Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fighting Climate Change One Tree at a Time

By Yasmin D. Arquiza

Nairobi, Kenya, 16 Nov 2006 - Joan Wangechi Kinyanjui, a 37-year old Kikuyu woman from Lari district, has been planting trees as a volunteer of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement for six years but says she has never received a single cent for her work.

That may soon change. In one of the side events at the United Nations conference on climate change here, Green Belt Movement founder Wangari Maathai signed a $1.6-million emission reductions purchase agreement with the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund that would finally reward the efforts of volunteers like Kinyanjui.

The project will employ community forest associations to plant and tend seedlings in 1,876 hectares of land within the Mount Kenya and Aberdares regions in the next two years with indigenous species such as cedar and camphor.

This will supplement their traditional livelihood of harvesting forest resources like honey and firewood. The project is also expected to improve the income of local farmers, who will receive payments for environmental services, according to a World Bank statement.

“We really hope we can receive benefits from this project,” said Kinyanjui. Together with her best friend Lilian Muthoni Kimani and dozens of volunteers, among them Maasai men and women in customary garb, she had waited in a tent outside the Forestry office all day just to witness the signing of the agreement.

The reforestation effort is part of UN-sponsored initiatives to help developing countries gain a foothold in the newly created carbon market while helping reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the same time. The World Bank will purchase 375,000 tons of carbon that are expected to be sequestered within the next 10 years as an outcome of the reforestation effort.

“This contract with the BioCarbon Fund will help the Green Belt Movement tap the growing carbon market and secure a sustainable stream of financial resources,” said Katherine Sierra, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank.

In response, Maathai urged conference delegates to support the protection of the Congo Forest ecosystem, which is second only to the Amazon in size. She noted that 11 governments in the region have signed a treaty to protect the Congo, but lack of funding would “condemn the forest to destruction” as the Sahara and Kalahari deserts have been creeping along its borders.

“If the Congo forest goes, forget Africa,” Maathai said.

Maathai gained worldwide prominence when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work in organizing the Green Belt Movement, mainly among Kenyan women, for the past 30 years. The organization has set up 4,000 tree nurseries and encouraged more than 200,000 households to get involved in the greening of Kenya.

“We have learnt that when local communities who live near the forest are educated to understand the linkage between trees, forests and their own livelihoods, they are more likely to take care of and protect these resources,” Maathai said.

On the global level, she is utilizing her celebrity status to gain adherents for the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign of the United Nations Environment Programme. The worldwide tree planting campaign encourages individuals and organizations across the globe to enter pledges in a special website, with the aim of planting at least one billion trees in 2007 to help absorb greenhouse gases.

At the opening of the ministerial conference on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan lauded the “impressive action” taken by many developing countries on climate change in the face of a “frightening lack of leadership” among industrialized countries on the issue.

He maintained that the “primary responsibility for action” on climate change lies with “those that have been largely responsible for the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” The UN chief said citizens could play a substantive role in pressuring their governments by making climate change “more of an election issue.”

“Let us start being more politically courageous,” he said.

Growing the Perfect Rose with Geothermal Energy

By Yasmin Arquiza

Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya, 15 Nov 2006 -- Heat from the earth is helping to produce perfect long stemmed roses in a flower farm here that employs local residents, showcasing an emerging trend among socially-conscious companies to merge the pursuit of profits with concern for people and the planet.

Bruce Knight, engineering director of the Oserian Development Company, said the flower farm ventured into the complementary industry of geothermal energy to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize the latter in its greenhouses.

With its new 50-hectare rose garden sitting just below its power plant, Oserian now boasts of having the world’s largest geothermal greenhouse heating project in the world.

Inside the rows of greenhouses, each covering a two-hectare expanse, geothermal steam helps control humidity and temperature while carbon dioxide emitted from the same wells results in higher yields, more vibrant colours, and fuller blooms.

Carol Andrews, Corporate and Business Projects manager for Oserian, says only perfect blooms with the right size and colour are exported to European buyers, while rejected roses go directly to the compost pit. Oserian is the leading flower farm in Kenya, which supplies 30 per cent of Europe’s demand for cut flowers, she said.

Most of its 230 hectares of flower farms are located just outside the park, near the shores of Lake Naivasha. Among the low bushes and wide plains in the Oserian wildlife sanctuary, visitors get a visual treat of Africa’s animals -- gazelles, wildebeest, giraffe, rhinoceros, wild buffalo, zebra, and a variety of colourful birds. A glimpse of pink flamingos wading in the shallow waters of the lake delights first-time wildlife tourists.

CDM project

The Oserian plant is one of the units drawing power from the Olkaria geothermal field inside the park, within the Great Rift Valley. Most of Kenya’s energy needs comes from hydropower plants, but with droughts constantly threatening the country, the government is looking at geothermal energy as another source of renewable energy in the near future.

Geothermal power currently accounts for only 10 per cent of the energy mix in Kenya, said managing director Eddy Njoroge of KenGen, the main supplier of electricity in the country. However, KenGen is seeking to increase geothermal capacity from the current 115 megawatts to 561 megawatts in the next 20 years to supply Kenya’s growing needs.

