Inter Press Service » Energy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 20 Aug 2014 00:01:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/feed/ 0
What Do the World Bank and IMF Have to Do With the Ukraine Conflict?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:26:25 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136051 Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Mostly unreported as the Ukraine conflict captures headlines, international financing has played a significant role in the current conflict in Ukraine.

In late 2013, conflict between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-Russian Ukrainians escalated to violent levels, leading to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and prompting the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually Yanukovych’s removal from office was his rejection of an EU association agreement that would have further opened trade and integrated Ukraine with the European Union. The agreement was tied to a 17 billion dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Instead, Yanukovych chose a Russian aid package worth 15 billion dollars plus a 33 percent discount on Russian natural gas.

The relationship with international financial institutions changed swiftly under the pro-EU government put in place at the end of February 2014 which went for the multi-million dollar IMF package in May 2014.

Announcing a 3.5 billion dollars aid programme on May 22, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim lauded the Ukrainian authorities for developing a comprehensive programme of reforms, and their commitment to carry it out with support from the World Bank Group. He failed to mention the neo-liberal conditions imposed by the Bank to lend money, including that the government limit its own power by removing restrictions that hinder competition and limiting the role of state control in economic activities. “The stakes around Ukraine's vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe”

The rush to provide new aid packages to the country with the new government aligned with the neo-liberal agenda was a reward from both institutions.

The East-West competition over Ukraine, however, is about the control of natural resources, including uranium and other minerals, as well as geopolitical issues such as Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe.

In the last decade, the agricultural sector has been characterised by a growing concentration of production within very large agricultural holdings that use large-scale intensive farming systems. Not surprisingly, the presence of foreign corporations in the agricultural sector and the size of agro-holdings are both growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years.

Now the goal is to set policies that will benefit Western corporations. Whereas Ukraine does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, Article 404 of the EU agreement, which relates to agriculture, includes a clause that has generally gone unnoticed: both parties will cooperate to extend the use of biotechnologies.

Given the struggle for resources in Ukraine and the influx of foreign investors in the agriculture sector, an important question is whether the results of the programme will benefit Ukraine and its farmers by securing their property rights or pave the way for corporations to more easily access property and land.

By encouraging reforms such as the deregulation of seed and fertiliser markets, the country’s agricultural sector is being forced open to foreign corporations such as Dupont and Monsanto.

The Bank’s activities and its loan and reform programmes in Ukraine seem to be working toward the expansion of large industrial holdings in Ukrainian agriculture owned by foreign entities.

Amid the current turmoil, the World Bank and the IMF are now pushing for more reforms to improve the business climate and increase private investment. In March 2014, the former prime minister ad interim, Arsenij Yatsenyuk, welcomed strict and painful structural reforms as part of the 17 billion dollars IMF loan package, dismissing the need to negotiate any terms.

The IMF austerity reforms will affect monetary and exchange rate policies, the financial sector, fiscal policies, the energy sector, governance, and the business climate.

The loan is also a precondition for the release of further financial support from the European Union and the United States. If fully adopted, the reforms may lead to significant price increases of essential consumer goods, a 47 to 66 percent increase in personal income tax rates, and a 50 percent increase in gas bills. These measures, it is feared, will have a devastating social impact, resulting in a collapse of the standard of living and dramatic increases in poverty.

Although Ukraine started implementing pro-business reforms under president Yanukovych through the Ukraine Investment Climate Advisory Services Project and by streamlining trade and property transfer procedures, his ambition to mould the country to the World Bank and IMFs standards was not reflected in other realms of policy and his allegiance to Russia eventually led to his removal from office.

Following the installation of a pro-West government, there has been an acceleration of structural adjustment led by the international institutions along with an increase in foreign investment, aimed at further expansion of large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land by foreign companies and further corporatisation of agriculture in the country.

The experience of structural adjustment programmes around the developing world foretells that it will increase foreign control of the Ukrainian economy as well as increase poverty and inequality. As Western powers get ready to impose sanctions on Russia for its transgressions in Ukraine, it remains unclear how programmes and conditionalities imposed by the World Bank will improve the lives of Ukrainians and build a sustainable economic future.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/feed/ 5
Chile’s Patagonia Seeks Small-Scale Energy Autonomyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 00:53:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136066 The beauty of the snowy streets of Coyhaique, the capital of the Patagonia region of Aysén, hide the fact that it is Chile’s most polluted city, mainly due to the use of wet firewood to heat homes, in an area where temperatures are below zero for much of the year. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The beauty of the snowy streets of Coyhaique, the capital of the Patagonia region of Aysén, hide the fact that it is Chile’s most polluted city, mainly due to the use of wet firewood to heat homes, in an area where temperatures are below zero for much of the year. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

The southern region of Aysén in Chile’s Patagonian wilderness has the highest energy costs in the entire country. And the regional capital, Coyhaique, is the most polluted city in the nation, even though it has huge potential for hydroelectricity and wind power.

Most of the population opposed the construction of the HidroAysén hydropower dams, and the public pressure helped bring about the Jun. 10 cancellation of the project by the administration of socialist President Michelle Bachelet.

Now that the battle has been won, the region is looking for a way to reach energy autonomy.

“Aysén is Chile’s hydropower mecca. Nevertheless there is a monopoly over electricity here that continues to use diesel for 28 percent of power generation,” activist Peter Hartmann, a member of the Patagonia Defence Council and creator of the concept Aysén Reserve of Life, told IPS.

And fuel, Hartmann said, costs twice as much in Aysén as in the centre of Chile, which means the price of electricity is nearly double what it costs in Santiago.

The region of Aysén, whose capital is 1,629 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region. It consists of 108,494 sq km of glaciers, evergreen forests, fjords, islands, canals, lakes and swift-running rivers.

“Above and beyond structural questions that have to be worked out, this region only has good things to offer,” social activist Miriam Chible told IPS.

Mega does not mean good

The now-defunct HidroAysén project aimed to build five mega hydropower dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers, which would have generated 2,750 MW of electricity, with an annual capacity of 18,430 gigawatt-hours.

Environmentalists led the fight against the construction of the dams because of the impact they could have had on Chile’s Patagonia region, which has been proposed for humanity’s heritage status with UNESCO (the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) due to its vast biodiversity and enormous reserves of freshwater, among the planet’s largest.

But the Cuervo River project, which the Patagonia Defence Council sees as having a lesser impact, continues moving forward. The government has not yet taken a stance on it.

“Aysén has natural resources and enterprising people,” she said. “It has clearly marked seasons, which although it is a challenge makes it possible for us to plan. Besides, it’s next to Argentina, which gives it tremendous potential because it makes us part of a binational Patagonian area.”

Coyhaique, the region’s administrative and economic capital, is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. But paradoxically this is also Chile’s most polluted city.

The reason is that its 56,000 inhabitants mainly use firewood – much of which is green, wet or covered with moss – to heat their homes and cook in this extreme southern region, where temperatures are below zero for much of the year.

“In Aysén everyone heats and cooks with firewood, which causes Coyhaique’s high levels of pollution,” Hartmann said.

He added, however, that “If it occurred to you to put a small electric heater in your house in the wintertime, they would fine you for overconsumption. These are the things that no one understands.”

To this is added the poor insulation of homes in this region, where 9.9 percent of the population is poor – below the national average of 11.7 percent – but 4.2 percent is extremely poor – higher than the Chilean average of 3.7 percent.

Hartmann explained that half of the houses in this city have no insulation. He was referring to homes subsidised by the state, which he described as “anti-social” housing.

But firewood is part of the culture of Patagonians, who pay up to 7,000 dollars a year to heat their homes with green, wet or mossy wood, which costs 32 dollars per cubic metre, compared to 56 dollars per cubic metre for dry wood.

Social activist Miriam Chible has installed solar panels in her family restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, to achieve energy autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Social activist Miriam Chible has installed solar panels in her family restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, to achieve energy autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This Southern Cone country of 17.6 million people has 18,278 MW of gross installed capacity. It imports 97 percent of the fossil fuels it needs, and hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations, for the rest.

This country’s shortage of energy sources has made the cost of electricity per megawatt/hour (MWh) in Chile one of the highest in Latin America: over 160 dollars, compared to 55 dollars in Peru, 40 in Colombia and 10 in Argentina.

And in Aysén the cost per MWh is double the national average.

Currently, Edelaysen, a subsidiary of the private company Saesa, controls the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power in the region.

In Aysén, 54.2 percent of electricity comes from thermal power, 41.7 percent from hydroelectricity, and 4.1 percent from wind power.

Those who fought the HidroAysén project are now pressing for an even more ambitious goal: regional energy sovereignty.

One of the leaders of this struggle is Miriam Chible.

This widow and mother of four who was born and raised in Coyhaique forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation, established in April to work towards energy sovereignty by focusing on unconventional renewable sources. Another goal of the commission is autonomy in the area of food supplies.

“We are trying to design a different model of economic development for Aysén,” Chible said.

The idea, she added, “is for Aysén to come up with its own energy project, in order to later push for its own kind of development.”

The activist said the environmental movement believes Aysén’s hydropower potential could be harnessed by means of mini-dams, which have a smaller impact, while developing wind, solar and geothermal energy as well.

Some progress in that direction has been made. Six months ago, 120 people created a Solar Cooperative, which on Aug. 2 held its first seminar on local experiences in unconventional renewable energy sources.

Chible has 24 solar panels on her restaurant Histórico Ricer, which has been serving meals in the centre of Coyhaique for 33 years. Like her, there are dozens of families making an effort to diversify their energy sources.

The next step will be the purchase of LED light bulbs in bulk, for each member of the cooperative to install in their homes. “We also have metres that show how much energy we consume every day, and we hold energy ecoliteracy workshops,” she said.

The Aysén regional secretary of energy, Juan Antonio Bijit, explained to IPS that the region has the capacity to generate a significant amount of energy, with hydropower and wind potential. We even, he said, “have incorporated photovoltaic solutions with very good results.”

He said the Energy Agenda launched by President Bachelet on Jun. 15 is looking at boosting the electricity supply in the region in order to bring down rates “and improve people’s standard of living.”

Bijit said that for now there are no plans to subsidise the cost of energy in Aysén. But he added that community input will be included in all future decisions.

“We cannot do things between four walls; it’s important to talk to the people before decisions are reached,” he said.

“The idea is for people to be participants in what needs to be done in the area of energy, and in Aysén the population has a high level of awareness about this issue,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy/feed/ 1
Swamped by Rising Seas, Small Islands Seek a Lifelinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 18:16:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136060 Raolo Island in the Solomon Islands is one of the many places threatened by sea level rise. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Raolo Island in the Solomon Islands is one of the many places threatened by sea level rise. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

The world’s 52 small island developing states (SIDS), some in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth because of sea-level rise triggered by climate change, will be the focus of an international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month.

