Trash floats on top of the polluted water in Billings reservoir, the largest reservoir in São Paulo, Brazil, which, despite its filth, supplies 1.6 million people with water. The state government wants to make the water adequate for human consumption, adding to the complexity of securing safe water supply during the drought. Photo: Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

By Jack Brewer
27 March 2015

(CNBC) – UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate that 768 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. As economies and populations expand, more water is needed to support this growth.

For example, Sao Paulo, which is home to more than 20 million people, is starting to run out of water as it grapples with one of the worst droughts in history, pollution and population growth. The unregulated disposal of human waste in the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, for example, and insufficient drainage, has resulted in standing pools of contaminated water. During severe weather conditions, these pools present a major source of sewage-related outbreaks of diseases.

Right here in the U.S., algae blooms caused by fertilizer and nitrogen runoffs from agriculture into Lake Erie caused its water plant to become blocked, which resulted in water being shut down for hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio.

A few companies and their peers are leading the way in solving the world's water crisis, while focusing on their bottom line.

Consolidated Water has created a profitable business with its industry-leading technology for desalinated water. The company is experiencing exciting growth in the Caribbean and has made great traction in Mexico.

MagneGas Corporation has focused on the sterilization of waste water while producing a usable gas by-product. Through their patented Plasma Arc Flow technology, the company is able to completely sanitize waste water by reaching flame temperatures of over 10,000 degrees. The company is currently pursuing numerous global contracts focused in the emerging markets. [more]

Investing in the world's water crisis

Drivers of declines in status for pollinator birds (1988-2012) and mammals (1996-2008). Graphic: Regan, et al., 2015

10 February 2015 (Conservation Letters) – Drivers of declines in status for pollinator birds (1988-2012) and mammals (1996-2008).

ABSTRACT: Biodiversity is declining, with direct and indirect effects on ecosystem functions and services that are poorly quantified. Here we develop the first global assessment of trends in pollinators, focusing on pollinating birds and mammals. A Red List Index for these species shows that, overall, pollinating bird and mammal species are deteriorating in status, with more species moving towards extinction than away from it. On average, 2.4 species per year have moved one Red List category towards extinction in recent decades, representing a substantial increase in extinction risk across this set of species. This may be impacting the delivery of benefits to people that these species provide. We recommend that the index is expanded to include taxonomic groups that contribute more significantly to pollination, such as bees, wasps, and butterflies, thereby giving a more complete picture of the state of pollinating species worldwide.

Global Trends in the Status of bird and Mammal Pollinators 

An armed anti-poaching unit out on patrol in the Borana wildlife sanctuary. Photo: Michael Dyer / SCMP

By Kylie Knott
28 March 2015

(SCMP) – Michael Dyer looks a little awkward in a suit and tie. And no wonder. His usual garb is a safari suit, and his natural environment is the African bush where he runs Borana, an eco-resort and wildlife sanctuary located 200km north of Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

But Dyer, 53, has put on his suit for a good cause: saving the endangered rhinoceros.

Borana has been in his family for three generations. Although originally a conventional cattle ranch, it has evolved into a wildlife conservancy with a luxury eco-lodge under his management. And since last year, when Borana and Lewa, a neighbouring family-run conservancy that is also a Unesco World Heritage site, took down the fences between their properties to create Africa's largest rhino sanctuary, Dyer has found himself at the heart of its conservation battle.

In Hong Kong earlier this month to spread the word about rhino conservation, he had a grim message. The illegal wildlife trade has decimated populations in the wild in Africa. Just as elephants are hunted for their tusks, rhinos are being killed for their horns, which are mainly used in Asian folk medicine.

Years of poaching have reduced the numbers of the two African species - the white rhino and the black, or hook-lipped, rhino - to just an estimated 25,000 animals, driving them to the brink of extinction. The black rhino is particularly vulnerable: in the 1970s there were 70,000 black rhinos in Africa; today there are only about 3,000.

Poaching has reached "catastrophic levels", Dyer says, and the battle to save the rhinos will be lost unless there's a huge shift in the supply and demand.

(In 2011, WWF attributed a spike in poaching in Africa and South Asia primarily to increased demand for rhino horn in traditional medicine in Vietnam, where many believe powdered horn can cure cancer. Horns are also sent to the Middle East, where they are used to make handles for ornamental daggers.)

As Dyer sees it, the most effective way to disrupt that market is through education.

