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Renewing Algeria

Photo credit: raulsantosdelacamara (CC-BY-SA)

By Claudia Pollio

Chakib Khelil, at the time when he was still the Algerian Energy Minister, claimed that Algeria was in the race to see who would control renewable energy technologies. “We have the human and financial resources, and we have the will.” In this period of energy confusion, Algeria is working hard to get what it is missing to be competitive in the race.

After the secession of Southern Sudan from Sudan, Algeria became the biggest country in Africa, with a population of more than 35 million, in an area of around 2.4 million square kilometers. It is a country rich in resources, but the socio-political situation leaves one quarter of the population below poverty lines. The high number of unemployed people, in particular in the younger generation, has lead to the problem of mass emigration to Europe.

Besides ‘human and financial resources’ it has another resource. Algeria, the largest OPEC member country, has a huge portion of the Sahara within its borders. The idea to use the desert to generate solar and wind power, shows African resources in a different light.

The Algerian desert can be an eternal source of welfare. As Professor Bachir Bouchekima, member of the Scientific Committee of the Algerian Center for Renewable Energy (CDER), argues, “The average duration of sunshine exceeds 2000 hours on average per year, with more than 3000 hours of sunshine in the Sahara. The total energy received is estimated more than 500 times the annual electricity consumption of the country.”

The after-hydrocarbons in Algeria

Today Algeria is the third largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, after Russia and Norway. Some European countries, such as Italy, are dependent on this supply. On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria is dependent too. The hydrocarbons sector is the backbone of the economy, accounting for more than 95 per cent of export earnings.

Algeria faces a decline in natural gas reserves. According to EIA, the Hassi R’Mel gas field accounts for a quarter of Algeria’s total dry gas production and it is estimated to have only 25 more years of production left. In this context, one of the priorities of the Algerian policymakers is to diversify the country’s economy, indeed the energy sector.

The debate around nuclear energy, stimulated after Fukushima disaster, is not new in Algeria. Youssef Yousfi, Minister of Energy and Mines and Mayoub Belhamel, CDER director, argued in the last months about the nuclear power option. “Algeria has no other choice but to start a long-term nuclear energy plan for electricity production”, claimed the Minister. “Algeria should focus on clean energy” replied Belhamel.

Hakim Darbouche, from The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies notes “Algeria has spoken about nuclear plants for 20 years if not more. It is not going to happen in the next years at least. Maybe after 2020.”

However, the country is seeking to diversify into renewable energy and decrease its reliance on fossil fuels. Algeria declared in February, its intention to invest 60 billions dollars in renewable energy projects in the next 20 years. The goal is to produce 12,000 megawatts by 2030, with the short term goal of 650 megawatts by 2015.

This production is not just for the European market, it is also to cover the growing domestic electricity consumption. “Electricity consumption should reach 16,500 to 20,000 MW per year by 2019, hence the idea now to produce electricity from renewable energy” argues Bouchekima.

This 20-years plan is divided into three short periods. The first one, three years, is devoted to the research. It aims to “identify technologies in renewable energy that are best adapted to climatic conditions in Algeria”.

The challenge is daunting

So, as the former Energy Minister Khelil declared years ago, Algeria has the human and financial resources, and the will to be in the race to control renewable energy technologies. And, it has the largest solar field in the world, with an estimated capacity of over 3000 hours of sunshine per year.

Ironically, what it is missing is the portfolio is an appropriate level of national technology and industrial development. It is not surprising then that one of the priorities of the Algerian policymakers is filling the technological gap with other countries.

Yousfi clarified that Algeria is not interested in joining international projects in renewable energy without some conditions. The important one is a technological partnership for the knowledge transfer. “We can not afford to develop renewable energy by importing technology and without having the ability to innovate and expand in this field” Yousfi declared last October. As Bouchekima summerizes: “The governments do not want that Algeria only serve as a basis for the installation of foreign equipment for renewable energy.”

For their proximity to Europe, South Mediterrannean countries, specifically Maghreb countries, are natural interlocutors for Europe in terms of business and cooperations. Relationships and interdependences exist between the two rives of the Mediterranean Sea on the hydrocarbons field.

Europe’s ambition is also, to create an EUMENA (Europe – Middle East – North Africa) green electricity market. From the European perspective Africa is an important partner in order to reach its ‘green’ targets. From the African side, Europe is seen as a market for the clean energy that might be produced.

While Morocco and Tunisia respond enthusiastically to the projects coming from EU, Algeria has reservations and poses conditions to join these projects. Darbouche underlines that “Algeria is in a slighly more comfortable position compared to other countries in the region, both in term of energy supply and revenues.”

In the last years, a lot was said about the participation of Algeria in the Desertec initiative, a pharaonic project that aims at producing up to 15 percent of Europe’s elecricity needs by 2050, with an investment of 400 billions euros. According to Darbouche, “Algerians did not respond publicly because the people promoting Desertec did not ask explicity”. But, the main reason for the delay is the priviliged position that the country could have in the negotiations compared to other countries from the region.

Can Algeria use this comfortable position to fill the technological gap between itself and European countries? Can Algeria exploit western countries’ technologies, through this kind of projects? At least, this is the goal that Algerian policymakers want to reach in order to be competitive in the race to control the green market.

Desertec and Algeria

The last 19th of May Minister Yousfi said, in a statement after a meeting with the Desertec CEO, Paul Von Son, that Algeria is defenetely interested in a long term partnership with companies involved in the project.

What is Desertec? Desertec is mainly an idea, a concept. The ‘dream’ of using the solar power in the desert is the backbone of the project. But, the Desertec Fondation, based in Germany, was created in 2003 to explore the potential of the Sahara desert. In 2009, twelve firms joined the Desertec Foundation in the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), in order to realize the dream of using the sun in the desert to produce energy. The motto of the Desertec is that “whitin six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than the humankind consumes within a year”. The representative imagine is a red square in the Sahara desert that represents the size of the solar plant necessary to provide the world’s total electricity demand. Actually, the idea is to build a power grid across the Mediterranean and several plants in the Saharan desert. Two technologies are the fulcrum of the project: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and High Voltage Direct Current power lines (HVDC). The latter is an option to deliver the energy generated in the desert with a loss of energy of 3% per 1000 km. The system that is currently in use in much of the world is High Voltage Alternative Current (HVAC) and it has bigger energy losses. CSP is a technology already in use in the world, but is not common. It mainly uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s direct rays to a receiver, which uses the energy to run a generator, which produces electricity. CSP differs from photovoltaic because it permits a production of electricity also during night.

The project aims to produce by 2050, 15 percent of Europe’ electricity needs and supply to MENA (Middle East – North Africa) countries consumption. 2050 is not a random deadline. The EU has the goal to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In the short period there is the 20-20-20 targets. By 2020 EU aims to have 20 percent of renewable energy in its energy mix, incraese its energy efficiency by 20 percent and reduce greenohouse emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990. The Desertec project goes in that direction. Elena Ricci, researcher in FEEM, an institution devoted to the study of sustainable development, said “If Europe wants to decarbonize its production of electricity in the short term, Desertec is a feasible solution. The implementation of large plants can produce large amounts of electricity without greenhouse gas emissions.” However, according to Ricci “from a striclty economic point of view, in the long period it would seem that it is not worthy invest in this market now”. But Europe, in order to contribuite to the challange of climate change really needs this green energy soon. It does not matter that it is very expensive to start this kind of investment now.

Everything seems to be working. After the investments there will be more energy avialable. And this energy will be ‘clean’. But the issue is more complex. Why does some of this energy have to go to the European market? One of the main critic to the project is that it represents a continued expolitation of African reseources for the benfit of the West. A new form of colonialism, critics say. “What to do with solar power in the MENA region? – is the main question, said Dourbache. “Energy consuption and water consumption in the region is growing very fast, has been growing very fast in recent years, and it will continue to grow very fast.” Critics also underline how the energy could be used to resolve water security issues and domestic needs before being directed to Europe. Algerians and Africans need more energy, their fossil fuels are running out and they want to be competetive in the increasing green energy market. Darbouche points out that Algeria is trying to approach this renewable energy possibility, in a way, to avoid the same experience they had with the hydrocarbon industry. “In other words, developing renewable energy industry that does not aim to export electricity based on solar energy and import everything else from outside.”

