Inter Press Service » Energy http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Fri, 25 Jul 2014 01:34:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Change http://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.”

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Disasters Poised to Sweep Away Development Gains http://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.

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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/?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.”

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U.S. Ranks Near Bottom Globally in Energy Efficiency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 23:26:46 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135640 Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Credit: Anton Fomkin/cc by 2.0

Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Credit: Anton Fomkin/cc by 2.0

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

A new ranking has lauded Germany for its energy efficiency, while condemning the United States for lagging near the bottom.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a non-profit here, called the U.S. economy’s inefficiency “a tremendous waste” of both resources and money, in a scorecard released Thursday. Looking at 16 of the world’s largest economies, the rankings use 31 metrics to measure efficiency-related measures within each nation’s legislative efforts as well as the industrial, transportation and building sectors.“The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.” -- Mark Konold

“A country that uses less energy to achieve the same or better results reduces its costs and pollution, creating a stronger, more competitive economy,” the ACEEE’s report begins. “While energy efficiency has played a role in the economies of developed nations for decades, cost-effective energy efficiency remains a massively underutilized energy resource.”

Though Germany produced the highest overall score- with 65 out of 100 possible points- and came in first in the “industry” sector, China had the top-scoring assessment in the “buildings” category, Italy had the most efficient “transportation” sector, and France, Italy and the European Union tied three-ways in the “national efforts” division.

Rachel Young, an ACEEE research analyst, told IPS that the U.S government has taken important recent steps to limit carbon emissions, particularly from existing power plants. But she recommends much broader actions.

The U.S. needs to “implement a national ‘energy savings’ target, strengthen national model building codes, support education and training in the industrial sector, and prioritise energy efficiency in transportation,” she says. Doing so, Young suggests, would not only reduce emissions but also save money and create jobs.

ACEEE’s focus has traditionally been on improving energy efficiency in the United States. But the new scorecard’s broad emphasis – on how energy efficiency makes for both an environmentally and financially wide investment – can be applied to international economies as well.

The Worldwatch Institute, a think tank here, is one of the many international development-focused organisations that have adopted this approach.

“We think that energy efficiency is one of the fastest ways that countries can get more mileage out of their energy usage,” Mark Konold, the Caribbean project manager at the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS. “The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.”

Citing the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America and South America as prime examples, Konold says energy efficiency can be a wise economic investment for governments and individuals alike.

“Especially in island countries, which face disproportionately large energy bills, energy efficiency can go a long way in terms of reducing [an individual’s] financial burden,” he says. “Something as simple as window installations can make buildings in these island countries more efficient.”

Paradigm shift?

Worldwatch and others increasingly consider energy efficiency a key element in the sustainability agenda.

Konold, who recently co-authored a study on sustainable energy in Jamaica, believes it is critical to examine the return on investment of energy-efficient practices. Doing so, he says, can help determine which cost-effective energy models should be implemented in developing nations.

Such recommendations are particularly relevant given the international community’s growing focus on efficiency issues.

The United Nations and the World Bank, for instance, recently established the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to help “promote [a] paradigm shift” towards sustainability in developing countries. As one its three objectives, SE4ALL mandates “doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”.

“There is a growing realisation that energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy and greenhouse gas emission option,” Nate Aden, a research fellow the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “This is especially important for developing countries that are trying to address energy access while also addressing climate change.”

Part of this new focus is specifically due to the SE4ALL initiative, Aden says. Further,  he believes that the programme’s other two goals – doubling the share of renewable energy and providing universal energy access – are “consistent and complimentary” with energy efficiency.

“For example, in India, there’s a lot of discussion about the appropriate choices going forward, given that you have hundreds of millions who still lack access to energy,” Aden says. “You have to ask what the right choice is in terms of not only producing low-carbon emissions, but also in bringing energy to people.”

Aden also spoke enthusiastically about the “unique perspective” that private companies may take on energy efficiency, pointing to the efficiency efforts of Phillips, a U.S.-based lighting company. Aden believes that the ACEEE’s call for more energy-efficient practices will help make companies “able to plan effectively and be well-positioned from the supplier side” of energy.

Cultural change

While actions by the international community will clearly be important in implementing energy-efficient strategies from the top down, some are also emphasising the need for cultural change at the individual level.

“A huge chunk of this issue is education and awareness-building,” Worldwatch’s Konold says. “And once we start to spread the message that individuals can better their own situation, that’s when we start seeing a change,”

He says there is a profound lack of awareness around energy in many countries, pointing to a phenomenon he refers to as “leaving the air-conditioning on with the windows open”. But Konold emphasises that individuals can indeed make broad, substantive impact if they adopt more energy-saving behaviours in their homes.

This sentiment was echoed by the ACEEE’s Young, whose report pointed out that Americans are particularly guilty of energy-wasting behaviours, consuming roughly 6.8 tonnes of oil equivalent per person. This put the U.S. in second to last place in terms of individual energy consumption, only beating out Canada, where estimated oil consumption was 7.2 tonnes.

Based on this phenomenon, Young believes that individuals should “take advantage of incentives offered by their local utilities and governments to learn more about what they can do to reduce energy waste”, and to check out the ACEEE website, which “has dozens of consumer tips on improving energy efficiency.”

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Caribbean Grapples with Intense New Cycles of Flooding and Drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/caribbean-grapples-with-intense-new-cycles-of-flooding-and-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-grapples-with-intense-new-cycles-of-flooding-and-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/caribbean-grapples-with-intense-new-cycles-of-flooding-and-drought/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:39:18 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135629 Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

As unpredictable weather patterns impact water availability and quality in St. Lucia, the Caribbean island is moving to build resilience to climate-related stresses in its water sector.

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical."All governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries." -- Dr. Paulette Bynoe

“We have been making progress…making professionals and other important stakeholders aware of the issue. That is the first step,” she told IPS.

“So in other sectors we can also look at coordination whether we talk about agriculture or tourism. It’s important that we think outside of the box and we stop having turfs and really work together,” she added.

Earlier this month, Bynoe facilitated a three-day workshop on Hydro-Climatic Disasters in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in St. Lucia. The workshop was held as part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States-Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (OECS-RRACC) project.

Participants were exposed to the key principles of IWRM and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); the implications of climate change and variability for water resources management; policy legislation and institutional requirements needed at the community level to facilitate DRR in IWRM; the economics of disasters; and emergency response issues.

Rupert Lay, a water resources specialist with the RRACC Project, said the training is consistent with the overall goals of the climate change demonstration project in GIS technology currently being implemented by the OECS Secretariat.

“What we need to do now in the region and even further afield is to directly correlate the effects, the financial impacts of these adverse weather conditions as it relates to water resources,” he told IPS.

“We need to make that link strongly so that all of us can appreciate the extent to which and the importance of building resilience and adapting to these stresses.”

On Jul. 9, the St. Lucia Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) placed the entire island under a water emergency schedule as the drought worsened. The government has described the current situation as a “water crisis”.

The crisis, initially declared for the north of the island, has expanded to the entire country.

Managing director of WASCO Vincent Hippolyte said that there had not been sufficient rainfall to meet the demands of consumers. At the most recent assessment, the dam’s water level was at 322 feet, while normal overflow levels are 333 feet.

“Despite the rains and the greenery, drought conditions exist because the rivers are not moving. They do not have the volume of water that will enable WASCO to extract sufficient water to meet demand,” he said.

“We are in the early stages in the drought situation. It is not as severe as the later stages, but we are still in drought conditions.”

The government said that experts predicted the drought would persist through the month of August.

Bynoe said what’s happening in St. Lucia and elsewhere in the Caribbean is consistent with the projections of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Climate Modeling Group from the University of the West Indies.

She said both bodies had given possible future scenarios of climate change as it relates to the Small Island Developing States, and how climate change and climate variability could affect water resources.

“I think generally the issue is that in the region there is a high likelihood that we can have a shortage of water so we can experience droughts; and perhaps at the same time when we do have precipitation it can be very intense,” Bynoe, who is also Director of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana, said.

She noted that the models are saying there can either be too little water or too much water, either of which could create serious problems for the Caribbean.

“With too much water now you can have run off, sedimentation, water pollution and water contamination which means in countries where we depend on surface water the treatment of water become critical and this will then bring cost implications because water treatment is very costly,” Bynoe explained.

“But also, if you are going to treat water you have to use a lot of energy and energy is one of the sectors that contribute to greenhouse gasses. So you can see where the impact of climate change is affecting water but with water treatment you can also contribute to climate change.”

For St. Lucia and its neighbours, Bynoe said lack of financial resources tops the list of challenges when it comes to disaster mitigation and adapting new measures in reference to hydro-climatic disasters.

She also pointed to the importance of human capital, citing the need to have persons trained in specific areas as specialists to help with modeling, “because in preparation we first have to know what’s the issue, we have to know what’s the probability of occurrence, we have to know what are the specific paths that we can take which could bring the best benefits to us.”

She used her home country Guyana, which suffers from a high level of migration, as one example of how sustainable development could be negatively affected by capital flight.

“But you also need human capital because first of all governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries so that we can replicate the good experiences so that we don’t fall prey to the same sort of issues,” Bynoe said.

“But also social capital within the country in which we try to ensure that all stakeholders are involved, a very democratic process because it’s not only about policymakers; every person, every household must play a role to the whole issue of adaptation, it starts with the man or woman in the mirror,” she added.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas passed very near St. Lucia killing 14 people and leaving millions of dollars in monetary losses. The island was one of three Eastern Caribbean countries on which a slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec 24, 2013 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain, killing 13 people.

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U.S. Accused of Forcing EU to Accept Tar Sands Oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:59:06 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135619 Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

Newly publicised internal documents suggest that U.S. negotiators are working to permanently block a landmark regulatory proposal in the European Union aimed at addressing climate change, and instead to force European countries to import particularly dirty forms of oil.

