Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights to Water’

USA: Advocacy Groups Challenge in Lawsuit National Water Pollution Trading Model

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Washington, D.C. – Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth, represented by Columbia Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic, filed a joint lawsuit today to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen the Chesapeake Bay water clean-up efforts and maintain the integrity of the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate water pollution trading provisions included in EPA’s 2010 plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The lawsuit declares that water pollution trading, otherwise known as cap-and-trade, is illegal and would undermine the region’s efforts to comply with strict pollution limits set by the Bay’s total maximum daily load or TMDL. This program would allow for new and increased pollution discharges into the Chesapeake Bay watershed under a scheme of market-based offsets and pollution trading.

“The 40 years of success of the Clean Water Act will be traded away if this scheme is allowed to go forward,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Why would we put Wall Street, the same industry that brought us the financial crisis, in charge of protecting the Bay? Allowing polluters to purchase their way out of upgrading equipment and reducing their toxic runoff is irresponsible and reckless. It’s opening the door to the end of the Clean Water Act and the downfall of our waterways. It’s essentially an entitlement program for the financial services industry and polluters.”

The pollution trading provisions in the Bay TMDL allow financial middlemen to identify and purchase nitrogen and phosphorus “credits” from industrial agriculture operations in the watershed that attest to engaging in future practices to reduce their pollution levels. These unverifiable credits are then aggregated and bundled together, and sold to power plants, wastewater treatment plants and other “point source” polluters who are either unable or simply unwilling to meet their CWA permit limits. This “pay-to-pollute” trading program represents a dramatic departure from the successful industrial pollution controls established by the Clean Water Act (CWA), a bedrock environmental law Congress passed 40 years ago this month.

“Simply put, the Bay water pollution trading program sets bad national precedent and will allow more, not less, pollution in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica. “Cleaning up our national waters, including the Chesapeake Bay, is a matter of political will at the state and national level. We cannot rely on the worst polluters of the Bay and Wall Street traders to lead the efforts to revive this invaluable natural resource.”

The Obama administration has been promoting water quality trading, which is favored by the financial services industry, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with the hopes of establishing an interstate market in nitrogen and phosphorous runoff there that could be replicated around the U.S.

EPA recently adopted the TMDL for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment discharged into the Chesapeake Bay. These pollutants are chiefly responsible for massive dead zones throughout the Bay during each summer. In theory, when properly designed and implemented through legally required permits and state regulatory programs, the TMDL should result in improved water quality for fishing and swimming in the Bay and its tributaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Virginia and the District of Columbia sometime after 2025. However, the trading provisions of this plan are not authorized under the CWA and likely means that the Bay will remain polluted for decades to come.

The TMDL, as finalized, allows for unmonitored “nonpoint” sources of pollution, mainly agricultural operations, to claim unverified reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus discharges and sell these alleged reductions to “point” source industries like power plants and wastewater treatment plants. This market-based approach means that polluters will be able to buy and sell the right to pollute the Bay through a series of complex and non-transparent deals brokered by third party middlemen.

Supporters of water pollution trading claim that the market approach will finally motivate agricultural operations—an industry that is largely exempt from CWA regulation despite being the largest polluters of waterways in the country—to reduce their levels of discharges. However, pollution trading follows on the heels of decades of failed financial incentives to get the industry to clean up its mess in the Bay, from taxpayer funded cost- share projects to manure transport programs and other voluntary measures. The EPA’s implementation of trading, the latest voluntary approach, sacrifices the most successful part of the CWA: the point source permitting program.

“Water pollution is a theft of our public trust rights to clean and healthy waterways. The notion that polluters should be allowed to profit by selling the right to pollute the Bay to other polluters not only violates the letter of the Clean Water Act, but offends the very spirit of the law,” stated Food & Water Justice Co-Director Michele Merkel. “EPA cannot be allowed to place a ‘for sale’ sign on the ecological integrity of the Chesapeake Bay.”

“Pollution trading also has dire consequences for communities of color and other communities that lack political access,” stated Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman. “As industries purchase the right to pollute more, it’s the surrounding communities that will bear the brunt of these increased discharges. And we know, from decades of research, that it’s communities of color who live nearest to these facilities. Pollution trading is nothing more than a scheme to dump even more toxics into these communities who already bear the disproportionate burden of our environmentally irresponsible ways.”

