Tuesday 2 September 2014

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Berlin Rede : Deutsche EP Spitzenkandidaten beantworten mein ’6 Kernfragen’, schweigen aber über die Ukraine

Posted by on 20/03/14
Am Montag, dem 17. März, hielt ich eine Ansprache anlässlich einer Debatte in Berlin zwischen den Spitzenkandidaten der Parteilisten für die Europawahlen: Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MdEP (FP / ALDE), David McAllister MdL (CDU / EVP), Birgit Sippel MdEP (SPD / SPE) und Gabi Zimmer MdEP (Die Linke / Europäische Linke). Und nicht zuletzt, denn Sie [...]

USA tackles coal-fired power plants

Posted by on 20/03/14

President Obama will enter history as the most committed and successful US President in the fight against Climate Change. His goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 to 2020. He will do essentially by exploiting the executive powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), against tenacious resistance of the Congress.

The EPA has introduced increasingly stricter fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars which have turned American gas-guzzlers into modern cars with low fuel consumption, comparable to European and Japanese ones.

It is engaged to do the same with heavy-duty trucks in the next few years.

Even more important, it has started tackling emissions from power plants.

The USA has already achieved big progress in reducing CO2 emissions by switching from coal to shale gas.

In parallel, the EPA is presently engaged in issuing rules for reducing CO2 emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants, which will have a deep impact on power generation in the USA.

New coal-fired power plants will have to reduce their C02 emissions to no more than 0.5 tons per MW electricity generated compared to 0.8-0.9 tons per MW for the most efficient power plants currently in operation. That requires a big efficiency jump through investing in technologies like combined cycle (power +heat) or carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is, however, still expensive and unproven.

Investors will therefore be likely to shun away from coal-fired power and rely even more on shale gas as the main feed-stock for electricity generation, certainly as long as shale gas remains as cheap as during the last few years.

The same standards becoming also applicable to existing power plants many old ones which are no longer suited for refitting will be decommissioned in the coming years.

Imposing a cut of CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by roughly half through improved technology constitutes a courageous act by the US Administration.

Hopefully, it will set an example for the rest of the world. Indeed, coal still accounts for some 40 per cent of global inputs for electricity generation. It is the single major source of C02 emissions and Humanity will increasingly turn to coal as oil and gas reserves will deplete in the course of the century.

The 20 biggest emitter countries should therefore urgently get together and explore the most suitable ways of following the American example and introduce similar fuel emission standards. That would be a giant step in the fight against climate change.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/3/2014


China’s ‘war’ on air pollution will be the litmus-test for its climate policy

Posted by on 18/03/14

China has a long reputation of a country severely plagued by air pollution. In 2013 China registered its worst record on air pollution; Beijing is considered the second most polluted city in the world.

The air pollution has been the consequence of two decades of super-rapid economic growth without the government addressing its negative by-effects on air and water quality. All eyes were fixed on growth, ignoring its devastating impact on the quality of life.

Rapid growth was not possible without fast increase of power generation, cement and glass production, all responsible for high air pollution and C02 emissions.

China has,of course, introduced environmental legislation ;but without imposing the appropriate technical standards against dust particles, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide, and attaching effective enforcement mechanisms and severe penalties for infringement.

This will change if the National Peoples` Congress is serious in implementing the stern pledges of its chairman, Zhang Dejiang, at its session in early March, after the Chinese Prime Minister had “declared the war” on pollution a few days earlier. The smog spell in February affecting 15 per cent of the country and provoking more and more  complaints from the urban population has no doubt added urgency to the issue.

We should therefore normally expect serious actions to be taken starting in 2014.

Among these should be the strengthening of existing legislation on air pollution, including stricter supervision and harsher punishment.

But this will not suffice. The government will have to address the two main sources of air pollution: coal-fired power generation and car traffic in big cities.

New coal-fired power plants and cement factories must become subject to more stringent emission standards for dust, sulfur dioxide and C02. Only low- emission cars must be be allowed for registration; and their numbers should be reduced in big cities in favour of more metro, trams and buses.

The seriousness of these measures will reflect the willingness of the Chinese elite to effectively tackle climate change. We should not expect much from China for the 2015 Climate Conference if it proves unable to start seriously eradicating the most visible forms of pollution with their devastating health impact on the urban population.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/3/2014

Carbon bubble trouble: the illogic of ignoring our climate predicament

Posted by on 14/03/14

By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office

On 5 March the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament presented a new study about the ‘carbon bubble’ – the amount of fossil fuel reserves that are unburnable if we want to avoid dangerous global warming – and the implications for players like banks and pension funds in the financial market. If we move rapidly to curb carbon, then fossil fuel companies are by definition overvalued since most of their assets in the ground are unusable. A revaluation would hit investors, including those like pension funds, upon whom many people rely.

Most of the study’s analysis is predicated on the idea that we genuinely want to keep to the goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees, and that the technological and policy changes needed to ensure that are put in place.

But that rapid change scenario is accompanied by two others: an uncertain transition that initially dulls the impact of the carbon bubble on the financial system, but stores up even greater trouble for later as we rush to reduce emissions in time, and a third, more ominous scenario, where we revert to a carbon-based development model and suffer the full impact of climate change, which is by far the worst outcome for all concerned.

So in which world are we currently living?

In some respects, we are certainly witnessing rapid change. Since 2008, half the world’s added electrical generating capacity has been renewable. Non-hydro renewables, mainly wind and solar, were 70% of European capacity additions in 2012. China got more generation from wind in 2012 than from nuclear, and it added more generation from non-hydro renewable energy than from fossil and nuclear combined. That included a whopping 12 GW of solar in 2012. In the United States the energy intensity of economy has declined 50% in 10 years, and Texas, the oil state par excellence, already gets 10% of its energy from wind. And if a country were to want to install the same amount of solar in the next ten years that Germany has in the past ten, it would pay only 1/3 the price for the technology, such is the pace of change.

