So with simultaneous crises underway on both nuclear (meltdown risk at six reactors) and oil (spiking at $115), you may be wondering what other options are left. Over to Kelly Rigg at the Huffington Post:
March 18, 2011 at 11:14 am | More on Climate and resource scarcity |
Colleagues and I have been directly corresponding with Yoshinori Ueda leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association & Japan Wind Energy Association, and according to Ueda there has been no wind facility damage reported by any association members, from either the earthquake or the tsunami. Even the Kamisu semi-offshore wind farm, located about 300km from the epicenter of the quake, survived. Its anti-earthquake “battle proof design” came through with flying colors.
Mr. Ueda confirms that most Japanese wind turbines are fully operational. Indeed, he says that electric companies have asked wind farm owners to step up operations as much as possible in order to make up for shortages in the eastern part of the country.
ODI have some new research out this week on this, looking at the potential impacts of a one third increase in oil prices over the next two years (which they argue is a reasonable projection, given historical experience of the effects of MENA region conflicts on oil prices):
The study suggests that some of the poorest countries could lose up to 4% of their GDP. Those likely to lose more than 3% of GDP as a result of a one-third increase in oil prices include Ghana, Honduras, Lesotho, Swaziland, Togo, Moldova and Nicaragua. Those likely to lose more than 1% of GDP include Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal and Niger. This is assuming that there are no market or policy interventions.
At national level, government balances could worsen in countries where oil prices are controlled, and changes in oil price structures may lead to protests as seen in Indonesia (1998), Nigeria (2000) and Yemen (2005). For example, there are already question marks surrounding the affordability of oil price subsidies in Thailand, where oil products constitute around 10% of the consumer basket. Fortunately, the fiscal position in some developing countries that have been growing is fine, but this certainly not the case for others that have seen the fiscal balances worsen due to a number of shocks.
At the household level our review of the evidence finds that both rich and poor households suffer as a result of oil price increases, but the poor tend to suffer more. There are direct effects, with the poor spending a large share of their small incomes on oil and oil products. In Ghana,x Guatemala, India, Nepal, South Africa and Vietnam, the poorest households may spend as much as 3-4% of their income on kerosene, compared to little more than 1% of the richest households. There are also indirect effects, with rising transport costs affecting the poor more than the rich.
The evidence suggests that rising oil prices and falling GDP have a direct impact on the most vulnerable people. A drop of 1% in African GDP could increase the number of infant deaths by 5,000 each year, and child deaths by around 10,000. In countries that are more sensitive to falling incomes the impact could be worse.
I’ve been moonlighting on other blogs this week. First up was round two on results – I posted here on GD a few weeks ago about what a results agenda could do for development, and I had round two of this debate with Ros Eyben from IDS on Duncan Green’s blog this week.
My argument is that the right information, in the right hands, can be revolutionary. The push to results shouldn’t be resisted, but instead used to put power in the hands of poor people. If donors have to define what they are trying to do, and why, then they are more accountable. And if we know what results people want, then it’s easier to judge if donors, governments and NGOs are actually delivering them.
Without a commitment to do what poor people want, and the information to know what this is, the result, in the worst case, can be a development agenda driven by fashions and fads and not by evidence. Take the example of HIV funding – even though there was, and is, a need for substantial funds to tackle the epidemic, even some HIV activists are now saying privately that perhaps their sector has been overfunded compared to others where the need is as pressing but the cause just not so fashionable.
There are grounds to be optimistic that the ‘value for money’ agenda could be used to find out what poor people themselves value. Then the cost of different policies and programmes that might deliver this can be compared to to produce an idea of the ‘value for money’ of different development interventions. I’ve just published this paper at ODI on methods for finding out what poor people want and translating that into policy. There are precedents: in the UK’s National Health Service, information on what health outcomes people value, and how much they value them, is used to measure the effect of different treatments, and to allocate resources.