To achieve this goal, KenGen is tapping into the Clean Development Mechanism, one of the strategies under the Kyoto Protocol that seeks to reduce the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere. KenGen has obtained funding from the World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit for one of its plants, Olkaria II, under the global climate treaty.

KenGen brought media people and several delegates to the United Nations climate change conference in Nairobi on a tour of their geothermal plants inside this park to highlight the potential of the CDM as a tool in balancing economic development with emission reductions.

Under the CDM, industrialized countries can offset their targets for reducing pollution through so-called carbon credits obtained by funding environment-friendly projects in developing countries.

Last Nov. 14, Njoroge signed an $8.4-million emissions reduction purchase agreement with the World Bank for 900,000 tons of carbon offset by the Olkaria II project for Japan and several European countries. ”We are giving one dollar for every ton of carbon to the communities around Olkaria, effectively raising about 900,000 dollars for adaptation measures for the people who are most affected by climate change,” he said.

Two in One

The Olkaria experience draws parallels for places such as Davao City in the southern Philippines, which supplies 60 per cent of cut flowers in the country and also hosts a geothermal power plant inside a national park.

The possibility of the two industries operating in tandem is a promising one, as the high cost of maintaining flower farms has stumped the growth of the industry. In contrast to Oserian’s production of 400 million stems a year for instance, the leading supplier of roses in the Philippines, Island Rose, only produces two million stems a year. Both companies started at about the same time, in the early 1980s.

About 20 per cent of the Philippines’ energy needs comes from geothermal fields, and the government is encouraging the private sector to invest in more renewable energy projects to meet the rising demand for electricity.

So far, only watershed rehabilitation and wind farm projects have made it to the list of CDM projects approved for the Philippines, leaving room for more potential projects to make use of Kyoto mechanisms in the future.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Might Of The Mining Industry

BUSINESS CORRUPTS everything it touches, especially if it is a gigantic one like the mining industry that is fast gaining a foothold in Palawan’s mineral-rich soil. It corrupted local politics so easily that our politicians have been nodding one by one to the entry of mining, with the pro-mining policy of the Arroyo administration as their foremost justification. They also point to the Supreme Court, which has upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995, as another defense for opening the province to miners. But in truth, they just have no moral resolve to resist the generous perks offered to them by the mining companies.

A mining executive confessed recently to a group of selected Palawan journalists that mining is a very juicy business. He boasted that it only takes a few shipments of ore to recover their investment. In the approximately two-decade life span of the mines being opened in Palawan, the investors are assured of staggering profits. The fabulous fortunes that the mine firms expect in the coming years have emboldened them to shell out lavish funds to facilitate, as it were, the passage of their applications through the stringent bureaucratic route engendered by the SEP Law. Public officials whose fiercest passion is to stay in power are willing cohorts of mining firms, at the right price of course.

The mining industry is a formidable force that is threatening to lord over the province. It has already conquered the political echelon and is claiming easy victories in the labor sector, LGUs, media, academe and indigenous communities. The only tenacious sectors that will probably remain hostile to the industry till doomsday are the NGOs and the Catholic Church. But these sectors are more of watchdogs than policy makers whose voices are often ignored in decision-making processes that are orchestrated by politicians. Although they have some influence to whip around, they cannot do much as mining is a government-sponsored development strategy that rests on bedrock. With the notorious habit of the present administration in ignoring the people’s will, there is not much hope for the powers-that-be to appreciate the sentiments of affected communities.

Although it might seem like raising the white flag, the current reality shows that the foray of the province into mining is almost beyond help. The might of the industry will soon demolish the remaining obstacles standing in its way. The only thing that can stall the progress of the industry’s conquest is the corporate squabble that is pitting mine firms against each other in a battle for control over mineral-rich lands. But this may not last long as businessmen are more interested in gaining profits than spending money for court litigation. The indigenous people who are claiming most of the proposed mine sites as their ancestral domain are easy to convert, the mining executive said. Blighted by years of poverty and ignorance, they will easily trade their lands for the comfortable life promised to them by the mining company. In fact, an indigenous community in the south is now fighting bitterly over the royalty given out by the mine firm operating in the area. The industry’s executives know well the power of money, and they are exploiting this to their full advantage.

Even as we believe “responsible mining” is just a PR mantra meant to hypnotize the sectors hostile to the industry, given the inevitable victory of the mining industry, we are compelled to turn this phrase into actual practice as our weapon against expected environmental degradation. We can do this by keenly watching the mining operations and blowing the whistle at the earliest sign of anomalous practices from the companies.

Editorial written by Robert Bagalay and published in the Aug. 21-27, 2006 issue of Bandillo ng Palawan

Competing Claims Hound Mining Firms

By Sergio Pontillas

PALAWAN’S MINING companies are getting a rough ride before they can even start full-scale mining operations in the province’s southern municipalities.

Aside from strong opposition in many communities, corporate battles are proving to be a headache among mining companies involved in the utilization of the province’s vast mineral resources.