And despite the slow movement of international climate negotiations, at national level there is more room for optimism. Climate policies are being implemented around the world, as the recent Globe report indicates. There is everything from economy-wide targets as in Mexico, to renewable energy targets and support in a wide variety of countries. In the past decade the reduction in deforestation in Brazil has accounted for greater avoided emissions than EU and US emissions reductions combined.

In the field of investment, we’ve seen public sector banks leading the way. WWF currently has an international campaign called ‘Seize Your Power,’ which has contributed to the effort to push coal out of the lending portfolios of the EIB and EBRD. While we didn’t get everything we wanted from their decisions, we were happy to see the EIB put in a higher shadow carbon price and an emissions performance standard – which is a measure we think ought to be part of EU policy overall. The EBRD’s presumption against coal could effectively mean an end to lending. These moves are part of a wave of decisions by public lenders in Europe and North America that are pointing in the right direction for rapid change.

However, as Europe prepares its framework for 2030 climate and energy policy, the debate raging around us very clearly shows the signs of different scenarios at work. Resistance to policy that would act decisively to get us off of fossil fuels and onto a renewables pathway is highly vocal from a few influential sectors of the economy.

The Magritte group of 10 big energy company CEOs is a canary in the coal mine for the carbon bubble – as Greenpeace’s new report shows, companies like theirs have made the wrong investment decisions and have missed the boat on renewable energy, suffering the consequences. Rather than redoubling their efforts to ensure that coal is definitively ruled out and gas plays an appropriate role in a transition to renewable energy, they shoot in all directions at once, including at renewables and efficiency, and hide behind the promise of an emissions trading system with powers of achievement neither to be predicted in theory nor showing any evidence in reality.

Energy-intensive manufacturing has skilfully played a mantra of victimisation at the hands of climate and energy policy, getting the issue to the point where it dominates the agenda of the next European Council meeting that was meant to agree decisions on the Commission’s 2030 white paper. In fact, while there are clearly reasons to pay close attention to energy prices and the competitiveness of the these sectors, their greatest challenges lie well outside the climate and energy sphere: the quality and availability of researchers, scientists, engineers, and skilled labour consistently tops the list of important elements for competitiveness, with energy costs only 7th of 10 factors in the most recent Deloitte study of CEOs. The recent European Competitiveness report similarly looks at the issue more broadly, finding many opportunities in enhanced knowledge and technology. And the IEA’s most recent World Energy Outlook estimates that despite persistent energy price differentials, EU manufacturing will likely continue to increase output through 2035, by which point it will still have more than double the global market share of either China or the United States.

What we are witnessing is not a battle over climate change policy as such, but the intersection of competing principles of prioritisation: the overriding need to ensure the public is protected from the worst effects of climate change competes with, among other factors, the central aim of business, which is to maximise financial return within the confines of the risk and reward system in which they are currently operating.

Other factors can be invoked to enhance the argument for delaying action on the carbon bubble. Last month I debated Lord Browne, ex-CEO of BP and now chairman of the fracking company Cuadrilla, on the subject of shale gas development in the UK. One of my central arguments was that the carbon bubble dictates that we examine the impact of any new fossil fuel development very critically. Our primary challenge is not to find new and unconventional ways of getting fossil fuels out of the ground, but rather to find new and unconventional ways of keeping them in the ground. Lord Browne fairly astonished me by rebutting that if there is shale gas in the ground it would be Britain’s patriotic duty to extract it.

But perhaps that shouldn’t have been so surprising, since everywhere you go in the world, there is a justification for why their fossil fuels are important and different – because they are responsible operators in Norway or Canada, because it’s a counterweight to North American imperialism in Venezuela, because it’s necessary for economic development in Nigeria, or because the effort to extract it is the lowest in the world on the Arabian peninsula.

With so much at stake, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is an important subtext to the messaging among vested interests: how much we really need to combat climate change and whether there is a line to be drawn anywhere in particular, at 2 degrees or elsewhere.

It comes in the form of the commonly-heard phrase ‘rebalancing competitiveness and security of supply with environmental protection in EU policy’ – as if these were simply fungible, and a bit less environmental protection can be made up for by other things. It’s evident in the way that I’ve heard chemical industry spokesmen in Brussels question whether the climate has stopped warming, and perhaps our concern is overblown. It’s evident in the way petroleum companies produce analyses and forecasts that they claim are completely dispassionate, all showing the world far off track to avoiding dangerous global warming, and then calling these ‘real-world’ and ‘non-ideological’ scenarios that generate an air of fatalism. Resistance is futile.

In Europe, there is an even more facile argument which is to state that whatever the desire to tackle climate change, it’s not going to be affected by what is done in Europe, so there’s really no point in sticking our necks out. It’s interesting to hear certain industries, any one of which accounts for a couple percent of Europe’s GDP, describe Europe’s emissions, which are about 11% of the global total, as being ‘insignificant’.

This combination of a stealthy questioning of the importance of climate change, a steady mantra of stories about shale gas and energy costs, and an emphasis on instruments to combat it that have proven to be inadequate on their own, is a dangerous one. It questions the underlying premise of the carbon bubble report and pushes us firmly into the second or even the third scenario.

This is why a spokesman for the pension fund that is the most exposed to carbon risks in Europe, the UK Universities Superannuation Scheme, recently said to a UK parliamentary inquiry that he questioned whether policymakers would in fact act to implement policies that cause a bubble to burst, citing the failure of the EU Emissions Trading System. In other words, “go ahead, write your reports. We don’t think anything will happen to us.”

