Tag Archives: international environmental law

Exceeding the Carbon Budget:industry bets that climate policies will fail

coal mine china. Image from wikipedia

Several  reports suggest that markets are overlooking the risk of “unburnable carbon”. The share prices of oil, gas and coal companies depend in part on their reserves. The more fossil fuels a firm has underground, the more valuable its shares. But what if some of those reserves can never be dug up and burned?

If governments were determined to implement their climate policies, a lot of that carbon would have to be left in the ground, says Carbon Tracker, a non-profit organisation, and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, part of the London School of Economics. Their analysis starts by estimating the amount of carbon dioxide that could be put into the atmosphere if global temperatures are not to rise by more than 2°C, the most that climate scientists deem prudent. The maximum, says the report, is about 1,000 gigatons (GTCO2) between now and 2050. The report calls this the world’s “carbon budget”.

Existing fossil-fuel reserves already contain far more carbon than that. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in its “World Energy Outlook”, total proven international reserves contain 2,860GTCO2—almost three times the carbon budget. The report refers to the excess as “unburnable carbon”.

Most of the reserves are owned by governments or state energy firms; they could be left in the ground by public-policy choice (ie, if governments took the 2°C target seriously). But the reserves of listed oil companies are different. These are assets developed using money raised from investors who expect a return. Proven reserves of listed firms contain 762GTCO2—most of what can prudently be burned before 2050. Listed potential reserves have 1,541GTCO2 embedded in them.

So companies and governments already have far more oil, gas and coal than they need (again, assuming temperatures are not to rise by more than 2°C). Logically, the response to this would be for governments to leave their reserves untouched and for companies to run theirs slowly down, returning more of what they earn to shareholders. Neither of these things is happening. State-owned companies are taking an increasing share of total energy output. And in 2012, says Carbon Tracker, the 200 largest listed oil, gas and coal companies spent five times as much—$674 billion—on developing new reserves as they did returning money to shareholders ($126 billion). ExxonMobil alone plans to spend $37 billion a year on exploration in each of the next three years.

Such behaviour, on the face of it, makes no sense. One possible explanation is that companies are betting that government climate policies will fail; they will be able to burn all their reserves, including new ones, after all. This implies that global temperatures would either soar past the 2°C mark, or be restrained by a technological fix, such as carbon capture and storage, or geo-engineering.Recent events make such a bet seem rational. On April 16th the European Parliament voted against attempts to shore up Europe’s emissions trading system against collapse. The system is the EU’s flagship environmental policy and the world’s largest carbon market.  Putting it at risk suggests that Europeans have lost their will to endure short-term pain for long-term environmental gain. Nor is this the only such sign. Several cash-strapped EU countries are cutting subsidies for renewable energy. And governments around the world have failed to make progress towards a new global climate-change treaty. Betting against tough climate policies seems almost prudent.

The markets are [also] mispricing risk by valuing companies as if all their reserves will be burned. Investors treat reserves as an indicator of future revenues. They therefore require companies to replace reserves depleted by production, even though this runs foul of emission-reduction policies. Fossil-fuel firms live and die by a measure called the reserve replacement ratio, which must remain above 100%. Companies see their shares marked down if the ratio falls, even when they pull the plug on dodgy, expensive projects. This happened to Shell, for example, when it suspended drilling in the Arctic in February….

At the moment neither public policies nor markets reflect the risks of a warmer world.

Energy Firms and Climate Change: Unburnable Fuel, Economist, May 4, 2013, at 68

Gated Rainforests: the militarization of conservation

Epulu_River_Ituri

The  Epulu  village  in the Democratic Republic of Congo is situated inside a nature reserve in the Ituri rainforest, an area covering 5,000 square miles that is supposed to be off limits to hunters and gold prospectors. A militia, led by a former elephant poacher called Paul Sadala, has terrorised communities inside the reserve since 2012, employing methods brutal even by the grisly standards of this part of the world.

