News: High-level Event Discusses Renewable Energy in SIDS
If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.
|Protester in Ukraine|
But this hasn't happened. And it won't.
Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in Venezuela, Bosnia,Ukraine, Iceland, and Thailand.
This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet – but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.
Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of the danger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.
The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.
In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.
Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.
Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:
“Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months… In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest.”
But Bar-Yam's analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don't go deep enough – he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.
The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.
In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country's grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated in official statistics – Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortages driven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.
While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine's oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.
Currently, about 80% of Ukraine's oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine's energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.
The Ukrainian government's recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim – apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leaked European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) report reveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine's ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020.
In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country's oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.
The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela's escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela's oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.
Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased – in fact almost doubling since 1990 – this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.
These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Global agriculture's excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further – elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.
Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius. More
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Solar power plants and coconut biofuel-powered generators will be switched on in Tokelau next week as the three-atoll administered region of New Zealand gears up to become the ‘the world’s first truly renewable nation.’ The renewable energy system comprising of solar panels, storage batteries and generators running on biofuel derived from coconut will generate enough electricity to meet 150% of the islands’ power demand.
These systems are part of the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project that has been funded by the New Zealand government and represents one of the largest off-grid renewable energy projects in the world. With this project, the islands will make the transition from being completely dependent on imported fuels to being completely energy independent.
Tokelau spends about $820,000 every year to import fuels. The government of Tokelau now plans to spend these savings on other essential services like health and education. The savings will also be used to repay the grants and financial assistance the government received for this project.
This project serves very well for other Pacific islands that plan to reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuels and do their part in the reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fiji, Cook Islands, Niue, and Tuvalu plan to achieve 100% electricity generation from renewable energy between 2013 and 2020.
These island nations are getting significant monetary and technical assistance from developed countries and are also learning from the experiences of each other. The Small Developing Island Renewable Energy Knowledge and Technology Transfer Network (DIREKT) is a cooperation scheme involving universities from Germany, Fiji, Mauritius, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago, with the aim of strengthening the science and technology capacity in the field of renewable energy of a sample of ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) small island developing states, by means of technology transfer, information exchange, and networking.
The Japanese government launched the Pacific Environment Community (PEC) Fund in 2009. This fund has provided $66 million to several island nations in the Pacific region for renewable energy projects. The Fund has provided assistance worth millions of dollars to Kiribati, Micronesia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Nauru, and Tuvalu for solar power projects and solar desalination projects. More (http://s.tt/1rgzO)
ST. JULIAN’S, Malta, Sep 14 2012 (IPS) – Most islands are well endowed with one or more renewable energy source – rivers, waterfalls, wind, sunshine, biomass, wave power, geothermal deposits – yet virtually all remain heavily or entirely reliant on imported fossil fuels to produce electricity and power transport.
With rising oil prices, fuel import bills now represent up to 20 percent of annual imports of 34 of the 38 small island developing states (SIDS), between 5 percent to 20 percent of their Gross Domestic Product – and even up to 15 percent of the total import bills of many of the European Union’s 286 islands.
Action advocated under ‘The Malta Communiqué On Accelerating Renewable Energy Uptake For Islands’ adopted by a 50-nation two-day conference that ended here last week will hopefully slash, in some cases eliminate, reliance on fossils and related pollution, while increasing energy security, employment as well as economic and social wellbeing.
‘The Renewables and Islands Global Summit’ in Malta was co-hosted by the 100-nation International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) based in Abu Dhabi and by the government of Malta – a 316 sq km Mediterranean island republic of 410,000 inhabitants, and EU’s smallest member state.
With rising oil prices, fuel import bills now represent up to 20 percent of annual imports of 34 of the 38 small island developing states (SIDS),
The meeting represents a key milestone in IRENA’s initiative on renewables and islands launched by its governing council last January, as well as a follow-up to the Rio+20 conference in June and the ‘achieving sustainable energy for all in Small Island Developing States’ ministerial meeting in Barbados in May.
