The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) today announced the launch of Science for Nature and People (SNAP), a groundbreaking collaboration aimed at solving the world’s most pressing conservation and human development challenges. The announcement was made at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).
SNAP is designed to find practical, knowledge-based ways in which the conservation of nature can help provide food, water, energy and security to Earth's fast-growing population. SNAP will tackle high-profile problems where the solution has a clear pathway to implementation.
SNAP was announced at the CGI underway in New York City. CGI's 2013 theme, Mobilizing for Impact, explores ways that CGI members and member organizations can be more effective in leveraging individuals, partner organizations and key resources in their commitment efforts.
This unprecedented collaboration will harness the expertise of many organizations, scientists, policymakers and practitioners—breaking down the traditional walls between disciplines, institutions and sectors.
SNAP will utilize working groups to research, analyze and develop solutions to these challenges. The program is inviting scientists and specialists from around the globe to submit proposals for other working groups. In each case the goal is to fill knowledge gaps and advance solutions to urgent problems at the intersection of nature and human well-being.
The first working group is already underway, addressing how to balance the development of infrastructure like dams with conservation in the western Amazon.
“As the world’s population pushes past 7 billion, the correlation between nature and the food, water, energy, and security needs of people becomes increasingly clear,” said Peter Kareiva, TNC's chief scientist and the acting director of SNAP. “SNAP endeavors to illustrate and explore this link between modern conservation and economic development in ways that will benefit all humankind, especially the planet’s poorest and most marginalized citizens. This collaboration will have immediate appeal and relevance to industry, politicians and average people.”
“SNAP will become the go-to place for practitioners and policymakers from around the world to seek and find solutions to their most pressing problems around human well-being and the conservation of nature,"said WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science and member of SNAP’s governing board, John Robinson. "To announce this collaboration at the Clinton Global Initiative speaks to the far-reaching impact that SNAP’s results could have on future policy applications.”
Frank Davis, NCEAS director and a member of SNAP’s governing board, added: "The complex ecological and social issues that SNAP will be tackling will need the concerted effort of decision makers, scientists and information engineers. These types of collaborations are challenging, but our experience at NCEAS is that they can also be personally and professionally rewarding and can identify productive pathways to implementation."
SNAP’s founding organizations will tap the expertise and local knowledge of thousands of staff members in more than 65 countries, providing the capacity to actively test strategies that conserve nature and benefit people. These organizations have a proven track record of assembling multidisciplinary teams to find answers to the planet's greatest challenges. The collaboration will also soon be adding partners from the humanitarian sector to extend its expertise and reach.
SNAP’s Initial Projects Underway:
1. Integrating Natural Defenses into Coastal Disaster Risk Reduction
The recent tsunami in Japan showed how even monumental built capital (levees, sea walls and artificial barrier islands) can be overcome by just one severe environmental event. Similarly, research and observations in the wake of recent hurricanes that have affected the Caribbean islands and the U.S. have demonstrated that natural systems can play critical roles in buffering people against coastal storm impacts. SNAP will focus on exploring how conserving existing coastal habitat and restoring what has been lost can help protect coastal communities and livelihoods from the impacts that result from storms—such as hydro-meteorological hazards like Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and other extreme environmental events.
2. Western Amazonia: Balancing Infrastructure Development and Conservation of Waters, Wetlands and Fisheries
The Amazon Basin is the largest river system in the world, and the Western Amazon contains the largest areas of flooded forests, and wetlands in the basin—areas critical to food provision and drinking water for tens of millions of people as well as to subsistence and commercial fisheries.
How might conservation of waters and wetlands and local food security and economies dependent on them be balanced with the large-scale infrastructure development already underway, such as roads and expanding agricultural frontiers and hydrocarbon exploitation, as well as planned dams needed to support the growing urban populations? The SNAP Western Amazonia Working Group will promote integrated river basin management and planning informed by science and “translated” into a language and format usable by decision-makers.
“We aim to generate knowledge that is science-based and practical," added Robinson. "When filtered through key institutions ready to use it, the findings will lead to better policies, more effective field practices and durable economies that value nature’s services and secure the livelihoods of families at risk.”
Working groups will convene periodically over two years to address these challenges, generating reports, publications and materials to support decision-makers throughout that time period.