Environmentalists, working off of documents released through open government requests, say U.S. trade representatives are responding to frustrations voiced by the oil and gas industry here. This week, U.S. and E.U. officials are in Brussels for the sixth round of talks towards what would be the world’s largest free-trade area, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process.” -- Bill Waren

“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process,” Bill Waren, a senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group, told IPS. “Rather, U.S. representatives have been lobbying on the [E.U. regulatory proposal] in a way that reflects the interests of Chevron, ExxonMobil and others.”

The oil industry has repeatedly expressed concern over the European Union’s potential tightening of regulations around transport fuel emissions, first proposed in 2009 for what’s known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Yet according to a report released Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, the sector now appears to have convinced the U.S. government to work to permanently block the implementation of this standard.

Current negotiating texts for the TTIP talks are unavailable. But critics say the negotiations are forcing open the massive E.U market for a particularly heavy form of petroleum known as tar sands oil, significant deposits of which are in the Canadian province of Alberta.

“Since the adoption of the revised Fuel Quality Directive in 2009, the international oil companies … petroleum refiners, the Cana­dian government and the Albertan provincial government have spent enormous resources and used aggressive lobbying tactics to delay and weaken the implementation proposal,” the new report, which is being supported by a half-dozen environmental groups, states.

“The oil industry and the Canadian government … are afraid that the FQD could set a precedent by recognising and labelling tar sands as highly polluting and inspire similar legislation elsewhere.”

Safeguarding investments

At issue is the mechanism by which the European Union would determine the greenhouse gas emissions of various types of oil and gas. As part of Europe’s broader climate pledges, the FQD was revised to reduce the emissions of transport fuels by six percent by the end of the decade.

In 2011, the E.U. proposed that tar sands and other unconventional oils be formally characterised as having higher greenhouse gas “intensity” than conventional oil, given that they require more energy to produce – 23 percent higher, according to a study for the European Commission.

Yet tar sands have received massive interest from oil majors in recent years. Some 150 billion dollars were invested in Canadian tar sands between 2001 and 2012, according to Friends of the Earth, a figure expected to grow to nearly 200 billion dollars through 2022.

“Major oil investors want to immediately move as much tar sands oil as possible to Europe,” Waren says. “Over the longer term, they want to get the investments that will allow them to develop the infrastructure necessary to ship that exceptionally dirty fossil fuel to Europe.”

Many investors likely assumed the Canadian tar sands oil would have a ready market in the United States. But not only is the U.S. economy reducing its dependence on oil – particularly imports – but the trans-national transport of Canadian tar sands oils has become a major political flashpoint here, and remains uncertain.

So, last year, oil lobbyists here began to push U.S. trade representatives to use the nascent TTIP talks to safeguard the E.U. market for unconventional oils.

“[I]f the EU approves the proposed amendment to the FQD … it would adversely affect the U.S.-EU relationship, potentially eliminating a $32 billion-a-year flow of trade,” David Friedman, a vice-president with American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major trade association, wrote in a May 2013 letter to the top U.S. trade official.

Now, according to an internal European Commission e-mail uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe and outlined in the new report, U.S. trade representatives appear to be echoing this analysis.

“[T]he US Mission informed us formally that the US authorities have concerns about the transparency and process, as well as substantive concerns about the existing proposal (the singling out of two crudes – Canada and Venezuela,” the letter, said to be from October 2013, reportedly states.

Canada and Venezuela have the world’s largest deposits of tar sands oil.

The letter also notes that the U.S. negotiators would prefer a “system of averaging out the crudes”, meaning that all forms of oil would simply receive one median score regarding their emissions intensity. This would effectively lift any E.U. bar on unconventional oils – and, according to the Friends of the Earth analysis, add an additional 19 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

‘Threatening’ climate policies

The new revelations come just a week after the leaking of a TTIP paper on E.U. energy policy, which would push the United States to abolish restrictions and automatically approve crude oil exports to the European Union. The document offered a rare glimpse into notoriously secret talks.

“We strongly oppose attempts by the E.U. to use this trade agreement, negotiated behind closed doors, to secure automatic access to U.S. oil and gas,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and watchdog group, told IPS. “I think there’s strong support for continued restrictions on this issue among both the public and policymakers, due to the implications for both energy security and the climate.”

The new disclosures have indeed caught the attention of the U.S. Congress. Last week, 11 lawmakers renewed a line of questioning from last year about Washington’s influence on E.U. tar sands policy.

“We reiterate that actions pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” the lawmakers wrote to the U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, “and we remain concerned that trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations.”

Yet such concerns may already be too late.

Last month, media reports suggested that the European Commission is now considering a proposal to go with the U.S.-pushed “averaging” approach to its fuel-emissions calculation. The same week, Europe’s first shipment of tar sands oil – 570,000 barrels from Canada – reportedly arrived on Spanish shores.

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Zarif and Kerry Signal Momentum on Nuclear Pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:18:48 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135606 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the Jul. 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.

Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.

The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on Jul. 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.

Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.

The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”

“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.

Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.

In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”

By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.

As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.

The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.

But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.

Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.

Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”

Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”

The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.

Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.

Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a Jul. 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.

In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.

Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists Jul. 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s Jul. 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.

That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.

In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.

Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.

That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.

Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision reach compromise on the two key issues is made.

When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the Jul. 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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Major Companies Push for More, Easier Renewable Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:08:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135556 According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Some of the largest companies in the United States have banded together to call for a substantial increase in the production of renewable electricity, as well as for more simplicity in purchasing large blocs of green energy.

A dozen U.S-based companies, most of which operate globally, say they want to significantly step up the amount of renewable energy they use, but warn that production levels remain too low and procurement remains too complex. The 12 companies have now put forward a set of principles aimed at helping to “facilitate progress on these challenges” and lead to a broader shift in the market.“The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available." -- Marty Spitzer

“We would like our efforts to result in new renewable power generation,” the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, released Friday, state. The companies note “our desire to promote new projects, ensure our purchases add new capacity to the system, and that we buy the most cost-competitive renewable energy products.”

The principles consist of six broad reforms, aimed at broadening and strengthening the renewable energy marketplace. Companies want more choice in their procurement options, greater cost competitiveness between renewable and traditional power sources, and “simplified processes, contracts and financing” around the long-term purchase of renewables.

Founding signatories to the principles, which were shepherded by civil society, include manufacturers and consumer goods companies (General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Proctor & Gamble), tech giants (Facebook, HP, Intel, Sprint) and major retailers (Walmart, the outdoor-goods store REI).

These 12 companies combined have renewable energy consumption targets of more than eight million megawatt hours of energy through the end of this decade, according to organisers. Yet the new principles, meant to guide policy discussions, have come about due to frustration over the inability of the U.S. renewables market to keep up with spiking demand.

“The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available. These companies are used to having choices,” Marty Spitzer, director of U.S. climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a conservation and advocacy group that helped to spearhead the principles, told IPS.

WWF was joined in the initiative by the World Resources Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute, both think tanks that focus on issues of energy and sustainability.

“The companies have also recognised that it’s often very difficult to procure renewables and bring them to their facilities,” Spitzer continues. “While most of them didn’t think of it this way at first, they’ve now realised that they have been experiencing a lot of the same problems.”

‘Too difficult’

In recent years, nearly two-thirds of big U.S. businesses have created explicit policies around climate goals and renewable energy usage, according to WWF. While there is increasing political and public compunction behind these new policies, a primary goal remains simple cost-cutting and long-term efficiencies.

“A significant part of the value to us from renewable energy is the ability to lock in energy price certainty and avoid fuel price volatility,” the principles note.

In part due to political deadlock in Washington, particularly around issues of climate and energy, renewable production in the United States remains too low to keep up with this corporate demand. According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources.

Accessing even that small portion of the market remains unwieldy.

“We know cost-competitive renewable energy exists but the problem is that it is way too difficult for most companies to buy,” Amy Hargroves, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Sprint, a telecommunications company, said in a statement.

“Very few companies have the knowledge and resources to purchase renewable energy given today’s very limited and complex options. Our hope is that by identifying the commonalities among large buyers, the principles will catalyse market changes that will help make renewables more affordable and accessible for all companies.”

One of the most far-reaching sustainability commitments has come from the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. A decade ago, the company set an “aspirational” goal for itself, to be supplied completely by renewable energy.

Last year, it created a more specific goal aimed at helping to grow the global market for renewables, pledging to drive the production or procurement of seven billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy globally by the end of 2020, a sixfold increase over 2010. (The company is also working to increase the energy efficiency of its stores by 20 percent over this timeframe.)

While the company has since become a leader in terms of installing solar and wind projects at its stores and properties, it has experienced frustrations in trying to make long-term bulk purchases of renewable electricity from U.S. utilities.

“The way we finance is important … cost-competitiveness is very important, as is access to longer-term contracts,” David Ozment, senior director of energy at Walmart, told IPS. “We like to use power-purchase agreements to finance our renewable energy projects, but currently only around half of the states in the U.S. allow for these arrangements.”

Given Walmart’s size and scale, Ozment says the company is regularly asked by suppliers, regulators and utilities about what it is looking for in power procurement. The new principles, he says, offer a strong answer, providing direction as well as flexibility for whatever compulsion is driving a particular company’s energy choices, whether “efficiency, conservation or greenhouse gas impact”.

“We’ve seen the price of solar drop dramatically over the past five years, and we hope our participation helped in that,” he says. “Now, these new principles will hopefully create the scale to continue to drop the cost of renewables and make them more affordable for everyone.”

Internationally applicable

Ozment is also clear that the new principles need not apply only to U.S. operations, noting that the principles “dovetail” with what Walmart is already doing internationally.

In an e-mail, a representative for Intel, the computer chip manufacturer, likewise told IPS that the company is “interested in promoting renewables markets in countries where we have significant operations … at a high level, the need to make renewables both more abundant and easier to access applies outside the U.S.”

For his part, WWF’s Spitzer says that just one of the principles is specific to the U.S. regulatory context.

“Many other countries have their own instruments on renewable production,” he says, “but five out of these six principles are relevant and perfectly appropriate internationally.”

Meanwhile, both the principles and their signatories remain open-ended. Spitzer says that just since Friday he’s heard from additional companies interested in adding their support.

