Among Asia’s most discriminated people are the Rohingyas. About 1.33 million of the Muslims of South Asian descent live in Myanmar, where all but 40,000 are stateless. Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law considers Rohingyas illegal Bengali immigrants – despite the fact that many have lived for generations in the western state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh.

Fortify Rights, a human rights organization, said recently in a new report, Policies of Persecution , that restrictions placed on Rohingyas by the Burmese government are presented officially as a response to an “illegal immigration” problem and threats to “national security”. Yet Rohingyas as a group live in unimaginable poverty due to deprivation and displacement.

Since 2012, with easing of political restrictions in Burma, there have been several bouts of violence between the Rohingya and the Buddhist ethnic-Rakhine, who claim to feel threatened by the muslim population. Both sides have sustained casualties in the fighting but, according to Fortify rights, several hundred men, women and children have been killed and muslim communities razed.

As a result, tens of thousands of Rohingya now live in crowded camps in Burma, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand, where they haven’t faired much better.  Just to reach their new destination, they risk death at sea in overcrowded and unstable transport arranged by human traffickers who take advantage of their poverty and statelessness, often forcing them into bonded servitude.  Killings and other ill-treatment is also not uncommon, Fortify Rights and others have said.

The most recent example of egregious discrimination against Rohingyas started with the latest census, data collection for which began on March 30th. The census, however – a first since 1983 for the population estimated at 60 million – makes use of a list of 135 recognized nationalities yet excludes Rohingyas. Initially, they were told they could write in their ethnicity but later the government backtracked and said they should self-identify as Bengalis, according to news reports.

This census simply compounds what is already an untenable situation in Burma for the Rohingya population, which suffers Burmese policies that Fortify Rights describes as, “designed to make life so intolerable for Rohingya that they will leave the country.”

Among the restrictions enshrined in state policy that the Rohingya face in Burma are those on movement, Fortify Rights said in its report. They cannot travel within or between townships without authorization and only under exceptional circumstances travel outside the state, according to 12 internal government documents obtained by the rights group. Among other restrictions are those relating to marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship. There are severe criminal punishments for Rohingyas who  violate restrictions, including often years in jail and fines, according to Fortify Rights.

The report calls for the Myanmar government to abolish its discriminatory policies and accord Rohingya full rights under Burmese law, including the right to protection from violence. The international community should not sit by and watch the persecution of Rohingya ahead of next year’s critical election when the military generals are expected to cede power. All Burmese, regardless of ethnicity, should share in the government’s promised reforms.

 

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In the future, no one will be untouched by climate change, according to a new report from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group, released on Monday in Japan.  Compiled by more than 300 authors from 70 different countries and including contributions from thousands of global experts, the report, the second of three, paints a frightening account of our future, 

The impacts of global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible,” the report says. And whereas in the past the increasing levels of carbon dioxide emitted by transport, power stations, of methane from deforestation and farming, have largely impacted our natural systems, in the future the impact will be felt by humans.  

Consequently, rather than considering climate change an environmental risk, the report discusses rising temperatures as a series of global and material risks in the form of storm surges, flooding, droughts and heat waves amid rising temperatures. The consequences and additional risks could be in the form of conflict over resources, food shortages, particularly in poorer countries, and infrastructure damage, among others.

The scientists also pointed to expected higher levels of marine and animal extinctions. In parts of the tropics and Antarctica, fish species are expected to fall of dramatically, with catches dropping by as much as 50 percent. 

The report discusses adaptation and mitigation amid the inevitable changes that we face from a dramatically warmer planet and supports decision-making from global leaders that takes into account climate change and its risks. 

Many of the most compelling risks associated with climate change are concentrated in urban areas, according to the report, and an emphasis on sustainable development and resilience in cities is critical to withstand change. Risks for those without critical infrastructure or adequate housing are, of course, amplified significantly.

Will our policy makers finally take note? Certainly, the message here is urgent and should leave no doubt regarding the need for swift, collective action to stem climate change. 

