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
Some of the world's top climate scientists say wind and solar energy won't be enough to head off extreme global warming, and they're asking environmentalists to support the development of safer nuclear power as one way to cut fossil fuel pollution.
Four scientists who have played a key role in alerting the public to the dangers of climate change sent letters Sunday to leading environmental groups and politicians around the world. The letter, an advance copy of which was given to The Associated Press, urges a crucial discussion on the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change.
Environmentalists agree that global warming is a threat to ecosystems and humans, but many oppose nuclear power and believe that new forms of renewable energy will be able to power the world within the next few decades.
That isn't realistic, the letter said.
“Those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough” to deliver the amount of cheap and reliable power the world needs, and “with the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology” that has the potential to reduce greenhouse gases.
The letter signers are James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia.
Hansen began publishing research on the threat of global warming more than 30 years ago, and his testimony before Congress in 1988 helped launch a mainstream discussion. Last February he was arrested in front of the White House at a climate protest that included the head of the Sierra Club and other activists. Caldeira was a contributor to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Emanuel is known for his research on possible links between climate change and hurricanes, and Wigley has also been doing climate research for more than 30 years.
Emanuel said the signers aren't opposed to renewable energy sources but want environmentalists to understand that “realistically, they cannot on their own solve the world's energy problems.”
The vast majority of climate scientists say they're now virtually certain that pollution from fossil fuels has increased global temperatures over the last 60 years. They say emissions need to be sharply reduced to prevent more extreme damage in the future.
In 2011 worldwide carbon dioxide emissions jumped 3 percent, because of a large increase by China, the No. 1 carbon polluting country. The U.S. is No. 2 in carbon emissions.
Hansen, who's now at Columbia University, said it's not enough for environmentalists to simply oppose fossil fuels and promote renewable energy.
“They're cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction that all we need” is renewable energy such as wind and solar, Hansen told the AP.
The joint letter says, “The time has come for those who take the threat of global warming seriously to embrace the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems” as part of efforts to build a new global energy supply.
Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard professor who studies energy issues, said nuclear power is “very divisive” within the environmental movement. But he added that the letter could help educate the public about the difficult choices that climate change presents.
One major environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that “nuclear power is no panacea for our climate woes.”
Risk of catastrophe is only one drawback of nuclear power, NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. Waste storage and security of nuclear material are also important issues, he said.
“The better path is to clean up our power plants and invest in efficiency and renewable energy.”
The scientists acknowledge that there are risks to using nuclear power, but say those are far smaller than the risk posed by extreme climate change.
“We understand that today's nuclear plants are far from perfect.” More
INTERNATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY AGENCY RENEWABLES AND ISLANDS GLOBAL SUMMIT
6-7 SEPTEMBER 2012, MALTA
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Renewables and Islands Global Summit took place from Thursday, 6 to Friday, 7 September 2012 in Malta. More than 130 representatives from IRENA member states, including ministers from 14 states and participants from international organizations and the private sector participated in the Summit.
The two-day Summit featured panel presentations and general discussions on: the implications of the Rio+20 Outcome Document for island sustainable development and renewable energy; island energy trends and strategies; strategic partnerships; and enabling frameworks for investment. A session on best practices and challenges provided the opportunity for participants to share case-study experiences from different regions.
On the final day, participants discussed and adopted the Malta Communiqué on accelerating renewable energy uptake for islands, which includes proposed actions for future IRENA assistance to islands.
Most islands around the world are dependent on imported fossil fuels for the majority of their energy needs, especially for transport and electricity generation. For reasons of scale and isolation, energy infrastructure costs are higher on islands, and the impact of oil price and supply volatility has been severe, exacerbated by the small size of local markets.
IRENA was established to promote the widespread and increased adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy. Through the provisions of the IRENA statute, adopted on 26 January 2009, and entered into force on 8 July 2010, and the Assembly decisions to date, the Agency has been requested to focus, as one of its priorities, on the accelerated deployment of renewable energy in islands.
