Chess centre in Kampala slum prepares children to make their next move
Phiona Mutesi, the chess champion whose story is told in a new Hollywood film, honed her skills at an academy offering vital support to young Ugandans
Alon Mwesigwa in Kampala
Thursday 29 September 2016 12.04 BST
Sisters Stellah Babirye and Joan Nakimuli sit either side of a chessboard on a wooden bench at their home in Katwe, one of the largest slums in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
Babirye, 16, wants to be a politician; Nakimuli, 18, a lawyer. They gaze at the chessboard intently. Nakimuli moves her king – but it’s a wrong move. Babirye captures her sister’s piece and both burst into laughter. “I told you a politician is a bigger than a lawyer,” Babirye says.
The sisters learned to play chess at Katwe chess academy, one of five centres around Kampala that teach the game to young people.
Uganda’s thriving chess scene is the focus of a new Disney film about Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the slums who went on to become perhaps the country’s top female chess player, nicknamed the Queen of Katwe. The film opens in the US this month and in Uganda in October.
Mutesi learned and played her first game at the Katwe chess academy, having wandered into the centre at the age of nine, following her brother in search of a meal. She was fascinated by the beauty of the chess pieces, and by the concentration on the children’s faces as they played. That initial encounter led her to become entranced with the game, and she went on to become the women’s junior champion of Uganda three times. In 2012, at the 40th chess Olympiad, Mutesi was named Woman Candidate Master, one of the country’s first female players to win such a title.
With money earned from championships, Mutesi has moved her family out of the slums and into a new home, leaving behind the unmarked two-roomed building on a dirt road where she learned her skills.
At the academy, the chessboards are balanced on wobbly wooden benches and everyone observes the unwritten rule that if someone loses a game, they give way to another player. The centre is supported by a US-based charity, Sports Outreach Ministry. Most of the children who play chess at its centres are unable to pay for their education, so the organisation sends them to formal schools.
Robert Katende, the academy’s founder, says it gives young people the chance of a new life. Unesco estimates that 68% of children in Uganda drop out of school before the end of their primary education; the academy’s focus is on keeping young people in education and away from early marriage.
Katende, an engineer by training, played chess as a student, and thought that it would be a great way to keep young people engaged. He found a place in Katwe where the children could meet daily to play, and started up the academy. It began with five children, but the number has since swelled to more than 300. Aged between five and 23, the chess players gather daily across five separate slum locations around the capital.
The academy opens in the afternoon and any young person can drop in for a game. Katende hires experienced chess players to teach, alongside older boys and girls from the academy who also provide coaching.
Chess helps young people to focus on decision-making, says Katende. “A bad move in chess means you will lose. That is the same with life. You must think through your options before you make a move. Chess stimulates the mind; we have kids who are very good at mathematics and it may be because of chess.”
Many schools across Uganda are embracing the game, he says. “I organised seminars last year to find certified instructors.”
A bad move in chess means you will lose. That is the same in life and you must think through your options before a move
Robert Katende, Karwe chess academy
Children at the academy are taught to be humble, respect others and work hard, says Katende, adding that the children are expected to attend church on Sundays because it “does a lot to impart [good] social morals among the children”.
For many children, chess has become a means of survival. At least 61 students – in primary and secondary education as well as at university – are receiving support from the academy in the form of tuition, books and other school needs. The academy also provides lunch for those who come to play and a place to sleep for those with nowhere to live. Their lot contrasts markedly with that of other children in the slum, many of whom see education as a luxury and drop out of primary school.
“Chess is like a connection,” says Mutesi’s brother, Brian Mugabi, who is in the final year of a diploma in electrical engineering. “You play, get tuition and food. Once you have completed school, the world is open for you.
“I lived in a house where whenever it rained, water would flood our house. At chess, we sleep in the house where water does not flood our bed.”
Richard Kato, 17, has been playing chess for nine years now. “At first, we were playing soccer, but those who played chess got food as well, they were disciplined and went to school. I started playing; now I go to school.”
Together with their mother, Babirye and Nakimuli are among those who sleep at the academy, which also pays their tuition and helps with other education costs. Babirye is now in the second year of a nearby secondary school, while Nakimuli is in the year above.
Both realise they are lucky. About 10 years ago, they watched their older sister’s dreams fade away when she was married off at 15. Roughly 46% of girls marry (pdf) before the legal age of 18 in Uganda.
“Children of my age have two children or more,” says Nakimuli. “I look forward to building a house for my mother when I finish school,” she says.
To children playing chess in Kampala slums, Mutesi’s success is a source of motivation to keep their dreams alive. “She is inspirational,” says Babirye. “I too can make it.”
Babirye and Nakimuli can now dare to dream. With an education, the possibility of becoming a lawyer or a politician could be within their grasp.
Chess queen of Africa
The remarkable story of Phiona Mutesi, the chess prodigy from one of Kampala’s poorest slums who has inspired a major new Hollywood movie
Sunday 28 August 2016 07.05 BST
I first met Phiona Mutesi in September 2010 sitting on the mud stoop of her family’s shack in one of the most challenging places on earth: Uganda’s Katwe slum. I had been told about Phiona; how at the age of nine she could neither read nor write and had dropped out of school, when she met a Ugandan missionary, Robert Katende, who offered to teach her the game of chess – a sport so foreign in Uganda that there is no word for it in Phiona’s native language – and how in just four years she had become an international chess champion. On that autumn day, Phiona’s mother Harriet looked as defeated as any person I’ve known. She had been forced to relocate Phiona and her two brothers five times in the previous four years, once because they’d been robbed of all their meagre possessions and another time because Harriet feared their house was about to collapse.
Phiona’s latest home consisted of one 10ft x 10ft room with no windows and a tin roof so dilapidated that every rainstorm flooded the shack. The house contained little more than a wash pot, a tiny charcoal stove, a teapot, a worn toothbrush, a cracked mirror, a Bible and two musty mattresses for the entire family to sleep on.
Katwe (pronounced kah-tway), in the south of Uganda’s sprawling, smoggy capital city of Kampala, emerged in the mid-20th century as a place for poor artisans, but developed into the city’s most crime-ridden slum. It has scant sanitation and during the rainy season is regularly flooded with raw sewage, with residents sleeping on their roofs to avoid drowning. If you are born in Katwe, the chances are you will die in Katwe. It’s estimated that 40% of teenage women in Katwe have children. “I call it a poverty chain,” Katende told me. “The single mother cannot sustain the home. Her children go to the street and have more kids and they don’t have the capacity to care for those kids. It is a cycle of misery that is almost impossible to break.”
During our initial meeting, Phiona didn’t speak comfortably because she had never been encouraged to share her thoughts. She began by telling me she had no idea when she was born because birthdays aren’t something people keep track of in Katwe. (Harriet guesses her daughter was born in 1996.) I asked her about her earliest memory. “I remember I went to my dad’s village when I was about three years old to see him when he was very sick, and a week later he died of Aids,” she said. “After the funeral we stayed in the village for a few weeks and one morning when I woke up my older sister Julia told me she was feeling a headache. We got some local herbs and gave them to her and then she went to sleep. The following morning we found her dead in her bed. That’s what I remember.”
When I first saw chess, I thought, ‘What could make all these kids so silent?’
Harriet recalls that when Phiona was a child she nearly died twice of illnesses that were never diagnosed, but probably related to malaria. Phiona dropped out of school shortly after her father died and she began selling boiled maize from a saucepan on her head. One afternoon in 2005 she secretly followed her older brother Brian in the hope that he might lead her towards a meal. She hid and watched him enter a dusty veranda to play with some black and white pieces. The young girl had never seen anything like these figures. She thought they were beautiful. “When I first saw chess, I thought, ‘What could make all these kids so silent?’” Phiona said. “Then I watched them play the game and get happy and excited, and I wanted a chance to be that happy.”
