‘Road to Paris’ calls for strong carbon emission cuts

Paris hosts the COP21 on December 2015.

Paris plays host to the 21st Conference Of Parties for the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, December 2015. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Climate Reality Project (CRP) is launching the Road to Paris, a global campaign that will bring together citizens, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and NGOs to galvanize climate action and encourage participating countries to commit strong carbon emission cuts. The campaign will urged countries to forged commitments at the 21st Conference Of Parties for the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change in December this year.

Road to Paris would include emissions reductions commitments based on national circumstances, a system of periodic review for these commitments, and a long-term goal of net zero carbon emissions.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, from left, primatologist Jane Goodall, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon participate in the People's Climate March in New York, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan on Sunday, accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs as they urged policy makers to take global action on climate change. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, from left, primatologist Jane Goodall, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon participate in the People’s Climate March in New York, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan, accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs as they urged policy makers to take global action on climate change. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

It will focus on mobilizing public support from the global community and citizens in eight countries that hold strategic significance for the upcoming negotiations, as a building block for a strong international agreement. Target countries include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Philippines, South Africa, and the United States. The CRP will also have a programmatic presence in Mexico and Europe.

Former United States Vice President Al Gore, chairman of The CRP, said the UN climate negotiations in December mark a crucial opportunity for the international community to come to a bold, universal agreement to make significant emissions reductions commitments, including a long term goal for zero net carbon emissions.

The Philippine flag stands amid devasted region brought about by typhoon Haiyan,  the deadliest Philippine typhoon recorded in modern history,  killing at least 6,300 people. (Photo: AP)

The Philippine flag stands amid devastation brought about by typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon recorded in modern history, killing at least 6,300 people. (Photo: AP)

He stressed out that the Road to Paris will not end at COP21. He urged people to take urgent actions saying solutions to the climate crisis is within reach.

“We cannot afford to gamble with the future of our planet. Solutions to the climate crisis are within reach, but in order to capture them, we must take urgent action today across every level of society. Now is the time for people all over the world to lend their voices to the cause and urge their leaders to take this historic first step.”

The CRP’s Road to Paris campaign will build on work the group has already undertaken in each key country, including training new members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps and organizing support on the ground through local branches.

Taxis are stranded in New York. At least 48 are dead across the US east coast as Superstorm Sandy, a former hurricane, causes widespread flooding and power cuts.

Taxis are stranded in Queens St, New York. At least 48 are dead across the US east coast when Superstorm Sandy, a former hurricane, causes widespread flooding and power cuts. (Photo: Xinhua/Telegraph)

In partnership with Live Earth: Road to Paris, CRP Leaders will run programs to address the unique challenges and opportunities of each target country.

CRP President and CEO Ken Berlin boasts the group as a leading international climate organization with about 5,700 trained leaders in the eight countries alone. He said, ” it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help spur action around the globe, providing support and guidance to the most critical players on the road to Paris.”

Climate March in Melbourne in time of the UN Climate Summit in New York, Sept 2013. (Photo: Asian Correspondent)

Climate Mobilization March in Melbourne in time of the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sept 2014. (Photo: Asian Correspondent)

Individual country programs will be rolled out over the coming weeks. Specific actions in each country will depend on the local political, economic, and social landscape, and will take into account the country’s climate change risk profile and opportunities for implementing solutions.

In the US, the CRP will continue its People vs. Carbon campaign in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. There are also two Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings being held in the United States in 2015 – in Iowa and Florida.

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[Book Review] Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia

Image via Amazon.

‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ by Lukas Straumann is a controversial book that uncovers the modus operandi of a multi-billion timber industry accused of wiping out the ancient rainforests of Sarawak, home of the last nomadic tribes of Southeast Asia in the heart of Borneo, Malaysia.

It argues two major points: first, the violations of  indigenous people’s rights, including plunder of their source of subsistence; and second, fraud and deceit spawned into the global financial system perpetrated by logging barons.

Straumann calls for the prosecution of criminals who are responsible for the destruction of pristine rainforests, displacement of people, and death of indigenous cultures. It invites a course of action to salvage the remaining forests in Borneo. The book raises questions such as: Is here a hope and redemption for the indigenous people? What lies ahead in this ravaged wilderness? Is palm oil or 12 mega-dams the answer to bail out communities from poverty? What are the implications of this crime for the rest of humanity?