"The physical anti-poaching war on the ground is a war that can't be won; there's just too much money, too many guns and too many people who don't care enough," he says. "The war will be won in the marketplace, with cultural shifts so that the commodities from rhino horn are no longer desirable, are of little value and are therefore not worth a poacher risking his life for. When this happens, we will save the rhino, and it starts with education.

"Rhino horn is sold in Vietnam and China, and to a lesser extent Laos, as traditional medicine. Despite scientifically proven to have no medicinal properties whatsoever, [rhino horn is composed of keratin, the same substance in our hair and fingernails], it's in high demand, especially with the wealthy elite - perhaps as much as a status symbol as the aphrodisiac or cure for cancer that it is purported to be." […]

But with the price of rhino horn almost rivalling that for gold at about US$65,000 per kilogram, Dyer says poachers are more motivated than ever, using high-calibre assault weapons and sophisticated night-vision equipment to hunt their prey.

"It has become a war, one we fight 24 hours a day. Sadly, it is a war that's being lost," he says. […]

But despite the small success stories in Laikipia, Dyer paints a bleak picture.

"In South Africa, 650 rhinos have been slaughtered this year alone. In proportion to its population, Kenya has lost even more," he says. "The situation is even more dire for elephants, with some estimates suggesting that 100 a day are being killed across Africa." [more]

China main reason Africa is losing war to stop wipe-out of rhinos and elephants

An aerial view of cracked ground near Brazil's depleted Atibainha reservoir. Photo: Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

By Priscila Jordao and Silvio Cascione; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn
26 March 2015

SÃO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil will import electricity from Argentina and Uruguay this year, the government said in its official gazette on Thursday, the latest step to fend off energy rationing as reservoirs of local hydroelectric plants remain at very low levels.

The imports will be "exceptional" and "temporary," according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which set the rules for the purchase of electricity from the neighboring countries.

State-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, will be responsible for the imports from Argentina. Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA, the government-run company known as Eletrobras, will handle imports from Uruguay.

With reservoirs nearly depleted following a three-year drought, Brazil had to resort to an expensive network of thermal power plants to secure electricity supplies lately. Energy rationing is still a possibility, although the situation has improved a bit after strong rains since February.

Brazil to import electricity from Argentina, Uruguay


By Jake Levine
27 March 2015

(Opower) – Of the many stories I heard about the drought while I was in Brazil earlier this month, one stands out. A colleague was riding the elevator in her building and saw a note from a concerned neighbor. “Dear neighbors,” the note read. “As you know, we are in a severe crisis. Everyone must do their part to conserve water. That is why I have decided to only wash my car once per month. I hope everyone else can make a similar sacrifice.”

I had just spent five days in São Paulo, visiting electric utility executives to imagine how software technology could better engage their consumers toward addressing the deepening crisis. Twenty million people live in São Paulo, which is suffering its worst drought the metropolis has seen in nearly a century. A couple of weeks earlier, during Carnival, some towns in the region had canceled street parades for fear there may not be enough water to clean the streets or cool down the crowds. Officials from São Paulo’s water utility, Sabesp, had already begun rationing water.

The last time Brazil faced a water crisis of this magnitude, a small private utility  — the São Paulo Railway and Light Company  — was at work constructing the foundation of a modern infrastructure to supply water and power. Today, Brazil’s system of reservoirs and dams provide more than drinking water; they supply more than three-quarters of its electricity generating capacity. So as the Cantareira’s stores fluctuated like a dollar stock  —  dipping to just five percent of capacity in early February — Brazil’s utilities braced for an energy crisis.

The city and the utilities have begun awareness and conservation campaigns. São Paulo has set up booths around town to distribute faucet aerators. Eletropaulo — the massive São Paulo electric utility which grew out of the Railway and Light Company — was considering how to communicate Brasília’s new tariff warnings to consumers, which adjust the rate price of electricity according to the level of water in the reservoirs. Sabesp, the city’s water utility, has begun to identify additional reservoirs that could funnel water into the starving Cantareira.

In spite of these efforts, there is one resource that Brazil is ignoring: its consumers. Provided with the right information, and engaged at the right time, millions of Brasileños could help stem their country’s water crisis by saving water and electricity.

There are three things in particular that Brazil should do.

First, Brazil should encourage its electric utilities to provide consumers with better information about their energy consumption. Behavioral science tells us it’s easier to save when we know how much we’re using and how much our usage compares with others. Think about what happens to your driving, for example, when you see your car’s gas mileage on the dashboard. Opower has proven this technique in partnership with nearly a hundred energy utilities around the world. [more]

Brazil’s water crisis is also an energy crisis. Brazilians themselves are the solution.

