BAPA+40: An Opportunity to Reenergize South-South Cooperation

Global South-South Development Expo 2018. Credit: UNOSSC

By Branislav Gosovic
GENEVA, Dec 21 2018 (IPS)

The upcoming conference on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA+40), scheduled to take place in the Argentine capital on 20-22 March 2019, ought to be more than just another UN conference where the developing countries assemble to present their demands and seek support from the North.

Also, it must not turn out to be a replay of the 2009 1st UN High-level Conference on South-South Cooperation*, i.e. an anodyne event in terms of impact and follow-up, though such a scenario may be preferred by some, risk of which exists since the 2019 gathering is also scheduled to last only three days, not enough time for genuine deliberations and negotiations.

Therefore, it is up to the developing countries to build up BAPA+40 into a major global event.

a. South-South cooperation and the United Nations system

One of the key objectives of the Global South at BAPA+40 should be to place South-South cooperation at the very centre of the UN system of multilateral cooperation.

The UN system needs to recognize the diversity and broad spectrum that SSC subsumes, to resist the limits being imposed on SSC and it being distanced and cut off from its original institutional and political roots and aspirations.

The United Nations ought to introduce clear and specific measures and programmes, necessary human and financial resources, and mandates by “mainstreaming” and “enhancing support” for SSC in every organization and agency of the UN system, to have them incorporate the needs and objectives of South-South cooperation.

It needs also to be reiterated that South-South cooperation is not a substitute for North-South development cooperation, but a parallel and new sphere of multilateral cooperation that opens new and promising opportunities, stimulates North-South cooperation, and provides alternative and innovative approaches in development cooperation.

In the fold of the UN, a significant, yet very limited step to mainstream South-South Cooperation has been taken by upgrading the UNDP Special Unit for TCDC first into a Special Unit for South-South Cooperation and then into the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

This cannot and should not be the end-station, but needs to be followed up ambitiously and seriously at the global level, by appointment of a UN Secretary-General’s high level representative who would provide political vision for South-South cooperation and the establishment of a UN specialized entity within the UNDP platform or in the UN Development System (UNDS) in the making, whose mission would be to promote South-South cooperation, as recommended by the Group of 77 Ministerial Meeting.

Any such entity would need to have its own intergovernmental machinery, a major capital development fund for South-South projects, and fully staffed substantive secretariat equipped to perform a number of important functions, including initiating and funding projects, undertaking research, maintaining a data base on SSC and a directory of national actors involved in SSC, and publishing a regular, periodic UN report on South-South Cooperation called for by G77 Summits.

A suggestion has been floated to consider entrusting this task to UNCTAD, given that its mandate concerning North-South issues has been eroded and its role marginalized.

Such a central entity for SSC would need to be backed, at the regional level, by greatly strengthened and invigorated UN regional economic commissions in the South.

These Commissions are the principal UN bodies based in and with a full knowledge of their respective regions. Their key mission should be the promotion of South-South cooperation or “horizontal cooperation”, as traditionally referred to in Latin America.

The proposed structure, drawing also on UN specialized agencies in their areas of competence, would have as one of its tasks to support and energize sub-regional, regional and inter-regional South-South cooperation.

Regular, high-level UN conferences on South-South cooperation would need to be convened, and a consolidated and regular substantive, analytical and statistical UN report on the state of South-South cooperation will need to be prepared.

b. Global South and South-South cooperation

Given the overall global context, the developing countries cannot rely solely on the United Nations, even if and when the suggested institutional improvements are approved and become operational.

South-South cooperation is an opportunity for the Global South to contribute to achieving a number of outstanding goals and aspirations and be a vehicle for reshaping the global system.

For this to happen, however, what is needed on the part of the developing countries is hard work, mobilization of resources and of collective power, major and sustained efforts and commitment/obligation to pursue and attain a series of objectives that need to be identified and agreed on.

In their efforts to follow this advice, in addition to many practical obstacles and problems, the developing countries would also encounter opposition and doubts within their own ranks, not to mention a frontal or undercover resistance by actors of the North.