One of the characteristics distinguishing developed, developing countries and underdeveloped countries is their tecnhological levels. This technology permits that countries use the resources that they have in their borders. The difference between countries that have natural resources and that do not have them, is that the latters have to import these resources. Tecnhology, an ‘artificial’ resource to exploit the natural ones, is nowadays even more profitable than the others. With the technological partnerships that Algeria hopes to obtain, it can become a bridge between Europe and Africa. It looks to be a mirage. But, who would have thought that the sun in the desert could have produced such a great wealth? Algerians did not. But, after decades of being black as the oil, gold might became gold again. Gold as the sand struck by the sun in the desert. And Algerians know that gold is the best bargaining chip.

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Winds of Discontent


Photo credit: andjohan (CC-BY)

By Lea Sibbel

An environmentalist observing the steady rotation of the hundreds offshore wind turbines at the coast of Germany’s North Sea, stretching from the Dutch border all the way up to the islands of Fohr and Sylt, gets a sense of a peaceful tranquility and hopeful enthusiasm: This could be the future of green energy, one possible way to help fight climate change.

Meanwhile, the troubles under the surface of the water usually go unnoticed.

Read the full story on Earth Times

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when was it that you were there?

The Three Gorges Dam: The Largest Water Project but not the Last One

Photo credit: putneymark (CC-BY-SA)

By Huanhuan Guo

The middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River had rare rainfall in April and May this year, it had led to severe droughts in Hubei, Jiangsu and other provinces along the river. It is not rum that the drought parching much of the Yangtze, it has happened in history. But it is rum to see the months-long dry spell in the central and eastern China, the serious drought in Yunnan province, which should be lush all the time. Some media consider the droughts as the worst ever droughts in south China. Facing the abnormal droughts along the Yangtze, not a few people blame the drought to Three Gorges Dam, together with other natural and geological disasters.

The architecture marvel and huge energy resource

China considered the Three Gorges Dam as another architecture marvel after the Great Wall. The dam and associated infrastructure is the largest integrated water project built in the history of the world. The construction period of the whole project takes 17 years, from 1993 to 2009. The total static cost estimate of the project is 90.09 billion CNY based on the price at the end of May 1993, while the dynamic cost of will be 203.9 billion CNY by rough estimate. The project is designed to bring huge benefits including flood control, power generation, navigation improvement etc. For instance: the dam can generate 18,000 megawatts of power—eight times that of the U.S.’s Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.

Under the vast publicity of the dam, people in China were also proud of the dam. “The dam is a good example of the economic growth in China and people were so enthusiastic about the dam, they thought the dam would give the country a lot of prestige, together with energy, it could prevent the lowlands from more flood, they weren’t really aware of the negative impact. Or they considered the positive impact would be much bigger,” says Daan Pelckmans, whose double master degrees are International Politics and Geography, when he talked with some people at the dam. He was at Three Gorges Dam in 2005, during the middle of the construction. Recent years, people start to criticize the project when they have realized the environmental nightmare along the construction of the dam. What they have seen is the dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced 1.3 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides.

The impact of the dam

Wen Lida, the formal chief of the water resources commission of the Yangtze River divides the effects of Three Gorges Dam into two parts. First, the periodic change, such as climate, the change of environment, it needs three or five decades to give a conclusion, or even longer. Second, the trendy change, such as water pollution, decrease of water resource and social impact can be seen directly.

Daan Pelckmans was quite impressed by the impacts of the dam from what he witnessed. “The water of the river was raising, it flooded so many villages and roads, including the historical architectures. On the way, you could see the villages which were half flooded. On the other hand, there were new project of roads and bridges everywhere in order to get access to the intact areas. The whole project is so huge, too many people and too much money was involved.”

In the long term, a 2010 study of the Three Gorges Dam found that rainfall in the dam area has declined since the 1990s, especially in the past decade, and future patterns could be more unsteady. “It is possible that extremes of lows and highs of major floods and droughts, could increase,” said Xia Jun, the water expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences whose research includes the effects of global warming. “A severe drought such as this could be followed by severe flooding, which is what happened in 1998,” said Xia.

The worry of Xia Jun turns into reality this June. 12 provinces in central and southern China have suffered the fatal flood. The flood has affected 4.81 million people so far since the flood season arrived, Shu Qingpeng, deputy head of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, said on the 8th of June. According to Shu, southern China would be hit by more rain over the coming few days.

The explanation of officials and experts

Referring to the critiques of Three Gorges Dam, vice president of Chinese Academy of Engineering Shen Guofang indicated that the dam is the sole project which is decided by vote of the National People’s Congress in China; and it is the only project that has been discussed for decades before building. The final decision was made after long discussion.

Confronting with the various doubts of Three Gorges Dam, officials and hydropower experts have stood out to clarify the possible impact of Three Gorges Dam. “The analysis of the monitoring data before and after the water storage of Three Gorges Dam shows that the temperature becomes 0.5℃ lower in winter, 0.3℃ higher in summer, but there is no obvious influence on rainfall,” said Zheng Guoguang, the direct general of China Meteorological Administration. Zheng claimed that at least it was lack of scientific basis to link the extreme weather with the dam. “Furthermore, Three Gorges Dam added more than two cubic meters of water to downstream every day,” added Zheng.

Speaking of the lowest water level of Dongting and Poyang lake, the first two biggest lake in China, Lu Youmei, the commander in chief of Three Gorges Dam pointed out that two lakes have their own origin and river system, they don’t count on the Three Gorges Dam entirely. Additionally, the worst ever drought has also gripped much of northern Europe in the meantime. The severe drought France has experienced since May has never happened in the last fifty years. In the United Kingdom, the March of this year was the driest since 1953. In Germany, April hasn’t been as dry as this year since 1881. Weather forecasters say it could be the worst spring drought in Germany since records began. In addition, temperature has been unusually high in April, greatly exceeded the normal level of the whole Europe.

The argument of the naysayers

On the contrary, critics consider Three Gorges Dam as an environmental catastrophe from the beginning. According to Mara Hvistendahl, the journalist and correspondent in Scientific American, building a massive hydropower dam in an area that is heavily populated, home to threatened animal and plant species, and crossed by geologic fault lines is a recipe for disaster. She pointed out massive negative consequences of the dam like geological disasters, relocation of the ecological immigrants, the threat of biodiversity etc in her report “China’s Three Gorges Dam: An Environmental Catastrophe”.

Furthermore, the high frequency of extreme weather along the Yangtze in recent years strengthened their doubts. According to the critics, three Gorges Dam stores water during the winter and draws it off in summer, the periodic change of the water level makes the reservoir bank unsteadily, it can lead to landslide, surge and earthquake. The statistics of the disasters proved the prediction. Zigui county is in the west of Hubei province. These years, the geological disaster has happened more often and the disaster always follows the change of water level of Three Gorges Dam. According to the data, there were 35 damages when the dam increased its water level to 135 meters. There were 38 more damages in 2006 when the water level achieved 156 meters. In 2008, 26 places experienced the disaster when the water level was 175 meters. But in history, there were only 14 geological disasters in Zigui.

The late action of the government

Although officials offer the explanations of the droughts and the extreme weather, the frequent environment disasters are still happening. People have been waiting for the action of the government for a long time. In the September of 2007, the Chinese officials reluctantly accepted that the naysayers were right about the urgent problems. After 4 years, on the 18th of May, a statement released after an executive meeting of the State Council which presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao said “The project has played a significant role in flood prevention, power generation, shipping and water resources use; While at the same time, efforts are needed to address some problems concerning the wellbeing of relocated residents, environmental protection, and geological disaster prevention, all of which should be solved urgently”. At the end of May, the State Council has approved ‘the follow-up work plan for the Three Gorges Project’, which is aiming to compensate the current damage to environment. The involved fund is around 124 billion. The government has decided to curb environmental deterioration in the Three Gorges Dam region by 2020.