“The attacks were absolutely terrifying,” said Justin Oganda, a representative of the residents of Epulu who remain displaced in Mambasa, about 50 miles away. By the end of that day in June, the militiamen had murdered, raped, burned people alive and even eaten the flesh and heart of one of their victims. “To have killed so many people, to burn them alive, the cannibalism … Mentally they cannot be normal,” Oganda added.

As ever with Congo, it is not just a simple tale of victims and villains. Sadala, who goes by the nom de guerre Morgan, and his “Mai Mai Morgan” gunmen are thought to have powerful supporters in the security forces who enable their lucrative illegal trade in ivory and smuggled gold. Some local people with an eye on the gold in the ground beneath their feet tacitly support Morgan, who improbably also likes to be called Chuck Norris. “There is complicity between [Morgan] and certain elements within the army,” said Jefferson Abdallah Pene Mbaka, the MP for Mambasa. “With the support of certain army authorities [Mai Mai Morgan] have increased their poaching activities. The sale of ivory is organised by these figures in the army.” Many people in the region believe soldiers have orders not to arrest Morgan.

Morgan’s principal targets are those who operate and police the Unesco-recognised world heritage site known as the Okapi wildlife reserve, or by its French acronym, RFO. The laws of the reserve forbid the hunting of endangered species, especially elephants and okapi, and the exploitation of its gold reserves….The suspicion is that at least some of Morgan’s booty winds up 280 miles south-west of Epulu, in the hands of the Congolese army. At the end of 2012 the United Nations group of experts on Congo issued a report that accused Congolese general Jean Claude Kifwa in the provincial capital, Kisangani, of giving “arms, ammunition, uniforms and communication equipment to Mai Mai Morgan in exchange for ivory”….

Despite the brutality of the attacks, many reserve dwellers express sympathy for Morgan, with some even confessing to outright support for him. “I am behind Morgan,” said an 18-year-old in a small village not far from Epulu who refused to give his name. “Because Morgan is here the rangers cannot patrol and we are free to dig for gold. But I wouldn’t support him if he came here and burned our homes.”  Most people, however, have a more nuanced position, saying that although revolted by his methods, they support his stated desire to see the size of the reserve reduced and more rights given to locals to hunt and dig.  “The forest is where we find what we need to survive,” said Matope Mapilanga, the leader of a Pygmy community on the edge of the reserve. “[The park authorities] have cut our land, there is now a part we cannot access. It has worsened in the last few years, since the RFO got bigger. We would prefer that the people of the RFO weren’t in our forest. We feel like the big non-governmental organisations and the rangers have privileged the animals over the people.”

The conservationists remain unconvinced, though. “The people who say they support Morgan are just those people who want to dig gold and exploit timber,” said Robert Mwinyihali, the project leader for Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) work in the Ituri rainforest. WCS has given financial backing to the park rangers and the Congolese Wildlife Authority’s work in the reserve. “There are laws in Congo about the exploitation of resources,” said Mwinyihali. “These people can either respect those laws, or they can ignore them and commit criminal acts.”  WCS and GIC’s support for the park rangers has led to accusations that they are partly responsible for the militarisation of the conflict. However, Mwinyihali said the biggest problem was the absence of effective intervention by the Congolese state, which meant NGOs and the park rangers had had to fulfil roles that should be the government’s responsibility: for example, bringing in armed guards to track Morgan. Bernard Iyomi Iyatshi, the director of park rangers, complained about a lack of government funds for his anti-poaching operations.