This resistance would especially come from those who would consider every major move in that direction as a potential threat to their own interests and global designs, and would, very likely, take steps, including within individual developing countries, often with local support and even via ”inconvenient” regime and leadership change, to influence and embroil the collective efforts.

What matters, however, is that today the Global South has the resources and collective power to move forward, and that this is not a “mission impossible”, as some who are familiar with problems and difficulties encountered in South-South cooperation efforts and undertakings and the building and management of joint institutions might point out. There is little that stands in the way of:

    • Undertaking a critical, in-depth review and analysis of: South-South cooperation, important actions and proposals agreed on over the years and their implementation, experiences, public attitudes, performance of individual countries, functioning of joint institutions and mechanisms of cooperation and integration, main obstacles and shortcomings that call for action, including the all too frequent difficulties or failure to follow up on important decisions taken at the political level.
    • Focussing on how to resolve the issue of lack of adequate financing for South-South cooperation, activities, projects and institutions, probably one of the most serious practical obstacles standing in the way of SSC being put into practice as desired and called for.

    • Inspiring, informing about and involving in the South-South cooperation project the public and individuals; with this in mind, applying capacity-building and training to raise the awareness of the existing experiences and opportunities; using to this end also educational, marketing, media and public relations approaches, which are so common in contemporary society and are used not only to advertise and publicize goods and services, but also political and social goals and causes, in this case the common identity of the South as an entity.

    • Setting up a South organization for South-South cooperation, and pooling together and networking intellectual and analytical resources available in the South and internationally to staff and support the work of that institution.

    • Placing on the agenda the challenge of intellectual self-empowerment of the Global South and the harnessing of its intellectual resources and institutions into an interactive network for support of common goals and collective actions.

    • Evolving, at the highest level, a representative system of political authority (e.g., heads of state or government, one delegated from each region) for regular and ad hoc communication, consultations and contacts, for meetings to assess progress in the implementation of agreed SSC goals, and for communication/interaction with all heads of state and/or government in the Global South.

    • Based on the workings and experience of the South Commission, of the now defunct UN Committee on Development Planning and of the G77 High-Level Panel of Eminent Personalities of the South, to consider establishing a permanent South-South commission or committee to bring together, on a regular basis, high-stature personalities and thinkers from the South to reflect and deliberate on challenges faced by the developing countries and by the international community.

    • Elaborating and agreeing on a blueprint for national self-empowerment for South-South cooperation, to guide and be used as a reference by the individual developing countries in line with their own characteristics and capacities, and transforming this blueprint into a legal instrument binding for all developing countries.

    • Nurturing, training and educating future cadres and leaders for South-South cooperation, directly exposing them to and familiarizing them with different problems and different regions of the South, and, when they are ready, deploying them in national, sub-regional, regional and multilateral, including UN, settings.

    • Focussing on the role of “digital South-South cooperation” in the promotion and energizing of all forms of South-South cooperation, including closer contacts, communication, information sharing and interaction, mutual understanding between and among the peoples and countries of the South, transfer of technology, and education and culture.

    • Calling for closer cooperation between and joint initiatives of G77 and NAM, an important pending political and institutional topic on the agenda of the Global South.

There is little new in the above suggestions, which draw on practical experiences and have been articulated over the years and in different contexts. What they propose is within reach, is doable, and would represent a major “leap forward” for South-South cooperation.

What is needed today is firm political will, long-term vision and determined initiative for a group of the South’s countries and leaders to launch such a process on the desired track and, most importantly, sustain it with the necessary political commitment and financial and institutional support.

The 2019 Buenos Aires Conference in March next year is an opportunity for the South to stand up and raise its collective voice, as at the very beginnings of South-South cooperation in Bandung (1955), Belgrade (1961), Geneva (1964) and Algiers (1967).