The book also questions the credibility of judicial systems, the police, the FBI, the United Nations’ agencies, Interpol, and other international watchdogs mandated to protect human rights, stop corruption, and to ensure environmental sustainability.

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), like other NGOs, works for social and environmental causes. BMF has exerted all means to seek justice for the rainforests, the Penans, and the victims of reprisal. However, Straumann is far from optimistic.

The book dissects the system of corruption and environmental crime that befell Sarawak. A model that examines the intricate details of its mechanism, it leads to the understanding of the system that spreads throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and beyond. It identifies who’s who in the business and the flow of bribe money, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Sarawak is the epicentre of environmental disaster with a trail of destruction intruding and expanding into Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and other territories. To know Sarawak is to know what happened in the other countries, perpetuated by the same logging companies.

Fingers are pointed at the Rolls Royce-driving prominent statesman Abdul Taib Mahmud: “The Most Honourable Chief Minister of Sarawak.” He rose to power in 1986 with the help of his uncle and ruled for three decades. While in office, he allegedly amassed assets totalling US$15 billion. He heads a business empire scattered all over the world and shared among family members. His real estate portfolio is scattered throughout Ottawa, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Adelaide, Hong Kong and Malaysia. He forged global connections with logging barons, financial kingpins, and corrupt politicians in countries where timber is ready for disposal.

The Timber Industry

The book unravels how the timber trade works with the same principles throughout Asia. Logging companies have to pay hefty bribes in exchange for logging concessions. This is especially true in less developed countries where corruption is rife. Bribe money also allows loggers to cut trees beyond agreed limits.

Straumann identifies the movement of timber from its origin to export destinations. Along with it is the flow of more bribe money to “grease” the export processes. Overseas, money is laundered via financial conduits and using various cronies as fronts.

Straumann names the major logging companies, the “Dirty 6” including Samling Group, Rimbunan Hijau, WTK Group, Ta Ann Group, KTS Group, and Shin Yang Group — all related to Taib’s clan and associates. Major markets include Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, to name a few.

The forest of Sarawak alone is given to four logging companies, all involved in clearing 18 million hectares of forests around the world and transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Loggers operate in poor and vulnerable countries, while real estate and related businesses are invested in more developed countries.

In the book, Tasmania demonstrated its power to stop bulldozers from clearing the wilderness. An activist became a media sensation when she climbed a 60-meter-high eucalyptus tree which she named the “Observer Tree” and sat there for 449 days to deter the Ta Ann Group.

Taib probably cannot betray his Colombo Plan benefactor. He got his law degree from Adelaide University, a beneficiary of Australia’s post-war scholarship. He later made donations amounting to $7 million to the university’s Centre for Environmental Law and in return he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2008, a courtyard was named after him.

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

 

Brazilians were also up in arms against logging into the Amazon rainforest and, so far, they have succeeded driving out the timber mafia.

Other regions, however, are not as lucky as Tasmania or Brazil and they can be exploited anytime at Taib’s whim, the book suggests.

Bullying Tactics

Opposition to the logging brings repercussions. Ross Boyert, an insider who tipped off Straumann on the inside operation, faced the consequence of backflipping. Boyert filed a legal suit against Taib including breach of contract, fraud, and infringement of labor laws. Boyert also attempted to expose Taib’s properties overseas with proxy ownership among his kin. As a result, he was stalked, bullied, and psychologically tortured before he committed suicide.

Bruno Manser, the founder of BMF, is one of the most vocal activists that speak for the Penans. He explored Borneo and lived in the rainforests with the indigenous people. He has been on the watch list of Taib and was warned not to go back to Sarawak. He defied warnings, went back, and in 2000, he disappeared in the forest without a trace. In 2005, BMF officially announced he is presumed dead.

Penan activists were not spared. Harrison Ngua, for example, who was working for Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an environmental and human rights organization, was jailed for months while he was blindfolded and interrogated.

Hope for the Rainforest

The rainforest of Sarawak is one of the ancient rainforests explored by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a contemporary of Charles Darwin. It contains some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet.  It has been a home of the nomads for many generations —until the loggers came.

Straumann describes the helplessness of the Penans as they watched from the sidelines heavy machinery cleared the rainforests. The last “noble savages” of Southeast Asia were robbed in a broad daylight –  right before their eyes.