“Pollution trading in the Chesapeake Bay watershed would put at increased risk the health of the public who live in the watershed and those who are on the Bay for work or recreation,” said Robert S. Lawrence, MD, Director, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We need to preserve the Clean Water Act to clean up the Bay, not allow it to be weakened and add more nitrates, bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, and other pollutants that threaten human and ecologic health.”

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

Friends of the Earth strives for a more healthy and just world. We understand that the challenges facing our planet call for more than half measures, so we push for the reforms that are needed, not merely the ones that are politically easy. We are members of Friends of the Earth International, a global network representing more than two million activists in 76 different countries. In the United States, we advocate in the halls of Congress, in state capitals, and with community groups around the country. With offices in Washington, DC and Berkeley, CA, and members in all 50 states, we urge policymakers to defend the environment and work towards a healthy environment for all people.


Scott Edwards, Food & Water Watch, 914-299-1250,

Michele Merkel, Food & Water Watch, 202-257-0877,

Becca Connors, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0744,

sign on letter: Human Right to Water Threatened at the United Nations

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Anil Naidoo, writing from New York on the eve of the Third Intersessional Meeting of the UNCSD
An Urgent Call to Action : There is now a sign on letter to the United Nations Secretary General circulating, please sign it

Today in New York, UN Member States are moving from the informal discussions of the past week to the more formal negotiations which take place over the next two days.

Over the past week we have seen a major number of amendments to the original Zero Draft document and these will now be negotiated with the goal of achieving a consensus on a Rio+20 Outcomes document.

The whole human rights framework is under direct attack through this process, with a few states calling for deletion or ‘bracketing’ of all safeguards and protections within this document. Combined with the clear and dangerous neo-liberal framework of the ‘Green Economy’, removing human rights and other safeguards will have profound implications for the future.

In particular, if we see the Human Right to Water and Sanitation removed from this Rio document, it will effectively end any substantial movement at the UN on this critical right.

We cannot allow this to happen and there is still time to act!

Groups here in New York are mobilizing and beginning to be more effective at voicing our concerns.

There is now a sign on letter to the United Nations Secretary General circulating, please sign it

We now have over 400 organizations who have signed the letter supporting the human right to water and sanitation, the Council of Canadians will circulate that again to the UN missions by fax and invite you to continue to pressure the states which are attacking this right.

Again, this is Canada, the US, Israel who are requesting deletion of the right, along with New Zealand the Republic of Korea who are proposing non-binding language and supported by the UK and Denmark who are working within the EU.

Any and all pressure that can be brought to bear on these states is important!

I am pleased to say that the G77, particularly the ALBA countries, remain strong for the right and that Switzerland has made a strong intervention supporting the right. I am also happy to report that Japan has taken a very strong position against water pricing and full cost recovery.

Countries which have put forward proposals on pricing and full cost recovery include the EU, Turkey, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Please note that it is not looked upon well to name governments directly during negotiations, but I am taking this step because I do not think that only the groups here at the UN have a stake in this process and that the decisions should be transparent as they affect us all!

I cannot stress enough the need to get engaged in this process. This is not simply an environmental agreement with some interesting discussions, this is an attempt to mandate the way that we interact with nature by ensuring it is done through market and financial mechanisms which will guarantee access to capital and deny access to those without. The removal of the human right to water and all safeguards are related to this agenda because they are seen as a barrier to further commodification and financialization!

This week we have shown that we can have an impact when we work together!

Making the EU back down from deletion of the human right to water and sanitation, claiming it was a mistake by the secretariat, is a major step forward, but will only be a victory if we can press these other governments to do the same.

Right now, the big danger is that member states that are supportive do not stand firm and accept a generalized paragraph on human rights which would not be acceptable. I am hearing that this could be what the EU proposes as a compromise but this would be not much different from complete deletion because human rights are very specific and especially the human right to water and sanitation which is also the most newly recognized human right.

Again, if direct references to specific human rights are removed from this text, water will not stand a chance in moving forward towards implementation because opposed states will claim that there is no consensus, which then means that it is effectively a dead issue. We must not allow this to happen!

If we apply concerted pressure, I think we will be successful, especially since all NGO’s down here are now referencing the human right to water and it has become a rally point, at least in speeches. We need to turn that into further action and use it to point out the deeper dangers in these negotiations. We need to look for allies past our traditional groups and work with them. I am very pleased that we have secured strong statements from the Special Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque (see here)

These negotiations will not conclude in the next 2 days, but what happens over the next 2 days will set the direction of the next months as we move towards the next negotiations in one month and ultimately towards Rio.

