Just World. the Blog.

July 27, 2015

Climate change and conflict out-pacing poverty reduction

By Éamonn Meehan

If recent events in Europe have highlighted anything it is the all-too-often slow response of political systems to structural crises. It is perhaps the nature of democracy that tough decisions are delayed and unpopular measures long-fingered until such a time as the elephant in the room has morphed into a stampeding herd.

Sadly, this approach has characterised the response of the global political system to the two dominant themes driving global poverty today: conflict and climate change. 

Efforts to tackle extreme poverty have made very significant headway since the turn of the century. A coordinated global aid effort, under the banner of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), has saved millions of lives and lifted many more out of extreme poverty. School enrolment rates have risen significantly, childhood and maternal mortality rates have halved, and progress has been made in reducing the threats from diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. There have been many success stories as a result of a focused aid effort. 

Unfortunately, however, while the top line statistics paint a positive picture, the canvas on which we are painting is tearing at the seams. 

The spread of conflict and the impact of severe weather patterns on food production are undoing many of the gains that have been made. Efforts to combat extreme poverty are being out-paced by these two dominant features of modern life.  

Around the world, 59.5 million people have fled their homes as a result of conflict, almost the combined population of 15 EU states. The global displacement figure has not been this high since the world was engulfed in the chaos of World War II.

War in Syria has contributed greatly to this stark statistic. International political structures failed to engage with the Syria war during the early years, leaving Syria now in its fifth year of killing and destruction. It has taken the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrians on our shores for Europe to engage with the issue, but even then the response has been dismal. The EU has failed to agree on how to offer new homes to just 60,000 asylum seekers, a tiny percentage of the number of Syrians who have fled their homes. Nobody can seriously claim the EU does not have the capacity to fulfil its legal obligation to offer security to such a small number of people relative to the EU’s 500 million population. 

As President Higgins rightly observed earlier this week, it is appalling to portray this as a challenge when taking the situation these people are fleeing into account. 

Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Syrian refugees Ahmad and Madallakh with their  grandsons Mohammed and Abdelrahman living in an unfinished apartment block in Lebanon's Bekka Valley. There are 59.5 million people around the world displaced as a result of conflict - the combined population of 15 EU states.

 

Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia are by some distance the world’s three largest sources of refugees. The ongoing conflicts that have dogged these countries, in some cases for over two decades, have plunged millions of people into extreme poverty. Without tackling the political factors behind those conflicts, there can be no improvements to the lives of people in those countries nor any stop to the flow of people attempting to seek security elsewhere. 

Migration is almost certain to rise over the coming years as climate change continues to erode people’s ability to live in their home environment. Globally, temperatures have risen by 0.85 degrees Celsius over the last 150 years. This has contributed significantly to migration by reducing people’s ability to grow food, not to mention the increased frequency and intensity of storms and floods as sea levels rise and weather systems alter. 

Climate change is picking up such pace that temperatures may rise by anything between a further one and five degrees over the coming decades. Just imagine the chaos this will cause as huge swaths of rural land become essentially uninhabitable and entire coastal regions are devoured by the seas.

Tharaka district in Kenya 

Rising temperatures are leading to droughts and prolonged spells of hunger as people in regions such as Tharaka in Kenya struggle to grow crops. 

 

There is a growing political consensus – with the notable exception of the American right – that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and urgently needs addressed. That realisation, however, has not been matched by political moves to actually address the threat. 

World leaders meet in Paris in December at the UN Climate Summit but there is little to suggest that they are willing to commit to actions to match their rhetoric. 

Through his recent Encyclical, Pope Francis has pleaded with political leaders to take the steps necessary to safeguard the future of the planet. This powerful document clearly aligns the Catholic Church with calls for agreement on a legally-binding framework to decarbonise our societies as a matter of urgency.

The passionate words of President Higgins and former President Mary Robinson at this week’s Summit of the Consciences for the Climate in Paris gives the impression that Ireland is a world leader on this issue, yet Dáil Éireann has failed to match Áras an Uachtaráin’s desire to secure a safe planet for future generations. 

When I look at Trócaire’s work around the world, the spread of conflict and the growing reality of a changed natural environment are the two themes that stand out as major obstacles towards poverty reduction. 

Never before has a time been characterised on the one hand by such incredible progress and on the other by such enormous challenges. 

