Bamboo, A Sustainability Powerhouse

Bamboo is stronger than concrete or steel but is a renewable resource, providing refuge and food for wildlife as well as biomass. Credit: CC by 2.0

Bamboo is stronger than concrete or steel but is a renewable resource, providing refuge and food for wildlife as well as biomass. Credit: CC by 2.0

By Ed Holt
VIENNA, Jun 29 2018 (IPS)

A landmark conference bringing more than 1,200 people from across the world together to promote and explain the importance of bamboo and rattan to global sustainable development and tackling climate change has ended with a raft of agreements and project launches.

The three-day Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress in Beijing this week, organised by multilateral development group the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA), was the first international, policy-focused conference on the use of bamboo and rattan to help sustainable development.“Bamboo is not a climate change silver bullet, but we want people to realise that it is a ‘forgotten opportunity’ in helping mitigate the effects of climate change.” –INBAR Director General Dr Hans Friedrich

Organisers had pledged to ensure that the event would not be “simply a talking shop”, instead making real progress on raising awareness of the potential role of bamboo and rattan in helping solve major global problems.

As it closed, it appeared that goal had been met with the announcement of a number of agreements, including a major project to develop bamboo sectors across Africa and an agreement between INBAR members to further develop bamboo and rattan sectors in other parts of the world.

Speaking at the end of the conference, INBAR Director General Dr Hans Friedrich said: “We have made some real steps forward for the development of bamboo and rattan.”

Bamboo and rattan have long been championed by environmental organisations and groups promoting sustainable development, especially in the world’s poorest countries.

A grass, bamboo is a native plant on all continents except Antarctica and Europe, although the majority of its natural habitat is in the tropical belts.

It is stronger than concrete or steel but is a renewable resource, providing refuge and food for wildlife as well as biomass. It captures higher amounts of CO2 than most other plants and can be harvested significantly faster than wood – over a period of 20 years it can produce almost 12 times as much material as wood.

It can be used for shelter as well as, in some cases, transport, and provides sustainable, ecologically-friendly economic and commercial opportunities to people, especially in poorer communities.

Groups like INBAR point out that bamboo use can play a significant part in helping countries meet many of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

But awareness of the potential of bamboo and rattan is generally low in many countries, especially in the more developed world and particularly at senior levels of government and industry.

Dr Friedrich told IPS: “A large part of the reason for this conference is about awareness. We want to tell people who don’t yet realise it that bamboo and rattan can help them reach their sustainable development goals.

“The potential is immense. It is understood by people in, for example, the forestry industry, and others, but not really by politicians. At this conference we want to help them realise this by giving them examples.”

Bringing together ministers, industry leaders, scientists and entrepreneurs, the conference used examples of innovative bamboo use – from a thirty-foot bamboo wind turbine blade to bamboo diapers – and real-life stories from individuals of bamboo and rattan helping create sustainable livelihoods to underline to decision-makers and senior industry figures the potential.

One of the key aims of the meeting, said organisers, was to try and push those decision-makers into setting up the institutional, regulatory, policy, and business frameworks necessary to kick-start a new sustainable development paradigm.

“In the last few years I have met a number of ministers and they always start off being sceptical about bamboo but after they see everything they realise its potential.

“We want governments to think about bamboo when they think about their plans for climate change, sustainable development and green policies,” Dr Friedrich told IPS.

INBAR also used the conference to talk to representatives from large private sector firms about how to build global value chains, as well as how to set up international standards which support international bamboo and rattan trade.

Its proponents have pointed out the economic potential, particularly in poorer countries, of the bamboo industry. In China, which Dr Friedrich says has until now been the “only country taking bamboo really seriously [as an industry]”, the bamboo industry employs 10 million people and is valued at USD 30 billion per year.

“People are beginning to realise the economic potential and opportunities for bamboo,” Friedrich told IPS.

The conference also highlighted the impact bamboo and rattan could have on climate change.

Speakers from various countries, including politicians, spoke about how bamboo and rattan was being used to help combat the effects of climate change and help the environment.

Experts outlined its potential and current use in areas like forest protection, restoration of degraded land, and carbon capture as well as a replacement for more carbon-intensive materials such as cement and steel in construction and industry.

An INBAR report released ahead of the conference gave an analysis of the carbon which is saved by substituting more emissions-intensive products for bamboo. It found the carbon emissions reduction potential of a managed giant bamboo species forest is potentially significantly higher than for certain types of trees under the same conditions.

Combining bamboo’s potential displacement factor with bamboo’s carbon storage rate, bamboo can sequester enormous sums of CO2 – from 200 to almost 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare. In China alone, the plant is projected to store more than one million tons of carbon by 2050.

Bamboo can also be used in durable products, including furniture, flooring, housing and pipes, replacing emissions-intensive materials including timber, plastics, cement and metals.
It can also be used as a substitute for fossil fuel-based energy sources – research by INBAR has shown that substituting electricity from the Chinese grid with electricity from bamboo gasification would reduce CO2 emissions by almost 7 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Bamboo can also help communities adapt to the effects of climate change, serving as a strong but flexible building material for shelter, as well as helping restore degraded land and combat desertification.

Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said at the conference: “In short, bamboo and rattan represent an important part of reducing net emissions. And this is exactly what the world needs right now.”

Speaking to IPS on the eve of the conference, Dr Friedrich said he hoped that policymakers would realise the potential for bamboo as part of solutions for dealing with climate change.

“Bamboo is not a climate change silver bullet, but we want people to realise that it is a ‘forgotten opportunity’ in helping mitigate the effects of climate change,” he said.