It is essential to prove him wrong, because the consequences for everyone, including industry, are far worse than pressing forward with rapid change. And despite the pessimism and power games in the corridors of European capitals, in the streets, the people get it. The new Eurobarometer poll shows that eight in ten Europeans agree that fighting climate change and improving energy efficiency can boost the economy and jobs in the EU (including 7 in 10 Polish people).   And nine in ten Europeans think it is important that national governments set targets to increase the amount of renewable energy used by 2030, including almost half thinking it is very important (and, yes, 88% of Polish people think it is important).

As Europe heads to the polls to select a new European Parliament, and potential Commissioners are vetted, it is vital that we connect with Europeans’ desire to fight climate change by facing the issue head on, and pressing forward with rapid change. Delay and diversion is a losing strategy.


Energies renouvelables : encore un (sérieux) effort à faire !

Posted by on 07/03/14

A l’heure où le gaz de schiste est soutenu par une partie croissante de la majorité. Au moment où la question du prolongement de la vie du parc nucléaire français fait débat. Force est de constater que les énergies renouvelables n’ont pas beaucoup la cote en France. Si le battage médiatique autour d’elles donne l’impression qu’elles sont partout, le panorama 2013 des énergies renouvelables nous fait retomber sur terre.

2014 a commencé avec le bilan de l’année 2013, et il y a de quoi faire la soupe à la grimace. Les énergies renouvelables (éolien et solaire) ne représentent que 4,3 % de l’énergie électrique consommée en France. Les efforts sont encore à faire et il ne serait pas inutile de se concentrer sur les projets plutôt que sur les grandes déclarations face caméra. Entre l’Airbus de la transition énergétique franco-allemand et une Union européenne plus que timorée, le climat réel de la transition écologique n’est pas si favorable. Le déclaratif supplante le concret et le syndicat des énergies renouvelables (SER) n’a plus qu’à dénombrer les pertes.

Le SER regroupe l’ensemble des acteurs des énergies renouvelables et est engagé depuis 1993 en faveur de la production et de la consommation de sources d’énergies plus propres. Il connaît donc son affaire et lorsqu’il publie le panorama des énergies renouvelables, les chiffres donnés et les constats dressés font figure d’arbitres impartiaux. Des arbitres stricts en 2013, qui indiquent que les efforts à faire en matière de transition énergétique sont encore importants.

L’éolien ne représente que 3,3 % de la consommation électrique française et le solaire qui a connu bien des déboires l’année dernière ne constitue qu’1 % de l’électricité consommée. Une vraie déception alors que les énergies renouvelables n’ont pourtant jamais été autant sous le feu des projecteurs. Si la part des énergies renouvelables suit une progression au cours des dernières années, l’évolution est plutôt lente et « le rythme des raccordements n’est pas suffisant » pour reprendre les termes employés par le SER. Les nouvelles installations raccordées en 2013 ont chuté de 23 % par rapport à 2012 et même si les raccordements en attentes sont nombreux (plus de 10 000 MW), les énergies renouvelables souffrent d’une réelle « insécurité juridique autour du cadre réglementaire ». Autrement dit, les lois et les normes ne cessent de changer, ce qui en décourage plus d’un.

Un environnement technologique pourtant favorable

Ca coince donc au niveau juridique et la loi sur la transition énergétique qui tarde à venir laisse tous les acteurs dans l’expectative la plus complète. Les normes présentes ou futures sont aujourd’hui des freins à la mise en place à une très grande échelle de solutions énergétiques propres. Un dommage bien grand surtout qu’au niveau technologique, les idées foisonnent et sont promises – pour certaines d’entre elles – à un avenir grandiose.

Entre la prochaine commercialisation d’éoliennes de 8 mégawatts par l’entreprise Vestas, le développement de l’hydrogène et l’impact croissant des smart grids sur les modes de consommation d’énergie, la technologie n’a jamais été aussi proche de transformer notre consommation de manière aussi profitable pour nous et notre environnement. Le marché français et mondial des smart grids est en plein boom et ces appareils du XXIe siècle sont de plus en plus prisés par les grandes entreprises qui comptent bien profiter de cette évolution du marché de l’énergie. Les smart grids sont l’avenir, mais ils subissent les contrecoups de changements incessants de normes dans le secteur de l’énergie. Les grands projets hexagonaux comme Linky et Gazpar ne sont pas assez mis en avant alors qu’ils pourraient/devraient constituer le fer de lance d’une nouvelle manière de consommer.

Les énergies renouvelables et leurs petits ont encore beaucoup de chemin à faire. Tâche aux dirigeants qui se targuent d’être des amis de l’environnement de faire en sorte qu’elles puissent se développer à leur juste mesure.


A harbinger of things to come

Posted by on 04/03/14

Why renewables and efficiency investment makes sense sooner rather than later

By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office

Europe has been the driving force behind the surge in renewable energy that has become a global phenomenon. Nevertheless, the financial and economic downturn that began in 2008 has had a marked effect on the commitment to keeping up the pace of clean energy development. Political attention has shifted to the short-term need to stabilise economies, and with capital more scarce, roll-backs in government support programmes make investment more challenging.

Powerful forces who have been losing out in the clean energy revolution are pushing back, relying on the economic situation as a ready stick to prop up their arguments. Some of them clothe their position as an alternative vision of decarbonisation – wait for renewable energy technologies to get cheaper, relying in the meanwhile on a sort of middle-ground of somewhat better use of fossil fuels.

Similar thinking is seen in the European Commission’s new 2030 white paper, which envisions halving the recent pace of renewable energy growth between 2020 and 2030, leaving much of the heavy lifting for subsequent decades. In their economic models, this all works out smoothly.