If we can build some momentum and continue to advocate, I am convinced we will have a positive impact.

Thousands protest in Ecuador’s capital for “Water, Life, and Dignity of the People”

Saturday, March 24th, 2012


Quito, Ecuador — Over 25,000 people flooded Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on March 22 in the culmination of a two week march that began in the country’s Southern Amazon region and spanned roughly 700 kilometres.

The march, translated from Spanish to mean the “Plurinational March for Water, Life, and Dignity of the People,” was led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) in collaboration with other indigenous, environmental, student, worker, and women’s groups.

The movement was born out of a rejection of the constitutional violations and extractive environmental policies of President Rafael Correa’s national government, which is lead by the Alianza Pais party (“Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance”).

Thousands left Ecuador’s Southern Amazonian province of Zamora-Chinchipe on March 8 – International Women’s Day – to begin their journey to Quito. They arrived on March 22, World Water Day.

The starting point was symbolically chosen to denounce the large-scale, open pit copper mining project initiated in Zamora’s Condor Cordillera following a contract signed at the beginning of the month with the Chinese transnational mining corporation, Ecuacorriente (ECSA).

ECSA is an international subsidiary of the Canadian natural mineral resource company, Corriente Resources Inc., based in Vancouver, BC.

The project is the largest scale mining development in the Ecuador’s history, and is contracted to last 25 years, with a $1.4-billion investment in the Southern Amazonian region by ECSA within the first five years.

Provincial coordinating committees sent roughly 5,000 to 6,000 people from each province to participate in the march, joining the movement as it moved northward from Zamora toward the capital. Together these bodies made 19 demands on issues including labour, environmental justice, and reproductive rights.

They declared three of these demands to be nonnegotiable: the elimination of large scale mining, decriminalization of social protest, and the reinstatement of employment of 5,600 public workers who had been laid off in Fall 2011 by a constitutional decree which instituted “mandatory resignation.”

On March 22, 20,000 demonstrators travelled the final stretch through Quito, arriving from the south to gather downtown at Parque del Arbolito. Another 5,000 arrived from the north. They carried with them large banners, flags, graffiti, and drums, chanting as they made their way through the city.

Though the protesters marched in unity, they represented a wide variety of issues.

“I am here because I believe in protest. I believe it is one of the greatest achievements of the people, and I join this struggle for two reasons; because water is a right for all, and because I am against the large scale mining project in Zamora,” said Pablo Torres, a demonstrator from Quito.

Another demonstrator, Marco Montagua from Pastaza in the South Eastern Amazon stated, “I am here in the spirit of solidarity between indigenous peoples and nationalities. Each people, each sector, has their own reason for being here. We, the Sapara Nation, are here to resist oil extraction on our land.”

Riot cops and military lined the march and police helicopters flew overhead. While the protest remained mostly peaceful, altercations broke out between riot police, police on horseback, and the demonstrators around 6:00 p.m.

The government had banned the contracting of interprovincial buses throughout March, which constrained the number of protesters present in the demonstration.

Despite this, Soledad Vogliano, Natural Resource and Legal worker for CONAIE, explained that the march has already yielded some positive results.

“The government has announced that they will begin a process of dialogue to evaluate how the nonnegotiable demands can be implemented,” said Vogliano. “This period will last six months, by the end of which, if there is no action, the organizations involved in the march have announced that there will be uprising.”

Rio+20: Why we need a People’s Summit – at UN Deleting our Rights, Bracketing our Future

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

By Paul Quintos, Ibon International

I think the best way to appreciate the people’s summit in Rio is to look at what’s happening here in this hall over the last few days.

Here we have been witnessing a systematic attempt by some powerful states to weaken, or “bracket” or outright eliminate nearly all references to human rights obligations and equity principles in the text for the outcome of Rio+20.

Let’s take the section on Food.

Text that refers to the “Right to food and proper nutrition” – delete says one major power.

“Right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food…” Bracket it!

But increasing agricultural productivity is fine. Improving access of small farmers to global markets is fine.

Text that says, “specific attention must be paid to challenges faced by poor smallholders, women and youth including their participation in decision-making…” – Delete!

“Promoting access to land particularly for women, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups” – bracket or delete!

