Inter Press Service » Energy Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:24:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships? Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida 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

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 Energy Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:09:02 +0000 Sean Buchanan 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” Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:24:25 +0000 Desmond Brown 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 Goals Thu, 26 Mar 2015 12:37:33 +0000 Stephen Leahy 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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Hold the Rich Accountable in New U.N. Development Goals, Say NGOs Mon, 23 Mar 2015 23:55:26 +0000 Thalif Deen A man lives in the makeshift house behind him, Slovak Republic. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

A man lives in the makeshift house behind him in the Slovak Republic, a member of the EU. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

By Thalif Deen

When the World Economic Forum (WEF) met last January in Switzerland, attended mostly by the rich and the super-rich, the London-based charity Oxfam unveiled a report with an alarming statistic: if current trends continue, the world’s richest one percent would own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth by 2016.

And just 80 of the world’s richest will control as much wealth as 3.5 billion people: half the world’s population.The post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes.

So, when the World Social Forum (WSF), created in response to WEF, holds its annual meeting in Tunis later this week, the primary focus will be on the growing inequalities in present day society.

The Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) on Global Development Perspectives will be releasing a new study which calls for both goals and commitments – this time particularly by the rich – if the U.N.’s 17 proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the post-2015 development agenda are to succeed.

Asked if the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will reach their targeted deadlines in December, had spelled out goals for the rich, Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum in Bonn, told IPS MDG 8 on global partnership for development was indeed a goal for the rich.

“But this goal remained vague and did not include any binding commitments for rich countries,” he pointed out.

This is the reason why the proposed SDG 17 aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, he added.

In addition, Martens said, governments agreed to include targets on the means of implementation under each of the remaining 16 SDGs. However, many of these targets, again, are not “smart”, i.e. neither specific nor measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

“What we need are ‘smart’ targets to hold rich countries accountable,” he added.

Martens said goals without the means to achieve them are meaningless. And the post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes, he added.

Goals for the rich are indispensable for the post-2015 agenda, stressed Barbara Adams, senior policy advisor for Global Policy Forum and a member of the coordinating committee of Social Watch.

The eight MDGs, which will be replaced by the proposed new 17 SDGs, to be finalised before world leaders meet at a summit in September, were largely for developing nations with specific targets, including the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, reducing infant mortality and fighting environmental degradation.

Beginning Monday, a new round of inter-governmental negotiations will continue through Mar. 23 to finalise the SDGs.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities, perhaps by 2030.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

Roberto Bissio, coordinator for Social Watch, said three specific “goals for the rich” are particularly important for sustainable development worldwide:

The goal to reduce inequality within and among countries; the goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; and the goal to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development

He said the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) must be applied rigorously.

Coupled with the human rights principle of equal rights for all and the need to respect the planetary boundaries, this must necessarily translate into different obligations for different categories of countries, Bissio added.

Henning Melber, director emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, said for Dag Hammarskjöld, the former U.N. Secretary-General, the United Nations was an organisation guided by solidarity. If solidarity is with the poor, the rich have to realise that less is more in terms of stability, sustainability, equality and the future of humanity, he said.

In its new study, the Civil Society Reflection Group said all of the 17 goals proposed by the Open Working Group are relevant for rich, poor and emerging economies, in North and South alike.

All governments that subscribe to the post-2015 agenda must deliver on all goals.

On the face of it, for rich countries, many of the goals and targets seem to be quite easy to fulfill or have already been achieved, especially those related to social accomplishments (e.g. targets related to absolute poverty, primary education or primary health care), the Group noted.

“Unfortunately, social achievements in reality are often fragile particularly for the socially excluded and can easily be rolled back as a result of conflict (as in the case of Ukraine), of capitalism in crisis (in many countries after 2008) or as a result of wrong-headed, economically foolish and socially destructive policies, as in the case of austerity policies in many regions, from Latin America to Asia to Southern Europe. “

In the name of debt reduction and improved competitiveness, these policies brought about large-scale unemployment and widespread impoverishment, often coupled with the loss of basic income support or access to basic primary health care. More often than not, this perversely increased sovereign debt instead of decreasing it (“Paradox of thrift”), the study said.

But also under ‘normal’ circumstances some of the “MDG-plus” targets relating to poverty eradication and other social development issues may prove to be a real challenge in many parts of the rich world, where poverty has been rising.

In the United States, the study said, poverty increased steadily in the last two decades and currently affects some 50 million people, measured by the official threshold of 23,850 dollars a year for a family of four.

In Germany, 20.3 percent of the population – a total of 16.2 million people – were affected by poverty or social exclusion in 2013.

In the European Union as a whole, the proportion of poor or socially excluded people was 24.5 percent, the Group said.

To address this and similar situations, target 1.2 in the Open Working Group’s proposal requests countries to “by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”.

How one looks at ‘goals for the rich’ depends on whether one takes a narrow national or inward-looking view, or whether one takes into account the international responsibilities and extraterritorial obligations of countries for past, present and future actions and omissions affecting others beyond a country’s borders; whether one accepts and honors the CBDR principle for the future of humankind and planet earth, the study said.

In addition, this depends on whether one accepts home country responsibilities for actions and omissions of non-state actors, such as transnational corporations and their international supply chains. Contemporary international soft law (e.g. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) is based on this assumption, as are other accords such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Last, but not least, rich countries tend to be more powerful in terms of their influence on international and global policymaking and standard setting, the study declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Sustainable Development Goals Could Be a Game-Changer for Water Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:55:44 +0000 Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Suppose money was being deposited and withdrawn from your bank account, but you didn’t know how much. And suppose you knew you had bills coming due, but you didn’t know when or what amount would be required to cover them.

Worse, what if you discovered that money was being siphoned from your retirement account to cover the shortfall in your checking account? How confident would you feel about your financial stability?While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises.

This situation plays out every day when it comes to freshwater. We don’t know how much water we are withdrawing and consuming. In many places, we don’t even know how much groundwater and surface water we have.

But we do know this unequivocally: People, ecosystems, food, energy and cities can’t exist without water. Already, water resources are being strained to the breaking point – in Sao Paulo, northern China, the western United States, northwestern India and many other places. And the world’s water needs are rising inexorably.

Yet this World Water Day, we also find ourselves at a watershed moment. There is a powerful opportunity that may help countries move toward better water management: the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Walking the Talk through Targets, Measurement

The SDGs will replace the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, and set the international development agenda for the next 15 years. For the first time ever, the goals could offer new transparency and accountability in how the world uses its water resources. Goal 6 of the proposed SDGs has specific targets related to sustainable and efficient water use, water and sanitation, water quality and protection of critical natural infrastructure.

Beyond a dedicated goal on water, the issue is also mainstreamed across the 17 goals – in goal 3 on health, goal 11 on cities, goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystems.  These targets will focus political attention, resources and stakeholders on water management more than ever before.

This fall, the international community will finalise the SDGs and the metrics to measure and track water use at a country level. These targets could help hold countries accountable for better water management. Importantly, the SDGs would apply to both developed and developing countries, forcing all countries to “walk the talk.”

Where companies lead, others follow

Many companies already understand that the world is on an unsustainable path. They’re experiencing it in their bottom lines, and investors are asking tough questions. The 2015 World Economic Forum listed “water supply crises” as the top global risks affecting businesses.

Industry leaders are taking steps to reduce their risk exposure and making investments to lessen watershed-level stress, devoting resources to urban water efficiency, aquifer recharge and reforestation and other strategies. For example, Heineken committed this year to create source water protection plans for all of its production units located in water-stressed areas, while MillerCoors has a five-part water stewardship strategy in place.

The private sector and civil society will be useful allies in raising awareness in countries facing particularly high competition for water resources. Hopefully this, combined with the SDGs, will motivate governments to take positive action to reduce water stress – from more rational water pricing, to regulating groundwater withdrawal rates to incentivizing efficient irrigation and reducing water intensity in energy extraction and production.

It starts with good data

This first-of-its-kind SDG system will depend on strong metrics and data. A first step will be establishing a baseline to track sustainable water use against the target.

This challenge will require the best efforts of experts on global water data systems. These discussions are already underway across the world’s professional water communities.

The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool is a good place to start. The open-source platform provides the most up-to-date, globally consistent water supply and demand data publicly available today. Many companies, investors, governments and others are already using the Aqueduct tool Forthcoming water stress projection maps will also provide scenarios for future demand and supply for 2020, 2030 and 2040, helping the private sector and government create forward-looking water management policies.

An unprecedented opportunity

We can move from a picture of frightening scarcity, uncertainty and competition to one of abundance. Strategies to reduce water stress and use water more efficiently have been successfully applied by countries on virtually every continent. Awareness drives action, and transparency drives accountability.