Critics of the dam, however, said they felt vindicated by the government’s admission of unforeseen problems. “Three Gorges is a classic case in which government officials exaggerated the benefits and underestimated the risks,” wrote Patricia Adams on her environmental activist website, Probe International. “What mattered to the Chinese authorities who approved the dam was the prestige,” she charged.

“The Chinese government is still in a struggle with all kinds of interests and powers in China,” says Peter Bosshard, the policy director of International Rivers, an environment organization with staff in four continents. Bosshard and his group have investigated Three Gorges Dam since 1994. During the long period contact with the government and various NGOs in China, he can see some positive changes in the attitude and action of government, but he considers that the action of government is still hysteretic. Bosshard indicates that China needs an open-debate environment in the future. There are few platforms for scientists to share their knowledge and warnings to the public.

Three Gorges is not the only and last dam

Referring to the data of WWF, There are as many as 48,000 dams over 15m high worldwide and most of them are in developing countries. The Three Gorges Dam is just the most influential one of all the dams. “No one is sure about all the consequences of a dam, thus we should look at the long-term prosperity. What we can do is to minimize the damage and try our best to make a more appropriate choice. For instance, the decision of government should be the integration of economic interest, social effects and environmental effects together,” says Peter Bosshard. Speaking of the necessity of the big dams like Three Gorges Dam, instead of confronting the unknown consequences, Bosshard indicates that governments can try to find some other solutions. “For example, in order to offer more energy and diminish carbon gas, government could invest in the modernization of factories, make the factories more energy-efficient,” adds Bosshard.

According to Swiss media, on the 1st of June, Brazil has officially approved the construction of the Belo Monte dam project in the Amazon rainforest. According to the Brazilian energy ministry, the dam is expected to start production in 2015, will cost around R$20bn (£6.8bn) and will eventually produce around 11GW of electricity. Thus it will be the third biggest dam in the world after the Three Gorges Dam in China and Itaipu between Brazil and Paraguay.

However, over three decades, the Belo Monte has been strongly opposed by the environmentalists, aboriginal residence and the Roman Catholic Church, they claim that the dam will displace indigenous tribes and further damage the Amazon basin. Peter Bosshard doesn’t encourage the idea of Belo Mnonte: “They could have some other options, it is not a good idea to build Belo Monte.”

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First World Trade Dispute on Green Energy Settled -with the Next Already in Line

Photo credit: Sebastian KirschThe United States and China solved their dispute over wind energy subsidies. But further cases about green technology could pile up at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the next years without specific regulations between states.

By Sebastian Kirsch

United States officials celebrated, when they announced on June 7th that China had eliminated subsidies for its domestic wind energy sector. The United Steelworkers Union (USW), which initiated the WTO complaint with a 5,800 page petition last year, was relieved to hear about the dispute settlement.

Leo W. Gerard, USW International President, said: “The Steelworkers Union petition and the Obama Administration’s pursuit of our complaint on the Special Fund provisions brought the Chinese to the table with a commitment to end this program.  That’s good news for our members, U.S. companies and American workers”. US Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk joined the ovations, promising, that from now on, “American manufacturers can produce wind turbine components here in the United States and sell them in China”. But the winner of this first WTO dispute on green energy might still be the Chinese.

The case was officially filed in December 2010 by the US, and later joined by Japan and the EU, against Chinese subsidies for domestic wind energy producers. Such measures are prohibited, according to the WTO Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement Article 3.1 b. Subject of the dispute was the Chinese “Ride the Wind” program that endowed localized wind power equipment with special loans between US$6.7 million and $22.5 million per case.

Furthermore, export subsidies for Chinese manufacturers and the “Special Fund for Wind Power Manufacturing” were criticized, supporting domestically produced wind turbines with $92.55 cents/KW. On June 6th, after nearly six months of negotiations under guidance of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), China agreed to intermit the measures criticized by the US.

It is a case that goes deeper than the achieved settlement appears at first sight. The green technology cases US vs. China and Japan vs. Ontario, CA are the first two, brought up to be consulted by the WTO, as no formal guidelines are applicable apart from the Kyoto Protocol, yet. They might set the guidelines, on where the WTO can bring cases of this sector and go beyond simple industrial cases for the benefit of environmental protection.

And even though the United States declared “victory” on this dispute against China, they could have actually lost the battle on the Chinese wind energy market. Marie Wilke, international trade law program officer at the non-governmental organization ICTSD in Geneva said, Chinese officials presented proof in March and April that their criticized “Ride the Wind” program and the export subsidies had already expired in 2009. After cutting down the “Special Fund” over the first quarter of 2011, the last program that would have counted as prohibited subsidy under WTO law was eliminated this year and the dispute settled out of court. And while the official announcement might have been a surprise to the US, it appears to be only a minor issue for the Chinese.

China already world leader in wind energy

Sticking to their programs would have been counterproductive for the Chinese government, Wilke went on to explain. “Subsidies are distorting the market and they are extremely expensive for the government.” And it turns out that these subsidies had already reached their desired effects, long before the United States officially filed the WTO complaint. As in 2009, China became the world leading producer of wind turbines. And with 17GW newly installed wind power last year, is now the biggest market worldwide, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Shi Pengfei, Chinese Wind Energy Association vice-president, told China Daily: “It is understandable that the Chinese government is ending subsidies to an industry that is strong enough to compete with international players.” His statement underlines that the US-American win of the WTO dispute is far less than an actual improvement for foreign companies on the Chinese wind energy market. A fact that could quickly weaken Ron Kirk’s and Leo W. Gerard’s expectations for successful integration of US companies on the Chinese market.

In 2009, six domestic wind turbine producers dominated the Chinese market, with 73.8% cumulative market share. The European producers Gamesa and Vestas – the biggest foreign companies on this market in China – combined for a total of 14.9%, according to the 2010 China Wind Power Outlook. The American GE Wind Power played a minor role with 3.7%.

Simone Menshausen, Asia/Pacific consultant of Germany Trade and Invest, the foreign trade association of Germany, evaluated the outcome of the dispute settlement for foreign producers of wind technology. “While equal treatment of foreign companies on the Chinese wind energy market is genuinely positive, we have to wait how this will effectively influence the market share of these manufacturers over the next few years.”

Especially the local infrastructure makes it easier for domestic producers to supply new wind energy farms with their products. And according to Simone Menshausen, open tender on the Chinese market, still largely favors domestic companies. While foreign investors have to bear immense additional costs to ship in their material from overseas.

To eliminate these disadvantages, first foreign companies are starting to install their own production sites in China. Like Vestas, the leading global manufacturer of wind turbines, which is equipped with two manufacturing plants in wind energy centers in Tianjin and Hohhot.

But at the same time, the expansion of Chinese manufacturers continues. Two years ago, they started exporting their turbines. The biggest producer Sinovel sold 10 sets of their turbines to India, and Goldwind has set foot on the US market with three sets.  “The subsidizing policies have been running for several years, and they were quite successful. So, the Chinese wind industry became extremely competitive in China, but also in other countries. Whether this development would have occurred, without the subsidies, in the same way, cannot be evaluated at this point”, said Marie Wilke, from ICTSD in Geneva.

Subsidies as common support for global wind energy

While they were highly criticized due to their effectiveness, the Chinese subsidies for wind energy are by no means the only ones granted by governments worldwide. For them, the renewable energy sector is attractive; developing rapidly and promising large numbers of newly created jobs. And above all: it is green.

The loans by the Chinese Development Bank for domestic products under the “Ride the Wind” program proved to be WTO inconsistent. But loan support for the renewable energy sector is a prevalent technique in several other countries, as well. Germany for example, still one of the leading countries in the renewable energy sector, is granting low-interest loans for green technology projects. In 2009, the German development bank of the Federal Republic, KfW, granted specified loans for 54% of all newly installed wind energy generators on the German market.

The difference to the Chinese program however: these loans are not restricted to domestic or local content. Still, 60% of the newly installed turbines in Germany in 2009 were mounted by their domestic manufacturer Enercon, while the Danish competitor Vestas came in second with 19.5%, according to the German Wind Energy Institute.