If we could use this methodology, or something like it, to measure how poor people themselves (or, more likely, different groups of poor people – men and women, rural and urban etc) define ‘value’ in development, then we’d really be on to something.March 16, 2011 at 10:00 am | More on Economics and development, Influence and networks, UK | 5 Comments
As the once so secure Arab regimes appeared to be falling like dominoes in the face of popular demands for regime change (read: freedom and democracy), the abundant commentary in the Western media often used analogous revolutionary moments in time to outline the importance of events, or offer guidance to US and European leaders on ways to resolve their foreign policy conundrum (how to support democracy and human rights without threatening the stability needed for security and economic growth). From the fall of apartheid to the violent suppression of student protests at Tiananmen Square and the ousting of South-American generals, most recent ‘liberation events’ have featured in numerous articles but none more so than the 1989 fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.
At first glance, the analogy seems apt. Then and now we see populations rising up against autocratic regimes propped up by vast security forces and the financial, military and political tutelage of a superpower. At closer inspection however, the differences are significant enough to suggest that the smooth trajectory from Warsaw Pact to Lisbon Treaty will not be afforded to the current batch of freedom seeking populations. Three main differences stand out.
One, these days there is no Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika were not so much informed by popular demands for reform but rather proved to be the loosening of reigns necessary for people to believe that change was possible and that the risks involved in protesting and demanding change were manageable. Of course, for Gorbachev, demokratizatsiya did not necessarily mean free elections and a multi-party system but once change was happening, Mikhail did not stand in its way. In fact, in no uncertain terms did he make it clear to the leaders of Central and East European countries that violence against their own populations would not (or no longer) be accepted.March 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm | More on Conflict and security, Middle East and North Africa | 2 Comments
A few weeks ago, David Bosco and I had a rapid-fire exchange (look here, here and here) over how Ban Ki-moon measures up to Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General. Now I’ve set out my views on the matter at greater length in IP-Global (the English-language version of Internationale Politik). My essay, entitled “A Second Chance for Ban Ki-moon”, doesn’t exactly start with a blaze of praise for the current SG:
Something strange is happening at the United Nations. Ban Ki-moon, who has received lackluster reviews since he became Secretary-General in 2007, wants a second five-year term. Although widely criticized as an insipid leader and feeble manager, Ban faces no challengers. Diplomats in New York expect the Security Council to nod through his renewal sometime later this year. If Ban strolls to victory, he may miss one of his last opportunities to lay out a compelling vision of why the UN still matters—something he has consistently failed to do so far.
I go on to criticize Ban for failing to gain a real understanding of the UN during his early years in office – although I posit, as I have before, that he has started to show a better grasp of the organization of late. In the past, the SG has tended to focus on high-level diplomacy – especially around climate change - rather than the down-to-earth realities of UN crisis management, peacekeeping and humanitarian ops.
His earlier efforts to define himself as a climate warrior now look like a bad bet: Ban seized on a high-profile policy issue over which he had little leverage, while paying the UN’s crisis managers too little attention. This has done clear harm. The UN’s operation in Darfur has stumbled from humiliation to humiliation, preyed upon by bandits and repeatedly obstructed by the Sudanese government. In 2008, the UN was blindsided by a predictable crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo in which rebels displaced over 200,000 civilians in an area patrolled by UN troops and attack helicopters. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan—arguably its single most important operation in American and European eyes—descended into complete confusion after Hamid Karzai allegedly rigged the national elections in 2009.
Even if Ban had devoted his every waking moment to preventing these shocks, they might well still have blown up, but the UN has seemed to lack strategic foresight too often.
In spite this harsh reckoning, it isn’t all over for Ban. My article lays out elements of a new political narrative for his second term at the UN, based on a realistic assessment of how energy and resource scarcity issues are likely to destabilize poor countries (where the UN will have to respond) and create tensions between major powers (hampering how the UN works). To gain traction, the SG needs to do three big things:
First, he must convince the leaders of poor countries—who often view the UN as a neo-colonialist outfit, and would very happily get it out of their affairs—that his organization can help them through periods of instability ahead. Second, he must persuade skeptics in the United States and Europe that UN programs and operations remain the best-value tools for tackling new threats. Third, and most difficult, he must make the rising powers believe that the UN can help secure their growing global interests by fostering stability in weak states.