But fast-forward to 30 years from now. Fossil fuels have become steadily harder to access, sucking up significant capital to do so. A few countries, perhaps in Asia, have pushed forward in clean energy technology and now fully dominate the market, making renewables less attractive politically in Europe. Power plants running on coal and gas (notionally ‘carbon capture-ready’, but still unabated), are still serviceable and their owners are reluctant to decommission them prematurely, putting pressure on politicians to relax efforts to cut emissions.

Meanwhile, whether due to the impacts of climate change itself or the regular action of economic cycles, we continue to be buffeted by periodic crises that squeeze access to capital and put the brakes on enthusiasm to invest in clean technology. Then, while the economy is again resurgent we face the twin challenges of expanded consumption putting upward pressure on emissions, and governments and industry reluctant to ‘harm the fragile recovery.’

In other words, waiting is a losing game. Models like those underpinning the Commission’s analysis ignore the political influence of incumbents, fail to capture the importance of cycles and crises in real-world economics, and woefully underestimate the real impacts of climate change on those same crises. A future marked by costly ‘natural’ disasters and pressure from global food, water and health crises, is not one in with easy access to reliable project finance in support of an aggressive technology transition. It will be like the past five years, on steroids.

Believe it or not, we are still relatively well off and resilient right now – we are up the proverbial creek, but still have a paddle. But not for long. There’s no time to lose.


Abolition of German subsidies on renewable energy is overdue

Posted by on 04/03/14
By Eberhard Rhein While the Government is busy rewriting legislation on the promotion of renewable energies a High-level Group of Scientists appointed by the German Parliament has come out with a radical proposal to abolish the legislation altogether: a complete suspension of the system. But it is unlikely that the government will have the courage to abolish one of its most cherished policies.

Promoters of mega-dam in Georgia use front group and PR campaign and discredit local community

Posted by on 27/02/14

Georgian public opinion backs the village of Kaishi in the Georgian mountains that defiantly defends its land and tradition against the planned Khudoni dam. The project promoters have now embarked on an all-out promotion campaign including a fake non-governmental organisation.

by David Chipashvili, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

Local communities that are demanding fair treatment when faced with a large infrastructure projects often hear promoters justifying the project with an alleged paramount national interest. It’s another way of saying: “Get out, or we will lose our patience.”

Kaishi, a town in the Georgian mountains of Svaneti, is in this very situation right now. The Khudoni mega-dam is planned to be built where now 800 people live and the land that was theirs by custom was given to the opaque investor Trans Electrica Ltd. for one dollar.

Among the project promoters is also Georgian vice Prime Minister and Minister of Energy, Kakha Kaladze who last week suggested that only a very small group of people are against the project:

“It should not been imagined that the whole population of the region is against the construction of Khudoni. There is a group of people who have a radical approach towards the matter.”

(Source: medianews.ge [ka], own translation, emphasis added)

Yet, the people of Kaishi are far from being a small group of radicals who are blocking the region’s development for sentimental reasons. Last week, after a meeting of the representatives of all Svaneti communities, the Kaishi community published an open letter to the government that reiterates the commitment of Kaishi as a whole to protect their village against a project that is unnecessary:

“Thus we are stating that the village of Khaishi will continue to exist and develop normally and will stay loyal to the oath that was given in front of God and our nation against the Khudoni HPP project.”

(own translation)

The mentioned oath is a traditional vow taken in the local church. The 200 families who have taken the oath pledge to protect Kaishi from flooding and accept that a curse will haunt them and future generations of their families. (The oath includes some colourful descriptions of the curse.)

A PR campaign to change public opinion

Also public opinion in Georgia is far from seeing the Khudoni dam as a project of utmost national interest. In a recent poll on Netgazeti.ge 63 percent of the 1300 participants voted against the project (one vote per IP address was allowed).

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

The lack of public approval has brought the Ministry of Energy and the investors to run an intensive PR campaign to change public opinion. The campaign includes a range of TV ads with biased or distorted facts and a facebook fan page that miraculously gathered 16 000 likes practically overnight.

Even a front group called Georgian Infrastructural Project Initiative (SIPI) appeared out of nowhere in the beginning of this year with the following mission (emphasis added):

“[...] to inform society with facts and arguments on ongoing and planned infrastructural projects in order for the latter to be correctly interpreted by the people.”

Although claiming to conduct studies and evaluations of infrastructure projects, the initiative mostly posts news articles to their website and the CNN’s iReport platform (none of the articles vetted by CNN). Almost all articles so far have been weakly veiled promotions of the Khudoni dam or of the project promoters’ activities.

A look at SIPI’s public registry file leaves no doubt that the organisation is nothing but another way of promoting Khudoni. The head of the organisation, Levan Kalandadze, is a close friend and party ally of businessman Irakli Iashvili. (Both are members of the New Rights Party). Iashvili is 50 percent shareholder of Trans Electrica Trading. The other half is owned by none other than Khudoni investor Trans Electrica Ltd. (The purpose of Trans Electrica Trading is not becoming clear from the registry. It only mentions that the company will deal with energy issues in general.)


The claimed openness of Kaladze and other project promoters to discuss with Kaishi and the rest of the Svaneti community will be put to another test tomorrow. Georgia’s Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili has invited all interested parties (including the ministry and the investor) for February 28 to discuss the human rights dimension of the Khudoni project. We’ll see who shows up.

In Albania, oil’s history casts long shadows over locals

Posted by on 21/02/14

The findings of a visit to the EBRD sponsored Patos Marinza oil field in Albania show how local development and investments in resource extraction often do not go hand in hand. The case provides valuable lessons for the revision of the EBRD’s safeguard policies.

by David Hoffman, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

I first visited Albania in 2007. I went there to dig a bit more into a thermal power plant financed by both the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development near the coastal town of Vlore, a popular tourist destination. In spite of fierce opposition from locals and formal grievances lodged with the investors (pdf), the power plant was constructed anyway, and now sits unused, collecting cobwebs and interest on the country’s outstanding debt repayments.