The international consensus embedded in the new SDGs could be a game-changer. While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises. And done well, they will foster growth, reduce poverty and build resilient ecosystems – delivering a more sustainable future.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Why Investors Should Think Twice before Investing in Coal in India – Part 2 Thu, 19 Mar 2015 18:22:51 +0000 Chaitanya Kumar Coal mining in India. Coal-fired plants contribute 60 percent of India’s energy capacity and are a large source of the air pollution that is taking a toll on people’s health and their livelihoods. Photo credit: The Hindu

Coal mining in India. Coal-fired plants contribute 60 percent of India’s energy capacity and are a large source of the air pollution that is taking a toll on people’s health and their livelihoods. Photo credit: The Hindu

By Chaitanya Kumar
NEW DELHI, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

In November last year, India’s power minister Piyush Goyal announced that he plans to double coal production in India by the end of this decade and, in an effort to enhance production, the Indian government has started a process of auctioning coal blocks.

Coupled with the auctions is the disinvestment of Coal India Limited (CIL), the world’s largest coal mining company, and both actions can provide short-term reprieve to India’s energy and fiscal deficit woes.

However, there are four reasons why investors and the government should be wary of investing in coal for the long run (10-15 years).

The first stems from the fact that it is rapidly becoming clear to big business and governments around the world that a large proportion of coal and other fossil fuels should be left in the ground. The second is that coal consumption is declining in many parts of the world, with economics increasingly in favour of alternate sources of energy, such as wind and solar.“A systematic effort is now under way to dilute environmental, land and forest laws … The latest land ordinance passed by the [Indian] government has done away with two key pillars of the process of land acquisition: social impact assessment and community consent”

Reasons three and four have to do with growing resistance from tribal and grassroots communities, and the fact that India will be forced to take some form of action as air pollution becomes increasingly dangerous.

Despite its plans for coal production, the Indian government has been giving the right indicators on its pursuit of renewable energy, but this ambition – though welcome – is being counterbalanced by the country’s continued lust for more coal.

Call it an addiction that is hard to let go or sustained pressure from big corporations and their existing investments in coal, the Indian government has turned its eye on the vast domestic reserves in the country.

Growing resistance from tribal and grassroots communities

A systematic effort is now under way to dilute environmental, land and forest laws in the country. The latest land ordinance passed by the government has done away with two key pillars of the process of land acquisition: social impact assessment and community consent. The ordinance is facing stiff resistance from opposition parties and the general masses of India.

Any project, either private or under a public private partnership (PPP), previously required the consent of 80 percent of the community that the project impacted but no such consent is now required.

Social impact assessments that factors in effects on the environment and human health, among others, were mandatory for projects and while such assessments were shoddy in the past, doing away with them completely sets a poor precedent for industrial practices and gives even less of a reason for companies to clean up their acts.

A lack of social impact assessment also adds to the ambiguity that exists in offering the right compensation as part of the rehabilitation and resettlement plan embedded in the land ordinance.

In the context of coal, the efforts of the government to re-allocate 204 coal blocks and begin mining will be met by stiff resistance from impacted communities. “There is a fear that we will witness greater state violence on people as they begin resisting projects that have immediate impacts on their lives and livelihoods”, says Sreedhar, a former geologist who now runs a network of activists called Mines, Minerals & People.

The Mahan coal block, forcefully pursued by the Essar company, is a case in point where local communities have been resisting open cast mining for several years. The mine is located in what is one of the last remaining tracts of dense forests in central India. Mahan has subsequently been withdrawn from the auctions, a victory celebrated by the local communities.

Foreign investors are especially wary of pumping money into projects that can see resistance from local communities. The high profile cases bauxite mining plans by British resources giant Vedanta in ‘sacred’ hills in eastern India and the plans of South Korea’s POSCO steel-making multinational to open a plant in the eastern state of Odisha have become strong deterrents for big money to enter India.

While the government’s efforts at allaying fears may work, there is a difference in rhetoric and on-the-ground reality because it will not be easy to simply wish away people’s concerns.

Visible resistance has taken shape in the state of Chhattisgarh where twenty tribal gram sabhas in the Hasdeo Arand coal field area of the state passed a formal resolution under the forest rights act against coal mining in their traditional forest land.

“There has to be an assessment of India’s energy needs alongside an evaluation of the forests that we stand to lose from coal mining. Allocation of coal blocks in dense forests is imprudent,” says Alok Shukla, an activist from Chhattisgarh who is mobilising tribal communities to uphold their forest rights.

These struggles might only intensify as government efforts are aggressively under way to further dilute tribal rights and open up inviolate forests for coal mining.

Air pollution is becoming hazardous and India will be forced to act

As the pressure to act on air pollution builds, India will have to enforce strict emission norms on coal plants and their operators. Installing flue-gas desulphurisation scrubbers should be mandatory on any new plant that is set to operate in coming years. These devices are very effective in limiting dangerous pollutants from escaping into the atmosphere but come at a heavy cost for investors and coal power generators. 

But why would the government work towards increasing operational costs for power plants in the pipeline? Here’s why – air pollution is killing Indians every year and is now the fifth largest contributor of deaths in the country. The fact that 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India is a cause for great alarm. A study has indicated that one in three children have shown a reduction in lung function in Delhi.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) report, which makes this claim, advises that fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre. Delhi tops the list at 153 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre and it is only getting worse.

In Delhi, for instance, coal roughly contributes 30 percent of recorded air pollution (particulate matter) and the numbers are higher in the coal clusters of the country. Coal-fired plants contribute 60 percent of India’s energy capacity and are a large source of the air pollution that is taking a toll on people’s health and their livelihoods.

A recent report on coal pollution in India by Urban Emissions and Conservation Action Trust reveals a shocking statistic – in another 15 years between 186,500 and 229,500 people may die premature deaths annually as a result of a spike in air pollution caused by coal-fired power plants.

In dealing with air pollution, curbing the effects of harmful pollutants like nitrous and sulphur oxides from coal power plants is critical and there is growing pressure on the central government to introduce strict emission standards. India is the only major coal-powered nation that does not have any concentration standards for these pollutants, a requirement that should soon be in place.

Both domestic and international pressure can move India to clean up its air. The government cannot afford to have an ‘airpocalypse’ on its hands.

All is not well with the coal industry in India  

Undaunted, Narendra Taneja, energy cell convenor of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has claimed that coal and gas will remain the mainstay of the country’s economy for the next 50-60 years.

The impossibility of this claim becomes apparent when we look at the actual reserves of extractable coal. Only one-fifth of the coal reserves of CIL are extractable and if the ambitious doubling of domestic production happens, the known reserves are expected to last for less than two decades.

Coal mines that expire before the lifetime of new coal plants scream for greater economic prudence from investors.

India’s ambitious renewable energy expansion plans need to be complemented by a phase-out plan of coal. The world needs stronger political leadership from India as it tries to tackle the twin challenges of poverty and climate change.

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. 

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In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawl Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Middle Income Nations Home to Half the World’s Hungry Wed, 18 Mar 2015 19:28:15 +0000 Thalif Deen In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Nearly half of the world’s hungry, amounting to about 363 million people, live in some of the rising middle income countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The 2014–2015 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) calls on these developing nations, described as “rising economic powerhouses,” to reshape their food systems to focus on nutrition and health, close the gender gap in agriculture, and improve rural infrastructure to ensure food security for all.“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the quality of caregiving, among others.” -- Shenggen Fan

“It may seem counterintuitive, but these growing economies play a key role in our ability to adequately and nutritiously feed the world,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI.

The report traces the link between sanitation and nutrition, with findings in Bangladesh that show “dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children.”

The research also found that “Bangladeshi children living in places where open defecation had been reduced were taller than children in neighboring West Bengal, India, where open defecation is still common, even at the same levels of economic wealth.”

“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the qual­ity of caregiving, among others,” Fan said.

The study also finds strong evidence that food insecurity was a contributing factor to instability in the Middle East.

Additionally, it draws attention to the pressing need to regulate food production to prevent food-borne diseases, help small family farmers move up by increasing their incomes or move out to non-farm employment, improve social protection for the rural poor, and support the role of small-scale fishers in satisfying the global demand for fish.

Asked specifically about the impact of Middle East conflicts on food security, Clemens Breisinger, a senior research fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance division at IFPRI, told IPS food insecurity is quite obviously often a consequence of political instability and conflict.

As such, he said, the number of food insecure people has risen in many Arab countries since 2011, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (three countries ravaged by political turmoil).

“But new research shows that food insecurity can also fuel conflicts, particularly in countries that are net food importing countries and thus vulnerable to global food price shocks,” Breisinger said.