Machines providing water and sewage services to residential, commercial, and industrial areas work next to pumps from the Brazil's depleted Jaguari dam. Photo: Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

By Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
10 March 2015

(NPR) – Geologists say the problem with wildcatters is that new wells are contaminating São Paulo's natural aquifer not to mention damaging the structure of many buildings.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Brazil, prospectors are hoping to strike the mother load. And what they are drilling for isn't your usual scarce resource, as NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explains.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The drill bores through the concrete floor of the loading bay of a large factory, spewing up mud and rock. Precious minerals or oil have been the traditional target of operations like this. But here in São Paulo, there is a massive drought. And everyone's looking for one thing that used to be in abundance here - water.

MAURICIO AFONSO DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mauricio Afonso dos Santos has been drilling wells for 20 years. In a city, it requires precision and technology, he says. "We dig down between 500 feet and 1,200 feet to find potable water," he says. "We have to be extremely careful. As you can tell right here, we're 10 feet away from the side of the building," he tells me. He says his orders have doubled in the last year and have come from some unusual places, including a love motel.

DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because they use a lot of water and they had a lot of rooms and a lot of turnover of clients, so they had a big demand for their own source of water, he's saying.

DOS SANTOS: (Laughter) Great. (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Until the water crisis, most people wanted a well simply to reduce their water bill," he says. But now it's because they're afraid they won't have any water at all. Many parts of Sao Paulo have seen their water cut off for days at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: The public system cannot afford to supply us the amount of water we need. That's why we had to dig a well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the manager of the company where the well is being dug today. He doesn't want his name or the company name used because of corporate policy restricting discussion of logistics issues. In the area of São Paulo where his company is based, there is severe water rationing already taking place.

UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: So an industry to have this kind of uncertainty of water supply is a very hard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the drought is affecting businesses?

UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: Absolutely. Absolutely. [more]

Sao Paulo's Drought Pits Water Prospectors Against Wildcatters

A nearly empty water reservoir in California. California's groundwater depletion could have nationwide implications. Photo: Ken James / Bloomberg / Getty

By Colleen Shalby  
20 March 2015

(PBS) – Last week a startling headline on California’s dire water supply fueled a wave of reports that the state was on borrowed time: “California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?” read the Op-Ed that first appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Several other news outlets picked up the story.

But Jay Famiglietti, JPL scientist and author of the Op-Ed that sparked the coverage, said while the problem is indeed serious, many of the headlines didn’t quite get it right. That California’s reservoirs hold only a year’s worth of water is true, but somewhat beside the point. Most concerning, he says, is what’s happening to the state’s groundwater supply.

California’s reservoirs, he said, typically store about three years of water at a time. Sure, with the state’s severe drought, the amount now is less than ideal. But far more water exists underground.

Groundwater comes from aquifers — water that’s stored beneath the Earth’s surface in the pores of soil and the cracks of rock and granite. And in California, which is entering its fourth year of drought, there’s no current management plan to sustain that reserve, Famiglietti said.

Think about it this way, he said. Reservoir water is your checking account, and groundwater is your money in the bank. Some goes into your checking, but most exists in your savings account. Rainfall and snow is your monthly income.

Essentially, the state is depleting its primary funds.

“If you can live check-to-check on rain and snowmelt, that’s great. But [California] can’t. We haven’t really ever done that.”

Where’s the groundwater going?

Since 2014, only 25 percent of California’s water supply has come from surface water: that includes reservoirs, lakes, streams and rivers. Prior to 2011, when the state officially declared drought, that surface water made up two-thirds of the state’s supply. Groundwater now makes up a full 75 percent of California’s total supply, up from one-third.

But with a shortage of surface water due to drought, farmers in the Central Valley are pumping out groundwater to irrigate their crops, said Claudia Faunt, program chief for Groundwater Framework and Applied Modeling at U.S. Geological Survey.

She estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the nation’s groundwater is coming from the Central Valley alone. The region is the source of roughly 25 percent of the nation’s table food.

Less water means less produce. And less produce could eventually force the U.S. to import products that are California staples, such as almonds and pistachios.

Without sufficient access to surface water, Faunt says those farmers are forced to drill new wells for irrigation.