Things have changed rapidly though in and around Vlore: haphazard construction continues unabated, with once towering beachfront hotels demolished to make way for equally large yet apparently unused condominiums. The shift, I’m told, coincides with the shifting political landscape and the subsequent patronage to the favoured property developers of the moment.

But the more things change, the more some things stay the same. Fast-forward more than half a decade, and both the EBRD and IFC are at it again, financing another controversial energy project near Vlore: the extraction of oil at the Patos Marinza fields by the Canadian company Banker’s Petroleum.

Patos Marinza is one of the largest, and oldest, onshore oil fields in Europe. Oil was first discovered in 1928, and because of this long history of extraction, the area around Patos Marinza suffers from heavy pollution. That’s why a portion of the loan from the banks is intended to clean up the area (and typical of the EBRD, its loan is called the ‘Patos-Marinza Environmental Remediation and Development’ project, even though just USD 6 of 100 million extended to the company is to be used for remediation, and hardly any of that has even been drawn).

Our visit highlighted that while Banker’s had done quite a bit to improve its facilities for extracting oil, it wasn’t immediately clear what was being done to benefit both the environment and the locals living in the immediate proximity of the oil wells.

Making the unseen visible

Just as in the case of the power plant at Vlore, locals have lodged a formal complaint at the World Bank, alleging among other things that Banker’s drilling activities have led to increased seismic activity. An investigation by the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman is ongoing, and in the meantime, a formal working group has been established to investigate the source of the increased seismicity.

But what struck me most about the attention being paid to issues happening underground (and for the most part, unseen) was the conditions it created for inaction on the very visible unemployment and pollution blighting the residents of Patos-Marinza, issues that residents repeatedly raised during the trip. And if Banker’s security had had its way, the issues would have remain unseen, as shortly after arriving, we were unwelcomingly escorted out of the area by a caravan of security vehicles.


Prior to the heavy-handed guards removing us from the villages, we spoke with about twenty residents in the nearby village of Kallmi, all of whom were unemployed. A former employee of the state-owned oil company Albpetrol, from whom Banker’s is taking over the oil fields, explained that men who had technical training and worked in the fields could not find work with Banker’s, complaining that ‘hundreds’ had sent CVs not only to Banker’s but also the different subcontractors building things like roads.

When it was noted that Bankers has a hiring policy in place to give preference to former Albpetrol employees, the man dismissed it, reiterating that he knew not one of his former colleagues that was now employed by Bankers. Another migrant worker explained that upon returning from Greece, he had nowhere to send his children because the school was in such disrepair.

These types of investments – roads, schools and the like – came up often as the kinds of social programmes that Banker’s should support. As one man put it, social programmes ‘that made sense.’ He referred to his arrangement with Banker’s, where he rents the company land of oil extraction, and they in turn teach him how to care for tomatoes. The programme is of little use however, since the man already knows how to care for tomatoes, and he no longer has any land on which to grow the tomatoes. Along with other projects like the recently-constructed health centre and a programme for pruning trees, what the community wants and what why company constructs are entirely two different things.

See images from Patos Marinza on flickr >>

There is no god that could live here

Even after just a few hours on site at Patos Marinza, the effects of breathing polluted air were noticeable: discomfort in the throat, a slight irritation resulting in eyes watering. For those who call the area home, the situation is taking its toll. Locals in Kallmi complained that there are significant amounts of air pollution, particularly early in the morning, and in the neighbouring village of Jagodina, others confirmed that ‘heavy’ air in the mornings, leading to problems with breathing. Locals say that an inoperable pipeline leaks methane, and the slag pits evaporate in the summer, further deteriorating the air quality. When asked about the conditions of the slag pits, one man alluded to an Albanian saying, ‘There is no god that could live there’.

Lessons learned for the future policy

This week in Sofia, the EBRD will hold its penultimate public consultation about the future of its safeguards policies. Colleagues from Albania who were present during our trip to Patos Marinza will present the mission, and we hope that this case will provide some lessons learned for the bank as it moves forward in revising in its safeguard policy. Otherwise it is possible that the next trip to Albania will be to visit another environmentally and socially-destructive EBRD energy investment.

Las dos revoluciones pendientes europeas: energía y talento

Posted by on 16/02/14

Europa ha sido protagonista de las dos primeras revoluciones industriales de la historia. En el continente y las islas británicas se desarrollaron en los dos siglos pasados los procesos tecnológicos y productivos que han cambiado la vida en la Tierra. La era digital, sin embargo, la que nos ha conducido a la globalización mundial, nos vino dada en el final del siglo XX desde América bajo predominio económico de los Estados Unidos. La nueva forma de gestión del conocimiento y la implantación de una sociedad de la información ya no podemos decir que haya sido fruto del progreso europeo. Ahora que los grandes gurús consideran que Internet ya nos ha llevado al límite de donde nos podía llevar, se plantean los nuevos retos del tercer milenio y con ellos los escenarios que concebirán los avances de la Humanidad. Y si acudimos al razonamiento lógico, correspondería al continente que da vida al 60% de la población del planeta, es decir a Asia, liderar los nuevos tiempos de desarrollo. Lo cual no debe ser obstáculo para que Europa sea capaz de aportar su valor añadido al proceso. Es más, está obligada a hacerlo si no quiere ver empobrecido su paisaje productivo, ser dependiente tecnológicamente y a la postre poner en riesgo definitivo el sistema de libertades que nos hemos dado.