Scheduled to take place Sep. 1-2, the conference will provide world leaders with “a first-hand opportunity to experience climate change and poverty challenges of small islands.”For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

According to the United Nations, the political leaders are expected to announce “over 200 concrete partnerships” to lift small islanders out of poverty – all of whom are facing rising sea levels, overfishing, and destructive natural events like typhoons and tsunamis.

“We are working with our partners – bilaterally and multilaterally – to help resolve our problems,” said Ambassador Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, permanent representative of Samoa to the United Nations.

“You don’t have to bring the cheque book to the [negotiating] table,” he added. “It’s partnerships that matter.”

The issues on the conference agenda include sustainable economic development, oceans, food security and waste management, sustainable tourism, disaster risk reduction, health and non-communicable diseases, youth and women.

The list of 52 SIDS covers a wide geographical area and includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Nauru, Palau, Maldives, Cuba, Marshall Islands, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The conference is expected to adopt a plan of action, also called an outcome document, ensuring some of the priorities for SIDS. A preparatory committee, co-chaired by New Zealand and Singapore, has finalised the outcome document which will go before the conference for approval.

Responding to a series of questions, Ambassador Karen Tan, permanent representative of Singapore to the United Nations, and Phillip Taula, deputy permanent representative of New Zealand, told IPS SIDS have “specific vulnerabilities, and the difficulties they face are severe and complex. The small size of SIDS creates disadvantages.”

These can include limited resources and high population density, which can contribute to overuse and depletion of resources; high dependence on international trade; threatened supply of fresh water; costly public administration and infrastructure; limited institutional capacities; and limited export volumes, which are too small to achieve economies of scale.

They noted that geographic dispersion and isolation from markets can also lead to high freight costs and reduced competitiveness. SIDS have limited land areas and populations concentrated in coastal zones. Climate change and sea-level rise present significant risks.

The long-term effects of climate change may threaten the very existence and viability of some SIDS, Tan and Taula said in the joint interview. “SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact. And they face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.”

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general, such as challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Asked how many SIDS have been identified by the U.N. as in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth, they said no such assessment has yet been undertaken.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its fifth assessment report (AR5), and its Working Group II has recently issued its contribution to that, on ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’.

The report warned that small islands in general are at risk of loss of livelihoods, coastal settlements, infrastructure, ecosystem services, and economic stability.

For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

Some small island states are expected to face severe impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion, the report added. These could have damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP).

The report notes the risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones in small islands.

However, the WGII report also notes that significant potential exists for adaptation in islands, but additional external resources and technologies will enhance response.

Asked if there will be a plan of action adopted in Samoa, they said the outcome document will highlight the challenges that SIDS face and actions that SIDS and their partners will take to address these challenges.

“The theme of the conference, sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships, recognises that international cooperation and a wide range of partnerships involving all stakeholders are critical for the sustainable development of SIDS.”

As host, Samoa has made it clear that “no partnership is too small to count but what is essential is that they have clear targets, outputs, planned outcomes and timelines.”

Meanwhile, Afu Billy, capacity building volunteer at Development Services Exchange in Solomon Islands, told IPS the experiences that would be shared during the conference will be invaluable for small island states as they learn from each other how they are dealing with these issues and also learn from the international community on how they too are addressing these priorities of SIDS.

The fact that the conference will be bringing together governments and non-government stakeholders, including the private sector, provides a learning opportunity and one that will pose collaborative efforts on how everyone can work together in partnership to assist SIDS.

The conference will also create a space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have an independent voice and also for governments to hear their views, she noted.

This may create further collaborative initiatives between governments and CSOs for sustainable developments in the SIDS.

Asked whether she expects any concrete outcome, Billy said the idea to form partnerships among all stakeholders including the governments to assist SIDS to do things for themselves “is one outcome that we anticipate the conference delivering.”

Any plan of action that the conference adopts should be inclusive of all stakeholders, she added.

“There should be emphasis on SIDS doing things for themselves to ensure sustainable development and that stakeholders and partners are seen as ‘friends’ who come to their rescue when they get bogged in a ‘rut’ but then let’s them carry on with what they are doing after being ‘rescued’”.

This is to alleviate or minimise donor dependency but also promote sustainable development.

“We expect better and stronger official development assistance (ODA) to be directed on development effectiveness rather than on a dominant aid effectiveness approach,” she said.

“Finally, we expect that the issue of reducing corruption and increase transparency at all levels will be an overarching subject at the Conference and sound recommendations to alleviate corruption will be adopted and incorporated into the Plan of Action,.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/feed/ 0
OPINION: Happy Birthday “UNO-City” – UN’s Vienna Headquarters Marks 35th Anniversaryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:18:47 +0000 Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136007 Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

By Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick
VIENNA, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Austrians call it “UNO-City”. The United Nations calls it the Vienna International Centre (VIC). Both names give a hint of the scale and scope of the U.N’s headquarters in the Austrian capital, but not the full story.

As the VIC marks its 35th anniversary, it is worth reflecting on the U.N. family’s work here and its crucial role as one of the U.N.’s four global headquarters.Increasingly, sustainable development is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna.

The VIC’s three Y-shaped, interlinked buildings are certainly a product of their time. There is a retro 1970s feel to the orange-coloured lifts and to some of the corridors.

Yet the VIC has of course been modernised over the years to host a broad range of major events and more than 4,000 staff working at 14 bodies on topics ranging from nuclear safety to outer space affairs and from combatting drugs and crime to promoting sustainable industrial development and energy.

Six years ago Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean ambassador to Vienna, opened an additional state-of-the-art conference building that he said further underscored Austria’s commitment to multilateralism, a commitment that highlights the country’s neutrality and geopolitical location.

When it comes to news, many people link Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yet while it has often made headlines because of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or Fukushima, the Agency’s work covers much more – including supporting the peaceful uses of nuclear technology in health and agriculture.

Other parts of the U.N. family in Vienna make headlines in their own way.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation promotes the treaty that bans all nuclear explosions and is establishing global verification to ensure no such blast goes undetected. Indeed, its monitoring picks up not just nuclear explosions such as those most recently conducted by the DPRK but also earthquakes like the one that caused a tsunami to hit Japan in 2011.

Atoms apart, the United Nations in Vienna is well known for its work tackling drugs and crime, including through a network of field offices and through its flagship World Drug Report. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also plays a vital role in promoting security and justice for all.

Increasingly, sustainable development – a top priority for the Secretary-General and Member States – is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, whose presence in Austria predates the VIC by more than a decade, is a good example, along with UNODC.

Far newer but weaving that same vital thread is the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Its headquarters are just outside the VIC in an adjacent emerging office and residential district but it is a dynamically growing organisation that is very much a part of the U.N. constellation.

The U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs is also heavily geared to playing its part in sustainable development as it promotes international cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space.

Smaller offices include the U.N. Postal Administration, the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (United Nations Environment Programme), the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the Office for Disarmament Affairs Vienna Office, the U.N. Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law, the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the International Narcotics Control Board.

They may not always grab media attention but their targeted technical work has a concrete impact in their respective fields.

The United Nations Information Service Vienna helps to coordinate public information work by those U.N. bodies based in Austria, and is a good starting point for those wanting to know more. It also serves as an information centre for the public, media, civil society and academia in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, and provides guided tours at the VIC.

In case anyone wonders, the international bodies based at the VIC split the running costs and pay Austria an annual rent of seven euro cents – it used to be one Austrian Schilling. Needless to say, Vienna is enriched by hosting the United Nations – and other international bodies such as the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Certainly for the United Nations family, Vienna offers a tremendous venue for technical work, mediation and decision-making that contribute to the global goals of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. And it is all done in what the Director-General for the U.N. Office at Vienna, Yury Fedotov, likes to call the Vienna Spirit – a spirit of pulling together to decide and then take action.

Next Friday, Aug. 15, a joint-U.N.-Austrian celebration will take place to commemorate the 35th anniversary, which falls on Aug. 23.

Martin Nesirky is Acting Director, United Nations Information Service Vienna.

Edited by : Kitty Stapp

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/feed/ 0
Will Obama’s “New Africa” Deliver on Its Promises?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:08:08 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135984 President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

As the three-day U.S- Africa Leaders Summit here drew to a close Wednesday, experts across the private, public and non-profit sectors continued to debate the opportunities and obstacles posed by the U.S’ expanding business partnership with Africa.

Speaking Tuesday regarding the 17 billion dollars pledged toward African business development, U.S President Obama declared his determination to be a “good,” “equal” and “long term” partner for Africa’s success.“African leaders are asking for US investment, while Africans are asking for jobs…this disconnect hasn’t completely been dealt with.” -- Gregory Adams

“We cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging,” Obama said Tuesday, announcing new private partnerships, as well as a reaffirmed commitment to improving infrastructure, expanding trade, and providing educational opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

While such business advances most directly benefit actors in the U.S. private sector, non-profits expressed similarly qualified enthusiasm about the summit’s promise of increased economic engagement with Africa.

“What the summit has offered is an opportunity for the United States is to see Africa as a land of opportunity,” Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America, a development organisation here, told IPS.

Adams also said the proceedings have helped move U.S.-African relations more “from patronage to partnership,” and have facilitated “good” and “direct” exchanges between civil society actors and leaders from both the United States and Africa.

But he warned that not all African voices were heard during the three-day proceedings, and that an “important distinction” between the diverse economic interests of Africans has yet to be established.

“African leaders are asking for U.S. investment, while Africans are asking for jobs…this disconnect hasn’t completely been dealt with,” Adams told IPS, noting how “tremendous” economic growth does not necessarily translate to job creation.

More intensive effort to listen

Adding that representatives from Africa’s local and small business have historically been absent from large-scale conversations about U.S-African engagement, Adams explained that “if we’re truly moving from patronage to partnership,… we’re going to need a more intensive effort to listen to variety of African voices…and do more to engage with civil society and local African businesses.”

In a plea to examine just how “demand-driven” the announced investments to Africa are, Adams also called for there to be “follow-through” on such pledges, saying that “all of these commitments are coming fast and furious, so it’s hard to keep track of them and determine what’s real and what’s not.”

Such commitments were premiered within the three-day U.S-Africa Leaders Summit, in which delegations from more than 50 African countries – including more than 40 heads of state – came to Washington to discuss security, trade, infrastructure, and governance with U.S. President Obama and other top U.S. government officials.

Announced last year during U.S President Obama’s visit to Africa, the joint African leaders summit is the first in U.S. history, and has marked a major effort to play catch-up with the EU and China, where governments have previously used summits with Africa as a platform to expand economic partnerships and strengthen diplomatic ties.