Explicit data about loan support for domestic or foreign companies are not available from KfW. But Marie Wilke, trade law expert from ICTDS stresses, “These loans are no illegal subsidies under WTO law. They are granted in several countries, specifically promote the wind energy sector and are regular support measures for the economy”.

Feed-in tariffs on the edge of legal subsidies

Apart from low-interest loans, governments are trying to stimulate their renewable energy sector with so called feed-in tariffs. These are surcharges on the market price of wind energy for the producers.

From the US perspective, they were illegally awarded in the Chinese case, for local and domestic content only.  But without this specific restriction, they are applied as large-scale support measures worldwide, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Group.In Europe, feed-in tariffs combined for $19.5 billion in 2009 with Germany alone, spending $9.6 billion of tax money on these subsidies. The United States totaled $18.2 billion.

“The really interesting question for all green technology cases at the WTO is now, if green energy support measures, including feed-in tariffs, as such, are prohibited subsidies under WTO law”, said Marie Wilke. Most governments appear to be operating in a legal grey area, to stimulate the renewable energy industry in their country. And even more so, they are steadily increasing their public debt. Leading European economies like France, United Kingdom and Germany are already indebted for more than 72% of their GDP, 12% above the EU-wide allowed maximum.

Local content – Japan versus Ontario

This connects the second WTO green energy dispute to the US-China case. Japan requested consultations at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body in September 2010, over feed-in tariffs, granted in Ontario, Canada for local content requirements in their “Green Energy Act”.

Local, or domestic content requirements are governmental supports for goods that are produced or sold in a specific country and contain a certain amount of its local or domestic production. These subsidies are inconsistent with WTO law, specifically Article III, 4 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In Ontario, they are granted for local community power projects with additional payment of up to 1.5 CAD-¢ per KW. After a dissatisfactory consultation period, Japan requested the installation of a panel on June 1st, to solve the dispute.

Apart from special treatment of local communities, the Canadian Green program attracted foreign investors, as well. In 2010, South Korean Samsung C&T Trading and Investment Group and Siemens signed an agreement in Ontario – Samsung guaranteeing 16,000 jobs with its project, 300 of which will be created by a new Siemens blade production facility. The Japanese Mission to the WTO would not comment on this issue, but was rather confident of eliminating Canadian subsidies with the help of the WTO.

Industry over environment?

After the first WTO green technology case could be solved out of court, the question is now, whether the WTO is able to handle future cases like this. It will firstly be portrayed this year, when the Japan-Ontario dispute ends with a panel decision of the DSB.

The trade law expert Marie Wilke is quite optimistic. “There are no special regulations in the WTO system regarding climate change issues, but from what we have seen so far, it is well-equipped to handle these disputes”, she said.

But these first cases were only scratching the surface of what might come to court in future disputes. US-China and Japan-Ontario are mainly treated as regular industrial WTO inquiries. They did not tackle the aspect of environmental protection through local content measures.

Robert Howse, international law professor at the New York University presented in March, that the Chinese subsidies for local content were not as easily to be recognized as prohibited subsidies, if the WTO panel and Appellate Body considered Article XX, GATT. This allows exceptions for certain measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.

His idea was debated heavily by international law experts. But ultimately, this thinking will determine future cases in front of the WTO. Even the Chinese Ministries of Finance and Energy realized the possibility of this regulatory exception, according to their first statements after the official US complaint in December 2010. They declared that their measures were necessary, due to the high demand for clean energy in China.

The question evolves, how international trade law and environmental protection can be combined, without any binding agreements, so far. The Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of 2012 – the only treaty that demands Annex I countries to implement policies against climate change in concordance with international trade law. The international community will have to take this issue seriously, instead of turning green energy into a carte blanche for national economic success.

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Environmental Ranking Wars

By Arin de Hoog

In any good boxing match there is the defending Champion, the Contender, and the new Upstart waiting to take on the winner of the headline bout.

The Champion has usually held on to the title for a while, but his prowess has come into question. The Contender is strong, and although maybe not as good an all-around fighter, has honed specific punches and dodges which may prove to unseat the Champion. The Upstart has trained hard under a modernized exercise regiment and is confident that he would be a challenge to both. In the world of climate change a contest is emerging between the lists which rank countries against each other according to their national environmental activities.

Although all fighting the same fight — identifying those countries which are laggards and leaders in the battle against climate change — these lists all wish to be considered the definitive list when policy-makers and the media compare countries in international ranking. This is a worthy goal when you consider that these lists are designed to positively affect national environmental policy.

Clearing the existing fogginess surrounding climate change necessitates as much consistency as possible, whenever possible, which means one decisive ranking. Also, not only are these lists waved at each other in the halls of government, and conferences, they tend to be heavily cited by the media to convey praise, and far more often, disappointment.

The current Champion is the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which remains the most widely recognized of the three. It is the product of a collaboration between Yale and Columbia Universities and the European Commission, at the behest of the U.N. — all heavyweights themselves, which gives this list a certain amount of gravitas.

The worthy Contender is the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) created by the NGO Germanwatch. This list comprises the collaboration of over 190 climate experts, and has been covered by the media in over 100 countries.

The new Challenger on the fight card unfortunately does not have name which can be whittled down to a sleek acronym. It is the product of hard scientific and mathematic cooperation around the world which shies away from politics. Instead it strips down the data to a proportional representation of each country’s standings based on absolute values, and then crunches the numbers. As it centers around the efforts of Professor Corey Bradshaw at Adelaide University, it will be called the Adelaide List (AL).

Ostensibly the three lists are going for different results — the EPI list incorporates the most variables in sustainability and environment for an overall perspective, while the CCPI looks solely at climate, and the AL ignores policy in favour of empirical data — but the way that the lists are used and perceived is going to be the same: Where does a country rank against other countries in terms of environmental best practice?

The difference, however, comes into sharp focus when you take two countries and see where they rank on the three lists from 2010. Canada and The Netherlands, for example, find themselves in widely different places throughout. EPI ranks them a close 46th and 47th respectively. CCPI ranks The Netherlands 27th but has Canada 59th on a 60 country list (CCPI ranks 163 countries, while AL ranks 171). The AL has them at 12th and 64th respectively.

These numbers, in the halls and rooms where climate change is heatedly debated, drastically effect the direction that policy can go, when it doesn’t stymie it all together. This is indicative of a general lack of consistency that seems to continually trip-up any cohesive climate policy action.

When asked about the amount of recognition the AL has received, Professor Bradshaw was cautiously optimistic, saying, “Perhaps this is where we have been less successful – no one I know of seems to be using it, but it’s still early days.” Germanwatch’s CCPI, on the other hand, proudly displays many of the instances when their list has been cited in the international media on their website. What is unspoken is that both these lists are striving to be recognized with various degrees of success.

The similarities, however, end there. Jan Burck heads the team that annually produces the increasingly popular CCPI. His team cooperates with environmental NGOs and think-tanks throughout the world, relying on feedback from no less than three — usually many more —organizations per country before they consider ranking. Strikingly, they tend to avoid talking to scientists, because, as Burck said, “They refuse to judge.” This is in stark contrast to the methodology behind the AL which exclusively uses quantifiable data provided by organizations which keep a tally on such things.

For example, in the abstract to their list, they state “We obtained plantation forest area and total forest area from 1990 and 2005 from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 ( Area of natural forest of each country was calculated by subtracting plantation forest area from total forest area.” These are absolute numbers that duck away from those particular environmental policy initiatives and failures which tend to involve a more intangible calculation.

In fact, the language that each list uses in the description of their respective methodologies speaks volumes about their confidence and differences. The AL abstract points to other lists to indicate their shortcomings, stating that the EPI “confound[s] environmental performance with indicators of human health.” The CCPI Contender, while not mentioning other lists, proudly asserts that “The astounding press echo to the CCPI shows its relevance…Both at the national as well as international level, numerous media reported on the outcomes and on how well their country did. Awareness was also raised in politics.”