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OPINION: The Caribbean: A Clean Energy Revolution on the Front Lines of Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-caribbean-a-clean-energy-revolution-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-caribbean-a-clean-energy-revolution-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-caribbean-a-clean-energy-revolution-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 19:03:55 +0000 Richard Schiffman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135553 Children in Georgetown, Guyana learn about solar energy during an exhibition. Credit: CREDP

Children in Georgetown, Guyana learn about solar energy during an exhibition. Credit: CREDP

By Richard Schiffman
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Lefties Food Stall, a pint-sized eatery serving Barbados’ signature flying-fish sandwiches, recently became the first snack shack on the Caribbean island to be fitted with a solar panel.

The nearby public shower facility sports a panel as well. So does the bus shelter across the street, the local police station, and scores of gaily coloured houses on the coastal road leading into the capital, Bridgetown.It is time to have a Marshall Plan for clean energy— not to rebuild war-torn nations, but to help protect our abused climate system from further damage.

Like many other small island nations, Barbados has to ship in all of the oil that it uses to produce electricity—making power over four times more costly than it is in the fuel-rich United States.

That high price has proven to be a boon for Barbados’ fledgling solar industry. Nearly half of all homes boast solar water heaters on their roofs, which pay for themselves in lower electric bills in less than two years. Increasingly, industries like the island’s small desalination plant are installing solar arrays to meet a portion of their power needs.

This move to solar is being driven by tax incentives for green businesses and consumers. In an address marking the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) “World Environment Day” in Bridgetown’s Independence Square, Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart recently pledged that the island nation would produce 29 percent of its energy from renewables by the end of the next decade.

That rather conservative goal is still over twice what the United States currently produces with renewables. It won’t be hard to reach. Not only is the island blessed with abundant sunshine, it also has year-round trade winds to run wind turbines, and sugar cane waste—or bagasse—that can be used as a biofuel.

The Barbados government is furthermore looking into harnessing the energy of the tides, as well as introducing ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a technology that employs the temperature difference between cooler deep and warmer shallow sea waters to generate electricity.

Clean energy technologies are slowly making headway throughout the Caribbean. And the nearby United States, the world’s number-one historical emitter of carbon emissions, should pay attention.

A frontline region

Barbados is not alone in the Caribbean in its enthusiasm for green technology.

Aruba is planning a 3.5-MW solar airport, perhaps the largest such project in the world. The Dutch-speaking island has combined wind and solar power with energy efficiency measures to cut its imports of heavy fuel oil in half, saving some 50 million dollars a year.

The volcanic islands of Nevis, Montserrat, and St. Vincent have contracted with Icelandic geothermal companies to conduct exploratory projects to determine how to tap their vast geothermal potential. Meanwhile, mountainous Dominica already meets about half of its energy demand with hydropower.

Caribbean islands don’t just have abundant resources for developing clean energy. They also have compelling reasons to do so. The region is burdened by some of the highest energy costs in the world, which have stunted its industrial development and drained its reserves of foreign exchange.

The islands also have fragile ecosystems like mangrove forests and coral reefs, which are highly vulnerable to oil spills and pollution. And many countries like Barbados depend on tourists, who will flock there only so long as the places remain attractively clean and green.

But the best reason to cut carbon emissions is the danger that these island nations face if climate change proceeds unchecked. And indeed, climate change is already having a big impact. In recent years, lower rainfall in the Eastern Caribbean has posed a threat to agriculture and scarce groundwater supplies.

Sea level rise as well as ocean acidification and warming have killed many protective coral reefs, leading to severe beach erosion. And the hurricane-prone region is being battered by increasingly frequent and powerful storms.

At the World Environment Day event in Bridgetown, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, called climate change “the most serious existential threat in the world today.”

That is certainly true for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Successive storms ripped through the islands in 2010, 2011, and 2012, leading to a yearly loss of up to 17 percent of the developing country’s GDP, as well as destroying hundreds of homes and killing dozens of islanders.

“If my people don’t get flooded out on the coast,” the prime minister observed ruefully, “they will be washed away in landslides.”

Barbados’ prime minister, Freundel Stuart, echoed his counterpart’s sense of urgency. “Since the issue involves our very survival,” Stuart told the crowd, “capitulation is not an option.” Stuart said he believes that the Caribbean should set “a shining example” for the world to follow.

His government recently commissioned a Green Economy Scoping Study, prepared in partnership with UNEP and released in Bridgetown in June, which includes recommendations on how to make the island’s agriculture, fisheries, transportation, and energy systems more sustainable.

It makes sense: these islands are on the front line for climate change’s destructive forces, so they should also be on the front line in cutting their own carbon emissions. They need to demonstrate how seriously they take the threat, as an example to the rest of us.

A Marshall Plan for the Caribbean

Right now, energy production in the Caribbean is anything but sustainable. Venezuela’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez offered many islands long-term loans and concessionary rates for cheaper oil. His successor has done his best to maintain the modest subsidies.

But nobody can say how long this largesse will last, given Venezuela’s current financial crisis, and still less what will happen to already stressed island economies when they are forced to pay full price for crude.

The Caribbean needs to become energy-independent in order to thrive. But overhauling energy infrastructure does not come cheaply. There are knotty technical challenges related to the stability of the grid that few small nations are currently equipped to meet. And the small scale of the demand for electricity on many of the islands makes it hard to attract international investors.

Moreover, countries like Jamaica, St. Kitts-Nevis, Grenada, Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda are saddled with public debts that often exceed their annual GDP. So unlike an industrial powerhouse like Germany, for example, few Caribbean nations are in a position to fully exploit their renewable energy potential.

The big industrial powers that are responsible for the problems of island nations should be lending a helping hand to the folks suffering the most from climate change. Loans from international development banks, as well as technology transfers and training from wealthier countries, would go a long way.

International development banks also need to prime the pump with programmes to encourage prudent investment.

This isn’t charity. By helping islands that are geographically close to the United States go green, Washington won’t just be cutting harmful greenhouse gases for everyone.

It will also create opportunities to learn valuable lessons in overcoming technical challenges—about how, for example, to successfully integrate intermittent inputs from wind and solar into the power grid, a problem that has limited the United States’ own adoption of renewables.

The vulnerable islands of the Caribbean are a perfect laboratory to test solutions on a small scale that can eventually be applied to the far more complex U.S. energy infrastructure.

After World War II, America lent its economic muscle to help rebuild Europe’s shattered economies through the Marshall Plan. It is time to have a Marshall Plan for clean energy— not to rebuild war-torn nations, but to help protect our abused climate system from further damage. The Caribbean, blessed with a wealth of sun, wind, and geothermal energy, is a great place to start.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental writer. He recently traveled to Barbados to attend the World Environment Day celebrations. This story was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Khamenei Remarks Show Both Sides Maneuvre on Enrichment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/khamenei-remarks-show-both-sides-maneuvre-on-enrichment/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 15:44:15 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135516 Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s comments on the nuclear talks Monday provided an unusual glimpse of diplomatic maneuvering by the U.S.-led coalition of five nuclear powers and Germany on the issue of enrichment capability to be allowed in a comprehensive agreement.

But his remarks also suggested that Iran was responding with its own diplomatic maneuvre on the issue. Both sides appear to have put forward demands that they knew were non-starters with the intention of moderating their demands substantially in return for major concessions from the other side.Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

Khamenei described the United States and the P5+1 as demanding initially that Iran’s annual enrichment capability be cut to the equivalent of as few as 500 to 1,000 centrifuges – as little as 2.6 percent percent of its present level of 19,000 centrifuges.

But he also suggested they were now aiming at getting Iran to accept a capability equivalent to the annual production of 10,000 centrifuges on the condition that it would be the final level for the duration of the agreement.

“They seek to make Iran accept 10,000 SWUs, which means the products of 10,000 centrifuges of older type that we already have,” said Khamenei in a speech to an audience that included President Hassan Rouhani. The P5+1 had “started with 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU”, he said, referring to demands advanced by the P5+1 in the negotiations last month.

The Iranian leader’s assertion about the coalition’s position last month is consistent with a statement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jun. 14 that “the West wants to slash the number of centrifuges” that Iran would be allowed to maintain to “several hundred”.

Secretary of State John Kerry had said in April that the U.S. intention was to demand very deep cuts in Iran’s enrichment capability, arguing it was necessary to lengthen the time it would take Iran to turn its uranium enriched to 3.5 percent into enough weapons grade uranium for a single bomb to six to 12 months.

What he did not acknowledge publicly, however, is that such cuts were not necessary to achieve such a lengthening of the “breakout” timeline, because it could be also be accomplished by the reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and measures to avoid the accumulation of a new stockpile.

Iran pledged as part of the interim agreement to begin the process of converting its UF6, the gaseous form of low enriched uranium, into oxide powder, which would not be available for further enrichment without reversing the process. It is now ready to begun operating a new facility specifically devoted to that conversion, according to Reuters.

Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

10,000 SWU would coincide with Iran’s current production capability, based on the 10,000 primitive first generation centrifuges that have been operational. Another 9,000 centrifuges have been installed but have never operated, apparently with the intention of using them as bargaining chips.

In what appears to have been a response to the diplomatic maneuvre by the P5+1, Khamenei announced a new Iranian demand for an increase after 2021 to a level that is nearly twice as high as what independent experts have estimated is necessary to support the Bushehr reactor.

Khamenei identified the level of enrichment capability that Iran’s atomic energy organisation would eventually require as “190,000 SWU”.

A group of Princeton University specialists estimated in a recent article on Iran’s enrichment needs that it would require about 100,000 SWU to produce enough low enriched uranium to provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor – the basis for Iran’s demand for an increase.

Khamenei also made a point of saying that the need was more than five years out, seeming to leave open the possibility that Iran would agree to hold off on adding the additional enrichment capacity he said was needed. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country,” Khamenei said.

The head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, who commented on the issue to various news outlets in Iran Wednesday, also employed a formula that avoided closing the door to negotiations on the question of when Iran would have to begin building more centrifuges. He told the Young Journalists’ Club that 190,000 SWU “is our real need, the most basic need, in an eight-year outlook.”