Lisa and Charly Kleissner

Sophisticated Investors like to think their portfolio risk has been carefully mitigated and hedged. For the average portfolio, however, standard risk calculations don’t necessarily include analysis relative to environmental and social  issues an investee company potentially faces, or even resource consumption analysis, yet all can have a significant impact on returns. This is particularly true of a long-term “buy and hold” investment strategy.

By contrast, impact investors believe not only that these factors weigh on a company’s returns, but also a positive screen for companies actively managing these risks can improve a portfolio’s performance.

Speaking in Hong Kong about their own 13-year journey toward an “Impact Portfolio” were Lisa and Charly Kleissner, founders of the KL Felicitas Foundation. As part of their mission, the Kleissners have urged audiences globally to think about how we can better deploy capital to help better steward the planet’s resources. On Tuesday, they spoke at a forum organized by the RS Group, hoping to advance the discussion in Hong Kong.

Today, the Kleissner’s foundation and personal portfolios, managed by San Francisco-based Sonen Capital, are more than 93 percent allocated across four different asset classes to “Impact Investments”, which signal the intent to generate both financial return and “purposeful, measurable, positive social or environmental impact”.

According to “Evolution of an Impact Portfolio: From Implementation to Results“, a report published by Sonen in October last year, the Kleissner’s portfolios have achieved index-competitive risk-adjusted returns, illustrating that, “impact investments can compete with and, at times, outperform, traditional asset allocation strategies, while simultaneously pursuing meaningful and measurable social and environmental impact”.

Their journey toward impact has not been easy, according to the Kleissners, Silicon valley denizens who both worked under Steve Jobs at Apple, among other firms. The process began with dim looks from early investment managers who wanted to focus only on returns.

“We wanted to know about the positive upside for communities, for the environment, from our investments,” Lisa said. “We wanted to make money and have positive impact but our early investment advisors had no idea how to achieve this.”

They sought an advisor who cared about impact. “We didn’t want someone who saw this as simply a job,” Charly said. “We want to change the world not just make money and our investment advisor needed to be a partner in this.”

The results were far-reaching, meaning investment policies needed to become impact investment policies, due diligence restructured, term sheets re-written, new monitoring and exit strategies developed. Sonen Capital was founded in response to this need.

The portfolios the Kleissners ended up with are far from US-centric, with more than 50 percent of investments made globally. Among those are holdings in renewable timber, carbon offsets, water and land use that is respectful of biodiversity. In other words, the Kleissners invest in companies that reflect positive impact. They have opted not to invest in coal-fired power plants or extractive industries.

Three percent of their assets are in early stage direct investments, reflecting their silicon valley, entrepreneurial background. Indeed, the Kleissners efforts to promote the impact sector has included investments of money and their own time in social enterprise incubators. These, and others, the Kleissners like to think of as “catalytic” investments that can lead to change.

Beyond the incubator model to support social enterprise development, the Kleissners  also have invested in helping to build networks of like-minded investors to share due diligence as well as in promoting intermediaries to help develop the impact sector.

“Development of these investor resources is critical,” Charly said, “We want people anywhere to be able to tap into the knowledge”, which is available on the KL Felicitas website.

Measurement, always a difficult discussion, is rigorous across the portfolios, captures trends across the sectors and then includes qualitative analysis, which involves telling the story from the numbers and more.

Charly spoke of impact investment as often an evolution of smarter philanthropy. He also spoke of the importance of collaboration between grantmaking and investment to widen impact, pointing to microfinance as an example of this and to social enterprises that can start life as a nonprofit but move into a more commercial space over time using blended capital.

Speaking in Hong Kong, the Kleissners said, was a learning for them, that having worked with an incubator in India over a number of years, the entrepreneurial context there was more familiar.

In China, where the environmental challenges are substantial and polluting companies numerous, an audience member pointed out that impact might also come from working with conventional companies to change their environmental and social practices, rather than shunning them altogether.

