Inter Press Service » Energy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:20:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Cash-Strapped Latin American Countries Turn to China for Credithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:06:31 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140358 Cidade de Kilamba is a new housing development built entirely by Chinese firms south of Luanda, the Angolan capital, to accommodate half a million people in five- to 13- storey apartment buildings with “smart” elevators, schools, shops and leisure facilities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

Angolans are generally grateful for China’s participation in the reconstruction of their central African country, in spite of the fact that some of the roads and buildings built by Chinese firms are of poor quality, and mainly Chinese labourers have been hired rather than local workers.

To rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by the civil war, Angola needed finance which was denied to it by the West, whereas China supplied credit and engineering expertise without imposing impossible conditions on a country that only achieved peace 27 years after winning independence in 1975, Angolan leaders declare.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic ocean, several Latin American countries in financial difficulties have recently turned to China as a sort of lender of last resort. Argentina and Venezuela, for example, lacking access to international credits, obtained large loans from Chinese banks.

For China, it makes no sense to refuse loans to countries with strong agricultural production or that possess plenty of commodities, especially oil and gas. There is no need to be concerned about their solvency if their products guarantee their loans, whatever the reasons for their difficulties.

Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras announced on Apr. 1 an injection of 3.5 billion dollars from China to relieve its finances, which have suffered from the corruption scandal that has rocked the economy, the government, large companies and several political parties in the country since 2014.

The loan from China Development Bank is helping Petrobras weather a storm that also includes gross management and planning mistakes which raised the cost of constructing two refineries, of the purchase of another plant in the U.S. city of Pasadena, Texas, and of other projects by tens of billions of dollars.

The crises faced by potential Petrobras suppliers provide opportunities for China, but are not seen as indispensable. China Development Bank previously loaned Petrobras 10 billion dollars in 2009, when the oil company appeared prosperous and had recently discovered vast reserves in the pre-salt layer off the Brazilian coast.

This loan will be repaid by a minimum of 10 years’ oil supply to China.

Unequal exchange

“China’s financial power tends to accentuate the trade imbalance,” when countries or whole regions export virtually only commodities to China, and import Chinese manufactured goods, said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos de Empresas Transnacionais e da Globalizaçao Econômica (SOBEET – Brazilian Society for the Study of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation).

Iron ore and soy account for 75 percent of Brazilian exports to China, he said, while imports from China are nearly all manufactured goods.

But China “is a new trading partner with a high degree of complementarity, and a win-win situation could be created if we knew how to make the most of the opportunity,” Lima said.

“Brazil must do its homework and define what it wants from China in the long term, and then negotiate, instead of merely reacting passively to Chinese demands,” he said.

In his view, now is the time to make changes to that unequal exchange, because China is facing “the prospect of reducing its exports and stimulating the dynamics of internal demand, whereas in Brazil it is the reverse: the domestic market is weakening and more exports are needed.”

But Lima recognises that Brazil’s economic and political difficulties do not favour the definition of long term strategies and goals in negotiations with an ascendant power like China.

Booming investment

China’s growing involvement in Latin America is also marked by growing investment. SOBEET identified 69 projects announced by Brazil since 2010, the vast majority in processing industries involving medium-sized amounts, that is, less than 100 million dollars.

Only three investments are over one billion dollars: in the first, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) invested five billion dollars, mainly for the purchase of power transmission lines; the second is for extracting and exporting iron ore; and the third is for processing soy.

The list is not complete because of the difficulty of monitoring Chinese investments that are routed through other countries, such as European nations, and arrive at their productive destination without the nationality of origin being known, Lima complained.

China has been increasing its foreign direct investments since the turn of the 21st century, and they reached over 206.8 billion dollars in 2013, according to United Nations figures published by SOBEET.

Latin America has not been a priority destination for Chinese investments. The region has received only 4.1 percent of the total, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However this will change over the next 10 years. China will invest 250 billion dollars in the region over this period, President Xi Jinping announced in January in Beijing, at the first Ministerial Forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Some projects are exceptional, like the interoceanic canal in Nicaragua which will compete with the Panama Canal and will cost an estimated 40 billion dollars, four times the GDP of Nicaragua.

A large part of the capital already invested is oil-related. State Chinese oil companies are already taking part in oil and gas extraction in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

But the most spectacular growth in China-Latin America relations has occurred in trade, which increased 22-fold between 2000 and 2013, to reach 275 billion dollars in 2013. And it is set to double again by the end of this decade, Xi predicted.

The expansion in trade exacerbated the imbalance, but the terms of exchange improved with the boom in prices of Latin American commodities, which lasted at least until 2012.

Credit penetration

The amounts involved in Chinese loans to the region are lower than the trade figures, but also reflect the Asian giant’s expansion and its priority interests in oil, minerals and agricultural produce.

Between 2005 and 2014, borrowing from China by the region totalled 119 billion dollars, according to the databank of Inter-American Dialogue, a forum for political and business leaders of the Americas that includes former presidents of several countries.

Of this total, nearly half – 56.3 billion dollars – was loaned to Venezuela, which possesses the world’s largest oil reserves. Next in order of importance are Brazil and Argentina, which are big exporters of soy and received 22 billion and 19 billion dollars, respectively.

Mexico, the second largest Latin American economy, is in sixth place in terms of loans from Chinese state banks, with 2.4 billion dollars, less than one-quarter of the amount borrowed by Ecuador (10.8 billion dollars) and less even than the credit extended to The Bahamas (2.9 billion dollars).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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New Anti-Terrorism Law Batters Cameroonians Seeking Secessionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/new-anti-terrorism-law-batters-cameroonians-seeking-secession/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-terrorism-law-batters-cameroonians-seeking-secession http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/new-anti-terrorism-law-batters-cameroonians-seeking-secession/#comments Sun, 26 Apr 2015 08:52:25 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140325 By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Apr 26 2015 (IPS)

Cameroon’s government under President Paul Biya is bearing down on a separatist movement fighting for the rights of a minority English-language region, using as its weapon a sweeping new anti-terrorism law introduced at the end of last year.

The separatist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) – which is demanding an independent Southern Cameroons made up of Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions – has been targeted under the new law, which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace.

Map showing location of Southern Cameroons (highlighted). Credit: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Map showing location of Southern Cameroons (highlighted). Credit: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

English-speaking Cameroonians make up over 22 percent of the country’s population of 20 million.

Long desired by Western powers for its beauty and natural resources, Cameroon was first occupied by the Germans in 1884. After the First World War, the French and British carved it up between them as League of Nations mandates – four-fifths went to France, the rest to the United Kingdom.

A federation was declared in 1961, followed by the annexation of the English-language region into the United Republic of Cameroon, with its capital in Yaounde in 1972. Dissension continues to seethe, however, in the English-speaking regions which resent the lack of control over their assets.

Over the years, Cameroon has downplayed its problems with the English-speaking regions, while making token placements of a few of their citizens in its administration.

Secessionists say this relationship of inequality has led to impoverishment of the territory and its population and a diminishment of their educational and cultural heritage, while feeding the flame of ethnic strife between the people of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

The extraction of oil and the expropriation of Cameroon’s substantial oil revenues is frequently cited as the touchstone for frustration and anger among those of the struggling south.The separatist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) has been targeted under Cameroon’s new anti-terrorism law, which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace

In this regard, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) gave Cameroon a “failing grade”, ranking it 47th out of 58 countries for such weaknesses as enabling environment, safeguards and quality controls, and reporting practices.

“Cameroon’s national oil company (SNH) dominates the sector,” NRGI reported. “It is directly controlled by the Presidency … The largest revenue streams are collected by SNH and transferred quarterly to the national treasury after subtracting the company’s operational costs – meaning that some oil revenues never reach the treasury.”

Aside from publishing environment impact assessments, Cameroon provides very little information on its extractive sector, noted NRGI, while it performed near the bottom of rankings on measures of budgetary openness and the rule of law.

Oil exploration, production and refining all take place in Southern Cameroons, while oil-derived revenues are paid to the state coffers directly in Yaounde.

Against this background, and since Cameroon’s President Paul Biya endorsed an anti-terrorism law in December 2014, the SCNC has not been able to organise any major gathering.

An attempt this month, on Apr. 3, ended with the arrest of Nfor Ngala Nfor, SCNC Vice National Chairman, and six others in Buea, Southwest Region.

Andrew Kang, who had hosted the SCNC leaders, told IPS from his hospital bed at the Buea Regional Hospital that security forces barged into his house while he and the guests were about to have a meal. “We were not even permitted to eat our food. They just beat us, ordered us to move and led us to the station. We spent four days in a prison cell and only regained freedom at about 5 pm on Apr. 6.”

Kang denied the government’s charges of promoting secession and rebellion which had been levelled against the group.