Easier said than done, perhaps. But it all needs doing.March 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm | More on Africa, Climate and resource scarcity, Conflict and security, Global system, Influence and networks |
This Report rejects food self-sufficiency as a viable option for nations to contribute to global food security, but stresses the importance of crafting food system governance to maximise the benefits of globalisation and to ensure that they are distributed fairly. For example, it is important to avoid the introduction of export bans at time of food stress, something that almost certainly exacerbated the 2007 – 2008 food price spike.
The food system is globalised and interconnected. This has both advantages and disadvantages. For example, economic disruptions in one geographical region can quickly be transmitted to others, but supply shocks in one region can be compensated for by producers elsewhere. A globalised food system also improves the global efficiency of food production by allowing bread-basket regions to export food to less favoured regions.
From the excellent UK government Foresight report on Global Food and Farming Futures.March 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm | More on Climate and resource scarcity | 4 Comments
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have important implications for energy policy – partly, of course for nuclear, but also for oil, gas and coal too. Three initial observations:
First, the immediate nuclear issues. The media hasn’t exactly played a blinder at walking the public through a quick course in reactor design 101, so bravo to Nature for pulling together this excellent primer. Here’s the layout of the BWR design installed at Fukushima, and a succint description of what went wrong and how:
…without emergency cooling, the temperature at the core of both reactors began to rise. As it did, what water that remained began to boil off, increasing the pressure inside the pellet-shape pod.
When temperatures reached around a thousand degrees Celsius, the zirconium alloy holding the fuel pellets probably began to melt or split apart. As it did, it reacted with the steam and created hydrogen gas, which is highly volatile. Operators may or may not have known what was happening when they decided to release some of the pressure from Unit 1 on Saturday. The hydrogen apparently caused a massive explosion which blew the roof off of the fuel hall, though the reactor’s outer containment vessel appears to have remained in tact (see diagram).
If, as it appears, the zirconium came apart, then some of the uranium and plutonium pellets in the fuel rods may have also melted and sunk to the bottom of the pressure vessel. In that case, the cores of units 1 and 3 are now a volatile test tube filled with radioactive fuel, melted zirconium and water.
The real danger is the melted fuel. If enough melted fuel gathers at the bottom of the reactor, it could burn through the concrete containment vessel. In a worse case scenario, the fuel could again gather to form a critical mass outside the fuel assembly. The loose fuel would restart the power-producing reactions, but in a completely uncontrolled way. This, if it happened, would lead to a full-scale nuclear meltdown.
For detailed and technically sound updates of what’s currently happening at Fukushima, the go-to site is World Nuclear News.
Second, what it means for commodity prices – above all oil, which was, of course, spiking strongly last week amid concerns about risks to production in Libya and the wider Middle East. The immediate impact has been a sharp drop in prices, to $99 a barrel according to AP (though Brent is still up at $112): AP continues that,
Three of Japan’s five largest refineries have been shut down, which will immediately crimp demand for crude. Japan is the world’s third-largest crude consumer at 4.5 million barrel a day, the second-largest net oil importer and the biggest importer of liquefied natural gas and coal.
That’s consistent with the prediction made earlier today by the FT’s Commodities Editor Javier Blas, who reckoned that
The impact of the disaster will drive prices lower in the very short term as Japanese economic activity comes to a halt – big companies such as carmakers have said they will not open on Monday, and with the country’s power supply severely disrupted, some others – particularly big electricity consumers – may not be able to open even if they try.
But, he continues,
Over the medium term, Japan is going to need huge amounts of commodities to rebuild the areas hit by the quake and tsunami. This will boost Asia’s regional demand. Besides, global energy markets are braced for a big shake-up as Japan replaces a large chunk of its nuclear power capacity – if not all of it, if Tokyo is forced to undertake big safety checks after serious problems in two of the country’s reactors – with electricity generated by burning oil, natural gas and coal…
…The International Energy Agency, the western countries’ oil watchdog, estimates that it takes about 38.8 barrels of crude oil to replace 1MW of idled nuclear power generation capacity in Japan. If the country were to replace its missing nuclear capacity with oil alone, it would have to import a further 375,000 barrels a day, on top of expected purchases this year of about 4.25m b/d. Japan is more likely to opt for a combination of oil, LNG and thermal coal, however.
