Choose to reuse: Ask your campus cafe to be responsible this semester

Choose to reuse: Ask your campus cafe to be responsible this semester

Responsible Cafes is an Australian campaign that encourages waste reduction by offering discounts to customers who bring their own reusable coffee cups. According to the organisation, “becoming a responsible cafe saves money and reduces waste, and incentivises customers to do the right thing by bringing their own cups”.

But how can we in Ireland get involved? Well, the first place to start is by asking your college cafes to follow suit and make themselves more sustainable, be this through discounts for reusable cups or biodegradable disposable options. DCU are already in the process of making themselves more sustainable, “At present the head of catering is working with the Sustainability Office in relation to the introduction of compostable coffee cups being rolled out where possible in DCU.”

So get involved and ask your campus cafe to become a responsible one this semester.

Environmental heroes: Which countries made the top three?

Environmental heroes: Which countries made the top three?

Climate change should be every country’s top concern. Preserving our earth for future generations is essential, and yet so many of us are just not making the necessary changes or difficult decisions. But there are certain countries who are taking strides and leaps to completely change the way we live and save our planet. Here are the top three.

Kenya ~ Kenya just made a monumental decision to reduce plastic pollution by implementing a complete ban on producing, selling or even using plastic bags. Committing this offence could land you in prison for four years or see you facing over €33,000 in fines. Read more at The Guardian.

India ~ Delhi have taken a step few have ever dared to take before, they banned all single use disposable plastic. Rejoice! This includes all cutlery, bags, and cups. The city will now try and reduce their pollution by pushing sustainable alternatives like edible cutlery, which can be consumed or composted. Find out more about a cleaner Delhi at The Independent.

Norway ~ Norway is at the forefront of environmental policy with their recent ban on deforestation. They are the first country ever to commit that they will not support any product in their supply chain that contributes to deforestation, such as palm oil. Other countries need to act soon and follow this example. Get more information at The Huffington Post.

Write to the government, TDs and your local businesses to try and make this change happen in Ireland. Let’s take action!


Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Palm oil: ravaging the planets lungs and tearing communities apart

Palm oil: ravaging the planets lungs and tearing communities apart

What is palm oil? And why is it such a problem that so many products contain it?

Palm oil is derived from the palm fruit grown on the West African oil palm tree. It is found in food, cosmetics, cleaning products, candles, even in the fuel tanks of our diesel cars. It is the most commonly used vegetable oil worldwide – and for good reason: it can be used in a wide array of products, it has the highest yield of any oil crop, there is a lack of economically competitive substitutes, and it is the cheapest oil to produce and refine. There’s just one problem: the alarming spread of oil palm plantations is destroying the planet’s lungs, and decimating the communities that depend on them for survival.

Liberia, in West Africa, has been ravaged by 14 years of recent civil war, rampant corruption, and Ebola. What’s more, it has now fallen prey to the relentless pursuit of land by multinational agribusinesses. The rich, biodiverse, carbon storing forests that are being depleted in favour of oil palm plantations in Liberia are home to hundreds of communities that depend on these forests for their livelihood.

James Otto, director of the Corporate Governance and Community Land Rights program at the Sustainability and Development Institute (SDI), spoke to about the work they do. As part of the program, the SDI team travel for hours on crater-covered roads in their robust Jeep, training forest communities on their legal rights and informing them that any company encroaching on their land must abide by the international standard of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

This empowers them to resist corporate land grabs and even equips them with phones outfitted with the TIMBY (This Is My Back Yard) app, which allows on-the-ground reporting anywhere in the world. SDI acts as an amplifier of the voices of these communities, uniting locals and instilling a sense of social cohesion, and constantly supporting them to take the fight to those with the power to influence and change the law.

A large part of the problem is that the land these communities are living on is categorised as ‘customary land’, which means that it is ultimately the Liberian government that owns it. SDI have been campaigning for the passage of the Land Rights Act which would give communities secure access to land and secure land tenure. This bill is currently before the National Legislature, however campaigners complain that it is being ignored. A looming election means the prospects of the Act being passed in this government are less than optimistic.