The people behind the EPI seem to have no need for that kind of talk, instead explaining purely their methodology and humbly claiming to be the basis for further review while openly citing its shortcomings on the outset: “The EPI provides a framework for greater analytical rigor in the environmental domain but, at the same time, reveals severe data gaps, weaknesses in methodological consistency, and the lack of any systematic process for verifying the numbers reported by national government”.

On the other hand, the stated goals of each list sound remarkably similar. The EPI abstract says their list “can assist in refining policy choices, understanding the determinants of environmental progress, and maximizing the return on governmental investments.” The CCPI aims to “raise the pressure… on decision makers and move them to consequently protect the climate…” while the AL is designed to “improve policy and practice in the regions identified as having the poorest environmental performance.” The aim here, across the board, is to be heard by the people in power. Unspoken, is that some media attention wouldn’t hurt in that respect at all.

When you set their similar goals of policy and self-promotion against the wide disparity in rankings in terms of countries like Canada and the Netherlands, the underlying question is: Who’s right?

The obvious answer is: It depends on what you’re looking for. From a purely scientific perspective the AL solely relies on the raw data made available from the accumulation of hard numbers. In this way they can avoid the amorphous comparison of national climate policies versus actual environmental activity. By the removal of all politics they have effectively created purely mathematical matrices on which to compare the countries.

The CCPI, although 80%  quantitative (the AL is 100% quantitative), also ads 20% which is qualitative. This is the data that they have accumulated though rigorous discussion with the various worldwide NGOs they have within their network. This raises the question of certain NGOs being overly critical or positive when judging their own country, and therefore negatively affecting the ranking.

CCPI Head, Jan Burck, openly acknowledges the haziness when incorporating this data into the sum total, but sees no better way of showing the effectiveness of environmental policy in a certain country. So, the information gathered from the questionnaires his team sends out is cross-checked, and re-cross-checked, by experts associated with the Germanwatch network.

Burck also says that what distinguishes the CCPI from the EPI is that Germanwatch solely looks at climate concerns. Which, when looking at the data that goes into the EPI, is quite true. Where the AL and the CCPI shun the “human element” a good portion of the EPI data concerns “Environmental Burden of Disease”, “Access to Drinking Water”, “Access to Sanitation”, “Urban Particulates”, and “Indoor Air pollution”. This, and many of the climate elements used in the AL and CCPI, is included in “Policy Categories” and compared against the “Environmental Health” and “Ecosystem Vitality Objectives” of each country for the final tally of where they stand. Essentially, policy is factored in 100% in the EPI, as opposed to 0% in the AL.

The EPI is quick to acknowledge the inherent problems associated with this kind of analysis, however: “The 2010 EPI uses the best environmental data available, but complete country coverage is precluded by limits in both quality and quantity in data sources.” This statement neatly summarizes one of the inherent problems which affects both the Champion and The Contender; people unable to give accurate information — or lying.

Recently Canada has been slammed by the international community for providing missing and conflicting information in an Environment Canada submission to the U.N. This says two things: One, is that Canada is concerned about their perception, and this can be directly attributed to someone’s list. And two: If a so-called developed nation can brazenly lie, who else is lying too? Along those lines the people behind the CCPI “hope[s] that the data basis, in Russia for example, improves, so that this source category can be included in future CCPI.”

Another problem with the lists is a longitudinal one. That is, it’s very difficult to measure particular policy effectiveness over a short period of time. The EPI notes that, “One of the biggest weaknesses in the current framework is the lack of ability to track changes in performance over time.” The CCPI clarifies this by saying that “the absolute amounts of  CO2 that a country emits can only be changed in long time periods…” as a result “Climate Policy” and “Emission Trends” are only given 40% more credence than actual “Emission Levels” on the CCPI.

What is interesting to note is the various general conclusions that the list-makers come to when looking at their own score card. Germanwatch doesn’t give an overall perspective on commonalities between the worst climate offenders, but rather looks at each country individually on a performance basis. The EPI people hesitantly offers that respective wealth does something to their ranking, but that differs, saying finally that “in many cases good governance contributes to better environmental outcomes.” The AL, however, unequivocally states “Richer countries generally exploit more resources for the same population size as the relationship between human population and proportional environmental impact…” Essentially as resources go down the toll on the environment goes up. Or as Professor Bradshaw, the man behind the AL, said, “Wealth accumulation and population growth will lead to higher and higher environmental degradation.”

So, on the next few fight cards, who would you place your bet on? Well, the lists only have the authority granted to them by the people that cite and use them. The crux of the dilemma is a matter of who is using which list to further what agenda. Underlying this is a matter of arbitrary interpretation by policy-makers and the media about what the lists really say about their country and others.

What occurs is a kind of Catch-22 because it’s those very policy-makers and media which are necessary to make the list legitimate in the first place. And this comes down to money, as it is the person with the Champion list that will get the most funding. This leaves climate change, and its negative environmental effects, the true World Title holder.

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Recurring Pest with Four Letters


Photo credit: globochem3x1minus1 (CC BY)

By Katharina Michael

The zero is most conspicuous. In iridescent colours the number flaunts from the fresh-off-the- press-brochure of the United Nations organization. Zero New Infection. Zero discrimination. Zero related-deaths.  By 2015.

The illness in question? It is not Tuberculosis, not the plague. It is the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, short AIDS. The message? AIDS is coming to an end.

This year AIDS celebrates his sad 30th birthday. It was in 1981 when the illness that already cost hundreds of lives finally got a name. Since  as early as 1940 AIDS raged throughout the planet. No country on earth was spared. 25 million lives later, AIDS could be halted. Or so they say.

2015 is the year of the millennium goals of the United Nations.  In this year boys and girls all over the world shall be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, extreme poverty shall be ended. And the spread of HIV shall be halted and be beginning to reverse. This is written in the report of the 2000 UN millennium summit.

The UNaids organization now went even a step further, announcing the goal of working “Towards zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS- related deaths.” The AIDS- free generation is due in 2015. It is my generation, the people between 15 and 25 now, that will give birth then.

And, indeed, there is data that raise the hope of our children no longer being tightened in the grip of an illness that was once hysterically labelled as the scourge of mankind. The number of people newly infected with HIV declined by 19% in the last decade, according to the 2011 UNaids report. In 33 countries the rates dropped by at least 25%, among them some countries like Namibia in Sub-Saharan Africa, which are most affected. In December 2010 more than six million people were estimated to be receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries.  The global prevention of mother-child transmission of HIV has exceeded 50%. Funding for HIV programmes increased.

A study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) from the United States came in 2011 to further news: Men and women infected with HIV reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners by taking oral antiretroviral medicines.

Also doctors discover that some people have inherent antibodies, their immune system prevents an outbreak of the illness naturally. This raises hopes for a vaccine in the nearer future.

„It is paramount that new HIV infections be stopped. We need to achieve a transition that will see fewer people newly infected than are newly placed on treatment. Doing so will require decisive action guided by a groundbreaking vision: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related deaths“ explains Saira Stewart from UNaids.

‘Are you the aids- free generation?’ The campaign advertisement on the UNaids website asks. Are you? Are we? Your kids, our kids, the worlds kids of 2015?

We were too young to experience the big AIDS scare of the late 1980s and 90s. The campaigns, at least in Western Europe, were always present, on billboards, in brochures and in class. “Don’t die of ignorance” the TV spots said in the UK, “Use a condom”, we were told in Germany, before we even thought of sex. Do not touch needles lying around the school.  “Your first love could be your last. Don’t forget HIV”, says the slogan on the billboard next to my former school now. The picture shows a couple in the autopsy room. Why do we need this reminder?

When we grew up in the beginning of the new century, when we got interested in sex, AIDS rates were stable at around 0,2% among 15-49 year-olds, spreading mostly among men sleeping with men. AIDS drugs assured the infected an almost normal life, research was on its way.

We saw the warnings, we read the brochures, we listened to the experts at the family centre, and still we believed HIV was someone else’s problem.

With the epidemic now more than 25 years in, there is beginning to be a phenomenon called “AIDS fatigue”, meaning that people are tired of hearing about the epidemic and this can lead to apathy or a lack of leadership to adequately respond.