Salehi’s reference to eight years is related to the fact that the contract with Russia to supply nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor expires in 2021. Iranian officials have said Iran intends to take over the fabrication of fuel for Bushehr at that time, which would require much higher levels of enrichment capability.

Khamenei’s remarks suggest that Iran has adopted its own maneuvre aimed at positioning Iran to negotiate for a much smaller increase after a period of years in which Iran would hold at roughly the present level of operational enrichment capability.

An unnamed U.S. official who briefed reporters Jul. 3 said that the capability for “industrial scale enrichment” – i.e., the capability to provide fuel for Bushehr — “isn’t anything that’s under consideration.”

But the same official also said, “What choices they make after they get to normalcy — that is after a long duration of an agreement, when they will be treated as any other non-nuclear weapons state under the NPT – will of course be their choice.”

The official’s reference to Iran’s freedom to undertake enrichment once the agreement expires raises the question whether the negotiation of the termination date for the agreement could be the vehicle for reaching a compromise on the issue.

U.S. officials have not said anything publicly about the issue of the duration of the agreement. However, Robert Einhorn, whose long paper for the Brookings Institution published Mar. 31 was widely regarded as reflecting Obama administration thinking, said the United States wanted the comprehensive agreement to last “about twenty years”.

Iranian statements appear to rule out agreeing to any duration of more than five to eight years.

Another way to bridge the large gap between the two sides in the final days of the negotiation, however, may be to agree on a provision for review and adjustment of the level of enrichment capacity allowable under the agreement that would come shortly before the expiration of the Russian contract in 2021. Einhorn suggested such a review process for different provisions of the agreement.

Reviewing the longer-term level of Iranian enrichment after several years would allow Iran to demonstrate that it has not pursued a “breakout” capability by drawing down its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and not allowing a new stockpile to accumulate. That is what Iran’s proposal is aimed at doing, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IPS in an interview last month.

Especially if the trend toward U.S. and Iran interests in relation to jihadist forces in the Middle East continues to develop during that period, a future administration might be far more willing to ease the present political restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in the final years of the agreement.

Whether the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will continue to hold sway over Congress would remain a crucial question governing the politics of the issue, however.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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Shea Harvesting Good for Income, Bad for the Environment in Ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shea-harvesting-good-for-income-bad-for-the-environment-in-ghana/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:14:43 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135472 40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

40-year-old Alima Asigri stands by a shea tree with logs ready to be transported for processing into charcoal. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
TAMALE, Ghana, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

The shea tree, a traditional African food plant, represents a major source of income for women in Ghana’s Northern, Upper West and Upper East regions, but they are helping to destroy the very resource that gives them money by cutting it down to produce charcoal.

An estimated 900,000 rural women are involved in the shea sector in northern Ghana, mostly collecting the tree’s fruit to transform it into butter. Shea butter production contributes about 18 million dollars annually to the country’s economy.

One such woman is 40-year-old Alima Asigri from Bagrugu, a community in the Karaka district of the northern region of Ghana, who, together with her four children, is fully engaged in the harvesting of shea fruit which she turns into butter for eating and cooking because it is rich in vitamins A, E and F. The butter is also used as a body cream.

On average, the family produces more than 20 kg of butter every two weeks during the peak season from April to August, earning 1,100 cedi (394 dollars) which go towards the family’s upkeep and the children’s educational needs.“Sometimes I think about how fast the resource [shea] is depleting but I have no income-generating venture other than that. It’s my livelihood, especially during the off-farming season” – Alima Asigri

Today, the shea tree is increasingly being used for its wood and not its fruit. “We also cut shea trees and process its wood into charcoal. The charcoal business is booming because of buyer demand for charcoal from shea trees rather than ordinary trees. They believe it is robust, lasts longer and is cheaper than liquefied petroleum gas (LPG),” Asigri explained.

A United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report on ‘Woodfuel Use in Ghana: An Outlook for the Future’, indicated that about 69 percent of all urban households in Ghana use charcoal for cooking and heating, and the annual per capita consumption is around 180 kg.

According to the report, total annual consumption is about 700,000 tonnes, 30 percent of which is consumed in the country’s capital Accra. Fuel wood accounts for about 71 percent of total primary energy supply and about 60 percent of final energy demand. An estimated 2.2 million families depend on charcoal for household chores and some 600,000 small-scale enterprises depend on fuel wood or charcoal as their main sources of energy.

However, this is taking its toll on the country’s trees. In an interview with IPS, Iddi Zakaria, Coordinator of Shea Network Ghana (SNG) recalled that some 40 years ago in the Salaga district of the Northern Region, shea trees covered the entire area but now, due to constant usage and no conscious attempt  to replant, the natural resource has been depleted.

“It used to be a taboo to cut shea and other economic trees. One needed to seek permission from the chief’s palace before, but it’s different now”, he said.

He noted that a recent study by the Savanna Alliance research company had revealed that Act 571, which established the Forestry Commission of Ghana as a corporate body and mandated the commission to protect and regulate the utilisation of forest and timber resources, failed to include shea, dawadawa and baobab trees.

“The policy and institutional shortfall in the management and conservation of the sector has led to continued harvesting of shea trees indiscriminately for fuel wood and charcoal,” Zakaria told IPS, adding that even though laudable efforts are being made by stakeholders to reap the benefits from the shea sector, the future sustainability of the raw material is questionable.

“What players are asking of government are legal reforms to protect resources,” he said.

Ebenezer Djaney Djagletey, Northern Regional Director of the Forestry Commission confirmed that shea trees are not among the protected tree species listed in the forestry regulations.

Djagletey said that he was concerned about the depletion of resources due to activities such as infrastructure development, sand weaning, bush burning and farming, all of which involve the clearing of vegetation.

“Some 80 out of 100 sacks of charcoal produced are from the shea tree, the other 20 come from the neem tree and the dawadawa tree, the fruit of which is used as a cooking spice”, he said.

To discourage people from using charcoal and other fuel wood, the Ghanaian government has announced plans to distribute 50,000 six-kilogramme gas cylinders and cooking stoves to some rural areas under its Rural Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Promotion programme. According to

Ghana’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum Armah Kofi Buah, 1,500 cylinders have already been delivered.

However, Collins Kyei Boafoh, an outreach specialist with ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) described the government policy as a “bad” policy and expressed scepticism about the initiative because of periodic increases in the price of LPG.

“The question is who refills the gas cylinder when it is finished. It cost about 10 cedi (3.59 dollars) to buy gas and relatively few rural folk have enough money and will opt for charcoal or fuel wood instead of gas,” he said.

He advises the government and development partners to support women with alternative livelihood skills, such as soap-making, and build more shea processing centres with guaranteed prices for shea butter to reduce the charcoal business.

Alima Asigri in Bagrugu could be one of the women to benefit if such support were to materialise and she is already aware of the harm her activity is causing to the environment.

“Sometimes I think about how fast the resource is depleting but I have no income-generating venture other than that. It’s my livelihood, especially during the off-farming season,” she told IPS. “Besides, thanks to the shea business, I have been able to educate my first son through university education and he’s now doing his further studies in Belgium.”

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U.S. Overseas Coal Financing May Be Restarting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-overseas-coal-financing-may-be-restarting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-overseas-coal-financing-may-be-restarting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-overseas-coal-financing-may-be-restarting/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 21:51:58 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135416 Mauritians protest against the construction of a 100-megawatt (MW) coal power plant in Pointe-aux-Caves, on the west of the island. They say the project will cause irreparable damage to them and the environment of this Indian Ocean island nation. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Mauritians protest against the construction of a 100-megawatt (MW) coal power plant in Pointe-aux-Caves, on the west of the island. They say the project will cause irreparable damage to them and the environment of this Indian Ocean island nation. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Landmark new policies that have sharply curtailed U.S. financing for international coal projects may be rolled back, the result of a sudden, polarised fight over a little-known government agency here.

The debate revolves around an entity called the Export-Import Bank, which for much of the past century has made federal money available to promote U.S. exports.

In December, as part of President Barack Obama’s government-wide push to enact federal policies to counter global climate change, the bank voted to significantly limit its financing of overseas coal projects, unless they put in place expensive “carbon capture” technology to store emissions underground."To even have [the Ex-Im Bank] consider this coal project is an example of them going rogue – directly flouting restrictions they never supported in the first place.” -- Justin Guay

Multiple countries and international financial institutions have subsequently followed this model to put in place their own guidelines on energy-related funding.

“When it came to direct U.S. support, that policy change ended our ability to finance new coal plants, except in rare circumstances,” Justin Guay, a Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“That was a historic step in curbing financing of the dirtiest and most outdated sources of energy. It was also one of the most significant pieces of progress we’ve had from this administration on fossil fuels.”

The agency did make exceptions for the poorest countries, however, allowing U.S. financing of coal projects in these countries if they use whatever is deemed the cleanest technology available. This loophole may now be significantly expanded to include many more countries, as part of a largely unrelated fight.

In recent months, conservative lawmakers here have seized on the institution, known as the Ex-Im Bank, as an example of government waste and corporate cronyism, given its role in subsidising certain U.S. businesses. The bank’s multi-year authorisation from the U.S. Congress needs to be renewed by the end of September, and in recent weeks a furious campaign has built around whether that approval should go forward.

On the chopping block may be the new coal policies, offered as a sweetener to draw back conservative lawmakers in favour of re-approving the Ex-Im Bank.

Coal compromise

Leading bipartisan compromise proposals in both the U.S. House and Senate would now see the bank’s authorisation extended for several more years but would also largely gut the coal policy, according to multiple reports.

“If we are truly committed to protecting our global environment, the U.S. should lead the world in clean coal technology and export that technology to the rest of the world,” Joe Manchin, a key lawmaker in charge of oversight for the Ex-Im Bank, said in a statement last week.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat from a coal-rich state, has reportedly proposed significantly expanding the number of poor countries that would be eligible for Ex-Im assistance around coal projects. Similar proposals are being worked on in the House of Representatives, though none of these have yet been made public.