While civil society groups participated in the proceedings, the summit’s centrepiece came Tuesday with the U.S-Africa Business Forum, which featured pledges by U.S. government officials, World Bank leaders and CEOs of major U.S. companies – including General Electric, Coca Cola, Walmart, Marriot, and  Mastercard – to provide aid to a variety of sectors in Africa

Special emphasis was given to Obama’s Power Africa programme, which has mobilised 12 billion dollars from both the public and private sector to an initiative that will provide 600 million Africans with a reliable electricity supply.

Ben Leo, director of Rethinking U.S. Development Policy at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think tank here, claimed that the Power Africa initiative is a key pre-cursor for business development in the region, explaining how the promise to provide electricity across Africa may even save the otherwise-neglected small businesses.

“If some of these commitments under the Power Africa initiative are effective in addressing both access to power and reliability to power, there will be significant benefits for [Africa’s] small and medium enterprises,” Leo told IPS.

Yet the Atlantic Council, a think tank here, believes that despite the promising nature of Power Africa, the region still lacks adequate infrastructure, and suffers from profound geographic disadvantages.

Most data-driven investors in the world”

In a report released Wednesday, the Atlantic Council cited these two factors, along with the need for more market data and stronger policy implementation, as obstacles plaguing business development in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although these are obstacles that affect everyone, the U.S. is the most frustrated with the lack of data… [because] they are the most data-driven investors in the world,” Diana Layfield, CEO of Africa Operations at Standard Chartered Bank, said at the report’s premiere.

But through harnessing innovation, a virtue that CGD’s Leo dubs as one of “America’s core strengths,” the Atlantic Council is optimistic about the opportunity for increased investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

From using satellite imagery to identify local traffic patterns, to issuing SMS surveys to learn about consumer preferences, private companies have been using technology as means to obtain basic information about consumer behaviour, which, the report says, is otherwise unavailable from public sector sources.

Yet for Oxfam’s Adams, such tech innovations miss a crucial point.

“I think we’re really skipping a step as a country if we’re not looking ahead to 30 years from now and asking if all this investment is a flash in the pan, or if  it’s going to lead to the emergence of  local businesses that will lead to job creation,” Adams told IPS.

Stressing that the U.S. is “incredibly non-transparent” and rarely “tell[s] countries the details of their own aid,” Adams concluded that “there is a lot more that the U.S. government needs to do if it actually wants to support Africa.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises/feed/ 1
Asia Looks to Innovation to Achieve Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 14:46:03 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135956 Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

Innovation in the fields of renewable energy, food production, water conservation, education and health will be crucial for the developing economies of Asia to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are slated to expire in 2015, are aimed at fostering economic growth, environmental protection and ending poverty by 2030.

“As economic growth rises in Asia, more concentration is going into value addition and innovation is the principle vehicle for that,” Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Dr. Francis Gurry tells IPS.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) Supplement, released late July, maintains the ADB’s April forecast of 6.2 percent growth in 2014 and 6.4 percent in 2015 for the region’s 45 developing economies.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications." -- Bruno Lanvin, executive director of INSEAD Global Indices
“Clearly, there is a priority to make innovation work for sustainable development in these economies,” Gurry says.

Leading innovation performers in Asia include Japan, South Korea and Singapore, with China rapidly climbing up. Malaysia tops the middle-income countries’ category for innovation performance.

Amongst the other large Asian countries, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have the potential to move up the ladder of innovation, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014.

Co-author of the GII and executive director of INSEAD Global Indices, Bruno Lanvin, says, “It is a good sign that innovation is taking a front seat in the design and hopefully the implementation of the SDGs.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications,” he tells IPS.

However, Lanvin warns that in these countries with large populations, “if innovation doesn’t translate into improving the lives of its people, it is failing somehow.”

Given the region’s dichotomies such as rapid urbanisation with large rural agricultural populations and extreme vulnerabilities to climate change with growing resource intensities, experts say that innovation must occur right across the economy, if it is to meet the SDGs.

For instance, slum populations in the developing world mushroomed from 650 million in 1990 to 863 million in 2012. More than half of these slum dwellers reside in Asia.

This situation is set to worsen, with Asia home to 56 percent of the world’s biggest cities, including seven of the top 10 ‘megacities’, defined as urban centres with over 10 million residents.

“Our attention has to be on the ‘bottom of pyramid’ populations, both urban and rural, and innovations in technology and systems design have to cater to that segment,” New Delhi-based Zeenat Niazi,vice president of Development Alternatives Group and co-chair of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), tells IPS.

“The challenges will be to reach to the geographically spread-out populations with informal and inconsistent income streams; and attract the private sector to partner with governments and community groups to invest in sustainable growth,” she added.

The Asian region is today fast becoming the hot bed of innovation on and off the field. Lanvin cites Tata’s Nano car in India as a good example of localised, affordable innovation, which Asia is going to need.

In his opinion, in the next decade the Nano will be regarded a success in terms of adapting manufactured equipment to specific conditions and bringing down the cost of production.

But he says, “If you want to be a successful innovator in the Asian region, you have to be a very large company like Tata or Huawei. If Asian countries could give themselves the means to allow successful small enterprises to bring innovation to the market, we would see a lot of frugal, path breaking innovation, especially in the field of renewable energy.”

Indeed, renewable energy is the Holy Grail in Asia and countries in the region will need to invest significantly in renewable energy technologies to meet the urgency of the climate change challenge – for instance, Asia-Pacific countries absorbed 80 percent of the 366 billion dollars in damages caused by climate change in 2011, and many countries in the region are poised to absorb major food and energy shocks as a result of extreme weather patterns in the coming decade.

A new analysis by the market research company Frost & Sullivan entitled ‘Global Solar Power Markets’ estimates that the world solar photovoltaic (PV) market will be worth 137.02 billion dollars in 2020.

This year, global solar PV demand is dominated by the Asia-Pacific, which will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity. China, Japan, India and Australia will continue to be the top four countries driving regional demand.

With panel prices coming down drastically, Asian manufacturers are now looking at value chain integration and technical efficiencies to differentiate their products from other suppliers in the market, the analysis adds.

Increasing scarcity of water will also drive innovation in sustainable irrigation, water filtration and water recycling techniques.

“In Asia and the Pacific, where almost two billion people live on less than 2.50 dollars a day, innovation is essential for identifying solutions to persistent development challenges,” Caitlin Wiesen, manager of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) regional centre in Bangkok, tells IPS.

To help countries achieve development goals, the UNDP has put in place a system for rapid prototyping and testing of potential solutions. Currently, it is testing 16 new ideas across Asia and the Pacific.

One such prototype is being tested in Bhutan. Jigme Dorji, acting head of the Poverty and MDG Unit at UNDP-Bhutan, is working with U.S.-based Emerson College’s Engagement Lab, local techies and youth leaders to generate the content and develop an outreach strategy to maximise youth participation in a game that would engage all the stakeholders in a constructive dialogue about youth unemployment.

“We will evaluate the results of these prototypes and assist countries in turning the successful ones so they can achieve impact at scale,” Wiesen adds.

China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand, are demonstrating rising levels of innovation because of improvements in institutional frameworks, a skilled labour force with expanded tertiary education, better innovation infrastructure, a deeper integration with global credit investment and trade markets, and a sophisticated business community – even though progress on these dimensions is not uniform across their economies, according to the GII report.

Many successful Asians, working as entrepreneurs with major global corporations and universities, are beginning to return to their home countries to nurture the next wave of innovations and create local jobs.

Adam Bumpus, assistant professor of Environment, Innovation and Development at the University of Melbourne, says, “There are a number of initiatives that are directly contributing to SDGs by increasingly linking countries in research and technology development. For example, the University of Melbourne is working on initiatives that link Australia, China, India and the U.S. on innovation and climate change.”

“Secondly, there are opportunities to piggyback sustainable development initiatives by using existing technology in new innovative ways. In the Pacific we have been looking at the role of mobile phones for sustainable development priorities like climate change,” Bumpus tells IPS.

 Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

(END)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/feed/ 1
Chile Taps Solar Thermal Energy with Latin America’s First Planthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chile-taps-solar-thermal-energy-with-latin-americas-first-plant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-taps-solar-thermal-energy-with-latin-americas-first-plant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chile-taps-solar-thermal-energy-with-latin-americas-first-plant/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 18:37:38 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135949 Model of the Concentración Solar de Potencia de Cerro Dominador plant being built in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, which will begin to produce solar thermal energy in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

Model of the Concentración Solar de Potencia de Cerro Dominador plant being built in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, which will begin to produce solar thermal energy in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

With the first solar thermal power plant in Latin America, Chile hopes to begin to alleviate its energy crisis, which threatens to further drive up the high cost of electricity and to hinder the growth of investment, especially in the mining industry.

“We have a structural problem, which is that energy in Chile is very costly, and this not only represents a hurdle for economic growth but also hurts the poor,” government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde told Tierramérica.

This means, he added, “that we have to simultaneously increase the energy supply to bring down prices while promoting non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) sources.”

The Spanish company Abengoa Solar, which has been operating in Chile since 1987, won the public tender in January to develop a solar tower plant with 110 MW capacity and 17.5 hours of thermal energy storage in molten salt.

The Concentración Solar de Potencia de Cerro Dominador plant, which began to be built in May by the company’s local subsidiary, Abengoa Solar Chile, is to come online in 2017 and will have a useful life of 30 years.

The plant will cost one billion dollars to build, and an additional 750,000 dollars will go towards the construction of a photovoltaic solar plant that will double the power generated to 210 MW, spokespersons for the company in Chile told Tierramérica.

Abengoa will receive direct subsidies from the Chilean government and the European Union, as well as financing from the Inter-American Development Bank, the German development bank KFW, the Clean Technology Fund and the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

The plant is being installed in the municipality of María Elena, in the region of Antofagasta, 1,340 km north of Santiago in the Atacama desert, the most arid part of the planet, where the sun shines year-round.

The first solar thermal power plant in Latin America is being built in the Atacama desert in northern Chile, an area that has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The first solar thermal power plant in Latin America is being built in the Atacama desert in northern Chile, an area that has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Instead of solar panels, the plant will use 10,600 huge mirrors – heliostats – that span 140 square metres and follow the sun by means of a dual-axis tracking system that will reflect solar rays and heat to a 243-metre tower which will bear a resemblance to Sauron’s tower in the Lord of the Rings movies.

To achieve continuous on demand 24/7 electricity production, the plant will have a thermal energy system designed and developed by the Spanish firm. The heat will be transferred to molten salt, which is used at night to drive 110-MW steam-powered turbines.