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By Stanley Shea

The  European Parliament Fisheries Committee could in the next days quite irresponsibly kill proposed legislation to phase out the use of deep-sea bottom trawls and other destructive fishing gear in the Northeast Atlantic.

Predictably, many of the committee’s 25 members causing the most problem represent districts with deep-sea fishing interests, according to Bloom’s Claire Nouvian and an Oc. 2 New York Times Op-ed written by marine scientists Les Watling and Giles Boeuf.

According to scientists, 90 percent of the ocean is below 200 meters but not much is known about life there, expect that it is home to countless species, many of them as yet undocumented.  Research covers only about 1 percent of the vast area.

As fisheries have collapsed in shallow waters, the industry has looked to the deep for new species and have found only a few there that can be sold for human consumption or processed for fish meal. Yet trawls with gear heavy enough to reach 2,000 meters below the ocean’s surface have scooped up everything in their path, palatable or not, and thus reduced fish biomass by 80 percent over an area about the size of Britain.

According to the Op-Ed, in 2011, vessels from eight EU countries landed 15,000 metric tons of four species of marketable deep-sea fish, which represents only 0.4 percent of Europe’s fish haul. Because of the fragile and adverse conditions in  the deepest areas of our oceans, the fish are slow reproducers so this sort of fishing causes irreparable harm.

There exist many fragile species in the deep that are simply swept up or smashed by the trawl gear, which can leave the bottom or mid-areas of the ocean completely bereft of life. A declaration by 300 global scientists has urged that this type of destructive fishing be eliminated from the deep sea – now!

The deep sea battle is just part of the ocean tragedy, described well in the latest audit by an international team of marine scientists from the International Programmed on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).  Released earlier this month, the report showed that the world’s oceans and marine life face unprecedented threats from industrial pollution, global warming and rampant overfishing.

The IPSO paper calls for “urgent remedies”  because the “rate, speed, and impacts of change in the global ocean are greater, faster and more imminent than previously believed.”

The battle over deep sea trawling then is over “a small fishing area that produces a diminishing number of fish for a handful of companies , who despite massive subsidies from the EU and their own states are not profitable – all the while destroying countless organisms that represent the library of life on Earth,” according to the Op-Ed

Clearly, Trawling should be eliminated from the depths of the Northeast Atlantic. Yet  legislators, backed by industry, are staging an irresponsible fight in the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament that is against all of our interests  and the real tragedy is that they could win.

 

Photo by Stanley Shea

Photo by Stanley Shea

Good news is always welcome when working in a field like ours where social and environmental challenges are often seemingly intransigent. Months or even years can pass with seemingly limited progress and then, suddenly, there is a decision that changes the work entirely or shifts us into fast-forward gear.

We had just one of those moments last week when the Hong Kong government recommended that shark fin not be served at official functions. In a circular dated September 4th but only announced last Friday in a press release, the government also said its employees should not consume the soup at functions they will be attending.

The intention was for the government to “demonstrate its commitment to the promotion of green living and sustainability,” according to the press release. Also included in the recommendation was that blue fin tuna and black moss should be avoided.

A government ban on public sector consumption of shark fin has been the primary “ask” of conservation groups working in Hong Kong on reducing the consumption and thus import of shark fin.

There has also been some success there: Although Hong Kong still imports about half of all shark fin traded globally, data from the Census and Statistics Department indicates a 19.8 per cent drop in imports from 2011 to 2012. This is particularly interesting given that for the 15 years through 2011 shark fin imports remained relatively constant at about 10,000 tons a year. Of course, the question is whether this reduction is due to declining supply – fewer sharks in the oceans – or a reduction in consumption.

Stay tuned for the results of our investigations. Working with Hong Kong Shark Foundation and Bloom, we intend to survey restaurants and wedding planners to get a sense of whether consumer tastes are changing – following some years of education on the biodiversity challenges associated with the consumption of shark fin.