Cabe preguntarse y debatir, por tanto, sobre cuáles son las revoluciones pendientes que debemos acometer. Cuáles son las nuevas tecnologías que nos harán avanzar hacia una nueva era de la civilización y cuáles los pasos a dar para que su implantación nos ayude a mejorar la calidad de vida de nuestra sociedad. En Europa esa reflexión resulta fácil empezando por su principal carencia y dependencia. El continente que parió la industrialización y que es hoy la mayor potencia comercial del mundo, tiene un desbalance energético gravísimo, lo que le convierte en un gigante con pies de barro. Una crisis de seguridad en el Golfo Pérsico o en el Magreb, o el endurecimiento de las condiciones de abastecimiento del gas ruso, puede colapsar las principales economías de la zona euro y poner en peligro la estabilidad de empresas y de las propias necesidades básicas de nuestros ciudadanos. Un tema crítico al que Europa no ha sido capaz de dar una respuesta común armonizando políticas energéticas nacionales y gestionando conjuntamente un problema que a la larga es de todos los europeos. Nos hemos acomodado confortablemente en el desarrollo de las energías renovables, pese a que relación de su precio y el retorno a la red de las mismas sea claramente insuficiente.


Europa precisa de todas las fuentes de energía de las que podamos disponer, es absurdo encarecer nuestra factura energética o nuestras dependencias de importaciones de combustibles sin caer en la cuenta de que esos costes nos hacen menos competitivos, nos endeudan y ponen en peligro el mantenimiento de nuestro Estado del Bienestar. Trabajar por la producción de energías limpias y seguras no significa en modo alguno prescindir de fuentes que precisamos. ¿Podemos seguir anclados en argumentos de la década de los 70 para prohibir la energía nuclear en nuestros países? ¿o podemos permitirnos el lujo de excluir sin prueba o debate alguno científico las extracciones de gas pizarra? Rotundamente no. Europa necesita aprovechar todos y cada uno de los recursos energéticos a su alcance sin desestimar una sola posibilidad. Y debe desnacionalizar sus fuentes para ponerlos en común. Si tenemos una moneda común, debemos tener una capacidad energética común, algo que nos lleva a los propios orígenes de nuestro proyecto europeo que no fue otro que una comunidad del carbón y del acero, es decir, la garantía de abastecimiento interno de materias energéticas básicas.

Pero junto a la tarea de no despilfarrar y gestionar comunitariamente nuestras fuentes de energía, está el reto superior de la investigación en alternativas a los combustibles fósiles. Europa ha hecho un alto esfuerzo inversor en proyectos comunes de esta naturaleza. EURATOM o el CERN son ejemplos claros de una apuesta decidida por dar pasos definitivos en la revolución energética. Resulta difícil saber el estadio en que nos encontramos en el camino al éxito cuando ni nuestros científicos saben valorar sus descubrimientos, pero no tenemos más remedio que incrementar las aportaciones a estos campos investigadores en la certeza que tarde o temprano darán sus frutos. En el estudio del comportamiento de los elementos del átomo y las partículas es seguro que encontraremos las soluciones que requerimos para hacer el Planeta sostenible y frenando el impacto medioambiental negativo que hoy producen los combustibles que empleamos. La ecuación a resolver por nuestros físicos está en el ahorro de resistencias para frenar las necesidades de combustión. Un mundo global donde todos sus ciudadanos tienen derecho a una vida digna y confortable precisa alternativas al modelo energético actual.

Pero esa revolución energética va íntimamente ligada a la revolución del talento, es decir, a la liberación de todas las capacidades del hombre en su ecuación de tiempo y espacio. El brutal incremento de las posibilidades de comunicación e información que Internet nos ha brindado está transformando profundamente la gestión del conocimiento. Pero, sin embargo, está pendiente derivar dicha potencialidad a la generación de talento. Tenemos muchos más medios pero no estamos aprovechando las herramientas para extender nuestro recurso más sagrado, la creatividad de las personas. La incorporación acelerada de la población de los países emergentes a herramientas del saber y la movilidad que de las ideas podemos hacer hoy, debería suponer la mejor oportunidad de la historia para producir exponencialmente arte y ciencia, o lo que es lo mismo, para desarrollar al máximo las potencialidades de individuos y sociedades. Si estamos a obligados a realizar una gestión más eficiente y respetuosa con las generaciones venideras de los recursos naturales, o estamos más aún en ser mucho más productivos en la adecuada extracción del talento de las personas.

El caso es que las revoluciones para producirse siempre han contado con tres elementos básicos que prenden la mecha del cambio abrupto. Lo primero la incorporación a los procesos de una tecnología altamente novedosa y transformadora. Algo que puede que una vez más estemos cercanos a alcanzar en los próximas dos décadas según nos cuentan los científicos de vanguardia. En segundo lugar, al filósofo que observador de la realidad se encarga de describir el paradigma de futuro bajo una idea innovadora. Eso, hoy por hoy, no abunda o por lo menos no está en el top de visitas de un blog o en la lista de best sellers de un mundo que no lee y solo entiende las cosas en clave audiovisual. Y tercero, un liderazgo político inspirado en la base ideológica engendrada por el susodicho pensador, que se pone al frente de los movimientos generados por los cambios sociales que provocan las nuevas tecnologías y ejecuta las reformas necesarias del de convivencia. De este último ingrediente es del que andamos más carentes ahora mismo. En Europa tenemos algún científico insigne, escasean los filósofos y carecemos de líderes. Probablemente esto es así porque el problema de origen que debemos resolver es el del inmediatismo que rige nuestros actos. Nos comportamos mecánicamente sin darnos tiempo para pensar las cosas, el imperativo ya no es ser, sino estar para hacer por hacer. Pero no me veo a Merkel o a Rajoy enfrascados en tan estériles reflexiones como las que a mi me ocupan, tienen altas cuestiones de Estado en las que atarearse como la enésima discusión sobre los mecanismos de garantía de depósitos de los bancos europeos. Ya se sabe primum vivire y que siempre vivan mejor los mismos.