The plant will thus offer clean energy 24 hours a day, which is key in Antofagasta, where the constantly growing mining industry already absorbs 90 percent of the power supply in the production of mainly copper."Thermal solar plants are capable of generating and storing energy, and in practice that means they can operate around the clock for most of the year, solely based on energy from the sun.” -- Professor Roberto Román

The company’s spokespersons also say the plant will prevent the emission of 643,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to the emissions of 357,000 vehicles circulating for one year. It should also fully cover the residential sector’s demand for energy in the region.

University of Chile Professor Roberto Román, an expert in NCRE, told Tierramérica that solar thermal energy has several advantages over other NCRE sources, and over photovoltaic systems.

He said thermal solar plants “are capable of generating and storing energy, and in practice, that means they can operate around the clock for most of the year, solely based on energy from the sun.”

In addition, “the power generation from these plants can be combined with other fuels, such as natural gas, to ensure 100 percent accessibility. That means the electricity needed can be generated according to demand, whenever it is needed,” he said.

“If these plants operate only with solar energy they produce zero emissions,” he added, while pointing out that it is a technology that is still being developed “which means there is space for research, development and innovation.

“This is what Spain has been doing over the last 20 years, and what I dream we will be capable of doing ourselves – harnessing the marvelous sunshine that is so abundant. There is enough sunshine here to supply all of Chile several times over,” Román said.

This South American country of 17.6 million people has 18,278 MW of gross installed capacity. Of that total, 74 percent is in the Sistema Interconectado Central (the central grid), 25 percent in the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande (the northern grid), and the rest in medium-sized grids in the southern regions of Aysén and Magallanes.

Chile imports 97 percent of the fossil fuels that it needs. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations, for the rest.

This country’s shortage of energy sources has made the cost of electricity per megawatt/hour (MWh) in Chile one of the highest in Latin America: over 160 dollars, compared to 55 dollars in Peru, 40 in Colombia and 10 in Argentina.
Since she took office again in March, socialist President Michelle Bachelet has reiterated her commitment to developing NCRE sources: wind, geothermal, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic. The government’s target is for 20 percent of the country’s electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2025.

Solar power would appear to be the main focus of energy development in Chile over the next few years, as outlined in the “energy agenda” announced by the president on May 15.

In May, the government approved 43 projects for NCRE development, with the participation of local and international companies, all of them in northern Chile and most of them involving solar photovoltaic power plants.

They would generate a combined total of 2,261 MW a year, which would increase the country’s gross installed capacity by 12.3 percent, when they all come online.

Román cautioned that, in the case of solar thermal energy, “there are still many things that must be worked out, such as how the materials and elements will behave in the aggressive desert climate and how serious and complicated the question of dust and cleaning of the mirrors will be.”

He said this, added to other problems such as water scarcity in the desert, “drive the investment up to two or four times the cost of installing solar photovoltaic plants.”

But, he stressed, solar thermal plants produce “two or three times as much power, which means the real difference in the cost of the energy is not that big.

“Because of all this, I see it as a fantastic option,” Román said. “We should jump on the bandwagon of research and development in this area, with collaboration from other countries of course, and take our place in the field of technological development.”

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chile-taps-solar-thermal-energy-with-latin-americas-first-plant/feed/ 0
Bringing “Smart” Building Technology to Jamaica’s Shantytownshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 18:31:11 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135947 As natural disasters become more prevalent, squatter's homes, such as this one in Trinidad, are a cause for concern in Jamaica, where 20 percent of the population is said to inhabit such precarious structures. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

As natural disasters become more prevalent, squatter's homes, such as this one in Trinidad, are a cause for concern in Jamaica, where 20 percent of the population is said to inhabit such precarious structures. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

Buildings are among the largest consumers of earth’s natural resources. According to the Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative, they use about 40 percent of global energy and 25 percent of global water, while emitting about a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Anthony Clayton, a professor of sustainable development at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, says those statistics make buildings vital to developing resilience to climate change and to reducing pockets of entrenched poverty in the Caribbean region."There is a disconnect between political agendas and climate change timelines." -- Dr. Kwame Emmanuel

“At the moment, most of the buildings in Jamaica are very energy inefficient with very expensive electricity that reduces the level of disposable incomes, which is one of the factors acting as a break on the economy.”

“If we build to a higher standard of energy efficiency,” the country will also be more resilient to climate change, he added.

Clayton and his colleague, Professor Tara Dasgupta, are currently working on the prototype of a smart building whose key features would be “optimal sustainability and efficiency” with particular attention given to water efficiency, renewable energies, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

The proposed “net zero energy” building, which is the first of its kind in the region, is now in the design phase. The University of the West Indies’ Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), where Clayton holds the Alcan chair, is working in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the seven-million-dollar research and building project.

Clayton, who is also a member of several advisory groups serving the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told IPS that a major hazard of the current housing stock in Jamaica, in light of climate change, is its proliferation of informal settlements.

He was referring to unregularised settling of vacant lands by squatters who throw up substandard housing for shelter.

He said 20 percent of the population in Jamaica is said to be living in these settlements. “We have got buildings built on unsuitable terrain and unstable slopes. If you get the kind of torrential rain associated with climate change, there is liable to be flooding or landslips.”

Many of these houses built by squatters are not particularly sturdy. “A lot of the houses are just basically built of block, some concrete, tin, timber, just patched together. Some are just wood and a corrugated tin roof,” he said.

A lot of work still needs to be done in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean with regard to establishing and enforcing building codes that provide some protection against natural disasters.

Hence, the ISD at UWI, Mona, undertook an Inter-American Development Bank-funded project “to assess climate-change related risks and help increase resilience in the building stock of Jamaica.”

The first phase of that project was “a risk assessment of the housing stock and areas of urban development in Jamaica and… the draft[ing] of a parliamentary paper on environmental regulation.”

Among the findings of the risk assessment phase, said Dr. Kwame Emmanuel, technical consultant on the project, was that the government of Jamaica was partly to blame for Jamaica’s unsafe housing environment.

He told IPS, “The development control regime is encouraging illegal developments by enforcing a cumbersome and time-consuming process for formal developments.”

Further, “The government of Jamaica is currently pursuing a housing policy which seeks to increase the number of houses for low-income earners. One possible policy conflict is related to the location of these high-density housing developments.

“They may either be placed in vulnerable or environmentally sensitive areas because of the low cost of land; or the development may enhance the vulnerability of adjoining areas. In addition, climate resilience may not be considered in the design of the housing developments and units,” Emmanuel added.

Offering a possible explanation for the scenario, Emmanuel said, “There is a disconnect between political agendas and climate change timelines. Politicians are primarily concerned with current problems faced by the electorate such as poverty, cost of living, unemployment, water lock offs, poor road conditions and so on. Therefore, it is difficult for them to consider issues which have not fully manifested as yet, for example, sea level rise.”

He added that, in Jamaica, another major issue “is the autonomy of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and the Ministry of Housing, facilitated by their respective Acts. These Acts have influenced the inconsistency of development standards and the exploitation of loopholes in the regulatory framework.”

Subsequent to the risk assessment, proposals were developed for modifying current building codes in the region to ensure energy efficient and climate resilient buildings. These proposals are currently being shared with professionals in the construction industry, said Clayton, and the response has generally been positive.

The multidisciplinary group MODE is leading the review of the building codes on behalf of the ISD.

Project manager of the MODE-led review, architect Brian Bernal, told IPS the project “examines how building codes can be used as an avenue to promote, encourage, and enforce climate change resilient buildings on a national and regional scale.”

In an e-mail interview, he told IPS, “Robust and enforced building codes are highly effective in ensuring a better quality of building and, when employed in conjunction with ‘green’ building standards and/or practices, will significantly increase the functional resilience of our buildings.”

The group made the following proposals for improving the current building codes:

• Jamaica’s current 2009 National Building Code be adopted, enforced and updated;
• the International Green Construction Code be adopted since it “would [be] the least difficult to implement in the local code environment”;
• a local green building rating system be implemented, which involves “voluntary tools for rating the environmental performance of buildings that are typically verified by a third party, in order to achieve recognition for exemplary design and levels of conservation”;
• and incentives for green building be given.

Bernal said, “The main objective of building codes is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the building’s occupants.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns/feed/ 1
Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:26:46 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135923 In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” -- Clionadh Raleigh

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Much of the uncertainty over the connection between climate change and armed conflict exists because it is such a fledgling area of interest. According to David Jensen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, the relationship between climate change and conflict began receiving significant U.N. attention only in recent years.

“While the debate on this topic started in 2006-2007, there remains a large gulf between what is discussed at the global level and in the Security Council, and what is actually happening at the field level,” he told IPS.

A body of peer-reviewed literature on climate change and conflict has recently begun to emerge, but scientists have discovered that the link between climate change and conflict is more complex than they expected.

“A number of studies have found a statistical link between climate change and conflict, but they tend to focus on a specific area and cover a short time period,” Halvard Buhaug, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Conditions of Violence and Peace department, told IPS. “The challenge is to determine whether these studies are indicative of an overarching, more general trend, which hasn’t been documented yet.”

Much of the nuance behind the climate conflict correlations is lost when technical scientific reports are spread to a wider audience.

Buhaug told IPS that “parts of the public debate on climate change and violence are accurate, but there is an unfortunate tendency, whether by researchers or the media, to exaggerate the strength behind the scientific research and under-communicate scientific uncertainty.”

“In some media reports, phrases like ‘may’ are turned into ‘will’ and the future is portrayed in… gloomy shades.”

Following is a sampling of the back-and-forth debate taking place in the scientific community:

A prominent study by Burke etal. (2009) concluded that rising temperatures would lead to increased battle deaths in Africa. It predicted that if current trends held, increased temperatures would cause 393,000 extra battle deaths in Africa by 2030.

According to Buhaug (2010), the prevalence and severity of African civil wars has decreased since 2002 in spite of increased warming, defying Burke’s hypothesis. In his study, he found no evidence of a correlation between temperature and conflict.

Hendrix and Salehyan (2012) found that extreme deviations in rainfall, whether it was more rain or less rain than usual, are positively associated with all types of political conflict in Africa.

Benjaminsen et al. (2012) found little evidence for claims that rainfall variability is a substantial driver of conflict in Mali.

In 2013, Hsiang, Burke and Miguel published a meta-analysis of 60 studies on the subject in Science. They found that the majority of studies from all regions support the conclusion that climate change does and will lead to higher levels of armed conflict.

In a response in Nature Climate Change, Raleigh, Linke and O’Loughlin (2014) criticized the above study for using faulty statistics that ignored political and historical drivers of conflict and overemphasized climate change as a causal factor.

The debate over whether climate change exists and is human-caused has long been settled by scientists. The debate over whether it will impact armed conflict goes on.

A deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and conflict requires a careful examination of the drivers of violence and the role of the environment in individuals’ livelihoods.

Cullen Hendrix, assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told IPS that the relationship between climate and conflict is mediated by levels of economic development.

Climate conflict is most likely to occur in rural, non-industrialised regions “where a large portion of the population is still dependent on the natural environment for their income and sustenance,” he said.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture. A change in climate conditions could have negative impacts on stability. However, researchers would emphasise that it is important not to jump to conclusions and assume that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict.

“Almost all of us would acknowledge that other factors such as political exclusion of persecuted minority groups or economic inequalities or weak central government institutions matter more [than climate]” Hendrix told IPS. “But that’s not the same as saying that climate doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the biggest lessons learned during his time with UNEP, Jensen had a similar take. “When you’re trying to rebuild communities and livelihoods, you can’t just focus on a single stress factor like climate change, you have to be looking at multiple factors and building resilience to all kinds of shocks and stresses…including climate change but not exclusively.”

Hendrix expects the next generation of scientific work to examine how drought, floods, desertification and other climate change phenomena could impact conflict “through indirect channels such as suppressing economic growth or causing large-scale migration from one country to another.”

In post-conflict situations and fragile states at risk of climate conflict, governance and land distribution have emerged as key considerations.

“Clarity on land and resource rights is one of the key prerequisites to reducing vulnerability and supporting livelihood recovery,” Jensen told IPS.

Clionadh Raleigh, who is also a professor of Human Geography at the University of Sussex, believes that government land distribution policies are often the real source of conflict, but their impact is obscured by the climate conflict debate.

“If you were to ask somebody in Africa ‘what are the conflicts about here?’ they might readily say something like land or water access,” she told IPS. “But land and water access are almost entirely determined by local and national government policy, so they don’t have almost anything to do with climate.”

Certain leaders have attempted to blame climate change for the consequences of their own disastrous policies, according to Raleigh. Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s famines on climate change, instead of his own corrupt land reallocation policies.

Omar al-Bashir blamed the Darfur conflict on drought instead of the government’s shocking political violence against a large chunk of its population.

While climate change itself is a topic of utmost importance, is it even worth it to talk about its connection to armed conflict? Raleigh doesn’t think so.

“It’s just a simplistic, nonsense narrative that the climate makes people violent,” Raleigh told IPS.

She believes the climate conflict debate falls into a trap called environmental determinism, a school of thought that asserts that climatic factors define human behaviour and culture. For example, it assumes that a society will act in a certain way depending on whether it is located in a tropical or temperate region.  Environmental determinism gained prominence in the late 19th century but soon declined in popularity amidst accusations of racism and imperialism.

“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” Raleigh told IPS.

Buhaug believes the climate change and armed conflict debate does have merit, since most scientists are careful to not ascribe too much causal weight to one particular factor.

However, he does worry that “there is a tendency in research, but especially in the communication of research, to ignore the importance of political and socio-economic conditions and the motive and agency of actors.”

Raleigh, for her part, wishes the whole debate would just go away.

“People have an often mistaken interpretation of what’s going on at the sub-national level, on the local level within African states and developing countries,” she told IPS. “And they just assume that violence is one of the first reactions to societal change, when it is far more likely to be cooperation.”

Environmental cooperation occurs at both the inter-state and local levels, according to Jensen. At the local level, “in Darfur, we see different groups coming together to co-manage water resources.” At the trans-national level, “there’s a lot of talk about water wars between countries, but we often see the opposite in terms of much more cooperation between states over shared water resources.”

Following this line of thinking, the U.N. has tried to expand the climate conflict discussion from focusing on problems to exploring new solutions.

In November 2013, it launched a new website for experts and field practitioners to share best practices in addressing environmental conflicts and using natural resources to support peacebuilding, Jensen told IPS.

Climate change will most likely wreak havoc on the natural world and it may create the conditions for increased violence, but environmental scientists and practitioners agree: the future is not determined.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/feed/ 2
U.S. Summit Seeks to Play Catch-Up in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2014 16:43:04 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135893 The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons. Credit: Kit Gillet/IPS

The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons. Credit: Kit Gillet/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 3 2014 (IPS)

Despite worsening crises in Ukraine, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Middle East, the administration of President Barack Obama hopes next week to focus at least some more positive attention on Africa.

The U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit, which will bring presidents, prime ministers, and other top officials of some 50 African nations here, is designed to demonstrate Washington’s continued interest in the continent, particularly in matters affecting its pocketbook.“This is really a very high-profile photo-op to better position U.S. stakeholders to compete for the continent’s natural resources." -- Emira Woods

In speeches and briefings leading up to the three-day meeting, whose centrepiece will be Tuesday’s U.S.-Africa Business Forum, U.S. officials have highlighted the economic opportunities offered by increased trade and investment in Africa.

“(W)e hope to see increased U.S. investment as one of the Summit’s key outcomes,” said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Atlantic Council Thursday in previewing the Summit whose theme is “Investing in the Next Generation”.

“When we talk about the fact that most of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re also seeing a burgeoning middle class of African consumers and an expanding market for U.S. direct investment. This means enormous growth opportunities for American business and new jobs for Africans and Americans,” she told the group.

Washington is being playing economic catch-up in Africa, a region where its military engagement has grown far more quickly, largely due to its efforts to counter the proliferation of radical Islamist groups in North Africa, Somalia, and the Sahel.

As noted by the Council on Foreign Relations recently, the U.S. has gone from a leading trading partner with Africa “to being far surpassed by the European Union and China.”

The EU’s trade over the last decade has more than doubled to more than 200 billion dollars last year, while China’s trade with the continent has mushroomed from some 10 billion dollars in 2000 to more than 170 billion dollars in 2013.

By contrast, U.S.-African bilateral trade has actually declined – from about 100 billion dollars in 2011 to only 60 billion dollars last year.

Most of that trade consisted of imports from Africa – mainly oil and other natural resources — while exports to the continent have largely stagnated at around 20 billion dollars annually over the past five years, despite the rapid growth of the continent’s consumer market extolled by Thomas-Greenfield and featured in a front-page analysis in the New York Times earlier this month entitled “Africans Open Fuller Wallets to the Future.”

The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons, although they routinely go to great lengths to insist that they welcome Beijing’s commitment to promoting development in the region.

“President Obama has made clear that we welcome other nations being invested in Africa infrastructure, and, frankly, China can play a constructive role in areas like developing African infrastructure,” Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters earlier this week.

At the same time, Obama himself offered words of warning appeared designed to resonate in some African nations that have witnessed recent protests over Chinese labour practices.

“(M)y advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port, to Shanghai,” he told The Economist magazine.

All but a handful of the region’s heads of state have been invited, and most, including the presidents of the region’s two economic powerhouses, South Africa and Nigeria, are expected to attend.

Omitted were Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the subject of U.S. diplomatic sanctions, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the leaders of the Central African Republic (CAR), Eritrea, and the Western Sahara, which, despite its membership in the African Union (AU) is occupied by Morocco, a close U.S. ally.

Despite his indictment by the ICC, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was included, in part because Nairobi is seen as a “key regional partner” of Washington’s, according to Rhodes.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the region’s only female head of state and a long-standing Washington favourite, will reportedly be staying home in order to deal with the Ebola outbreak which has killed more than 700 people in recent weeks and which U.S. officials hope will not overshadow the “good news” of African economic growth and opportunity that the Summit will spotlight.

Given his African roots, Obama’s 2008 election spurred hopes that he would give the region unprecedented attention.

During his first term, however, he spent less than one day there – in Ghana – and offered no major new initiatives, although he maintained multi-billion-dollar funding levels for – and eased restrictions on — George W. Bush’s highly popular President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). He also played a key role in securing independence for South Sudan and supporting UN and AU peacekeeping efforts across the region, especially in Somalia.

Last summer, he travelled to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania where he unveiled his “Power Africa” programme – an initiative designed to increase access to electricity to some 20 million households and businesses in six countries by leveraging some 14 billion dollars in private investment from seven billion dollars in federal aid and guarantees.

Congress has yet to authorise the programme, and officials hope next week’s Summit will boost its prospects, as well as those for the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade initiative launched under Bill Clinton that provides duty-free access for some 6,000 products from sub-Saharan Africa. It is due to expire next year.

In addition to the Business Forum, Obama will participate with the other leaders on panels at the State Department Wednesday covering investment, “peace and regional stability” and “governing for the next generation.”

The Summit will also include an all-day conference at the National Academy of Science Monday for civil-society representatives, an event that was added to the agenda in response to criticism from human-rights, development, and anti-poverty activists here who complain that the Summit is too heavily weighted toward business interests.

“There’s no doubt that this is a continent that is rising in economic terms,” said Emira Woods, an Africa specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies here. “But it’s also rising in terms of inequality and environmental damage, and these aren’t on the main agenda.

“This is really a very high-profile photo-op to better position U.S. stakeholders to compete for the continent’s natural resources, particularly in oil, gas, mining, and biofuels, without regard to the basic human needs of its people at a moment when they lack even the basics of a health-care infrastructure that can effectively halt the spread of the Ebola virus,” she told IPS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa/feed/ 0
World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/feed/ 0
Oil Alliance Between China and Costa Rica Comes to Life Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:22:47 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135822 The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

China’s plan to become Costa Rica’s main energy ally through the joint reconstruction of an oil refinery has been revived after the presidents of the two countries agreed to review the conditions of the project during a meeting in the Brazilian capital.

The two countries initially signed a framework accord in 2008, including Chinese participation in oil projects, especially the upgrade and expansion of the Moín refinery on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, with an investment of 1.5 billion dollars.

But criticism from public institutions, political leaders and social organisations brought the initiative to a halt.

The Costa Rican president’s office stated in a communiqué that Beijing had accepted its request to renegotiate the project, with the aim of “resolving inconsistencies in the contract,” in which each country has invested 50 million dollars so far.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a Jul. 22 press conference that “we have no deadline” for that review, which all of the involved institutions will take part in.

President Luis Guillermo Solís participated in the news briefing, although he did not specifically refer to the refinery.

Under the microscope

A year ago, the comptroller general’s office ordered Soresco, the joint venture, not to use the 1.8 million dollar feasibility study due to a conflict of interest, because it was conducted by a subsidiary of the Chinese partner CNPCI.

The study saddled Recope with costs from Soresco, such as land, fuel tanks, environmental damages and the expansion of the oil pier.

The comptroller general’s office ruled that the 16.28 profit margin established could be too high. A second consultancy, the U.S.-based Honeywell, also questioned that figure.

While the agreement creating Soresco stated that each partner would pay its own workers involved in the project, Recope paid half of the wages of the Chinese employees, as well as bonuses and incentives. Recope is seeking to be repaid 12 million dollars.