Estimates are that the fins of as many as 73 million sharks are traded each year and scientists warn that the rate of fishing for sharks, many of which grow slowly and reproduce late in life, is unsustainable. Sharks help maintain marine habitats such as coral reefs and ocean health by regulating the variety and abundance of species below them in the food chain, including commercially important fish species.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List estimates that of the 262 shark species where there is sufficient data to assess conservation status, 54 per cent, or 142 species, are at risk of extinction either now or in the near future.

When ADMCF in 2006 first started working with conservation groups in Hong Kong to research consumption habits and the trade, educate consumers about sharks and ultimately reduce consumption, the task certainly looked daunting.  There was a sense that expensive shark fin soup, served mostly as a status symbol at official or business functions and wedding banquets, was an entrenched cultural tradition.

Still, a study of cultural attitudes toward shark fin in 2011 by Bloom and the Hong Kong University Social Sciences Research Centre showed that 88 percent of respondents believed the Hong Kong government should prohibit the sale of products that involved killing endangered species. More than 75 percent said it would be acceptable not to include shark fin in a wedding menu.

Certainly, the first achievement milestone was, after much hard work by conservation groups here to educate hotel staff, recognizing last year that more than 60 percent of four and five-star hotels had either taken shark fin soup off their menus or would serve it only upon request.

More recently, airlines, led by Cathay Pacific, have said they will no longer carry shark fin as cargo unless they can be assured the fin is from sustainable sources. This is in line with many corporate sustainability policies.

The sense here, and perhaps globally, is that the “tide is turning” in favour of sharks. We believe that change is inevitable. Our job at ADMCF is to keep the pressure turned on both government and business, keep educating consumers and move us even closer toward more sustainable use of our already depleted oceans.

Photo by Alex Hofford

Photo by Alex Hofford

We hope the next milestone achieved will be a full Hong Kong government ban on the shark fin trade here until the industry can show that the product can be harvested sustainably. We are currently a long way from real sustainable supply, with only two small certified shark fisheries producing only spiny dogfish (small fins), which are not the source of much of the soup consumed in Hong Kong or elsewhere.

Yes, this is a big ask of a government that is usually reluctant to act on any environmental issue. Still, the recent government circular, dated September 4th stated, “The government is committed to the protection of endangered species.”

It also stated: “As the government is committed to the promotion of green living, we should take the lead and set a good example that goes beyond the minimum expectation as laid down in law.”

One of the world’s most important and largest-remaining stretches of protected forests could be lost within the month to mining, logging and plantation companies that want to reclassify the land.

If a new spatial planning goes ahead, the governor and parliament of Aceh province in Indonesia would hand over forest vital to an estimated 4 million people as watershed protection and critical to food security and livelihoods.

The forest being proposed for re-zoning is part of the protected Leuser ecosystem, which is one of the richest expanses of tropical rain forest  in Southeast Asia and a global repository of biodiversity.

Action NOW (sign the petition with link below) is urgent ahead of expected approval by the Aceh provincial parliament, where it   significant support.  Following that vote, the plan must then be approved by national government in Jakarta and a Forestry Ministry spokesman there has been quoted in press reports saying it could be approved within the month.

Approval of the plan would open up the forest for mining, paper and palm oil plantations the forest.The new spatial plan would grant currently protected land for mining, logging and palm oil. The plan would also approve an extensive new network of roads that would run through protected forests.

Leuser is located on the northern tip of Sumatra and is home to critically endangered orangutans, rhinos, and elephants. Aceh has the most forest cover of any province in Sumatra, which lost 36 percent of its forests in the past 20 years.

East Asia Minerals, the (TSX:EAS) Toronto-based mining company, with silver, gold and copper operations in Aceh and Sulawesi has said it is working closely with government officials in Aceh to obtain reclassification of  1.6 million hectares from “protected forest” to “production forest.”

