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Indigenous People in World Affairs

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In late May, the world’s biggest iron ore miner Rio Tinto legally destroyed two historically significant sacred caves in a Western Australian state, against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners, which sat atop a high-grade ore body it planned to mine.

The destruction distressed the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP) and fuelled a wider public outcry that led to an inquiry into how the blast was legally sanctioned.

The destruction of the sites, which showed evidence of 46,000 years of continual habitation, occurred just as the Black Lives Matter protests trained a global spotlight on racial injustice.

The inquiry is looking at how a culturally significant site came to be destroyed, the processes that failed to protect it, the impacts on traditional owners, and the legislative changes required to prevent such incidents from recurring.

Rio is conducting its own independent board review into the incident, due to be completed in October, and has pledged to make the findings public.

Aboriginal cultural heritage is a fundamental part of Aboriginal community life and cultural identity. It has global significance and forms an important component of the heritage of all Australians.

But the destruction of this culturally significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Rio Tinto was acting within the law.

In 2013, Rio Tinto was given ministerial consent to damage the Juukan Gorge caves. One year later, an archaeological dig unearthed incredible artefacts, such as a 4,000-year-old plait of human hair, and evidence that the site was much older than originally thought.

But state laws let Rio Tinto charge ahead nevertheless. This failure to put timely and adequate regulatory safeguards in place reveals a disregard and disrespect for sacred Aboriginal sites.

Another example is the world’s leading steel and mining company ArcelorMittal.

ArcelorMittal needs to move beyond good intentions on environmental and social improvements and turn words into deeds. Despite its rhetoric on social responsibility, the company continues to destroy the environment, risk people’s lives and displace local communities, according to a new report launched in 2019 by the Global Action on ArcelorMittal coalition to coincide with the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Luxembourg.

Comprising case studies from seven countries ranging from the Czech Republic to India and South Africa, the report also reveals new problems emerging around ArcelorMittal’s iron ore-mining operations in Nimba County, Liberia, including unclear resettlement plans for local people, a lack of permanent employment from the mine, threats to the Mount Nimba Nature Reserve, and a questionable donation of 100 pickup trucks.

The action of another manufacturer also raises controversy. Anglo American is a global mining company with a portfolio that spans diamonds, platinum, copper, iron ore and more. The emissions from a new Anglo American underground mine project in Chile could be catastrophic for the nation, ecologists reveal. The multinational company has so far avoided scrutiny of the project by hollowing out regional environmental organisations and sharing erroneous information with the scientific community. Anglo American, a London Stock Exchange listed company, has tunnelled under a Chilean glacier, with a plan to excavate copper and approximately 166 million tonnes of raw material from beneath the Yerba Loca nature sanctuary. This is equivalent to the volume of 127 Costanera Centre towers—South America’s tallest building, which sits at 300 metres and is located in Santiago. It then plans to backfill the entire mine with approximately 114.9 million tonnes of concrete.

The carbon footprint of the 3.4 million tonnes of cement required will be equivalent to 3.2 percent of the South American nation’s 2016 carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, or the collective carbon dioxide emissions of 20 of the world’s least-polluting countries. The number rises to 9.7 percent if Anglo American’s plan to extend the life of the mine from 2036 to 2065 is agreed.

We have more good examples.

The third largest steelmaker in the world is Nippon Steel. Each year beginning from 2015, the company has conducted a forest environment preservation activity—Greenship Action. In order to protect the valuable nature in the Tokyo metro area, with the cooperation of NPOs and members of the local forestry industry, Nippon Steel have been performing thinning work and creating access roads in the mountain forests of Ome City in Tokyo. Although cutting down trees may seem like environmental destruction, if the forest is left on its own, the trees will grow increasingly dense, resulting in a dark and unhealthy forest due to the lack of sunlight penetration. By identifying necessary and unnecessary trees, and removing the unnecessary ones, a suitable amount of sunlight can enter, restoring an environment that allows a diverse range of woodland life to coexist. This activity is a valuable opportunity for the participants to personally experience and understand the importance of contributing to society.

