare into a business opportunity creating fertilizer to support a thriving agricultural sector in the Caribbean.

The World Bank Group: The World Bank announced a three-year commitment of $1 million annually in in-kind services for the Accelerator, and is supporting Caribbean countries with an almost US$2 billion portfolio focused on strengthening resilience and financial protection against disasters – including US$1 billion in concessional financing from the International Development Association (IDA).

Airbnb: In partnership with the Accelerator, Airbnb is helping to weave a community of hosts who are ready to respond and build a more resilient Caribbean. The company is doing this by allowing hosts to open their homes to disaster survivors and relief workers free of charge.  Hosts waive their fees and Airbnb waives theirs. To date, over 11,000 people in need have been housed through the Open Homes program and it’s now expanded to the Caribbean.

Zero Mass Water, a member of Breakthrough Energy Coalition, are solving the drinking water problems for the pediatric wards of 2 major hospitals in Jamaica, through the installation of 20 of their Source Hydropanls, which will make clean, filtered drinking water out of air for the next fifteen years.

Accelerator Speed Award: Usain Bolt announced an annual climate-smart “Speed Award”.

Identifying the best initiatives across countries, companies, communities and individuals.  The first winners will be announced in June 2019.

Sean Paul a Grammy award winning Jamaican Musician, was announced as an official Ambassador of the Accelerator, with a focus on Oceans.

The TIDES Foundation announced a generous grant of $200,000 to the Accelerator.

Caribbean institutions and agencies – including governments, CARICOM and the OECS – have already started to use the Accelerator’s unique platform of public and private stakeholders to make a difference.

Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness said: “Being climate-smart means putting the people of the Caribbean at the centre of all we do – to protect them from the challenges of climate change. The Caribbean Accelerator will also encourage job creation, social inclusion and economic growth. These benefits will only come when Governments, the international community and the private sector work together to overcome barriers and generate the investment that will benefit us all. That is why I am excited by the potential of the Accelerator to join the Caribbean with global partners who share our vision to see investment grow in the years ahead.” Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank has played a key role in bringing together a multinational coalition of public and private partners to fast track public and private investments over the next five years.

Luis Alberto Moreno, the President of the Inter-American Development Bank, stated: “The IDB Group reaffirms its continued and historical commitment to the Caribbean and will work with leaders of the region to improve lives by creating climate-smart and vibrant economies, where people are safe, productive, and happy. We hope that through this Climate Smart Coalition, in addition to offering new affordable financing, we will use the IDB’s extensive regional experience and presence on the ground to work closely with the people of the region to design their Caribbean of the future, today.”

Speaking at the event today Sir Richard Branson said: “Our goal is ambitious and bold: we are creating the world’s first climate-smart zone. We have a vision of a Caribbean which is greener, stronger and more resilient than ever before – built on innovation, powered by clean, sustainable energy and accelerated by public and private investment.”

Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “We are committed to a stronger, more resilient, and climate-smart Caribbean.  Working together, bringing in international partners and increasing private sector participation will be key to maximize financing for development and create opportunities for all.”

The coalition was first announced in Paris last December (https://www.caribbeanaccelerator.org/)  and since then it has grown from 11 to 26 Caribbean countries, with over 40 private sector partners to implement informative climate action across the Caribbean region.

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Caspian littoral states agree to start neighbourhood watch for the environment

MD Staff

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Littoral countries to the Caspian Sea have made a groundbreaking commitment to evaluate the likely impact that development projects will have on the environment in each other’s states.

High-level representatives from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan today signed the Environment Impact Assessment Protocol under the Tehran Convention.

Under the Protocol, countries must follow a set of harmonized practical procedures for assessing the impact that a project will have on the environment in another state.

Impacts on human health, fauna, water and soil are among factors to be accounted for when installing oil refineries, building major power plants or undertaking major deforestation, for example.

Countries that stand to be affected by a project will have the opportunity to comment on plans underway. They will then be entitled to receive an explanation as to how these comments were taken into account if the development goes ahead.

“It’s fantastic to see the Caspian Sea’s littoral states come together and commit to the future well-being of this jewel of the region and unique ecosystem. I’m convinced this will be a big win for the region’s environment, economy and long-term security,” said UN Environment Head Erik Solheim. “It also sends a strong message around the world that sustainable development is one issue that we can all get behind together.”

UN Environment hosts the interim Secretariat of the Tehran Convention. The treaty aims to protect and preserve the Caspian Sea and its natural resources and is the only international environmental treaty signed between the Sea’s littoral countries.

The Caspian Sea’s varied levels of salinity between north and south means it hosts a unique ecosystem. Yet this is also highly threatened, with oil and gas production being one of the main factors taking a heavy toll on the environment. The Sea’s fossil fuel reserves are estimated to be one of the planet’s largest – underlining the importance of the Environment Impact Assessment Protocol. The Sea is still the source of the majority of the world’s caviar, but its sturgeon population has steadily declined, while the Caspian seal is listed as endangered.

Today’s signing took place in the margins of an extraordinary Conference of the Parties to the Tehran Convention. The Protocol will enter into force three months after being ratified by the signatory countries’ parliaments.

UN Environment

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The Dutch role model of change

Dr. Wolfram Kalt

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How true leadership in regards of climate change may give outstanding impact to the Asian world

The Netherlands and Indonesia share a special relationship as they were connected for centuries in times of colonialism, separated after the horrible years of Indonesian struggle for independence and later then they have found together again into a respectful and close relation based on strong pillars of common history and development, intense economic and political ties, and so many deep interpersonal relationships among the two countries.