SNAP has been generously supported by Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
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An attempt by President Dilma Rousseff to eliminate 86,288 hectares of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon (equivalent to the area of 161,178 football fields) to make way for five large hydroelectric dams has been challenged as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court by Federal Public Prosecutors (the Ministério Publico Federal or MPF). The MPF alleges that the Provisional Measure (Medida Provisória) signed by Rousseff in early January violates the Brazilian Constitution and the country's environmental legislation.
According to head prosecutor Roberto Monteiro Gurgel Santos, the majority of the proposed dam projects lack environmental impact studies. As a result, there is no certainty whether the dams will be constructed, and if so, in what location that would minimize their negative impacts. Hence, reducing the boundaries of protected areas to make way for dam reservoirs, prior to carrying out environmental impact studies, is both ludicrous and illegal. Economic viability studies for the proposed dams have also not been carried out.
"The Provisional Measure signed by President Rousseff signals a growing tendency within the federal government, already visible with the Belo Monte Dam, to blatantly disregard human rights and environmental legislation in the rush to construct over 60 large dams in the Amazon," said Brent Millikan, Amazon program director at International Rivers. "This shows that the president is backtracking on Brazil's environmental commitments, and will use any means necessary to push through an agenda of expensive mega-infrastructure projects in the Amazon, reminiscent of the military dictatorship in the 1970s. It begs the question, who will protect the Amazon and the rights of its people, if not the government?"
If the Provisional Measure is not overturned by the Supreme Court, it still needs to be ratified by both houses of Congress to enter into law. In Para State, the Provisional Measure would eliminate a total of 75,630 hectares in five conservation units to make way for the reservoirs of two large proposed dams on the Tapajós river—São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá. The areas that would have their boundaries reduced include the Amazonia National Park (17,800 hectares), the Itaituba 1 and Itaituba 2 National Forests (7,705 and 28,453 hectares, respectively), Crepori National Forest (856 acres), and the Tapajos Environmental Protection Area (19,916 hectares).
In the states of Rondônia and Amazonas, 8,470 hectares would be excluded from the Mapinguari National Park so they could be flooded by the Jirau and Santo Antônio dams on the Madeira River. Additionally, 2,188 acres would be excluded from the Campos Amazônicos National Park to make way for the reservoir of the proposed Tabajara hydroelectric dam on the Machado River, a tributary of the Madeira River.
According to a document submitted by the Rousseff administration to the Brazilian Congress, the reduction of protected areas was proposed by the federal environmental agency, ICMBio. However, internal memos reveal that local staff of ICMBio—who are responsible for the management of protected areas in the Tapajós region—expressed direct opposition to the proposal. According to them, the reduction of protected areas, in the absence of socio-economic and environmental assessments of impacts and risks, is likely to cause tremendous damage to the region's biodiversity, including endemic and endangered species, and to the livelihoods of local populations.
Raione Lima, regional coordinator of the Movement for Dam Affected People (MAB) in Itaituba (Pará state) argues that "the government's attempts to reduce the size of conservation units on the Tapajós river shows that it is catering to the interests of large construction contractors, mining interests, agribusiness, commercial loggers and other members of the local elite, at the expense of biodiversity and the rights of indigenous communities and other local populations."
The São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá dams are the first of seven large dams proposed by the parastatal energy company Eletronorte for construction along the Tapajós River and its main tributary, the Jamanxim River. The reservoirs of five additional dams (Chacorão, Cachoeira do Caí, Jamanxim, Cachoeira dos Patos, and Jardim de Ouro) would inundate a total of 165,324 hectares in two national parks, four national forests and the Mundurucu indigenous territory. Recently, the Mundurucu tribe denounced Eletronorte's plans to build the Chacorão dam, slated to flood 18,721 hectares of indigenous lands, as a "criminal act" that demonstrates an "absolute lack of concern of the federal government with the rights of the indigenous people of Brazil."
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Each year since 1981, to counterbalance the seemingly never-ending awards ceremonies honoring the film industry, a different kind of award has cropped up—the Golden Raspberries, better known as the Razzies.