But “promoting open and transparent markets; … promoting secure rights to land and natural resources, …” — by secure rights they mean property rights – that is fine for them!

“Regulating financial and commodity markets to address price volatility” – Delete!

The same story goes for water.

“Right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation” – delete!

But they agree to “efforts to improve access” because they can always say that they are privatizing water utilities in order to encourage private investments and therefore improve access. Whereas rights assigns the duty to the state.

“Improving efficiency”, even better.

But its not just human rights that are under attack. Even principles already agreed upon in Rio in 1992 are being bracketed – the Polluter Pays Principle, Precautionary Principle, Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR).

CBDR is particularly contentious with major developed countries trying to eliminate any and all prescriptive language that would commit them to the provision of finance, technology transfers and capacity building in support of sustainable development effort in the South.

All references to the Right to Development is being eliminated.

Language hinting at the need for reforms of International Financial Institutions, the multilateral trading system, the big banks – they are dismissed as being beyond the remit of Rio. What happened to integrating the three pillars!

And its also hypocrisy because at UNCTAD, which clearly has the mandate to push for reforms in the international trade, financial and development regime; there are also ongoing attempts by many of these same powerful states to remove any concrete and meaningful reform proposals in the outcome document for the UNCTAD XIII next month.

Here in the UNCSD, even the goal of poverty eradication is being qualified to focus only on extreme poverty.

The powerful states are consistently opposing prescriptive language — in other words language that commits governments to actually do what they claim to support in principle. On the other hand, they are pushing for private sector investments and initiatives to fill in the gap left by the public sector.

They are even avoiding concrete targets and timelines or even just defining the Green Economy? And I think this is deliberate. Because by keeping the definition open or vague enough, you can promote biofuels, or nuclear energy or carbon trading or financialization of natural resources, or geo-engineering, etc. as Green Economy measures.

So if all of these attempts by powerful states to remove rights, eliminate equity, whittle down Rio principles and avoid concrete commitments to meaningful reforms in social, economic and environmental policies and governance, then what are we left with?

CSOs and social movements are already asking the question whether we are better off with a weak agreement in Rio or no agreement at all.

There is a narrative emerging from these negotiations which can only be understood in the current global context. This is happening in the middle of the gravest crisis of the global capitalist system since the Great Depression of the previous century.

Capital is desperately seeking new investment outlets, new markets, new sources of raw materials and new ways of squeezing more profits from the toil of working people.

But they can’t privatize if we assign clear obligations on states to ensure universal access to water and so on which is what rights imply.

They can’t make as much money out of green technologies if we require technology assessments based on the precautionary principle.

They can’t easily expand to biofuel plantations if we have too many safeguards in place like respecting customary land use rights and practices of indigenous peoples.

They can’t speculate on commodities and derivatives if we have financial regulations.

They can’t talk about equity without us talking about the obscene concentration of wealth, or capital in the hands of a global financial oligarchy today which is precisely at the root of the current crisis, the decline in aggregate demand, the surfeit of capital that therefore go to financial speculation rather than in the real economy, inflating asset bubbles and leading to financial crises and all its attendant consequences.

They can’t aim for ever expanding capital accumulation if we insist on the redistribution of resources and environmental space within planetary boundaries.

That’s why we need the people’s summit!

Because here is the space where the people can more freely and openly discuss and question the fundamental underpinnings of the global economic and political order; embrace new paradigms for “development” and sustainability; and explore truly transformative solutions, not the false solutions that we’ve been hearing all week.

But we can’t completely abandon this space either. We have to send a resounding message to our purported leaders that we will not allow them to “delete” our rights and “bracket” our futures. We must not allow them to backtrack on the Rio principles and on human rights obligations. We must make it clear to them that this is not the future we want!

Blocking Human Right to Water: Canada, UK, New Zealand, Denmark, US, Korea, Israel

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Anil Naidoo (Council of Canadians) reports directly from the UN Rio+20 Negotiations in New York



UN on World Water Day

This World Water Day, as many around the world will be ‘celebrating’ water, I am calling on all who care for water, nature, our communities and rights to act rather than celebrate.

My message to you, written from the Rio+20 negotiations in New York at the United Nations is that the situation is desperate. Virtually every one of our past victories and future hopes are under threat and only a strong and sustained campaign will help. I cannot state my concerns any more strongly.

