Why the EU-Mercosur worries environmentalists

Why the EU-Mercosur worries environmentalists

Last June, after 20 years of negotiations, the EU signed a trade agreement in principle with the South American trade bloc Mercosur, the fifth-largest economy in the world. That deal would open a large market to Mercosur’s not suspended member states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay – multiplying the current trade value of €88 billion. 

Up to 90 percent of tariffs on goods would be eliminated on both sides. Europe would save on goods such as wine, spirits, chocolate, biscuits, tinned peaches, and olives, and import a quota of 99 tonnes of beef per year, as well as 180’000 tonnes of sugar and 100’000 tonnes of poultry. The EU hopes the deal would expand its access to South American telecommunications, transport, and financial services, and expects it to make the region more attractive to American, Japanese, and South Korean markets. 

Protestors of the deal from the farming sector worry that South American beef imports would hurt local European farms. One concern is described by The Irish Times as Brazil’s reputation for “meat fraud”, since the country does not follow the same ethical and food safety standards imposed under EU regulations.

While the EU claims that both parties would have the power to put regulations on imports should any harm come to local markets, it is unclear how long these measures can be put in place and exactly each sector would be protected.

Despite intentions to expand the high-carbon beef industry, the deal explicitly references the Paris Climate Agreement with commitments to fight climate change and to transition to a “sustainable, low carbon economy”. But to meet this goal, rigorous enforcement of regulations on the quotas would need to be put in place whether or not harm does come to local markets.

As for the deal’s sure environmental degradation, Mercosur members would have to further eat into their cattle ranching land. In Brazil, climate change denier and deforestation enthusiast President Jair Bolsonaro naturally contradicts environmental protection and sustainable development efforts. He has threatened to tear down the Amazon rainforest to make room for more beef farms, and is widely condemned by international media for intentionally starting this year’s Amazonian wildfires with his policies. 

Since 1978 over 780’000 square kilometres of Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed across Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyane, and French Guiana for cattle ranching, soy farms, mineral excavations, palm oil extractions, urban planning and illegal logging projects. According to satellite data, Brazil has by far lost the most tree cover in comparison to other countries which share the Amazon. 

To come into effect, the draft Mercosur Agreement must be ratified by the European Council and the European Parliament, as well as by the Mercosur Parliament. This may be a very long process.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his government will block the deal, unless Brazil takes steps to protect the Amazonian rainforest. Varadkar previously said his government would assess the financial impact of the deal, but supported the deal’s bid for billions in savings on trade duties for Irish companies. 

The opposition party Sinn Fein led political support to reject the deal. A majority in the Dail voted against it and called for the Irish government to form alliances with other EU members to do the same. However, the deal must pass under the EU Trade Council for any opposition to be considered in law.

In Austria, the draft deal was rejected by the national Parliament EU’s subcommittee. Together with Ireland, they may use their veto in two years’ time to block the EU-Mercosur deal.

 

 

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

 

 

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Girls Challenge the Script on International Girls Day!

Girls Challenge the Script on International Girls Day!

“It’s urgent that we no longer create stories that teach children to view women and girls as second-class citizens – not when we’ve seen the level of sexism in our culture so egregiously put on display.”  

These are the words of Geena Davis: founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) and star of films like Thelma and Louise and A League of their Own (two films which pass the Bechdel test with flying colours). 

As part of today’s #Girlstakeover, on 11th October, the International Day of the Girl, women and girls are demanding radical change in their portrayal in films, entertainment, textbooks, advertising, video games and other communications media. Indeed, this year’s international day theme is Girlpower: Unscripted and Unstoppable! 

Media’s influence on our thoughts, beliefs, and actions is subtle yet powerful. Because stereotypes are like air – invisible but omnipresent – they are often overlooked, making them especially insidious. Unfortunately, much of what girls see in the media reinforces gender discrimination and harmful stereotypes. This affects how others view girls and how girls view themselves. 

The #RewriteHerStory takeover is inspired by recent research published by the GDIGM, Plan International, and the Girls Get Equal campaign. It analyses the 56 top-grossing films in 20 countries to assess their impact on girls – and discovered the films send a message that leadership is mostly for men, particularly older white men. Women leaders (regardless of whether they are presidents, CEOs or business owners) are far more likely to be sexualised or objectified, shown in revealing outfits or completely nude.  