She dared to peek into the veranda again, fascinated by this new game and also curious if there might be any food inside. This time Katende spotted her. “Young girl,” said the coach. “Come in. Don’t be afraid.”
Robert Katende also has no idea when he was born, only that he was an illegitimate child whose mother gave birth to him when she was a secondary-school student. He was transferred to his grandmother’s care, and it wasn’t until Katende was four years old and reunited with his mother in Kampala’s Nakulabye slum that he learned his name was Robert. His mother died when he was around eight and he embarked on an odyssey of despair. Because of civil war in Uganda, he lived much of his childhood on the run, scrounging for food and sleeping hidden in the bush. He would become another slum kid sustained by sport.
Katende had grown up playing football barefoot and by the time he reached secondary school he displayed such wondrous talent as a striker that he took requests from friends to score goals. One day he leapt for a header, crashed into the opposing goalkeeper and the resulting fall nearly killed him.
Though doctors told him he would never play football again, he was back juggling a ball within months and eventually joined a Christian football club that ministered to youth in the slums. Katende had found his calling.
He was assigned to Katwe and for a year he brought football and a little food to the children of the slum, until he realised some of the children had no desire to play football. He tried to figure out an alternative activity and eventually settled on chess, a game he’d learned to play as a student. “I had my doubts about chess in Katwe,” Katende said. “With their status and their background, I wondered, ‘Can these kids really play this game?’”
What gave Katende hope was that chess is a test of survival through aggression, an idea with which every slum kid could identify. Katende’s Katwe chess project began with just six students, who would become known as the Pioneers.
Chess is a lot like my life. If you make smart moves you can stay away from danger
Soon, Phiona’s brother Brian joined them and a year later a barefoot girl in a muddy skirt peeked into the veranda and caught Katende’s eye. Phiona’s first chess tutor was Gloria, a four-year-old girl who knew little more than the names of the pieces and how they moved. Within a year of learning the game, mostly through trial and error, it became evident that Phiona had a special gift for the sport. “Chess is a lot like my life,” she said. “If you make smart moves you can stay away from danger, but any bad decision could be your last.”
Every day Phiona walked six kilometres to play chess. During her earliest games, she played recklessly, sacrificing critical pieces in an attempt to defeat her opponents as quickly as she could. Said Phiona: “I must have lost my first 50 matches before Coach Robert persuaded me to play with calm and patience.”
Katende began teaching her everything he knew about the strategy of the game and by the age of 11 Phiona was Uganda’s junior girls champion. Her confidence rose. “Her personality with the outside world is still quite reserved because she feels inferior due to her background,” Katende said. “But in chess I am always reminding her that anyone can lift a piece because it is so light. What separates you is where you choose to put it down. Chess is the one thing in Phiona’s life she can control. Chess is her one chance to feel superior.”
In 2009, Phiona and two boys from Katende’s Katwe chess project represented Uganda in Africa’s International Children’s Chess Tournament in Sudan. It was one of the first times Phiona had ever left Katwe. It was also her first flight and when her plane ascended through a cloud bank into the sun and blue sky, Phiona turned to the Ugandan chess official seated beside her and asked, “Is this heaven?”
In Sudan, Phiona enjoyed her first stay in a hotel. It was the first time she had slept in her own bed and used a flush toilet and ordered a meal from a menu, an odd notion for someone who had never before been granted a choice of what to eat. “I could never have imagined this world I was visiting,” Phiona said. “I felt like a queen.”
The Ugandan trio of slum kids, by far the youngest competitors in the tournament, defeated far more experienced teams from 16 other African nations to win the championship. When they returned to Katwe, they were greeted as conquering heroes. They discussed who might keep the trophy and concluded that none of them could because it would certainly be stolen.
They also fielded some odd questions: did you stay indoors or in the bush? Why did you come back here? As Phiona left the celebration that evening, someone excitedly asked her, “What is the first thing you’re going to say to your mother?”
“I need to ask her,” Phiona said, “‘Do we have enough food for breakfast?’”
After a few days of getting to know her in September 2010, I flew to Russia with Phiona and Robert for the Chess Olympiad, the world’s most elite team chess event, being staged that year in Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia. Once again this proved to be a learning experience. Phiona turned on the water for her first ever shower and quickly jumped out. She asked her roommate why anybody would want to use such a thing and then she was informed that there was a handle for hot water as well. One of the youngest players at the tournament, Phiona earned a win and a draw for the Ugandan team in her seven matches.
But Katende’s enduring memory was after Phiona’s third match when she was soundly defeated by an Egyptian grandmaster and she promptly marched over to her mentor and told him, “Coach, I will be a grandmaster some day.”
“That will take a lot of work and perseverance,” Katende told her. Phiona savoured the meals at her hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet and left Russia stating that returning to Katwe felt like going to jail. It was a trip both triumphant and sobering.
Two years later, Phiona performed well enough in the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul to become Uganda’s first woman ever to earn a chess title, Woman Candidate Master, the first step on the ladder toward grandmaster. Then she made her first trip to the United States to help promote our book, The Queen of Katwe.
It was during that visit that I first recognised Phiona’s power to inspire. She came to my son’s third grade classroom and a bunch of restless nine-year-olds fell silent as she shared her story. Only two of the 20 students in the class knew how to play chess, so Phiona sat down at one of the tiny school desks and began patiently teaching the game the way Gloria had once taught her. The next day the students begged to play chess again. The following year the entire third grade competed in chess and the year after that more than 200 kids in four grade levels were all part of what had become known around school as the Phiona Mutesi Chess Club.
Phiona’s story is inspiring young girls like me all over Uganda
I travelled back to Uganda in July and was greeted at the airport by Madina Nalwanga, the teenager who plays Phiona in the upcoming Disney movie, Queen of Katwe. Nalwanga is another child of the Kampala slums. “Phiona’s story is inspiring young girls like me all over Uganda,” Nalwanga told me. “We now believe that we too can reach big dreams.”
A few days later, I had lunch with the real Phiona. She is now 20 years old and it is remarkable how much she has matured in the six years since I first met her on the stoop of that one-room shack in Katwe. She is still unfailingly humble, unaffected by the publicity swirling around her as the film prepares to premiere in cinemas around the world this autumn. Phiona is a confident young woman, who speaks English fluently. She is in the final year of secondary school at a boarding school in Katwe. She spends holidays at her mother’s newly constructed house in a lush valley several kilometres outside Kampala. Phiona and her family are finally financially secure based on earnings from the book and movie contracts. She told me she is considering going to Harvard university next autumn.
Phiona still dreams of becoming a grandmaster in chess, though she has hit a ceiling in Uganda because there is no coach qualified to train her to a higher level, a barrier that could be erased if she decides to study in the United States.
I asked Phiona if she’d seen the movie. “No, I haven’t watched it yet,” she told me, flashing her charming gap-toothed grin. “I already know the story.”
It’s true that The Queen of Katwe – book and movie – may be complete, but the Queen of Katwe’s story is really just beginning and it will be fascinating to watch her next move.
The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers is published by Abacus, £8.99. The film is released at the end of September
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:59 AM
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on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:49 AM
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Mystery Zika case in Utah may have been spread via tears or sweat
Experts examine whether virus can be passed on in sweat or tears after man appears to catch Zika at father’s bedside
Sarah Boseley Health editor
Thursday 29 September 2016 12.37 BST
Experts are investigating the possibility that the Zika virus can be passed on in sweat or tears, after the infection of a 38-year-old man in the US who appears to have caught the virus at his father’s hospital bedside.
Up to now it was thought that Zika was only transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes and, in rare instances, from pregnant women to their foetuses and in semen.
But a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine recounts the case of a 38-year-old man in Utah that appears to challenge that assumption. It also raises new questions about the deadliness of the virus. The man’s 73-year-old father died though he was relatively fit and healthy.
The deceased man was a US national who had emigrated from Mexico in 2003. Eight days after returning from a three-week holiday on the south coast of Mexico, he was admitted to hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, with abdominal pain and low blood pressure. During his trip, he said he had been bitten by mosquitoes.