Over the past 3 days I have witnessed what powerful states have envisioned for the future of water and nature itself, it is truly disturbing. If we do not act, the future will be dominated by markets, pricing, financialization and property rights. In this world, their Green Economy, human rights are not respected as they challenge property rights and markets regimes and allow pressure to be brought upon the state to intervene.

So now that we have achieved the human right to water and sanitation, what do they do? Well, conveniently, if they can remove this reference from UN texts, present and future, then the right will really no longer be in effect, practically speaking, because it will be impossible to move any implementation agenda forward.

So to achieve the elimination of the human right to water and sanitation, we have seen 6 states working to remove the human right to water from the Rio+20 text. The original 4 rogue states of Canada, New Zealand, UK and Denmark (the last 2 using the EU consensus to move their agenda) have been joined by the US, Israel and Korea in undermining the human right to water and sanitation through various strategies, either focused on replacing human rights with ‘access’ or outright elimination.

In other parts of the text the attacks continue in different formats. In food security, for instance, pricing and full cost recovery are promoted as solutions and removal of ‘subsidies’ are advocated, as they are market distorting. Throughout, market-based mechanism and the role of the private sector is inserted at every opportunity. References to equity or regulation of the markets are systematically removed and all language that is seen as prescriptive on the private sector is removed. Make no mistake, this ‘environmental’ negotiation is predominantly about project the neo-liberal economic order into water, food, energy, forests, oceans, mountains …everything!

There is a deeper threat, however, beyond simple privatisation and commodification of nature itself, which is something we have dealt with in the past and is a tangible, real market challenge which we know how to deal with. The deeper threat is in the Green Economy being an instrument to establish a hegemonic property rights regime which extends into all aspects of the natural world through emphasis on natural capital, pricing, payments for ecological services, internalizing externalities and financial market mechanisms; innovative financial markets being the stuff of derivatives, speculation, hedging and all manners of uncontrollable excess and manipulation, think Enron and worse. Unleashing this on our natural world will have consequences we can only begin to imagine if we look at what happened with the mortgage and debt crisis. Add austerity which drives less ability by the state to regulate and a property rights regime that will be imposed globally as a way to protect capital, combined with trading schemes and innovative financial mechanisms and we are faced with unprecedented threats.

So where is the hope? I believe we need to begin by standing up for our hard won human right to water and sanitation, as a beginning. The attacks on this right expose their deeper agenda and if we can retain the right it will become a tool to push back on the broader Green Economy. We also need to oppose the implementation model which will be global in scale and steamroll communities and smaller states. We need to question, as the G77 is doing, what exactly is meant by new proposals being promoted by countries like Canada, the US, New Zealand and Korea alongside the EU. How can we, as a global community, agree to the Green Economy and the mechanisms to implement it when it is being purposefully left undefined and vague?

The stakes are too high to allow this headlong rush into their Green Economy even though all thoughtful people realize the dangerous road we are traveling. Instead of a global ‘solution’, we should be supporting local solutions which are actually working and which are put at risk by the hegemonic framework being proposed for nature. We should be raising up human rights in a chaotic world, not allow them to be killed, these are the safeguards that need to be in place if we are to even contemplate a fraction of this Green Economy. We need to challenge the destructive financial models that have lead us to the abyss and over in many states, not be trying to extend them into our water, land, food, oceans, forests etc.

To achieve our goals, we will need to come together as never before. We cannot afford to continue to work in our different areas, separated and isolated. The Green Economy initiative, if nothing else, exposes a deeper agenda that threatens broadly and can therefore be a point of agreement among all movements and campaigns. If we go into Rio galvanized and together, then we will have a platform from which to push back against what is an ongoing agenda. If we remain separate and fragmented we will be reacting and losing for years to come.

Here at the UN, within these concrete walls and in the sanitized environs of diplomacy and protocol, it is easy to lose sight of what is really at stake. I will report more on the negotiations as they unfold over the next week but for the course to change you will need to act and find ways to engage, there is no other way. If we are to achieve ‘the future we want’ then clearly we will have to fight for it, together! Let’s begin today on World Water Day!

SOS à l’ONU: J’ai besoin de votre aide si nous voulons sauver le droit humain à l’eau et l’assainissement

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012


Una amenaza muy real! 4 países están bloqueando el derecho humano al agua

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012


SOS at the UN: Countries want to deny our Human Rights on Water ! (Denmark (chair of the EU), the UK, Canada and New Zealand)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012