This article first appeared in The Irish Examiner on July 27th, 2015.

July 21, 2015

Conflict and climate change ‘out-pacing poverty reduction’

Positive trends in poverty reduction are being out-paced by the growth of conflict and the worsening of climate change, Trócaire said today at the launch of the organisation’s Annual Report for the year 1 March 2014 - 28 February 2015.

While there have been many successes in the battle against extreme poverty, the spread of conflict and the impact of severe weather patterns on food production and displacement are undoing many of the gains that have been made, warned the agency. 

Trócaire today announced that its development and emergency programmes have benefited approximately 2.4 million people directly in 24 countries over the last 12 months.

Éamonn Meehan said that conflict and issues linked with climate change are the dominant drivers of Trócaire’s programmes:

“Over the last 12 months Trócaire has brought vital aid and support to approximately 2.4 million people in some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world. Many of our biggest programmes are responding to the needs of people forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict. Our programmes in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are providing vital supplies to people caught in the crossfire. 

“Climate change is also causing displacement and increasing poverty as droughts, storms and floods intensify around the world. Last February over 635,000 people were affected by flooding in Malawi, while prolonged periods without rainfall in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe and Rwanda are making it increasingly difficult for farmers to grow crops.”

Eliyeta Muyeye and her sister Fortune Kalolo at the family's crops in Dedza, Malawi.

Farmers in countries such as Malawi are increasingly struggling to grow crops due to the impacts of climate change. Pictured: Eliyeta Muyeye and her sister Fortune Kalolo at the family's crops in Dedza, Malawi. Photo: Jeannie O'Brien/Trócaire.

The Irish public donated €22 million to Trócaire’s non-emergency fundraising in 2014/15, the same amount as was donated during 2013/14.  A further €1 million was donated to specific humanitarian appeals, primarily appeals for the Ebola response in Sierra Leone and the response to the Gaza conflict. 

The Irish Government contributed €18.2 million to Trócaire’s work through Irish Aid. As in previous years, the Irish Government remains the single largest donor to Trócaire’s work contributing 31% of the organisation’s total income. 

Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan thanked the public in Ireland for supporting the organisation’s work:

“Throughout recent turbulent years at home, Irish people have never wavered in their commitment to supporting people living through injustice, conflict and poverty overseas. The €23 million donated to Trócaire by people in Ireland amounts to almost €4 for every man, woman and child on this island. That is an incredible testament to people’s commitment to the world’s poorest people.”

Examples of Trócaire’s impact during the 2014/15 period include:
•    110,000 people in Somalia supported with health, nutrition and education
•    47,050 people in Sierra Leone provided with support during the Ebola outbreak
•    288,811 people in Sudan benefited from medical care
•    37,000 people in Myanmar assisted with food and shelter
•    14,000 people in Iraq provided with emergency aid
•    785 human rights defenders in Guatemala provided with support

Trócaire’s two largest programme areas are livelihoods and emergency response. In 2014/15 the organisation’s emergency programmes benefited 1.1 million people directly and a further 3 million people indirectly, while the livelihoods programmes benefited approximately 795,000 people directly and 1.5 million people indirectly. Trócaire also operates programmes protecting human rights, supporting gender equality and working with people living with HIV. 

You can read the 2014/15 annual report online.

June 25, 2015

Major conference calls for immediate action on climate change

This week Trócaire, Maynooth University and St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, co-hosted a major two-day conference titled: ‘Meeting the Challenge of Climate Justice: From Evidence to Action’.

2015 is a critical year in addressing the impending climate emergency and charting a path towards a more sustainable future, culminating in the UN Summit (COP21) in Paris in December. 

Climate change, and the injustice it represents, is one of the most serious challenges facing humanity. But while the evidence on human-made climate change is overwhelming, action to stem the rise in global temperatures lags far behind. It is hoped that a strong, binding, international agreement for action will be agreed at the UN Summit in December. But there is no room for complacency that this will be achieved. And strong campaigning is required in advance to ensure that politicians act for the global good. 