Doctors suspected dengue virus, but tests eventually revealed high levels of Zika virus in his blood. The man suffered organ failure and died.
Five days later, his 38 year-old son reported a fever, conjunctivitis and rash. Zika virus was identified in his urine but not his blood.
The son recovered, but his infection is a mystery. There have been no reports of Aedes aegyptae mosquitoes carrying Zika in Utah and the son had not been to Mexico with his father or to anywhere else where the virus is endemic, or had sex with anyone who had.
The son had been at the bedside of his sick father and had helped a nurse move his father in the bed, while not wearing gloves. He had also wiped his father’s eyes – again without gloves. But he had not come into contact with his father’s blood. None of the nurses looking after the father became ill.
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Doctors believe the son must have picked up the infection from his father. The older man had a very high level of virus in his body. “Infectious levels of virus may have been present in sweat or tears, both of which Patient 2 [the son] contacted without gloves,” say the authors of the paper, Dr Sankar Swaminathan and colleagues from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.
“Whether contact with highly infectious body fluids from patients with severe Zika virus infection poses an increased risk of transmission is an important question that requires further research.”
The other mystery is why the father died. He was not frail, did not have underlying medical conditions that might compromise his ability to fight off the virus, and he did not smoke or drink. However, he had recently completed a course of radiotherapy following prostate cancer. Doctors speculate the virus may have been able to reproduce at a faster rate in radiation-damaged tissues.
Both men had previously been infected with dengue fever and recovered. The authors of the paper say the case suggests more people may be at risk of sudden-onset zika infection than previously assumed – and that people who are not frail or with a compromised immune system may still be at risk of dying from it.
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:46 AM
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The Queen, aristocrats and Saudi prince among recipients of EU farm subsidies
At least one in five of the top 100 UK recipients of CAP subsidies were for farms owned or run by aristocratic families, say Greenpeace
Thursday 29 September 2016 11.35 BST
Wealthy aristocrats and a Saudi landowning prince are continuing to reap hundreds of thousands of pounds from the European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP).
At least one in five of the top 100 recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK last year were farm businesses owned or controlled by members of aristocratic families, an investigation by environmental campaign group Greenpeace found.
They include the Queen, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Northumberland, Sir Richard Sutton, the Earl of Moray, Baron Phillimore and family, and the Earl of Plymouth.
Household goods billionaire Sir James Dyson, who campaigned for Brexit, is also in the top 100.
Greenpeace analysed the top recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK for the first time.
Some 16 of the top 100 are owned or controlled by individuals or families who feature on the 2016 Sunday Times rich list, receiving a total of £10.6m last year in “single payment scheme” subsidies alone, and £13.4m in total farm subsidies, Greenpeace said.
Aberdeenshire farmer Frank Smart topped the list, receiving nearly £3m in grants for his Banchory business, Frank A Smart & Son Ltd.
The farmer has been subject to complaints that he has been “slipper farming” - a technique in which farmers buy up land principally for the grants attached to it. While not illegal, the practice has been heavily criticised.
Also on the list were organisations such as the National Trust, which Greenpeace said had used their subsidies for important conservation work like managing habitats.
The government has promised to maintain CAP subsidies post-Brexit until 2020 while a domestic system is put in place.
Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud, who owns champion racehorse Frankel, has reportedly described his farming interest as a hobby. Juddmonte Farms, which he owns through an offshore holding company in Guernsey, received £406,826 in farm subsidies last year, of which £378,856 came from the single payment scheme.
The two large estates owned by Sir James under Beeswax Farming (Rainbow) Ltd received almost £1.5m. The billionaire rubbished claims that British international trade would suffer outside the EU as he backed the campaign to leave Europe.
Hannah Martin, of Greenpeace UK’s Brexit response team, said: “It is untenable for the government to justify keeping a farming policy which allows a billionaire to breed racehorses on land subsidised by taxpayers. It’s clear that there cannot be a business-as-usual approach to farm subsidies after we leave the EU.
“Some of the recipients of these subsidies are doing great work which benefits our environment - but others are not - and it makes no sense that the CAP’s largest subsidy payments don’t distinguish between the two.”
Christopher Price, from the Country Land Association, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “He is not getting it because he’s a racehorse owner, he’s getting it because he’s a farmer and all developed countries support farming in one way or another.”
But he agreed that Britain’s departure from the EU could create an opportunity to reform the system, for which there was “certainly” a need.
Sandringham Farms, the estate owned by the Queen, received £557,707, while Grosvenor Farms Limited, which farms the Duke of Westminster’s estate, raked in £437,434. The billionaire landowner died in August and left his fortune to his 25-year-old son.
Percy Farms, described by Greenpeace as the “in-hand farming operation” of the Duke of Northumberland, was given £475,031. The National Trust, Natural England and the RSPB were all in the top 20.
The top 100 received £87.9m in agricultural subsidies last year, of which £61.2m came from the single payment scheme, where the size of the land owned largely determines the grant amount.
Greenpeace said this was more than what was paid to the bottom 55,119 recipients in the single payment scheme combined.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “The secretary of state has underlined the need for continuity for farmers and together with her ministerial team is looking forward to working with industry, rural communities and the wider public to shape our plans for food, farming and the environment outside the EU.”
Conservative ministers Lord Gardiner and Eurosceptic George Eustice, who work in Defra, also receive subsidies. The department said the pair had declared any potential conflicts of interest, complied with the ministerial code and were cleared to discuss the future of the grants post-Brexit.
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:44 AM
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Shoppers in England now far more likely to use their own bags
Study finds a rise in the number of people carrying their own bags since the introduction of a 5p charge on plastic bags nearly a year ago
Thursday 29 September 2016 06.01 BST
Shoppers in England have become much more likely to take their own bags to the high street since the introduction of a plastic bag charge nearly a year ago, a study has found.
More than nine in 10 people now often or always carry their own bags, up from seven in 10 before the 5p charge came into effect, and the public became much more supportive after it started. The number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and big retailers in England has fallen by 85%.
The authors of the Cardiff University study said that the charge’s success suggested a charge on takeway coffee cups, an idea backed by campaigner and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and former environment minister George Eustice, could be successfully brought in too.
Support for the England bag charge went from five in 10 people to six in 10 after the 5p fee came into effect, and the number of shoppers sceptical that the charge would go to charity dropped significantly after its introduction. The charge had raised £29m for good causes by July.
“One thing that stood out to me was the effects were universal, there weren’t age, gender or income effects,” said lead author Prof Wouter Poortinga. “Everyone changed their behaviour and everyone increased their support for the charge. I think that is important.”
The research also revealed that the charge gave people in England an increased environmental awareness, and greater willingness to accept other waste policies too, such as a 5p charge on plastic bottles.
But Poortinga conceded that while the bag scheme’s success showed a coffee cup charge could work, that shift would likely be trickier. “It’s not exactly the same. It’s easier to adapt to a bag charge by bringing your own bag than by bringing your own cup. You have to find ways around the hassle factor,” he said.
The government has ruled out a coffee cup “tax”, though pressure for an end to to the throwaway culture continued on Thursday with the launch of a ‘cupifesto’ by 140 environmental and social NGOs who said takeaway cups harm forests.
While single-use bag use has plummeted in England – as in Wales and Scotland who brought in charges earlier – the study found some evidence that people were building up bag for life mountains at home.
“We asked people to estimate how many bags for life they have at home: in England it went from 6.5 to nine [after the charge]. In Wales it’s around 11. People are buying more bags for life than they really need. It seems it is accumulating a little bit,” said Poortinga.
The study suggests the government should do away with the exemptions in the England scheme, which excludes small retailers. The study’s survey found a majority of participants backed a blanket charge across England, Scotland and Wales, which Poortinga said would be much more straightforward.