Talking to IPS, Martin Fon Yembe, a member of the SCNC and human rights activist, said that while the government made it seem that the new anti-terrorism law was designed to boost the fight against Boko Haram, the main aim was to stop the holding of SCNC meetings and gatherings.

“Everyone knows that law was put in place to hinder the activities of the movement and there is no gainsaying the fact that it poses a problem,” he said.

A U.S. State Department human rights report on Cameroon in 2013 referred to security force torture and abuse, denial of fair and speedy public trials and restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. “Although the government took some steps to punish officials who commit abuses in the security forces and in the public service, impunity remained a problem,” said the report.

Meanwhile, thousands of Southern Cameroonians are currently in exile in Europe and the United States and thousands more are on the run because of their support for the separatist movement.

The Biya administration, on the other hand, presents a picture of a country unswervingly headed for growth. In a document titled Cameroun Vision 2035, a long-term vision is described which envisages the consolidation of democracy, enhancement of national unity, economic development and increasing employment.

Under a three-year plan, unveiled in December, Cameroon will spend 1.75 billion dollars “to meet the immediate needs of the population,” focusing on sectors such as road infrastructure, health, agriculture, energy and security.

“The special programme, evaluated at 925 billion CFA francs, is financed through the mobilisation of the required resources from local and international financial institutions at sustainable rates,” Prime Minister Philemon Yang said without giving further details.

In the latest twist to the South Cameroons issue, a meeting this month of Cameroon’s English-speaking lawyers gave notice that an All-Anglophone Lawyers Conference would be held shortly in Bamenda, chief city of the Northwest Region, “to develop strategies at safeguarding the Common Law and to map out the way forward for the Southern Cameroons territory,” the Cameroon Concord reported.

The news online was met with over a dozen enthused readers. “Machiavelli Ayuk” of the University of Buea wrote: “This is the kind of action that the marginalised Anglophone people love to hear. At last we have some Educated Elites in the Anglophone zone…”

The comment was followed by “Fast Man”, a self-described fieldworker, who wrote: “I hope the lawyers use their intelligence and remember their oath. We will never go anywhere under French hegemony. God bless the Southern Cameroons and its citizens…”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Riches in World’s Oceans Estimated at Staggering 24 Trillion Dollarshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:35:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140283 Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The untapped riches in the world’s oceans are estimated at nearly 24 trillion dollars – the size of the world’s leading economies, according to a new report released Thursday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Describing the oceans as economic powerhouses, the study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will." -- Marco Lambertini of WWF

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.

“As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”

If compared to the world’s top 10 economies, the ocean would rank seventh with an annual value of goods and services of 2.5 trillion dollars, according to the study,

Titled Reviving the Ocean Economy, the report was produced by WWF in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

After nine years of intense negotiations, a U.N. Working Group, comprising all 193 member states, agreed last January to convene an inter-governmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and genetic resources in what is now considered mostly lawless high seas.

Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative who co-chaired the Working Group, told IPS the oceans are the next frontier for exploitation by large corporations, especially those seeking to develop lucrative pharmaceuticals from living and non-living organisms which exist in large quantities in the high seas.

“The technically advanced countries, which are already deploying research vessels in the oceans and some of which are currently developing products, including valuable pharmaceuticals, based on biological material extracted from the high seas, were resistant to the idea of regulating the exploitation of such material and sharing the benefits,” he said.

According to the United Nations, the high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country. 

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

The proposed international treaty, described as a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, is expected to address “the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.”

According to the WWF report, more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output.

Collapsing fisheries, mangrove deforestation as well as disappearing corals and seagrass are threatening the marine economic engine that secures lives and livelihoods around the world.

The report also warns that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years.

At the same time, growth in human population and reliance on the sea makes restoring the ocean economy and its core assets a matter of global urgency.

The study specifically singles out climate change as a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health.

At the current rate of global warming, coral reefs that provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people will disappear completely by 2050.

More than just warming waters, climate change is inducing increased ocean acidity that will take hundreds of human generations for the ocean to repair.

Over-exploitation is another major cause for the ocean’s decline, with 90 per cent of global fish stocks either over-exploited or fully exploited, according to the study.

The Pacific bluefin tuna population alone has dropped by 96 per cent from unfished levels, according to the WWF report.

“It is not too late to reverse the troubling trends and ensure a healthy ocean that benefits people, business and nature,” the report says, while proposing an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.

Among the most time-critical solutions presented in the report are embedding ocean recovery throughout the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking global action on climate change and making good on strong commitments to protect coastal and marine areas.

“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will. We have serious work to do to protect the ocean starting with real global commitments on climate and sustainable development,” said Lambertini.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The World Has Reached Peak Plutocracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:11:01 +0000 Soren Ambrose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140276 The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

By Soren Ambrose
NAIROBI, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

Parents in despair because they can’t pay the fees at the privatised neighbourhood school…

Families left without healthcare because the mining company that pollutes their river also dodges the taxes that could pay for their treatment…

Women getting four hours of sleep a night as they try to balance caring for their families and homes with earning income…

Soren Ambrose

Soren Ambrose

Whole communities thrown off their land to make way for a foreign company…

Workers paid so little by employers that they’re suffering malnutrition.

These are just a few of the reports I’ve heard from my colleagues in recent months.

We see people frustrated by the surge in the power of the plutocrats.

Plutocracy is a society or a system ruled and dominated by a small minority of the wealthiest. The rich have always been powerful; some element of plutocracy has been present in all societies.

But the degree of control being exercised now; the number of the ultra-rich essentially buying political power; the nearly impossible persistence required to overcome the legal, public relations, and technical resources controlled by corporations and the richest individuals; the much denser concentration of wealth in even the largest countries; and the global nature of the resources, power, and connections being accumulated have combined to foreclose meaningful democratic options and space for a life independent of the materialistic values of the plutocracy.The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy.

The logic that undergirds all of this – the greed for money, power, and control – is antithetical to preserving an environment in which living things can thrive. Through most of human history we have endured various unbalanced political and social systems.

Today’s market economy has roots going back centuries, but only in this one has it become so monolithic, with virtually the entire world under its spell.

We are living in an age of hyper-capitalism: we have gone beyond industrialisation and value-addition to a point where the rules are written by the financiers, and the finance industry, rather than a sector that actually makes something, has become arguably the most politically powerful industry in history.

A brief period of relative equality in the richer countries after World War II gave way from the late 1970s to a powerful ideology of competition, unending growth, and unhindered profit. This ideology was charted deliberately by institutes lavishly funded by aspiring plutocrats.

The denial of limits, the privileging of competition and profit over cooperation and public goods, and the capitulation of governments to the power of money has made the modern plutocracy a dominant reality, and one that must be reversed.

Commentators now routinely speak of how people can “contribute to the economy.” The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy. “Freedom” has been reconfigured to refer to consumer choice rather than the ability to determine how to order one’s life.

A few years ago there was considerable debate about the concept of “peak oil” – the possibility we were reaching the beginning of the end of usable petroleum supplies. We may be reaching a more dangerous point: peak plutocracy, where society and the environment can sustain no more concentration of power and resources.

So it is worrying to hear so consistently from colleagues around the world the extent to which the power of people is being curtailed by the people with power.

We see the evidence of peak plutocracy in:

• the so far largely successful efforts of business interests to prevent meaningful action on climate change;

• the push for high-input, high-tech, restricted-ownership agriculture that excludes smallholder farmers – a great portion of them women — who feed most of the world’s people;

• the collusion of governments and companies in taking control of land and natural resources from communities in order to generate profits for privileged outsiders;

• the “race to the bottom” among governments to sacrifice revenues through blanket “tax holidays” in order to lure foreign investment, even when the benefits are unclear or negligible;

• the failure of governments to establish laws that protect workers from abuses ranging from trafficking to unlivable wages to unacceptably risky working conditions, with women workers in the most precarious, low-paid and inhumane jobs;

• the failure to recognise the systematic abuse of women’s rights in many areas – but in particular the deep uncompensated subsidies women provide to all economies with their unpaid and low-paid care work that keep families and societies functioning;

• the pressure put on countries – and more recently the collusion between governments and companies – to change commercial and consumer-protection laws so that foreign companies can dominate markets;

• the use of coercion, including violence, by powerful elites in private enterprises, fundamentalist movements, and repressive regimes to control women’s bodies and sexual and reproductive choices, their labour, mobility and political voice;

• the pressure to privatize schools at the expense of decent public education, despite the complete absence of evidence that the results will be beneficial to anyone beside the owners;

• the unwarranted scorn directed at the public sector, and the pervasive recourse to the notion of “private sector led development” by most donor countries and inter-governmental institutions, even in the absence of positive models

• the fetishization of foreign direct investment in low-income countries despite compelling evidence that no country has achieved sustainable development with foreign capital;

• the increasing congruence of interests among governments, corporations, and elites in limiting the freedom of action of social movements and public interest groups, constricting political space in all parts of the world;

• the increasing domination of wealthy corporations and individuals in United Nations debates and processes.