The Russian company Nornickel is a global leader in the production of the mineral nickel. Murmansk Oblast and the Taymyr Peninsula have been the homeland for indigenous peoples of the Arctic for generations and are the principal sites for the company’s activities. The Sámi, Nentsy, Nganasan, Entsy, Dolgan, and Evenki communities have preserved the traditional life, culture, and economy of Northern peoples, including reindeer herding, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Healthy and productive ecosystems, both on land and water, are the basis of indigenous people’s culture and identity, supported by the company.

In particular, the company allocates funds for the construction and repair of housing for indigenous peoples, the improvement of small and remote settlements in Taimyr, and the provision of food for the children of reindeer herders. Norilsk Nickel also renders assistance to the indigenous population with air transportation of goods to remote villages, supplies of building materials and fuel.

This article takes a critical look at how large-scale mining works in the emerging global economy. The strategies adopted by governments around the world in recent years to encourage foreign investment in exploration and production of minerals raise questions about how multinational mining companies are approaching environmental and related challenges. And the role of ecology in the policy of companies should only grow.

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Environment

Climate change: For 25th year in a row, Greenland ice sheet shrinks

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2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday. 

The data from the Danish Arctic monitoring service Polar Portal – which forms part of the UN weather agency WMO’s annual State of the Climate report – shows that early summer was cold and wet, with unusually heavy and late snowfall in June, which delayed the onset of the melting season. 

After that, however, a heatwave at the end of July, led to a considerable loss of ice. 

In terms of “total mass balance” (the sum of surface melting and loss of ice chunks from icebergs, in addition to the melting of glacier “tongues” in contact with seawater), the ice sheet lost around 166 billion tonnes during the 12-month period ending in August 2021. 

Climate change 

These numbers mean the ice sheet ended the season with a net surface mass balance of approximately 396 billion tonnes, making it the 28th lowest level recorded, in the 41-year time series.  

This could be considered an average year, but Polar Report notes how perspectives have changed, due to rapidly advancing climate change. 

At the end of the 1990s, for example, these same figures would have been regarded as a year with a very low surface mass balance. 

The report also notes that the cause of the early summer chill, could be due to conditions over southwest Canada and the northwest United States. 

In these territories, an enormous “blocking” high pressure system was formed, shaped like the Greek capital letter Omega (Ω). 

This flow pattern occurs regularly in the troposphere, and not just over North America, but it had never been observed with such strength before. 

According to the report, an analysis by World Weather Attribution demonstrated that it could only be explained as a result of atmospheric warming caused by human activity. 

Notable year 

According to the report, 2021 was notable for several reasons. 

It was the year in which precipitation at Summit Station, which is located at the top of the ice sheet at an altitude of 3,200 metres above sea level, was registered in the form of rain. 

The year also saw an acceleration of the loss of ice at the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, where the rate of loss had otherwise been stagnant for several years. 

Winter snowfall was also close to average for the period between 1981 and 2010, which was good news, because a combination of low winter snowfall and a warm summer can result in very large losses of ice, as was the case in 2019. 

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Environment

2022: Emergency mode for the environment

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As the new year gets underway, the world continues to grapple with a number of familiar challenges – the continued COVID-19 pandemic, resurgent wildfires, enduring crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Yet, 2022 could prove to be a seminal year for the environment, with high-level events and conferences scheduled, which are hoped to re-energize international cooperation and collective action.

The coming year will also mark two golden jubilees. In 1972, the world took up the environmental mantle at the historic UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The meeting firmly placed the environment on the priority list of governments, civil society, businesses and policymakers, recognizing the inextricable links between the planet, human well-being and economic growth. Now, fifty years later, the Stockholm+50 meeting in June 2022 will commemorate the event, reflect upon half a century of global environmental action and look forward.

The Stockholm Conference also birthed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN entity mandated to monitor the state of the environment, inform policymaking with science and galvanize action. For fifty years since, UNEP has used its convening power and rigorous scientific research to coordinate a global effort to tackle environmental challenges. A series of activities will mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary this year.