This threatens more than just supply. Groundwater extraction can cause subsidence, or sinking, of the land above the aquifers. And that can lead to breaks in infrastructure like roads and buildings, and the buckling of canals. [more]

Even scarier than California’s shrinking reservoirs is its shrinking groundwater supply

A cartoon, 'The New TPP World', depicts the corporate takeover of North America, Japan, Australia, and other nations by the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership. Graphic: WikiLeaks

WASHINGTON, D.C., 25 March 2015 (Public Citizen) – The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) Investment Chapter, leaked today, reveals how the pact would make it easier for U.S. firms to offshore American jobs to low-wage countries while newly empowering thousands of foreign firms to seek cash compensation from U.S. taxpayers by challenging U.S. government actions, laws, and court rulings before unaccountable foreign tribunals. After five years of secretive TPP negotiations, the text – leaked by WikiLeaks – proves that growing concerns about the controversial “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) system that the TPP would extend are well justified, Public Citizen said.

Enactment of the leaked chapter would increase U.S. ISDS liability to an unprecedented degree by newly empowering about 9,000 foreign-owned firms from Japan and other TPP nations operating in the United States to launch cases against the government over policies that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms. To date, the United States has faced few ISDS attacks because past ISDS-enforced pacts have almost exclusively been with developing nations whose firms have few investments here.

The leak reveals that the TPP would replicate the ISDS language found in past U.S. agreements under which tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to foreign investors attacking land use rules; water, energy and timber policies; health, safety and environmental protections; financial stability policies and more. And while the Obama administration has sought to quell growing concerns about the ISDS threat with claims that past pacts’ problems would be remedied in the TPP, the leaked text does not include new safeguards relative to past U.S. ISDS-enforced pacts. Indeed, this version of the text, which shows very few remaining areas of disagreement, eliminates various safeguard proposals that were included in a 2012 leaked TPP Investment Chapter text.

“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “This leak is a disaster for the corporate lobbyists and administration officials trying to persuade Congress to delegate Fast Track authority to railroad the TPP through Congress.”

Even before today’s leak, U.S. law professors and those in other TPP nations, the U.S. National Conference of State Legislatures, the Cato Institute and numerous members of Congress and civil society groups have announced opposition to the ISDS system, which would elevate individual foreign firms to the same status as sovereign governments and empower them to privately enforce a public treaty by skirting domestic courts and “suing” governments before extrajudicial tribunals. The tribunals are staffed by private lawyers who are not accountable to any electorate, system of legal precedent or meaningful conflict of interest rules. Their rulings cannot be appealed on the merits. Many ISDS lawyers rotate between roles – serving both as “judges” and suing governments for corporations, creating an inherent conflict of interest.

The TPP’s expansion of the ISDS system would come amid a surge in ISDS cases against public interest policies that has led other countries, such as South Africa and Indonesia, to begin to revoke their ISDS-enforced treaties. While ISDS agreements have existed since the 1960s, just 50 known ISDS cases were launched worldwide in the regime’s first three decades combined. In contrast, foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013. Recent cases include Eli Lilly’s attack on Canada’s cost-saving medicine patent system, Philip Morris’ attack on Australia’s public health policies regulating tobacco, Lone Pine’s attack on a fracking moratorium in Canada, Chevron’s attack on an Ecuadorian court ruling ordering payment for mass toxic contamination in the Amazon and Vattenfall’s attack on Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power.

“By definition, only multinational corporations could benefit from this parallel legal system, which empowers them to skirt domestic courts and laws, and go to tribunals staffed by highly paid corporate lawyers, where they grab unlimited payments of our tax dollars because they don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms follow,” Wallach said.

Public Citizen’s analysis of the leaked text is available here. It shows:  

  • The TPP would grant foreign investors and firms operating here expansive new substantive and procedural rights and privileges not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law, allowing foreign firms to demand compensation for the costs of complying with U.S. policies, court orders and government actions that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms. This includes:

Foreign investors would be empowered to challenge new policies that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms on the basis that they undermine foreign investors’  “expectations” of how they should be treated. This includes a right to claim damages for government actions (such as new environmental, health or financial policies) that reduce the value of a foreign firm’s investment (what the leaked text calls “indirect expropriation”) or that change the level of regulation a foreign investor experienced under a previous government (a violation of what the text calls a “minimum standard of treatment” for foreign investors).

The leaked TPP text largely replicates the “minimum standard of treatment” language found in previous U.S. pacts that tribunals have used to issue some of the most alarming ISDS rulings. Tribunals often have broadly interpreted this vague “right” to fabricate new obligations for governments that do not actually exist in the texts of ISDS-enforced pacts, such as “not to alter the legal and business environment in which the investment has been made.” Due to such expansive interpretations, the “minimum standard of treatment” obligation has been the basis for three of every four ISDS cases “won” by the foreign investor under U.S. pacts.