• the brazen ideological defense of inequality and massive concentration of power and resources by wealthy individuals and the institutes they fund;

• the increasing number of disasters and emergencies are turned into profit opportunities, as affected areas are remade according to the plutocrats’ rules.

• the refusal of governments to combat the global youth unemployment crisis with public jobs programs to address the widely-acknowledged looming crisis of deteriorating infrastructure;

• the fallacy of scarcity revealed by the capacity of governments to find massive public financial resources for war and bank bailouts, but seldom for programs that would employ people, combat hunger and disease, and foster renewable energy.

The hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has corrupted democratic systems, in rich countries as well as in poor ones.

We need to democratise power. But that doesn’t mean just better monitoring of elections. It means making power more horizontal, more accessible to more people, the people who are affected by the decisions made.

There is no one-off recipe for making this happen. It has to happen over and over again, every day, everywhere, with increasing connections so that we won’t be crowded out by those with money and influence. We have to occupy space and not leave it, and then occupy some more.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shift to Renewables Seems Inevitable, But Is It Fast Enough?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/shift-to-renewables-seems-a-forgone-conclusion-but-is-it-fast-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shift-to-renewables-seems-a-forgone-conclusion-but-is-it-fast-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/shift-to-renewables-seems-a-forgone-conclusion-but-is-it-fast-enough/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 18:34:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140258 Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Climate change may be one of the most divisive issues in the U.S. Congress today, but despite the staunch denialism of Republicans, experts say the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables is already well underway.

A new book published by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute finds that a steep decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (by three-fourths between 2009 and 2014, to less than 70 cents a watt) has helped the industry grow 50 percent per year."If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.” -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace USA

Wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year for the last decade, now totalling 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes.

In China, electricity generation from wind farms now exceeds that from nuclear plants, while coal use appears to be peaking.

“Wind farms and solar PV systems will likely continue to anchor the growth of renewables,” Matthew Roney, a co-author of “The Great Transition”, told IPS. “They’re already well established, with costs continuing to drop, and their ‘fuels’ are widespread and abundant.”

With international initiatives like the U.N. Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All and new development goals in the offing, donors and policy-makers are looking to massively scale up these tried-and-true clean technologies.

“One of solar’s advantages is that not only is it increasingly competitive with the average cost of grid electricity around the world, it can make economic sense for many of the 1.3 billion people who do not yet have access to electricity,” Roney said.

The book also notes that 70 countries now have feed-in tariffs, a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers. Another two dozen have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 37 countries offer production or investment tax credits for renewables, and 40 countries are implementing or planning carbon pricing.

In the U.S., reliance on coal is dwindling – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure.

But according to Greenpeace and other civil society watchdog groups, the industry is trying to get a new lease on life by pushing so-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – where waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from large point sources, such as power plants, and transported to a storage site — what Greenpeace has dubbed a “Carbon Capture Scam.”

The Barack Obama administration advocates CCS as part of its “all of the above” energy strategy, the group says in a recent analysis, even though the government’s own projections show that it would cost almost 40 percent more per kilogramme of avoided carbon dioxide than solar photovoltaic, 125 percent more than wind and 260 percent more than geothermal.

“The most fair-weather politician, if honest, should agree that advocating for renewables is a winning campaign strategy,” Greenpeace USA legislative representative Kyle Ash told IPS.

“Do they really care about jobs? Do they really care about U.S. competitiveness and energy independence?” he asked. “The president and Congress have no shortage of reasons to acknowledge renewables are the only path forward when it comes to energy production. If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon rule requires that new coal plants capture CO2, and emphasises the CO2 be used to augment oil extraction. Oil rigs then pump the carbon dioxide underground so the oil expands and more is forced up the well.

Greenpeace says that rather than actually storing carbon, it comes right back up the well with the oil. Every major power plant CCS project in the United States intends to sell the scrubbed carbon to the oil extraction industry.

“We don’t just have statistics, technology, and climate science on our side – we have a growing body politic that is opposing fracking, tar sands, coal exports, and other ways an archaic industry is trying to hold on,” Ash said.

“CCS is really the last gasp of the political pandering to coal, an industry widely known to have been horrible to workers and horrible for the environment. What we should soon see is more pandering to workers and the environment.”

The Obama administration has won kudos from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, for at least acknowledging the problem. In a videotaped statement for Earth Day this year, the U.S. president declared that “Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”

The million-dollar question, most scientists say, is whether the transition to renewables will be fast enough to restrict warming to the benchmark two-degree increase by 2020, beyond which the consequences could be catastrophic.

“Although the adoption of renewable energy worldwide is moving in the right direction, more quickly than virtually anyone predicted even five years ago, the race is definitely not over yet,” Roney said. “Cutting into oil use by electrifying the transport sector is key, but electric vehicle adoption is not yet moving quickly enough to have a big impact.”

He noted that batteries, a major part of the price tag for an EV, are set to come down by half by 2020, according to UBS, making EVs fully competitive with conventional cars.

“At that point, buying an EV over a car that runs on gasoline will be a no-brainer, with up to 2,400 dollars in anticipated annual savings on gas. More broadly, pricing carbon would likely be the most effective way to accelerate the shift fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control,” Roney said.

“The good news is that some 40 countries now have implemented or plan to implement carbon pricing, through a cap and trade system or carbon tax, including China. When its anticipated national cap and trade system begins in 2016, roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions will be priced—not nearly enough, but a decent start.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: A View from Outer Spacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:44:08 +0000 Nandasiri Jasentuliyana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140227

Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana is President Emeritus of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), Formerly Deputy Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna and Director, Office for Outer Space Affairs, United Nations.

By Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

When the founding fathers of the United Nations met in San Francisco 70 years ago, an American banker named Beardsley Ruml made a remark:

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

“At the end of five years, you will think the United Nations is the greatest vision ever realized by man. At the end of 10 years, you will find doubts within yourself and all throughout the world.

“At the end of 50 years, you will believe the United Nations cannot succeed. You will be certain that all the odds are against its ultimate life and success. It will be only when the United Nations is 100 years old that we will know that the United Nations is the only alternative to the demolition of the world.”

At 70, the United Nations perhaps is in a transitional phase from the pessimistic to the optimistic stage of expectations. In the interim, it has dealt with the entire gamut of human activity, and therefore not surprisingly in outer space activities ever since man ventured into outer space nearly 60 years back.

At the beginning, in the context of the Cold War, the concern of the United Nations was in preventing an extension of the arms race into outer space.  Since its establishment by the General Assembly in 1959, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been the focal point of international political and legal discussions and negotiations aimed at promoting international cooperation in space, and thus limiting an arms race in space.Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power.

By an imaginative and innovative effort at international legislation within the United Nations, and through the arduous work painstakingly carried out over a period of time by the Committee, the General Assembly elaborated a set of multilateral treaties and legal principles, which provide the framework of international space law and policy that governs space activities.

The treaties embodied fundamental principles establishing that exploration and use of outer space shall be the province of all mankind and that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation.

They banned the placement of nuclear weapons and any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, thus preventing an arms race in space. They have provided for international responsibility of States for national activities in outer space, liability for damage caused by space activities, the safety and rescue of astronauts, freedom of scientific investigation and the exploration of natural resources in outer space, as well as the settlement of disputes.

They encouraged the international cooperation in space activities and promotion of peaceful uses of space technology for the benefit all mankind.

The fact that these treaties were negotiated and concluded among rival space-faring nations during the Cold War, ratified by as large a number of states as any international treaty, and kept order in space for over half a century, is indeed no mean achievement.

The end of the Cold War and the subsequent changes in the international security environment raised new possibilities for the utilisation of space technology to promote international peace, security and stability.

The rapid advancement of space technology in the in the post-Cold War era, the increasingly widespread use of that technology for essential economic and social services, and the new international political environment led the international community to seize the opportunity to ensure that space technology is effectively used to promote security in all its forms – political, military, economic and environmental – for the benefit of all countries.

The United Nations and the specialised agencies developed new policies and programmes for the innovative use of space technologies for communications, information gathering, environmental monitoring and resource development for the benefit of all people.

Recognition that through its global reach and global perspective, space technology can make a vital contribution to promoting international security and those new initiatives should be taken to ensure that all countries have access to the benefits of space activities, led to the convening of three Global Conferences on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE Conferences).

They offered the opportunity for all nations to share information on the possibilities of utilising space technology applications for developmental purposes. They also made all countries keenly aware of the dangers of dual use technologies and to take measures to promote peaceful applications ensuring international security.