He pointed out Arab countries import about 50 percent of their food and were thus hard hit by the global food price spikes in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, Imed Drine, a senior economist at the Islamic Development Bank, says the slump in oil prices continues to upend the global economy and experts believe this is likely to last for several years.

Oil prices dropped by about 50 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the first month of 2015, the second largest annual decline ever where the falling oil prices have helped to push food prices down, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Of the regions affected by these declining oil prices, said Drine in a blog post, the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is affected the most.

That is due to the fact that the majority of its countries depend on oil revenues for growth and because it is the most food imports-dependent region where food dependency ratios exceed 50 percent on average.

Drine says the strong relationship between oil and food prices may be explained by a key fact: “Our modern global food system is highly oil-dependent.”

Oil is the key fuel for production and for transporting food from field to market, and fuel costs, he said, make up as much as 50 to 60 per cent of total shipping costs.

In addition, energy related costs such as fertilisers, chemicals, lubricants and fuel account for close to 50 percent of the production costs for crops such as corn and wheat in some developed countries.

“As a result, declining oil prices will have a direct influence on production costs,” he added.

Furthermore, grain prices have become increasingly linked to the movement of oil markets since more corn is being diverted to biofuel production.

Generally, as demand for these alternative fuels decreases, crop prices are forced down, making food more affordable, Drine added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Why Investors Should Think Twice before Investing in Coal in India – Part 1 Wed, 18 Mar 2015 11:47:44 +0000 Chaitanya Kumar Indian coal workers. India announced in November last year that it plans to double coal production to a whopping 1 billion tonnes per annum before the end of this decade, a feat that is going to be highly improbable to pull off. Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

Indian coal workers. India announced in November last year that it plans to double coal production to a whopping 1 billion tonnes per annum before the end of this decade, a feat that is going to be highly improbable to pull off. Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

By Chaitanya Kumar
NEW DELHI, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

India’s Government under Narendra Modi is in overdrive mode to please businesses and investments in the country. The much aggrandised ‘Make in India’ campaign launched in September 2014 is a clarion call for spurring investments into manufacturing and services in India and all eyes have turned to the power sector which is expected to undergo dramatic shifts.

Piyush Goyal, India’s power minister, announced in November last year that he plans to double coal production in India to a whopping 1 billion tonnes per annum before the end of this decade, a feat that is going to be highly improbable to pull off.

In an effort to enhance production, the Indian government has started a process of auctioning coal blocks, which were de-allocated by the country’s Supreme Court as a result of the coal scam that hit the country in 2012 (and resulted in notional losses of 30 billion dollars to India’s exchequer).

With domestic miners already having shown an aggressive interest in bidding at the first auction last month, a total of 204 coal blocks are set to be auctioned over the next 12 months. The first 32 auctioned blocks have yielded more than 35 billion dollars, exceeding the nominal losses from the coal scam.“[Indian] Prime Minister Modi has made it clear that he does not intend to give into … pressure [to take further action on climate change and rethink its energy options] from any nation but he also cannot afford the ignominy of being singled out as a country that is blocking progressive climate action in Paris”

Coupled with the auctions is the disinvestment of Coal India Limited (CIL), the world’s largest coal mining company. A 10 percent stake sale in early February resulted in a mixed bag response. Another state owned firm, LIC India, lapped up 50 percent of the stocks alongside a couple of international investment funds and a few Indian firms. The move generated 3.6 billion dollars in revenues for the government.

The auctions and the disinvestment of CIL can provide short-term reprieve to India’s energy and fiscal deficit woes, but there are four reasons why investors and the government should be really wary of investing in coal for the long run (10-15 years). The following are the first two.

Unburnable carbon

The reality that a large proportion of coal and other fossil fuels should be left in the ground is rapidly becoming clear to big business and governments around the world. By signing on to a global agreement that pledges to limit the rise in the earth’s surface temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, India along with other major carbon emitters have effectively signalled the imminent decline in the use of fossil fuels in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

To achieve this much needed and agreed upon limit on temperature rise, 82 percent of known global coal reserves should remain unextracted. This roughly translates into 66 percent of known coal reserves in India and China that should be left in the ground, according to a study published in the reputed journal Nature.

These stranded assets, or unburnable carbon, is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body that informs climate policy around the world, also highlighted in its recent report on climate change mitigation.

This new reality is unravelling quicker than expected and gaining credence from the most unlikely of places. Even the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has faced consistent criticism in underplaying the role of renewable energy in favour of nuclear and fossil fuels, stated recently that “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degrees C goal”.

IEA’s Chief Economist Fatih Birol warned that “we need to change our way of consuming energy within the next three or four years,” because, otherwise, “in 2017, all of the emissions that allow us to stay under 2°C will be locked in.”

Coal is fast losing the rug under its feet. Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said of divestment: “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue.

This proposition will be contested fiercely by the Indian government as much as by any fossil fuel company, but as nations – under pressure – prepare to deliver a strong global climate agreement at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, long-term investments in coal in this rapidly growing economy will stand on very thin ice.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama’s statements during his recent visit to India suggest diplomatic pressure on India to take further action on climate change and rethink its energy options for the immediate future.

Prime Minister Modi has made it clear that he does not intend to give into such pressure from any nation but he also cannot afford the ignominy of being singled out as a country that is blocking progressive climate action in Paris.

Thermal coal reaches retirement age – it’s time for renewable energy

A new report from Goldman Sachs starts with this gem of a sentence:  “Just as a worker celebrating their 65th birthday can settle into a more sedate lifestyle while they look back on past achievements, we argue that thermal coal has reached its retirement age.”

The latest data reveal that coal consumption is declining in many parts of the world, including across Europe as a whole, the United States and now, surprisingly, even China registered a small but historic decline in its coal consumption last year. The retirement of dirty coal plants in developed economies is set to cement this trend in the coming few years.

The most recent blow comes from the world’s largest sovereign fund, as Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth 850 billion dollars, announced that it had dumped 40 major coal mining companies from its portfolio on environmental and climate grounds.

Besides the climate concern, economics is increasingly in favour of alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

In 2014, we saw a precipitous drop in the cost of solar energy in India. Bidding prices came down as low as 6.5 rupees a unit, a 61 percent drop over the last three years, compared with the average unit price of conventional energy like coal at around 5.5 rupees a unit.

Coupled with dramatic drops in costs of solar equipment such as panels, alongside operational, capital and maintenance costs, the path is clearly open for solar to achieve grid parity by 2017.

Meanwhile, onshore wind has in fact become the cheapest way to generate electricity in the world, laying the claims of cheap coal to rest. A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental research organisation, has laid bare the facts.

According to the report, the levelised cost of energy or LCOE (that is, all costs considered except externalities like subsidies or environmental impacts) for solar and wind already makes them highly competitive with fossil fuel-based electricity.

The oft cited issues of high capital costs and intermittency notwithstanding, prices of small-scale residential rooftop solar systems also dropped in the range of 40-65 percent between 2008 and 2014 in Europe and the United States.

What does this mean for coal in India? If the above numbers are any measure of the future of the energy sector, heavy investments in coal beyond this decade would be economic suicide.

Coal plants once established have a lifetime of at least 30 years and given the market volatility for coal, owing to rising costs of mining and uncertain fuel supply agreements, greater prices for end consumers is inevitable.

Many pundits in India appreciate this reality and the government has given the right indicators on its pursuit of renewable energy. With a target of 165 GW, India has set an ambitious goal of adding 60 percent to its total current capacity from just solar and wind by 2022.

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. 

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Opinion: Climate Change Continues, Impervious to Official Declarations Mon, 16 Mar 2015 08:55:49 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that while the governmental system says all the right things about acting to combat climate change, at the same time it is doing exactly the opposite.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

It is now clear that we are not going to reach the goal of controlling climate change.

It is worth recalling that the goal of not exceeding a 2 degree centigrade rise in global warming before 2020 was adopted at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 as a formula for consensus. Many in the scientific community had been clamouring for immediate action – and at most for a 1 degree rise – but bowed to political realism, and accepted an easier target.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The agreement was to block the rise in global temperature before 2020, and start a process for gradually reverting the climate to safe levels, to be concluded before 2050.

Well, in the last four years, we have already witnessed an increase in temperature by 1 degree, and there is only another 1 degree left before 2020.

The European Environment Agency (EEA), which publishes a report every five years, states that Europe needs “much more ambitious goals” if it wants to reach its declared targets and for 2050, European Union leaders have endorsed the objective of reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent compared with 1990 levels.

However, Germany increased its carbon emissions by 20 million tons in 2012-13, instead of reducing them. This means that, in order to reach its targets, Germany should now reduce emissions by 3.5 percent a year over the next six years, which is a difficult, if not impossible, target to achieve.