The research involved a nationally representative survey with Ipsos Mori of people before, just after and six months after the England charge, as well as diaries and interviews, and observations of shoppers at four supermarkets.
Respondents in their diaries said they found the scheme easy to adapt to, despite predictions of “chaos” from some newspapers on its introduction.
“It [the bag charge] makes people think about what they’re doing, and stops them from being lazy. It makes people think ahead and plan, and not just take things for granted,” wrote one woman in England shortly after the charge. Another said: “I really think that along with carrier bags, the issue of other plastic going to waste should be looked at.”
A spokesman for the environment department said: “These latest figures show that this great progress is the result of a real change in our behaviour - many more of us now stop, think and take a bag with us before heading out to the shops.”
Efforts to cut plastic waste received another boost on Wednesday, when Lidl said it would remove single-use plastic bags from all its stores across England, Scotland and Wales by the start of July next year. The supermarket said it was making the move because of its commitment to “reduce unnecessary plastic waste” and estimated the change would save 63m bags annually.
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:42 AM
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The rise and fall of fracking in Europe
After years of early hype, shale gas companies appear to have lost hope of an energy revolution in most countries in Europe
Thursday 29 September 2016 07.00 BST
This week in the UK, the Labour party announced plans to ban fracking in the UK if elected. Although heavily criticised by one of its biggest union donors, it marks a further shift in attitudes against shale gas in Europe.
When the EU’s trade commissioner met Exxon representatives behind closed doors in 2013, his message to the oil men was unambiguous: the US shale revolution is a paradigm shift.
Fracking was seen as a “game changer” for Europe, raising hopes of energy independence through a relatively cheap fossil fuel, with a reduced climate impact.
In 2011, Poland’s then-president Donald Tusk had already pledged to begin commercial fracking in 2014, after geological surveys estimated the country could possess up to 768bn cubic metres of shale reserves.
Hillary Clinton’s US state department was highly supportive. Senior officials described Poland as “a laboratory for testing whether US success in developing shale gas can be repeated in a different country, with different shales and a different regulatory environment.”
Tensions were rising in Ukraine. Energy security and competitiveness were eclipsing the climate as policy-making priorities and no EU energy event in Brussels was complete without a business lobbyist to make the case for shale gas. Private lobby pitches were equally high-powered.
In 2013, an unnamed BP executive warned the EU’s energy commissioner Günther Oettinger that low post-shale US gas prices had damaged the continent’s competitiveness. “Europe needs to exploit indigenous exploration and production resources ... including Mediterranean exploration and shale,” the official said in a letter seen by the Guardian.
Fracking talk was so ubiquitous that EU civil servants made an ill-advised April fools TV news bulletin about shale gas being discovered beneath the commission’s Brussels HQ.
Three years later, with even the International Gas Union ruling out a shale revolution in Europe, the discourse of that time has a tipsy feel to it.
France, Germany and Scotland have all banned fracking. The troupe of oil giants that marched to Poland – Exxon, Chevron and Marathon among them – have all marched back empty handed. In Denmark too.
Shale gas ban 'would cement decline of UK manufacturing'
In Romania, Hillary Clinton’s attempts to kickstart a shale gas market for US companies ended in mass protests and Chevron’s departure. In Bulgaria, the US trade mission ended in a fracking ban.
Even the shale gas lobby, which benefited from generous hype as the decade began, has been reduced to gently reminding policy-makers that “shale gas has not gone away”.
On the continent the pro-shale gas case is on the back foot, but environmentalists and industry draw different conclusions from its decline.
Alessandro Torello, a spokesman for the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers, said: “Europe will not experience a US-style revolution, but the potential remains significant and worth looking at. While it is true that at the moment it is difficult to make an economic case for shale in Europe, this is a long-term industry.”
For Friends of the Earth Europe, Antoine Simon countered: “The failure, so far, of shale gas development in Europe is mostly due to a failure by the fossil fuels industry to understand the differing context here. We have a higher population density, a population not used to living in close proximity of gas production fields and higher environmental standards.”
With the possible exception of Spain, the UK is now the last repository of hope for those keen to establish a shale gas industry on this side of the Atlantic.
The UK’s most high-profile shale gas developer Cuadrilla, for example, has found a ready audience in Whitehall for its position that shale gas can be a bridging fuel to a low-carbon future - with benefits for local communities, rather than a fossil fuel lock-in, carrying high risks to human health and the environment.
Fracking could lead to higher emissions
In 2012, the Economist fanned the shale debate with a widely cited ‘fracking great’ report about an International Energy Agency study. The article omitted to mention the study’s warning that a shale boom would raise global temperatures by an “unacceptable” 3.5C.
When burnt, shale gas produces slightly less CO2 than natural gas, which itself emits half as much as coal. But the picture is less clear when it includes methane emissions, which are 56 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period, and could trigger feedback loops of global warming.
Professor Bob Howarth of Cornell University, a fracking critic, said that a spike in methane measurements from 2007 measured by Nasa satellite data corresponds with the beginning of the US shale boom.
Even so, the EU decided to classify shale gas as a low-carbon energy source and to shower it with public subsidies. This was in part due to an influential report - later the subject of a complaint (pdf) - in 2013 by the former chair of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory board, Dr David Allen.
Allen and his researchers were given access to 190 shale production sites, owned by major players such as Exxon, Chevron and Shell, and found that methane leaks were much lower than previously thought. The EU later dropped plans for binding regulation on methane emissions from shale gas, instead proposing a risk assessment.
While oil and gas prices remain low, the economics of shale gas recovery are unlikely to tempt investors into the European market.
But in the context of the Paris agreement, the risk of buying into a surge in atmospheric methane emissions – or a portfolio of stranded assets – is likely to weigh heavily on the industry’s prospects, outside the UK at least, for some time to come.
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:40 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
In India, SELCO brings solar power to the people
SELCO founder Harish Hande set out to dispel the myths that poor people can't afford or maintain solar technologies.
By Erin Butler, Global Envision 9/28/2016
In India, one iconoclastic solar company employs deep knowledge of the ways communities use energy to overthrow the traditional means of bringing power to the people.
Now, coming off a September meeting with President Barack Obama, Bangalore, India, -based SELCO is stepping into the light of international attention. As a UN report (PDF) from last year shows, it's been a difficult journey—and one with lots of lessons for other social enterprises.
Since 1994, SELCO has transitioned from a simple solar-light provider to an energy-solution company seeking to correct the failings of the Indian energy market and provide affordable energy to the poor.
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Founder Harish Hande, a University of Massachusetts Ph.D who'd become enthusiastic about rural solar energy during field work in the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka, says he set out to dispel three myths when he launched the company from an office in his aunt's home:
1) Poor people cannot afford sustainable technologies;
2) Poor people cannot maintain sustainable technologies;
3) Social ventures cannot be run as commercial entities.
The Indian energy market has largely failed the rural poor, explains the UN report, because “most of India’s rural population does not have access to electricity. Instead, they are dependent on highly polluting and inefficient sources of energy such as kerosene or forest wood.” India’s massive blackouts this summer reveal major problems even for the people connected to the central power grid. Solar options have been present, but no banks were willing to make loans for the high start-up costs of solar energy. Furthermore, rural inhabitants had formed a negative perception of solar power based on government-installed solar street lights that were not maintained and would stop functioning after a few months.
SELCO acted to correct these breakdowns with a business model built on products and services people needed. In the mid 1990s, Hande began fixing some of the pre-existing solar street lights and training locals on how to maintain the technology themselves. Fast-forward a few years: these now-experienced technicians were snapped up by SELCO as employees.
At SELCO’s inception, Hande insisted that the company be a commercial enterprise rather than dependent on grants, which could run out or be unreliable. He felt that the poor would “be willing to pay for technology if they found it useful.”