The text allows foreign investors to demand compensation for claims of “indirect expropriation” that apply to much wider categories of property than those to which similar rights apply in U.S. law.To the limited extent that “indirect expropriation” compensation is permitted in U.S. law, it is generally available only for government actions affecting real property (i.e. land). But the leaked text would allow foreign investors to claim “indirect expropriation” if government regulations implicate their personal property, intellectual property rights, financial instruments, government permits, money, minority shareholdings or other forms of non-real-estate property. 

  • Foreign corporations could demand compensation for capital controls and other macro-prudential financial regulations that promote financial stability.This obligation restricts the use of capital controls or financial transaction taxes, even as the International Monetary Fund has shifted from opposing capital controls to officially endorsing them as legitimate policy tools for preventing or mitigating financial crises. Proposed provisions touted as “temporary safeguards” for capital controls would fail to protect many standard forms of capital controls, including those successfully used by TPP governments in the past to ward off financial crises.
  • The leaked text could newly allow pharmaceutical firms to use TPP ISDS tribunals to demand cash compensation for claimed violations of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) rules regarding the creation, limitation or revocation of intellectual property rights. Currently, WTO rules are not privately enforceable by investors. But the leaked TPP investment text could empower individual foreign investors to directly challenge governments over policies to ensure access to affordable medicines, claiming that they constitute TPP-prohibited “expropriations” of intellectual property rights if ISDS tribunals deem them to violate WTO rules.
  • There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create ever-expanding interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.The leaked text reveals the same “safeguard” terms that have been included in U.S. pacts since the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). CAFTA tribunals have simply ignored the “safeguard” provisions that the leaked text replicates for the TPP, and have continued to rule against governments based on concocted obligations to which governments never agreed. The leaked text also abandons a safeguard proposed in the 2012 leaked TPP investment text, which excluded public interest regulations from indirect expropriation claims, stating, “non-discriminatory regulatory actions … that are designed and applied to achieve legitimate public welfare objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment do not constitute indirect expropriation.” Today’s leaked text eviscerates that clause by adding a fatal loophole that has been found in past U.S. pacts.
  • Most TPP countries, including the United States, have decided to expose decisions regarding the approval of foreign investments to ISDS challenge. Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand have reserved the right to pre-approve foreign investors. But the United States took no exception for reviews by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States of planned foreign investments to determine whether they pose threats to national security.
  • The amount that an ISDS tribunal would order a government to pay to a foreign investor as compensation would be based on the “expected future profits”the tribunal surmises that the investor would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking as violating the substantive investor rights granted by the TPP.
  • The text would submit the U.S. government to the jurisdiction of World Bank and United Nations tribunals. All TPP nations have agreed to be so bound with the potential exception of Australia, which has indicated that it might do the same, “subject to certain conditions.”
  • None of the structural biases or conflicts of interest inherent in the ISDS system would be remedied.TPP ISDS tribunals would be staffed by highly paid corporate lawyers unaccountable to any electorate or system of legal precedent. They still would be allowed to rotate between acting as “judges” and advocates for the investors launching cases against governments. Corporations launching cases would still directly select one of the “judges.” The text includes no requirements for tribunal members to be impartial, reveal conflicts of interest or recuse themselves in instances of direct conflict. There is no internal or external mechanism to appeal the tribunal members’ decisions on the merits, and claims of procedural errors would be decided by another tribunal of corporate lawyers. The leaked text provides tribunals with discretion to determine the amount of compensation governments must pay investors and the allocation of costs, such as the tribunal members’ fees. A proposal that appeared in the 2012 leak of the text to standardize hourly fees for tribunal members at the lower end of the range of fees currently paid (about $375 per hour, compared to the $700 per hour that some tribunal members receive) has been eliminated.
  • An overreaching definition of “investment” would extend the coverage of the TPP’s expansive substantive investor rights far beyond “real property,” permitting ISDS attacks over government actions and policies related to financial instruments, intellectual property, regulatory permits and more. Proposals in the 2012 leak of the text that would have narrowed the definition of “investment,” and thus the scope of policies subject to challenge, have been eliminated. Also omitted is a proposal from the earlier leaked version that would not have allowed ISDS cases related to government procurement, subsidies or government grants.
  • An overreaching definition of “investor” would allow firms from non-TPP countries and firms with no real investments to exploit the extraordinary privileges the TPP would establish for foreign investors.Thus, for instance, one of the many Chinese state-owned corporations in Vietnam could “sue” the U.S. government in a foreign tribunal to demand compensation under this text.
  • The leaked text reveals that U.S. negotiators are still pushing, over the objection of most other TPP nations, to empower foreign investors to bring to TPP ISDS tribunals their contract disputes with TPP signatory governments relating to natural resource concessions on federal lands, government procurement of construction for infrastructure projects, as well as contracts relating to the operation of utilities.(In the leaked chapter, text that is not yet agreed upon appears in square brackets; Public Citizen has seen a version of the text that lists which countries support various proposals.)