The report calls for an end to harmful stereotypes and encourages making stories about female leadership normal and visible. A central message is “if girls can’t see it, they can’t be it”. This is particularly the case for women of colour who are even less likely to see characters who look like them in the media. 

Media can be a force for good, but not if it perpetuates stereotypes or –even worse – ignores women entirely. Indeed, previous research by the GDIGM showed that female characters make up only 17% of crowd scenes in films! Davis says this sends a subtle signal that 17% women’s representation is a “natural state of affairs”

I remember my mother phoning Kelloggs when I was a young girl to complain that all the cartoon characters – Cornelius Rooster, Coco Monkey, Tony the Tiger and so on – on my breakfast cereal boxes were male. The person she spoke with vainly tried to convince her that one of the Snap, Crackle and Pop trio was a girl but my mother wasn’t buying it! At the time, I didn’t realise she was setting a great example by teaching me to query women’s presence and absence in the media and other spaces.  

So, the next time you are watching Netflix or consuming other media, start paying attention to how women are portrayed and consider the ratio between female and male characters. You might be surprised what you notice once you start looking.

Please follow today’s #RewriteHerStory takeover!

 

Image courtesy of Plan International.

 

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Unacceptable Status Quo in Accessing Abortion Services in Ireland

The 2018 referendum, allowing the government to legislate for abortion access, came following years of grassroots activism and campaigning. But what is the status quo regarding access to abortion services in Ireland? STAND investigates.

The true cost of period shame

The commercialisation of women’s sanitary products has contributed to the unhelpful notion that a period is inherently wrong in some vague, grimy sense. This completely natural experience is presented as strictly ‘women’s business’; something which must be hidden from society at all costs. It is a problem urgently requiring a solution.

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Girls Challenge the Script on International Girls Day!

“It’s urgent that we no longer create stories that teach children to view women and girls as second-class citizens – not when we’ve seen the level of sexism in our culture so egregiously put on display.” Learn more about #RewriteHerStory, on the International Day of the Girl.

Fracked gas and climate action: an activist point of view

Fracked gas and climate action: an activist point of view

The last few weeks have seen an explosion in activity on the Irish climate activist movement. In the wake of the recent UN Climate Action Summit which took place in New York on September 23rd, the Irish government has faced ever increasing scrutiny from environmental activist groups and climate conscious citizens alike. STAND news sat down with Maeve O’Gorman, an activist from Not Here Not Anywhere (NHNA) to get her take on the current challenges activists are fighting for. 

Leo Varadkar’s UN Climate Summit address briefly went into the Irish government’s climate policy plans. The plans, the Taoiseach said, included halting fossil fuel exploration in the Irish seas while continuing to explore for natural gas as a transition fuel. He also said the country would ring-fence carbon tax to invest in renewable energy and to look after those who might be affected through unemployment by a developing green economy. 

However, the promises made by Leo were not deemed good enough by a majority of climate activists. 

“By saying ‘oh we’re not going to explore for oil in Ireland’, this is amazing, but then you peel back half a layer on that and it’s complete greenwashing! The ban on fracking is only effective for 80% of the Irish seas. All the existing licences will remain.’’ By allowing corporations to hold onto their licenses, the 20% of the Irish seas not included in the ban will continue to be exploited for oil, Maeve explained.

‘’The government needs to stop fossil fuel exploration and tell other countries to stop. We are creating a demand for fracking and fossil fuel exploration but we just don’t have time for that!”

The thorn in the sides of Not Here Not Anywhere is that while Leo Varadkar says that oil exploration won’t be happening in Ireland, they continue to outsource oil and gas, and even intend to import it from the U.S via a Liquified Natural Gas Terminal, planned to be constructed on the West coast of Ireland. Shannon LNG, as it is known, will be an import terminal for fracked gas from the US. The gas will be shipped from the US, stored here, and will then be redistributed to various countries in the EU.

The project has been a major cause of contention in the Dail recently as the development faced opposition from both citizens and TDs. Why is it such an issue? 

‘’There are environmental and health impacts from fracking. One of the main reasons we oppose it is that it is seen as a clean transition fuel that is less carbon intense. But actually when you frack for gas, it releases methane. Methane is at least 85 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 released from burning coal. It is a dirty fossil fuel. The government banned fracking in Ireland but then go and import it and sell it as clean ‘’freedom fuel’’, said Maeve.