Two national dailies reported last Aug. 2 that Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. (CMDC) has asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop the mining activities of the Platinum Group Metals Corp. (PGMC) in the municipalities of Narra and Sofronio Española.

According to its operating agreement signed on July 18, 2003, the Platinum Group was allowed to operate in the mining claims originally owned by the Olympic Mines and Development Corp. (OMDC) in the two municipalities.

PGMC was reportedly allowed to operate in the OMDC area pending Olympic’s application for a large-scale mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA).

On April 24 this year, OMDC unilaterally rescinded its operating contract with PGMC, citing violations of environmental laws, particularly excessive extraction of minerals. OMDC then reassigned its operating partnership rights to a newly formed corporate entity, the CitiNickel group.

The Platinum Group allegedly practiced large-scale mining in its production site, in violation of its two small-scale mining permits issued by Gov. Joel T. Reyes in November 2004 that limits the company to the extraction of only 50,000 metric tons of ore per year in each of its two sites.

However, a source from PGMC who requested anonymity believes that OMDC tried to revoke its contract because the latter had seen the viability of mining in its former mining claims.

The source described the cancellation of the contract as “pure harassment,” saying the PGMC does not see any violation in its exportation of 282,729 tons of ore to Australia in a span of one and a half years. The current project is covered by a total of 100,000 ton limit for the PGMC permit per year plus another 100,000 ton limit for Olympic, the source argued.

Last week, Palawan Regional Trial Court Branch 52 ruled in favor of PGMC, on the grounds that only the court could cancel or revoke a binding contract.

Rival Mining Companies

Early this year, another mining company lodged an appeal with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to delay the council’s endorsement of rival mining companies with MPSAs in the municipality of Brooke’s Point.

In a letter to the PCSD dated February 20, 2006, Lebach Mining Corp. asked the council to reconsider its endorsements for MacroAsia Corporation, Blue Ridge Mineral Corp. and Celestial Nickel Mining Exploration Corp.

The mining company based its appeal on the pending cases with the Supreme Court and the Mines Adjudication Board, which involves its rival mining companies with claims to the same tracts of mining sites in Brooke’s Point.

Records from the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau indicate that an MPSA for 2,835 hectares of land in Brooke’s Point had been issued to Celestial Mining as early as September 18, 1993.

Lebach’s application for a mineral agreement was filed on September 11, 1997.

On the other hand, MacroAsia Corp. was issued an MPSA for 1,113.9 hectares in Brooke’s Point on December 1 last year. MacroAsia is reportedly expecting the issuance of another MPSA that will cover 410 hectares of land in the same municipality this year.

Libo-Libong Uwang Napigil Sa Paliparan

Ni Lourdes Escaros-Paet

PINIGIL NG MGA otoridad sa paliparan ng Puerto Prinsesa ang 2,212 piraso ng uwang (beetles) na dala ng dalawang dayuhan noong Agosto 16 dahil sa kawalan ng collection at shipping permit.

Ang mga uwang, na isa-isang nakaplastik at nakasilid sa isang karton, ay hindi nakaligtas sa paningin ng mga bihasang kawani ng Air Transportation Office (ATO) nang dumaan ito sa X-ray machine.

Agad na inaresto ng PNP Aviation Security Group sina Shen Lun Ten ng Canada at Wei Hui Fan mula sa Taiwan na natukoy na nagmamay-ari ng kargamento.

Tumangging magbigay ng impormasyon ang dalawa kung saan galing ang mga insekto at ano ang gagawin nila dito.

Subalit sa impormasyon na nakalap ng Bandillo, galing ng Bataraza sa timog Palawan ang mga insekto at binili ito ng dalawang dayuhan sa isang middleman sa halagang P50,000.

Ayon sa mga environmentalists na nakabase sa Bataraza, P30 hanggang P45 kada pares ang kuha ng mga middleman sa mga katutubo. Binebenta naman ito ng mga middleman sa mga dayuhan ng P300 kada pares.

Sa labas ng bansa, umaabot ng $80 o P4,000 hanggang P5,000 umano ang bentahan nito kada pares.

Bagaman wala pang kumpirmasyon mula sa mga eksperto, may bisa umano kagaya ng Viagra ang mga uwang at mabenta ito sa mga kalalakihang nakakaranas ng erectile dysfunction. Sa Internet na umano nagaganap ang bentahan nito.

Bukod sa medisinal na pakinabang, pinagsasabong din umano ng mga dayuhan ang mga insekto bilang katuwaan. Ang katawan nito ay niluluto samantalang ang ulo ay ginagawang souvenir item ng mga Hapon.

Ang dalawang dayuhan ay sinampahan ng kasong paglabag ng Wildlife Act ng Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS).

Nilinaw ni Alex Marcaida, tagapagsalita ng PCSDS, na hindi bawal magluwas ng mga uwang sa lalawigan basta may collection at shipping permit.

Ang mga uwang ay hindi kabilang sa mga naganganib na buhay ilang sa Palawan. Ilang uri nito ay kilalang peste na pumipinsala ng mga tanim na niyog.

Ito ang pangalawang beses na may nahuling iligal na kargamento ng uwang ngayong taon.