Today nearly half of all new HIV infections occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. The majorities of these occur in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to HIV-prevention information and care. But also in modern countries, AIDS seems to be on the rise again among the young.

For Northern America and western and central Europe AIDS rates grew from an estimated 1.8 million in 2001 to 2.3 million in 2009—an increase of 30% according to the UN report 2010. The new infection rose from 97,000 in 2001 to 100,000 in 2009.

“Every hour, two young people between 13 and 29 in the United States alone become infected,” says Dr. Blumenthal from AMFAR Aids Institute in the United States. This number is higher than in any other age group. And that is only the reported cases.

Among the more than one million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., an estimated 21% do not even know they are infected, because they do not get tested. “The fear of HIV is dwindling”, says Stefanie Holm, board member of the association of doctors dealing with the medical care of HIV infected. “For many people, AIDS is an epidemic plague in continents far away”.

Zero discrimination

Birgit Kust[1] lives with AIDS. Not in Africa, but in a German village. It has been 4 years now since she has been diagnosed HIV positive, rather coincidentally,  two years since the breakout of the illness.  Still, she is struggling to speak about it, not even her friends know.

“When I go shopping and meet a neighbour, it’s always the same: ‘Hi, nice to see you, I heard you were sick, what was wrong?´ What do I say then? Should I say I am HIV positive? They would drop me in a second. For them, this illness does not exist.”

Birgit Kust is silent in order to protect her son and daughter from being teased. The few people she has told so far, did not react very encouragingly. „If I would have said, I have Leukemia or cancer, then everybody would have been there to be by my side”, she sighs, “but AIDS? They say I could have been more careful. Could have been. Yes, but are you always? Do you always do an HIV test when meeting someone?”

The woman in her forties has her own version of why AIDS is spreading again: “People do not like to talk about AIDS, they like to donate a bit of money and that’s it, keep it far away, as it is not their problem. But in my opinion, if all HIV positive people would run around with a blue dot on the forehead, we would all be blue. The people do not know they have it!”

Part of this unawareness is due to media coverage. Bernd Schmidt is member of AIDS organisation that each year awards journalists for outstanding German media pieces about HIV.  In the last years, he says, this is getting harder and harder. “Less articles, less quality”. Asked to comment on the media reaction to the “zero new infection” campaign by UNaids, he takes a moment to think, before he answers: “The most dangerous thing is to belittle AIDS. In any form.”

Is it possible that this lack of awareness put an end to the goal of zero- new infections, of an AIDS-free generation?

Less tests, less new infections

The country with the highest number of performed HIV tests in Europe is France. Five million citizens get tested every year. The prevalence rate of HIV in the population is among the highest on the continent, with 0.4% infected. For the young people the rate is 0,2%. That is 15,270 persons infected before their 25th birthday.

“We are trying to raise awareness, especially in lower-income areas and among gay men and immigrants”, says Gabrielle Issaverdens from the French National Institute for Public Health Surveillance. “It is important to get as many people tested as possible, only if you know, you can get help and protect others”.

In Germany the data how many people were tested only exists for the year 2002. Over two million got a test, if that included people being tested before blood donations XY from the Robert- Koch Institute can not say. “We only get reported new- infections, not how many people are actually tested”.

What is frequently reported in surveys is the number of people admitting having had unprotected sex. “Condom nations” is the title of the study by Miguel Fontes and Peter Roach, published in 2007. The results were surprising: the richer the country the more sexual partners people had and the greater the likelihood of having unprotected sex.

In Norway more than 70 percent admitted having unprotected sex without knowing the partner’s history. Even in South-Africa, a country with an estimated AIDS rate of almost 20 percent, more than 60 percent had unprotected sex. This sets a difficult task  for a nation in which an AIDS- struck generation instead of an AIDS- free one seems to be on the move.

Zero AIDS- related deaths

In the Mankweng hospital in the South-African district of Limpopo time is tight. Too few doctors, too few resources, too many sick people, too little time. It is hard to get Juliane Albrecht on the phone for more than three minutes. The young doctor is committed to her work. With the limited resources, she is trying her best. “HIV is always a part of our work, every day you have to be careful”, says Juliane Albrecht, “zero new infection? Zero AIDS-related deaths? We here are far, far from that”.

Mother-child transmission remains one of the toughest challenges. “To reduce the new infections it would mean, stop all the infected women now from giving birth. In Europe an infected woman, who has a caesarean and does not breastfeed has a good chance of having a healthy kid. But here it is more difficult. We hardly do caesareans, the risk is too high to kill both, mother and child.”

When asked about the possibility of taking AIDS drugs prophylactic, like the doctors of the NIAID suggested, it takes her some time to answer. “It has been discussed here, to give it to 15 to 21 year old girls, a group of high risk to reduce this time of special danger, but many disagree”. The reasons for the doubts are various. “Some doctors argue that the effect could not be proved yet, others doubt the reliability of the participants since such drugs are very expensive and worth quite a bit on the black market”.

The „zero new infection“ campaign is already the third major UN initiative about AIDS in the last eleven years. Former goals included „Three by five“, three million people getting treatment by 2005 and „Universal Access“, AIDS drugs for everybody by 2010.

In 2010, 10 million still awaited treatments, in 2015, when the UN claims „Zero new-infection, zero discrimination and zero aids-related deaths“ it will be 13 million people. In the Philippines alone, the AIDS rate will be rising by 500%, predicts Ofelia Monzon from UNaids Philippines. “And that is only based on the reported cases”.

The zero is an aim we are working towards“, says Saira Stewart from UNaids about the campaign „we need to set the goal. AIDS is declining universally. We are raising awareness“.

Birgit Kust is aware of the campaign. She saw an information-stand by activists at the town square. She passed by without looking twice. She was afraid somebody might think she has anything to do with Aids.

[1] Name changed

While the end of AIDS is proclaimed the disease is on the rise again among the young

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Climate Games: India and China

Photo credit: rajkumar1220 (CC-BY)

By Anna Isaac

Far from the pandemonium of the main plenary at the Bella Centre in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, twenty five of the world’s top leaders and officials are gathered at a small room named ‘Arne Jacobsen’.

It’s December 18, 2009 – the last day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). There’s a sense of unease in the air. Ten days of back and forth negotiations among 192 countries have boiled down to this.

French President, Nicolas Sarkozy is the first to crack under pressure of the climate talks in disarray. “This is utterly unacceptable. This is about the essentials and one has to react to this hypocrisy,” says Sarkozy, venting out his frustration.

After a few minutes of controlled silence, China’s top climate change negotiator, He Yafei counters the French President. In a tone that hides any emotion, Yafei states, “I heard President Sarkozy talk about hypocrisy. I think I’m trying to avoid such words myself. I am trying to go into the arguments and debate about historical responsibility.”

China is not alone in this room full of Western heads of state. China’s arguments are backed by its Asian neighbour – India. Together with his Chinese counterpart, Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment Minister is quick to block any suggestion of global targets for reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

India’s stance in the climate change negotiations is both clear and similar to that of China’s. Ramesh asks the West “not to prejudge options” for developing countries like India and China.

India and China are accused of ‘sabotaging’ the climate change negotiations after an audio clip of this 90 minute meeting was released months later.

These accusations are also fuelled by the fact that just hours after this meeting, another one took place not far from the Arne Jacobsen room.  This one saw French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Britain’s Gordon Brown forced to sit out.  What transpired between Brazil, South Africa, India, China (BASIC countries) and the United States went on to be recognised as the Copenhagen Accord.

Copenhagen has become a sign of the shift in the global balance of powers from the West to the East. The mini-summits at Bella Centre demonstrated the emergence of the BASIC countries. It was at the Arne Jacobsen room that rivals China and India forged closer ties, pushed on by the West to strike a climate deal.

Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009, India and China have moved in-step with each other. The two Asian giants speak in a unified voice on issues like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) principle of common but differentiated responsibility, historical responsibility and the Kyoto Protocol. The two governments refuse to accept binding emission reduction targets claiming doing so would harm their economy and prevent it from lifting millions out of poverty.