For me living in Bandung, the former Paris van Jawa, a modern Indonesian metropole where the government of West Java is located, it is always surprising to see the respect Indonesian people have towards European countries and the Netherlands in specific. It is maybe part of the open and friendly culture among its citizens in general but maybe also part of a quite realistic view that such huge country can be developed only with ongoing support and expertise from outside.

In regards of industry this support interestingly comes more and more from the North East Asia, from Korea, Japan and from China, while western countries are loosing ground. USA is successfully managing its moral and economic outsider position under its current administration, and Europe is in view of its unity weak, it still gives a diversified picture of small nations on their own who all act via isolated representations in Indonesia.

In the eyes of Indonesia, however, Europe is strong in three areas: democracy, technology and the environment. While the first may be a source for many fascinating articles and books, I would like to focus on the other ones – and here especially on the different meaning and understanding of the environment in the context of a highly industrialized economic conglomerate and a developing nation – to support a changing leadership perspective and vision of one European role model which may guide both continents hopefully soon in future.

We speak about the fact that the Netherlands – based on a broad political consensus – are on the way to implement the toughest climate law in the world.

WOOW, this is great, isn’t it! But … is this really needed?

This may be the main question in a controversial global (not only European!) discussion and an ambivalent public opinion process where everybody, and here I mean really everybody seems to have an expert position with strong believes fed by certain sources of doubtful information. I rarely experienced so many bull shit info told to me even by good friends than in this field of changing climate and its impact on humans, our living conditions and life itself.

Lets make clear at this point that there is no doubt about science, all findings which indicate that we are growing to fast, that we are consuming the resources of the planet too fast and that we are polluting and destroying our own basis of existence with a speed and degree of complexity which makes it difficult to interfere.

The Paris Agreement 2015 was a miracle in a mostly confused and disoriented world, a light moment of mankind when under the guidance of the United Nations a milestone agreement regulating global greenhouse gas emissions with impact on Climate Change was negotiated, ratified and adopted by consensus of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, in December 2015.

Even the US declared its intention to withdraw in meantime in June 2017, the fact that such an agreement was declared and committed by so many countries proves that there is something ongoing, huge and beyond our imagination.

We are losing control over the planet, a disturbing and frightening reality which does not affect all in the same way at the same time. Those who created the miserable situation, mostly the industrial nations of the west built their wealth on the foundation of a global disaster which is coming closer. “Wealthier people produce more carbon pollution – even the green ones” was a great article straight to the point by David Roberts in December 2017. So its not about left or right, its about the rich and the poor and in a wider sense about fairness of distribution. This fairness is very unfair when it comes to the consequences of climate change which mostly hits the poor ones around the world. Even in Asia and here in Indonesia in specific a new middle to high income population is forming which – unaware of the unlucky spiral of economy and consumption – transfers and copies same patterns of inequality into the nation. While those who become wealthy are flexible and can move and enter a better life, those who live a the limit to poverty have to bear the consequences.

“We are doomed” is the logic consequence of scientists and thinkers like Mayer Hillman or David Wallace-Wells.All not that worse will be the answers of those who benefit from sucking the resources and living in a quite safe harbor. Maybe there will be a better wine in Belgium [beside a soccer semifinalist title…

People in my home in central Europe really don’t care that much about global warming, yes there are more heavy thunderstorms visible, but we can insure and our real problems indeed are refugees who want to enter our country. That this is increasingly a consequence of Climate change people are unaware or not really interested in. National politics serve theme, but also catalyzes the problems as they promote their industries only and by doing so they ignore climate change as a crucial political issue created by themselves. Climate change induced migration is – sorry to say – a more or less a welcome argument of fear to be voted again.

No wonder that implementation of national climate actions plans to mitigate global warming lack behind and will end up in a story of delays and excuses soon. Even warming of 2C will be ‘substantially’ more harmful than 1.5C as per a draft UN report  national action plans will be by far too slow.

Its’ a matter of psychology that people and politicians don’t care enough at the moment. As Kate Stein points out in a recent interview with researcher Galen Treuer from University of Connecticut “It’s Human Nature Not To Think About Rising Seas”.

As long as we don’t have a personal threat people have other issues that are very important: affordable housing or Transportation for example. Those are the things that seem to motivate more than the consequences of an impact which may come.

In such situation of excuse and delayed industry serving implementation of measures it is outstanding noticeable to look at the ambitious role model of Netherlands. Maybe people in the Netherlands are feeling the increasing sea levels more than others, or whatever, they are guiding the show, and even the country is not participating in recent soccer world championship, they show an outstanding championship behavior we all can learn from. The Oranjes guide necessary developments and ways into a better future. Whether their positioning and action will be enough I don’t know.

Just a side remark: 18 years ago I learned about the importance of a role model when I argued (for first time in history) an Austrian company towards an European winner enterprise for sustainable technologies. A great success but what I received in between is, that this may be not enough! We need to understand the relevance of local frameworks in Europe when we look to Asia. While discussing the relevance of emissions of 20 or 50 cars with running motors from the chimney of a factory in clean Europe we got stuck in daily traffic jams of big cities like Jakarta with million of cars standing around and emitting CO2 in useless non operation mode every day. As we have the same heaven we share the consequences of effort same as of standstill.

The role model of the Netherlands inspires and gives hope but finally its the leadership learning of all of us (in Europe and Asia) which will make the difference. Do we recognize the urgency for our society to act and maintain the life foundations of next generations?

Even national developments are somewhat disillusioning at the moment I strongly believe into such a role model like offered from the Netherlands. It is guiding leaders in Europe and in Asia to spearhead a more sustainable development, ton take action on our future. True leaders foresee it, they address issues early and they work out plans to counteract. On this stage wise countries like Indonesia also have to enforce positive leadership and international cooperation. The West-East relationship between Netherlands, the European Union and Indonesia may become a recognized shiny example on this important way forward.

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