“All these wild claims being put out there that it is a clean energy are untrue. It is a fossil fuel. We know that 80% of fossil fuels needs to be kept in the ground in order to make sure we have any hope of stopping the climate warming to +1.5 degrees which will have catastrophic effects! Yet we are promoting exploration and use of fossil fuels abroad, and trying to hide it. What NHNA says is that  we need to be against fracking wherever it is happening in the world, not just in Ireland.”

Last week in the Dail, an emergency meeting was called to discuss the issue of the Shannon LNG project after uproar from citizens and environmental groups over the steamrolling of the development plan. The government had no plans on having a public debate on the issue, which was seen as completely undemocratic by several activist groups. The environmental groups made their concerns known and Richard Bruton, the current Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment was forced to listen to statements from TDs opposing the plan. Only time will tell whether the concerns are taken seriously. 

 

For more information, visit Stop Shannon LNG.

 

 

Photo by @NHNAireland on Twitter

 

 

Watch out Maeve O’Gorman interview down below!

Extinction Rebellion begins week of civil disobedience

Extinction Rebellion begins week of civil disobedience

Monday 7th of October saw environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion begin Rebellion Week 2 – a series of blockades and demonstrations in cities around the world, including in Dublin. The group’s aims are to draw attention to the climate and ecological emergencies the planet is facing, and to spur governments into action to tackle the crisis. Founded in 2018, the movement gained notoriety in April when they shut down key bridges and junctions in London for over a week; an action which saw over one thousand people arrested. The Irish branch of XR has three demands of the government: to tell the truth about the extent of the issue facing us, to act like it’s an emergency and to ensure a just transition to zero-carbon economy. Their hope is to disrupt “business as usual” to force the government to meet their demands. 

The first day of Rebellion Week saw a number of actions take place in Dublin. A black coffin adorned with pictures of the Earth was carried from Heuston Station to government buildings on Kildare Street, with the procession blocking traffic as they went. They brought with them a letter to be delivered to government ministers, one signed by over 200 Irish academics calling for greater action on climate change and environmental issues more generally. A pink sailboat was marched up Kildare Street and is now parked at Merrion Square, where activists have set up their blockade and base for the week. Around 30 tents have been pitched in the Square, with a music stage, food stalls, information stand, and kids’ tent being set up in the area as the group’s base. In the evening, protestors blocked traffic at Connolly Station in rush hour and proceeding to march down through the IFSC, urging employees of the companies there to join them at Merrion Square. 

While their methods have made them unpopular in certain circles, the group claims that the traditional methods of protesting, signing petitions and lobbying TDs hasn’t worked in the past and more drastic action is needed to tackle the various problems we face. They invite everyone to take part in the week’s events and stress that they are a non-violent, family-friendly movement which is inclusive of all people. The week will finish with a multi-faith vigil on Sunday to remember the victims of climate change. 

Photo taken by Matthew Mollahan during Dublin protest.

 

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Monday 7th of October saw environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion begin Rebellion Week 2 – a series of blockades and demonstrations in cities around the world, including in Dublin, to spur governments into action to tackle the climate crisis.

Climate change: why policies play a key role

The effects of climate change are not limited to the natural world. Human beings are impacted by the natural changes in their environment and climate. Policies have a key-role to play as climate change also causes negative economic impacts to increase.

Climate change: why policies play a key role

Climate change: why policies play a key role

The effects of climate change are not limited to the natural world. While humans are impacted by the natural changes in their environment and climate, climate change causes negative economic impacts to increase. The effects of escalating temperatures, wildfires, deforestation, drought, and rising sea levels will continue to creep into all sectors of the economy. These events force communities to relocate, but also to lose their livelihoods and their homes, creating economic distress. And it seems that no country will be spared.

According to the World Bank, worker productivity declines by two percent for every degrees celsius above room temperature. A report by the International Labour Organization found that by 2030 a decrease in productivity will reach 2.2 percent of global working hours because of heat stress.

High temperatures put workers at risk of dehydration, stress, and heat stroke – which is a major concern for those who work in direct sunlight such as construction workers and farmers. It is estimated that by 2028 (just nine years away) heatwaves and other effects of climate change will cost the USA $360 billion per year in health costs.

The multiple and large-scale impacts of climate change lead many to think that individual actions alone won’t solve the problem entirely. Businesses, if not compelled by the law to change their practices, are unlikely to take meaningful action. So to truly curb global warming and its effects, it is clear that governments need to step up, and make changes at a higher level. 