The goal of the ISDS system was ostensibly to provide a means for foreign investors to obtain compensation if a government expropriated their factory or land and the domestic court system did not provide for compensation. Over time, both the rules and their interpretation have been dramatically expanded – a problem that the leaked text shows the TPP would exacerbate. Rather than being an option of last resort, corporations’ use of the ISDS regime is surging, with an ever-expanding range of policies and government actions coming under attack, with few claims involving actual expropriation.

Foreign corporations have used these claims to attack tobacco, climate, financial, mining, medicine, energy, pollution, water, labor, toxins, development, and other non-trade domestic policies. Even when governments win cases, they often are ordered to pay for a share of the tribunal’s costs. With costs just for defending a challenged policy in an ISDS case totaling $8 million on average, the mere filing of a case can create a chilling effect on government policymaking, even if the government expects to win.

Trade officials from the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – are in intensive, closed-door negotiations to finish the TPP in the next few months.

TPP Leak Reveals Extraordinary New Powers for Thousands of Foreign Firms to Challenge U.S. Policies and Demand Taxpayer Compensation


25 March 2015 (WikiLeaks) – WikiLeaks releases today the "Investment Chapter" from the secret negotiations of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreement. The document adds to the previous WikiLeaks publications of the chapters for Intellectual Property Rights (November 2013) and the Environment (January 2014).

The TPP Investment Chapter, published today, is dated 20 January 2015. The document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor said: "The TPP has developed in secret an unaccountable supranational court for multinationals to sue states. This system is a challenge to parliamentary and judicial sovereignty. Similar tribunals have already been shown to chill the adoption of sane environmental protection, public health and public transport policies."

Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei. The TPP is the largest economic treaty in history, including countries that represent more than 40 per cent of the world´s GDP.

The Investment Chapter highlights the intent of the TPP negotiating parties, led by the United States, to increase the power of global corporations by creating a supra-national court, or tribunal, where foreign firms can "sue" states and obtain taxpayer compensation for "expected future profits". These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals are designed to overrule the national court systems. ISDS tribunals introduce a mechanism by which multinational corporations can force governments to pay compensation if the tribunal states that a country's laws or policies affect the company's claimed future profits. In return, states hope that multinationals will invest more. Similar mechanisms have already been used. For example, US tobacco company Phillip Morris used one such tribunal to sue Australia (June 2011 – ongoing) for mandating plain packaging of tobacco products on public health grounds; and by the oil giant Chevron against Ecuador in an attempt to evade a multi-billion-dollar compensation ruling for polluting the environment. The threat of future lawsuits chilled environmental and other legislation in Canada after it was sued by pesticide companies in 2008/9. ISDS tribunals are often held in secret, have no appeal mechanism, do not subordinate themselves to human rights laws or the public interest, and have few means by which other affected parties can make representations.

The TPP negotiations have been ongoing in secrecy for five years and are now in their final stages. In the United States the Obama administration plans to "fast-track" the treaty through Congress without the ability of elected officials to discuss or vote on individual measures. This has met growing opposition as a result of increased public scrutiny following WikiLeaks' earlier releases of documents from the negotiations.

The TPP is set to be the forerunner to an equally secret agreement between the US and EU, the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

Negotiations for the TTIP were initiated by the Obama administration in January 2013. Combined, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. The third treaty of the same kind, also negotiated in secrecy is TISA, on trade in services, including the financial and health sectors. It covers 50 countries, including the US and all EU countries. WikiLeaks released the secret draft text of the TISA's financial annex in June 2014.

