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Millions face starvation as world warms, say scientists

World is unprepared for changes that will see parts of Africa turned into disaster areas, say food experts

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: “Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.”

America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: “Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

“Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further”.

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government’s national laboratory for agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen. Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have “increasingly negative” impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33% drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19% drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14% drop in Canada’s wheat output, and a 9% drop in Australia.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as much as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050. “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected”, says Jeremy Carew-Reid, author of the Climate Change Adaptation and Impact Study for the Lower Mekong.

Two major food security summits are being held in Ireland, organised by UN World Food Programme, the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change and the Mary Robinson Climate Justice foundation.

Ertharin Cousin, the UN’s World Food Programme director, said: “We are entering an uncertain and risky period. Climate change is the game changer that increases exposure to high and volatile food prices, and increases the vulnerability of the hungry poor, especially those living in conflict zones or areas of marginal agricultural productivity. We must act quickly to protect the world’s poorest people.”

Source: Guardian News

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Civilisation could fail say food experts

The upcoming era of food scarcity is said to mirror the times that led to the demise of other civilisations.

 

Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third while world food prices have more than doubled.

The new geopolitics of food is said to be spreading hunger amongst poorer people while still allowing population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars in wealthier nations.

Extreme soil erosion and growing water shortages are also leading to imbalances that could ensure that food prices continue to rise, eventually leading to world hunger and the end of our social system.

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century when overproduction in agriculture was a major issue.

During that time, from 1950 to 2000, there were large grain stock carry-overs which maintained stability in world grain markets.

Countries in over-supply were able to ship the excess grain to countries which were suffering from drought or other natural disasters as a means of averting famine.

But during that time the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion.

World consumption started to exceed production from 2002, which is when the unprecedented period of world food security came to an end.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations.

For instance, the Mayan civilisation declined it moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable.

Like the Mayans, our lands are now being mismanaged, generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While deforestation and soil erosion defeated the Mayans, farmers are currently facing new threats such as depletion of aquifers, grain yield down-trends and rising temperatures.

Source: Pakistan New

Pakistan, 10 others to surpass EU by 2030: US govt report

The study is presented to US policymakers to plan for the best and worst possible scenarios. It includes a Goldman Sachs list of “Next Eleven” consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.

WASHINGTON: The “Next Eleven,” which include Pakistan, will collectively overtake EU-27 in global power by 2030, says a US government report released on Monday.

Although America’s influence will reduce, it will remain the “first among equals,” adds the report prepared by the US National Intelligence Council with inputs from 18 American intelligence agencies and dozens ofthink-tanks.

Based on socio-economic trends across the globe, the study also presents the best and the worst case scenarios in the report titled, “Global Trends 2030.”

The best case scenario: Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. The middle class will outnumber others. Most people will have access to technology, advanced health care and most countries will learn to link with each other. The United States and China will also cooperate with each other to lead the way.

In the worst case scenarios, rising population leads to conflict over water and food, especially in the Mideast and Africa, and the instability contributes to global economic collapse.

The study is presented to US policymakers to plan for the best and worst possible scenarios.

It includes a Goldman Sachs list of “Next Eleven” consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.

The “Next Eleven” will collectively overtake the EU-27 in global power by 2030. “When this second tier is combined with the non-Western giants of China and India, the shift of power from the West to the emerging or non-Western world is even more pronounced,” the report notes.

The study suggests that China will surpass the US in 2022 if GDP is measured at purchasing power parity and sometime near 2030 if GDP is measured at market exchange rates.

India will most likely continue to consolidate its power advantage relative to Pakistan, says the report. India’s economy is already nearly eight times as large as Pakistan’s; by 2030 that ratio could easily be more than 16-to-1, it adds.

Both Pakistan and India probably will have youthful ethnic and regional populations that could remain a security concern.

Youthful age structures are likely to persist for most of the next two decades among tribal populations in Pakistan’s western provinces and territories.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the rates of childbearing are probably greater than five children per woman among the Pushtun.

The report warns that South Asia may face a series of internal and external shocks during the next 15-20 years. Low growth, rising food prices, and energy shortages will pose stiff challenges to governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s youth bulges are large, similar in size to those found in many African countries. “When these youth bulges are combined with a slow-growing economy, they portend increased instability,” the study warns.

India is in a better position, benefiting from higher growth, but it will still be challenged to find jobs for its large youth population.

Inequality, lack of infrastructure and education deficiencies are key weaknesses in India, the report adds.

A growing sense of insecurity in South Asia will bolster military outlays. Conflict could erupt and spread under numerous scenarios.