Third, to pick up from where Javier leaves off, there are the longer term questions. Is the world about to back away from nuclear power (as, for instance, David Pilling suggests) – and if so, what will pick up the slack?
My own guess is that the prospects of such a global U-turn on nuclear power will recede - if the primary containment layers hold. That would allow the nuclear industry to argue, as the media moves on to other stories, that a) this was a freak event in an unusually seismically active zone and that b) even then, the reactor design prevented disaster. Whether those arguments really stack up is, of course, another question.
But if we do see a global retreat from nuclear, then the question of what new global fuel mix we head towards – and above all, the balance between natural gas and coal – will be of absolutely crucial importance to climate change, given coal’s far higher carbon intensity. But either way, emissions would rise strongly, given that nuclear is (for all its other issues) carbon-free.March 14, 2011 at 10:52 am | More on Climate and resource scarcity, East Asia and Pacific | 1 Comment
Moss and Leo estimate that more than half of the 68 countries currently eligible for concessional World Bank lending (under the IDA -the International Development Association) will ‘graduate’ by 2025.
Most (80%) of the remaining countries eligible for concessional World Bank lending will be sub-Saharan African countries (25 of 31). The only non-African countries will be Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Haiti, and Timor-Leste. Countries currently defined as fragile will account for sixty percent (18 of 31 countries) of the countries.
In a recent post one of the authors, Todd Moss suggests that aid agencies as currently orientated are not ready for the world of non-aid tools and global public goods that flow from the decline in poor countries, new donors and weak public support for large increases in aid budgets (UK aside maybe).
I couldn’t agree more – and as they note the implications for the aid system are enormous.March 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm | More on Africa, Conflict and security, East Asia and Pacific, Economics and development, Global system, Latin America and the Caribbean | 2 Comments
The convulsions in North Africa have in the past three weeks found an echo south of the Sahara.
The death in custody of a student in Burkina Faso has sparked a series of student protests against the brutality of Blaise Compaoré’s regime. At first these protests were limited to Koudougou, where the student died. Koudougou is traditionally a hotbed of Burkinabe agitation, and the government assumed it could confine the protest within the city boundaries by closing schools and clamping down on demonstrators.
But by extending school closures to the whole country, the government seems to have fanned the flames. The protests have spread to at least seven other cities, with police stations burned down, prisoners freed from jails and in one city the headquarters of the ruling party set on fire. The students, moreover, have been joined by hawkers and ordinary citizens.
Compaoré, as is his wont, has responded forcefully. When early concessions did not work – the Koudougou chief of police and regional governor were fired to placate the students – his security forces opened fire on protesters, killing four so far, with one policeman lynched in return. A peaceful march is planned for today in Ouagadougou, the capital, with student unions demanding the removal from office of the minister of security as a condition for halting the demonstrations.
There are many similarities between Burkina Faso and her Middle Eastern counterparts. Compaoré, like Mubarak, Ben-Ali, and his close friend Gaddafi, runs a dictatorial government that brooks no dissent (Western governments count Burkina as a democracy because it holds occasional rigged elections, but few in the country share that view). There are hordes of underemployed young men whom the population explosion has deprived of a livelihood (and if war breaks out in the Ivory Coast their numbers will be swollen by many of the three million Burkinabes currently living there). Food price rises are exacerbating hunger and poverty (the main cities were rocked by food riots in 2008). And the older generation has sequestered the nation’s resources, creating great resentment among the youth.