The day before the Academy Awards ceremony, the Razzies honor the worst performances in film. And to show the rest of the world that they don't take themselves too seriously, actors—for the most part—take the dubious Razzie nominations and awards in stride.
In fact, Sandra Bullock appeared at the Razzies to accept her "win" for worst actress of 2009 just the day before winning an Academy Award for best actress for her work in The Blind Side. Fortunately for her, no one remembered her other major release—All About Steve, which garnered her a Golden Raspberry.
Today, the corporate-world's version of the Razzie—The Public Eye Award—was awarded in Davos, Switzerland (in time with the World Economic Forum currently taking place there) to honor the corporation with the most "contempt for the environment and human rights" in the world.
But unlike the Razzies, where everything has the sparkle of humor in the cozy world of make-believe, the Public Eye Awards shed light on very real atrocities. And so this year's winner, Vale, a Brazilian multi-national mining corporation, won't have a spokesman on hand to accept the award.
By staging the Public Eye Award announcement at the world's largest gathering of leaders from politics, business, media and civil society, the impact is magnified "to remind corporations of their social and environmental responsibility."
The Public Eye Awards website has this to say about Vale:
Mines, steel plants, railroads, ports and hydroelectric dams at the expense of people and the environment—Vale is the second-largest corporation in Brazil, the second-largest mining corporation worldwide, operating in nearly 40 countries, and the largest global producer of iron ore. The corporation’s 70-year history is tarnished by repeated human rights abuses, inhumane working conditions, pillaging of the public heritage and the ruthless exploitation of nature. An international network linking communities and workers affected by Vale was created in 2010. It recently launched a dossiê describing several of the worst cases of Vale’s disregard for people and the environment in eight countries. One such example is the company’s recent purchase of a major stake in the consortium engaged in building the notorious Belo Monte Dam Complex in the Amazon. If the massive dam project continues, it will have disastrous social and environmental consequences, including the forced relocation of 40,000 people and devastation of a riverine ecosystem that is the basis of survival for indigenous communities, riverbank communities and fisherfolk—who have not had a voice in the matter, nor will they receive adequate compensation.
Vale received more than 25,000 votes to win the Public Eye Award of 2012. Other frontrunners included:
For more information about the awards and other finalists, click here.
Major construction on the Belo Monte Dam commenced on the Xingu River during Brazil's New Year holidays, signaling a new phase in the Brazilian government's intentions to sidestep environmental legislation and human rights conventions to build the world's third largest hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon. The project's first blockades of the river, known as coffer dams, are being built to dry out a stretch of the river, allowing for its permanent damming. Local protestors paralyzed construction at the dam site Jan. 18, affirming that resistance to the project is far from over.
The protests centered on Belo Monte's Pimental work site, where protestors denounced "unprecedented crimes" of the Brazilian government against the Amazon and its people. Organized by the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre (Xingu Forever Alive Movement)—a grassroots coalition of social movements, indigenous groups, and NGOs—the protest included fishermen, farmers, students and other groups that are suffering the impacts of the Belo Monte Dam project.
The protestors arrived at the dam site by boat, unfurling banners in front of the coffer dams with slogans such as "Belo Monte—crime of the Federal Government," blocking the movement of workers and machinery, and paralyzing construction for more than two hours. The protestors spoke peacefully with construction workers, explaining the motivations for the protest.
"Despite the criminal operations that are Belo Monte, where the Brazilian government is spending billions to devastate the Xingu while creating a situation of complete chaos among local communities, we will continue to resist this monstrosity and work to call attention of the Brazilian public and the world that this wanton destruction of the Amazon will hurt us all," said Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Vivo movement. "To take away the river is to take away the life of its people, because water is life."
The first of three coffer dams, which are earthen walls built to dry out stretches of the river to open the way for dam construction, will connect the left bank of the Xingu to Pimental Island in the middle of the river. The Norte Energia (NESA) dam-building consortium has also begun to raze the jungle on the island after receiving authorization from the federal environmental agency IBAMA to clear cut more than 5,000 hectares of rainforest.
Local residents were not previously informed by the government-led NESA consortium of the impending construction of the coffer dams, initiated soon after the New Year. Instead, they were alerted by a Xingu River tinged with red mud and the thundering of dynamite exploding in construction areas.