This situation is having dire effects on the ground. In Grand Bassa county, the livelihoods of the Jogbahn Clan are being devastated due to the actions of a British company, Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO). The clan have been resisting the encroachment of EPO on their land since 2007, since the beginning of EPO’s application to plant oil palm on their land. Nevertheless, in total disregard to the objections of the affected communities, in 2012 the company cleared and planted some of the community’s land, destroying crops and farmland. They then forcibly conducted a land survey, again without the consent of the communities. The communities attempted to halt the unlawful survey, which resulted in an altercation between the communities and EPO, with EPO receiving support from the police support unit (PSU). Incidences of fierce intimidation and beatings by EPO and the PSU were reported as locals marched to the county capital to protest, with some community members requiring hospital treatment.

Jogbahn Clan
During their ordeal, police and EPO officers berated them for being “against development”. If human rights abuses,land grabbing, and ignoring the international legal standard of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)  is ‘development’, then maybe we need to re-think what constitutes development. Palm oil plantations are systematically destroying the forests that local people in Liberia depend on.

The Jogbahn Clan are still resisting EPO, and recent events involving forced signatures and coercion do not paint a pretty picture. Despite the proposed implementation of progressive EU policies to stop use of palm oil by 2020, a doubling in demand for palm oil is nevertheless still predicted for the middle of the century. A host of palm oil companies are resisting the moves by the EU, with many countries threatening a trade dispute if a ban on palm oil is put in place.

The situation is bleak, but not hopeless. If the Land Rights Act is passed, it will give communities more control  over how their land is used. In Europe, we can show solidarity with the indigenous Liberians by:


Meaghan has a BA (Intl) in Psychology from NUIG. Taking part in the first ever Ideas Collective re-ignited her passion for environmental and social justice which led her to leave her job in Diageo for Friends of the Earth. Between January 2016 and May 2017 she progressed from Young FoE intern, to Activism Officer, to Activism, Education & Outreach Manager and finally to her current position, Head of Mobilisation. She is coordinator of Young Friends of the Earth, who meet weekly and are always open to new members.


Liberia: the energy to end extreme poverty

Liberia: the energy to end extreme poverty

Growing access to electricity in Liberia can be the key to development, writes ROISIN CARLOS (Photograph by Dominic Chavez / World Bank)

Limited access and an unreliable electricity supply is not just about rolling black outs. Access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is vital to ending extreme poverty, and yet around 1.1 billion people still live without out it in the world today.

Progress in Africa remains especially slow. Demonstrating this, the Afrobarometer survey presents a stark picture of household connection to electricity in Africa. Only 25% of the continent is always connected, 30% suffers poor access, and 45% have no access to electricity at all. Break down this figure further and we see that 589 million people do not have access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 30 African countries suffer endemic shortages.

Energy poverty acts as a major obstacle to development in the continent, with real consequences upon a plethora of human development indicators including economic growth, health and the environment. No other African country best presents the realities of these consequences than Liberia. With only four million people with electricity access and less than 1% of the population connected to grid power, Liberia holds the title for the lowest access to electricity in the world. This devastating access rate can be explained by numerous factors, including the widespread destruction of existing infrastructure during the 16-year civil war. In fact, it is only since the end of the civil war in 2003 that the Government finally began rehabilitating the badly damaged electricity connections. As a result, in 2006 electricity was restored to parts of Monrovia for the first time in fifteen years. Consequently, Liberia is reeling from the implications of limited electricity access, particularly in the economic, health and environmental sectors, leading the government to declare an ‘electricity national emergency’ in 2012.

Energy consumption, economic growth and employment generation are all positively correlated. In a country where 76% of the population has an income of less than 1 USD a day, solutions need to be found to drive economic growth and employment generation. Electricity access, by acting as a tool to unlock greater productivity in the workforce, can be instrumental in this regard. However, the key to unlocking this potential is to first invest in energy infrastructure for increased access to energy in order for the economy to grow.