Solís held a bilateral working meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jul 17 in Brasilia, during a summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with Xi, after the sixth summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping.

The upgrade of the Moín refinery, which belongs to the state oil refinery Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo (Recope), would increase its processing capacity from 18,000 to 60,000 barrels a day of crude. The company controls Costa Rica’s oil imports, and since 2011 it has had to purchase only refined products, because the plant was shut down.

The joint refinery project, or “Chinese refinery” as it is referred to locally, was criticised by politicians and a large part of organised civil society from the start.

“We have always defended the construction of a refinery, whether it was with China, Russia or France,” said Patrick Johnson, a leader of the oil workers’ union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros Químicos y Afines.”We want the confusion to be cleared up…and if the project is beneficial, then it should go ahead because the country needs a refinery,” he told IPS.

In June 2013, the office of the comptroller general brought the initiative to a halt arguing that there were serious problems with a key feasibility study. Since then, the project has been on hold.

The renegotiations should overcome the first real hurdle that China has run into in Costa Rica. In 2007, this country became the first in Central America to establish diplomatic relations with China, in a part of the world that continues to have ties with Taiwan – incompatible with relations with China.

“Having an embassy here makes it easier to deal with matters with Central America,” Patricia Rodríguez, an expert on China who was an official in Costa Rica’s embassy in Beijing from 2008 to 2010, told IPS.

China is now Costa Rica’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States. This country’s sales to the Asian giant climbed from 91 million dollars in 2000 to 1.5 billion in 2011, when a free trade treaty signed in 2010 went into effect.

In strategic terms, the joint refinery between Recope and the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation International (CNPCI) is China’s star project in the country, and the joint venture Sociedad Reconstructora Chino Costarricense (Soresco) was set up in 2009 to carry it out.

The investment is to amount to 1.5 billion dollars, of which Soresco would receive 900 million in loans from the China Development Bank. The rest will come from the partners. The construction and remodeling of the plant will absorb 1.2 billion dollars of that total.

The work was to begin early this year and was to last 42 months. The comptroller general’s office’s decision to put it on hold was due, among other things, to the fact that the feasibility study was carried out by a subsidiary of CNPCI, which it said subverted the evaluation.

The resolution had the effect of “completely paralysing the refinery upgrade process by leaving it without the technical studies necessary for it to continue,” explained Recope in a lawsuit brought against the comptroller general’s office in response to the measure.

Despite the ruling by the comptroller general’s office, the administration of conservative President Laura Chinchilla (2010-May 2014) continued to defend the refinery modernisation project. But the centre-left Solís promised during the election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, because he considered several aspects of the contract negative for the country.

The request to renegotiate the contract had the support of political sectors and in particular of lawmaker Ottón Solís, an economist and university professor who was one of the first to speak out against certain facets of the agreement.

“We have enormous bargaining power here because China is desperate to open up negotiations with Costa Rica and this country has prestige,” Deputy Solís, of the governing Citizen Action Party, told IPS.

“If we insinuate that it’s impossible to negotiate with China because they take advantage of you with unfair contracts, the whole world will be put on the alert and other countries won’t want to negotiate with them,” and that gives Costa Rica bargaining power, he said.

One of the promises made was that the upgrade of the refinery will bring down fuel costs for consumers, who currently pay 41 percent extra in taxes and profit margins for service stations and Recope’s operating costs.

Petrol currently costs 1.48 dollars a litre in Costa Rica, which makes it the most expensive gasoline in Central America. Official figures from 2012 indicate that oil consumption in the country stood at 53,000 barrels per day.

“Fuel is a fundamental element for price stability because there are public services that depend on its price, like public transportation and electricity, and the same is true in the case of the productive apparatus,” the president of Costa Rica’s consumers association, Erick Ulate, told IPS.

During the meeting with President Solís, Xi also agreed to expand the timeframe for carrying out studies for the project of widening the road connecting San José with the Caribbean port of Limón, where 90 percent of the country’s exports are shipped out. The expansion of the road will be financed with a 395 million dollar loan from Beijing.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/feed/ 3
Under Water: The EPA’s Struggle to Combat Pollutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:36:11 +0000 Naveena Sadasivam ProPublica http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135816 Water and sediment sampling operations during Enbridge Spill Response on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan from Mudpuppy II, EPA's news research vessel. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen

Water and sediment sampling operations during Enbridge Spill Response on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan from Mudpuppy II, EPA's news research vessel. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen

By Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica
NEW YORK, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution — repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect.

Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA’s powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.In recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.

Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight — developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.

The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms — tributary, floodplain and wetland — and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.

But the EPA’s effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organised and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers’ irrigation ditches, watering ponds and even puddles of rain.

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s president, Bob Stallman, said the proposed rule was the “the biggest federal land grab — in terms of power over land use — that we’ve seen to date.”

In an effort to address the concerns of farmers, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in recent weeks has been touring states in the Midwest.

“There are issues we need to discuss and clarify to get this rule right,” she said. “We have important work to do. All the silly contentions being brought up — that we intend to regulate dry ground or stock ponds or mud puddles after a rain — all that does is get in the way of our being able to have those serious discussions.”

The Clean Water Act of 1972 authorised the EPA to protect the “waters of the United States” from dangerous and or illegal pollution. But that term has been the subject of controversy and dispute virtually from the time the act was signed into law.

Regulators and industry representatives are generally in agreement that the law applies to some of the nation’s larger rivers. At issue, however, are the streams that flow intermittently and the wetlands adjacent to these streams that dry up during the summer.

Legal fights over those streams and wetlands, current and former EPA officials say, have cost the agency time, money and effectiveness in the face of real environmental threats. Indeed, in recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.

Granta Nakayama, who served as the assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the EPA until 2009, found that between July 2006 and March 2008 the agency had decided not to pursue formal enforcement in 304 cases because of jurisdictional uncertainty.

In 2008, in an internal memo, Nakayama wrote that the uncertainty “results in delays in enforcement and increases the resources needed to bring enforcement cases.”

And so in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Texas, the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require clean up.

Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible — despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation.

“The proposed rule will improve the process for making jurisdictional determinations for the Clean Water Act by minimizing delays and costs, and will improve the predictability and consistency of the permit and enforcement process for landowners,” an EPA spokesperson said.

The EPA expects that improving efficiency in jurisdictional determinations will also save the businesses that they regulate time and money.

“Protecting water is important to the long-term health of the economy,” the EPA spokesperson said. “Streams and wetlands are economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.”

Two Supreme Court decisions in the last 15 years have been the cause of much of the uncertainty.

In a 5-4 ruling in 2001, the Court held that the Army Corps of Engineers could not require permits for waters based on their use as a habitat by migratory birds. The Court ruling also included language that seemed to assert that only wetlands with a “significant nexus” to traditional navigable waterways would be protected under the Clean Water Act.

The Court did not make clear the meaning of the term “significant nexus.”

And in 2006, the Court, asked to determine whether a wetland needed to be adjacent to a traditional navigable waterway in order to be protected, wound up split, and reached no majority decision.

By the EPA’s own estimates, two million stream miles outside of Alaska are regarded as “intermittent,” and 20 percent of roughly 110 million acres of wetlands are considered “isolated.” As a result of the inability of the government to clarify the EPA’s jurisdiction over the last 15 years, these water bodies are currently unprotected.

“At some level this is a very frustrating debate to be having because water is all connected at some level,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney in the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “What the Supreme Court’s decisions do is throw into significant doubt what is protected.”

As a result, in cases where a polluted waterway isn’t clearly under the EPA’s jurisdiction, the agency has sometimes spent thousands of dollars to model water flow and conduct studies to show that it is hydrologically connected to larger water bodies that are protected.

“It just causes an incredible waste of resources and rewards those who don’t really worry about compliance and punishes those who do,” said Nakayama, now an environmental lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.

In past years, federal legislators have tried to introduce bills that address the ambiguity in the Clean Water Act’s language, but none have passed both the House and Senate.

In 2011, when Congress was considering a bill that made many of the changes that EPA’s current rule would, the American Farm Bureau Federation, as part of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, used a similar media strategy to kill the bill. The Coalition was made up of different industry groups that would be affected by the bill including mining associations and homebuilders.

The New York Times reported than an unnamed member of the Coalition said, “The game plan is to emphasise the scary possibilities. If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards.”

This time around, the pushback by farmers and others — called the “Ditch the Rule” campaign — has mainly taken place online. The Farm Bureau organisation has created a separate website for the campaign and created shareable videos and infographics.

The organisation has also been effective in recruiting state farming associations to join the campaign. It has resulted in a blitz of social media posts and a steady stream of local coverage often favouring the farmers’ point of view.

“The campaign has energised our grassroots to participate,” said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Although the campaign does not have a large amount of money flowing into it, Parrish said it has really “struck a chord.”

Lisa Garcia, a former administrator of environmental justice at the EPA, said the effort by the federation is chiefly one of misinformation.

“The rule is not adding or expanding the scope of waters historically protected,” said Garcia, who is currently at Earthjustice, an environmental non-profit organization. She said the opposition she has seen fits “this pattern of just completely fighting against any new regulation.”

Parrish disagrees. He said that the tensions that are playing out are because “the EPA is trying to create regulations that do an end run around the Supreme Court and Congress.”

“[The EPA is] really reaching into areas that Congress clearly didn’t want the EPA to regulate. They did not intend to put EPA in the land use business,” he said.

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/feed/ 1
Gas and Sun Light the Way for Energy Industry in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:17:12 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135810 Carolina Baiza, coordinator of environmental projects at the Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego, standing on the roof of the family business in San Salvador, in front of the hotel’s solar water heater.  Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Carolina Baiza, coordinator of environmental projects at the Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego, standing on the roof of the family business in San Salvador, in front of the hotel’s solar water heater. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

El Salvador is making steady progress towards diversifying its energy sources, with a plan to bolster the use of cleaner sources and achieve a substantial change in its energy mix by 2018.

Projects involving clean energy, such as solar, are just getting underway in this Central American country. But they are gaining momentum and the first changes in the industry, until now heavily dependent on fossil fuels, are beginning to be seen.

El Salvador has traditionally depended on fuel oil and diesel, which account for 41 percent of power generation. But fluctuations in the cost of oil on the international market cause instability in prices.

Thermal energy produced by diesel and fuel oil is followed by hydroelectricity (31 percent of the total), geothermal energy (25 percent) and biomass (three percent), which is being developed by sugar mills that use bagasse or sugarcane residue that is burned for fuel in the mills’ steam boilers.