Conflicting strategic goals, widespread distrust, and the hedging strategies by all the parties will make it difficult for them to develop a strong regional security framework.

Insufficient natural resources, such as water and arable land, and disproportionate levels of young men increase the risks of intrastate conflict breaking out. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan also havefaltering governance institutions.

The study notes that nuclear powers such as Russia and Pakistan and potential aspirants such as Iran and North Korea see nuclear weapons as compensation for other political and security weaknesses, heightening the risk of their use. The chance of non-state actors conducting a cyber-attack, or using WMD, also is increasing.

Globally, power will no longer reside with one or two key nations, but be spread across networks and coalitions of countries working together.

Sixty present of the world’s population will live in cities.

Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress.

Among the anticipated crises is the worry of global economic collapse, fighting among nations that don’t adapt rapidly enough to change and the

possible spillover of instability in the Mideast and South Asia to the rest of the world.

Technology is seen as a potential saviour to head off some of this conflict, boosting economic productivity to keep pockets filled despite rising population, rapid growth of cities and climate change.

The report warns of the mostly catastrophic effect of possible “Black Swans,” extraordinary events that can change the course of history. These include a severe pandemic that could kill millions in a matter of months and more rapid climate change that could make it hard to feed the world’s population.

Two positive events are also listed, including “a democratic China or a reformed Iran,” which could bring more global stability.

APP adds: Pakistan-India economic relations will be critical to determining stability of the South Asia and Islamabad’s economy could grow on sustained basis if normalisation of trade between the two nuclear neighbours takes place, a new US report, looking into the world scenario in 2030, said Monday.

“In a Turn-the-Corner scenario, sustained economic growth in Pakistan based on the gradual normalisation of trade with a rising India would be a critical factor,” says the report.

An improved economic environment would produce more opportunities for youth entering the workforce, lessening the attractiveness of  militancy and containing the spread of violence, the authors of report say of Pakistan’s economic possibilities.

Intra-regional trade would also be important in building trust between India and Pakistan, slowly changing threat perceptions and anchoring sectors withvested interests in continuing economic ties, it argues.

The report projects a strong economic engine in India could lay down new foundations for prosperity and regional cooperation in South Asia.

Over several decades, Pakistan would grow into a relatively stable economy, no longer requiring foreign assistance and IMF support. However, authors of the report stipulate that such a scenario would need sustained good governance and tax reforms that spur new industries, jobs and more resources for modern education in Pakistan.

It also presents other scenarios with pitfalls, including the militants, retarding developments in the region with violence.

A collapse in neighbouring Afghanistan would probably set back any such civilian-led agenda, reinforcing security fears and retrenchment, the report cautions.

Source: Dawn News

Lagarde says ‘fiscal cliff’ threatens US supremacy

- File Photo

– File Photo

WASHINGTON: International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday the looming “fiscal cliff” in the United States threatens the country’s international supremacy and the fragile global recovery.

In an interview with BBC World News, Lagarde noted the US fiscal cliff, a combination of severe tax increases and spending cuts due in January, would probably wipe out growth in the world’s largest economy.

“The real issues are, in a way, the supremacy of the United States and its leadership role in the world,” said the managing director of the IMF. “To make sure that that leadership endures, the uncertainty has to be removed because uncertainty fuels doubt as to that leadership.”

With the deadline fast approaching, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans remain at loggerheads in talks to find a longer-term deficit reduction plan that would avert the cliff.

“It’s not purely a political issue, it’s not ideological, it’s broader than that. It really addresses the role of the United States in the world from a geopolitical and economic point of view,” said Lagarde, according to extracts of the broadcast interview.

Source: Dawn News

Amazon, Google and Starbucks attacked by MPs over tax avoidance

Report also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for leniency in dealing with corporations that pay little or no corporation tax

Amazon, Google and Starbucks have been accused of an “immoral” use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits by a committee of MPs.

A hard-hitting report released on Monday by the Commons public accounts committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog, also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for being “way too lenient” in negotiations with corporations which pay little or no corporation tax. It calls on the government to draw up laws to close loopholes and name and shame companies that fail to pay their fair share.

The report’s scheduled release, following a humiliating parliamentary session for the three multinationals’ executives, prompted a flurry of media activity over the weekend. On Saturday night, Starbucks announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more following widespread criticism of the coffee chain’s tax regime.

George Osborne will on Monday announce an extra £77m a year for two years for more staff at Revenue & Customs to pursue companies which avoid paying tax. The chancellor said the extra investment would help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax.