On that theme, this conference addressed a diverse audience including campaigners, political representatives, business leaders and grass-roots activists, and was livestreamed to an international audience. Speakers included climate justice luminaries and activists such as Mary Robinson and Bill McKibben of 350.org, as well as Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice-president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Other leading voices at the conference were John Sweeney Emeritus Professor of Geography at Maynooth University, Fr Sean McDonagh, a Columban missionary and ecological activist, and Bishop Theotonius Gomes, Auxiliary Bishop of Dhaka, Bangladesh – a regular attendee and contributor at international climate negotiations.

Mary Robinson stated clearly that two-thirds of known fossil-fuel reserves must be left in the ground if global warming is to be kept at less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. She spoke of “the moral imperative to act” and the need for “global co-operation on an unprecedented scale – a whole new era of solidarity based on an understanding of our interconnectedness,” adding that climate change “confronts us with the reality of our interdependence”.

mary robinson, amy colgan, Dr David Mkwambisi

Photos: Mary Robinson delivering keynote speech, young climate campaigner Amy Colgan, Dr David Mkwambisi, Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Advocating strongly for divestment strategies at an individual and institutional level, leading climate change campaigner Bill McKibben told the conference that the fossil fuel industry is threatening the safety and security of the planet. He described them as “the most irresponsible industry we have ever seen on the planet”. 

McKibben warned of the “planetary dislocation” that is taking place and said that the only way to halt a global temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius is to “break the power of the fossil fuel industry”. 

“They are no longer normal companies,” he said. “We must turn them into the pariahs they must become. If we follow the business plan of the fossil fuel industry, we will go far beyond a two degree temperature rise. If they do what they have said they will do, the planet will break.”

Professor Jean Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that levels of carbon in the atmosphere today are unprecedented. The Professor outlined how for 800,000 years the levels of carbon in the atmosphere varied between 180-280 parts per million (ppm) but now stands at 400ppm. 

Professor van Ypersele described the “hidden message” of the IPCC reports as being the complete lack of political will to tackle an issue that presents a threat to all forms of life on earth. Limiting global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius would be an enormous challenge given that two-thirds of the level of carbon compatible with restricting temperature rises to two degrees has already been emitted, he said.

Professor John Sweeney presented the Irish climate change context. He pointed out that last year was the warmest in Ireland since 1880 and that average temperatures had increased by 0.5 degrees since 1981.

At these current rates, temperatures will continue to rise by between one degree and 1.5 degrees over the next 30 years, he said. This would result in much more rainfall in the west of Ireland and a lot less in the east between 2021 and 2050 - with more frequent flooding and water shortages during summer. 

Referring to the 2013 fodder crisis – he said this may be indicative of what is to come. Similarly, we are likely to have more extreme storm events as in the winter of 2013/14.

“The cost of doing nothing is huge for Ireland,” he said.

The Pope’s Encyclical on ecology, which was released just last week (18 June) was hailed by all as a landmark call to action on climate change. 

"Laudato Si’ is an astonishing document - there is no longer any excuse for people not knowing about this issue” Bill McKibben said.

Many contributors also spoke of the lack of political will in Ireland – and a refrain from politicians that they are not hearing climate change concerns from constituents ‘on the doorsteps’. It is up to us, individually and collectively, to ensure that the climate message is now heard loud and clear.

QUOTES FROM CONFERENCE CONTRIBUTORS

 

FIND OUT MORE: Learn more about the Climate Justice conference at www.climatejustice2015.org

JOIN: Trócaire’s Climate Justice campaign, take action for a strong climate law for Ireland and help raise awareness of climate change with the Irish public and our political representatives

WATCH: Drop in the Ocean?: Ireland and Climate Change 

June 18, 2015

Key messages from the Pope’s Encyclical on ecology

Dr Lorna Gold, Trócaire's Head of Policy and Advocacy, writes about Pope Francis's Encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’ – released today

You can't read Pope Francis’s Encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’, and not be deeply moved. 

This is perhaps the most far reaching church document in a generation. It is certainly the most anticipated. It is both deeply political in its content and in its timing, as well as deeply contemplative and deeply practical.

Pope Francis presents a heart-breaking analysis of the various dramatic environmental situations facing the world today – from the terror of climate change, to biodiversity loss in every habitat, to the growing inequality in relation to finite resources, against a backdrop of overconsumption and waste - which results in many people being regarded as disposable.

He points to the deep ethical and spiritual roots of the current 'socio-environmental' crisis: a uni-dimensional paradigm founded on a blind faith in market-based technocratic solutions to resolve the world's problems. He warns of the folly of seeking technical fixes to complex problems, which involve matters of human consciousness. 

