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.

 

 

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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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Global water inequality

Global water inequality

 

Millions of people, including children, die each year from diarrhoeal diseases contracted from poor water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. A lack of investment and management of freshwater supply mainly affects people in sub-Saharan Africa, and Central, Southern, and South-Eastern Asia.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 6, ‘clean water and sanitation’, aims for clean, accessible water for all in an era where an increased population has thus increased the competition for water. Member states are expected to take a stand and achieve the goal by 2030.

Scarce water and poor water quality are barriers to food security, educational opportunities, and an overall acceptable quality of life. Currently, 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater. By 2050, it is estimated that at least 1 in 4 people is likely to live in a country with chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater.

Gender inequality intertwines with access to clean water. Women and girls lose out on educational opportunities, as they are often responsible for hours-long water collection in households with water unavailability – in turn increasing the risk of long-term poverty.

Chronic shortages of water over long periods of time leads to drought, which negatively impact food production and security, worsening malnutrition in some areas. Farmers who rely on access to water to live are affected by higher crop prices and food insecurity, while children affected by malnutrition are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases in adulthood.

A lack of access to toilets mean 892 million people continue to practice open defecation, and a further 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation.

Today, 90 percent of the world’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water, which has improved from 76 percent between 1990 and 2015. But the UN expects that by 2025 1.8 billion people will live with water scarcity, and the global population living in poverty will increase by 100 billion.

The World Bank Group, UNICEF, and he World Health Organization estimate that correcting water supply and sanitation in 140 countries will cost $28.4 billion per year until 2030. It is, however, in a country’s own long-term economic interest to invest in water and sanitation. In sub-Saharan Africa, freshwater unavailability costs 4.3 percent of GDP, and 6.4 percent of India’s GDP, a country where open defecation is still widely practiced.

According to the UN, water use has grown more than twice the rate of the population increase in the last century. Although competition for water has grown with an increasing population, it is now a question of responsible use by those who have access and water supply and management by and for those who don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of gerlos via Flickr

 

Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Law

Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Law

 

Under the current Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act (GID) in Japan, transgender citizens must undergo forced sterilization for their gender identity to be legally recognized.

A report by Human Rights Watch titled “A Really High Hurdle: Japan’s Abusive Transgender Legal Recognition Process” examined the human rights violations perpetuated under GID, based on interviews with 48 transgender Japanese citizens, as well as lawyers, health providers and academics from 14 districts in Japan.

The GID has been criticized internationally for coercing invasive and largely unwanted surgeries, justified by an outdated law that classifies being transgender as a mental health condition. The procedure involves a mandatory psychological diagnosis – with lengthy waits for clinic appointments and subsequent transferals that can take up to a year – and subsequent irreversible medical procedures.

Citizens struggle in the education system and finding employment, which like Spain and Turkey that have similar laws, classifies people under strict binaries. This puts pressure on transgender people to follow the procedures before entering the workforce while suffering ever-present barriers to inclusion within society. This forces people to come out to their parents before they are ready, as the procedures often require applicants to use their family’s health insurance.

Further rules under GID mean eligible applicants must be single and without underage children (under 20-years-old), rules which further violate UN Human Rights like the right to have a family, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom of expression.

Most notably, the law violates the right to equality and freedom from discrimination, while the required medical procedures violate the right to freedom from degrading treatment or punishment.

Japan’s Supreme Court argues for sterilization as transgender males becoming pregnant would cause “confusion” in society, in effect maintaining homogeneity in a largely conservative society. Polls suggest, however, that citizens should be legally recognized.

The GID came into force in 2004, but changes have come about since then in terms of taking steps to recognize transgender people, both in Japan and internationally.

The World Health Organization published its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which will be presented to member states in May this year. The revised edition moves being transgender from a mental illness to ‘gender incongruence’, under conditions related to sexual health – meaning the term ‘gender identity disorder’ no longer exists internationally. Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association revised the terms in 2012.