The energy challenge has been equally critical in the delivery of healthcare in Liberia. In a country characterized by extremely dispersed and rural populations, limited electricity has been detrimental to the development of health care centers in rural areas. Healthcare is systematically undermined when it is dependent upon electricity access for motorizing technologies, keeping medicines cool or using sterilization machines. We need not look any further than Liberia’s devastating experience of the 2015 Ebola outbreak, in which everyone one of Liberia’s fifteen counties reported cases, to understand the importance of the delivery of advanced health care.

Consideration of the sustainable development of the country would be incomplete without mention of the environmental impact posed by energy access. As a result of limited electricity, the vast majority of the population rely on informal systems such as household-scale diesel gensets and biomass for basic energy services. However, substitute fossil based fuels present serious negative impacts including deforestations, increased green-house-gas emissions, and loss of biodiversity, in addition to health concerns created due to poor air-quality.

In the words of US President Barack Obama when launching the US funded Power Africa in 2013, “You’ve got to have power”. The solution seems clear: unleashing the energy potential of Liberia. Indeed, Liberia has the power potential in the form of renewable energy. This solution has been duly recognized, as today there are numerous examples of high-profile initiatives being rolled out to tackle the heart of this problem, including USAID’s Power Africa Initiative, the African Development Bank’s Energy for Africa, or the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), among others, along with national strategies to meet the seventh Sustainable Development Goal.

Promoting access to electricity through renewable energy can and will be a key to development in Liberia, and in extension in the continent of Africa. Renewable energy not only responds to the population’s needs, fueling economic growth and access to health care, but it also has the added incentive of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, positively impacting the sustainable development of the country.

Disability: a missing piece in the global development jigsaw?

Disability: a missing piece in the global development jigsaw?

With the U.N. International Day for Persons with Disabilities taking place tomorrow (2nd December), Michael Seifu looks at the place of disability within the development agenda

This year’s international day for persons with disabilities occurs on the eve of the culmination of the millennium development goals (MDGs) and the launching of the post-2015 development agenda, otherwise known as the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

In the coming few months, the long process of framing the details of the global development agenda will come to fruition. This brief piece, written by a person with a disability, reflects on past experience and the road ahead.

“Disability and poverty are dynamic and intricately linked phenomenon”

Why disability matters

We matter first and foremost because we are members of the human family with full entitlements to all human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We matter because we account for more than 20 percent of the world’s population thereby constituting the largest minority group. Any principle of fairness can not and should not afford to overlook us.

We matter because we have shouldered a disproportionate share of social ills such as poverty, unemployment, exclusion from community and cultural life. In the words of a major World Bank study, “disability and poverty are dynamic and intricately linked phenomenon.”

Millennium Development Goal agenda

The global community has made significant strides in reducing abject poverty since the MDGs came into effect in 2000. Though the pace of progress differs across countries, all countries have registered improvements on the eight goals which range from eradication of extreme hunger and poverty to achieving gender equality to ensuring environmental sustainability.

Neither the eight goals nor the twenty one targets (or, the sixty indicators for that matter) of the MDGs make any mention of disability despite overwhelming evidence on the nexus between disability and poverty. Given that almost eighty percent of persons with disabilities in the world live in low-income countries, the MDGs were a gross overlook of rights in this regard.

Still, there have definitely been some global actions aimed at rectifying social and economic injustices which persons with disabilities face. Top of the list among such initiatives is the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006.

Prospects for disability-friendly SDGs

The idea of producing a set of sustainable development goals for the post-2015 period was agreed upon at the Rio Summit in 2012. Its aptly titled document ‘The Future We Want’, recognised that people are at the centre of sustainable development. Working groups were set up to formulate specific goals and targets which would enable the world community to realise its commitments to sustainable and inclusive development.

The early signs are extremely disappointing for persons with disabilities. Out of the 17 goals proposed by the working group, none makes any specific reference to disability. Disability is glaringly absent from the massive 168 specific targets included in the proposals. The term ‘disability’ appears three times in this more than 5000-worded document.