The UN Climate Report 2018 outlines a number of changes governments can make. The report advises that we transition out of dirty sources of energy (such as fossil fuels) and instead opt for low-emission energy produced by renewable sources. It also suggests that we alter our diets to lower our dependence on land and water-intensive agricultural practices (such as beef and soy consumption), and encourages the use of green roofs on buildings. However, these solutions remain financially out of reach for many individuals without the help of government support.

Some positive initiatives have been taken by governments hand in hand with citizens. This was the case recently in Ethiopia, when volunteers from the Green Legacy Initiative planted a record of 50 million trees in just 12 hours. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he envisions a total of four billion trees to be planted in an effort to tackle deforestation in the country, mainly caused by a growing population and unsustainable farming.

In addition to policy changes, we need to see more initiatives like this happen.

 

 

Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash

 

 

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The first cars were electric, and they’re coming back

The first cars were electric, and they’re coming back

Even though the electric car arrived on the public scene first, it proved to be an unworthy competitor to the fuel powered vehicle, which was cheaper, faster and more reliable. But electric cars are taking centre-stage again.

Contrary to what most people believe, the electric car is not an invention of modern times. In fact, American and Dutch inventors first worked on small electric car models as far back as the 1830s. A few decades later, William Morrison from Iowa created the first successful electric vehicle in the US – a model that looked similar to the old-fashioned carriages. By the end of the 19th century, electric cars became successful (particularly in cities), being sometimes preferred over steam or gas-powered vehicles, as they emitted less pollutants and were quieter. In the early 20th century, electric cars accounted for about one third of the number of cars in circulation in the US. However, with the invention of Ford’s gas-powered Model T car – more affordable and more powerful – sales of electric and hybrid cars declined.

But since a few years, the electric car is taking another go at it, this time with better, more reliable engine technology. The new electric car industry, having learned from the mistakes of the past, now has technology on its side. Following the invention of the lithium-ion batteries, the electric car saw its second chance emerge. 

A case in point for the revival of the electric car is ‘Tesla Inc.’, founded in 2003. The first tesla was delivered to the market in 2008, having lithium-ion battery cells and being able to last for longer journeys, per charge, than any other electric car before it. With continued, ceaseless improvements being made to these cars, the technology improved and so did the sales, leading the company to be ranked 8th among global carmakers in 2017.

Tesla proves that the electric car is gaining traction. Stock prices show that Tesla has overtaken giants of the car industry like Ford and Fiat. With electric cars providing a more environmentally friendly, sustainable and efficient vehicle, it is no longer a competitor to fuel cars, it is the clear champion. Other automotive brands, like ‘Porsche’ and ‘Audi’ have noticed the re-emergence of the electric car and, they too are developing their own electric alternatives.  

Electric cars will lower carbon emissions, reducing damage to the ozone layer and reducing smog. Ultimately, bettering our planet and public health. But there are some challenges to it. For example, the sourcing of critical materials for the vehicles like lithium and cobalt, and the carbon extensive process of production, which calls the electric car’s sustainability into question. However, through further developments, these challenges are likely to reduce. Another barrier to the adoption of electric cars is its high price: to date, these models remain unaffordable for many households.

Changes in infrastructure will also have to be made to accommodate the electric car: more charging stations, changes in the electric grid, etc. But, in return, it promises less strain on our planet. 

 

 

Photo by Andrew Roberts on Unsplash

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox.

Will the G7 Fashion Pact change fashion for the better?

The G7 Fashion Pact to reduce environmental damage has been signed by many of the world’s biggest brands – but will it actually solve the problem?

Why the EU-Mercosur worries environmentalists

As the EU signs a trade agreement in principle with the South American trade bloc Mercosur, environmental advocates in Europe, especially in the agricultural sectors, oppose the deal.

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“It’s not about a small amount of people being perfect, it’s about a huge amount of people making incremental changes.” The Slow Fashion Panel Discussion and Upcycling Masterclass in TCD was a roaring success.

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The last few weeks have seen an explosion in activity on the Irish climate activist movement. STAND News sat down with Maeve O’Gorman, an activist from Not Here Not Anywhere (NHNA) to get her take on the current challenges activists are fighting for.

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Monday 7th of October saw environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion begin Rebellion Week 2 – a series of blockades and demonstrations in cities around the world, including in Dublin, to spur governments into action to tackle the climate crisis.