The conferences, which were held at periodic intervals, helped assess the state of space science and technology with a view to taking a fresh look at their potential, especially for benefiting the developing countries. These global conferences laid down an agenda for nations to follow in the interim periods. They also established or revitalised existing programmes and mechanisms for sharing the benefits of space technology applications by all countries.

The United Nations itself took the leadership in the education and training of specialists in developing countries to enable them to establish or continue operating space applications programmes and institutions that are suitable to the countries concerned.

Seven Regional Space Education and Training Centers were established in Asia, Africa and Latin America that continue to operate with much success. A database was established to enable the dissemination of information on space applications for the use of developing countries.

A treaty-based register of space objects launched into space was established and all states launching space objects register their launchings with the the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs which is operating the register, thereby establishing their ownership as well as liability for such objects.

More recently, the ‘United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response’ (UN-SPIDER) was established to ensure that all countries have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based technologies and information to support humanitarian and emergency response during disaster management.

The United Nations through the specialised agencies has developed and operates several other programmes to assist nations in the orderly development of space technology applications.

At the inception, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the World Weather Watch which pioneered the use of space technology for weather forecasting. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has developed and operates a detailed regulatory regime for the allocation of frequency and orbital slots for communication satellites and thus avoiding interference in satellite operations.

Other agencies have established operational programmes for the use of space technology such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the use of remote sensing satellites in monitoring agriculture, desertification, deforestation; the International Maritime Organization (IMO) enabling the operations of the maritime industry in operating maritime satellites; and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) facilitating civil aviation operations through its air navigation system.

Much has been achieved so far, but much remains to be done in the next few decades as the United Nations look forward with optimism towards its century.

Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power, and commercial utilisation of the space station in producing newer forms of pharmaceuticals and hitherto unknown forms of materials.

At the same time, we are presented with new challenges as countries face mounting pressure regarding Earth’s environment and climate as traditional weather patterns are disturbed, with devastating floods and hurricanes killing thousands of people with the developing countries bearing the brunt of such disasters; and misuse or abuse of natural resources is a serious problem threatening food security.

These are compelling reasons for international cooperation in space activities as space technology is daily providing us with new tools in dealing with those challenges and opportunities, and the United Nations will have to continue its vital role as facilitator of that vital cooperation so that all nations can benefit from space exploration.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Damhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 00:04:11 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140183 Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.

The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August.

Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank.

Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month.

The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations.

The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km.

In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.”

Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”.

Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant.

“The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.”

She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years.

The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities.

Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140180 Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Clean Cookstoves Could Change the Lives of Millions in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 22:28:18 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140163 In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
PHARPING, Nepal, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

When 26-year-old Laxmi married into the Archaya household in Chhaimale village, Pharping, south of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, she didn’t think she would be spending half the day in the kitchen inhaling smoke from the stove.

“The smoke made me cough so much I couldn’t breathe. It was difficult to cook,” the young woman tells IPS.

“[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world's most pressing health and environmental problems.” -- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
At the time, the family was using a rudimentary cookstove, the kind that has been found to be inefficient, unsafe and unhealthy. These stoves release hazardous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrous oxide, cause burns and sometimes disfigurement and put million of people – particularly women – at risk of severe health problems.

The toxic gases are known to create respiratory problems, pneumonia, blindness, heart diseases, cancer and even low birth rates. Every year 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide are attributed to indoor air pollution.

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by it.

Six months ago, Laxmi and her father-in-law realised that the women in their neighbourhood, a village of about 4,000 people, were getting their housework done faster and had free time to do other things.

When Laxmi’s father-in-law went to investigate, he found that they were using improved cookstoves and the family immediately decided to upgrade.

“I wanted to install improved cookstoves before, but I didn’t have an idea of how to go about it, or what organisations I could approach to ask for help,” Damodar Acharya, Laxmi’s father-in-law, tells IPS.

Fortunately for the Acharya family, the U.S.-based organisation Global Peace Foundation (GPF) had been working in the village and helping communities build mud-brick clean stoves with locally available materials.

Unlike traditional stoves, clean cookstoves have airtight chambers that prevent smoke from escaping into cramped kitchens. They also have small chimneys through which poisonous exhausts can exit the house.

“The [organisation] took 500 rupees [about five dollars] from us, but they did everything, including mixing raw materials, building the stove and teaching us how to clean them every few weeks,” Damodar Acharya explains.

According to Khila Ghale, of GPF-Nepal, the five-dollar fee includes “the labour charges of the stove master to build the stove, the cost of bricks, three or four types of rods, and the materials that make up the chimney.”

The entire cost of a two-hole mud brick stove ranges between 12 and 15 dollars. There is no government subsidy on improved cookstoves, so organisations like GPF help financially whenever they can.

However, the amount is still too much for most families in Nepal, where more than 75 percent of the population earns less than 1.25 dollars per day.

Ghale, who works directly with communities in raising awareness about the benefits of improved cookstoves, says in order to make them sustainable, it is important to monitor their use, talk to the communities about the benefits and challenges and make them aware that the stoves have to be properly maintained.

“The stove is sustainable but it has to be cleaned [and] repaired properly for long term use. It is unreasonable to expect it to work forever, but if maintained properly, it can be sustainable,” he says.

“If we can make families aware of the benefits, especially about the health benefits for women and children, the stoves [could] become an essential part of the household.”

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, over 80 percent of Nepali people use solid fuels such as wood and cow dung for cooking. In this country of 28 million, over 75 percent of households cook indoors, and 90 percent cook on open fires.

In January 2013 the government of Nepal announced clean cooking solutions for all by 2017. This initiative is in line with the United Nation Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves project, which aims to adopt clean cooking solutions for 100 million households worldwide by 2020.

The Global Alliance claims, “[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems.”

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the three billion people worldwide who rely on solid fuels and indoor open fires for cooking suffer severe health impacts from the pollution. More men, women and children die each day as a result of exposure to indoor air pollution than die from malaria and tuberculosis.

A few weeks after the Acharya family built their clean cookstove, Laxmi’s neighbour Durga and her husband decided they also wanted one.

Durga Sharma tells IPS, “I have to cook early in the morning because I have two kids who go to school.” Using an improved cookstove has made her life easier, she says, and is keeping her family healthier.

Nepali women like Durga and Laxmi spend over five hours in the kitchen every day. Today, with improved cookstoves their cooking time is cut in half, and they have to use 50 percent less firewood.

In addition, they are much more environmentally-friendly than burning solid fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) black carbon, which traditional cookstoves produce, is the second biggest climate pollutant after carbon dioxide.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Asia says accounts for 40 percent of black carbon, which is responsible for altering monsoon patterns, adversely impacting agriculture and damaging water supplies. Thus, experts say, implementing cleaner cooking solutions for millions of households worldwide will feed automatically into global goals to reduce carbon emissions.

Back in Chhaimale village, around midday, Laxmi and Durga have already finished their housework for the day, and have even had the time to run errands.

Both women want to use the extra time they have to do what they love: Durga hopes to sell sundried vegetables in the local market and Laxmi is thinking about joining evening classes to complete her Masters degree programme, options they would simply not have had before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Antigua Draws a Line in the Vanishing Sandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:32:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140156 A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, features a mile-long white sand beach and is a favourite with locals and visitors alike. 

But Freeston Williams, a resident who frequents the area for exercise and other recreational activities, is worried that the beach is quickly disappearing."We believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.” -- Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne

“I travel around the Jabberwock area on the northern side of the island and I notice the shoreline is coming in closer to the road which means that it’s minimising the area we use for exercise,” Williams told IPS.”I am not sure what exactly is causing all this but sooner or later we will not have any beach left.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne said the sea level is in fact rising and she is mobilising legislators and residents of the small island-nation to become “climate ready” by implementing national activities on climate change.

“In the past 10 years we have experienced three droughts in Antigua. The temperature of the Caribbean Sea will have summer temperatures all the time. This means hurricane season will be all year round,” Black-Layne told IPS.

Pointing to the consequences of a two-degree C increase in global temperatures as outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Black-Layne said there would be disruption of livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

“For persons living in the tropics it will just be too hot, every building will have to be air-conditioned – schools, churches, clinics, prisons,” she said.

“There would also be failure of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and buildings; plants and animals, including humans, would die during periods of extreme heat; there will be a breakdown of agricultural systems resulting in food prices increasing; there will be insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity; and tropical species of fish will move to cooler waters resulting in a reduction of fishing in the Caribbean.”

Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Antigua and Barbuda and is the leading sector in terms of providing employment and creating foreign exchange. But the outlook for reefs in this tourism-dependent nation is also grim.