Mwinyihali also accused the Congolese government of doing little to reconcile the park authorities and local communities. As mutual resentment and misunderstanding grows, Morgan and other armed groups are able to exploit the toxic atmosphere and continue their poaching, digging and savage attacks.  “There are no job opportunities created by government investment here,” said Mwinyihali. “This has led to this crisis, where people have no option but to want to dig for gold. This leads to the conflict with the park authorities, and then it is only a small step to people taking up arms and joining militias.”  Despite being a member of the ruling party, Mbaka is an outspoken critic of the government’s policy, or lack of it, in the region. “Swaths of the park are inaccessible, there’s just no infrastructure,” he said. “It’s an absolute scandal, there’s potentially so much wealth here. It also means it is difficult to track and stop men like Morgan.”  Even if Morgan is caught, people fear that his powerful backers in the army will find another militia to continue poaching and stealing gold…

About 70% per cent of the ivory from slaughtered African elephants goes to China, another of the countries warned by Cites. The price of ivory has rocketed. Cites reported that the price more than doubled between 2004 and 2010, from about $300 to $700 (£198 to £462) a kilogramme. An Associated Press investigation in 2010 claimed ivory was being sold in China for $1,800 a kilogramme.

Excerpt, Pete Jones, Gold and poaching bring murder and misery to Congolese wildlife reserve, Guardian, Mar. 31, 2013

How to Divide a Lake: Malawi against Tanzania

Lake Malawi

Over two million families who solely depend on Lake Malawi for their livelihoods are anxiously putting their hopes into an upcoming mediation between Malawi and Tanzania intended to put an end to a longstanding ownership dispute.  The mediation will start March 2013 after both parties agreed in December 2012 to engage the assistance of the Forum for Former African Heads of State and Government, which is chaired by Mozambique’s former President Joachim Chissano.

According to authorities, about 1.5 million Malawians and 600,000 Tanzanians depend on Africa’s third-largest lake for food, transportation and other daily needs. When IPS visited Karonga District, on the shores of Lake Malawi, surrounding communities said they were worried about the increased tension and keen to see a resolution.

Known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania and Lago Niassa in Mozambique, the disputed water mass is thought to sit over rich oil and gas reserves, according to recent Malawian government reports.  The mineral potential has rekindled a border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania, which has remained unresolved for almost half a century.

The conflict escalated last July when Malawi awarded oil exploration licenses to United Kingdom-based Surestream Petroleum.  And last December, Malawi awarded the second-largest license to SacOil Holdings Ltd. of South Africa, a move that deepened the crisis.  Twice, the two countries tried to resolve the dispute diplomatically, but to no avail.  Both countries are hoping for the best outcome that will settle the dispute, once and for all when mediation begins this month.

Malawi’s first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was the first to claim that Lake Malawi was part of the southern African nation. He based his claim on the 1890 Heligoland Agreement between Britain and Germany, which stipulated that the border between the countries lay along the Tanzanian side of the lake.  The treaty was reaffirmed at the 1963 Organisation of African Unity Summit in Ethiopia and was reluctantly accepted by Tanzania.  Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume told IPS that their position is based on the 1890 Treaty and that the African Union in 2002 and 2007 upheld the colonial agreement.  “The Heligoland Treaty gave the entire lake to us and this is what forms the basis of our position and proof that we own the entire lake,” said Chiume.

Tanzania’s position is that the treaty was flawed. Tanzania has remained resolute that it owns half of the lake – saying that the border runs through the middle of the lake excluding the section that lies in Mozambique.  Tanzania’s position is that a partition drawn in the middle of the lake, stressing that this is the practice among countries which share water bodies.  “Tanzania has sought recourse to international law, which indicates that borders are generally in the middle of a body of water… Tanzania should therefore own half the lake,” Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Benard Membe told IPS in a telephone interview.  Membe said that the treaty was flawed because it denied Tanzanian’s living on the shores of the lake their given right to utilise proximate water and marine resources to earn their daily living.

These are the positions that Chissano and his two colleagues; former South African President Thabo Mbeki and former Botswana President Ketumire Masire will have to consider.