Drawing on various equity investments and early loans from Tata BP Solar and USAID, through SELCO’s US-based non-profit partner Winrock International, Hande was able to set up three rural service centers, “which were essential for creating a sustainable rural delivery model.” By relying on the local, experienced solar technicians from its service centers, SELCO was able to provide reliable solar power to even the remotest of customers. The technician customizes SELCO’s products and services based on his local knowledge of the customer.
The UN report describes a hypothetical customer:
"His need is for a minimum of four lights, one each for the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and cowshed. However, a deeper understanding of his lifestyle might reveal that while he needs these four rooms to be lighted, the rooms need not be lighted simultaneously."
A smart SELCO salesperson would install technology for four lights but only sell the customer two actual lamps.
The solar technicians literally sat with midwives during nighttime births and calculated budgets with street vendors to determine the ways each used electricity and when it was needed most. Hande explains:
"Today, when we design a solution for a midwife, a vegetable vendor, or a mason, we begin with the precept that the solution must pay for itself. It should be financed from the additional income that it generates. There is a big difference between creating a want and selling a product, and identifying a need and designing a solution to fulfill it. We always want to focus on the need."
SELCO's name for the individualized, one-day-at-a-time repayment plan for each client, based directly on the cash flow freed up by the solar lights, is "doorstep financing." It's a format the company believes deeply in, going so far as to organize field trips for loan-wielding bankers to show how valuable solar power is to its customers.
But even the best ideas can fail if the global market takes a turn in the wrong direction, as they did in 2005 when SELCO diversified its supplier base for cheaper products and Germany started subsidizing its solar market, causing global prices to plummet. On the edge of financial disaster, Hande stabilized company costs and reassessed its business model. SELCO eventually climbed into profitability by 2008 after a second round of funding from socially oriented investors such as International Finance Corporation, E+Co, and Good Energies and Lemelson Foundation.
What might have become a fatal crisis for SELCO turned out to be a useful course correction.
“In retrospect, Harish feels that those difficult days helped SELCO not only refine its business model but also to have a better set of investors whose philosophy is aligned to that of SELCO,” concludes the UN study.
SELCO had determined that its success depended on several key practices: reliance on a network of locally connected salespeople, all of them on staff; a strong, flexible relationship with a single reliable supplier, Tata BP; and, above all, an intimate knowledge of the electricity needs of its customers.
Strong relationships with philosophically aligned investors, suppliers, employees, and clients, coupled with an unwavering mission to its social objective, are key to SELCO’s success.
This approach is also the reason SELCO’s growth strategy is to replicate itself rather than to scale up the original business. Hande recognizes that for long-term growth, SELCO must continue to operate in the context and communities of the people it serves and understands best. A growth alternative—setting more and more aggressive sales targets in existing locations—might actually lead the company to turn away from the low-income buyers it aspires to serve.
Today, 90 percent of SELCO’s clients pay for their solar systems with credit. SELCO technicians work out of one of the company's 25 energy service centers, which employ 170 people in Karnataka and Gujarat. They have "sold solar lighting to more than 110,000 rural homes and to 4,000 institutions” and, with the help of the aforementioned social investors, aim to reach twice that number.
The UN study concludes with Hande explaining, “It is better if we now focus on building other SELCOs rather than trying to grow this SELCO.”
“Every staffer, including Hande, is an employee," notes Business Today. "The firm does not take out profits but reinvests in the business.”
The result has been a good idea that has led to other good ideas, like a small local startup that leases SELCO lights to street vendors who only need them part of the day. Today, SELCO's "innovation department and incubation laboratory," funded in partnership with the Self Employed Women's Association Bank, sets out to “explore and generate new ideas that can be developed into products and services to address needs of the poor.”
And the benefits of SELCO to its clients? Some cite “the significant savings in energy costs as their primary benefit ... the rest pointed to their children’s education.” The impact on pollution, meanwhile, “is yet to be quantified."
As Hande steps back from the company he founded 15 years ago to focus on other innovations for the poor, SELCO is doing about $3 million in business. Hande feels that could increase to $10 million in the coming years, but he believes that “fresh ideas, fresh legs” from the younger leaders are the ones to take SELCO forward.
Social Vigil explains that Hande hopes to “replicate the SELCO model across India” and create six centers of innovation for the poor by 2017. And as Business Today reports, he "wants to reach out to still poorer people, work with the poorest of the poor. He wants 20 percent of SELCO's turnover this year to come from families with a monthly income of Rs 3,000 [USD $55] or less."
The UN findings mark SELCO as a truly market-driven enterprise with sustainable, large-scale impact in rural Karnataka. The hundreds of millions of Indians who lack energy have every reason to hope that SELCO's many reinventions will continue.
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:37 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Small sources could yield an energy windfall
'Energy scavenging' draws on a wide array of untapped energy sources – radio waves, vibrations created by moving objects, waste heat from computers or car exhaust systems — to generate electricity.
By Cheryl Katz, Yale Environment 360 9/28/2016
Computers feasting on their own exhaust heat. Super-efficient solar panels snaring lost thermal energy and recycling it into electricity. Personal electronics powered by stray microwaves or vibration-capturing clothing. Cellphones charged with a user’s footsteps.
These and more innovations may be possible with free, green energy that is now going to waste.
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Ubiquitous sources like radio waves, vibration and pressure created by moving objects, heat radiating from machines, and even our bodies — all have the potential to produce usable electric power.
Until recently, ambient energy was largely squandered because of a lack of ways to efficiently exploit it. Now, advances in materials and engineering are providing tools to harvest this abundant resource and transform it into cheap, clean electricity.
"This power is simply available, and it’s not doing anything right now, so it’s truly being wasted," said Steven Cummer, a Duke University electrical and computer engineering professor working on harvesting ambient electromagnetic radiation to power electronic devices. "And as people think of useful things to do with it, then you’re doing those things with available power instead of requiring new power."
This up-and-coming technology, some experts say, can save energy, liberate portable electronics from the grid, and all but do away with disposable batteries. Although it won’t begin to replace solar and wind for generating utility-scale electricity, energy harvesting can serve as a multiplier for these and other sustainable resources, boosting productivity by feeding escaped power back into the system, expanding the range of sunlight that can be harnessed, and powering controls that keep equipment functioning at its peak.
If obstacles of size and efficiency are overcome, repurposed ambient power can be an important contribution to the renewable energy supply.
The concept isn’t new — in a sense all energy drawn from the environment is "harvested." Nor is there a standard definition for the emerging technology known as energy harvesting or energy scavenging, but it primarily involves collecting low-power electromagnetic, thermal, mechanical, or light energy and converting it to electric current.
Exploiting free, ambient energy is "an interesting idea, and you’re going to see more applications of it," said Jonathan Koomey, research fellow at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance. But the technology has a long way to go, he said. Constraints on space and the amount of energy that can be gleaned in many settings now limit its use to small, fairly low-power devices. "It’s not this magic bullet," Koomey said.
Still, in today’s power-hungry world, energy scavenging can help ensure that no watt goes to waste.
"Your computer, hot asphalt, there’s a million things that are fairly hot but not really viable for standard thermoelectrics," said Harry Radousky, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California and co-developer of a nanoscale harvester for low-temperature heat, such as exhaust from appliances. In contrast to high-temperature, waste-heat capture systems — in which sources like flue gas provide a steep heat gradient for thermoelectric generators — the small heat differences between low-temperature sources and their surroundings are much harder to convert into electricity. But new low-temperature thermal- harvesting technology could turn these overlooked resources into working power.
For instance, Radousky said, "we park our cars in hot parking lots all over the U.S. in the summer, so in principle we could charge batteries in electronic devices, [and] run coolers to keep food cold" with heat from the pavement. Other prospects for reaping low-temperature thermal power include light bulbs, hot ovens, and plastic seats inside cars baking in the sun. "My rule of thumb is that if it is too hot to touch, it’s a candidate source," he said. "So we were looking for things that could harvest that low quality of heat ... where a small amount of energy can get you a long way."