Other lawmakers, too, have recently switched their views on the bank’s reauthorisation due to political pressures around coal. Presumably, a change on this issue could woo them to back the agency once again.

“[I]t is inappropriate to use the bank’s financing mechanisms to drive an ideological agenda rather than promote U.S. exports,” Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican in the House, said recently. “The administration’s policies come at a time when we should be ensuring the United States is leading the world in developing new coal plant technologies.”

Still, for some of the Ex-Im Bank’s most ardent critics, the attempt to link the agency’s re-authorisation to a weakening in its coal policies is not working.

“The Obama administration’s targeting of coal is absurd, but it is not important in the debate over the Export-Import Bank,” Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group, told IPS.

“While some lawmakers and special interest groups want to talk about coal, the real issue is whether the Bank’s charter deserves to be authorized at all. Heritage Action believes it should be allowed to expire.”

‘Rogue’ actions

The Ex-Im Bank’s new restrictions around coal would likely have a significant impact on overall U.S. support for such projects worldwide.

Of the agency’s massive budget – this year, 32 billion dollars – around a quarter consists of energy-related lending. And while assistance for coal projects has gone up and down over time, during some years the agency has offered some two billion dollars in financing for the industry.

That’s been seen by some as a misalignment of priorities: even as coal plants in the United States have been shutting down around tightened carbon regulation, the U.S. government has continued to finance more and more such projects overseas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ex-Im Bank’s new coal policy was controversial from the start – not only among some lawmakers but also, reportedly, among the agency’s management. Just weeks after the new requirements were voted in, lawmakers were able to pass a little-noticed legal provision that temporarily stayed the change through September.

The bank, meanwhile, has used this interlude to begin consideration of a massive and contentious coal-fired power plant in Jharkhand, in northeastern India. That development was announced at the beginning of this month.

“The Bank is in the process of conducting a full due diligence review of the financial, technical and environmental aspects of the project,” Stevan M. Horning, a spokesperson for the agency, told IPS. He confirmed that, because of the recent legal wrangling, “no analysis is being performed with respect to the … project’s compliance with” the new coal guidelines, though it will be reviewed for the agency’s pre-existing safeguards.

Horning noted that no decision would be forthcoming on the project, known as Tilaiya, until next month at the earliest.

Environmental advocates, meanwhile, say the Ex-Im Bank is operating on its own, disregarding President Obama’s climate priorities.

“President Obama pushed for this new rule over the agency’s objections, and now we’re seeing them openly defy the president’s actions,” the Sierra Club’s Guay says.

“The agency operates under the president’s administration and is part of the push to fulfil his agenda. So to even have them consider this coal project is an example of them going rogue – directly flouting restrictions they never supported in the first place.”

He continues: “The administration and Congress will have to actively rein them in.”

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At the Crucial Nexus of Water and Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/at-the-crucial-nexus-of-water-and-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-crucial-nexus-of-water-and-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/at-the-crucial-nexus-of-water-and-energy/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135406 Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Global institutions are still in the learning phase when it comes to successfully managing water and energy in an integrated manner as part of the quest for sustainable development.

According to World Bank official Daryl Fields, understanding the water-energy nexus is critical for addressing growth and human development, urbanisation and climate change, but many policy-makers are finding it challenging to transform this concept into a reality."There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it." -- Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi

Fields, who is also a Technical Committee member of the Global Water Partnership, was speaking at a recent meeting of the GWP Consulting Partners, held in Trinidad for the first time.

“We are left with a lot of opportunities and many questions and a fair amount of work to do,” she said.

According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, “Climate change is also likely to aggravate pressure on resources and so add to the vulnerability of people and ecosystems, particularly in water scarce and [water] marginal regions.”

Fields said “network” was a more appropriate term than “nexus” because of the many linkages involved and the mutual dependence of energy and water. Energy affects water quality through discharges and effluence, as well as through its impact on the reliability of water supply and the cost of maintaining that supply, because energy is needed to pump water to consumers.

On the other hand, she said, water quality affects the ability to provide energy. As an example, she cited a hydropower plant in India whose equipment suffered erosion because of sediment in the water used by its turbines. As well, there was the issue of salinisation.

Hence, she said, there is “a virtuous cycle. You reduce the need for water and you reduce the need for energy.”

She said that the challenge of managing water and energy in an integrated fashion was compounded by the extreme differences between the two. Those working in the two industries often spoke different “languages”, had different perspectives and a different way of looking at things.

Stressing the urgent water challenges facing nations, Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi, chair of the GWP Technical Committee, pointed out that water-scarce regions now account for about 36 percent of the global population and 22 percent of global GDP. He said demand for water had grown 600 times during the 21st century.

“Good water management is important to [sustainable] growth and for building resilience to climate change,” he said. “There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it.”

Nevertheless, GWP’s experience in Africa shows that water managers are finding practical, yet simple solutions to the water crisis, while taking into account the energy needs of communities.

Andrew Takawira, senior programme officer, GWP-Africa, Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP) Coordination Unit, was in Trinidad for the conference and shared with IPS the work GWP-Africa is doing to successfully integrate water management with energy needs.

The WACDEP programme in Africa comprises Tunisia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It seeks to ensure that water issues and the capacity to deal with climate change issues that affect water within those countries are strengthened.

Takawira told IPS that in the Lake Cyhoha catchment, a basin shared by Burundi and Rwanda, people were cutting down trees for fuel, leading to deforestation that adversely affected the watershed.

WACDEP created a buffer zone around the watershed by planting trees, and with the help of partners in the two countries provided alternative sources of energy for the people in the area, namely, more fuel-efficient stoves and biogas digesters.

He said his organisation realised that water management requires a broad-based approach to meet the vital needs a community may have.

“They still need the energy. We are learning that you have to go broader. That is why it is important to tackle water, food and energy issues together. What you want to do as water managers is ensure the watersheds are managed properly. [But] if you tell them to stop cutting trees, what are they going to cook with?”

He cited a second example showing the interconnection of water and energy. In Cameroon, people wanted to be close to the river to easily access water, which created problems like siltation and reduction of plant coverage. Those problems could become disastrous in times of flood or drought.

Takawira explained that intensive activity near the riverbank loosens the soil and causes siltation. Siltation in turn reduces the amount of water stored in river dams, which would prove detrimental during times of drought.

Moving people away from the river is important for dealing with floods also, he explained, since occupation of river banks tends to reduce the vegetation that slows down and absorbs flood waters.

To deal with the problem, WACDEP in Africa encouraged the Cameroonians to move farther inland by providing them with pipes so that they could easily get water. However, energy was needed to move the water through the pipes and so the organization also provided solar energy to pump the water to people’s properties.

Takawira said WACDEP in Africa was “delivering on the ground” as far as working with communities and government institutions to ensure water security and reduce vulnerabilities to climate variability and change.

GWP-C’s Dr. Natalie Boodram said GWP in the Caribbean had learnt much from the experiences of their partners in Africa, since there were many similarities in the two regions’ situation. She said GWP-C had particularly benefited from learning about the capacity-building strategy of GWP-Africa.

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U.S. Demand for Deep Centrifuge Cut Is a Diplomatic Ploy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-demand-for-deep-centrifuge-cut-is-a-diplomatic-ploy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-demand-for-deep-centrifuge-cut-is-a-diplomatic-ploy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-demand-for-deep-centrifuge-cut-is-a-diplomatic-ploy/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 01:24:23 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135302 P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

With only a few weeks remaining before the Jul. 20 deadline, the Barack Obama administration issued a warning to Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges in order to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have argued that such cuts are necessary to increase the “breakout” time – the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade level to build a single bomb – from what is said to be two to three months at present to as long as a year or even more.Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

Tehran has made it clear that it will not accept such a demand. Dismantling the vast majority of the centrifuges that Iran had installed is a highly symbolic issue, and the political cost of acceptance would be extremely high.

But a closer examination of the issues under negotiation suggests that the ostensible pressure on Iran is part of a strategy aimed at extracting concessions from Iran on the issue of its longer-term enrichment capability.

The Obama administration has been aware from the beginning of the talks that the “breakout” period could be lengthened to nearly a year without requiring the removal of most of the 10,000 centrifuges that have been used over the past two and a half years.

U.S. officials were well aware that reducing the amount of low enriched uranium and oxide powder now stockpiled by Iran to close to zero and avoiding any future accumulation would have the same effect – and that Iran was willing to accept such restrictions.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Olli Heinonen, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general for Safeguards, warned in a Jun. 3 article against a deal that would allow Iran to have more than 4,000 centrifuges in return for reducing its stocks of UF6 and oxide powder (UO2).

But they acknowledged that, if the Iranian LEU stockpile were reduced from the present level of 8,475 kg to 1,000 kilogrammes, the breakout time for 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges would be six months. And if the stockpile were reduced to zero, the breakout time would increase to close to a year, according to one of the graphs accompanying the article.

Experts from the Department of Energy as well as from the intelligence community certainly briefed policymakers on the fact that lengthening the breakout timeline to between six and 12 months could be achieved through reducing either centrifuges or the stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), according to Steve Fetter, who was assistant director at large for the White House Office of Science and Technology from 2009-12.

Eliminating the existing LEU stockpile and avoiding any further accumulation is the intent of an Iranian proposal formally handed over to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Istanbul last month. Under that proposal, which Zarif revealed in an interview with IPS in Tehran Jun. 3, Iran would convert all UF6 to Uranium oxide powder (U02) and then convert the U02 to fuel plates for Bushehr.

Iran has expressed the desire to fabricate fuel plates for Bushehr itself, but has not yet mastered the technology. The proposal would therefore involve shipping either UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent or the U02 to Russia for conversion into fuel plates until the expiration of the contract with Russia for fuel fabrication for Bushehr expires in 2021.

In the interim agreement, Iran committed to begin converting UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent to oxide powder as soon as its line for such conversion became operational. The Enriched U02 Powder Plant began operating in May, but the time required to reduce the existing stockpile to zero will depend on the capacity of the plant, which has not been announced.