In fact, we know very little about the interconnectedness of life and often choose to ignore it. Overcoming this blindness requires an integral ecology, one that doesn’t try to solve problems in a piecemeal fashion, but sees the deep interconnections between the different crises and seeks to resolve them in a holistic, interdisciplinary way.

The Pope dispels the myths around the Judeo-Christian tradition as being about domination of nature. He throws this out as a false interpretation and goes to great lengths to dispel it. 

A phrase that appears several times in the document is "everything is interconnected." In terms of what we can do, the Encyclical points to some very practical pathways for action. In this respect, it really gives hope. 

First, we each need to believe that simple actions make a big difference. We need to start by re-evaluating our own understanding of our place in the environment. He reminds us that we are made from the elements of the natural world. We do not sit apart from it. We are earth and we need to rediscover that deep connection. Reconnecting with our place in nature and rediscovering that "affectionate" relationship is the starting point of an "ecological conversion." 
 
The Pope places a special focus on families and the role of parents in this regard. He makes a very simple call for all families to begin practicing grace before meals again, as a sign of our appreciation of nature and our dependence on God's creation. It is a custom that has perhaps gone out of fashion. He also asks us to consider Sunday as a day of rest, a restorative day for nature and ourselves. 

In our local communities, he affirms that integral ecology is central to the Christian message. He calls for an ecological spirituality and asks us all to consider how we consume. He says that each act of consumption is a "moral and political act". He reminds us of the power of boycott campaigns and the need to create a counterculture based on 'less is more' and a new mindful, contemplation of nature. It calls for a new educational and spiritual awareness to ensure this happens. 

It calls on NGOs, in particular, to continue to work for political change and to organise people to build political pressure for change.

At a political level, the Encyclical does not pull any punches. It highlights the way in which international finance has control over politics at a national and international level and how this is limiting and distorting our capacity to address common challenges. This is a failure of governance, which requires a new way of governing the “global commons". 

We need stronger, effective international agreements to combat environmental degradation, including climate change. In this respect, the need for a fair and binding agreement on climate change at the UN Summit this December is essential to change course. 

Importantly, the Encyclical stresses that poor countries should not have to bear the burden of this transition. They need to be supported both in terms of finance and technology transfers to make the transition to renewable energy.

At a national level, the Pope also has a timely message for Ireland, as we finalise our own climate legislation in the next few weeks. He points to the need for robust laws to protect the environment and the need to ensure that they are enacted. 

These laws should not be subject to the whim of political cycles, but take the long view, thinking of the impact of their enforcement on future generations. In this regard, the need for Ireland's climate legislation to be as robust as possible and to incorporate the principle of climate justice is very clear.

On the economic front, the Encyclical points to the need for macroeconomic strategies and business plans in particular to integrate environmental costs. It points to the fact that the economy currently does not account properly for the use of natural capital, utilising it as if it were an infinite resource. We know now that it is not and that true natural capital accounting is essential. 

Similarly, all businesses need to implement Environmental Impact Assessments, which take the full environmental impacts into account.

The Encyclical starts and ends with a very compelling but simple message: we need to look at nature and each other with new eyes. Before thinking about how we can use nature, we need to recover our capacity to contemplate it, and give praise to God for its and our existence.

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June 18, 2015

Pope's Encyclical is ‘a wake-up call to a world sleep-walking into disaster’

Today Trócaire welcomed Pope Francis’s Encyclical on ecology, saying the Pope’s unprecedented intervention must have a positive impact on the vital climate negotiations this year. 
 
Pope Francis today published Laudato Si’, in which he calls for action at local, national and international levels to combat ecological destruction, and in particular the future threat and current reality of climate change. 

The Encyclical, which is addressed to "every person who lives on this planet," clearly aligns the Catholic Church with the growing movement calling for urgent changes to lifestyles and energy consumption in order to safeguard the future of the planet.
 
Speaking in the strongest terms yet in defence of the environment as "our common home," Pope Francis warns of the unprecedented destruction of ecosystems as a result of human activity, clearly outlining the threats to future generations as a result of our actions. 