This defies common sense given that the SDGs were meant to be more people-centred and also included substantially more goals and targets as compared to the MDGs.

The Irish connection

Ireland could play a pivotal role in redressing this apparent act of social injustice. This is because Ireland and Kenya were appointed by the United Nations to lead the negotiations over the SDGs. It could do so not only by lobbying for the inclusion of disability-specific goals in the SDGs but also by ratifying the long over due CRPD.

There is no better time than now to ensure that international development agendas, most importantly the SDGs, embody the rights of persons with disabilities adequately and sustainably.

Show your solidarity with the hundreds of millions of persons with disabilities who live in poverty by doing one or both of the following:

  • Include disability and vote for disability by visiting the My World 2015 website;
  • Request the Irish Mission to the UN to use its good offices towards a disability-friendly post-2015 development agenda.

Author: Michael Seifu

Michael is a political economist by training with a PhD in Politics from DCU. He worked as a research assistant at DCU and has also been engaged in several projects aimed at promoting social justice. Michael is also an ardent advocate of the rights of persons with disabilities both in his country of origin, Ethiopia, and Ireland. Currently, he serves as a country peer reviewer for a prominent research and consultancy institute. Michael has published several papers on social and economic issues of African countries.

Image credit: Missing Puzzle piece, Creative Commons license

Aid is not the solution

Aid is not the solution

Inasmuch as Africa deserves the accolade it has been receiving for sustaining remarkable economic growth rates during these economically and financially tumultuous times, many in the region still remain under the grip of chronic poverty and political stability. Though not stated in so many words but the dominant paradigm appears to suggest that foreign aid holds the key to fixing the region for good.

The raging debate over the real worth of foreign aid could not have come at a better time as the curtain is about to fall on the most important global development agenda of the recent times, i.e. the Millennium Development Goals. In this brief note I pinpoint a number of reasons as to why I believe foreign aid is not the panacea for social and economic woes in Africa.

To start with, empirical evidence on the effects of foreign aid on economic growth prospects of countries is at best inconclusive or at worst non-existent. Average income levels in most African states remain little changed from what they were at the time of independence despite massive pouring in of aid to the region over the past several decades. It is institutions not aid that convincingly narrates the recent success stories of such countries as Botswana, Brazil, China and India.

Secondly, foreign aid encourages misalignment of political accountability in recipient countries. It erodes tax effort of governments in Africa thereby further weakening citizens’ right to demand accountability from their political leaders. Save a modicum of piece-meal political reforms, none of the major recipients of foreign aid in Africa managed to conduct free and fair elections for decades.

Thirdly, and related with the above, foreign aid is partly to blame for the rampant rent-seeking behaviour and corruption in Africa. African governments by and large do not have effective public financial control institutions to deal with the large influx of foreign aid. Aid has inflated the opportunity cost of political office in Africa thereby inducing leaders to extend their grip of power indefinitely.

The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership recognises, among other things, those leaders who willingly and constitutionally relinquish power, with a handsome financial reward. Since its establishment in 2007 it only managed to award four former leaders (including an honorary award for Nelson Mandela) in a region that hosts 55 recognised states. Not even the largest annually awarded prize in the world could eclipse the appeal of aid-aided political power.

Fourthly, foreign aid cements the age-old asymmetric relationships between western countries and Africa. From the days when missionaries roamed Africa to pave the way for colonisation to present day brigades of development experts and scholars, many believe that sorting out Africa is their call. Needless to say that Africans have to be portrayed as weak and helpless as possible to fit this mould. Africans can not assume their rightful place in the global community with charitable acts.

Lastly, the present overdependence on the aid model to bring about international development prevents us from concentrating on other truly potent tools of development. For instance, institutional reform gets barely mentioned in development discourse despite overwhelming evidence that lasting improvement on the people’s lives depends on it. The same goes with regard to putting in place fair rules of international trade as well as free movement of labour.

Author: Michael Seifu