* This article is a shortened version of the concluding pages of an extensive essay “On the eve of BAPA+40 – South-South Cooperation in today’s geopolitical context”, which was published in VESTNIK RUDN. International Relations, 2018, Volume 18, Issue 03, October 2018, pp. 459-478, the international journal of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), formerly Patrice Lumumba University, in a special volume to mark the 40th anniversary of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. (See http://journals.rudn.ru/international-relations/article/view/20098/16398 )

Ghana’s Contribution to Plastic Waste Can Be Reduced with the Right Investment

About 2.58 million metric tonnes of raw plastics are imported into Ghana annually of which about 73 percent of this effectively ends up as waste. Credit: Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
ACCRA, Dec 21 2018 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Naa Adjeley lives in Glefe, a waterlogged area that is one of the biggest slums along the west coast of Accra, Ghana. The sixth grade student, his parents and three siblings use 30 single-use plastic bags per day for breakfast.

When they finish eating the balls of ‘kenkey’, fried mackerel, and pepper sauce, the plastic bags that the food was individually wrapped in are dumped into the river that runs through the slum, eventually ending up in the ocean, which lies a mere 50 metres from their home.

In one month, this family alone contributes over 900 pieces of single-use plastics to the five trillion pieces of microplastic in the ocean. This is because their community of over 1,500 households, which sits on a wetlands, does not have a waste disposal system.

So assuming that their neighbours also dump their waste into the river and that they consume similar amounts of plastics per day, this means they add over 1.3 million pieces of single-use plastics to the sea each month.

The situation is the same in all the other settlements that are close to degraded lagoons around the ocean.

To date, Accra has some 265 informal settlementss, including Chorkor, James town, Osu, Labadi, Teshie, Korlegonor, Opetequaye, Agege and Old Fadama.

With all of these being in different stages of development, according to a recent study by the People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements (PD) Ghana, a non-governmental organisation. Professor Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Chair of the Ghana National Biodiversity Committee, recalls that 10 years ago food was packaged with leaves and women went to the market with woven baskets or cotton bags.

“Now because of civilisation, every food item or prepared food bought in this country is first wrapped in a single-use plastic and then is kept in plastic carrier bags. If Accra has a population of over 2.6 million and everyone uses a single plastic every day, just calculate how much plastic waste is generated per day,” he told IPS.

About 2.58 million metric tonnes of raw plastics are imported into Ghana annually, of which 73 percent effectively ends up as waste, while only 19 percent is re-used, according to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Sadly, less than 0.1 percent of the waste is recycled, meaning all the plastic waste generated ends up in the environment.

John Pwamang, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, is worried about the discharge of plastics into the various lagoons, and ultimately in the sea. “The reckless manner in which we throw away waste has become the most insidious threat to the ocean today,” he told IPS.

“We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are fast reaching the point where there will literally be more plastics in the sea than fish. Our fishermen will agree with me as they already are experiencing it. They always have more plastics than fish in their trawls. I am inclined to believe that the situation in Ghana may be more dire than it would appear,” he said.

Dr Kofi Okyere, a Senior Lecturer at the Cape Coast University, says lagoons are home to diverse species. There are 90 lagoons and 10 estuaries with their associated marshes and mangrove swamps along Ghana’s 550-km coastline stretch.

“Although I cannot put precise statistical figures, most of the lagoons, especially those located in urban areas, have been heavily polluted within the last decade or two. The pollutants are largely domestic and industrial effluent discharge, sewage, plastics, aerosol cans and other solid wastes, and heavy metal contaminants (lead, mercury, arsenic, etc.) from industrial activities,” he told IPS.

Nelson Boateng, Chief Executive Director of Nelplast Ghana Limited, is one of a group of people and companies that are finding alternative uses for plastic waste. He is holding a paving brick made from recycled plastic. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

However, while a large number of Ghanaians are still using plastic, and discarding it, there are a few people and organisations that are putting the plastic to better use.

Nelson Boateng, Chief Executive Director of Nelplast Ghana limited, began moulding and creating pavement blocks from plastic in 2015.

The company uses 70 percent sand and 30 percent plastic to manufacture the pavement blocks, but the ratio of the two materials changes depending on the kind of pavement project.