He is also expected to confirm a deal with Switzerland which the chancellor hopes will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts over the next six years.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said of the Starbucks statement: “I am delighted they are taking this issue seriously and they are listening to the feedback from their UK taxpaying customers.” He too had been boycotting Starbucks. “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon.”

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC, said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with “ripping off” taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

“Global corporations with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is an insult to British business and individuals who pay their fair share.

“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.

“The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK,” she said.

Executives from the multinationals who appeared before the committee last month were singled out for criticism.

Responses to questions by Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy, were “evasive”, “unprepared” and lacking credibility.

The company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011, but its tax bill was just £1.8m.

Amazon avoids UK taxes by reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit, MPs alleged. This structure allowed it to pay a rate of less than 12% on foreign profits last year – less than half the average corporate income tax rate in its major markets.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks’ global chief financial officer, claimed that the firm has lost money in the 15 years it has been operating in the UK except in 2006.

The world’s biggest coffee chain paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which it recorded sales of £3.1bn.

Alstead’s claim was “difficult to believe” when contrasted with boasts of success sent to shareholders, according to the report.

Starbucks has been able to cut its tax bill, MPs said, by paying fees to other parts of its global business, such as royalty payments for use of the brand.

Google had £2.5bn of UK sales last year, but despite having a group-wide profit margin of 33%, its main UK unit had a tax charge of £3.4m in 2011.

The company avoids UK tax by channelling non-US sales via Ireland, an arrangement that has allowed it to pay taxes at a rate of 3.2% on non-US profits. It also diverts some profits through Bermuda.

Revenue & Customs has been asked by the committee to be bolder in challenging tax avoidance by multinationals and to be ready to prosecute if necessary.

“Top officials need to challenge the status quo and be more assertive, for example in accepting that excessive levels of royalty payments are appropriate when businesses are making a loss,” the report states. Benchmarks for common charges such as royalty payments and intellectual property rights could be published by the Treasury or tax officials. A company’s tax practices should also be made part of its mandatory reporting requirements, which would increase transparency, the MPs say.

The government and the tax authorities should also take a greater lead internationally in closing loopholes and increasing transparency in tax havens, particularly across Europe, the report concludes.

Osborne told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that he will work closely with France and Germany to close tax loopholes. “It will be a big priority for the G7, G8, which we host next year,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC said it had reduced tax avoidance by large businesses in recent years. “We relentlessly challenge those that persist in avoiding tax and have recovered £29bn additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4.1bn in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone. These figures speak for themselves.”

Source: Guardian News

Gross national happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world

Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not the GDP. Now its ideas are attracting interest at the UN climate change conference in Doha

A series of hand-painted signs dot the side of the winding mountain road that runs between the airport and the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu. Instead of commands to cut speed or check mirrors, they offer the traveller a series of life-affirming mantras. “Life is a journey! Complete it!” says one, while another urges drivers to, “Let nature be your guide”. Another, standing on the edge of a perilous curve, simply says: “Inconvenience regretted.”

It’s a suitably uplifting welcome to visitors to this remote kingdom, a place of ancient monasteries, fluttering prayer flags and staggering natural beauty. Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La, largely for its determined and methodical pursuit of the most elusive of concepts – national happiness.

Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state’s approach is attracting a lot of interest.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Doha on Monday for the second week of the UN climate change conference, Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

As representatives in Doha struggle to find ways of reaching a consensus on global emissions, Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure.

At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

“It’s easy to mine the land and fish the seas and get rich,” says Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan’s minister of education, who has become one of the most eloquent spokespeople for GNH. “Yet we believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the wellbeing of its people, which is being borne out by what is happening to the outside world.”

Powdyel believes the world has misinterpreted Bhutan’s quest. “People always ask how can you possibly have a nation of happy people? But this is missing the point,” he says. “GNH is an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society. We believe the world needs to do the same before it is too late.”

Bhutan’s principles have been set in policy through the gross national happiness index, based on equitable social development, cultural preservation, conservation of the environment and promotion of good governance.

At a primary school in Thimphu, the headteacher, Choki Dukpa, watches her students make their way to class. She says that she has seen huge changes to the children’s emotional wellbeing since GNH principles were integrated into the education system four years ago. She admits that at first she had no idea what the government’s policy to change all education facilities into “green schools” meant.

“It sounded good but I wasn’t sure how it would work,” she says. But after Unicef funded a “green schools” teacher training programme, things improved. “The idea of being green does not just mean the environment, it is a philosophy for life,” says Dukpa.