It will increase energy costs and probably lead to a reaction to block measures which can hurt the economy. By the way, this is the official position of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress, who will fight any climate proposal.Climate change dissenters are clearly unconcerned that the very future of our planet is at stake or, like the governmental system, have fallen prey to the ‘ostrich syndrome’

By now, the effects of climate change have become visible, and not just to the climatologists. Last year the total number of people displaced by climatic disasters (such as hurricanes, landslides, drought, floods and forest fires) reached the staggering figure of 11 million people.

Last month, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi, issued a study report citing data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975.

By 2011, the cost of natural disasters had ballooned to 350 billion dollars. In the 110 years between 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters increased from 25 to 3,526. Together, extreme hydro-meteorological, geological and biological events increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period.

There is no doubt that the activities of man are having a dramatic impact on the climate and the planet, affecting people’s lives, but – as usual – the world is moving on two levels, which are unrelated and opposed.

One of the main issues among countries at climate negotiations has been how much to invest in combating climate change but here the signs are very discouraging, to say the least. Take the Green Climate Fund, for example, which was intended to be the centrepiece of efforts to raise  100 billion dollars a year by 2020 but, as of December last year, only 10 billion dollars had been pledged to the fund.

This is the track for reducing fossil emissions. Let us now look to the other track: what the rich countries are spending to keep them.

According to a report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International (OCI), G20 governments are actually subsidising fossil fuel exploration with 88 billion dollars every year.

The report notes that “with rising costs for hard-to-reach reserves, and falling coal and oil prices, generous public subsidies are propping up fossil fuel exploration which would otherwise be deemed uneconomic.” In fact, G20 governments spend more than twice what the top 20 private companies are spending on finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, and are doing so with public money.

So, on one hand, the system makes the right declarations of principle and, on the other, does the very opposite.

Meanwhile, there are some signs that the campaign against the need for doing something about climate change is losing credibility.

It is known that some members of the Republican Party in the United States are financed by energy giants, and it goes without saying that they will do whatever they can to boycott any deal on climate change that U.S. President Barack Obama may try to agree to at the next climate conference in Paris in December.

It is also known that a number of scientists dissent from the thinking of the more than 2,000 scientists whose work has contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in presenting the link between human activity and deterioration of the climate. Of course, the dissenting voices have received a disproportionate echo in conservative media.

However, last month, the Washington Post reported that one of the leading dissenters and guru of climate change deniers, Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, had been receiving funds from the fossil fuel industry.

The report cited documents that Greenpeace obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act showing that Soon had been receiving funding from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company and the American Petroleum Institute, among others.

Climate change dissenters are clearly unconcerned that the very future of our planet is at stake or, like the governmental system, have fallen prey to the ‘ostrich syndrome’. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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. 

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Safeguarding Africa’s Wetlands a Daunting Task Thu, 12 Mar 2015 19:51:55 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi Africa’s wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure from commercial development and agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

Africa’s wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure from commercial development and agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Mar 12 2015 (IPS)

African wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the continent, covering more than 131 million hectares, according to the Senegalese-based Wetlands International Africa (WIA).

Yet, despite their importance and value, wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure across the continent. Commercial development ranks as the major threat for the draining of wetlands, including for tourism facilities and agriculture, where hundreds of thousands of hectares of wetlands have been drained.

Other threats to Africa’s wetlands are commercial agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. The prospect of immense profits from recently discovered oil, coal and gas deposits has also led to an increase in on-and offshore exploration and mining in sensitive ecological areas.Commercial development ranks as the major threat for the draining of [Africa’s] wetlands, including for tourism facilities and agriculture … Other threats are commercial agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities

In Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, for example, wetlands and estuaries coincide with fossil fuel deposits and related infrastructure developments.

In northern Kenya, port developments in Lamu are set to take place in the West Indian Ocean Rim’s most important mangrove area and fisheries breeding ground.

In KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape of South Africa, heavy mineral sands are located in important dune forest ecosystems, and gas is being prospected for in the water-scarce and ecologically unique Karoo.

In East Africa, oil discoveries have been made in the tropical Congo Basin rain forest and the Virunga National Park – a world heritage site and a wetland recognised under the Ramsar Convention.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana, one of Africa’s most important wetlands and designated as the 1,000th world heritage site by UNESCO, has been home to many threatened species and the main water source of regional wildlife in Southern Africa. Yet it is shrinking due to drier climate, increased grazing and growing pressure from tourism.

“This delta is a true oasis in the middle of the bone-dry Kalahari Sand Basin, a rare untouched wilderness that’s been preserved by decades of border and civil wars in the Angolan catchment,” said National Geographic explorer Steve Boyes in an interview. “Many people along the Okavango River live like communities did some 400 years ago – and from them I think we can learn a lot about how to be better stewards of the natural world.”

Boyes calculated the abundance of life in the delta: more than 530 bird species, thousands of plant species, 160 different mammals, 155 reptiles, scores of frogs and countless insects.

“Everywhere you look you find life. We surveyed bats and we found 17 species in three days. We started looking for praying mantises and found 90 different species,” he said.

A recent survey by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the environmentalist group BirdLife Botswana concluded that that the wetland’s historical zones of dense reed beds and water fig islands were largely destroyed by hydrological changes and fire. Bush fires and a high grazing pressure further reduced the natural shores of the Okavango Delta.

Studies by BirdLife Botswana also showed that the slaty egret, a vulnerable water bird living only in Southern Africa, with its main breeding grounds in the wetlands of Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is now estimated to have a total population of only about 4,000 birds.

The egret, which is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable, seems to be losing its main breeding sites in the Okavango.

Environmentalists hope that they can still save the wetland, and pin their hopes on a “Slaty Egret Action Plan” which will be used by the Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, BirdLife and other environment stakeholders to guarantee the survival of the Okavango Delta as a safe haven for the birds.

In a further step to save the wetlands, the Botswana government announced this month that from now on, seekers of mobile safari licences would be prohibited from operating in the Okavango Delta because the area in now congested.

The Botswana Guides Association, which represents many of the mobile safaris, is threatening to appeal.

Another example of the devastation of major wetlands occurred in Nigeria with pollution of farmlands linked to the Shell oil company.  The Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project, an independent team of scientists from Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States, has characterised the Niger Delta as “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems.”

In 2013, a Dutch court found the Nigerian subsidiary of Shell culpable for the pollution of farmlands at Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom state in the coastal south of the country.

The Niger Delta is Africa’s largest delta, covering some 7,000 square kilometres – one-third of which is made up of wetlands. It contains the largest mangrove forest in the world.

Assisted by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, the court ruling was a victory for the communities in the Niger Delta after years of struggle against the oil company dating back 40 years, although the clean-up still has far to go.

“Destruction of wetlands is prevalent in almost all countries in Africa because the driving factor is the same – population pressure – many mouths to feed, ignorance about the role wetlands in playing in the ecosystem, lack of policies, laws and institutional framework to protect wetlands and in cases where these exist, they are hardly enforced,” John Owino, Programme Officer for Water and Wetlands with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  told IPS from his base in Nairobi, Kenya.

Owino said that the future of African wetlands lies in stronger political will to protect them, based on sound wetland policies and encouragement for community participation in their management, which is lacking in many African countries.

But very few African governments have specific national policies on wetlands and are influenced by policies from different sectors such as agriculture, national resources and energy.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Eighty-Three Percent of Lights Have Gone Out in Syria Wed, 11 Mar 2015 23:49:39 +0000 Josh Butler A satellite view of Syria in February/March 2015. Credit Xi Li/Wuhan University

A satellite view of Syria in February/March 2015. Credit Xi Li/Wuhan University

By Josh Butler

A single image can be more powerful, more descriptive and more potent than an entire essay – ‘ a picture says a thousand words,’ as the cliché goes.

So it is in Syria, where despite the undoubted millions of words penned about atrocity after atrocity, bombing after bombing, a newly-released set of satellite images spell out the true devastation wrought on the nation.“People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. Modern technology, which we take for granted, cannot be used. Even the lucky ones with a generator have to ration it." -- Dr. Zaher Sahloul

Since the start of the conflict in 2011, more than four-fifths of lights across Syria have gone out.

With Syria, a coalition of 130 non-governmental organisations, launched the sobering statistic on Thursday. Research by Dr Xi Li, of Wuhan University in China, showed between March 2011 and February 2015, the number of lights visible over Syria has fallen almost 83 percent.

“I have analysed other countries, but Syria is the worst case I’ve ever seen of nighttime lights going out like this,” Li told IPS. “It is very similar to the figures of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda and Syria are the two most impacted and most suffering countries I’ve seen.”

Figures vary nationwide. In Damascus, only 33 percent of lights have gone out; while in war-ravaged Aleppo, Idlib and Al-Raqqah, up to 97 percent of lights have been extinguished.