All these agreements on so-called “free trade” are negotiated outside the World Trade Organization's (WTO) framework. Conspicuously absent from the countries involved in these agreements are the BRICs countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

Read the Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) - Investment chapter

Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) - Investment Chapter

Sea Shepherd activists hold a sign that reads, '100 Days In Pursuit! Bob Barker forever in history!'. The pursuit of the pirate poaching ship 'Thunder' by Sea Shepherd ship the Bob Barker has lasted 100 days, as of 27 March 2015. Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

By Captain Paul Watson
27 March 2015

(Facebook) –  DAY 100: The Pursuit of the Thunder.

The Bob Barker and the Sam Simon are both on the tail of the world's most notorious toothfish poacher. A pursuit that has covered over 10,000 nautical miles over three oceans, the Southern, the Indian, and now the South Atlantic, from Antarctica to the Equator. It is the longest pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history.

Yesterday Nigerian officially struck the flag of the Thunder. The ship is now unregistered and without a flag, making it a pirate vessel according to international maritime law.

And now it is something more. Sea Shepherd is calling on the Navies of the world to intervene and board this unflagged poaching vessel to investigate allegations of human trafficking. Sea Shepherd has reason to believe that many of the Thunder’s Indonesian crew are not onboard under their own free will and that they are prisoners under the control of the Captain and officers.

Captain Paul Watson


The 'Bob Barker' in a high-seas stand-off with poaching vessel 'Thunder', which has now been stripped of its registry by former flag-state, Nigeria. Photo: Giacomo Giorgi / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

25 March 2015 (SSCS) – Yesterday, the Sea Shepherd ship Sam Simon rendezvoused with fellow Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, at   7˚ 27' South 02˚ 19 West, in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second time the vessels have met during the course of Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd's current Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, which commenced in December 2014.

The Sam Simon will be resupplying and lending support to the Bob Barker as the ship continues its world record breaking pursuit of the internationally blacklisted, Nigerian-flagged poaching vessel, Thunder.

Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said, “The return of the Sam Simon is one more nail in the coffin of the Thunder. With it comes the reminder that we have at our disposal a ready support network that can, and will, outmatch anything the Thunder has available to them. We have the resources and we have the determination to see this chase through to the very end.”

The Thunder was first intercepted by the Bob Barker on December 17 on the Banzare Bank, Antarctica. Since that time, the Bob Barker has maintained a continuous pursuit of the poaching vessel, travelling from the Southern, to the Indian and now the Atlantic Ocean, over a staggering 98 days.

The Sam Simon departed from Port Louis, Mauritius, on March 9 where it had been for 10 days. The Sea Shepherd ship had travelled to the island state in order to hand-over evidence of the Thunder's illegal fishing activity to an international investigative team, coordinated by local authorities under the direction of a Criminal Intelligence Officer from international policing organisation, Interpol.

The Sam Simon also used the time in port to gather fresh supplies for the Bob Barker.

Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said,We have travelled over 15,000 nautical miles through the course of Operation Icefish, starting in the South Pacific and meeting today with the Bob Barker in the South Atlantic. The rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in pursuit of the Thunder, first by the Bob Barker and then by the Sam Simon, is nothing short of legendary. The crew of the Bob Barker have been at sea for 111 days today and we are delighted to be by their side and it fills our hearts with joy and respect for these brave ocean warriors.

The Thunder is the most notorious of the six remaining toothfish poaching vessels – which Sea Shepehrd calls the “Bandit 6” - that are known to engage in Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing for toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

The vessel has a long history of fishing violation and in December 2013 was issued with an Interpol purple notice for suspected illegal fishing activity, following a joint effort by New Zealand, Australian and Norwegian authorities.

The Thunder was the first of three “Bandit 6” poaching vessels that have been intercepted by Sea Shepherd during Operation Icefish. On February 2 this year, the Sam Simon intercepted the Kunlun and the Yongding in Australian waters west of the Ross Sea. The Sea Shepherd ship then engaged in a pursuit of the Kunlun, chasing the poaching vessel out of its hunting grounds in the Southern Ocean.

The Kunlun is currently in detention in Thailand, following a coordinated effort between Interpol and Thai, Australian and New Zealand authorities.

Operation Icefish is Sea Shepherd's 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign and its first to target IUU fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica.

Sam Simon Resupplies Bob Barker for On-Going Pursuit of Poaching Vessel, Thunder


The deck crew of the pirate poaching vessel 'Thunder', believed to be trafficked persons under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Photo: Simon Ager / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

27 March 2015 (SSCS) – In a radio communication to the Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Sam Simon, the Captain of the Interpol-wanted poaching vessel, Thunder, has reported that one of the deck crew, said to be Indonesian, has attempted suicide.