Zarif told IPS he had unveiled the basic idea underlying the Iranian proposal in his PowerPoint presentation to European officials in Geneva in mid-October.

When Secretary of State John Kerry declared in April that he would demand a major increase in the existing “breakout” period to somewhere between to six and 12 months, therefore, he had good reason to believe that Washington could achieve that objective without cutting Iran’s centrifuges to a few thousand.

An agreement to freeze the existing level of 10,000 operating centrifuges while reducing the LEU stockpile to zero could place the 9,000 centrifuges that have never been operated in storage under IAEA seal. Those used centrifuges include 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges that are estimated to be three to five times more efficient than the IR-1 model.

Iran’s policy of introducing thousands of centrifuges into the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities that were never used was aimed at accumulating negotiating chips for eventual negotiations on its nuclear programme.

In late August 2012, a senior U.S. official told the New York Times that Iran was being “very strategic” by “creating tremendous [enrichment] capacity,” but “not using it.” In doing so, the official said, Iran was acquiring “leverage” – obviously referring to future negotiations.

During the round of negotiations in Vienna in June, however, the draft tabled by the P5+1 apparently called for cuts going well beyond what U.S. officials knew would be acceptable to Iran. U.S. officials told the New York Times that the objective was now to lengthen the “breakout period” to more than a year – thus going beyond what Kerry had suggested in April.

The draft may have included an even more extreme demand from the French government. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared in mid-June that the West wants to cut the number of centrifuges to “several hundred”.

After the June round of negotiations, Zarif denounced the draft as containing “excessive demands” which Iran would not accept.

But those demands appear to be a negotiating ploy in which the U.S. would give up the demand for deep short-term reductions centrifuges in the coming years in return for Iranian concessions on the level of enrichment capability to be allowed in the later stage of the agreement.

The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action provided that the future enrichment programme would depend on Iran’s “practical needs”. Iran interprets that term to include the need to be self-reliant in providing reactor fuel for Bushehr, whereas the Obama administration argues that Iran can and should rely on Russia or other foreign suppliers.

Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements Iran had negotiated with French and German firms in the 1980s and with Russia in 2005, however, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

The “practical need” criterion suggests that Iran would have to provide concrete evidence of its need and ability to provide the fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor when the current contract with Russia expires in 2021.

Postponing the negotiations over that issue until a date much closer to 2021 would offer a period of a few years to negotiate an agreement on a regional fuel consortium for the Middle East that would be acceptable to both sides, as has been proposed by a group of Princeton University scientists and scholars.

Perhaps even more important, such a postponement would allow for increasing trust through the successful implementation of the agreement covering the next few years.

Explaining the Princeton group’s plan at a briefing in Washington, D.C. last week, nuclear scientist Frank N. von Hippel, who was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology in the Bill Clinton administration, said, “We would have five years to cool down this impasse.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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Siberian Global Warming Meets Lukewarm Reaction in Russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/siberian-global-warming-meets-lukewarm-reaction-in-russia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=siberian-global-warming-meets-lukewarm-reaction-in-russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/siberian-global-warming-meets-lukewarm-reaction-in-russia/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 11:45:03 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135112 Climate change will cause the Siberian permafrost to thaw. Credit: Softpedia/Celsias

Climate change will cause the Siberian permafrost to thaw. Credit: Softpedia/Celsias

By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Jun 21 2014 (IPS)

People in Siberia must prepare to face frequent repeats of recent devastating floods as well as other natural disasters, scientists and ecologists are warning, amid growing evidence of the effects of global warming on one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.

More than 50,000 people were affected by floods in the Altai region and Khakassia and Altai republics in southern Siberia at the end of May and early June. These came just over half a year since the worst floods in Siberia in living memory.

But while floods caused by snowmelt are not uncommon to Siberia, these most recent ones were caused by excessive rainfall – a phenomenon global warming is expected to make much more frequent in future.As the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas producer behind the United States, India and China, and with a fossil fuel-intensive economy which the government is desperate to boost, Russia has historically been far from the vanguard of global environmental policy reform.

Vladimir Galakhov, a physical geography professor at Altai University in Siberia, told IPS: “Although many people think the recent floods were caused by snow melting, it was actually intense rainfall. We had two months’ rain in one week. Weather models for the next two decades forecast a 10 percent rise in rainfall volumes, so we can expect more flooding in the future.”

Siberia is home to some of the richest diversity of flora and fauna in the world, including endangered species such as the Amur tiger. It is also one of the coldest places on earth, with average temperatures in most parts just under zero degrees Celsius and often much lower.

But scientific studies in the last decade have shown that parts of Siberia are warming more quickly than any other part of the world – something pointed out again in the wake of the floods by local meteorologists.

Professor Valentin Meleshko, a meteorologist and former head of the St Petersburg-based Voyeikov Geophysical Observatory, told Russian media last month after the flooding that rapid temperature rises were having a “significant” impact on Siberia.

“All forecasts from complex [weather and climate change forecast] models show that Siberia will get more precipitation, mostly in winter, when more snow will accumulate.

“It will naturally melt in spring and this melting snow will put more water into rivers, and the floods in Siberia will be more intense than before.”

But warming is not only expected to increase flooding. According to experts such as Alexei Kokorin, head of the WWF Russia climate division, it poses other serious threats.

He told IPS that the size of Siberia meant that different areas will be affected in different ways: east and south-east Siberia in the area of the Amur River will see more frequent heavy rains and a monsoon climate while southern Siberia near Mongolia will see increasing desertification leading to water supply problems and disappearing pastures to provide feeding grounds for animals.

Meanwhile, in northern Siberia, the melting of permafrost will destroy existing infrastructure. This also threatens to drastically worsen climate change as vast amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – are trapped in the frozen ground and if released into the atmosphere in large amounts would accelerate global warming.

“Siberia will maybe not be the very worst affected area in the world by global warming, but some parts of it will be heavily affected,” Kokorin told IPS.

Ecological groups have been warning of these risks for years and appealing to Russian authorities to take action.

But the Russian political response to global warming has been characterised largely by apparent ambivalence.

As the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas producer behind the United States, India and China, and with a fossil fuel-intensive economy which the government is desperate to boost, Russia has historically been far from the vanguard of global environmental policy reform.

But some experts believe that the general government ambivalence to climate change is driven by the fact that Russia potentially stands to be one of the biggest geopolitical gainers from climate change.

Although a highly resource-rich nation, vast reserves of fossil fuels in Russia are under either ice or frozen permafrost. Higher temperatures could make it easier to access these and other enormous quantities of valuable ores and minerals as well as changing huge areas of land from being uninhabitable to fit for agricultural production or other use.

Arctic ice melt driven by global warming is also expected to soon provide an almost year-round open sea passage north of the country which Russia could exploit, allowing tens of millions of tons more of goods to be transported annually.

Some officials have publicly said that they view global warming positively. In an interview last year, Rinat Gizatullin, an official at the Russian Natural Resources Ministry, told the BBC: “We are not panicking. Global warming is not as catastrophic for us as it might be for some other countries. If anything, we’ll be even better off.”

Against this backdrop, the Russian scientific community is divided on climate change. While some, including senior state meteorologists, have in the past spoken publically of the threat from climate change to Russia, others are more reticent on the issue and refuse to openly acknowledge global warming as a phenomenon.

Raisa Buzunova, a hydrometeorologist from Kemerovo in western Siberia, told IPS that while temperatures had been rising constantly for years in parts of Siberia, the result of which was now extended summers, this was not evidence of global warming.

She told IPS: “We are not talking about a sudden change in climate or global warming, but only periodic temperature fluctuations. A stabilisation of temperatures in Siberia is expected by 2020.”

Many others say that global warming has actually peaked and that world temperatures will actually begin falling in a few years and then stabilising.

However, local ecologists say that the evidence is irrefutable, pointing to events such as the record wildfire season in 2012 in Siberia amid an unusually warm summer, as well as the worst floods on record last autumn, an exceptionally mild winter just passed, as well as a record warm spring and the recent floods.

Mikhail Gunykin from the Moscow-based pan-Russian Ecodelo ecological network, told IPS: “In Russia, as in the rest of the world, what we have seen in recent years is increasingly frequent natural disasters as a result of the way humans treat ecosystems.”

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Q&A: “Fukushima Accident Still Ongoing After Three Years” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/qa-fukushima-accident-still-ongoing-after-three-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-fukushima-accident-still-ongoing-after-three-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/qa-fukushima-accident-still-ongoing-after-three-years/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 14:29:51 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135100

Fabíola Ortiz interviews MYCLE SCHNEIDER, nuclear energy consultant

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 20 2014 (IPS)

It has been three years since the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan. But the consequences are still ongoing due to continuous leaks of radioactivity into the environment, says independent nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider.

In 1997 Schneider won the Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize, for alerting the world about the risks posed by the use of plutonium. He was appointed a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), based at Princeton University, in 2007.

According to the scientist, the trend nowadays is towards fewer and fewer nuclear power plants operating worldwide. Instead of a renaissance, he says, the world is facing a decline in the use of this source of energy.

In this interview with IPS, Schneider also commented on the initiative Brazil and Argentina are developing as part of their mutual cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. In his opinion, it has the potential to be adapted in critical regions like the Middle East.

Q: What is the global situation of nuclear power as a source of energy?

A: The situation of the commercial use of nuclear energy is quite different from public perception. If one looks at the number of nuclear reactors operating in the world, the peak with the highest number of machines operating was back in 2002, twelve years ago. There were 444 nuclear reactors at that time.

Independent nuclear  energy consultant Mycle Schneider says nuclear power is actually in decline. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Independent nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider says nuclear power is actually in decline. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Now we’re standing at around 400. Officially there are 48 reactors operating in Japan but none of these is generating electricity. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to list all of these reactors as in operation.

So in reality, there is a significant decline. In Europe the peak was already in 1988, 25 years ago, where 177 reactors were operating at that time and now there are only 131 left – 46 units less.