Walking IPS through the process in an interview, he explains the plastic waste is mixed with sand and taken through a melting process, and then the pavement slab is ready.

“So far we have paved many important areas, including residential areas, the premises of the Action Chapel, the frontage of Ghana’s Ministry of Environment Science, Technology and Innovation and some walkways in the country.”

“The advantage of plastic pavement blocks compared to the conventional cement blocks is that it is 30 percent cheaper, it does not break, there is no green algae growth, it does not fade. A square metre of our plastic paves cost GHC 33 (6.9 dollars) while the concrete cost 98 (20.20 dollars) I am doing this because I love the environment and I did all this on my own to beat plastic,” he said.

Currently, Boateng is recycling 2,000 kilos of plastic waste, but his factory, which is situated on a one-acre piece of land at the Ashaiman Municipal Assembly, has the capacity to produce 200,000 plastic pavement blocks.

Of the over 500 waste pickers who sell plastics to Boateng, 60 percent are women who depend on this as their livelihood. With the price of a kilo being 10 US cents women make a minimum of 10.40 dollars per sale.

Ashietey Okaiko, 34, a single mother and plastic picker of Nelplast Ghana limited, confirmed to IPS that she earns 31 dollars on average per sale, and that is what she uses to take care of her family.

“Because people now know that plastic waste is valuable, many women who are now employed are picking plastics. The company needs support to be able to buy more because sometimes when we send it they do not buy,” she says.

Boateng stated that pickers could collect up to the tune of 10,000 kilograms a day, saying, “I feel bad telling them I cannot pay due to financial constraints.”

Similar to Boateng’s innovation is the efforts of the Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprises (GRIPE), an industry-led coalition under the auspices of the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), a non-governmental organisation, that is manufacturing modified building blocks out of plastic.

The initiative, carried out in conjunction with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, is pending certification by the Ghana Standard Authority for commercial use.

Ama Amoah, Regional Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Manager at Nestle, a leading member of GRIPE, told IPS that the group has done community and schools education and awareness campaigns on proper waste management practices for plastics.

There are also other innovators such as Seth Quansah, who runs Alchemy Alternative Energy, which is converting plastic waste and tires through internationally approved and environmentally sound processes into hydrocarbon energy, mainly diesel-grade fuels.

Through the Ghana Climate Innovations Centre, and Denmark and the Netherlands through the World Bank, Quansah has received mentorship and is preparing to expand the company.

Ghana’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Ken Ofori Atta, says the Ministry of Environment, Science Technology and Innovation (MESTI) is in the process of finalising a new National Plastic Waste Policy, which will focus on strategies to promote reduction, reuse, and recycling.

But Helen La Trobe, an environmental volunteer in Ghana, tells IPS, “African industry should seek innovative approaches to reduce plastic use and plastic waste in all its forms by replacing plastic with other innovative products and reducing, reusing and recycling where replacing is not currently possible.”

She also wants the government to provide adequate public rubbish bins at trotro stops (bus stops) and markets to have these frequently emptied.

She says plastic is indestructible and breaks into smaller and smaller parts, called microplastics, but it takes more than 500 years to completely disappear. 

According to Trobe, microplastics and microbeads, tiny polyethylene plastic added to health and beauty products such as some skin cleansers and toothpaste, absorb toxins and industrial chemicals from the environment. As fish and other marine life ingest tiny pieces of plastic, the toxins and chemicals enter their tissue and then the food chain, which ultimately affect humans.  

While Boateng does not believe that production of plastic is a problem, but that authorities need to support innovators and there is a need for a behavioural change, he adds, “The more the support, the cleaner the environment. If we are serious of ridding the country and the sea of plastics this is the way forward. When people go to the beach to clean up, the waste ends ups in the land field site, which is still in the environment.”

Human Trafficking – Hidden in Plain Sight

By Romy Hawatt
DUBAI, Dec 21 2018 (IPS)

The media globally tends to have a bias to negative, sensational and headline grabbing stories and events and this certainly applies to reporting related to human trafficking in the third [...] Read more »