In 2016, the Japanese Education Ministry issued a Guidebook for Teachers on how to treat LGBT students in schools. In 2017, the Ministry announced that it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students.

In 2018, in anticipation of hosting the 2020 Olympics, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed a law that disallows the city government, citizens, and enterprises from discriminating based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The county has also voted for two UN Human Rights Council resolutions which aim to end violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2018 a UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity also recommended in his address to the UN General Assembly to eliminate abusive requirements in the legal process to change gender in Japan. He further recommended that a revised version of the law ensure legal recognition in all aspects of people’s lives, whether it be in education, employment, or personal matters.

These changes and recommendations provide Japan with a prerequisite to alter its law. A revision of Japan’s current law would bring the broadly unheard-of topic to the limelight and educate people on what it means to be transgender. Citizens could escape marginalization from society and humiliating, irreversible procedures.

 

 

 

 

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The destruction of heritage and history during wartimes

The destruction of heritage and history during wartimes

 

Perhaps the most infamous destruction of cultural heritage during wartime in our lifetime is that of ISIS militants and other groups in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.

ISIS destroyed part of the Roman amphitheater in Palmyra, a city in Homs – known as “The Home of Peace” – in January 2017 when it retook control from Russian and Syrian government forces. The piece of architecture dates to the second century, with aspects of Greek, Islamic, Persian, and Roman cultures all manifested within it.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science reckons that only the Ancient City of Damascus remained largely undamaged during the war, according to satellite images from the area, although much of the damage may not be visible on satellite imagery.

ISIS destroys cities and artifacts as a demonstration of oppression, abuse of power, and a ruthless and barbaric rejection of other cultures; all in the name of their version of Islam. ISIS ruined the rich beauty and culture of the entirety of Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as over 150 Syrian cities between 2011 and 2015, according to the Antiques Coalition, a US-derived organization that tackles the illegal trade in antiquities.

ISIS’s destructive behaviour has not just ideological but also monetary objectives: ISIS pocketed over $200,000 in taxes from selling stolen antiquities through third-party dealers between 2014 and 2015. This was a core source of income for the militants, in turn spurring on the accumulation of more arms and explosives to eradicate Syrian heritage. Wartime destruction also fuels the global trade in illegal antiquities, which drip into black markets and galleries around the world.

Severe damage to cultural sites is however not exclusive to ISIS. Russian airstrikes in May 2016 for example, hit the St. Simeon Monastery, a World UNESCO Heritage Site which dates to 490 AD. Two rounds of five airstrikes in February that year caused serious damage to the 16th century Ma’arra Museum. When Turkish forces came to liberate their soldiers stationed to protect Suleyman Shah’s tomb, the group intentionally destroyed it ahead of ISIS.

Although Syria and Saudi Arabia are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, both are culprits of heritage destruction. Saudi Arabia bombed the Dhamar Regional Museum, while the Maarat al-Numan Mosaics Museum in the Idlib province suffered months of shelling when it became a military base for the Syrian army under Assad’s regime.

To curb this damage, a group of postgraduates from the University of Damascus and scientists from the European Centre of Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments (EKBMM) teamed up to study Syrian mosaics in a documentation and conservation venture. The group were involved in moving 3,000 square metres of mosaics dating from the 4th to 7th century to museums and storage areas in Syria.

Meanwhile, archaeologists Abdul Rahman Al-Yehiya and Ayman al-Nabu used a protective sheet on 1,600 square feet of ancient mosaics, and used sandbags to protect the Mosaics Museum itself.

The destruction of heritage and culture is not only a loss to Syria, but to society and future generations. Much of what was destroyed post-war cannot be salvaged, which further limits education and the ability of historians and anthropologists to understand the meaning of our heritage and identity. What cannot be salvaged reshapes heritage and culture into scarred remnants of the past.

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of David Holt via Flickr