We are not in the context of a so-called renaissance; we are facing a decline. The share of nuclear power in electricity generation worldwide peaked in 1993, 20 years ago. It was 17 percent then and is around 10 percent today. The trend is clearly towards a decrease in operating nuclear power plants.

Q: What are the lessons three years after the Fukushima accident?

A: Public opinion throughout the world was very much influenced by Fukushima. The use of this source of energy lost acceptance, in Asia much more than in other regions. In Europe as well with very large differences between countries, for example, in Switzerland enormously, in the UK a lot less, and in Germany the opposition was very much established. It changed a lot of things in countries like China and South Korea because those countries are much closer to Japan.

Society has operated nuclear power plants on a very simple equation: a very large danger potential multiplied with a very low probability of events equals acceptable risk. That equation blew up in Fukushima;people realised that low probability does not necessarily mean no event, zero risk.

The lesson, the most fundamental to be learned for society, is to reduce the danger potential in the first place. The energy contained in liquid natural gas tankers, for example, is just unbelievable: in terms of pure energy, it can be equivalent to over two times the Nagasaki bomb in one tanker. It is very unlikely that it will explode, but even if the risk was only 10 percent, the kind of damage that it could do is beyond imagination. And these bombs are all over the place.

Q: What did Fukushima represent regarding the safety of nuclear plants?

A: People think Fukushima was the worst case, but it was not. It can become much worse, it is not over. This accident is ongoing, it has been for three years. There are continuous leaks of radioactivity in the environment because the radioactive inventory is not stabilised.

It’s an unprecedented event in complexity, in size and in consequences. The biggest problem is that the methodology chosen by Tepco [the utility that operated the plant that melted down during the Mar. 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami] and the Japanese government appears inappropriate. We see that after three years the situation is very far from being stabilised.

The amount of radioactivity that has gone into water that was leaked into the basements is estimated to be roughly three times the amount of radioactivity released during the [1986] Chernobyl accident. This issue is vastly underestimated.

Q: Brazil and Argentina are developing a partnership of mutual cooperation in the nuclear field. How do you see this initiative?

A: Nuclear power in South America is insignificant for electricity generation and contributes only five percent in Argentina and three percent in Brazil.

The Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), that is focusing on non-proliferation issues, is technically difficult to assess from the outside, but it seems ABACC is staffed with 100 inspectors. That is a lot compared to the number of facilities to be inspected.

It is a very interesting initiative. We have discussed the possibilities of adapting this kind of approach to other regions, for example in the Middle East, which is one of the problematic regions.

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Picture the World as a Desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/picture-world-desert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=picture-world-desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/picture-world-desert/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 23:30:44 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135054 Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2014 (IPS)

Try to imagine an expanse of barren land, stretching for miles, with no trace of greenery, not a single bough to cast a sliver of shade, or a trickle of water to moisten the parched earth. Now imagine that desert expanding by 12 million hectares a year. Why? Because it’s already happening.

Studies show that 24 billion tons of fertile soils are being eroded each year, while two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Dry lands in sub-Saharan Africa alone are set to increase by 15 percent in the next decade.

Globally, some 1.5 billion people stand on the edge of an arid precipice, their lands, lives and livelihoods threatened by an encroaching dust bowl.

It is against this backdrop that the United Nations marks the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), complete with sombre warnings from some of its highest-level officials.

“With the world population rising, it is urgent we work to build the resilience of all productive land resources and the communities that depend on them,” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon stressed in a message delivered from Bonn, Germany, Tuesday.

“A good example of ecosystem-based adaptation can be seen in Niger, where farmer-managed natural regeneration has brought back five million hectares of land." -- Louise Baker, senior adviser on partnership building and resource mobilisation with the UNCCD
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is predicting a 50-percent increase in demand for food by 2050, even while scientists warn that yields of major crops like wheat, rice and maize could decline by 20 percent in the coming decade due to hotter temperatures.

Scarcities of staple products could lead to the absorption of more land for industrialised agriculture, which has proven itself to be a major driver of global warming, directly accounting for 15 to 30 percent of carbon and methane emissions worldwide, which in turn feed desertification.

Red-flagging these many converging and interconnected crises, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) assigned WDCD 2014 the theme ‘Land Belongs to the Future – Let’s Climate Proof it.’

Ecosystem-based adaptation

Thirty-five percent of the earth’s surface is comprised of drylands, including savannahs, scrublands and dry forests, which collectively sequester 36 percent of the world’s carbon stocks and support 50 percent of all livestock.

These naturally occurring drylands provide excellent examples for regenerating or remediating degraded soil and have inspired a solution to desertification known as ecosystem-based adaptation, which aims to “strengthen natural systems to cushion the worst impacts of climate change.”

“A good example of ecosystem-based adaptation can be seen in Niger, where farmer-managed natural regeneration has brought back five million hectares of land,” Louise Baker, senior adviser on partnership building and resource mobilisation with the UNCCD, told IPS.

“Small changes in land use techniques – such as terracing, or the installation of water harvesting tanks – can make a big difference to the land a person owns and works,” she added.

Investment Versus Innovation

While the Bank’s officials have called repeatedly for increased investment and financing to tackle climate change and build resilience to future shocks, UNCCD’s Baker believes that simple realignment of existing funds and land management techniques could play an even bigger role.

“Soil alone could help sequester up to three billion tons of carbon a year, representing up to a third of potential mitigation capacity that can be achieved by simply changing how we manage the land and soil,” she told IPS.

“There are approximately two billion hectares of degraded land around the world with the capacity to be brought back, and about 480 million hectares of abandoned agricultural land that could be returned to production – not through additional investment but a realignment of priorities.

“For instance, investment in fertiliser use may be important; but if we invested instead in incentives to improve sustainable land management we would be able to get carbon back into the soil and help populations become more resilient to climate change rather than rely on fertilised production.

“It’s a matter of realigning funding flows so that you power adaptation by nature, rather than try and buy it,” she concluded.
“After that it’s up to governments and larger land owners to connect those dots and create a mosaic of land uses that, together, constitute quite a resilient package.”

At a ceremony held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC Tuesday, the UNCCD awarded its prestigious Land for Life Award to two organisations working to combat desertification through ecosystem adaptation in local communities.

Hailing from central Afghanistan’s arid Bamyan province, the Conservation Organisation for Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM) has eased pressure on the region’s vulnerable rangelands by 50 percent through tireless efforts to plant trees, provide green technology solutions to over 300 villages and create gravity-fed irrigation systems.

And in Mongolia – 78 percent of which is affected by desertification – the Green Asia Network (GAN) has mobilised its 25,000-strong volunteer army to plant trees all across the arid landscape. Climate refugees who once left Mongolia’s desertified regions have returned as GAN volunteers to a place they scarcely recognise beneath its newfound greenery.

Scores of people gathered at the World Bank to recognise the achievements of these dedicated individuals and press for similar action at the international level.

Preaching conservation, practicing investment

But some activists say the World Bank itself is partly to blame for the conjoined problems of climate change, food insecurity and desertification, by pushing its agenda of large-scale agriculture and mono-crop plantations on the developing world.

A campaign called ‘Our Land, Our Business’, launched jointly by the Oakland Institute (OI) together with a host of NGOs and farmer organisations from around the world, seeks to “hold the World Bank accountable for its role in the rampant theft of land and resources from some of the world’s poorest people – farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, who are currently feeding 80 percent of the developing world,” according to a Mar. 31 press release.

The advocacy groups blame the Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ rankings – scored according to Washington officials’ opinions on how “easy” it is to work in a certain country – for forcing heads of developing states to relax environmental regulations, violate labour laws and deregulate their economies in the hope of attracting foreign investment.

And investment in the global South, according to OI’s policy director Frederic Mousseau, “is mostly about agriculture and the extraction of natural resources.”

“Thanks to reforms and policies guided by the Bank,” charged OI, “Sierra Leone has taken 20 percent of its arable land from rural populations and leased it to foreign sugar cane and palm oil producers.

“And in Liberia, British, Malaysian, and Indonesian palm-oil giants have secured long-term leases for over 1.5 million acres of land formerly held by local communities,” the organisation added.

“These policies are the exact opposite of what we need to combat desertification,” Mousseau told IPS, “which can only be achieved through diversification of agriculture, afro-forestry, inter-cropping, and other techniques practiced by small farmers.”

“In Mali, for instance, small farmers living around the Niger River are seeking government support to practice traditional agriculture on the riverbank. Instead the government has given 500,000 hectares of the most fertile land to 22 foreign and domestic investors for the production of agro-fuels and mono-crops,” he added.

“This is a country where the World Bank has been very active, implementing policies that benefit foreign investors while eating up Mali’s resources.”

Until these policies are dealt with on a macro-level, local efforts at adaptation and mitigation do not stand much of a chance at success.

(END)

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Natural Gas – Both Crisis and Solution in Chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/natural-gas-crisis-solution-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=natural-gas-crisis-solution-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/natural-gas-crisis-solution-chile/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 21:26:03 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135027 Aerial view of the Mejillones Liquefied Natural Gas (GNLM) regasification terminal in northern Chile, the biggest of its kind in Latin America and one of the biggest in the world. Credit: Courtesy of GNLM

Aerial view of the Mejillones Liquefied Natural Gas (GNLM) regasification terminal in northern Chile, the biggest of its kind in Latin America and one of the biggest in the world. Credit: Courtesy of GNLM

By Marianela Jarroud
MEJILLONES, Chile , Jun 16 2014 (IPS)

In April 2004, Argentina began to steadily cut natural gas exports to neighbouring Chile, triggering a major energy crisis and revealing structural problems in this vital sector.

Ten years later, a regasification plant which converts liquefied natural gas (LNG) back to natural gas in the port of Mejillones, 1,400 km north of Santiago, apparently goes a long way towards solving the energy problems in the north of the country, where water is scarce and where the mining industry is concentrated.

President Michelle Bachelet has expressed confidence that, along with renewable energies, natural gas will contribute to the diversification of Chile’s energy mix, and emphasised that “what we do or fail to do now will have consequences in the future.”