Georgian hydro projects are a test case for the EU’s development bank

Posted by on 12/02/14

As activists pointed out at a consultation meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia’s hydropower sector has plenty of lessons to be learned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

by David Chipashvili, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

Yesterday in Tbilisi, during a public consultation on the good governance policies of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an unexpected thing happened.

A Georgian activists movement staged a protest action against two potentially harmful hydropower projects, the Dariali and Shuakhevi HPPs, which had appeared in the EBRD’s project pipeline. The activists held banners asking the bank not to fund the two projects for they would destroy the gorges of Dariali and Adjaristskali.

The activists specifically referred to the case of the Paravani hydropower plant (HPP) as a reminder for the bank’s management not to repeat the mistakes made earlier. The 87 MW Paravani HPP includes a 14 km derivation tunnel to divert water from the Paravani river to the Mtkvari river upstream of the village of Khertvisi. In some periods this would leave only 10 percent of water in the Paravani river – inadequate to ensure the survival of downstream flora and fauna – while at the same time, the project creates a significant risk of flooding Khertvisi.

Beyond exemplifying what can go wrong in small hydro projects in Georgia, the Paravani case also clearly illustrates the shortcomings of the EBRD policies that were under discussion yesterday. As Bankwatch reported in January, the EBRD’s Project Complaint Mechanism concluded (six months after we filed our complaint (pdf)) that three sections of the EBRD’s Environmental and Social Policy had been breached. The current review of the bank’s policies can be an important turning point to avoid similar debacles and strengthen independent control mechanisms.

Pleasantly EBRD staff agreed to listen to the activists’ concerns which were presented by one activist and which I summarise below these images from the action.

Shuakhevi HPP

The Norwegian company “Clean Energy Invest” plans to construct a cascade of three HPPs on the Adjaristskali river in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. The cascade includes the 185 MW Shuakhevi HPP, the 150 MW Koromkheti HPP and the 65 MW Khertvisi HPP. According to the project information of the EBRD, the Bank plans to fund the first HPP from the cascade Shuakhevi HPP.

The project includes the construction of a 22 metres high Skhalta Dam with a flooding area of 19 hectares) and the 39 metres high Didachara Dam (16.9 hectares) as well as three diversion tunnels. The project envisages leaving only 10 percent of the average annual water flow of the Adjaristskali river downstream from the dam.

Dariali HPP

The Dariali hydro power plant (HPP) project envisages the construction of a derivation type hydro power plant with an installed capacity of 110 MW on the river, in the Kazbegi municipality, close to the Russian-Georgian border.

The project would divert the greatest part of Tergi’s water, about 90 percent, leaving an approximate eight-kilometer section of the Tergi River without water. This would result in the landscape being radically changed on the eight-kilometer section of the Dariali gorge with a total length of 11 kilometers. As a result of the water diversion, the Gorge will additionally lose its historical cultural-ethnographic values and tourism importance.

In additional to causing environmental damage, the project would also harm the historical and cultural heritage as well as the local economy. The Tergi river was a source of inspiration for famous Georgian writers and poets like Ilia Chavchavadze, Alexander Kazbegi and Grigol Orbeliani. The river and its adjacent landscape are also attracting tourists, who would inevitably stay away, if the Dariali HPP project were implemented in its current form, resulting in adverse effects on the incomes of locals engaged in the tourism industry.

Abolish gasoline and fossil energy subsidies

Posted by on 30/01/14

Subsidies on petroleum products and fossil energy have become a deeply rooted vice in many countries across the globe, especially oil-rich ones.

They can be quite expensive, absorbing two to ten percent of GDP in a dozen countries resorting to this fallacious political favour.

They constitute a hidden economic and environmental burden to the respective countries.

When poor countries like Egypt or Yemen spend 20 to 30% of their budget on fossil fuel subsidies they lack the means for investing more in vital education and health services, while imploring the international donor community to fill the gap.

Gasoline subsidies favour car owners at the expense the poor who cannot afford a car and enhance social inequalities in developing countries. According to World Bank estimates they amounted to more than $ 100 billion in 2012 which governments should rather invest in education and health care.

They are also perverse from a climate perspective: low gasoline prices induce people to ride more. Thus countries with low gasoline prices like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait register the highest per capita fuel  consumption.

They do not offer any incentives for buying fuel-efficient vehicles. Venezuela is a good example. Its citizens enjoy the lowest gasoline price on earth: $ 0.015/liter, which is 10% of the Saudi price and 1% of EU prices! No wonder that the highways are also crowded with gas guzzlers.

Some countries like Iran and Indonesia have made efforts in phasing out their subsidies; in other others like Nigeria such efforts have temporarily aborted because they were too hasty provoking popular unrest.

To be successful countries have to proceed incrementally. The longer subsidies have been in place the more difficult it is to scrap them. With its decades-old and unsustainable grain and gasoline subsidies Egypt is a sad example.

Gasoline and diesel subsidies are only part of the wider story of fossil energy subsidies, which annually amount to more than $ 500 billion globally.

In the forthcoming climate conferences the EU should combine with UN, IEA and other countries to insist that all countries commit to phase their subsidies out before 2025 latest.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 30/01/2014

Europeans do not step back from Climate Goals

Posted by on 27/01/14

After months of internal debate the Commission has presented EU climate goals for 2030. The green lobby has called them inadequate,while utilities, heavy industry and most member states are prepared to give their blessing.

Assuming that the European Council will endorse them at its June session, the EU will be the first group of countries to announce its cards for the decisive 2014-15 international climate conferences in Lima and Paris.