“The current energy mix is not in our best interests, as it is not diversified, and when oil prices go up, energy rates for consumers also rise,” said Carlos Nájera, director of development of renewable resources at the National Energy Council (CNE) – the government energy authority – in an interview with Tierramérica.

In 2011, the CNE established a new model for energy sales and purchases, which requires power companies to acquire 75 percent of the energy they distribute by means of long-term contracts, in order to reduce large swings in electricity rates.“The current energy mix is not in our best interests, as it is not diversified, and when oil prices go up, energy rates for consumers also rise.” -- Carlos Nájera

That has brought down the cost for consumers by three cents of a dollar, to an average of 17 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In this small Central American country of 6.2 million people, electricity production was 5,544 gigawatt hours in 2009, and is projected to reach 6,787 gigawatt hours in 2015.

Currently, 97.8 percent of the urban population and 85.6 percent of the rural population have electricity, according to figures from the Economy Ministry.

Since 2009, when the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebel group-turned-political party began to govern the country, the CNE has been leading the government effort to modify the energy mix, incorporating new technologies that are more efficient and cleaner.

The administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who took office in June, will keep in place a plan launched by his predecessor that set a target for just 15 percent of all power generation to come from fossil fuels by 2018, 26 percent less than today.

According to the plan, hydropower will make up 26 percent of the total, geothermal power 20 percent, and biomass two percent.

But the most novel aspect is that 35 percent of power generation is to come from natural gas, two percent from solar energy, and one percent from wind power.

“We are moving in the right direction to meet those targets,” Nájera said.

The most recent advance came in June, when an international consortium made up of the companies UDP Neoen-Almaval, UDP Proyecto La Trinidad and Solar Reserve Development were awarded contracts to supply 94 MW of solar energy.

With an investment of around 300 million dollars, the companies are to install solar plants to begin operating in October 2016, and run them for 20 years.

The tender was sponsored by the private power company Distribuidora de Electricidad DelSur and was audited by the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones (Siget).

A total of 26 companies from France, Germany, Mexico, Spain and other countries took part in the public tender.

“We had a very good response from the companies that made bids, which means there is trust and confidence, as well as a capacity for supply,” Ingrid Chávez, manager of commercial planning in DelSur, told Tierramérica.

Small-scale solar power projects already underway in El Salvador provide electricity to rural schools or small farming families. But the contract granted last month is the first large-scale solar energy initiative in El Salvador.

New smaller-scale projects are also in the pipeline.

One is the installation of the Planta Fotovoltaica 15 de Septiembre, a 14.2 MW solar power plant – the first of its kind, which is now being put up for tender. A similar 12 MW plant is also in the planning stage.

The aim is for 200 MW of solar energy to be produced by 2018, in order to meet the goal of two percent of the country’s electricity to come from solar power.

The June tender also included 40 MW of wind energy, but the two companies that offered bids charged more per MW than the price – 123 dollars – set by Siget, so no contract was granted.

In November 2013 a contract was awarded to a consortium formed by the local companies Quantum-Glu, to generate 355 MW using natural gas. The investment will amount to 900 million dollars.

The natural gas, which the companies will import, will alter the energy mix dominated by oil, and according to Siget will put this country at the forefront of cleaner energy generation in Central America.

And since it is less expensive to generate electricity using natural gas, the cost for consumers will be lower.

The change in the country’s energy mix is just one of several aspects outlined in the National Energy Policy designed by the CNE and aimed at coming up with more sustainable forms of electricity production in order to ease the country’s energy problems.

Another important element is the promotion of a culture of energy efficiency and savings.

In April, the CNE awarded prizes to several companies, large and small, and to government institutions that offered the best initiatives in energy efficiency, with a focus on environmental sustainability.

The Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego was one of the winners.

The 19-room hotel, a family business, was paying a 1,300-dollar a month electric bill when it opened in 2001. But it later became involved in a project for saving electricity, water and gas, and began to work towards becoming more efficient and sustainable.

A solar water heater was installed, and the transformer and air conditioning systems were modified.

The hotel’s power bill has gone down 60 percent and the owners are making an effort to increase their savings, until reaching the recommended minimum usage, when they plan to install solar panels.

“We can’t go on to the photovoltaic energy stage until we’ve reached the maximum savings, but we’re moving in that direction,” the coordinator of the hotel’s environmental projects, Carolina Baiza, told Tierramérica.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/feed/ 2
Antigua Weighs High Cost of Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:47:47 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135794 The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Caught between its quest to grow the economy, create jobs and cut electricity costs, and the negative impacts associated with building an oil refinery, the Antigua and Barbuda government is looking to a mix of clean energy and fossil fuels to address its energy needs.

Venezuela’s ambassador to Antigua, Carlos Perez, announced last week that Caracas was at an advanced stage of negotiations with the government in St. John’s to build an oil refinery on the tiny 108-square-mile island.“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many." -- Chante Codrington

“The pending negotiations for the oil refinery I believe are well advanced and we’re hoping with this new administration of Prime Minister [Gaston] Browne we will advance to conclude that project that will be beneficial for Antigua and for Venezuela too,” Perez said.

Browne’s Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won General Elections on Jun. 12 after 10 years in opposition.

Environmentalists, including Dominican Arthurton Martin, oppose the move and say it’s the worst possible time to make an announcement like this.

“The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its 2014 report presenting evidence that not only can we expect a two degree centigrade rise in global temperatures but [possibly] a four degree centigrade rise, which will result in significant increases in coastal damage from sea level rise for countries like Antigua that are relatively flat,” Martin told IPS.

“This will in fact result in significant extension of periods of drought as a result of fluctuations in temperature. This is also happening at a time when there are so many options that could deal with part of the energy challenge,” he added.

Martin said the refinery was a bad choice not only because of the global movement to avert catastrophic climate change, but because cleaner alternatives are readily available.

He suggested instead that government look into sources like biofuel, solar and wind energy to reduce reliance on crude oil. These sources of energy have already been developed and financing exists to explore these options.

“These technologies are off the shelf. You can purchase them right now. You don’t even have to do R&D to develop them,” he said.

“This is the first time in the history of the international financial community that they have in fact made grants and concessionary loan financing available to actually reduce the dependence on fossil fuel for energy.”

Environmentalists stress that oil refineries are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Oil refineries also emit methane and nitrous oxide, which are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, as well as several other air contaminants that pose risks to human health and the environment such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.

Chante Codrington, director of Wadadli Industrial Renewable Energy Ltd, who is in negotiations with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to build a wind farm here, is of the view that wind energy is the most efficient and affordable energy source for the island.

“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many,” he told IPS.

“There is an odor that comes from the oil refinery, air pollution, water contamination concerns, fire, explosions, noise pollution, health effects – these are all the disadvantages.”

Clean energy advocate John Burke agrees with Codrington, telling IPS it would benefit the island’s poor more if the country goes green.

“The price of oil is going to go up. The last time I heard the price of sun and wind had not gone up. Currently, every kilowatt hour we’re generating we’re spending about 80 or 90 cents EC on fuel. If they put together a programme to finance and install solar systems for the poor and the middle class that would in effect be financed by the amount of money we save from importing oil.”

According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), energy demand in the region is expected to double in the next 20 years, at a 3.7 per cent average annual rate of increase.

Currently, most Caribbean countries are heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels, their energy consumption being based almost solely on oil products, which account for more than 97 per cent of the energy mix.

Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Barbados cover part of their fuel requirements from their own reserves of oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, only Trinidad and Tobago has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves.

Several Caribbean countries spend 15 to 30 percent of their export earnings, inclusive of revenues from tourism, on oil products. This results in electricity prices of between 20 and 35 cents per kWh, much higher than in the United States or Europe.

Peter Lewis, managing director of the Bermuda-based Carib Energy Solutions, said the government should consider the environmental factors associated with an oil refinery.

“If the global trend of a mixed-bag approach is the best option for the pursuit of an energy agenda…you would be able to attract more entrepreneurs to the business sector and get the economy going,” he told IPS.

Martin also agrees with the mixed-bag approach.

“No single source of power should be allowed to deal with your entire energy bill. That is a bad thing to do,” he said.

“We had our banana experience in Dominica when we placed all our bets on one crop. My advice is no country should place all its bets on any one source of power. Even Venezuela is understanding that right now.

“So if solar can contribute three per cent, if wind can give you 15 per cent, if biomass conversion can give you 20 per cent, what you are doing is effectively reducing your dependence on the dirtiest form of energy which is fossil fuel driven energy,” Martin added.

In early 2007, the government of Dominica announced plans for Venezuela to construct an oil refinery on the island but after a barrage of objections was raised by environmentalists, plans for the plant were placed on hold in 2008.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/feed/ 0
Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135748 Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/feed/ 0
Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:14:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135713 Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

The international community is failing to take advantage of a potent opportunity to counter climate change by strengthening local land tenure rights and laws worldwide, new data suggests.

In what researchers say is the most detailed study on the issue to date, new analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year."This model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.” -- Caleb Stevens

The findings were released Thursday by the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that focuses on forest tenure.

“This approach to mitigating climate change has long been undervalued,” a report detailing the analysis states. “[G]overnments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

Researchers were able to comb through high-definition satellite imagery and correlate findings on deforestation rates with data on differing tenure approaches in 14 developing countries considered heavily forested. Those areas with significant forest rights vested in local communities were found to be far more successful at slowing forest clearing, including the incursion of settlers and mining companies.

In Guatemala and Brazil, strong local tenure resulted in deforestation rates 11 to 20 times lower than outside of formally recognised community forests. In parts of the Mexican Yucatan the findings were even starker – 350 times lower.

Meanwhile, the climate implications of these forests are significant. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon, but they also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“We know that at least 500 million hectares of forest in developing countries are already in the hands of local communities, translating to a bit less than 40 billion tonnes of carbon,” Andy White, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)’s coordinator, told IPS.

“That’s a huge amount – 30 times the amount of total emissions from all passenger vehicles around the world. But much of the rights to protect those forests are weak, so there’s a real risk that we could lose those forests and that carbon.”

White notes that there’s been a “massive slowdown” in the recognition of indigenous and other community rights over the past half-decade, despite earlier global headway on the issue. But he now sees significant potential to link land rights with momentum on climate change in the minds of policymakers and the donor community.

“In developing country forests, you have this history of governments promoting deforestation for agriculture but also opening up forests through roads and the promotion of colonisation and mining,” White says.

“At the same time, these same governments are now trying to talk about climate change, saying they’re concerned about reducing emission. To date, these two hands haven’t been talking to each other.”

Lima link

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. In September, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts, but few have directly connected this potential with local tenure.

“The international community hasn’t taken this link nearly as far as it can go, and it’s important that policymakers are made aware of this connection,” Caleb Stevens, a proper rights specialist at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the new report’s principle author, told IPS.