At around 1.5 degrees C, about 89 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching; at two degrees C, up to 100 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching by the 2050s; and around four degrees C, virtually all coral reefs would be subjected to severe bleaching events annually.

Signing the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, world leaders agreed to keep temperature increases resulting from heat-trapping emissions to less than two degrees C, a target aimed at limiting dangerously disruptive climate impacts.

A policy target informed by science, two degrees C is the formally codified benchmark, the line in the sand by which nations have agreed to measure collective success in providing  generations to come with a secure climate future.

The IPCC said global average surface temperatures have risen about 0.85 degrees C since 1900 and cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. It finds that having a greater than 66 percent probability of keeping warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to below two degrees C requires limiting total further emissions to between 370-540 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC).

At current rates of CO2 emissions (about 9.5 GtC per year), the world will hurtle past the two C carbon budget in less than 50 years. And this conservatively assumes that emissions rates don’t continue on their current upward trajectory of 3 percent per year.

In a bid to increase awareness of climate change here, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is spearheading a two-day workshop Apr. 14-15 under its Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC) project, an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

An OECS official said participants are being updated on the current awareness levels on the island and will brainstorm to determine ways to increase the nation’s consciousness. Participants are drawn from the sectors most affected by climate change.

“It will specifically seek to discuss the climate ready campaign which is currently ongoing, including results of a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey on climate change awareness in the OECS,” OECS Communication Specialist Tecla Fontenard told IPS.

“We have data that shows what levels of awareness people already have and where the gaps are and we also have data from Antigua. The workshop will also determine priorities for a communication action plan for Antigua that considers critical climate change issues in four major sectors – agriculture, tourism, marine and coastal as well as the water sector.”

Antigua and other countries in the OECS have a heightened vulnerability to many of the economic and environmental pressures that are emerging globally. This vulnerability, coupled with fragile natural and cultural assets and inherent social challenges, presents a special urgency to the sustainable development goals of the region.

Climate change, one of the most significant ongoing challenges to countries in the OECS, is forecast to have devastating environmental, social and economic consequences on OECS countries and Black-Layne said the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne will have to develop adaptation strategies, during the next two terms, in order to address several issues including sea level rise and salt water intruding below the island to affect all wells.

“A significant 100 percent of potable water will have to come from desalination, the conch industry will be damaged because of ocean acidification and fisher folk will have to adapt and move into other areas of work,” she said.

But Black-Layne said all is not lost.

“From the Environment Division perspective, when you hear the pronouncements and the predicted impacts of climate change on our country it’s not very encouraging. In fact it’s very depressing and the temptation would be to say what’s the point of doing what we’re doing,” she said.

“But we believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Plunging Oil Prices Won’t Kill Vaca Muertahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:42:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140111 The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

Despite the precipitous fall in global oil prices, Argentina has continued to follow its strategy of producing unconventional shale oil, although in the short term there could be problems attracting the foreign investment needed to exploit the Vaca Muerta shale deposit.

The uncertainty has come on the heels of the initial euphoria over the exploitation of shale oil and gas, of which Argentina has some of the world’s largest reserves.

Is the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in intensive care, now that the price of a barrel of oil has plummeted from 110 dollars to under 50 in just seven months? That is the question repeated by financial and oil industry experts.

Argentina’s energy trade deficit climbed to almost seven billion dollars in 2014, partly due to the decline in the country’s conventional oil reserves.

Eliminating that deficit depends on the development of Vaca Muerta, a major shale oil and gas deposit in the Neuquén basin in southwest Argentina. At least 10 billion dollars a year in investment are needed over the next few years to tap into this source of energy.“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so.” -- Víctor Bronstein

“In the short term, it would be best to import, rather than exploit the shale resources,” Víctor Bronstein, the director of the Centre of Studies on Energy, Policy and Society, told IPS.

“But taking a more strategic view, investment in and development of these resources must be kept up, since oil prices are going to start climbing again in the near future and we have to have the capacity to produce our own resources when that happens,” he added.

That is how President Cristina Fernández saw things, he said, when she set a domestic price of 72 dollars a barrel – “40 percent above its international value” – among other production incentives that were adopted to shore up Vaca Muerta.

According to the state oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Vaca Muerta multiplied Argentina’s oil reserves by a factor of 10 and its gas reserves by a factor of 40, which will enable this country not only to be self-sufficient in energy but also to become a net exporter of oil and gas.

YPF has been assigned 12,000 of the 30,000 sq km of the shale oil and gas deposit in the province of Neuquén.

The company admits that to exploit the deposit, it will need to partner with transnational corporations capable of providing capital. It has already done so with the U.S.-based Chevron in the Loma Campana deposit, where it had projected a price of 80 dollars a barrel this year.

“Who is going to invest in unconventional oil and gas at the current prices?” the vice president of the Grupo Moreno, Gustavo Calleja, commented to IPS.

“We have to hold on to Vaca Muerta and continue studying its deposits in just a few pilot wells, to see how deep they are and what kind of drilling is necessary to keep down costs and curb the environmental impacts,” said Calleja, who was the government’s undersecretary of fuel in the 1980s.

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to extract shale oil and gas, involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and chemical additives into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

Besides being very costly, fracking poses environmental risks, as it requires huge volumes of water, pollutes aquifers, and can cause earthquakes.

The shale boom that began in the United States in 2008 was driven, among other factors, by high oil prices, which provided a profit margin.

“At the current prices only those who have cutting-edge technology can develop their shale reserves,” said Calleja.

The cost of producing a barrel of shale oil is based on variables such as extraction, exploration, investment amortization and the payment of taxes and royalties. In the United States, the cost is calculated at between 40 and 70 dollars.

That fact, explained Bronstein, led to an over 30 percent reduction in drilling activity since prices fell, “which will bring down production over the next few months.”

In Argentina, shale development is just starting, which means costs are high “due to a question of scale and problems of logistics and infrastructure,” said the expert.

In the United States, “developing a shale well, including fracking, costs around three million dollars,” while in Argentina “it costs more than twice that,” he said.

“The cost of extracting conventional oil in Argentina ranges between 20 and 30 dollars a barrel, while it costs around 90 dollars to extract a barrel of shale oil, although that will gradually go down as Vaca Muerta is developed,” he said.

Argentina does not yet produce shale gas on a commercial scale, as it still has large reserves of conventional gas. YPF’s shale oil production represents 10 percent of the company’s total output, and between three and four percent of the oil extracted by all operating companies in the country.

Canada and China produce unconventional oil on a commercial scale. But due to their geologic and operative characteristics, the United States and Argentina are seen as having the greatest potential in terms of future production of shale oil and gas.

YPF argues that with the gradual reduction in production costs, a rise in output, and higher domestic oil prices, Vaca Muerta is still profitable.

The industry is waiting for the collapse in prices to bring down the costs of international inputs and services, thus reducing the high domestic industrial costs.

YPF has also signed agreements for the joint exploitation of shale deposits with Malaysia’s Petronas and Dow Chemical of the United States, while other transnational corporations have announced their intention to invest in Vaca Muerta.

Bronstein believes the investments will continue to flow in because they were planned with an eye to “significant production in five years.”

“This means investors don’t take the current price of crude oil into account as much as the future price. And virtually all analysts agree that oil prices will rally within a few years,” he said.

“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so,” Bronstein added.

Cristian Folgar, who was undersecretary of fuels last decade, said “any snapshot of the market today would be distorted because the costs of different oil industry services have not yet settled.”

“YPF will continue to forge ahead and will not slow down investments that depend on its decision because the company currently channels its entire flow of investment into Argentina,” he told IPS.

In his view, international corporations will reduce their investments at a global level, which means “YPF is not at all likely to reach new joint venture agreements with other oil companies until the situation stabilises.”

But “those who have already started to invest are not going to back out,” he added.

“Argentina continues to pay for crude and gas at the same prices as before the start of this downward price trend,” Folgar said. “Since a change of government lies just ahead, new developments will probably wait for the next government to send signals indicating what its plans are in the energy sector.”

Calleja is worried that Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, and the country that according to experts is pulling the strings of the current price collapse in order to – among other goals – push shale out of the market, “may drive prices even further down.”

In the face of what he describes as a global “war of interests”, he believes it is a good time to start looking to energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Calleja argues in favour of hydroelectricity and nuclear energy, which currently represent just 14 percent of Argentina’s energy mix, but have “lower economic and environmental costs.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Belize, Climate Change Drives Coastal Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 18:05:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140100 Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

A five-year project launched here in Belize City in March seeks to cement a shift in view of climate change and its impact on Belize’s national development.