In Cancun (COP16) last December, India and China both agreed to international verification of domestic climate change mitigation efforts. The two countries also formally agreed last year to continue their cooperation in green technologies and their consultation on climate change negotiations. The warming of ties between the two neighbours has also gone a long way in promoting trade between them. China is India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade moving up to $60 billion in 2010.

But their relationship is not all that rosy. Rivals for several decades now, the two countries went to war in 1962 over a border dispute in the Himalayan region, to the north of India. Issues over the border continue to weigh down upon the Sino-Indian alliance.  New Delhi’s support for the Dalai Lama, and China’s political nearness to Pakistan, India’s arch-rival have also strained their relationship in the past.

The making of Chindia

Much has changed since the Copenhagen summit. The coming together of these former rivals has shaken up the global architecture so much so the Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh refers to India and China together as ‘Chindia’.

There are some key questions however that need answering from the marriage of these two neighbours. Is this alliance one for the long-run? Do India and China have the same shared destiny both on the climate change front and otherwise?

The answer lies in scratching beyond the surface of this relationship. China and India’s alliance grew stronger only after the formation of the BASIC group of countries. Brazil, South Africa, India and China formally agreed to cooperate on the climate change negotiations prior to the Copenhagen Summit in November 2009.

Jorgen Pedersen, an Associate Professor at the Aarhus University in Denmark notes that the BASIC group of countries was created in assertion against the West’s dominance in the climate change negotiations. “What they have in common is in trying to negotiate the strong western culture in the international negotiations. It is hard if you are isolated, it’s better if you are in a group. And they do seem to value that collaboration quite highly,” argues Pedersen.

The dynamics within the group however are entirely different. “India and China have more in common with each other than they do with Brazil and South Africa. The most Brazil and South Africa have in common with India and China are their ratio of rich and poor are largely the same. They also all happen to be major developing economies,” says Pierre Fitter, an Indian journalist who covers climate change for a private television news channel in New Delhi.

With similar population sizes, geopolitical and economic ambitions, as well as a similar energy demand India and China appear to be natural allies.  Fitter points out that Brazil and South Africa are however more willing to take on binding emission targets during climate change negotiations than their Asian counterparts. And it is this diverging interest that has brought India and China closer still.

For India posturing behind a giant like China is beneficial. While both India and China were at the receiving end of much criticism for failing to come up with a legally binding agreement on emission targets at Copenhagen, most of the blame was pinned on Beijing.

Mark Lynas, a climate change advisor to the President of Maldives who was present during negotiations at COP15 says, “Certainly in Copenhagen I got the feeling that China was in the driving seat and India was a passenger.”

Despite New Delhi toeing the same line as Beijing during the negotiations, China attracted more blame given that its total carbon dioxide emissions outpace all the developed countries. Hiding behind China, helps India not only deflect attention from its own emissions but also prevents it from getting isolated.

But what is in it for China to team up with India? Pedersen calls the relationship between the two neighbours “a marriage of convenience.” He says, “you might say India is hiding behind China, but China is also hiding behind India, in the sense, China is using – ‘we are also a developing country’ argument. And that is easier for them if they go together with India and Brazil for that matter.”

According to World Bank figures, one-third of global poverty is located in India. Although China continues to have a large number of poor people, World Bank estimates that the Chinese helped reduce poverty by 475 million people between 1990 and 2005. And this has been achieved through rapid economic progress. In grouping with India, China uses the ‘developing country’ tag to shed much of its global responsibility in tackling climate change.

Both India and China have however become more fearful of the effects of climate change on their countries in recent years. The long summer months of drought together with the floods during the monsoon have pressed the Indian and Chinese leadership to act swiftly on the climate front.

As the world’s fourth largest economy and the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, India came out with an eight-point national action plan on climate change in 2008. The plan includes specific targets for solar energy, expanding forest cover and improving energy efficiency among others.

There has been criticism however that the plans have not been reviewed or monitored. Promode Kant, Director of New Delhi based Institute of Green Economy, a Non-Profit Organisation says, “By nature we (Indians) are not good reviewers of our plans. Our plan of action is always very mysterious.”

Promising to voluntarily cut emissions by 20-25% by 2020 from 2005 levels, Indian journalist Fitter argues that despite its weak efforts, the country is on track to meet its targets. “India charges a very high price for electricity from industries. And industries are anyway on a mission to reduce their energy consumption, thereby it saves costs for themselves – making it more efficient and reducing the emissions of carbon.  And that is the main driver that India has realized to reduce its intensity in the past,” says Fitter.

Contrary to popular opinion, China has devoted much time and money on efforts to mitigate climate change. As China is the world’s largest energy consumer according to the International Energy Agency, its main emphasis has been on reducing energy intensity.

Reports suggest China fell just short of achieving its energy intensity target of 20% by 2010. In its 12th Five Year Plan released this March, China hopes to increase non-fossil energy to 11.4% of its total energy use.

A leader in green technology, a Pew report indicates China outspent the United States in terms of investments in renewable energy in 2010. China spent $54.4 billion dollars on wind energy, solar power and other forms of renewable energy last year. In comparison India spent $4 billion.

Fitter says, “India has not realized it’s an economic opportunity. India has been improving energy efficiency and reducing waste. But it’s not comparable to China. China is in the race to win it and India is in to compete.”

The End Game?

So will India and China’s new bonhomie withstand both time and pressure? It appears this new convergence of interest may not last forever. Lynas suggests, “As the renewable workshop of the world, a time will come I think when the Chinese leadership realizes it is in the interest of both China and the rest of the world to take on much stronger emissions targets and then for the Chinese to sell their technologies to enable to meet them. So it’s possible the Chinese are playing on a game and India will be left at the backwater because it has been less aggressive in terms of how it meets its climate change challenge.”

Kant however argues that the two countries never had a common climate change destiny to begin with. “China and India’s interests are far apart. China is a middle income country and has ambitions of a higher developed country which means it is set on the course of development both economically and strategically,” he says. Kant also points out that while nearly half of India’s population has no access to electricity, China’s energy demands are for reasons beyond alleviating poverty.

So if indeed the Chinese are playing a game and have one-upped India, what then happens to New Delhi’s climate change position? India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has hinted at taking on binding targets in the future. But with India’s per capita emissions negligible in comparison to countries like the United States, New Delhi may not give in to pressures of a binding agreement anytime soon.

Those like Lynas fear there is danger of India being isolated both from its BASIC partners and the developed world if China takes the lead in climate change efforts. Whether India has painted itself into a corner by playing for the wrong team is something its leaders need to ask themselves. For now, it appears that India and China have the same interests but whether or not they have a common climate change destiny is something only the future can tell.

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Caught Green-Handed

Caught Green-Handed

By David Vranicar

The world’s largest solar energy power plant is located in California, while Spain, Germany, Italy and Canada each have enormous solar energy power stations. As far back as the 19th century, Germany and the U.S. were building electric cars. And the world’s fastest trains, including high-speed “magnetic levitation” trains, were first built in Germany.

Just as historical records show that the noodle first came from China, it is clear that modern, large-scale clean energy came from the West. But as was proven with the noodle, as ideas move around the globe, inventors lose their monopoly on production. And sometimes, other people do it better.

Read the full story on Earth Times

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The Golan Heights: The Status Quo is Good for Everybody (or Almost)

Photo credit: Aamer Ibraheem

Syria and Israel clash over the region but the status quo seems to work for both. Meanwhile, a new generation of activists are struggling to reaffirm their rights.

By Elena Roda

Qunaytra checkpoint. About 500 meters divide Israel and Syria. Or better, about 500 meters divide Golan Heights, a Syrian territory occupied by Israel in 1967, and Syria. A narrow demilitarized strip crossed by trucks carries apples. Apples that grow in Golan Heights and that are sold in Syria. In 2011, 12.000 metric tons of apples reached Syria from the Golan. Unlike Syrian and Israeli citizens, apples are allowed to cross this border, under the control of the International Red Cross.

Aamer is a young man who has worked on picking apples to sell to Syria. He is from Golan Heights but he is studying in Haifa, Israel. “I moved to Israel only because I wanted to study law. We live under the Israeli law and we cannot go to work in Syria, I did not have other possibilities rather than studying in Israel. But, if I had studied medicine or something else, I would surely have chosen to move to Damascus, because I belong to Syria, I am Syrian”.