As energy harvesters become increasingly efficient and cost-effective, a growing number of products such as light switches, thermostats, gas detectors, and avalanche alarms are going off-grid and battery-free.
"Our motto is ‘No wires, no batteries, no limits,’" said Graham Martin, chairman of EnOcean Alliance, a California-based consortium of companies promoting a wireless standard for automated building controls that run on scavenged power.
Regulating building heat, cooling, and lights with devices like room occupancy sensors can cut energy use by as much as 40 percent, Martin said. EnOcean Alliance reports that more than 250,000 buildings worldwide contain its energy-scavenging devices, like wireless, battery-free controls with tiny, integrated photovoltaic cells that harvest energy from room lights, or vibrations that agitate a pressure-sensitive material, releasing electrons.
Martin estimates that EnOcean devices have saved 50 million batteries, and predicts that 3 billion switches, sensors, thermostats, transmitters, and other low-powered, self-contained gadgets will be in use within five years.
While the market for energy-harvesting devices is currently "not massive," it is growing steadily, said Harry Zervos, senior technology analyst with the consulting firm IDTechEx. Some of the biggest uses at present include vibration-driven equipment monitors on oil rigs and other remote settings, and car tire pressure sensors running on mechanical energy from the wheels.
The technology is now at a tipping point with advances in efficiency, reliability, and affordability, according to Zervos, who expects revenues to hit roughly $4 billion in a decade or so.
Future applications could range from powering a car’s electrical systems with heat captured from the tailpipe, which University of Houston physicist Zhifeng Ren estimates would increase mileage by 5 percent, to a film that can be attached to human skin, converting a person’s movements into energy for portable devices.
Energy harvesting’s greatest benefits, however, may lie in cutting waste and amping up output from existing sustainable electricity resources.
Self-powered wind turbine monitors, for instance, could warn of problems in time to keep turbines from going off-line. And capturing lost heat would significantly boost solar production.
Mahmoud Hussein, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, has come up with a process that could convert heat to electricity much more efficiently: topping thermoelectric material with nano-sized pillars to slow escaping heat vibrations called phonons. The pillars stem heat loss by interacting with, rather than impeding, the phonons, leaving the electric current undiminished, a significant gain over existing thermoelectric materials.
Improved thermoelectric technology can help recoup energy lost by photovoltaic cells that utilize only part of the light spectrum while the rest escapes as heat, Hussein explains. Harnessing waste heat "adds to the field of harvesting energy from the sun," Hussein said.
Engineers and entrepreneurs are also coming up with a host of other ingenious ways to put ambient energy to work.
At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the University of California, Berkeley, campus, bioengineer Seung-Wuk Lee is harvesting energy produced by a virus. Genetically engineered to contain a protein that generates electricity when squeezed, the virus infects bacteria and makes them create "zillions of copies," Lee said. The result is layers of piezoelectric biopolymer with strong positive charges on the inside and negative charges on the outside that transform pressure into power.
"Piezo means press," Lee explained, "so when we mechanically press, we break the symmetry and induce their electric potential." He demonstrates, tapping a super-thin, fingertip-sized biopolymer sandwich. A few inches away, a small display lights up, spelling out "Virus."
This so-called Bacteriophage Power Generator can produce enough electric current to power LEDs, but the output would need to be increased a thousand-fold to illuminate a light bulb. Lee and colleagues are now working on boosting that performance.
Another possible application is biomedical devices powered by motions from the body’s organs — especially useful for implants like pacemakers now driven by batteries that must be surgically changed. "We can convert small energy from our heartbeat," Lee said. "The potential is endless."
At the University of California, Los Angeles’ Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, Professor Kang Wang and colleagues are developing a way to power appliances and electronics with their own excess heat. The process channels heat given off by a working computer, for example, into spin waves able to power and speed up the machine at the same time.
Reprocessing waste heat can save electricity used not just in powering up computers, but also in cooling them down. Such savings would be especially significant at large server farms, where Wang says the dissipation of power is "an enormous drain on energy."
Lawrence Livermore’s Radousky and partner Morris Wang, meanwhile, combined two technologies to wrest energy from low-temperature sources. Their hybrid harvester contains a phase-change material that deforms when heated and stresses a piezoelectric surface, producing current.
Although the output is less than a volt, it could be deployed in arrays of miniscule sensors and processors known as MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), currently used as autonomous controls in cars, airplanes, imaging systems, and numerous other applications, Radousky said.
"The basic idea is to create energy which is used locally, rather than needing to be transmitted," he said.
But don’t plan on getting rid of that tangle of chargers and power cords just yet. Satiating sophisticated portable electronics like cell phones with ambient radio waves sounds great, but unless you’re standing next to a transmitter, pulling in enough signal requires an antenna larger than the phone, according to Koomey. And even that can only power a very basic model, he said. "Your iPhone is not going to get charged."
Alternatives are in the works: Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed cell phone-powering shoe inserts, and a company called Sole Power plans to market footwear late this year that charges your phone while you walk. Both, however, need "many steps" — on the order of a 10-mile hike — to get the job done.
To Koomey, the greatest value of energy-harvesting is information: enabling small, self-contained sensors to provide data that can optimize power use and trim waste.
"The way we operate the economy now, there’s all this inefficiency because we just don’t know, we’ve never been able to measure the inefficiency before," Koomey said. "There’s huge efficiencies that can be wrung out of the system."
As Zervos put it, "By using just microwatts, you can save kilowatts of energy that would have gone to waste."
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:34 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Turning over a new leaf in the rainforest
Under intense pressure from customers and conservation groups, forest-products giant Asia Pulp & Paper has embarked on a series of changes that could significantly reduce deforestation in Indonesia and serve as a model for forestry reform.
By Rhett Butler, Yale Environment 360 9/28/2016
The lowland swamp forests of Riau Province in Indonesia are dense with gnarled roots and tall rainforest trees. The habitat supports critically endangered tigers and a bewildering array of other species, ranging from short-clawed otters to leaf monkeys. The peat soils also lock up massive amounts of carbon.
But the rough terrain is no match for an excavator, which, after digging canals to drain the swamp, can knock down 100-year-old trees with abandon. Logs are sawn, dumped onto barges, and eventually delivered to an industrial complex where giant machines convert the rainforest timber into a pulpy mush.
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Meanwhile, the cleared land is planted with acacia trees, turning the once-biodiverse forest into a uniform landscape that is cleared and replanted on a five-year cycle with industrial efficiency. This is how paper is made.
Much of this transformation on the island of Sumatra has been driven by Asia Pulp & Paper, or APP, a Jakarta-based company that to environmentalists has long been synonymous with the decimation of Sumatra's once-vast peat forests. It's still unclear exactly how much forest has been cleared by APP over the years, but the forest products giant has planted more than a million hectares 2.4 million acres of plantations across Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.
As a result, communities and wildlife in places like Riau Province — where forest cover plunged from 63 percent in the early 1990s to 22 percent in 2012 — have witnessed the rapid degradation and destruction of resources on which they depend.
But if APP is a major part of the problem in Indonesia, it must necessarily be a key part of the solution. And recent developments suggest that the paper products giant may be abandoning business as usual for a very different approach — one that could change how forests are managed worldwide.
A year has passed since APP — under intense pressure from environmental groups and having lost the business of dozens of major customers, including Wal-Mart, Staples, and Xerox — announced a new conservation policy. With an endorsement from Greenpeace, which had arguably been APP’s fiercest critic, the company committed itself to a series of forestry reforms that had earlier been adopted by its sister company, Golden Agri Resources.
These include a pledge of zero deforestation in woodlands that sequester large amounts of carbon or have high conservation value, a commitment to strict monitoring of its forestry practices, a vow to acquire prior consent from communities for new tree plantation development, and an agreement to set up a disputes resolution process.
But APP went further, saying its reforms would apply to all of its suppliers and adding a peatlands management component to limit emissions in existing plantations. APP’s policy also came with apparent support from the highest levels of the company, something that was lacking with previous pledges to stop pulping Indonesia’s rainforests, which had been repeatedly broken.
