Poland Needs EU Support to Meet Climate Goals

Turów Power Station in Bogatynia, Poland, December 3, 2009
Turów Power Station in Bogatynia, Poland, December 3, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

Poland will not be able to meet the EU’s 2050 zero-emissions target without additional funds. In an interview with the Financial Times, the country’s chief energy advisor, Piotr Naimski, argues that the European Union needs to take its particular circumstances into account.

Poland’s extreme reliance on coal makes the goal to reduce net emissions to zero a tall order. Coal generates about 80 percent of Poland’s electricity. It also curbs its reliance on Russian energy, which is of geopolitical significance.

There is a political consideration as well. Mining unions are still strong in Poland. The industry has long provided well-paying jobs with a high degree of stability. Miners enjoy special retirement provisions. This makes them a powerful voting bloc. Read more

Arguments For and Against Macron’s Mercosur Threat

French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

French president Emmanuel Macron has threatened to hold up ratification of an EU trade deal with Mercosur unless Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro does more to fight fires in the Amazon Rainforest.

Canada, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands have backed Macron up. Germany is less sure. Donald Trump is expected to side with Bolsonaro at the G7 summit this weekend.

Here are the arguments for and against the threat. Read more

How Climate Change Will Be the Biggest Geopolitical Crisis of the Century

French troops in Mali, May 2013
French troops in Mali, May 2013 (EMA/Ministère de la Défense)

America is out of the environmental protection businesses; so says the haughty God-Emperor Donald Trump, whose word is apparently law.

Too bad even god-emperors cannot change facts. Too bad, especially, for the billions who are almost certain to be disrupted, displaced and decimated by the looming geopolitical effects of climate change.

That basic truth is denied heartily by many who have incentive to play games for short-term gain. These are old-school industrial concerns, for whom environmental regulation hammers a bottom line; alt-right, alt-truthers, for whom simple science is a threat to their incoherent worldview; and shattered working classes, seeking a simple scapegoat for the complicated story of their economic dissolution and disenfranchisement. Read more

The Day After Tomorrow in Morocco

Delegates debate at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, November 10
Delegates debate at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, November 10 (UN Climate Change)

Amid the election victory of the intensely pro-coal, global-warming denier Donald Trump, the United Nation’s annual Climate Change Conference is underway in Marrakech, Morocco and is aiming to build on last year’s Paris Agreement.

The conference began on Monday and will run until the end of next week. Read more

Politics, Not Environment, Informed Keystone Decision

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Dayton, Ohio, October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Dayton, Ohio, October 23, 2012 (Obama for America/Christopher Dilts)

American president Barack Obama has decided not to approve the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, The Washington Post reports.

The $7 billion project would have linked up the oilfields of Alberta, Canada with refineries and ports on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas and transferred the equivalent of 800,000 barrels of oil per day.

It took Obama, who is due to step down next year, virtually all his presidency to reject Keystone. Read more

Climate Talks Highlight That Money Still Talks in Peru

President Ollanta Humala of Peru chairs a government meeting in Lima, January 8
President Ollanta Humala of Peru chairs a government meeting in Lima, January 8 (Presidencia Perú)

Last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Peru brought new attention to a long-standing conflict between those seeking to develop the South American country’s economy and those trying to protect its environment.

Consecutive Peruvian governments have been accused of disregarding the effects of extractive activities on the environment and on its indigenous peoples. A general desire to cash in on Peru’s natural resources is seen as a threat in the north of the country while drug traffickers, illegal miners and loggers have helped contribute to the ransacking of the jungle areas of the east.

Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index ranks Peru 110 out of 178 countries worldwide. In the region, only El Salvador and Paraguay do worse.

Peru’s economy has boomed in recent years in large part because of an increase in copper, gold and silver production. The mining industry accounts for 60 percent of exports and was forecast to reach $14 billion last year.

Foreign investment plays a crucial role. Thanks to an attractive legislative and fiscal framework, $70 billion in investment is expected over the next five years, including $42 billion in mining alone.

Under the last government of President Alan García, land disputes and particularly the issue of foreign exploitation of natural resources led to almost two hundred demonstrators being killed in clashes with security forces from 2006 to 2011. During that time, García oversaw legislation that criminalized social unrest.

The northern city of Cajamarca is the site of an ongoing dispute involving the proposed Conga Gold Mining Project. Valued at $4.7 billion, the largest foreign investment project in Peruvian history is sponsored by the Newmont Mining Corporation of Colorado and passed an environmental impact assessment in 2010. Yet in November the following year, it was suspended amid local protests against a feared contamination of the water supply.

Incumbent president Ollanta Humala made an election promise to end such social conflicts through a “prior consultation law” which would guarantee dialogue and agreements between indigenous communities and companies before any action is taken.

Instead, Humala gave the armed forces extraordinary powers, including the right to make arrests without warrant, for a period of sixty days. Several of his ministers resigned in protest and soldiers still patrol the streets of Cajamarca to stop demonstrators, who are now labeled “extremists,” returning.

Late last year, Humala completed his environmental U-turn when a new ruling on hydrocarbons was approved. This removed the need for environmental impact assessments in areas outside the rainforest and exempted petroleum companies from such procedures. Mining minister Eleodoro Mayorga said the ruling would “contribute to the development of Peru, because these industries represent almost two-thirds of the country’s exports and their investment projects are essential for reactivating the economy.”

Although the November ruling retained protection of the rainforest, the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, an indigenous rights organization, recently claimed economic integration and agricultural development in the Amazon comes at the expense of the rainforest.

The group said informal extractive activities, including illegal gold mining and logging, most common in the east, have a major impact. One fifth of gold mining in Peru is done illegally and this alone is worth $3 billion per year. 80 percent of timber exports are harvested illegally.

The association pointed out that illegal gold mining was responsible for an estimated 20 percent of Peru’s deforestation last year in the southeastern Madre de Dios region and caused widespread mercury pollution.

The government has tried to regulate the activities of “informal miners” but this has met fierce resistance. More than 15,000 miners took to the streets in protest in May.

Beyond the environmental damage illegal mining is causing, it also chips away at state income and undermines investor confidence.

The global scrutiny that came with the United Nations talks underlined that Peru has yet to find a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

After years of prioritizing growth, there are some signs the country is moving toward a more balanced approach. The Ministry of Environment is in the process of setting up specialized courts for the energy, fishing and mining industries in order to expedite cases of alleged environmental abuse. It has also fined more companies for excessive emissions. Peru’s high commissioner for the fight against illegal logging announced measures earlier this week for those operating within the “informal” sector.

But with President Humala reversing his earlier pledges, the indigenous people of Peru, who are most affected by environmental degradation, can hardly be blamed for wondering if the changes will amount to much.

German Green Energy a Failure, Studies Show

A German electricity transmission power, February 2, 2009
A German electricity transmission power, February 2, 2009 (Martin Lang)

Two new studies provided a damning indictment of Germany’s green energy program this week, claiming it had done little to halt climate change but undermined exports by €15 billion last year. Read more