The report comes in the wake of the news that the Thunder has been de-registered by its flag state, Nigeria, for violations of its registry conditions; an action that means that the Thunder is now officially a stateless, pirate-vessel as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In the follow-up to the attempted suicide attempt, the Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, launched a small boat and attempted to deliver notes in plastic bottles to the Thunder's Indonesian deck crew. The notes stated that the Sea Shepherd ships are willing and equipped to take on board not only the injured crewmember, but the entire deck crew of Thunder.

The notes were intercepted by the officers on the Thunder, who are believed to be of Spanish descent, and thrown overboard.

The Captain of the Thunder then radioed the Bob Barker and stated that the Indonesian crew did not want further communication with the Sea Shepherd ships. Another man, said to be the “Indonesian deck boss”, then read a prepared statement in Spanish, stating that the "captain is a good person" and that they did not want Sea Shepherd to deliver any more messages.

An Indonesian speaker on board the Sam Simon then radioed the Thunder in Bahasa, the local Indonesian language, to verify the contents of the prepared Spanish statement. The Thunder’s Captain responded, saying the deck boss had "gone to bed" and that Sea Shepherd would not be able to speak to him again.

Despite requests for further information, the Captain of the Thunder would not provide the name of the Indonesian deck boss, or the name of the crewing agency responsible for hiring the deck crew. He also stated that the poaching vessel was equipped to remain at sea for another nine months.

Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, responded, repeating Sea Shepherd's offer to take the on board the deck crew of Thunder. The Captain of the Thunder refused the offer.

Captain Hammarstedt, said, “I firmly believe that the Indonesian crew of the Thunder are trafficked persons under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, specifically the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (General Assembly Resolution 55/25) and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (General Assembly Resolution 55/25). I also believe that they are being held against their will and know that they are not allowed to communicate freely - this on board a vessel suspected of numerous fisheries crimes and one that has exhibited violent behaviour toward my crew. The attempted suicide on board the Thunder, and the Captain's apparent intention to stay at sea, gives me strong reason to worry about injury and death on board that vessel in the absence of government intervention.”

In light of these latest developments, Sea Shepherd has called upon support from the world's navies to intervene and apprehend the Thunder immediately.

Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said, “Article 99 of the UNCLOS states that, 'Every State shall take effective measures to prevent and punish the transport of slaves in ships authorized to fly its flag and to prevent the unlawful use of its flag for that purpose.' Further, Article 110 of UNCLOS empowers naval ships to board a vessel encountered on the high seas if there is 'reasonable ground for suspecting' that the vessel is 'without nationality' or is 'engaged in slave trade.' The Thunder is now both without nationality and in all reasonable assessment, must be considered to be engaged in slave trade. In the name of human decency, in accordance with international law, responsible governments must immediately send naval vessels to intervene and shut down this floating prison.”

The Bob Barker has been engaged in a continuous pursuit of the Thunder for 100 days since it was first intercepted on 17 December 2014, on the Banzare Bank, Antarctica.

The poaching vessel is the most notorious of six remaining IUU vessels – which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6” - that are known to target vulnerable toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

The vessels are the target of Sea Shepherd's 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, Operation Icefish. The campaign, which commenced in December last year, is Sea Shepherd's longest, continuous at-sea campaign to date.

Attempted Suicide On Board Poaching Vessel Thunder As Nigeria Strips Registry

Soil is a non-renewable resource. Its preservation is essential for food security and our sustainable future. Graphic: FAO

By George Monbiot
25 March 2015

(The Guardian) – Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”.

To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.

The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.

Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers. [more]

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it


ABSTRACT: Global demand for food is increasing in terms of the quantity, quality and reliability of supplies. Currently, over 90 % of our food is grown on (or in) a virtually irreplaceable, non-renewable natural resource – the soil. This paper examines the latest research on selected soil degradation processes (soil erosion by water, compaction, loss of organic matter, loss of soil biodiversity and soil contamination) and specifically how they impact on food production. Every year, an estimated 12 million hectares of agricultural land are lost to soil degradation, adding to the billions of hectares that are already degraded. It is estimated that soil degradation leads to a potential loss of 20 million tonnes of grain per annum, but this is likely to be an underestimate, because the evidence base is limited in identifying direct impacts of soil degradation on food production. Some soil management practices have been used to mask the effects of soil degradation on food production (e.g., additions of chemical fertilisers), but comprehensive soil conservation practices are required to respond to the multiple problems of soil degradation if the world is to be able to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050.

Input constraints to food production: the impact of soil degradation

 

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