Today, changes are plainly visible in APP’s operations. Most important, the company appears to have stopped converting natural, undisturbed forests. Gone are the greenwashing public relations specialists who once did everything they could to conceal the destruction that APP was wreaking on Indonesia’s forests. They have been replaced by well-established sustainability consultants and teams of biologists who have conducted assessments of high-conservation-value forests across the majority of APP’s concessions, documenting the presence of key indicator species in both plantations and areas protected under the company’s moratorium.
Remote-sensing analysts and field teams, funded by APP, are using satellite imagery and ground surveys to determine how much forest remains across the company’s holdings so these woodlands can be protected, while other specialists are conducting training in conflict mapping and dispute resolution with local communities.
In late January, APP hired the Rainforest Alliance to conduct an independent audit of the implementation of its policies. APP has also readily admitted to some missteps, reporting two breaches of its deforestation moratorium and sending a monitoring group, The Forest Trust, to investigate complaints.
"APP is quite brave to bring in Rainforest Alliance," said Lafcadio Cortesi, forests campaign director at the Rainforest Action Network, which remains an outspoken critic of APP despite the policy. "Independent verification is one signal that this is moving along on the right track."
Inviting in the Rainforest Alliance indeed ups the ante for APP given the relationship between the two. Richard Donovan, the organization’s vice president of forestry, confirms that the Rainforest Alliance didn’t enter into the agreement lightly after APP reneged on earlier deforestation pledges, which prompted the alliance and other conservation groups to sever ties with the forestry giant by 2007.
"We wouldn’t put our reputation on the line if we didn’t think APP was serious this time around," he said in an interview.
Donovan said the Rainforest Alliance agreed to monitor APP for several reasons: Top executives at the company finally seem committed to ending deforestation; Greenpeace and The Forest Trust have wrested major, verifiable commitments from APP; and deforestation and community rights are important to some of APP's customers.
"If APP doesn't address these issues, it will face intensifying market pressure going forward," Donovan said.
This about-face has surprised longtime critics of APP, which is the largest pulp and paper producer in Indonesia, relying on a web of 38 supplier concessions that control 2.6 million hectares [6.4 million acres] in Sumatra and Borneo — equal to 1.3 percent of Indonesia's land mass. While that may seem like an exceptionally large amount of land controlled by a single corporate entity in a country with nearly 250 million people, it's not all that unusual in Indonesia.
Indeed, APP is emblematic of the status quo in Indonesia’s forestry sector. The model, perfected under the rule of former strongman Suharto, was one where the centralized authorities granted huge land concessions to cronies, ignoring traditional users and environmental consequences. APP’s growth accelerated in the 1990s with the Indonesian government’s push to turn the country into a paper-making powerhouse.
But has APP truly transformed its operations? Among its critics, the jury is still out. WWF, RAN, and the Indonesian NGO Greenomics are waiting to see the results of assessments conducted over the past year by The Forest Trust and Indonesian auditors.
And environmentalists are now raising the bar, asking APP to not only abandon deforestation, but commit to addressing its deforestation legacy through ecosystem restoration. APP is proposing a modified form of restoration, meaning that it wouldn’t convert plantations back to natural forest, but would support efforts to return degraded natural forests in the same ecosystems back to health. WWF welcomes that, but wants APP to restore as much degraded forest land as the company has razed in recent decades.
In the past month, two major customers have returned to APP: Staples and Australia-based BJ Ball. Both cited the forest conservation policy as the reason for resuming business. But for RAN and WWF, independent verification of APP’s compliance is key before conservation groups give the green light to customers to once again begin purchasing paper products from the company.
"Commitment is not compliance," Cortesi said. "APP’s new commitment is just the starting point, not the finish line. The hidden story here is [APP’s] long and deep history of broken promises, land conflicts, and human rights violations across its operations. ... It is still too early to say if APP’s latest commitments will bear fruit or wither on the vine, as has happened too consistently in the past."
Scott Poynton, executive director of The Forest Trust, which is overseeing implementation of APP’s new policy, takes a different approach, arguing that APP needs to be encouraged through market recognition of its efforts, which he says will drive other companies to adopt similar policies.
"Customers should start buying again from APP to give encouragement … that they’re on the right track," Poynton said. "If other companies in the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors see APP taking market share because of strong implementation of their new policy, then they’ll be more likely to go down a similar route."
Greenpeace is more cautious.
"The markets should reward companies who genuinely clean up their act," said Phil Aikman, a senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace. "Our view is that the extra layer of scrutiny that responsible buyers bring will be crucial in ensuring the longer-term delivery of APP’s commitments."
Looking to the example of its sister company, Golden Agri Resources, which secured a $500 million loan and saw the return of former customers after it established a forest conservation policy, APP is hoping that its investments in forestry reforms will eventually pay off. But even as customers return, APP still faces the challenge of implementing its policy, which at times is frustrated by issues outside of its control.
For example, one of the breaches reported by local NGOs turned out to be the result of an overlapping permit granted to both an APP supplier and a palm oil company, which cleared the forest. Overlapping concessions are a widespread problem in Indonesia, making it difficult to assign responsibility for, and therefore address, issues like deforestation and haze-causing peat fires.
In another case, APP is negotiating a conflict with a community that wants to fell carbon-dense swamp forest that lies within a pulpwood concession. APP says it wants to preserve the forest as part of its conservation policy, but the community won’t agree to a swap for an equivalent area of non-forested land. If the community moves forward, APP fears it will breach its moratorium.
With its public commitment, APP now has a strong incentive to address these issues, much like the Indonesian government after signing an emissions-reductions pact with Norway in 2010 that imposes a moratorium on new forestry permits across millions of hectares of forests and peatlands.
It remains to be seen whether APP and the Indonesian government are finally addressing a wave of deforestation that has devastated large swaths of once-pristine tropical forest across the Indonesian archipelago. Environmentalists hope that once big companies like APP view forest policies as being in their best interest, they’ll push for establishing and better enforcing environmental laws that could rein in some of the worst actors.
Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement at APP, says the company wants the government to enforce the law. "If we want to save our forests, we need the government’s help on these issues."
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:32 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
A decade after a devastating tsunami, new forests protect Indonesia's coast
The tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004 obliterated vast areas of Aceh Province. But villagers there have used an innovative microcredit scheme to restore mangrove forests and other coastal ecosystems as a natural barrier against future killer waves and storms.
By Fred Pearce, Yale Envifronment 360 9/28/2016
On the day that the Indian Ocean tsunami hit his village a decade ago, fisherman Hajamuddin was at sea. It was the safest place to be. When he returned to his home port, the fishing community of Gle Jong on the west coast of Sumatra, he found it obliterated by the giant wave and under three meters of water. What was once home to 800 people was now a new bay. “My family was all gone,” Hajamuddin says.
Just seven people survived the ten-meter wave that hurtled up the beach at Gle Jong that morning. The lucky few were collecting firewood and had time to rush up the steps of the village’s only high point, its cemetery. Today, as the tenth anniversary of the disaster approaches, the village is on the mend. A combination of returnees, new residents like Hajamuddin’s new wife, and a baby boom have brought the numbers back to 130. They live in newly built homes set back from the coast.
It is a remarkable human recovery. But a closer look reveals something else just as remarkable. A few yards inland from the new post-tsunami coastline, on land left waterlogged by the killer wave, the survivors in this community have planted 70,000 mangrove trees. The trees are growing well, and villagers see them as protection against any future invasion from the ocean.
“When the floods come again, the mangroves can save us,” says Hajamuddin.
The coastline of Aceh, the northernmost province of Indonesian Sumatra, took the brunt of the tsunami on December 26, 2004. Its waters ran red with blood as an estimated 167,000 Indonesians perished, nearly all of them from Aceh. Whole villages disappeared.