Li says the astonishing lack of light in the country is due to three factors; the displacement of citizens from towns and cities, the destruction of buildings and their lights, and disruption of electricity supply, all of which have hugely damaging and potentially deadly effects.

“Electricity is one of the basic needs for people, but basic supplies have been cut off. Most people there are living in darkness,” Li said.

Destruction and disruption of power supply is not unfamiliar for Dr. Zaher Sahloul. President of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), Sahloul – a Syrian himself, with family still in the country – and his organisation provide medical care in trauma centres and clinics around the country.

SAMS also provides diesel, to fuel power generators in areas without steady electricity supply. Sahloul said a lack of basic utilities is one of the biggest issues faced by citizens and aid groups looking to assist on the ground, claiming that areas like Ghouta – near Damascus – have been without power for over 860 days.

“Some of the shortages are intentional, by fighting groups. When they circle an area, or start a siege, they cut off the power. Some government controlled areas have electricity a few hours a day, usually after midnight, because of rationing,” he told IPS. “Aleppo and Ghouta have a complete dependence on generators and diesel fuel.”

Sahloul said SAMS provides funding for facilities to purchase diesel fuel, but it is scarce and expensive – up to 12 dollars per gallon, “the highest in the world,” he claims.

“People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. Modern technology, which we take for granted, cannot be used. Even the lucky ones with a generator have to ration it. Many functions have stopped in the cities under siege,” Sahloul said.

“The basic functions of any village, like garbage management, water, bakeries and schools – with no power, how can you do those? It is a formula for disaster.”

Syria has just shivered its way through a harsh winter, with temperatures plunging to -7 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit). Many Syrians battled the cold in tents in refugee camps, or in the shells of destroyed houses, with no way to keep warm. Sahloul’s family was one of those.

“They have been trying to get fuel for months, but have not been able to, so they can’t use the heating in their house,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of displaced people have no heat. There were children dying, freezing to death. Nowadays, nobody can live without electricity.”

Sharif Aly, Advocacy Counsel for Islamic Relief USA, said his group’s recent efforts had also focused on helping Syrians survive a brutal winter without heat, power or even secure shelter. Due to security concerns, Islamic Relief was only able to provide basic blankets and coats in some parts of the country.

“People being displaced have to brave the elements, a very cold winter with snow and ice. There were deaths from freezing,” Aly told IPS. “Our winter work has been to try and provide gas or fuel to families. Hopefully the problems are starting to alleviate with spring, but it has been a big challenge.”

Aly said a lack of electricity, as well as ongoing dangers from gunfire, bombings and other military activity had made providing medical care hugely difficult; but while emergency trauma care for wounds is the most obvious medical emergency, he said psychological and emotional injuries were all but ignored in the region.

“There are huge mental health problems, a lot of psychological impact for these innocent people caught in the conflict,” he said.

“Getting health aid is challenging. We recently started a kidney dialysis service in Lebanon, because due to the situation in Syria and a lack of health services, there is not a lot of opportunity to get good treatment for urgent things like dialysis.”

Sahloul said many members of the medical community are fleeing Syria as the conflict becomes even bloodier. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, addressing a telebriefing on the release of the ‘lights out’ figures, said 2014 was “the bloodiest year yet” of the conflict, bringing the total death toll since 2011 to over 200,000 lives.

“Every physician I know in Syria is thinking about leaving, even in so-called stable areas,” Sahloul said.

“The continuation of violence is adding strain to the medical community. There has been systematic targeting of health facilities by fighting group. There is a flight of doctors and nurses out of Syria.”

A report released Wednesday by Physicians For Human Rights claimed 610 medical staff had been killed in Syria since 2011, with 233 attacks on 183 medical facilities.

The group said the Syrian government “committed the vast majority of these attacks,” responsible for 97 percent of medical personnel killings, including 139 by torture or execution.

Sahloul said the exodus of medical staff has led to the spread of diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis, parasites including lice and scabies, malnutrition, and chronic diseases going untreated due to a lack of access to healthcare and medication.

March 2015 marks four years since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Despite a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, 11 million people displaced, and an untold number of wounded, an end to the violence is not in sight.

“People on the ground are not hopeful. There are rumblings in the NGO community that this could be an eight or 10-year conflict,” Aly said. “There is no expectation of a resolution anytime soon.”

Li, drawing another parallel between Syria and the Rwanda, said he hoped the international community would act before the Syrian conflict became as infamous as the 1994 genocide.

“The international community ignored Rwanda, and after, they regretted it. I don’t want people to have any more regrets after this conflict ends,” he said.

Sahloul expected a similarly grim future.

“In areas like Aleppo, the situation is as bad as always, or even worse. Nobody is optimistic, and nobody is taking the crisis as seriously as they should be,” he warned.

“They are thinking Syria can be contained. It is not contained. This is the tip of the iceberg. If it continues, the situation in the whole region will explode.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Coal: Burning Up Australia’s Future Wed, 11 Mar 2015 02:17:08 +0000 Suganthi Singarayar Globally, coal production and coal power account for 44 percent of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Bigstock

Globally, coal production and coal power account for 44 percent of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Bigstock

By Suganthi Singarayar
SYDNEY, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

With less than a year to go before the United Nation’s annual climate change meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in November 2015, citizens and civil society groups are pushing their elected leaders to take stock of national commitments to lower carbon emissions in a bid to cap runaway global warming.

Industrialised countries’ trade, investment and environment policies are under the microscope, with per capita emissions from the U.S., Canada and Australia each topping 20 tonnes of carbon annually, double the per capital carbon emissions from China.

“Without changing our energy choices, we are not going to be able to act effectively on climate change.” -- Fiona Armstrong, convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA)
But despite fears that a rise in global temperatures of over two degrees Celsius could lead to catastrophic climate change, governments around the world continue to follow a ‘business as usual’ approach, pouring millions into dirty industries and unsustainable ventures that are heating the planet.

In Australia, coal mining and combustion for electricity, for instance, has become a highly divisive issue, with politicians hailing the industry as the answer to poverty and unemployment, while scientists and concerned citizens fight fiercely for less environmentally damaging energy alternatives.

Others decry the negative health impacts of mining and coal-fired power, as well as the cost of dirty energy to local and state economies.

Globally, coal production and coal power accounts for 44 percent of CO2 emissions annually, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Australia’s reliance on coal for both export and electricity generation explains its poor track record in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reporting last year that Australia’s 2010 carbon emission rate was 25 tonnes per person, higher than the per capita emissions of any other member of the organisation.

Counting the cost of coal: The case of Hunter Valley

Compromising Other Industries

Judith Leslie, who lives seven km from Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth mine, also believes that house values in the village of Bulga - approximately five km from three of the largest open cut coal mines in the Hunter Valley – have fallen as a result of the mine’s presence.

She said that houses in the area had not sold for years and she believed it was a direct result of the presence of the mine.

Brushing aside the community’s concerns, the government appears to be moving full steam ahead with coal-based projects. On Mar. 5 the New South Wales Government’s Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) stated that Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley mine could be expanded if “stringent criteria” were met.

Reasons given for approving the expansion of the mine included the “adverse economic impacts” on the towns of Singleton and Cessnock if the Warkworth and Mount Thorley projects were not approved.

The PAC also argued that a further 29 million tonnes of coal could be mined from the area, providing an additional 120 jobs over 11 years, on top of continued employment for the existing 1,300 workers. It also spoke of a projected 617 million dollars in royalties to the state of New South Wales.

But this projected revenue will again come at a loss. Expanding mines means threatening existing industries, like the Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Breeding industry, which contributes over five billion Australian dollars (3.8 billion U.S. dollars) to the national economy and 2.4 billion Australian dollars (1.8 billion U.S. dollars) to the economy of New South Wales.

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, in 2010 Hunter Valley wine makers produced more than 25 million litres of wine valued at over 210 million Australian dollars (160 million U.S. dollars).

The total value of investment expenditure that is directly associated with the grape and wine industry exceeds 450 million Australian dollars (343 million U.S. dollars) each year.

According to the Department, combined vineyard and tourism industries provide 1.8 billion Australian dollars (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) to the New South Wales economy.

All this revenue could be lost of mines are expanded at the expense of other, more sustainable industries.
According to new studies out this year, the health costs associated with the five coal-fired power stations located in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, about 120 km north of Sydney, are estimated to be around 600 million Australian dollars (456 million U.S. dollars) per annum.

A report released in February by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), a coalition of 28 organisations working to protect human health, concluded that the “estimated costs of health damages associated with coal combustion for electricity in the whole of Australia amounts to 2.6 billion Australian dollars [197 million U.S. dollars] per annum.”

CAHA’s convenor, Fiona Armstrong, told IPS that CAHA aims to draw attention to Australia’s health and energy policy in light of its heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

“Without changing our energy choices, we are not going to be able to act effectively on climate change,” she contended.