So far, the protests have focused on police brutality rather than on the repressive government as a whole (in a similar way to Saudi Arabia’s day of rage yesterday and the early rallies in Tunisia and Egypt), but they may become more wide-ranging. Compaoré assuaged the 2008 food riots by subsidising staple foods, but his latest concessions have not been so effective. It would be a stretch to predict that the discontent will harden into a revolutionary movement, but it is not impossible, and given the underlying conditions in the country (and indeed in West Africa as a whole), Compaoré might have to get used to a rougher ride.March 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm | More on Africa, Conflict and security |
From the Boston Globe:
March 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm | More on Influence and networks | 1 Comment
In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
There’s a fantastic array of blog postings to mark the 100th International Women’s Day today, and twitter is abuzz with stories, links and random celebrations of people’s mothers (funny to think that Clara Zetkin, who is credited with coming up with the idea for an International Women’s Day, would not understand that sentence at all). A selection: the Guardian has a great feature on women’s voices from around the world. The strongest message coming from that is one of hope and things getting better. Duncan Green has a wonk’s guide to IWD, with links to some interesting looking research on how women’s movements have been successful in making some of these changes for the better actually happen, in South Africa and the Middle East. And this, slightly less optimistic piece from Canada’s Globe and Mail is about how far many of us have to go.
For those in search of numbers, there’s some here, also from the Guardian on the gender pay gap, and an analysis from Tim Harford on why it persists (though it only really applies to professional women). More numbers from a survey of UK women, with the slightly depressing fact that only one in five consider themselves to be feminists. I’m with Rebecca West on that one :
I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.
(though perhaps I do know what feminism is – at least, my daughter told me that it’s about wanting things to be fair, which will do for me)
And for those who like their politics with a bit of glamour, here’s James Bond in a frock
What’s so inspiring though is just how much there is. It used to be that no one in the UK really registered International Women’s Day – I remember many conversations with NGO colleagues when I worked at Action Aid (who also have some great stuff on their website), bemoaning the fact that no one here cared very much about the day, while our colleagues around the world were gearing up for national holidays and events to mark the occasion. According to my flower importer friend, in Europe IWD is second only to Valentine’s Day in terms of demand for roses.
Long may it last. And a very happy International Women’s Day to you all.March 8, 2011 at 11:27 am | More on Off topic | 4 Comments
So says Hosni Mubarak (h/t Business Insider).
March 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm | More on Middle East and North Africa | 1 Comment
Chris Albon has an excellent post over at The Atlantic, which has this to say:
Warfare has changed much since Napoleon’s Grande Armée marched across Europe, but one of the Little Corporal’s maxims is just as true in Libya today as it was near Waterloo two centuries ago: armies march on their stomachs. The anti-Qaddafi rebels are no different. The push to Tripoli would require consistent access to — amongst other things — food supplies. While having adequate food alone would not be sufficient to take the capitol (they also need war materials, training, and transportation), it is an absolute necessity. And, right now, the rebels don’t have enough. But we do.
The United States has the capacity and infrastructure to supply rebel-controlled eastern Libya with substantial amounts of food aid. These shipments could be transported directly into the rebel center of Benghazi, a major seaport with more than adequate facilities. The food aid would not only alleviate the emerging humanitarian crisis in eastern Libya — an important effort in itself — it would help the rebel cause. The shipments would boost the morale of rebel fighters and, more important, provide the supplies necessary to feed the newly formed army during any push towards Tripoli.
I think Chris makes a good argument – but it’s also interesting to pause and reflect on the question of how to square his proposal with the concept of humanitarian space.
The obvious answer to that is that the international community ought to be sending humanitarian assistance to both sides of the front line without prejudice or preference because, well, it’s humanitarian. But as Chris’s argument flags up, the rebels would still be net beneficiaries – because they don’t currently have the food supply lines in place, whereas pro-government forces do.
I don’t think that undermines Chris’s argument - instead, I think it serves as a useful reminder that any decision to give humanitarian assistance, development aid or whatever always turns the donor into a political actor in that arena, because there are unavoidable issues of winners and losers at play.
But this does still leave the fact that as humanitarian space gets blurred, so humanitarian workers are exposed to greater risk (see e.g. this Guardian piece by James Denselow). Pro-Gaddafi forces could easily start attacking WFP workers if they’re seen to be working to the advantage of rebel forces.
So while I agree with Chris’s logic, and think the risks involved in setting it out in a forum like The Atlantic are minimal, I also think it would be risky indeed for humanitarianism and for the safety of aid workers if the US Administration publicly espoused the same logic. The State Department and USAID should follow Chris’s advice – but whatever happens, they mustn’t admit to doing so.March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm | More on Climate and resource scarcity, Conflict and security, Middle East and North Africa |