What matters there will be commitments from all countries to lower their green house gas emissions, high-income countries at higher rates than emerging ones. So far the EU has been the only the group of countries to effectively decree and implement significant reductions of emissions.

The USA has done so too, by replacing coal through gas for power generation, but not by legislation. Australia, Canada, Russia have given no sign for any reductions of their emissions. And China, which boasts of big efforts in renewable energies, has only slowed the pace of increase of its emissions, through raising the level of energy efficiency.

By implementing the Commission targets until 2030 the EU will emit only 60 per cent of what it had emitted in 1990! It can be proud of this unique achievement. Still, its contribution to the global climate will be negligible because of its declining share in global emissions to some 12 per cent!

Globally it will therefore no matter if the EU were to adopt even more ambitious targets, as Greenpeace (45 per cent of the 1990 emissions) calls for.

Nor are mandatory commitments for the share of renewable sources sensible.

The proposal for a “mandatory” 27 per cent target (of overall energy consumption (!) for the EU as a whole and annual action plans for each member state is not ambitious but reasonable.

There is no point expanding the capacities of solar and wind too rapidly if the grid and storage capacities do not follow. It is rather appropriate to slow down the build-up of further generation capacities and put the emphasis on building European-wide grids to transport the wind and solar power across the continent.

A substantial reduction of the “guaranteed” subsidies, especially in Germany, which will must spend more than € 25 billion annually for its over-generous “feed-in” tariffs for many years to come, is overdue to keep electricity prices at reasonable levels and conserve the competitiveness of energy intensive industries.

Even if this does not please the fledgling European renewable power industries, subsidies on renewable energies must be phased out, the sooner the better.

The EU has done well to substantially increase research expenditures for renewables until 2020. It desperately needs a strategy for the storage of solar and wind power to ensure a perfectly reliable electricity supply .

Energy efficiency matters at least as much as renewable sources to reduce C02 emissions. Here the Commission has been too discreet. A multiannual renovation programme for the building stock – which is Europe`s biggest energy consumer and C02 emitter- would be helpful both for reducing emissions and creating jobs.

The Commission should submit appropriate proposals when it comes to the implementation of the targets.

Additional reductions of the emission allowances for utilities and heavy industries may not be enough and difficult to impose.

The tougher emission standards for passenger cars to come into effect in the early 2020s will not carry enough weight.

In conclusion, Europeans do not step back from climate goals. But they shift the emphasis away from the excessive build up of renewable energies which has proved too expensive relative to the impact on the climate.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 23/01/2014


Europe should not expect miracles from shale gas & oil

Posted by on 24/01/14

The European Commission is due to present its policy guidelines for shale gas production on 22 January. It is expected to leave member countries large latitude for the exploration and production, subject to respect specific health and environment safeguards, e. g. for water.

We should not expect a boom comparable to what the US Middle West has been experiencing in the last few years and which has sent shivers to European energy-intensive sectors. Far from it!

In the USA the “big boom” is already over. The size of the deposits seems to have been grossly over-estimated. Investments in new deposits have fallen dramatically, from $35 billion in 2011 to only $3.4 billion in 2013.

We can therefore expect American gas and oil prices to rise again in the near future.

According to geological surveys Europe is much less endowed with shale gas deposits. Most of these are concentrated in Poland and Great Britain, most interested in shale gas/oil. In addition, Europe’s population density will make the exploration and production more expensive than in the USA.

There is not the slightest chance for Europe approaching energy self-sufficiency through shale gas/oil, as the USA is about to achieve, even if only for a short time. In 2035 domestic production might cover just 10% of total EU gas demand, according to Commission estimates.

Shale gas will be no more than a transitory solution. Its reserves will be depleted within a few decades. Europe must therefore focus on energy efficiency and renewable sources as the only valid panaceas.

This being said, Great Britain and Poland should be free to exploit their shale gas reserves if that helps them bridge the gap towards more sustainable solutions.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 17/01/2014

‘Green diesel’ identified as sustainable aviation biofuel

Posted by on 22/01/14

Boeing researchers have identified green diesel as a potential aviation biofuel of high sustainability, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by at least half over its lifecycle. Boeing said last week that it is working to gain approval from government agencies for aircraft use of renewable green diesel, which is already used in ground transport.

Biofuel research in a Boeing laboratory in Seattle.

Biofuel research in a Boeing laboratory in Seattle.

Green diesel — chemically distinct from biodiesel — is made from fats and oils, and Boeing’s researchers have found it to have a chemical profile similar to today’s sustainable aviation biofuels, meaning it could be blended directly with conventional jet fuel. Moreover, U.S. and European industry has existing capacity to provide 600 million gallons per year, accounting for up to 1 percent of current global aviation fuel needs at a price — $3 per gallon, given government incentives — competitive with conventional fuel.

“Green diesel approval would be a major breakthrough in the availability of competitively priced, sustainable aviation fuel,” says James Kinder, a Technical Fellow in Boeing Commercial Airplanes Propulsion Systems Division. “We are collaborating with our industry partners and the aviation community to move this innovative solution forward and reduce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuel.”

The green diesel initiative is part of Boeing’s long-term commitment to sustainable growth in aviation, following its Optimal Flights programme and ecoDemonstrator aircraft. Boeing is also part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, an alliance of aviation industry participants seeking to develop sustainable biofuels that avoid adverse local land-use and environmental effects while lowering CO2 emissions overall.

“Boeing wants to establish new pathways for sustainable jet fuel, and this green diesel initiative is a groundbreaking step in that long journey,” adds Boeing executive Julie Felgar, managing director of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Environmental Strategy and Integration. “To support our customers, industry and communities, Boeing will continue to look for opportunities to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.”