“Developed country governments can commit to development assistance agencies to strengthen forest tenure as part of bilateral agreements. They can also commit to strengthen these rights through finance mechanisms like the new Green Climate Fund.”

Currently the most well-known, if contentious, international mechanism aimed at reducing deforestation is the U.N.’s REDD+ initiative, which since 2008 has dispersed nearly 200 million dollars to safeguard forest in developing countries. Yet critics say the programme has never fully embraced the potential of community forest management.

“REDD+ was established because it is well known that deforestation is a significant part of the climate change problem,” Tony LaVina, the lead forest and climate negotiator for the Philippines, said in a statement.

“What is not as widely understood is how effective forest communities are at protecting their forest from deforestation and increasing forest health. This is why REDD+ must be accompanied by community safeguards.”

Two-thirds remaining

Meanwhile, WRI’s Stevens says that current national-level prioritisation of local tenure is a “mixed bag”, varying significantly from country to country.

He points to progressive progress being made in Liberia and Kenya, where laws have started to be reformed to recognise community rights, as well as in Bolivia and Nepal, where some 40 percent of forests are legally under community control. Following a 2013 court ruling, Indonesia could now be on a similar path.

“Many governments are still quite reluctant to stop their attempts access minerals and other resources,” Stevens says. “But some governments realise the limitations of their capacity – that this model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.”

Not only are local communities often more effective at managing such resources than governments or private entities, but they can also become significant economic beneficiaries of those forests, eventually even contributing to national coffers through tax revenues.

Certainly there is scope for such an expansion. RRI estimates that the 500 million hectares currently under community control constitute just a third of what communities around the world are actively – and, the group says, legitimately – claiming.

“The world should rapidly scale up recognition of local forest rights even if they only care about the climate – even if they don’t care about the people, about water, women, biodiversity,” RRI’s White says.

“Actually, of course, people do care about all of these other issues. That’s why a strategy of strengthening local forest rights is so important and a no-brainer – it will deliver for the climate as well as reduce poverty.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/feed/ 1
Disasters Poised to Sweep Away Development Gainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/disasters-poised-to-sweep-away-development-gains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disasters-poised-to-sweep-away-development-gains http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/disasters-poised-to-sweep-away-development-gains/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:39:42 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135682 Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Extreme poverty and hunger can be eliminated, but only through far greater efforts to reduce carbon emissions that are overheating the planet and producing punishing droughts, catastrophic floods and ever wilder weather, said climate activists involved in talks to set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Last weekend, the United Nations released the 17 draft SDGs following a year and a half of discussion by more than 60 countries participating in the voluntary process."You can’t climb out of poverty if you have to rebuild your home every other year." -- Harjeet Singh

The SDGs are a set of goals and targets intended to eliminate extreme poverty and pursue sustainable development. When finalised in 2015, at the expiration of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are intended to be the roadmap for countries to follow in making environmental, social and economic policies and decisions.

“Disasters are a major reason many of the MDG goals will not be met,” said Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International, an NGO based in Johannesburg.

“A big flood or typhoon can set a region’s development back 20 years,” Singh, ActionAid’s international coordinator of disaster risk reduction, told IPS.

Last year’s Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and left nearly two million homeless in the Philippines, he said. Less than a year earlier, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 1,000 people and caused an estimated 350 million dollars in damage.

In the past two weeks, the country was struck by two destructive typhoons. The Philippines may face another 20 before the end of typhoon season.

“Everything is affected by disasters — food security, health, education, infrastructure and so on. You can’t climb out of poverty if you have to rebuild your home every other year,” Singh said.

Goals for poverty elimination or nearly anything else in the proposed SDGs are “meaningless without reductions in carbon emissions”, he said.

Carbon emissions from burning oil, coal and gas are trapping heat from the sun. The amount of this extra heat-energy is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, according to James Hansen, a climate scientist and former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As a result the entire planet is now 0.8 C hotter.

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado previously told IPS.

Climate change doesn’t necessarily cause weather disasters but it certainly makes them worse, said Trenberth, an expert on extreme events.

Climate and low-carbon development pathways need to be fully reflected in the SDGs, said  Bernadette Fischler, co-chair of Beyond 2015 UK. Beyond 2015 is a coalition of more than 1,000 civil society organisations working for a strong and effective set of SDGs.

“Climate change is an urgent issue and needs to be highly visible in the SDGs,” Fischler told IPS.

In the current SDG draft climate is goal 13. It calls on countries to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. There is no target to reduce emissions, and nearly all of the targets are about adapting to the coming climate impacts.

“Countries don’t want to pre-empt their positions in the U.N. climate change negotiations,” said Lina Dabbagh of the Climate Action Network, a global network of environmental NGOs.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) involves every country in a negotiation to create a new global climate treaty in 2015. After five years of talks, countries are deadlocked on key issues.

“The SDGs are a huge opportunity to move forward on climate, but the climate goal is weak and there is no action agenda,” Dabbagh told IPS.

Finalising the SDGs draft was highly politicised, resulting in very cautious wording. The country alliances and divisions are remarkably similar to those in the UNFCCC negotiations, including the South-North divide, she said.

Every country is concerned about climate change and its impacts but there is wide disagreement on how this should be reflected in the SDGs, with some only wanting a mention in the preamble, said Fischler.

Some countries such as the United Kingdom think 17 goals is too many and it is possible that some will be cut during the final year of negotiations that start once the SDGs are formally introduced at the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 24.

The day before that the U.N. secretary-general will host a Climate Summit with leaders of many countries in attendance. The summit is intended to kick-start political momentum for an ambitious, global, legal climate treaty in 2015.

“Civil society will make a big push during the summit to make climate an integral part of the SDGs,” said Dabbagh.

However, much work remains to help political leaders and the public understand that climate action is the key to eliminating extreme poverty and achieving sustainable development, she said.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/disasters-poised-to-sweep-away-development-gains/feed/ 0
U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:02:57 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135654 Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Pressure is building here for lawmakers to pass a bill that would funnel billions of dollars of U.S. investment into strengthening Africa’s electricity production and distribution capabilities, and could offer broad new support for off-grid opportunities.

With half of the U.S. Congress having already acted on the issue, supporters are now hoping that the Senate will follow suit before a major summit takes place here during the first week of August. That event is expected to include heads of state or representatives from as many as 50 African countries."We could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.” -- Justin Guay

The summit, the first time that such an event has been organised in Washington, will focus in particular on investment opportunities. As such, many are hoping that the three-day event’s centrepiece will be President Barack Obama’s signing of a broad investment deal aimed at Africa’s power sector.

“The overwhelming majority of the African leaders are going to be coming to Washington emphasising trade and investment, and in that context this issue is very central to their many constituencies – touching on economic, political and social issues,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Coming forward with something concrete that will lead to additional capital, tools or engagement will be noticed and welcomed. But lack thereof would also have a message for African leaders and others travelling to Washington.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee did pass a bill, called the Energize Africa Act, late last month, but much remains to be done. The legislation now needs to be voted on by the full Senate, after which the final proposal would have to be brought into alignment with a similar bill voted through by the House of Representatives in May.

Meanwhile, the entire Congress is scheduled to go into recess for a month at the end of July. Still, backroom talks are reportedly well underway.

“There’s growing pressure and momentum in the Senate, as well as a growing appreciation of how doing this is both strategic and important,” Leo says. “Not having a bill to sign would certainly be a missed opportunity in terms of the optics and concreteness of action, either before or when everyone’s in Washington.”

Some 68 percent of the sub-Saharan population lacks access to electricity. Both the House and Senate bills would seek to assist African countries in expanding basic electricity access to some 50 million people.

“Our support for this bill is a direct response to what we hear from African leaders, citizens and global development experts,” Tom Hart, U.S. executive director of ONE, an advocacy group that focuses on eliminating poverty in Africa and has mounted a major campaign in favour of the Senate bill, said in a statement.

“[O]ne of the biggest challenges for overcoming extreme poverty is the inability for millions of people to access the basic electricity necessary to power health clinics, farms, schools, factories and businesses.”

Beyond the grid

The current legislative push comes a year after President Obama unveiled a new initiative called Power Africa, proposed during his June 2013 trip to the continent. Seen as the president’s signature development plan for the region, Power Africa aims to double energy access in sub-Saharan countries through a mix of public and private investment.

While Power Africa is ambitious, its long-term impact greatly depends on the legislation currently under debate.

For instance, while Power Africa directly affects just six countries, the bills before Congress take a continental approach. Likewise, as an executive-level project, the initiative’s policy priorities can only be cemented through full legislation.

Power Africa initially came under significant fire from environmental and some development groups for its reliance on fossil fuel (particularly natural gas) and centralised power projects. Many groups say that such a focus is ultimately counterproductive for poor and marginalised communities.

Yet last month, the United States announced a billion-dollar initiative to focus on off-grid energy projects across the continent. This approach could now be codified through the legislative discussions currently taking place in Congress.

“Congress is now looking to pass a bill that would be relatively historic in terms of its support for beyond-the-grid markets,” Justin Guay, Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS. “The [Senate] bill is the first legislation we’ve seen starting to drive investment to unlock that potential.”

To date, Guay says, most investment from the U.S. government and multilateral agencies has skewed in favour of fossil fuels and centralised power generation. For the first time, the new legislation could start to balance out this mix – a potential boon for the environment and local communities alike.

“If you look at the energy access problem in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s largely a rural issue. So this bill could stimulate distributed, clean-energy solutions that can get into the hands of poor populations today, rather than forcing them to wait decades in the dark for power,” Guay says.

“In this way, we could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.”

The House’s companion bill includes fewer progressive provisions than the Senate version, but it also doesn’t include amendments that could deliberately doom the legislation. Still, it remains to be seen how conservatives in the House react to the Senate’s proposals.

Strengthened support

These new opportunities have broadened support for the Senate’s legislation. On Friday, for instance, the Global Off Grid Lighting Association, a Germany-based trade group, expressed its “strong support” for the Energize Africa Act.

The legislation is also being welcomed by African environmentalists.

“We believe this bill has emerged as a strong source of support for our efforts to address energy poverty,” Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers from earlier this month.

“We are particularly supportive of new efforts to expand loan guarantee authority at USAID” – the main U.S. foreign aid agency – “as well as the goal of ending kerosene based lighting. Both of these aspects are critical to ending energy poverty in poor rural areas.”

Meanwhile, both the House and Senate bills have enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support. Still, it’s not clear whether that will translate into the passage of a new law – particularly by the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, slated for Aug. 4-6.

“There’s not a lot of time left, so it’s is very difficult,” the Center for Global Development’s Leo says. “However, if it doesn’t pass by the summit, the summit will invariably create a lot of action shortly thereafter.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/feed/ 0