The communiqué invites IRENA to establish a global renewable energy islands network (GREIN) as a platform for sharing knowledge, best practice, challenges and lessons learnt while seeking innovative solutions.
GREIN will also help assess country potential, build capacity, formulate business cases for renewables deployment involving the private sector and civil society while identifying available finance as well as new ideas for innovative financing mechanisms.
In addition, the network will develop methodologies for integrating renewables into sustainable tourism, water management, transport, and other industries and services.
IRENA’s Kenyan director-general Adnan Amin told the 120 delegates that “we have confirmed the enormous potential for renewables in small island developing states as well as for developed island countries, not to mention coastal countries with remote, energy-deprived islands of their own. Ambitious policy targets appear increasingly attainable because of great strides forward in technology and cost-effectiveness.
“We are laying the groundwork for a business council to bring investors – from major energy companies to innovative SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and also financial institutions – into the discussion,” Amin added. “Academics and NGOs can also contribute to the search for practical solutions. Developed island states can do much by sharing their experience with small-island developing states that face broadly similar challenges.”
Representatives (including 15 ministers) from 26 developing Pacific, Caribbean and African developing island nations and from coastal developing states with islands reported a wide range of renewables deployment, from detailed long-term plans and ongoing activities to reach up to 100 percent renewables, to admissions of very low deployment and no firm goals or plans yet.
West African Cape Verde, a 10-island 4,033 sq km archipelago with 491,000 inhabitants, has started working towards 100 percent, then possibly 300 percent renewables, according to José Brito, senior adviser to Cape Verde’s Prime Minister, José Maria Neves. Surplus energy remaining from meeting domestic needs (including seawater desalination) could either be stored or exported, Brito said. Cape Verde aims to become a renewables training hub for Africa.
Dominica in the East Caribbean (71,000 inhabitants, 754 sq km) could also become a net energy exporter, Crispin Grégoire, its former ambassador to the UN and now a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official in charge of Caribbean issues told IPS.
“With 325 rivers and mountainous terrain, we have huge hydroelectric potential. Moreover, Iceland and the EU are helping assess our extensive geothermal resources. We could export surplus electricity by interconnector seabed cable to Guadelupe and Martinique, each just 60 km away. We could also attract high-tech industries to use our surplus power.” More
Renewable energy is having a hard enough time becoming mainstream on the mainland, but when small island developing states, or SIDS, decide to take energy matters into their own hands – by even adding coconuts to their portfolio – one has to wonder: what’s the hang up for larger countries?
Besides some of the obvious factors, the primary factor being islands have relatively small populations and therefore demand less energy, islands states, particularly tropical islands, come ripe with plenty of sunshine, ocean wind and, of course, coconuts. What do coconuts and coconut palms have to do with renewable energy? Well, coconut palms not only supply coconuts, which are a renewable food source, but are a “naturally recyclable source of a wide range of products, including transportation fuel, oil … and fiber.”
Kokonut Pacific, an Australian company, has tapped into this iconic island market and has been relatively successful at getting island nation states to make use of coconuts and coconut palms in a sustainable, low-impact way. SIDS are beginning to see a self-sufficient economy developing, one that combines a renewable energy portfolio with economic and environmental sustainability.
Bold action and creativity, while commendable, nevertheless fails to account for the fact that climate change does not operate in isolation, but impacts the globe aggregately. The carbon released in the Canadian tar sands, for example, will inevitably influence sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean and there’s not much a small island can do to abate that.
Dire predictions in mind, island nation states are serious when it comes to climate change and they should be; islands like the Maldives are predicted to experience devastating effects of global warming, including the shocking realization that their islands could soon disappear entirely under rising sea levels. The lowest country on Earth, the Maldives, are comprised of 1,200 islands, the highest reaching merely 5 feet above sea level. With a population of 320,000, President Mohammed Nasheed has been very vocal in expressing his concern over climate model predictions on his nation. More