She pointed out that the Hunter Region, one of the largest river valleys on the coast of New South Wales, is one of the most intensive mining areas in Australia.

“It’s responsible for two-thirds of our emissions,” she explained, “So it’s a good example […] to see what the impacts are for people on the ground, [and] also to see what the contribution of coal from that community has on a global level.”

Hunter Valley produced 145 million tonnes of coal in 2013. Keeping in mind a conversion rate of 2.4 tonnes (2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted for each tonne of coal produced), experts say that coal mined in the Hunter Valley in 2013 produced the equivalent of 348 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

According to the NSW Minerals Council, mining in the Hunter Region employs over 11,000 fulltime workers. It contributes 1.5 billion Australian dollars in wages and contributes 4.4 billion Australian dollars to the local community through direct spending on goods and services, as well as to local councils and community groups.

But these riches come at a high price.

The Hunter Valley is known for its vineyards, horse studs and farming areas, all of which are threatened by extensive mining in the region.

Addressing a community meeting in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe this past February, John Lamb, president of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, spoke about the cost of mines on local communities, and the uncertainty wrought by their inability to fight against the rampant growth of the industry.

Lamb’s Association previosly fought the expansion of the Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine by the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto.

Dust from coal mines, he said, coats the roofs of people’s homes and runs into their rainwater tanks, polluting the community’s water supply. Day and night, noise is a constant issue.

Lamb also noted the impact of mining on land values in the area. The village of Camberwell in the Hunter Valley, for instance, which is surrounded by mines on three sides, only has four privately owned homes – the rest are occupied by miners or are derelict.

Yancoal, the owner of the Ashton mine – 14 km northwest of the town of Singleton in Hunter Valley – owns 87 percent of homes in the area.

Health risks for communities, ecosystem

Wendy Bowman, one of the last remaining residents of Camberwell village who has farmed in the Valley since 1957, is extremely concerned about the extent of mining in the area.

She lives on a farm at Rosedale, between the towns of Muswellbrook and Singleton, and she is refusing to leave the area. She left her previous farm when the dust and water pollution caused by the Ravensworth South open cut mine became impossible to live with.

In a video on the CAHA website, she says that she has dust in her lungs and that she has lost 20 percent of her lung capacity. But she is far more concerned about the health of the children in the area than she is about her own medical condition, and the consequences for the Department of Health in 20 or 30 years time.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coal mining and coal combustion for electricity generation is associated with high emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which react to form secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Complex air pollutants such as these are known to increase the risk of chronic lung and respiratory disorders and disease, including lung cancer, and pose additional threats to children, and pregnant women.

CAHA states that most health and medical research on coal-related pollution focuses on fine particles measuring between 2.5 and 10 micrometres in diameter (PM 2.5-PM10), which are particularly damaging to human health.

According to the CAHA report, emissions of PM10 increased by 20 percent from 1992-2008 in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, an increase that is attributable to the increase in coal mining in the Hunter Valley.

The report states that while at one time the Hunter Valley was “renowned for its clean air”, in 2014 it was identified as an “air pollution hot spot”.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Renewable Energies in Latin America Weather Low Oil Prices Mon, 09 Mar 2015 17:34:03 +0000 Emilio Godoy One of Mexico’s 31 wind parks. By 2020, installed capacity for wind power in this country will be 15 gigawatts. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

One of Mexico’s 31 wind parks. By 2020, installed capacity for wind power in this country will be 15 gigawatts. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Mar 9 2015 (IPS)

Traditionally, falling oil prices have discouraged development of renewable energy sources, but clean energy is making steady progress in Latin America, according to regional experts.

Most Latin American countries have set medium and long-term targets for alternative energy supply and consumption and these projects are being maintained in spite of economic fluctuations and plummeting international crude oil prices.

According to Hugo Ventura, the head of the Energy and Natural Resources Unit of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), there are two factors that call into question the view that cheaper oil will act as a brake on the development of renewable energy sources.

“One of these factors is that countries are committed to increasing the contribution of renewables, in order to diversify their energy mix, decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions because of climate change. The other aspect is that players in the energy sector are taking the long-term view,” Ventura told IPS.

Studies provide evidence that renewable energy sources in the region are in robust health. The World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) said on Feb. 5 that preliminary figures for 2014 were “very bright,” in a report that confirmed that “wind power investment is still speeding up at an enormous pace.”“There is unstoppable inertia; many projects under construction will soon be operating , so growth is continuing. There are renewable energy tendering schemes in the pipeline that are not going to stop.” -- Hugo Ventura

“Especially the new markets in Latin America as well as in Africa are reflecting the importance which wind power is now playing in the electricity supply, as a cheap and reliable power source,” said Stefan Gsänger, the Secretary General of the WWEA, which is based in the German city of Bonn.

The collapse of fossil fuel prices is damaging the economies of producer countries in the region, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, where state oil companies are experiencing difficulties in planning and operations.

But it is benefiting net importers, like Central American countries and Chile, which are paying less for their oil. Consumers in both groups of countries may see the cost of their electricity bills fall.

In these circumstances, renewable energy sources are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels like natural gas, according to the report “Renewable power generation costs in 2014” by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) based in Abu Dhabi, with 139 states as members.

If the health and environmental costs of fossil fuel-fired power are taken into account, renewable sources are even more cost-competitive.

The IRENA study indicates that the average cost of electricity produced by solar plants has fallen to within the range of fossil fuel power generation . Electricity from solar plants installed in 2013 and 2014 cost 11 cents per kilowatt-hour in South America, 12 cents in North America and over 31 cents in Central America and the Caribbean.

Model of the first solar energy plant in Latin America, due to begin operating in the Atacama desert in northern Chile in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

Model of the first solar energy plant in Latin America, due to begin operating in the Atacama desert in northern Chile in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

The average cost of power generated by hydroelectric plants in South America was four cents per kWh.

Hydropower is the biggest renewable source in the region, but it is vulnerable to droughts, like the one currently affecting the south of Brazil. Brazil has 86,000 megawatts (86 gigawatts) of installed hydropower capacity, Mexico has more than 11,000 MW (11 GW), Argentina 10,000 (10 GW) and Colombia almost as much, according to IRENA’s figures.

“Countries will continue to pursue renewable energy sources. For example, wind power is much more economical than natural gas combined cycle plants or hydroelectric power,” Eduardo Rincón, a professor at Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México (Autonomous University of Mexico City), told IPS.

Clean energy alternatives effectively contribute to lowering oil consumption and avoiding carbon dioxide emissions, which cause global warming. Moreover, they generate jobs and attract investment, he said.

Climatescope 2014’s report on “Mapping the global frontiers for clean energy investment” states that Brazil attracted as much as 96.3 billion dollars of investment between 2006 and 2013 for renewable energy development.

Renewables now represent 15 percent of Brazil’s total installed capacity of 126 gigawatts, according to the Climatescope document, which contains 55 country profiles compiled by the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank, in partnership with public and private entities from several countries.

Mexico’s renewable energy sector attracted investments of 11.3 billion dollars in the period 2006-2013. The country has a total installed electricity capacity of 64 gigawatts, of which five percent is contributed by renewable sources.

Clean energy investment in Chile amounted to 7.1 billion dollars in the same period. Total installed power capacity is 17.8 gigawatts with renewable energies having an eight percent share. Peru’s renewables sector received 3.4 billion dollars in investments; the country’s total installed power capacity is 10 gigawatts.

Ventura, of ECLAC, predicted that oil prices will stabilise in 2016 at between 70 and 80 dollars a barrel, a moderate level compared to the average price in 2013 of over 100 dollars a barrel.

“At these prices, there is a viable niche for renewable power. Investors could find stability in the field of electricity,” he said. In his view, the region should aim for a diversified energy matrix, with wind, solar and geothermal power.

“There is unstoppable inertia; many projects under construction will soon be operating , so growth is continuing. There are renewable energy tendering schemes in the pipeline that are not going to stop,” Ventura said.

Argentina wants eight percent of total demand to be provided by renewable sources by 2016.

Chile’s goal is for 20 percent of its electricity to be provided by renewable sources by 2025.

Mexico has set targets of 23 percent of consumption to be supplied by clean energy sources by 2018, 25 percent by 2024 and 26 percent by 2027.
In Ventura’s view, these goals underpin regional plans to reduce polluting emissions by cutting fossil fuel consumption in spite of the current situation of low oil and gas prices.

Rincón, the university professor, said people’s awareness should be raised so that citizens exert pressure for legal changes to be made “in accordance with their demands, not with the interests of small, powerful groups.

“We need a transition towards low-cost energy systems, and renewable resources are heaven-sent: they are free,” he said.