Calling for an “integral ecology,” Pope Francis underscores the human roots of the current  ecological crisis in social, political and economic structures. He points to the need for a radical shift in direction in political and economic priorities in order to meet the needs of the poorest, while also warning that our current lifestyles and consumption patterns are unsustainable.
 
Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan said that the Encyclical should mark a turning point in the global response to environmental justice, and particularly climate change:
 
“This Encyclical is one of the most significant Church documents in a generation.  It is a powerful wake-up call to a world sleep-walking into disaster. Pope Francis has clearly aligned the Catholic Church with calls for urgent political action to reduce carbon emissions and set the world on the path to a sustainable future.
 
“Trócaire is dealing with the consequences of climate change on a daily basis. Drought, flooding, storms and forced migration are all on the rise. Although we are insulated from the worst impacts in Ireland, we must not forget that hundreds of millions of people around the world are struggling to survive in great part due to the changing climate.
 
“In less than six months time, world leaders will meet in Paris at the UN Climate Summit. Pope Francis has added the voice of the global Catholic Church to the calls for agreement on a legally-binding framework to decarbonise our societies as a matter of urgency.
 
“The science on climate change is already clear. Pope Francis has now clearly outlined the moral and spiritual arguments for taking action. This Encyclical tackles the lethargy that is felt by many people when faced with this most pressing of crises. Pope Francis makes clear that everything is inter-connected. We are custodians of this planet and we have a clear moral obligation to ensure that everyone has access to its abundant resources, and that we hand it to future generations in a condition that is compatible with life.”

On Monday and Tuesday of next week (22-23 June), Trócaire is co-hosting a major international conference on Climate Justice at Maynooth University. Speakers include Mary Robinson, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Places at the conference are now fully booked, however, the event will be livestreamed here: www.climatejustice2015.org.

 

Learn more about Trócaire's ongoing Climate Justice campaign

 
Additional Notes:


1. An Encyclical is a letter issued by the Pope to all Catholic Bishops around the world. Laudato Si' is Pope Francis’s second Encyclical. In June 2013 he released Lumen Fidei, which addressed issues such as faith and charity.

2. The environment has been a key theme of Francis’s papacy. In his inaugural address (March 2013), Pope Francis urged people to be “protectors of one another and of the environment,” reminding people that “everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it.”

3. In Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation issued in November 2013, Pope Francis warned against an economic system which promotes exclusion, inequality and violence. He warned, “in this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increase profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” An apostolic exhortation is a letter to all Bishops, clergy and lay faithful.

4. In 2014/15, Trócaire spent almost €58 million helping to improve the lives of an estimated 2.4 million people directly in some of the poorest places in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

5. Climate change is a priority issue for Trócaire. Our Livelihoods programmes offer support to people struggling to grow food in the face of erratic weather patterns, while our Humanitarian programmes respond to situations of crisis resulting from drought, storms and floods. In 2014/15, €13.3 million was spent supporting livelihoods programmes in 14 countries. These programmes are estimated to have benefitted 794,898 people directly. In 2014/15 Trócaire spent €26.8 million supporting humanitarian and disaster risk reduction work in 16 countries. This work is estimated to have supported over 1.1 million people directly.

6. In 2014, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued ‘The Cry of the Earth,’ a pastoral reflection on climate change which noted: “in addressing the challenge of climate change, everyone has a part to play. Every action taken in favour of a just and more sustainable environment, no matter how small, has an intrinsic value. Action at a global level, as well as every individual action which contributes to integral human development and global solidarity, helps to construct a more sustainable environment and, therefore, a better world.”

7. Trócaire issued ‘Glas’, a pastoral resource, to accompany ‘The Cry of the Earth’. This resource has been distributed to parishes throughout Ireland in order to give communities ideas of practical steps that can be taken to promote a healthy environment. Trócaire works with parishes, schools and communities across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to promote responses to climate change.
 

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June 15, 2015

Pope Francis encyclical to call for action on climate change

On Thursday (June 18th) Pope Francis will release Laudato Si, his highly anticipated Encyclical on climate change. The document will mark the Pope’s most significant intervention in the climate debate to date, clearly aligning the global Catholic Church with calls for greater political action to save the planet from climate chaos. 

Pope Francis has already clearly demonstrated his commitment to environmental care through many of his public statements. Last year, he warned, “if we destroy it [nature], it will destroy us”. However, this week’s encyclical will be his most unprecedented intervention on the topic of protecting our planet. 