UNEP is going into 2022 with a new “Medium-Term Strategy” featuring seven interlinked subprogrammes for action: Climate Action, Chemicals and Pollutions Action, Nature Action, Science Policy, Environmental Governance, Finance and Economic Transformations and Digital Transformations. The strategy was agreed at 2021’s fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly; the resumed session, known as UNEA 5.2 will take place in February 2022. Under the overarching theme of ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’, discussions will highlight the pivotal role of nature in social, economic and environmental sustainable development.

June will be a busy month on the environmental calendar. On the 5th, the world will come together to celebrate World Environment Day. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1974, the day has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet. This year’s event will be hosted by Sweden, under the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“, with a focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature.  

While this timeline of environmental achievements is proof of what can be achieved through multilateral action, the science remains irrefutable. Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are fuelling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the triple crisis is humanity’s number one existential threat.

Several global events in 2022 aim to encourage dialogue and influence policy decisions to address the triple crisis. These include a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will be adopted in May at COP 15, and could stave off the extinction of over one million species, and the UN Ocean Conference in July, which seeks to protect one of our most vital ecosystems. A detailed list of related events is available on the UN web site.

Last year, the UN Secretary-General reminded the world that “We are at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. It can go either way: breakdown or breakthrough.”

Experts hope that 2022 will be a year of breakthroughs for the environment.

UNEP

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With decent work and a sustainable model aquaculture could feed the world

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Harnessing aquaculture’s potential to effectively contribute to feeding the world’s growing population in the decades to come will require concerted efforts to promote sustainable enterprises and decent work for its workforce.

These are among the main conclusions of the Technical meeting on the future of work in aquaculture in the context of the rural economy  (13-17 December 2021) that brought together representatives from governments, employers and workers at the ILO to discuss the decent work challenges and opportunities in the aquaculture sector.

In recent decades aquaculture has made important contributions to reducing poverty and hunger in many impoverished rural communities. It remains an important source of livelihoods and food for many rural workers today. At least 20.5 million people work in primary aquaculture production. Many more are engaged along the aquaculture supply chain.

With a growing world population and environmental pressures, aquaculture is increasingly recognized as holding potential for sustainably addressing challenges of food and nutritional security. In a number of developing countries there is also growing appreciation of its role in enterprise development, job creation and livelihood diversification, especially for the rural poor. In order to promote the sustainability and growth of the aquaculture sector and harness its potential to advance sustainable development, inclusive growth and decent work, there needs to be a stronger focus on addressing employment and labour challenges facing the sector.

“If we are to ensure that the aquaculture industry will contribute to inclusive growth and decent work opportunities for more women and men we must create a level playing field and an enabling environment for sustainable production and for workers to enjoy their rights at work,” said Magnús Magnússon Norɖdahl, Chairperson of the meeting.

“Sustainable and inclusive growth in the aquaculture industry could further be beneficial in terms of increasing income and livelihoods for many rural communities, both coastal and inland, and in this process, also contribute to governments’ efforts in alleviating rural poverty,” added Fatih Acar, Government group Vice-Chairperson.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  has been felt by both businesses and workers in the sector. Workers, especially in processing, have been at heightened risk of exposure to the virus, with the long working hours in close quarters and low temperatures. Businesses have struggled to remain viable, which has been reflected in reduced working hours or lay-offs, impacting the livelihood of workers and their families. The lessons learnt from the crisis should encourage reforms towards more sustainable and resilient aquaculture and food systems more generally.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated decent work deficits in the sector. But many of these deficits had existed long before its outbreak” said Krisjan Bragason, Workers’ group Vice-Chairperson. “Social dialogue, based on the respect of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, is the key to finding solutions that work for all.”

“Coherent policy frameworks should be created that focus on sustainable enterprise development and productivity improvements, the promotion of inclusive labour markets, skills development and adequate social dialogue mechanisms which involve Employers’ federations. All these elements will drive and enable the future growth of the sector,” said Employers’ group Vice-Chair, Henrik Munthe.

The meeting adopted conclusions that will assist governments, workers and employers to take measures to tap the potential of the sector to support full and productive employment and decent work for all, so contributing to food and nutrition security and making sure that no one is left behind.

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