A BRIEF HISTORY
SE4ALL: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has declared 2012 the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.” (SE4ALL). In this context, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched his SE4ALL initiative to identify and mobilize action by stakeholders from across government, business, civil society, academia and the development community.
The SE4ALL Initiative aims to achieve three objectives by 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
The International Year and the SE4ALL initiative include various activities at different levels, such as: the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Group; national dialogues to facilitate stakeholder involvement; and policy formulation and evaluation, as well as a public-private partnership of practitioners in the energy community.
To date, many island nations have committed to the SE4ALL partnership.
Rio+20 Outcome Document “The future we want: The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) took place on 20-22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It marked the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, which resulted in the adoption of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and Agenda 21 (a 40-chapter programme of action). At UNCSD, representatives of 191 UN member states and observers, including 79 Heads of State or Government, adopted the Outcome Document entitled “The Future We Want.”
The agreement calls for the UNGA, at its next session, to take decisions on, inter alia: designating a body to operationalize the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production; determining the modalities for the third international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), which is to convene in 2014; and constituting a working group to develop global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the UNGA.
The Rio+20 Outcome Document contains five paragraphs on energy, which:
REPORT OF THE RENEWABLES AND ISLANDS GLOBAL SUMMIT
On Thursday, 6 September, George Pullicino, Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs, Malta, welcomed participants, noting that island states share a common vision of implementing renewable energy technology amidst limited financial resources and geophysical restrictions. He described Malta’s plans to generate 10% of all consumed energy from alternate sources by 2020, including from solar, offshore wind, biofuels and green energy generated from waste. Pullicino called for island states to lead by example, including by testing renewable energy technology before it is implemented on a larger scale.
Madrid, Spain – Seen from Europe, the irrationality of the political and media discourse over nuclear energy has, if anything, increased and intensified in the year since the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Yet a dispassionate assessment of nuclear energy’s place in the world remains as necessary as it is challenging.
Europeans should not pontificate on nuclear energy policy as if our opinion mattered worldwide, but we do. On the other hand, Europe does have a qualified responsibility in the area of security, where we still can promote an international regulatory and institutional framework that would discipline states and bring about greater transparency where global risks such as nuclear power are concerned.
Europe is equally responsible for advancing research on more secure technologies, particularly a fourth generation of nuclear reactor technology. We Europeans cannot afford the luxury of dismantling a high-value-added industrial sector in which we still have a real comparative advantage.
|In-depth coverage one year after triple disaster|
In Europe, Fukushima prompted a media blitz of gloom and doom over nuclear energy. The German magazine Der Spiegelheralded the “9/11 of the nuclear industry” and “the end of the nuclear era”, while Spain’s leading newspaper El Pais preached that supporting “this energy [was] irrational”, and that “China has put a brake on its nuclear ambitions”. But reality has proven such assessments to be both biased and hopelessly wrong.
True, a few countries – Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, with Peru the only non-European country to join the trend – formally declared their intention to phase out or avoid nuclear energy. These decisions affect a total of 26 reactors, while 61 reactors are under construction around the world, with another 156 projected and 343 under official consideration. If these plans are realised, the number of functioning reactors, currently 437, will double.
But, more interestingly, the nuclear boom is not global: Brazil is at the forefront in Latin America, while the fastest development is occurring in Asia, mostly in China and India. If we compare this geographical distribution with a global snapshot of nuclear sites prior to the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in the United States in 1979, a striking correlation emerges between countries’ nuclear energy policy and their geopolitical standing and economic vigour. More
To make the transition to alternative energy and hopefully nuclear fusion, we are going to have to continue using nuclear. Having said this, I will say that we have to retrofit all the 60+ year old nuclear plants to a vastly higher safety standard. We must also start using the latest nuclear reactor technologies, the fourth generation designs like the Toshiba 4s, TerraPower’s Travelling Wave and the Hyperion design. These are all a great deal safer and proliferation proof. You may want to read Power To Save The World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy by Gwyneth Cravens and Richard Rhodes. Editor
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday questioned why federal regulators extended the operating license for the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear plant within days of a disastrous meltdown at a similar plant in Fukushima, Japan. More