INBAR officials readily admit that it is likely to take time to raise awareness of the potential of bamboo and rattan, but they are encouraged by the fact that more countries are starting to look at it seriously as an industry, including in Africa and South America.

But Dr Friedrich was keen to stress that the conference was just a beginning and that, with international agreements on important projects being signed, he was hopeful of real change in the future use and awareness of the potential of bamboo and rattan.

“I hope this conference is going to be a landmark moment. I want it to be the catalyst and inspiration for real change,” he told IPS.

Fight Against Drug Consumption Needs Gender Specific Treatments

By Carmen Arroyo and Emily Thampoe

The World Drug Report 2018, launched this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted the importance of gender in drug consumption and behaviour, suggesting it is essential to provide different types of health-care and legal solutions.

Only one in five women addicts seeks treatment for drug abuse, the president of the International Narcotics Board (INCB) has warned. Credit: UN Photo/D. Gair

As Marie Nougier, Head of Research and Communications at the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) told IPS: “There is certainly no one-size-fits-all strategy towards drug use – there should be a range of evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment and other health and social support services that are able to respond to the many problems women may face when using drugs”.

About 5.6% of the global population between 15 and 64 years old -275 million people- used drugs during 2016, according to the report. From those, 31 million suffer from drug disorders, which means that they need treatment.

However, drug treatments are only reaching one sixth of drug consumers. The consequences are terrible, with 450,000 people dying in 2015 due to drug consumption. What’s more, global opium production increased by 65% from 2016 to 2017, which is the highest estimate so far.

The report has been separated into five sections, the fifth being about the effect that gender has on drug usage, especially in terms of women. The others include information such as an executive summary, drug demand and supply, drug markets, and drugs and age.

The fifth report states that while women consume opioids and tranquilizers more often than men, they use more cannabis and cocaine. Despite women starting to consume substances later in life than men, they increase their intake of related drugs -alcohol, opioids and cocaine- faster than them.

Whereas women mostly associate drug consumption with an intimate partner, men tend to consume substances with other male friends. And while women tend to suffer more from depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, men suffer from externalized problems like conduct disorder, such as “attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and antisocial personality disorder”.

These are some of the gender-based differences in drug consumption that the report points out, but what stands out most in terms of finding long-term solutions is that women “may also have experienced childhood adversity such as physical neglect, abuse or sexual abuse”.

When this is coupled with strong drug policies, the result is a higher proportion of women sentenced for drug-related offences. Women are also shown to be more affected by post traumatic stress disorder.

Nougier from IDPC told IPS: “Drug policies focusing on punishing people for drug use have greatly contributed to drug-related health issues, including the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and overdose deaths, as the fear of arrest and punishment deters people from accessing the harm reduction and treatment services they may need”.

She added: “Punitive approaches have also increased the levels of stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs”.

Additionally, according Nougier, punitive approaches tend to affect women more, as there are no treatment programs that include a gender approach. Their needs -due to their background and consumption behavior- are different.

Also “because of the gender inequalities that continue to prevail in our societies, with women facing significant stigma for breaking with the role of the ‘good woman’ or the ‘good mother’ for using drugs. In some countries, using drugs during pregnancy is a criminal offence, which acts as a serious barrier for women to seek prenatal healthcare support or drug services”.

Kamran Niaz, epidemiologist at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told IPS that “women have better long-term outcomes when they receive treatments that focus on the issues more commonly found in women with drug use disorders compared to treatments that lack such a women-centred focus”.

Gender specific treatments

Asked about gender-specific treatments, Niaz added: “Prevention of drug use among girls/women requires investing in family-based prevention addressing vulnerabilities that appear to be unique to girls”. He continued: “in order to address the issues of drug use disorders among women, treatment services and programmes should be tailored to the needs of women and pregnant women”.

Some of the programmes that Niaz found specific for girls included: “dealing with stress, depression, social assertiveness, body image and improving relations and communication with parents and other significant others”.

Pamela Kent, Associate Director of Research at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), told IPS: “A more informed and empathetic approach to women’s substance use is required—one that also considers various aspects such as reproductive health, perinatal service and child welfare. It’s important to note that not a one-size fits all—society needs to provide women-centered prevention and treatment resources and responses”.

Regarding the relation between drug use and abuse, Niaz said: “As women with drug use disorders are more vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual abuse, and their children may also be at risk of abuse, a liaison with social agencies protecting women and children is helpful”.

He added: “In addition in the case of child abuse we need programmes to prevent such abuse and, particularly, to support the victims and to address post-traumatic stress disorders among them”.

Kent agreed that abuse is a primary concern: “[The 2017 Life in Recovery from Addiction in Canada survey] showed that females reported greater family violence and untreated mental health concerns during addiction compared to males. In additional, for informal support, females more likely to use technology, connect with an animal, or use art, poetry, writing and yoga compared to males”.

However, not many programs have been implemented that include this gender-based approach. The report adds that the criminal justice system is designed for male offenders and thus forgets any nuances that relate to women.

Nougier said: “We continue to see a concerning lack of access to treatment by women dependent on drugs, both in the community and in prison. Available services are generally designed by and for men, and are often unable to tailor to the specific needs faced by women. In closed settings, most harm reduction and treatment services are only available in male prisons”.

Some facilities are starting to adapt themselves to these proven needs, according to Nougier. “Dome harm reduction and treatment facilities have adapted their services to better engage with women with specific opening hours for women only, a space for children while women come to the centre, and the provision gender-specific services (e.g. legal aid or support to respond to domestic violence, sexual and reproductive health support, etc.)”, she said.

Niaz agreed that “the programmes need to manage the myriad of issues such patients face, and should encompass broader health, learning, and social welfare context in collaboration with family, schools and social services”.