Laudato Si is expected to make the moral argument for taking political action to reduce carbon emissions. It is also expected to make the link between environmental destruction, poverty and inequality by criticising an economic system that benefits a small elite while at the same time causing environmental destruction that harms us all. It is expected that the Pope will deeply question how we run our economy and our lifestyles and how we value our relationship with nature. 

Tigray, Ethiopia, climate change

Dry landscape in Tigray, Ethiopia, where once-reliable rains have become infrequent and unpredictable. Photo: Jeannie O'Brien, 2014

 

The timing of this encyclical is extremely important. There are a number of international processes taking place this year relating to climate change, culminating in the vital UN Climate Summit in Paris this December. 

Pope Francis’s intervention at such a crucial time will clearly place the Catholic Church on the side of those demanding political action. Laudato Si will be distributed to Bishops around the world, who will then filter it down through the parish network. 

At Trócaire, we have made climate change our number one priority. Increasingly our programmes are focused on tackling the impacts of climate change – be it drought in southern Africa, storms in Latin America or flooding in Asia. 

Climate change is having a severe impact on the ability of already struggling communities to survive and grow food, and the experts warn that this will only intensify over the coming years unless action is taken immediately to reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. 

For example, it is predicted that yields from ‘rain-fed’ agriculture will drop by 50 per cent by 2020 to due drought.

The great injustice of this is that it is the people who are suffering most who have done the least to contribute to climate change. Developing countries are much more dependent on subsistence agriculture and have far fewer resources with which to cope with the changing climate.

Pope Francis’s encyclical will offer timely guidance on how we should tackle the most pressing issue of our time. 

Access Trócaire's schools, parish and policy resources on climate change.

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June 12, 2015

10 climate quotes from experts and activists

Bernie Sanders quote

 

bill mckibben quote

 

eamonn meehan quote

 

jim kim quote

 

joseph romm quote

 

leonardo di caprio climate quote

 

Mary Robinson climate change quote

 

naomi klein climate quote

 

Robert Devoy climate scientist quote

 

Kumi naidoo climate quote

 

Meeting the Challenge of Climate Justice: From Evidence to Action

Trócaire is co-hosting a major climate conference on 22-23 June in Maynooth.

Speakers include Mary Robinson, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and Jean-Pascal van Ypersele of the IPCC.

The event is now fully booked, but will be livestreamed here: www.climatejustice2015.org.

Please join us!

 

Trócaire's Climate Justice campaign

Find out more about Trócaire's work on climate change and climate justice. Access useful resources and multi-media content and sign up to our campaign.

 

June 12, 2015

Diversity determines destiny: Trócaire partners in Guatemala working to secure land and food supplies

Rose Hogan, Trócaire’s policy advisor on sustainable agriculture, reports from Guatemala on the global lessons that can be learned from local initiatives in ‘ecological agriculture’. 

I’ve just spent an educational and inspiring two weeks meeting with Trócaire partners in Guatemala and El Salvador, learning about their strategies for securing sustainable food supplies, reducing malnutrition and adapting to climate change for families and communities.

Rose Hogan and various Trocaire partners in Guatemala at ecological agriculture workshop

Six partner organisations who all work in the area of ecological agriculture came together for three days in Coban, Guatemala to share experiences and learn from each other.

Halwa and Martin, from Cobán, Guatemala, have been working with Trócaire’s partner Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Comunitario Indígena "Wakliiqo" (ADICI) for five years now. They have adopted a farming technique known as ‘a long-cycle succession forest farming’ which uses long-term tree crops such as cinnamon to develop a tall canopy under which several layers of plants are grown. Green leaf plants cover the soil while beans, pineapples, tomatoes, pumpkins, cacao and other plants all form layers at various heights taking advantage of light and nutrients and finding their own space within the new food forest architecture. 

It sounds chaotic but a natural order does emerge. After five years of using this technique Halwa and Martin now have 110 different plant species which either feed the family directly, or feed the soil, the chickens or the bees who in turn feed the farming couple and their two children. 

According to Halwa and Martin this highly complex permanent cropping system has helped them improve their nutrition through the consumption of a much greater diversity of foods than they would have traditionally consumed and it is also providing a small income that is helping to send their two teenage boys to secondary school. 