In a statement, the company hailed the progress toward the rezoning as “positive news for mineral extraction in the area.”

The Aceh government banned the granting of new logging permits six years ago to protect the forest, but a new administration since last year is in favor of allowing logging again – hence the change in focus from protection of forests to allowing their commercial use.

Please click this link and sign the Change.org petition.

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At a recent environmental forum in Beijing, the speakers were in full swing with relatively predictable insight into China’s environmental challenges, and more broadly, environmental challenges elsewhere.

Then came the question-and-answer period and again a couple of relatively innocuous questions before a Chinese man strode to the front of the auditorium and launched into a discussion of his own.

In angry tones and raised voice, he said the Chinese government was not doing enough to mitigate air, water and soil pollution and demanded immediate attention to related public health concerns.

No one flinched, people listened intently, respectfully, no one emerged from the shadows to haul him away. Several students in the audience also asked about lack of action on pollution and suggested that more should be done to clean the environment and protect citizen health.

I sat beside a Chinese friend who simply shrugged, saying she had seen the man speak out at two other recent environmental forums. She said that because of his stature as an energy expert, he was left unhindered to express his opinions publicly.

She pointed out that the students were also feeling free to criticize the government, whereas previously the unspoken line everyone knew not to cross was any sense of direct opposition to Beijing authorities.

My sense from the entire trip (my previous visit being only four months earlier) was that China is changing, and perhaps faster than we could have imagined.

For the first time, censors this year have allowed Chinese media to carry reports about the “cancer villages” in areas of high industrial pollution.

Environmental advocate Ma Jun told me with some amazement that he had felt free recently to criticize a recent Ministry of Environmental Protection decision not to release data about soil pollution, which it considered a “state secret”.

Ma Jun said this was irresponsible and put public health at risk, a comment that was unusually picked up by the People’s Daily and Xinhua, among other news sources that aren’t usually inclined to publish remarks critical of the government.

“Previously, these comments would have been removed by censors,” Ma Jun said. “Now these issues are allowed to be talked about, debated and discussed.”

This became particularly clear, as March brought the annual meetings of the legislative and consultative bodies of China where major policies traditionally are decided and key government officials appointed.

Concern for the environment was a constant throughout the session – and was the subject of one in ten of the 5,000 proposals submitted by delegates.

Social media was also alive with commentary on the environment throughout.

And talk about environmental protection wasn’t simply a side act to the main show. The National People’s Congress (NPC) at 2,987 members is the largest parliament in the world and gathers alongside the People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) whose members represent various groups of society. This year, the NPC confirmed the new leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

This once-in-a-decade leadership change emerged from November’s Communist Party congress with a strong reform mandate and promising a more sustainable China, balanced growth as well as more emphasis on environmental protection.

To be fair, this was not, however entirely a departure in direction from the previous Hu Jintao, Wen Jibao administration and it remains to be seen whether the result will be real change.

The 2011, 12th Five-Year Plan, which sets the direction for policy, of course emphasized balanced growth and set priority green industries. The mantra that emerged then was that economic growth should not come at the expense of resource depletion or pollution.

Wen Jibao, representing the departing Old Guard, opened the 12th National People’s Congress with a “Report of the Work of the Government” pointing to “steady progress in conserving energy, reducing emissions, and protecting the environment.

But levels of anger are rising, fueled by recent truly off-the-charts air pollution in Beijing as well as the repeated and increasingly public (because of the rapid spread of news on social media platforms) water pollution incidents nationwide. Rampant corruption among local officials that has allowed harmful practices to continue unhindered has also been a target of microbloggers.

This sense of disregard for public health coupled with an increasingly affluent and vocal middle class presents a problem for the Chinese government in terms of its own legitimacy.

Recognizing this, Xi Jinping said at the March proceedings that the government should play a stronger role in pushing reform and opening up.

“The new administration wants a new start,” Ma Jun said. “They want to make clear that the current environmental challenges are not their fault.”