On May 14, Bachelet inaugurated an onshore storage tank at the Mejillones Liquefied Natural Gas (GNLM) regasification terminal, the biggest in Latin America and one of the biggest in the world.

French-Belgian power company GDF Suez holds a 63 percent share in the terminal and the rest is owned by the state-owned Corporación del Cobre de Chile (Codelco).

It was Bachelet , during her first term (2006-2010), who laid the first stone for the plant. And in February 2010 she was present to welcome the arrival of the first methane tanker.

Bachelet now inaugurated the huge storage tank with a gross capacity of 187,000 m3. It is a full containment tank with a nickel steel inner tank inside a pre-stressed concrete outer tank.

The CEO of GDF Suez, Gerard Mestrallet, said it was built to the highest safety standards, to withstand seismic activity and tsunamis.

The tank’s 501 elastomeric isolators enable it to withstand the stresses caused by a major earthquake, as well as sophisticated seismic monitoring and protection systems.

The expansion of GNLM involved an additional 200 million dollars, on top of the initial investment of 550 million dollars.

For four years, in the first stage of the project, the BW GDF Suez Brussels was moored on one side of the jetty in the bay and used as a floating storage unit when gas shipments came in.

The land tank’s capacity is equivalent to approximately 110 million m3 of standard natural gas after the regasification process. This is transported to clients, mainly mining companies, through the Nor Andino and GasAtacama pipelines.

It is the company’s clients that pay for importing the gas. The corporations that have signed contracts so far are the Anglo-Australian multinational BHP Billiton, Codelco and Generadora E-CL, a Chilean power company controlled by GDF Suez.

The natural gas storage tank inaugurated by President Michelle Bachelet May 14, to complete the natural gas terminal at Mejillones. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The natural gas storage tank inaugurated by President Michelle Bachelet May 14, to complete the natural gas terminal at Mejillones. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

On May 15, Bachelet – who took office in March – presented her government’s energy agenda, which focuses heavily on clean energy sources as well as the use of LNG to replace diesel fuel and for industrial and household use as well.

The agenda proposes short-term measures to maximise the use of the country’s current electric power generation infrastructure and LNG terminals.

It also includes medium to long-term initiatives aimed at boosting LNG capacity and installing new combined cycle plants fueled with natural gas, “as far as possible with new actors.”

Besides Mejillones, Chile has another LNG terminal, in Quintero bay 154 km north of Santiago, which is owned by London-based BG Group PLC and Chile’s state oil and gas company Empresa Nacional del Petroleo (ENAP).

But the head of the Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), Lucia Cuenca, said the government’s proposal should be looked at with a critical eye.

The country is making the mistake, she told Tierramérica, of not thinking about the high quality natural gas that Bolivia or Argentina could provide, but only about unconventional sources of natural gas. She was referring, for example, to shale gas, which is extracted from underground rocks by hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

“ Chile is preparing to incorporate this kind of gas and that has to be evaluated in a much broader manner,” Cuenca said.

Chile currently imports gas mainly from Trinidad and Tobago and Qatar. But the government will reportedly negotiate supplies of shale gas from the United States.

Cuenca added that, even though LNG emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions, “it’s still a fossil fuel, which means it does produce emissions.”

“LNG is considered a transitional fuel; in other words, it is a little better than coal, but it is not exactly the best option from the standpoint of clean energy,” he added.

In Chile, thermoelectric plants are run on three kinds of fuel: diesel, the most expensive and dirtiest; coal, which is also highly polluting, but abundant and cheap; and gas, which is the least polluting, but costs around 30 percent more than coal.

In 1991, a year after this country returned to democracy after the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, the governments of Argentina and Chile signed an economic agreement that established the foundations for gas interconnection between the two countries.

But the late Néstor Kirchner, when he took office as president of Argentina in 2003, prioritised domestic supplies in the face of internal shortages of natural gas, which at the time only covered national demand.

The cuts in exports had a tremendous economic impact on Chile, because power companies were forced to use oil instead, whose international market price had soared.

At the time Argentina cut its gas exports, nearly 90 percent of industries in Santiago were using natural gas from Argentina, which also supplied much of the country’s natural gas pipeline network that serves households.

“The decision reached by Kirchner (2003-2007) was in line with Argentina’s political approach, which will always favour national interests; regardless of who is governing, they are prepared to assume the costs from the standpoint of the international cooperation agenda,” political scientist Francisca Quiroga told Tierramérica.

She said that after Argentina reduced its gas exports to Chile, a debate broke out in which many argued that Chile should not trust Argentina because it was a country that did not live up to its promises. But the political dividends Kirchner reaped outweighed any criticism from abroad, she added.

Quiroga said the question of energy “is a very touchy ideological and strategic issue and is important in debates on domestic policy.”

And in the current regional context, she added, “is it one of the most important issues on the multilateral agenda to address in terms of the challenges of the 21st century.”

In the meantime, Chile is planning the construction of a third LNG terminal in the south-central part of the country, with the participation of the state energy company ENAP.

Cuenca said it is a strategy that serves the large mining corporations that need cheap, abundant energy, because the aim is to offer lower prices on the domestic market.

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Germany’s New Energy Revolution Still Moving Ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/germanys-new-energy-revolution-still-moving-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-new-energy-revolution-still-moving-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/germanys-new-energy-revolution-still-moving-ahead/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 07:55:27 +0000 Risto Isomaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135004

In this column, Risto Isomäki, Finnish environmental activist and award-winnning writer whose novels have been translated into several languages, looks at what lies behind Germany’s moves towards a renewable energy economy and the possible spin-offs for other areas of the world.

By Risto Isomaki
HELSINKI, Jun 16 2014 (IPS)

Germany has now become the world’s first modern renewable energy economy, according to the experts. The Federal Republic of Germany already obtains 29 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, meaning photovoltaic, hydro and wind power, and power produced by burning wood or other biomass.

Perhaps even more importantly, the national average hides significant regional differences. German states have strong identities and quite a lot of independent decision-making power.

Risto Isomäki

Risto Isomäki

The state of Saarland only produces 15 percent of its electricity from renewables and Rheinland-Pfalz only 21 percent, while the figures for Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are 54 and 56 percent respectively.

The most impressive case is the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, the capital of the Federal State. In Brandenburg, 78 percent of all electricity now comes from wind turbines, photovoltaic panels or from burning biomass.

What makes the case of Brandenburg especially important is the fact that it is an inland state and a part of the vast North European Plain. In other words, it has very little hydropower to supplement the other renewables and it cannot construct any off-shore wind parks. In spite of these deficiencies, Brandenburg will most probably soon be producing more renewable electricity than it consumes and will be exporting a growing share of its production.“A key element in Germany’s energy revolution or Die Energiewende, the energy turn-around, has been a system of feed-in-tariffs that was introduced by the German Renewable Energy Act in 2000.” – Risto Isomäki

It has often been said that it is next to impossible to have an energy system in which 100 percent of the power production –­ or even 50 percent – could be based on renewables. According to conventional wisdom, renewables will always need a large amount of wasteful and expensive spare power based on fossil fuels.

Because wind turbines only produce electricity when the wind blows and photovoltaic panels only when the sun is shining, wind and solar power need so much supporting power that this power cannot come from ordinary or pumped storage hydropower alone.

In the light of the above statistics, it seems that these worries have been exaggerated. In Brandenburg and in the other German states wind, solar and biomass energy have actually complemented each other better than most experts predicted.

The northern parts of Germany can produce very little photovoltaic power during the winter. However, most of the wind power is produced during the winter months, because in Germany winters are windier than summers. Winter air is also colder and denser than summer air, which means that a stream of air contains more energy. The burning of wood and other biomass in the heat and power co-generation plants also concentrates in the winter months.

A key element in Germany’s energy revolution or Die Energiewende, the energy turn-around, has been a system of feed-in-tariffs that was introduced by the German Renewable Energy Act in 2000. Feed-in tariffs guarantee a relatively high, fixed price for the producers of wind and solar power.

After the adoption of the Renewable Energy Act, the installed solar power capacity in Germany increased from 114 megawatts to 36,000 megawatts and wind power capacity from 6,000 to 35,000 megawatts, by the end of 2013.

The final targets are even higher. According to the official plan, the share of renewables in power production should increase to 35 percent by 2020 and to 80 percent by 2050.

The success of the solar energy programme has also created a number of new political problems. An estimated 1.4 million residential buildings have already installed their own, grid-connected solar power stations on their roofs. This has expanded the cost of the feed-in-tariff system to 18 billion euros per year. Because the costs are covered by energy surcharges and not by public subsidies, the electricity bills paid by private households have increased.

German export companies, on the contrary, have benefitted because they have been freed from the surcharge and due to the new energy system they now obtain part of their electricity almost for free. The market price for power in Germany has already become very low during very sunny or very windy days.

Germany has not really decided, yet, what is the best way to increase the production of solar and wind power further without treating its citizens too unequally. The low capacity of Germany’s main power transmission lines is also slowing things down.

Still, it would be wrong to assume that Germany’s energy revolution has begun to stagnate, as many commentators have remarked. According to a recent opinion survey, an astonishing two-thirds of Germany’s commercial enterprises are planning to produce at least part of their own power using photovoltaics.

The world has not really acknowledged the most important aspect of Die Energiewende. Germany has almost single-handedly made photovoltaic panels economically attractive for most of the world’s people. Orders from Germany – and from Italy and Spain – have increased the production series of photovoltaic panels to such an extent that their average price dropped from about 5 euros in 2003 to approximately 0.7 euros in 2013.

Even though solar power is now becoming economical even in North Europe, the sunniest parts of the Earth receive two times more solar radiation and have significantly lower salary levels and installation costs than Europe.

In the South, photovoltaic panels could be used almost as much as the covering materials of patios and terraces attached to houses. When photovoltaic panels are installed on roofs in the South, the cooling effect, ­ due to their shading the part of the roof that receives the largest amount of sunlight, should be more valuable than in Europe.

In the South, photovoltaic electricity will be even bigger and better than in northern Europe, and the sector is likely to explode soon in a large number of countries. (END/ IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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