The Belize Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Project (MCCAP) has dual goals: putting in place structures to ensure continued protection for marine protected areas, and ensuring that those who benefit from use and enjoyment of those areas are educated on the dangers of climate change and given means of sustaining their lifestyles without further damage to precious natural resources.“Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue." -- Enos Esikuri of the World Bank

Approximately 203,000 Belizeans live in coastal communities – both urban centres such as Belize City and the towns of Corozal and Dangriga, as well as destinations for fishing and tourism such as the villages of Sarteneja, Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight and Placencia.

For these persons, and for Belize, “Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue,” said World Bank representative and senior environmental specialist Enos Esikuri, who noted that keeping the focus on the environment on this issue would result in “losing the audience” – those who make their living directly from the sea through fishing and tourism.

According to Esikuri, there has been a change in Belize’s economy from a purely agriculture base to a service-based economy with tourism as a primary focus – but the marine resources in Belize’s seas and rivers are integral to the success of that model.

Belize also has to pay attention to the intensification of weather systems and how the reef protects Belize’s fragile coast and communities, he said.

Of Belize’s three billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP), fishing accounts for 15 percent; 4,500 licensed fishermen and about 18,000 Belizeans are directly dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods.

However, tourism accounts for almost 25 percent of GDP and a significantly greater population living in coastal communities earn their livelihoods from this industry, Esikuri explained.

The Barrier Reef and its fish are a very important resource for this industry, he said, so protecting it safeguards more livelihoods.

The local Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development has received 5.53 million dollars from the World Bank’s Adaptation Fund, with the government contributing a further 1.78 million dollars for the programme, which seeks to implement priority ecosystem-based marine conservation and climate adaptation measures to strengthen the climate resilience of the Belize Barrier Reef system.

The MCCAP project will invest 560,000 U.S. dollars to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, and educate people about the value of marine conservation, and how climate change will affect their lives.

The project will explore and develop strategies to help coastal communities become more resilient to climate change, and will encourage community exchange visits to help the people learn how they can adapt to climate change.

Project Coordinator Sandra Grant says that of the three components to the project – upgrades to existing protected areas in Corozal, at Turneffe Atoll and in South Water Caye off Placencia, developing community-based business ventures in aquaculture, agriculture and tourism and raising awareness on the impact of climate change and developing and exploring climate resilient strategies – it is the second one that she expects will have the most impact.

“We are going to look at the marine protected areas, but at the same time we are going to start the livelihood activities, because sometimes if you don’t show people the alternatives, then they will not buy in to what you are trying to do. So although it is three different components we decided to put them together simultaneously,” Grant said.

The selected protected areas were identified as priority by the project because of their contribution to the environment.

She added that fishermen and other stakeholders will be able to take advantage of new strategies for economic benefit such as seaweed planting, sea cucumber harvesting and diversification of business into value-added products.

Part of the project will help finance community-based projects to create small-scale seaweed farms to take advantage of the global demand for seaweed for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even in ice cream.

A cooperative in Placencia has already pioneered growing and drying seaweed for export. The bottom-feeding sea cucumber could become a cash cow as a prized delicacy and medicinal property in Asia and China.

Belize already exports about 400,000 pounds per year and prices range from 4-8 Belizean dollars per pound though the dried product fetches as much as 150 U.S. dollars per pound internationally. Again, one cooperative already has investments in this area.

Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve and South Water Caye Marine Reserve will install various features to assist in protection of their native marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral nurseries for the latter two.

Each of the components has its own budget and will be pursued simultaneously with each other.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Deforestation in the Amazon Aggravates Brazil’s Energy Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 19:22:04 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140016 An Arara indigenous village along the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River, whose flow will be severely reduced when a large part of the water is diverted in a canal that will feed into the Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest hydropower station in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An Arara indigenous village along the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River, whose flow will be severely reduced when a large part of the water is diverted in a canal that will feed into the Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest hydropower station in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil water and electricity go together, and two years of scant rainfall have left tens of millions of people on the verge of water and power rationing, boosting arguments for the need to fight deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Two-thirds of Brazil’s electricity comes from dammed rivers, whose water levels have dropped alarmingly. The crisis has triggered renewed concern over climate change and the need to reforest river banks, and has given rise to new debate about the country’s energy system.

“Energy sources must be diversified and we have to reduce dependency on hydroelectric stations and fossil fuel-powered thermoelectric plants, in order to deal with more and more frequent extreme climate events,” the vice president of the non-governmental Vitae Civilis Institute, Delcio Rodrigues, told Tierramérica.

Hydroelectricity accounted for nearly 90 percent of the country’s electric power until the 2001 “blackout”, which forced the authorities to adopt rationing measures for eight months. Since then, the more expensive and dirtier thermal power has grown, to create a more stable electricity supply.

Today, thermal plants, which are mainly fueled by oil, provide 28 percent of the country’s power, compared to the 66.3 percent that comes from hydroelectricity.

Advocates of hydropower call for a return to large dams, whose reservoirs have a capacity to weather lengthy droughts. The instability in supply is due, they argue, to the plants of the past, which could only retain water for a limited amount of time due to environmental regulations.

But “the biggest reservoir of water is forests,” said Rodrigues, explaining that without deforestation, which affects all watersheds, more water would be retained in the soil, which would keep levels up in the rivers.

“Forests are a source, means and end of water flows, because they produce continental atmospheric moisture and help rain infiltrate the soil, which accumulates water, and they protect reservoirs,” said climate researcher Antonio Donato Nobre.

“In the Amazon, 27 percent of the forest is affected by degradation and 20 percent by total clear-cutting,” said Nobre, with the Amazon Research Institute and the National Institute for Space Research.

That fuels forest fires. “Fires didn’t used to penetrate moist areas in the rainforest that were still green, but now they do; they advance into the forest, burning immense extensions of land,” he told Tierramérica.

“Trees in the Amazon aren´t tolerant of fire, unlike the ones in the Cerrado (wooded savannah) ecosystem, which have adapted to periodic fires. It takes the Amazon forests centuries to recover,” he said.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam during construction, in 2010. When it was almost complete, in 2014, the work site was affected when the Madeira River overflowed its banks – a phenomenon blamed at least in part on deforestation. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam during construction, in 2010. When it was almost complete, in 2014, the work site was affected when the Madeira River overflowed its banks – a phenomenon blamed at least in part on deforestation. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The scientist is worried that deforestation is affecting South America’s climate, even reducing rainfall in Southeast Brazil, the most populated part of the country, which generates the most hydroelectricity.

“Studies are needed to quantify the moisture transported to different watersheds, in order to assess the climate relationship between the Amazon and other regions,” he said.

But in the eastern Amazon region, where the destruction and degradation of the rainforest are concentrated, climate alterations are already visible, such as a drop in rainfall and a lengthening of the dry season, he noted.

In the Xingú river basin this could be the year with the lowest precipitation levels in 14 years of measurements in the municipality of Canarana – where the headwaters lie – according to the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), which is carrying out a sustainability programme for indigenous people and riverbank dwellers in the river basin.

If that trend continues, it will affect the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant under construction 1,200 km downriver. With a capacity to generate 11,233 MW, it is to be the third-largest in the world once it comes onstream in 2019.

But the plant’s generation capacity could fall by nearly 40 percent by 2050, with respect to the projected total, if deforestation continues at the current pace, according to a study by eight Brazilian and U.S. researchers published in 2013 by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

In 2013, deforestation in the Xingú river basin already reached 21 percent, the ISA estimated.

Other major hydropower dams under construction in the Amazon region could also suffer losses. In the Madeira River, torrential water flows in 2014 in tributaries in Bolivia and Peru submerged the area where the Jirau and Santo Antônio dams were built, affecting the operations of the plants, which had recently come onstream.

Map of the Xingú River basin in Brazil’s Amazon region. The part marked in green – indigenous territory and officially protected zones – are surrounded by deforested areas (marked in red). The basin, which covers 511,149 sq km, is bigger than all of Spain. And the deforested area, 109,166 sq km, is as big as Cuba. Credit: Courtesy of the Socioenvironmental Institute

Map of the Xingú River basin in Brazil’s Amazon region. The part marked in green – indigenous territory and officially protected zones – are surrounded by deforested areas (marked in red). The basin, which covers 511,149 sq km, is bigger than all of Spain. And the deforested area, 109,166 sq km, is as big as Cuba. Credit: Courtesy of the Socioenvironmental Institute

The tendency in the southern part of the Amazon basin is “more intense events, with more marked low and high water levels” such as the severe droughts of 2005 and 2010 and worse than usual flooding in 2009 and 2012, said Naziano Filizola, a hydrologist at the Federal University of Amazonas.

“Besides modifying water flows, deforestation is linked to agriculture, which dumps pesticides in the river, such as in the Xingú River, where indigenous people have noticed a reduction in water quality,” he told Tierramérica.

Hydroelectric construction projects fuel that process by drawing migrant workers from other parts of the country and abroad, expanding the local population without offering adequate conditions, he added.