But the color the survivors want to show you now is green. An ingenious microcredit project funded by the Dutch branch of the humanitarian charity Oxfam Novib, and carried out with local partners by the Netherlands-based NGO Wetlands International, has been helping villagers plant mangroves and other trees. They will revive nature, improve local livelihoods, and — perhaps most important of all — protect against cyclones, coastal erosion, and any future killer waves.
In a tour of the province last month, I went to villages where virtually the only survivors were those who were away from home on the day the disaster struck. In these tightly knit communities, especially on the province's remote western coast, many people have no relatives left.
In Gle Jong, an old fisherman who is now a janitor at the life-saving cemetery quietly wiped a tear as he pointed out where the sea below us had obliterated his village. “I am the only survivor of my family,” he said. Later, as I drank coffee in a cafe just 10 meters from the new shoreline, Hajamuddin admitted, “People here are still traumatized by the tsunami. The faithful lost their faith.”
Schoolteachers told me that their students still fear even a sight of the ocean or the sound of wind.
The 5 million euro Green Coast project has given the people of Gle Jong something to believe in for the future. The trees are bringing a return of nature. Birds flock in the cool new forests. The ponds around the mangroves have become feeding areas for shrimp and crabs.
“We thought we had lost the green turtles from the beach, but a few are now returning,” said Hajamuddin.
The 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake in the seabed beneath the Indian Ocean, off the western shore of Sumatra, the westernmost island of Indonesia. The geological movement created a series of giant waves that battered coasts for thousands of miles. Of the 230,000 people thought to have died, almost three-quarters were in Aceh, mostly on its west coast.
As the tidal wave dissipated, some 60,000 hectares of rice fields were left flooded with salt water and piled with sand. In many places, the water never retreated. Along most of western Aceh, the earthquake caused land subsidence that left the new coastline 200 to 400 meters further inland than before. Rice paddies, coconut groves, mangroves, and entire villages became part of the seabed.
A massive international rehabilitation program followed the disaster. Wetlands International was among a handful of foreign aid agencies to target ecological rehabilitation of coastal ecosystems. The first aim was to put back the old mangrove swamps.
Mangroves grow in partially flooded sediments along thousands of kilometers of the world’s tropical coastlines. They nurture fish and protect against coastal erosion by accumulating sediment and absorbing the energy of waves and winds. They also store carbon and clean up pollution. And yet mangroves worldwide are being lost at a rate of around 1 percent a year — several times faster than the rate of deforestation on land. The coastline of Aceh has been no exception.
The prime reason, as elsewhere, has been to create space in intertidal areas for lucrative aquaculture shrimp ponds. Most of the mangrove swamps that remained around the shores of Aceh were destroyed or badly damaged by the 2004 tsunami. An estimated 30,000 hectares of mangroves succumbed, but in the process they captured and dissipated some of the tsunami’s energy and undoubtedly saved lives by providing protection for people living behind them. Those without mangrove swamps suffered worst.
So ecological rehabilitation became a priority. But first efforts often foundered, with only a fraction of plants surviving, according to a 2006 study by Wetland International's Indonesian director Nyoman Suryadiputra, my host in Aceh last month.
One reason was that busy and distracted villagers were paid for planting seedlings rather than for nurturing them thereafter. Many swiftly succumbed to the waves or to the wild boar, which came down from the hills after the tsunami to root around in the depopulated landscape. Others never stood a chance. They were planted on the huge amounts of sand dumped by the tsunami onto previously muddy shorelines.
Mangroves require mud. Planted on sand, even in places where they once thrived, mangroves swiftly died. So the Green Coast project aimed to plant more carefully in places where mangroves would thrive, and to provide incentives for communities to take ownership of the trees and to maintain and protect them.
How did they persuade people trying to rebuild their lives in wrecked communities to spend time planting and nurturing trees? The answer was a version of microcredit called Bio-rights, developed by Suryadiputra.
He offered villagers a deal. If they would set up groups to go planting, he would give them them unsecured credit to rebuild their economic lives. Villagers used the credit to buy new fishing nets, set up goat and cattle breeding programs, plant orchards, or even open village cafes. In addition, he promised that if the village groups looked after the trees, and if 75 percent or more of them survived for at least two years, then he would write off the debt.
The deal proved popular. Suryadiputra ended up running 70 village projects. In all, communities planted almost two million seedlings on some 1,000 hectares of coastline, mostly close to villages. Most survived. In only a few cases did the villagers have to pay back a cent of their credit. The result, five years after the project ended, is proud local entrepreneurs and extensive areas of forested coastline protecting new villages.
Mangroves were the trees of choice for replanting. But where sand now lines the shore, the project chose instead casuarina trees, a fast-growing type of sea pine common in the area. In Gampong Baro, a fishing community on the northern coast of Aceh, a group of 50 villagers planted 50,000 native casuarina trees on a bank of sand piled up by the tsunami wave. In places these evergreens have grown over 20 meters high in just five years. That, as locals like to point out, is higher than the tsunami wave. In the muddy places behind the new sand dunes, they have planted mangroves.
Along many parts of the Aceh coast, the idea of planting mangroves is at odds with the past practice of converting mangrove swamps to aquaculture. On large stretches of coastline, in the decades before the tsunami, mangroves were chopped down and ponds were dug to farm shrimp. The shrimp didn’t last because of the spread of white-spot syndrome, a virulent virus. Most operators soon stocked their ponds with milkfish (Chanos chanos), instead.
After the tsunami, aid agencies rushed to repair the ponds by renovating dykes and water channels and excavating sand from the ponds. But Wetlands International has encouraged their owners to adopt a hybrid landscape with mangroves planted on the dykes and in the ponds. The idea is to protect coastlines while maintaining and even increasing the economic productivity of the ponds.
It works, as people in several communities told me. At Krueng Tunong — where more than 1,000 bodies were found after the tsunami — I met Wahab, a villager who headed the mangrove planting program around 20 hectares of village ponds.
“We get more fish now that there are mangroves,” he told me. “They grow faster and in greater numbers than when the ponds were bare. I can see the juveniles hiding in the roots of the mangroves. The roots help them avoid predators. We get more crabs, too.”
They told the same story in Lham Ujong, near Gampong Baro, where the “silvo-fishery” contains 350,000 mangroves planted in and around ponds covering 50 hectares.
But the bottom line is whether such planting can save lives in future tsunamis or major cyclones. The evidence that mangroves can protect against giant tsunami waves is necessarily in short supply, and often anecdotal. But it is there.
Suryadiputra worked on a study of a unique length of coast in southeast India hit by the tsunami in 2004. The straight shoreline had a largely homogeneous beach profile, making possible meaningful comparisons between the wave’s impact on stretches of beach with and without mangroves. The study, published in Science in 2005, found that areas with mangroves or casuarina shelterbelts “were significantly less damaged than other areas.” On one stretch, two villages on the coast “were completely destroyed,” whereas three others behind mangroves “suffered no destruction.”
Daniel Alongi of the Australian Institute for Marine Science in Townsville, Queensland, says modeling studies predict just such an outcome. As little as 100 meters of dense mangroves should reduce the destructive energy of a tsunami wave by as much as 90 percent, he has concluded. That could have made the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of people in Aceh in 2004.
Maybe next time, it will.
on: Sep 29, 2016, 05:27 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Two lions escape from Leipzig zoo enclosure
East German zoo closed to the public after two male lions escaped from their cages but are believed to still be on grounds
Associated Press in Berlin
Thursday 29 September 2016 10.40 BST
Two lions have escaped from a zoo in eastern Germany.
Leipzig zoo officials told the dpa news agency that the lions somehow escaped from their cages overnight and are somewhere on the zoo grounds.
The zoo is remaining closed to the public until the two cats are found, and an emergency plan has been put in place.
The two male lions, Majo and Motshegetsi, were born about a year ago at Basel zoo and have been in Leipzig since August.