In his view, “It’s a matter of getting the sums right. How much does a wind park or solar installation cost, over its planned service life, compared with continuing to build combined cycle plants?” he asked.

Mexico adopted an energy reform in August 2014 that opened up the entire sector to private local and international capital, including electricity generation from renewable sources.

The package of laws governing the reform includes one on geothermal energy, a resource that the authorities particularly wish to promote.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Opinion: A Legally-Binding Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons Fri, 06 Mar 2015 17:10:29 +0000 Ray Acheson The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Ray Acheson
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Five years after the adoption of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Action Plan in 2010, compliance with commitments related to nuclear disarmament lags far behind those related to non-proliferation or the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Yet during the same five years, new evidence and international discussions have emphasised the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks of such use, either by design or accident.It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Thus the NPT’s full implementation, particularly regarding nuclear disarmament, is as urgent as ever. One of the most effective measures for nuclear disarmament would be the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument prohibiting and establishing a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Not everyone sees it that way.

In fact, ahead of the 2015 Review Conference (scheduled to take place in New York April 27-May 22), the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies have argued that any such negotiations would “undermine” the NPT and that the Action Plan is a long-term roadmap that should be “rolled over” for at least another review cycle.

This is an extremely retrogressive approach to what should be an opportunity for meaningful action. Negotiating an instrument to fulfill article VI of the NPT would hardly undermine the Treaty.

On the contrary, it would finally bring the nuclear-armed states into compliance with the legal obligations.

Those countries that possess or rely on nuclear weapons often highlight the importance of the NPT for preventing proliferation and enhancing security.

Yet these same countries, more than any other states parties, do the most to undermine the Treaty by preventing, avoiding, or delaying concrete actions necessary for disarmament.

It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Their failure to implement their commitments presents dim prospects for the future of the NPT. The apparent expectation that this non-compliance can continue in perpetuity, allowing not only for continued possession but also modernisation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, is misguided.

The 2015 Review Conference will provide an opportunity for other governments to confront and challenge this behaviour and to demand concerted and immediate action. This is the end of a review cycle; it is time for conclusions to be drawn.

States parties will have to not only undertake a serious assessment of the last five years but will have to determine what actions are necessary to ensure continued survival of the NPT and to achieve all of its goals and objectives, including those on stopping the nuclear arms race, ceasing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, preventing the use of nuclear weapons, and eliminating existing arsenals.

The recent renewed investigation of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is a good place to look for guidance. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

Since then, especially at the series of conferences hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, these consequences have increasingly become a focal point for discussion and proposed action.

Governments are also increasingly raising the issue of humanitarian impacts in traditional forums, with 155 states signing a joint statement at the 2014 session of the UN General Assembly highlighting the unacceptable harm caused by nuclear weapons and calling for action to ensure they are never used again, under any circumstances.

The humanitarian initiative has provided the basis for a new momentum on nuclear disarmament. It has involved new types of actors, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a new generation of civil society campaigners.

The discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be fully supported by all states parties to the NPT.

The humanitarian initiative has also resulted in the Austrian Pledge, which commits its government (and any countries that wish to associate themselves with the Pledge) to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

As of February 2015, 40 states have endorsed the Pledge. These states are committed to change. They believe that existing international law is inadequate for achieving nuclear disarmament and that a process of change that involves stigmatising, prohibiting, and eliminating nuclear weapons is necessary.

This process requires a legally-binding international instrument that clearly prohibits nuclear weapons based on their unacceptable consequences. Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons on the same footing as the other weapons of mass destruction, which are subject to prohibition through specific treaties.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons would build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments, including the NPT, but it would also close loopholes in the current legal regime that enable states to engage in nuclear weapon activities or to otherwise claim perceived benefit from the continued existence of nuclear weapons while purporting to promote their elimination.

NPT states parties need to ask themselves how long we can wait for disarmament. Several initiatives since the 2010 Review Conference have advanced the ongoing international discussion about nuclear weapons.

States and other actors must now be willing to act to achieve disarmament, by developing a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and establish a framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. This year, the year of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a good place to start.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In India, an Indoor Health Crisis Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 Athar Parvaiz Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
NEW DELHI, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For years, Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged woman from the village of Chachadeth in India’s northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, has prepared her family’s meals on a wood-burning stove.

She is one of millions of Indian women who cannot afford cooking gas and so relies heavily on firewood as a source of free fuel.

Gathering wood is a cumbersome exercise, but Devi has no choice. “It takes us five to six hours to gather what we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it,” she tells IPS. “But we don’t mind, since we don’t have to pay for it.”

“It takes us five to six hours to gather [the firewood] we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it." -- Kehmli Devi, a housewife in the northern India state of Uttarakhand, who has cooked for years on a wood-burning stove
Buying a cylinder of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), even at subsidized rates, is not an option for her – her entire family makes a collective monthly income of 57 dollars, which works out to less than two dollars a day. They cannot afford to spend a cent of their precious earnings on cleaner fuel.

Further north, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a similar story unfolds in thousands of households every single day.

“If my husband had enough money, we would use LPG for cooking,” says Zeba Begam, who resides in Rakh, a village in southern Kashmir. But since the family lives well below the poverty line, their only option is to use to firewood.

At first, they struggled to live with the smoke caused by burning large quantities of wood in their small, cramped home. Now, Begam says, they are used to it – but this does not make them immune to the range of health problems linked to indoor air pollution.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and mud stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste), as well as coal.

Improper burning of such fuels in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous chemical substances including hazardous air pollutants (known as HAPs), fine particle pollution (more commonly called ash) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution, including from chronic respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, lung cancer and even strokes.

Other studies show that indoor air pollution – particularly in poorly ventilated dwellings – is linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and negatively impacts children, who are more susceptible to respiratory diseases than adults.

In general, women and children are at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Millions of Indians at risk

Indoor air pollution is recognised as a pressing issue around the world, particularly in Asia, but India seems to be carrying the lion’s share of the burden, with scores of Indian households relying on traditional fuels for cooking, lighting and heating.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows an estimated 75 million rural households (45 percent of total rural households) living without electricity, while 142 million rural households (85 percent of the total) depend entirely on biomass fuel, such as cow-dung and firewood, for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidisation by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, opting for more traditional, more harmful, substances.

Some estimates put Indian households’ use of traditional fuels at 135 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE), larger than Australia’s total energy consumption in 2013.

Cleaner energy to meet the MDGs

Experts say that there is an urgent need to drastically reduce these numbers, both to improve the lives of millions who will benefit from cleaner energy, and also to meet international poverty-reduction and sustainability targets.

For instance, indoor air pollution is linked in numerous ways to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s largest development initiative set to expire at the end of the year.

According to the WHO, tackling the issue of dirty household fuels will automatically feed into MDG4, which pledges to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by the end of the year; since children bear a disproportionate rate of the disease burden of indoor pollution, helping families switch to cleaner energies could result in longer life spans for their children.

Similarly, women and children spend countless hours collecting firewood, a task that consumes much of their day and a great deal of energy. Reducing this burden on women and children would bring India closer to achieving the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Less time spent on fuel collection also leaves more hours in the day for education or employment, both of which could contribute to MDG1, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

In 2005, the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) put the economic and health cost of collecting and using firewood at some six billion dollars in India alone, representing massive waste in a country nursing a stubborn poverty rate of 21.9 percent of a population of 1.2 billion people.

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Moving towards a sustainable future

As the United Nations moves towards a new era of sustainable development, scientists and policy-makers are pushing governments hard to tackle the issue of indoor air pollution in a bid to severely slash overall global carbon emissions.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, told IPS that the provision of clean energy, particularly for the poor, should be on the agenda at the upcoming climate talks in Paris, where world leaders are expected to agree on much-awaited binding carbon emissions targets for the coming decade.

Ramanathan argued that it was the responsibility of the rich – what he called the ‘top four billion’ or T4B – to help the ‘bottom three billion’ (B3B) climb the renewable energy ladder instead of the fossil fuel ladder.

“In order to avoid unsustainable climate changes in the coming decades, the decarbonisation of the T4B economy as well as the provision of modern energy access to B3B must begin now,” he said at last month’s Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS).

His words reflect countless international initiatives to cut emissions from dirty household fuels, including the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which estimates that a transition to clean cook-stoves could reduce emissions from wood fuels by up to 17 percent.

Quoting findings from a recent study conducted by experts at Yale University and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Radha Mutthiah, executive director of the Global Alliance, said last month that her organisation planned to “target areas where clean cooking technology can have the greatest impact, not only improving the effects on climate, but also the health of millions of people living in hotspots.”

These ‘hotspots’ have been defined as regions where firewood is being harvested on an unsustainable scale, with over 50 percent non-renewability. In total some 275 million people live in hotspots, of which 60 percent reside in South Asia.