Nevertheless, the most intense impact on the energy supply due to insufficient rainfall is now being seen in the Planalto Central highlands region, where the Cerrado is the predominant biome. The savannah ecosystem, where the main rivers tapped for hydropower rise, is the second-most extensive in Brazil, after the Amazon rainforest.

The Paraná River, which runs north to south and has the highest generating capacity in Brazil, receives half of its waters from the Cerrado. And in the case of the Tocantins River, which flows towards the northern Amazon region, that proportion is 60 percent, said Jorge Werneck, a researcher with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA.

Those two rivers drive the two biggest hydropower stations currently operating in Brazil: Itaipú, which is shared with Paraguay, and Tucuruí. Both are among the five largest in the world.

Another example is the São Francisco River, the main source of energy in the semiarid Northeast: 94 percent of its flow comes from the Cerrado.

In the area where he makes his field observations, around Brasilia, where several rivers have their headwaters, Werneck, a specialist in hydrology with EMBRAPA Cerrado, has seen a general tendency for the dry season to expand.

“But data and studies are needed to verify the link between deforestation in the Amazon and changes in the rainfall patterns in Brazil’s west-central and southeast regions,” he said.

In 2014 there was drought in both of these regions, which comprise most of the Cerrado, but “there was no lack of moisture in the Amazon – in fact it rained a lot in the states of Rondônia and Acre,” on the border with Bolivia and Peru, where there was heavy flooding, he said.

Forests provide a variety of ecological services, but it is not possible to assert that they produce and conserve water on a large scale, he said. The treetops “keep 25 percent of the rain from reaching the ground, and evapotranspiration reduces the amount of water that reaches the rivers, where we need it,” he added.

“Assessing the hydrology of forests remains a challenge,” he said.

But Nobre says large forests are “biotic bombs” that attract and produce rain. In his opinion, it is not enough to prevent deforestation in the Amazon; it is urgently necessary to reforest, in order to recuperate the rainforest’s climate services.

One example to follow is the Itaipú hydropower station, which reforested its area of direct influence in the Paraná River basin, revitalising the tributaries, through its programme “Cultivating good water”.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: World Leaders Lack Ambition to Tackle Climate Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-world-leaders-lack-ambition-to-tackle-climate-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-world-leaders-lack-ambition-to-tackle-climate-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-world-leaders-lack-ambition-to-tackle-climate-crisis/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:38:45 +0000 Dipti Bhatnagar and Susann Scherbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139984 “Poor and rural communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is them – who did the least to create this problem – who are suffering the most from it”. Photo credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Poor and rural communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is them – who did the least to create this problem – who are suffering the most from it”. Photo credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

By Dipti Bhatnagar and Susann Scherbarth
BRUSSELS/MAPUTO, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

World governments expect to agree to a new global treaty to combat climate change in Paris in December. As the catastrophic impacts of climate change become more evident, so too escalates the urgency to act.

Mar. 31 should have marked a major milestone on the road to Paris, yet only a handful of countries acted on it. Unfortunately, the few plans that were announced before that date show that our leaders lack the ambition to do what it takes to tackle the climate crisis.

National plans for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will most likely form the basis of the Paris agreement. These plans – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – are meant to indicate a government’s self-stated commitment to solve the global climate crisis through domestic emission reductions as well as through support for the poorest and most vulnerable countries.“People on the frontline of climate impacts are burning while governments fiddle. People are paying and will pay for the devastation of climate change with their lives, livelihoods, wellbeing, communities and culture”

This architecture will result in an agreement that is weaker than each country being legally mandated to reduce emissions based on their fair share, determined through science and equity.

Yet, even with this architecture, the idea was that national governments would declare these plans by the end of March so that they could then be scrutinised.

Only six pledges had been received by the United Nations by the deadline – from the European Union, the United States, Norway, Mexico, Russia and Switzerland. These nations, with the notable exception of Mexico, are among the worst historical carbon emitters, yet these pledges do not reflect that immense historical responsibility and do not show any real willingness to address the scale of the climate crisis.

The commitments are well below what science and climate justice principles tell us is urgently needed to avoid hitting climate tipping points. The European Union announced target to cut emissions by ”at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030” is merely re-hashed from last year’s announcement.

The United States has cobbled together a plan for a meagre reduction of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels, by 2025. If these insignificant pledges are an indication of what is to come, we are on track to a world which will be 4-6°C warmer on average. To put this into context, the climate impacts we are facing today are the consequence of a planet which is only 0.8°C warmer than it was.

So far, none of these countries’ announcements would contribute their ‘fair share’ according to science and equity. All parties are capable of much greater ambition, and it is high time to bring it to the table.

The deadlines that matter most are not set by governments, but by our planet and its natural boundaries, which have already been stretched considerably by the impacts of the climate crisis, for instance by the lethal and extreme weather events from Vanuatu to the Balkans to the Sahel.

Climate change is already happening now, bringing more floods, storms, droughts, rising seas and more devastating typhoons and hurricanes.

The mockery made of this latest Mar. 31 deadline is just another revelation of our governments’ inaction – under the influence of powerful polluting corporations – in the face of impending disaster.

People on the frontline of climate impacts are burning while governments fiddle. People are paying and will pay for the devastation of climate change with their lives, livelihoods, wellbeing, communities and culture.

Poor and rural communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is them – who did the least to create this problem – who are suffering the most from it.

We need a just and drastic transformation of our societies, our energy and food systems, and our economies. Proven and workable alternatives exist and are already being implemented.

Key decisions about our energy systems are made regularly, and will of course be made long after the Paris summit. Take for instance U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring planet-wrecking tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

A decision is expected soon and a rejection of the pipeline project would send a strong signal that our long-term future is not founded on the exploitation and burning of more and more fossil fuels.

European Union governments announced their INDCs back in February with their new ‘Energy Union’ vision for meeting the region’s energy needs. The bloc has recognised the need to reduce energy consumption and help citizens take control of clean, local renewable sources. But these moves towards the good must not be negated with new investments in the bad – new gas pipelines are also on the menu.

Throughout 2015, Friends of the Earth International and others will be bringing more and more people together to fight against the power of the polluters and make sure politicians hear the voices of the voiceless and take real action.

In the run-up to Paris, and along the road beyond, we, together with thousands of others, will be promoting the wealth of real solutions and proven ideas that are already delivering transformation around the world.

We will be on the streets throughout 2015, in 2016, and as long as it takes to realise community-owned renewable energy solutions that benefit ordinary people, not multinational corporations.

The Paris deadline will come and go, like others before. But the energy transformation is under way and, whatever our governments will pledge or not pledge at the climate summit in Paris, the transformation will not be stopped.

Edited by Phil Harris

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* Dipti Bhatnagar is Climate Justice & Energy Co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, based in Maputo.

* Susann Scherbarth is Climate Justice & Energy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, based in Brussels.

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A “Year of Eye-Catching Steps Forward” for Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139953 Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014."Climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent" – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year.  However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Turkey Investing in Coal Despite Cheaper Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:09:02 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139900 By Sean Buchanan
GENEVA, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In response to rising demand for electricity, pressure to keep prices affordable and a need to maintain energy security, the Turkish government plans to increase electricity generation from coal.

According to a report on ‘Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey’ released on Mar. 24,

Turkey already spent more than 730 million dollars in subsidies to the coal industry in 2013.

This figure, says the report, does not even count subsidies under the Turkish government’s ‘New Investment Incentive Scheme’, which provides tax breaks and low-cost loans to coal projects, so the true figure is likely to be even higher.

The report, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), says that the Turkish government is planning to triple generation from coal by 2030 despite the fact that renewable energy is already cheaper than coal when external costs, such as health and environmental damage caused by burning coal, are taken into account.

According to the report, the country has developed a strategy “focusing on developing domestic coal resources, such that growth in coal-fired power generation is expected to be highest of all Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.”

Nevertheless, this strategy “also acknowledges the importance of environmental protection and emissions reduction, and foresees a much larger role for renewable energy in the energy future.”

The report comes at a time when public and private institutions are under mounting pressure to stop investing in coal mining companies.

“Subsidies for coal lock in coal power for another generation when renewable sources of energy are less costly for society in economic, social and environmental terms,” said Sevil Acar, Assistant Professor at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University and one of the report’s authors.

The report says that when the costs of coal are compared with the costs of wind and solar energy, taking into account environmental and health costs, electricity from wind power is half the cost of electricity from coal, and solar power is also marginally cheaper than coal.

“This study provides further evidence to support the case for eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies once and for all,” said Peter Wooders, director of IISD’s Energy Programme. “As a G20 country that has already committed to phasing out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies, this is a call to action for Turkey.”