Meanwhile, the dispute has also brought to the fore the impact oil drilling would have on a fresh water lake blessed with over 2,000 different fish species, which attracts scuba divers the world over. Local environmentalists fear that drilling in the lake will damage eco-tourism and the marine environment affecting the fishing region in the northern part of the country.  “It will endanger the social and economic lives of millions of people directly dependent on the lake for water, transport and most importantly fish for protein,” said Reginald Mumba of Rehabilitation of the Environment — a local environmental non-profit

Excerpts from By Mabvuto Banda,Two Million People Hold their Breath Over Lake Malawi Mediation, Inter Press Service,  Mar. 3, 2013

Hazardous Waste in the Pacific Islands

Vunato rubbish dump Fiji.  Phote from Fiji Times online

EnvironmentT Minister Colonel Samuela Saumatua highlighted at a regional workshop that waste management is one of the biggest challenges facing Pacific Island countries today.  He said growing volumes of solid and hazardous waste had become a major threat to the environment.  “Globalisation is accelerating with increasing urbanisation, migration and participation in international trade,” Col. Saumatua said.  This is resulting in an escalation of solid and liquid wastes, more shipping and land transport and more infrastructure and industry throughout the region, all of which increase the risk of land, coastal and marine pollution from waste.”  He said the lack of controls on imported goods, with the lack of capacity to manage waste threatened to undermine the quality and health of vulnerable island ecosystems on which Pacific Islands depended.

Ana Madigibuli, Hazardous waste rises,Fiji Times Online, Mar. 8, 2013

Water Shortages in the MIddle East: Tigris and Euphrates

tigris and euphrates.  image from wikipedia

According to a study in Water Resources Research, an American scientific journal, between 2003 and 2009 the region that stretches from eastern Turkey to western Iran lost 144 cubic kilometres of fresh water.  That figure is vast. It is equivalent in volume to the Dead Sea and, according to the study’s senior author, Jay Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine, implies that the region is suffering the world’s second-fastest rate of water depletion after northern India. The water table sank by 0.3 metres (one foot) a year in 2006-09. At the point where the Euphrates crosses from Syria into Iraq, it now flows at only 70% of the rate it once did. All this in an area that already faces severe water shortages.

The study provides the first accurate estimate of all the water in the basin. National statistics are flawed and incomplete; some figures are even state secrets. But the study uses satellite data from America’s NASA which is not subject to these restrictions. These satellites not only measure surface water by photographs but, thanks to precise measurements of the effect of bodies of water on the atmosphere, can even calculate the amount of water in the aquifer below them.

The main reason for the depletion turns out to be that more water is being taken out of the underground aquifer, mainly by farmers. The rate of loss accelerated after drought hit the region in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009, in response to reduced flows of water in the rivers, Iraq’s government dug 1,000 new wells and abstracted four-fifths of all its groundwater reserves. The aquifer is not being replenished at anything like that rate, so this cannot continue for long.

The rapid depletion has implications for managing the basin, which is shared by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. All the countries have extensive dams, reservoirs and other sorts of infrastructure on both rivers which control the water’s flow. But they have no international treaty governing when and by how much they can shut the flow down.

Over the years, this has not mattered much. The countries have rubbed along, sometimes amicably, sometimes not, with downstream ones (notably Syria and Iraq) assuming there would always be enough water in the upstream reservoirs of Turkey for them all. But if the new study is any guide, that assumption may not hold for much longer.

The Tigris and Euphrates: Less fertile crescent, Economist, Mar. 9, 2013, at 42

Anti-Nuclear Protests: Taiwan

taiwan anti-nuclear protests.  Image from www.hindustantimes.com

In what organizers called the largest anti-nuclear protest in Taiwan, an estimated 200,000 people took to the streets in several parts of the island on March 9, 2013 to call for the scrapping of nuclear power plants.  The protest was held simultaneously in northern, central, southern and eastern Taiwan just two days before the second anniversary of the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in the wake of the big earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The march participants demanded that the government not allocate any more funding for the construction of Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant in New Taipei City. Construction of the plant has stretched over 14 years and has so far costed taxpayers US$10 billion. It is scheduled to be completed later this year.  But there are increasing concerns over safety, especially given several flooding incidents at the plant being built by the state-run Taipower. Protesters urged the government not to allow fuel rod filling at the new power plant.  More than 6.5 million people, including the residents of Taipei, live within just 80 kilometers of the plant.