Overall, India and China were found to have the world’s highest wood-fuel emissions, which experts say should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and legislators that the time for taking action is now

* This story has been updated. An earlier version carried a quote from a former senior official at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), who has since resigned.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambique Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:53:50 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Expensive European-style bars and restaurants line the streets of central Maputo. The latest Toyota Pradas, Range Rovers and Jaguars drive down streets named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung, former socialist leaders who might have heart failure at the wealth gap found here today.

The World Bank called Mozambique’s transition from a post-conflict country to one of Africa’s “frontier economies” nothing short of impressive. “The country has become a world-class destination for mining and natural gas development,” the Bank wrote.

Yet, according to the Bank, this rapid expansion over the past 20 years barely moved the needle for the poor. “The geographical distribution of poverty remains largely unchanged,” the Bank wrote in October last year. Per capita income is 593 dollars, less than one-third of the sub-Saharan average.

In 2014, Mozambique ranked near the bottom – 178 out of 187 countries – in the U.N.’s Human Development index.

Malnutrition has worsened significantly; life expectancy at birth is just 50 years. Malaria remains the most common cause of death, especially among children.

With signs of great wealth amidst nationwide poverty, resentment has been growing in backwater regions that have not shared in the bounty.

This week, a prominent lawyer exploring the case to decentralise power and create autonomy for those peripheral regions was cut down in cold blood on the streets of the capital, Maputo. Gilles Cistac, 54, was shot by four men in a car while riding a cab to work, police said.

A spokesman for the former rebel group Renamo said Cistac had been killed because of his views on decentralisation.

“He was killed for having expressed his opinions regarding the most contentious political issues in the country,” Renamo spokesman António Muchanga told Reuters Tuesday.

Cistac, a professor of law at the national Eduardo Mondlane University, recently told local media that the creation of autonomous regions would be allowed under the constitution. Renamo, similarly, has proposed that Mozambique be divided into two countries.

But Frelimo, the ruling party, has repeatedly rejected calls for regional autonomy, although President Filipe Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation in parliament after Renamo parliamentarians refused to take up their seats following elections in October 2014.

Regarding the murder of Cistec, Presidential Spokesman Antonio Gaspar said, “We condemn the attack and demand that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. The government has instructed the interior ministry to hunt and arrest those who assassinated Cistac so that they can be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, U.S. oil major Anadarko and Italy’s Eni are developing some of the world’s biggest untapped natural gas reserves in the north of the country – a Renamo stronghold, which the group has proposed to rename the Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Tech-Savvy Women Farmers Find Success with SIM Cards Wed, 04 Mar 2015 04:46:06 +0000 Stella Paul Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MAHABUBNAGAR, India, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Jawadi Vimalamma, 36, looks admiringly at her cell phone. It’s a simple device that can only be used to send or receive a call or a text message. Yet to the farmer from the village of Janampet, located 150 km away from Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana, it symbolises a wealth of knowledge that changed her life.

Her phone is fitted with what the farmers call a GreenSIM, which sends her daily updates on the weather, health tips or agricultural advice.

“My profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (80-232 dollars) each season.” -- Jawadi Vimalamma, a smallholder farmer participating in a mobile technology scheme to create awareness among rural women.
Three years ago, a single message on this mobile alerted Vimalamma to the benefits of crop rotation.

“My profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (80-232 dollars) each season,” says the smallholder farmer, who now grows rice, corn, millet and peanuts on her three-acre plot, instead of relying on a single crop for her livelihood.

Not far away, in the neighbouring village of Kommareddy Palli, a woman farmer named Kongala Chandrakala is using the same SIM card on a device nicknamed a ‘phablet’ – a low-cost combination mobile phone and tablet computer that dispenses vital information to small farmers.

The little machine has been a lifeline for this woman, who survived years of domestic violence before striking out on her own.

“Fifteen years ago, I was a school dropout, living in an abusive marriage. Today, I have my own farm, and am making money,” Chandrakala tells IPS.

Both women are members of Adarsh Mahila Samakhya (AMS), an all-women collective that helps empower smallholder women farmers through modern technologies.

The collective has 8,000 members, 2,000 of whom use the GreenSIM card, the result of a collaboration between the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) – an international research organisation headquartered in Hyderabad – together with the Indian Farmers’ Fertiliser Cooperative and Bharti Airtel – one of India’s largest mobile service providers.

The scheme began in 2002, when the government asked ICRISAT to help train local farmers in drought-resilient agricultural practices. When the Institute started searching for local partners on the ground to help execute the project, AMS – then a fledgling group of just a handful of women – came forward.

Shortly after, the collective used its small office to host a Village Knowledge Centre, a kind of experimental technology hub where women could learn how to operate basic devices such as mobile phones and computers, and use them to get information on climate change, groundwater levels, and adapted farming techniques that would help them increase the yields on their small plots of land.

According to Dileep Kumar, senior scientist at ICRISAT, the most popular tool by far has been the GreenSIM, which disseminates a variety of bulletins daily, ranging from market prices, to weather forecasts, to tips on accessing farmers’ welfare schemes, as well as guides to crop planning and best-practices for fertiliser use.

A fight against suicide

A mobile phone may seem like a humble intervention into the vast and poverty-ridden arena of Indian agriculture, but it has proved to be a literal lifesaver for many.

Data from the 2011 census indicates that there are 144.3 million agricultural labourers in India, including 118.6 million cultivators, comprising over 30 percent of the country’s total workforce of roughly 448 million people.

A huge portion of this workforce survives on between one and two dollars a day, pushing many people heavily into debt as they struggle to make payments on farm equipment, and costly pesticides and fertilisers.

A changing climate, resulting in extreme weather events and prolonged periods of drought, does not help the situation, and scores of farmers are impacted by what experts are calling the country’s agrarian crisis.

With few options open to them, hundreds of thousands of farmers choose death over life: data from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicates that 270,940 farmers have committed suicide since 1995, rounding out to a total of 45 farmer deaths every single day.

Mahbubnagar, the district where the AMS is located, is well known for its recurring droughts and a wave of suicides. The district receives only 550 mm of rainfall each year, well below India’s national average of 1,000-1,250 mm per annum.

The district has seen about 150 suicides since 2013 alone.

Erkala Manamma, president of the AMS collective, claims that the introduction of the GreenSIM is changing this reality. Crop failure is less of a crisis here today than it was a decade ago, and thousands of farmers now feel empowered by the knowledge source that fits snugly in the palms of their hands.

Gopi Balachandriya, a 50-year-old farmer from Rachala village in Mahbubnagar District, is one such example.

In December 2013, he was waiting for an astrologically auspicious day to harvest peanuts on his three-acre farm until a message on his GreenSIM cell phone one morning warned him of a coming storm. “I quickly harvested my crop before the rains came. It saved me from losing my produce,” he recalls.

A similar message helped Mallagala Nirmala, a farmer from the village of Moosapet, understand the need for sustainable usage of fertilisers.

One day a voice message asked, ‘Have you had your farm soil tested?’ A curious Nirmala visited the Village Knowledge Centre where she learnt the basics of healthy soils, including when to add inputs of additional nutrients, which she receives free of cost from ICRISAT. The farmer is now the secretary of AMS.

One of the more tangible results of this experiment in knowledge sharing has been better profit for the farmers involved. Chandrakala, one of 20 female farmers using the ‘phablet’, has increased the rice yield on her one-acre farm from 55 to 75 kg at each harvest.

If she hears, via voice message, that groundwater levels are too low to support a healthy rice crop, she switches to growing grass, which she sells to a nearby community-managed dairy that produces 2,000 litres of milk a day.

Having these options allows her to make between 20 and 30,000 rupees each season, a princely sum compared to the average earnings of farming families in the region, which barely touch 10,000 rupees a month.

The GreenSIM initiative is certainly not the first time groups have partnered together to empower farmers using modern technology.

In the northern Indian state of Haryana, for instance – where 70 percent of the population of roughly 25 million people relies on agriculture for a living – widespread use of a handheld device known as the GreenSeeker, which calculates the health of a particular crop using infrared censors, had massive success among rural communities.

And in 2013, the World Bank reported on a scheme using a mobile phone app that allowed insurance agencies to collect reliable data on crop yields, thus enabling them to offer lower premiums to farmers who rely largely on rain-fed agriculture and were desperately in need of robust safety nets in the form of insurance policies.

In the first year alone, some 400,000 farmers in 50 districts across the northern and western states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan benefitted from the scheme.

The challenge for policy makers is how to replicate such initiatives on a wider scale, in order to ease the abject poverty facing millions of farmers across India – particularly the women, who are most vulnerable to the crushing impacts of poverty and hunger.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prize Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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