Over one hundred families in ADICI’s programme have seen positive changes. ADICI have trained them to monitor their own progress by comparing their food consumption and income with that of neighbouring families. The results show that those families who have adopted the multiple-cropping techniques are eating more often and a more diverse range of foods than their neighbours who have stuck to conventional, business as usual, farming systems, focused solely on growing corn and beans.

RED Kuchubal, another of Trócaire’s  partners in Guatemala, has been very successful in supporting small farmers’ access markets for their produce including coffee, chocolate, honey and various herbal medicines and balms. Some products have received international certification as organic and have even reached international markets.  

Generating a cash income is, however, only one part of the story for achieving sustainable livelihoods for Guatemala’s poor farmers and indigenous families.  Ensuring secure access to land is crucial to producing food for the family. 
Rural Guatemala has been scarred by centuries of conflict, dispossession and unequal access to land that has left the country with the legacy of one of the highest rates of malnutrition in Latin America. 

Malnutrition for children under five is at 43.4%. In rural and communities this rises to 60% and among the indigenous population an alarming 80% of children under five are malnourished.  Eighty-percent of the food consumed in Guatemala is produced by small farmers despite the fact that they only have access to 20% of the land. Whereas 80% of the land remains in the hands of 20% of the population, mostly families of the Guatemalan elite, that use the land to produce export and agro-industrial crops such as sugar cane, coffee, banana, rubber and palm oil.

Trócaire’s partners engage the rural families in land rights education and advocacy with government bodies to ensure land rights are respected. Partners also support families and communities to secure legal title over their lands to avoid future dispossessions. 

Land tenure security is now being threatened by land grabs for mining and hydroelectric mega-projects as well as massive palm oil and sugar cane plantations to produce biofuels. 

Many of the families and communities who suffered both losses of land and loved ones during the 36-year internal armed conflict are the same ones facing this new threat of dispossession.  

Thus organisations like ADICI take a holistic approach to food security by working to protect the rights of small farmers and indigenous communities to lands and resources. They support community peace processes while encourage families to adopt multiple cropping techniques that can provide food all-year-round.

ADICI is in this struggle for the long-haul because “even though projects are short, the processes of development are long.” 

They form part of a local, national, regional and international movement towards ‘food sovereignty’ which fights to retain the legal power over local varieties and species of plant with local communities. 

Partners have engaged politically to prevent international commerce from patenting their seeds and lobbying for local seeds to become recognised as local heritage, maintained by municipalities for their people’s benefit. 

In Guatemala food security is not just about growing enough food, or selling produce in high –value markets but also about taking strategic action to hold onto the agro-biodiversity which enables a diverse diet no matter what the climate brings. 

These local activities provide valuable models for the global actions needed on conversation, land rights and food security into the future. 

Learn more about Trócaire's work in Guatemala

May 12, 2015

We need a Climate Bill with ambition

By Jerry Mac Evilly, Trócaire Policy Officer

An international environmental legal organisation has found significant failings in the Government’s proposed Climate Bill and warns that the legislation will fail unless critical weaknesses are addressed.

Client Earth, an environmental legal organisation based in London, has warned that weak legislation can “lock-in a high carbon society” and specifically called on the Minister for the Environment to revise the Bill to ensure the independence of the proposed expert advisory group and the introduction of long-term binding national climate targets.

According to the report issued by the firm and commissioned by the Stop Climate Chaos network of Irish NGOs:

“The purpose of enacting a national climate law is to help ensure that an optimal policy mix is consistently pursued to bring about cost-effective long-term decarbonisation. A poorly designed law can 'lock in' a high carbon society and thereby increase the costs when a country does make the inevitable transition to a low carbon future.”

People Climate march in Dublin

People's Climate members call for a fossil free future in Dublin (Photo: Alan Whelan)

 

Climate change is a key driver of poverty in the developing world but it is developed nations who are primarily responsible, having contributed most to harmful increases in carbon emissions. The Government needs to put in place a strong Climate Bill to ensure that Ireland is a leader of effective climate mitigation, not an ambivalent bystander.

This Bill is an opportunity for the Government to put climate policy back on track by taking a long-term, committed approach to reducing emissions. However, in its current form the Bill not only lacks ambition but will fail to achieve its basic objective of providing a clear and stable low-carbon transition.