Protesters also demanded the speedy decommissioning of Taiwan’s first, second and third nuclear power plants now under operation. All three plants are around three decades old.  In addition, protesters called for the removal of stored nuclear waste from Taiwan’s outlying Orchid Island immediately, as well as a review of the government’s policy to eventually phase out the use of nuclear power, and the government’s implementation of “zero growth for electricity demands.”

A spokeswoman for the Presidential Office said President Ma Ying-jeou was willing to have dialogues with anti-nuclear groups and listen to their suggestions on how Taiwan can find alternatives for nuclear power.Garfi Li cited Ma as saying that the government’s nuclear power policy is based on the premises of “no shortage of electricity, reasonable electricity prices, and honoring the promise to cutting carbon emission to the international community.”…

Previously, the economics ministry, which oversees Taiwan’s state-owned Taipower — the operator of the nuclear power plants — has said Taiwan needs nuclear power so as to avoid being overdependent on imported energy raw material and rising international prices for them. The economics minister has also warned of an energy shortage if the fourth plant is not put into operation….Most importantly, protesters argued that safety, rather than carbon emission reduction and cheap energy prices, should be top priority. They argue that Taiwan’s power plants are among the most dangerous in the world — they are located near fault lines and in densely populated areas, much more densely populated than Fukushima.said they were adamantly opposed to the increase of thermal power, adding that Taichung should increase the use of solar and wind power instead….

In Taitung, eastern Taiwan, the protesters called for nuclear waste to be removed from their area. More than 2,000 people took part in that protest, the largest mass movement in years in Taitung.”We have to take to the streets for the good of the next generation,” one organizer said.Following Orchid Island off the Taitung County, Nantien village in the county’s Dajen township has been slected as one of the possible nuclear waste storage site

200,000 TAKE PART IN TAIWAN’S ANTI-NUCLEAR PROTEST. Focus Taiwan News Channel, Mar. 9, 2013

Orchid Island Needs Nuclear Waste for Survival: Taiwan

Drones and the Rhino: the militarization of conservation

SAAF-15_Squadron-BK117.  Image from wikipedia

Rhino poaching has now been evaluated to a priority crime in South Africa…  This was confirmed by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa ahead of the 16th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Thailand. The top-level meeting of the world’s major environmental bodies started in Thailand today and runs until March 14.

With 128 rhino already killed by poachers this year, well up from the 80 for the corresponding period last year, the National Joint Operations Centre, co-ordinated by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations, has moved rhino poaching up on its priority rating list.  Molewa also said Cabinet had emphasised the need for more technology, specifically in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to be pushed the way of rhino anti-poaching forces. These are currently comprised mainly of SANParks rangers supported by elements of the SA National Defence Force as well as police, customs and excise inspectors from SA Revenue Services and any number of NGOs.

SANDF elements are first and foremost deployed for border protection in the park but where manpower allows, assist rangers in anti-poaching operations. The SA Air Force has also, again where resources allow, made assets available for anti-poaching operations. This has seen a pair of BK-117s of 15 Squadron C Flight in Kruger to assist with aerial surveillance.

Leading South African private sector defence industry conglomerate, the Paramount Group, has also committed itself to the rhino anti-poaching effort. It has made a Seabird Aviation Seeker light observation aircraft available to Kruger via the Ichikowitz Family Foundation. The additional eye in the sky is a boost to Kruger’s own fleet of helicopters, light observation and fixed wing aircraft.The SANParks flagship late last year announced a more militaristic approach to stopping rhino poachers. This saw retired SA Army major general Johan Jooste join the national conservation organisation’s anti-poaching set-up as its head.

Excerpts, Rhino poaching now a priority crime, DefenceWeb, Mar. 4, 2013