According to the report, just over half of Turkey’s subsidies are used to provide coal to low-income households and while these serve the important goal of improving energy access, they come at a high health cost and are no replacement for social security programmes.

The report recommends a gradual phase-out of these subsidies in favour of more efficient measures to support access to energy and support social welfare.

Meanwhile, notes the report, coal also remains a significant employer in many areas, and any moves away from coal use would need detailed planning to ensure that affected communities can benefit from compensation measures and additional job creation from new technologies.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Q&A: “Protect Your Biodiversity”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-protect-your-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:24:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139884 St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN, Antigua, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

Richard Huber is chief of the Sustainable Communities, Hazard Risk, and Climate Change Section of the Department of Sustainable Development of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Its objective? Foster resilient, more sustainable cities – reducing, for example, consumption of water and energy – while simultaneously improving the quality of life and the participation of the community.

On a recent visit to Antigua, IPS correspondent Desmond Brown sat down with Huber to discuss renewable energy and energy efficiency. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What is a sustainable country?

A: A sustainable country is a country that is significantly trying to limit its CO2 emissions. For example, Costa Rica is trying to become the first zero emissions country, and they are doing that by having a majority of their power from renewable sources, most notably hydroelectric but also wind and solar and biofuels.

So a sustainable country in the element of energy efficiency and renewable energy would be a country that is planting lots of trees to sequester carbon, looking after its coral reefs and its mangrove ecosystems, its critical ecosystems through a national parks and protected areas progamme and being very, very energy efficient with a view towards, let’s say by 2020, being a country that has zero carbon emissions.

Q: How can small island states in the Caribbean be sustainable environmentally?

A: The first thing you would want to do is to have a very strong national parks and protected areas programme, as we are working on right now through the Northeast Management Marine Area as well as Cades Bay in the south, two very large parks which would encompass almost 40 percent of the marine environment.

In fact, there is a Caribbean Challenge Initiative throughout many Caribbean countries that began through the prime minister of Grenada where many, many Caribbean countries are committing to having 20 percent of their marine areas well managed from a protection and conservation point of view by the year 2020.

So protect your biodiversity. It’s a very good defence against hurricanes and other storm surges that occur. Those countries that in fact looked after their mangrove ecosystems, their freshwater herbaceous swamps, their marshes in general, were countries that had much less impact from the tsunami in the South Pacific. So protect your ecosystems.

Second of all, be highly energy efficient. Try to encourage driving hybrid cars, fuel efficient cars and have a very good sustainable transport programme. Public transportation actually is a great poverty alleviation equaliser, helping the poor get to work in comfort and quickly. So be energy efficient, protect your biodiversity would be the two key things towards being a sustainable country.

Q: What examples of environmental sustainability have you observed during your visit to Antigua?

A: I’ve been travelling around with Ruth Spencer, who is the consultant who’s working on having up to 10 solar power photovoltaic electricity programmes in community centres, in churches and other outreach facilities. We went to the Precision Project the other day which not only has 19 kilowatts of photovoltaic, which I think is more electricity than they need, and they are further adding back to the grid. So that is less than zero carbon because they are actually producing more electricity than they use.

There is [also] tremendous opportunity for Antigua to grow all its crops [using hydroponics]. The problem with, for example, the tourism industry is that they depend on supply being there when they need it so that is the kind of thing that hydroponics and some of these new technologies in more efficient agriculture and sustainable agriculture could give. The idea would be to make Antigua and Barbuda food sufficient by the year 2020.

Q: Could you give me examples of OAS projects in the Caribbean on this topic?

A: This is the second phase of the sustainable communities in Central America and the Caribbean Project. So the first one we had 14 projects and this one we have 10 projects. So let me give you a couple of examples in the Caribbean. In Dominican Republic we are supporting hydroelectric power, mini hydro plants and also training and outreach on showing the people who live along river basins that they could have a mini hydro powering the community.

Another project which is very interesting is the Grenada project whereby 90 percent of the poultry in Grenada was imported. The reason it’s imported is because the cost of feed is so expensive. So there was a project where the local sanitary landfill gave the project land and the person is going by the fish market and picking up all the fish waste which was thrown into the bay earlier but he is now picking that up and taking it to the sanitary landfill where he has a plant where he cooks the fish waste and other waste and turns it into poultry feed.

So now instead of being 90 percent of the poultry being imported it’s now down to 70 percent and not only that, his energy source is used engine oil.

Q: What advice would you give to Caribbean countries on the subject of renewable energy and energy efficiency?

A: The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be an enabling environment created on order to introduce renewables, in this case mostly solar and wind. Right around this site here in Jabberwock Beach there are four historic windmills which are now in ruins, but the fact of the matter is there is a lot of wind that blew here traditionally and still blows and so these ridges along here and along the beach would be excellent sites for having wind power.

Also lots of land for example around the airport, a tremendous amount of sun and land which has high security where you could begin to have solar panels. We’re beginning to have solar panel projects in the United States which are 150 megawatts which I think is more than all of Antigua and Barbuda uses.

So these larger plants particularly in areas which have security already established, like around the airport you can introduce larger scale photovoltaic projects that would feed into the grid and over time you begin to phase out the diesel generation system that supplies 100 percent or almost 99 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s power today.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

You can watch the full interview below:

Q&A from IPS News on Vimeo.

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Pollution a Key but Underrated Factor in New Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pollution-a-key-but-underrated-factor-in-new-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pollution-a-key-but-underrated-factor-in-new-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pollution-a-key-but-underrated-factor-in-new-development-goals/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 12:37:33 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139878 The Quibú River, running through the El Náutico neighbourhood in Havana, is always full of garbage. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Quibú River, running through the El Náutico neighbourhood in Havana, is always full of garbage. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

Pollution is likely to be the most pressing global health issue in the coming years without effective prevention and clean-up efforts, experts say.

Air, water and soil pollution already kills nearly nine million people a year and cripples the health of more than 200 million people worldwide. Far more people die from pollution than from malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.One study found newborn babies are contaminated with an average of 212 different chemicals.

Development and rising pollution levels remain closely linked, as clearly evidenced in China and India. However, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a major opportunity to curb pollution and turn economies around the world towards clean and green development pathways.

“The key to development and improving the health of everyone requires new, clean approaches to economic development,” said Fernando Lugris, ambassador and director general of political affairs with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay.

“You can’t ignore the global impact of toxic chemicals in the SDGs,” Lugris told IPS.

At least 143,000 man-made chemicals have been registered, with the majority untested for potential health impacts. In addition, the world generates more than 400,000 tonnes of hazardous waste every year, writes Julian Cribb in “Poisoned Planet: How constant exposure to man-made chemicals is putting your life at risk”.

Fresh snow at the top of Mount Everest is too polluted to drink. One study found newborn babies are contaminated with an average of 212 different chemicals, Cribb has said.

The SDGs will be a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators all countries are expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies from 2016 to 2030. These largely expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in place between 2000-2015 which were focused on poor countries.

Although not all of the MDGs have been achieved, they were crucial in focusing development aid and policies and a highly visible yardstick to measure international efforts.

The 17 proposed SDGs include targets to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities. SDG 3 to “Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages” has a specific pollution reduction target:  “by 2030 substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination”.

“The target is great but we are troubled by the currently proposed indicator,” said Richard Fuller of Pure Earth, an NGO formerly known as the Blacksmith Institute, which helps to clean up toxic waste sites in the poorest countries.

Pure Earth is also part of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP).

Indicators in the SDGs are tools or methods to measure the progress in achieving the target. Having the right indicators are the key to knowing if the goal has been achieved, Fuller told IPS.

However, the only current indicator is to measure outdoor air pollution levels in urban areas. “There is nothing at this point on water or soil or indoor air pollution,” he said.

However, there is time to change that. The SDGs won’t be approved until the U.N. General Assembly  Sep. 25-27. The U.N. Statistical Commission that is preparing indicators for all 17 SDGs and the 169 targets has said it can’t complete its work until March 2016.

The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) along with UNEP, Sweden, Germany, Uruguay have proposed a more comprehensive set of indicators based on measures of death and disability under the “Global Burden of Disease” methodology.

Despite the well-understood reality that exposure to pollution has serious impacts on health, it can be difficult to quantify.  The World Health Organization and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have developed a way to measure the overall health impacts of disease or pollution using disability-adjusted life years (DALY).

“This is a well-accepted metric although it will have to be enhanced because it doesn’t cover the impacts of pollution in soils yet,” said Fuller.

GAHP has proposed that the pollution reduction indicator show the current the death and disability rates from all forms of pollution as measured against a 2012 baseline established using the Global Burden of Disease methodology.

“Pollution affects everyone and everything but awareness of the impacts is low,” said Lugris.

“This is the right moment to put this issue on the centre stage,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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