The Bill will go to Committee stage over the coming weeks and we would call on the Minister to listen to the cross-party calls for stronger legislation to ensure Ireland has effective and meaningful climate legislation.

Read the full Client Earth report

April 22, 2015

Inspiring voices from the latest Climate Conversation

Trócaire and Christian Aid brought together members of different faith groups and green initiatives to talk about the inspiration required for action on climate change. 
 
On Monday night (20 April), Trócaire and Christian Aid co-hosted the fourth in a series of ‘Climate Conversations’. 
 
Held at Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral, the event was titled ‘Prophetic Voices: The Call to Action’ and explored where and how people in modern Ireland might find inspiration to address the mammoth issue of climate change – drawing strength from their faith, spirituality, and personal morality.
 
Representatives from a number of faith communities in Ireland were present, from Buddhists to Baptists, as well as representatives from various NGOs, academia and sustainability initiatives. 
 
The keynote speech was delivered by Father Sean McDonagh SCC, a leading eco-theologian, author and strong advocate for action on climate change. 
 
Father McDonagh gave a compelling overview of the scale of the problem – extreme weather, food insecurity, rising sea levels and potential mass extinctions of species.
 
He spoke about how the ethical frameworks we currently have from our religious traditions focus on our relationships with other human beings and with God – and that these are not wide enough for us to start to address climate change. 
 
He called for action on climate change from the grassroots up – starting at parish and Diocesan levels. He also spoke hopefully about the Papal Encyclical on climate change and the environment which is due to be released in the summer and which will reach out to the more than one billion Catholics around the globe. 
 
It is thought that the Encyclical will explain climate change in plain language, and explain why we need to care about it and what we need to do collectively to bring about the changes we need to avert disaster and ensure sustainable life in the future. 
 
Before that event, a landmark summit is being held at the Vatican on 28 April entitled ‘Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development’.  The summit hopes to help build a global movement across all religions for action on climate change in 2015 and beyond, bringing together scientists, global faith leaders, UN officials and influential advocates.
 
climate conversations speakers sean mcdonagh, natasha harty, amy colgan and representatives from different faith groups
Top right: Father Sean McDonagh, Middle: Amy Colgan, Left: Natasha Harty. Bottom: representatives from different faith groups
 
At the Christchurch event on Monday, a contribution by video was made by Gunnela Hahn on behalf of the Church of Sweden, which counts two-thirds of the Swedish population (six million people) as members. She shared details of how the Church, which serves as an important model for other large institutions, has actively divested from the fossil fuel industry and adopted policies of responsible investment. 
 
The undisputed star if the evening was Amy Colgan, an inspiring 17-year-old student involved in both ECO-UNESCO initiative for young people and Trócaire’s Climate Change Challenge. Articulate and committed, Amy told the audience about her family motto that ‘doing something is better than doing nothing’ and how when she learned about climate change she felt she had to do something, no matter how small.
 
She spoke of her experience taking part in Trócaire’s three-day Climate Change Challenge in November 2014 with 30 other secondary students.
 
The students took part in a role-play simulation of a climate disaster in which they had to flee a country hit by devastating floods. “It was very much an eye-opener... the most horrifying moment was when we came back to reflect on it and I just had this moment of realisation where I went ‘that was a really interesting game, but somewhere at this very moment, somewhere else in the world it’s not a game. Someone, somewhere else is the world is going through what I went through a hundred-times worse and it’s not a game. They don’t get to say sorry this is too much for me right now, can I take a break...' And that was my hallelujah moment when I realised I had to take this a lot more seriously.”
 
participants in trocaire's climate change challenge november 2014
Participants in Trócaire's Climate Change Challenge, November 2014
 
The event concluded with prayers and comments from representatives of nine different faith groups including the Greek Orthodox Church, the Islamic Cultural Centre, the Methodist and Lutheran Churches, and the Triratna Buddhist Community. 
 
The Climate Conversations event come at a critical time. 2015 is a key year in the fight for climate justice. In December 2015, world leaders will meet at the UN Summit (COP21) in Paris, to agree a global agreement on climate change. In advance of that, Trócaire and partner NGOs are trying to raise the profile of this critical issue and mobilise people to demand action – starting at home with our own long-overdue Climate Bill
 

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