"When we learned what they were doing, it practically killed us with sadness," said Josinei Arara, a member of a threatened Arara indigenous community 10 miles downstream on the Xingu from the Pimental dam site. "The dam builders have kept none of their promises to compensate our village. In they meantime, they're assassinating our river."
Outraged with the muddying of water they rely upon for drinking, cooking, and bathing, the Arara denounced NESA's pollution of the river to Brazil's Federal Public Ministry this week, also citing the clear deficiency of legally-mandated mitigation measures.
If construction continues, the Belo Monte Dam complex will divert 80 percent of the Xingu River's flow into an artificial canal and reservoir, devastating a riverine ecosystem of unique beauty and biodiversity, as well as the livelihoods of three indigenous tribes and other traditional communities.
"The building of coffer dams, traversing one of the main channels of the Xingu, is already a major intervention in the riverine ecosystem," said Brent Millikan of International Rivers. "Besides destroying habitats and interfering in the river's hydrology, coffer dams create obstacles for local boat transportation and the movements of fish."
The Rousseff administration has remained obstinate in pushing ahead with Belo Monte, ignoring criticisms from scientists, legal experts, religious figures, artists and street protests throughout Brazil and the world. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, linked to the Organization of American States, was scoffed by the Brazilian government when it issued precautionary measures issued by the to ensure consultations with indigenous peoples and protection of their rights. Meanwhile the Rousseff administration has pressured judges to stall or overturn legal actions against Belo Monte, while intimidating federal public prosecutors that issued them. The Belo Monte Dam is one of the first of dozens of large dams planned for construction in the Amazon by the Brazilian government.
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Brazil’s Senate has decided to pursue short-term gain over long-term security in a vote to do away with long standing protections for the Amazon and other key forested areas, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned Dec. 7.
The new law, promoted by some rural and agribusiness interests, opens vast new areas of forest to agriculture and cattle ranching and extends amnesties to illegal deforestation conducted prior to 2008. Areas formerly held to be too steep or vital to the protection of watersheds and watercourses are among those now open to destruction.
Polls showed a majority of the population opposed to the revision of the Forest Code, with a vocal majority of experts warning that the new version of the law will hinder Brazil’s long-term development and not help it.
“We have a powerful minority condemning the future of millions of Brazilians, all in the name of quick financial gain,” stated WWF-Brazil’s CEO, Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito. “No thought has been given to the social and economic costs of destroying our forests. The Senate has adopted, once again, the outdated and false notion that conservation and development are somehow at odds, something we know is not true.”
If signed into law by Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, the changes will jeopardize Brazil’s significant environmental achievements of recent years and severely undermine global efforts to fight climate change and halt biodiversity loss. The changes are also expected to expose poor Brazilians to larger risks from floods and droughts.
Brazil has committed to 2020 targets of a nearly 40 percent cut in its growth curve of greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction of Amazon deforestation levels by 80 percent compared to average rates registered for the period of 1996-2005. These are commitments of global interest, now almost certainly out of reach because of the revisions to the Forest Code.
The Senate decision also comes in the midst of international climate talks in Durban, South Africa, and precedes Brazil’s hosting of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in June 2012. Brazil’s credibility as it hosts this and other key global events (2014 World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics) will be severely compromised if it passes environmental legislation favoring deforestation of the Amazon and other globally-important regions, WWF warned.
“WWF-Brazil has gone along with the legislative processes, has worked with others to help bring science to the political debate and has defined common points with good agribusiness and others,” said Wey de Brito. “Now we must urge President Rousseff to consider the severe implications of signing the revisions into law, including irreparable harm to Brazil’s natural resources, its economic development, and to the future health and well-being of millions of Brazilians and billions of people around the world.”
WWF-Brazil is supported by WWF’s entire international network in urging President Rousseff to act in Brazil’s interests rather than a sectional interest—noting that the president has already said she would not support an amnesty for illegal deforestation.
“We're at a time in history when the world seeks leadership in smart, forward-thinking development,” said WWF International Director-General Jim Leape. “Brazil was staking a claim to being such a leader.
“It will be a tragedy for Brazil and for the world if it now turns its back on more than a decade of achievement to return to the dark days of catastrophic deforestation.”
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