Alongside maths and science, children are taught basic agricultural techniques and environmental protection. A new national waste management programme ensures that every piece of material used at the school is recycled.

The infusion of GNH into education has also meant daily meditation sessions and soothing traditional music replacing the clang of the school bell.

“An education doesn’t just mean getting good grades, it means preparing them to be good people,” says Dukpa. “This next generation is going to face a very scary world as their environment changes and social pressures increase. We need to prepare them for this.”

Despite its focus on national wellbeing, Bhutan faces huge challenges. It remains one of the poorest nations on the planet. A quarter of its 800,000 people survive on less than $1.25 a day, and 70% live without electricity. It is struggling with a rise in violent crime, a growing gang culture and the pressures of rises in both population and global food prices.

It also faces an increasingly uncertain future. Bhutan’s representatives at the Doha climate talks are warning that its gross national happiness model could crumble in the face of increasing environmental and social pressures and climatic change.

“The aim of staying below a global two-degree temperature increase being discussed here this week is not sufficient for us. We are a small nation, we have big challenges and we are trying our best, but we can’t save our environment on our own,” says Thinley Namgyel, who heads Bhutan’s climate change division. “Bhutan is a mountainous country, highly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. We have a population that is highly dependent on the agricultural sector. We are banking on hydropower as the engine that will finance our development.”

In Paro, an agricultural region one hour out of the capital, Dawa Tshering explains how the weather is already causing him problems. The 53-year-old farmer grew up in Paro, surrounded by mountains and streams, but has found it increasingly difficult to work his two acres of rice paddy.

“The weather has changed a lot: there is no snow in winter, the rains come at the wrong times and our plants get ruined. There are violent storms,” he says. Around 70% of Bhutan’s people are smallholder farmers like Tshering.

“The temperature has got hotter so there are more insects in the fruit and grain. I don’t understand it, but if it continues we’re going to have many problems in growing food and feeding ourselves.”

Bhutan is taking action to try to protect itself. Ground-breaking work is being done to try to reduce the flooding potential in its remote glacial lakes. Yet it cannot do it alone. Last week in Doha, campaigners pushed for more support to countries such as Bhutan that are acutely vulnerable to climate change.

“While the world is now starting to look to Bhutan as an alternative model of sustainable economics, all of its efforts could be undone if the world doesn’t take action in Doha,” says Stephen Pattison from Unicef UK.

“Small and developing countries like Bhutan must get more support, and the UK and other governments must start actually taking action, like pledging their share of money to the green climate fund and get it up and running as soon as possible.”

In Paro, teenagers in school uniform heading home from lessons are well aware of the hard times ahead for Bhutan as it tries to navigate a path between preserving its sustainable agenda and the global realities it faces. All say they are proud to be Bhutanese. They want to be forest rangers, environmental scientists and doctors. At the same time they want to travel the world, listen to Korean pop music and watch Rambo.

“I want to be able to go out and see the world but then I want to come home to Bhutan and for it to be the same,” says Kunzang Jamso, a 15-year-old whose traditional dress is offset with a hint of a boyband haircut. “I think we must keep the outside from coming here too much because we might lose our culture, and if you don’t have that then how do you know who you are?”

Source: Guardian News

UK education comes sixth in global league table

Countries which do best have a culture which supports education, says report

The UK education system is ranked sixth best in the developed world, according to a new global league table.

Finland and South Korea top the new league table, followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

The global study, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for education firm Pearson, used data from international tests, as well as data on school literacy and university graduation rates to draw up the index.

UK education has come sixth in the world

The UK was found to have the second best education system in Europe, ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Germany which were ranked 9th, 12th and 15th respectively.

The research is designed to help policymakers, school leaders and academics identify the key factors which drive improved educational outcomes.

For educational attainment, based on literacy and graduation rates from schools and colleges, the UK is second only to South Korea, while Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan were ranked highly in the cognitive ability category based on international tests in maths, reading and science.

While investing in education “undoubtedly reaps rewards”, the report – called the Learning Curve – suggested that a culture of support for education is probably more important. It also added that there was no substitute for high quality teaching. “The best performing countries attract top talent, train teachers throughout their careers and allow them freedom too” the report stated.

Denis McCauley, executive editor, business research at the Economist Intelligence Unit said: “We hope our study serves as a catalyst for further collaborative efforts by academics, practitioners and policymakers to deepen our knowledge about what contributes to better education performance and outcomes.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: “This is great news for all those working in schools and colleges. The study by Pearson concludes that having a culture that is supportive of learning is vitally important to educational success.”

Learning Curve top 20 countries for education

  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

Source: Guardian News