As of writing and publication of the book, Straumann has suggested the removal of Taib  from power. But even so, what is done cannot be undone.

It could be said that the logging industry does not monopolize environmental destruction, but Sarawak is symptomatic of a bigger issue of our time. The coal, seam gas, rare earths, and other resources industries have been drilling and extracting to satisfy insatiable greed for profits. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Arctic in the North Pole, and the Pacific Ocean’s bed are but few other examples where multinational companies are destroying the environment. Grassroots around the world are now standing in the gap to pressure governments and banking institutions to stop the madness once and for all.

James Lovelock came up with Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the planet is a  self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep itself healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. He likens the planet to a nurturing mother capable of renewal and regeneration. But with the scale, magnitude, and pace of destruction, scientists predict a bleak future. Humans have been destroying the planet’s life-support system beyond its capacity to regenerate.

Australia’s leading scientist, Tim Flannery, in his book ‘Here on Earth’ (2010), pleads a cause for planetary justice. He argues there is a new awakening of humanity that can give hope to the survival of the planet.  He suggests people need compassion and to care more than ever before.

Straumann, however, grapples for a solution. Perhaps, the motto of the White Rajahs for the original inhabitants of Borneo would somehow help: “Dum spiro spero (As long as I breath, I hope) — for what dies last is the hope for justice and a better future.”

The Malaysian government wanted this book banned. Taib already lodged a full probe into its allegations. Straumann, nonetheless, is unfazed.

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* Some of the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s

The print and Kindle editions of ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ can be bought on Amazon.com

Epic hunt for toothfish poachers ends in the Atlantic

It has been an action-packed season in the Southern Ocean chasing big illegal fishing boats. Six bandit ships wanted by the Interpol are on the run, three of which have been either intercepted, detained, or sunk into the depths of the sea. Sea Shepherd Operation Icefish ended Monday with the sinking of The Thunder. Viking is now in the hands of Malaysian authorities and Kunlun await’s Thailand’s verdict. Re-posting my earlier stories:

‘The Thunder’ sinks in Sao Tome

The Thunder's last few moments before it's gone forever. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish ended early this week with the bizarre sinking of Interpol-wanted vessel, The Thunder, inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sao Tome.

After 110 days of action, chasing the elusive vessel, Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said the campaign has accomplished its mission. The longest hot pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history, Operation Icefish has been “the most successful intervention against high-seas poaching in the history of anti-poaching operations,” the captain said.

Thunder, the most notorious of the so-called “Bandit 6, was sunk deliberately by its crew as they clapped and cheered, media reports said. It was left with clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. The hatches were not closed to maintain buoyancy, but instead, the doors and hatches were tied open, along with the fishhold. The vessel then went down 4,000 meters below.

Watson is convinced the vessel was scuttled as a deliberate act of desperation. It was allegedly owned by unscrupulous and wealthy fishing companies based in Galicia, Spain.

According to Watson, the illegal toothfish industry linked to Spanish companies has suffered a severe financial blow, and faces the face criminal courts in Malaysia, Thailand, and Sao Tome for its illegal activities, including illegal fishing, illegal registration, and false declarations. Deliberately scuttling a ship in the territorial waters of Sao Tome is also a crime. READ MORE…

Australian gov’t seizes toothfish poacher Kunlun

The Australian government has finally decided to do something about illegal fishing vessels. And when Australian Customs officials recently took out their patrol ship they met Kunlun, a notorious and elusive poaching vessel cruising on its way with a massive haul of Patagonian toothfish.

Kunlun was intercepted west of Cocos Island (Keeling) on Thursday. The Sea Shepherd suspects the vessel was en route from the Antarctic to Southeast Asia to offload its illegal catch. READ MORE…

Malaysia detains notorious ‘Viking’ poaching vessel

Another major blow has been dealt to illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean with the detention of the Nigerian-flagged poaching vessel, Viking, in Malaysia – bringing a total of three notorious illegal fishing vessels and their crew in for interrogation this fishing season. Nigerian-flagged the Thunder was de-registered last week making it officially stateless. Kunlun, meanwhile, is in Thailand’s detention.

Held for violations of Malaysian maritime law, Malaysian authorities have indicated that the Viking will also be investigated for alleged illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing violations. READ MORE….

The Thunder is scuttled and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Tome.