When Aamer talks about the Golan, his voice changes its tone. He talks feelingly, proving his involvement in the Golan situation. Aamer is an activist for Golan Heights and he keeps saying that he wants to reach as many people as possible talking about the Golan issue. “It is important to spread the word, to let people all over the world be aware of our condition, as occupied territory”.

Arab people from the Golan are allowed to cross the border and go to Syria only for studies, religious pilgrimages, marriages, and health issues. On the contrary apples are carried across the border several times between February and May, every year, since 2005. “For Syrian authorities the apple operation is more than just an ordinary marketing intervention. Syria supports farmers in the occupied part of the Golan Heights as a patriotic and humanitarian duty, without thinking at all about profit or commercial gains”, claims Saleh Dabbakeh, the communication delegate of the International Red Cross in Damascus, the only organization in charge of apple trade and mediation between Israel and Syria concerning apples border crossing.

 Negotiations are not working

Syria is buying the Golan’s apples to sustain Arab settlers in the region as Israel is supporting Israeli settlers living in the Golan, buying their products. The issue is small in comparison to the larger unresolved problems between Israel and Syria. Israel is taking care of its settlers (Israeli people are little under 50% of the population in the Golan Heights), while Syria is mindful about its Arab people living there (the other half of the population).

The two countries, Syria and Israel, have different cultures, origins, and traditions. And the Golan (with a population estimated around 40.000) is located in between, influenced by both. Arab people in the Golan Heights feel they belong to Syria but they live in an Israeli territory, under Israeli law, and they cannot travel to Syria except on a rare occasion.

Aamer lives his life sharing feelings of these three different populations. He is the living proof of the messy situation among Israel, the Golan, and Syria. He lives and studies in Israel, his parents live in Golan Heights, and he is looking at Syria as his home. Every time he can he goes back to the Golan.

“I am OK in Haifa,” he says, “I have a lot of friends from Israel, I share with them my life, my studies, and my work. But I live in Haifa and I think about Syria, my country where I cannot go”. Studying and living in Israel is a good opportunity for Aamer to analyze both sides of the same phenomenon: “Being in Haifa I can feel the Israeli-Syrian clash also from the Israeli point of view and I am making comparisons. But I am not changing my perspective about my land”.

Since 1967, when, after the Six-Days War, Israel captured the Golan area from Syria, countries and organizations have been trying to deal with this controversial situation internationally. “We have to say that Israel is occupying the territory”, claims Marcelo Kohen, professor of international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. “The UN Security Council declared it illegal, that is the central point to think about”, adds Mr. Kohen.

Thus, Israeli action in the Golan is condemned internationally. After the first occupation in 1967, Israel continued its maneuvers in the Golan. It definitely annexed the territory in 1981, and extended Israeli law in the area. The whole Israeli action is not internationally recognized.

During these years the Golan issue was discussed among leaders and countries without achieving any result. “The Golan issue was discussed in informal negotiations”, adds professor Kohen, “During the Ehud Barak administration Israel put many efforts in resolving the conflict with Syria before resolving the Palestinian issue, but then no outcomes were achieved”.

Regarding the slowness and inefficiency of negotiations, professor Kohen says: “In that area the first priority is resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, afterwards it will be time to resolve the controversy between Israel and Syria about Golan Heights. Anyway, in these days, because of the domestic situation in Syria, any kind of negotiations would be impossible as we face an international concern about Assad government”. “Probably – concludes professor Kohen – the international community has to wait till conditions improve”.

Keeping the status quo

In the Israeli-Syrian clash regarding Golan Heights we have to consider a lot of different factors. It is not just a matter of one country occupying a territory of another one. On the contrary, many different elements are playing an important role in this situation that it is more complex than it seems at first sight.

Dore Gold, who served as foreign policy advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, wrote about the Golan Heights raising interesting points. In his article for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in May 2008, he points out problems hardly solvable in the Israeli-Syrian clash. These are obstacles correlated to boundaries, security matters and the Syrian-Iranian alliance. Mr. Gold claims that the Golan is a strategic territory for Israel’s defense. That means that Israel has no advantages in resolving this controversy.

Israeli indifference over the Golan issue is easily understandable and, we can say, not new. The unexpected factor is the role of Syria and its position in this complicated situation. “I believe both sides are interested in keeping Golan under occupation”, claims Shefaa Abu Jabal, activist from the Golan Heights, graduate in law, journalist, and blogger. “For Israel it is a strategic place and provides the country 25% of water annual supply. For Syria it is important to keep Israel as a declared enemy to keep telling the Arab world that Syria is the last castle standing in the face of Israel and distract public opinion from what is going on inside Syria”.

This new perspective on Syrian role on the Golan issue shows us the complexity of the question. Both countries, for different reasons, are trying to keep the situation as it is nowadays, to keep the status quo. On the other hand, the international community has no voice in the matter, as no outcomes in negotiations showed us.

Aamer thinks about Syrian deficiencies. He would live in Golan Heights as a Syrian territory but he is aware that living under the Syrian regime would not be a good solution for Arab people in the Golan. He keeps saying that he dreams of the end of Israeli occupation. However, he would be afraid of living in Syria under Assad regime. He would rather prefer waiting for a democratic turning point in the country.

“Syria has no freedom of speech. Many people there say that they are free but this depends on which country you compare Syria with”. Freedom of expression is fundamental for Aamer. He is using his voice, his words to talk about the Golan Heights, he writes on social networks, he takes pictures, and he makes videos to explain to people his country’s condition.

Asking him about current happenings in Syria, without any doubt he says: “Syria must change. If I was there I would surely be with the population against the Assad regime. I would surely be part of the group of people who struggle for their rights. But without any kind of violence, this is my most important concern. I am against any extremist movement”.

 Dreaming of freedom

Aamer feels he has an important role in Golan issue, and this is not just his own feeling: “The most conservative people in the Golan are afraid of freedom, changes, and modernity. But not looking for a change would not allow people from the Golan to change their condition. That is why young people are fundamental for a positive change in my land. New generations want to make a difference. They want to spread their voice all over the world”.

He looks at his land. “This is wonderful. Look at the nature, the green places, feel the atmosphere. There, mountains are full of snow. Israeli people are coming here to ski. The only ski resort in Israeli territory is in the Golan Heights. It is weird, isn’t it?” The nature flourishes, apples grow before travelling to Syria. Aamer helps farmers to pick apples. Probably he would like to go to Syria with them. But not now, before he still has to work a little bit more. Freedom is his aim, free Syria his dream.

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Captain Ahab’s Second Chance

Photo credit: magic_bee (CC BY-SA)

By Ido Liven

A wooden plank, not more than half a meter long, in the deck side of the ship Bjössi Sör is now filling a gap that was there just eight years ago. Wearing a tattered overall and a cap, the current owner, Heimir Hardarson, is standing on the deck, pointing at the bridge’s side. Until being purchased by North Sailing – a company co-owned by his father, his uncle and himself – the ship was used for the hunt of minke whales along Iceland’s northern coast. Through this opening, Hardarson explains, the previous owners were loading the catch onboard the ship, or just pulling the tale and hauling the whale back to the port tied to the side of the vessel.

In its current incarnation, the Bjössi Sör has been cruising the sub-arctic Skjálfandi Bay in north Iceland in a search for whales – but this time, with dozens of tourists onboard hoping to see nature’s mightiest creature from up close. In the past sixteen years, being among the first companies in Iceland to offer whale watching tours, North Sailing and its fleet of six oak wood ships have been serving more than 300,000 tourists. Only few of them are aware of Bjössi Sör’s past and therefore wouldn’t notice the hidden scar it bears.

And as far as the international community is concerned there are several other Icelandic ships that still need to convert. The resumption of Iceland’s commercial whaling in 2003, despite an international moratorium in force since 1986, has been drawing fire from environmental organizations and governments alike, and has even become a bone of contention in the country’s accession process to the European Union. But in Iceland’s domestic public discourse, whale hunt is hardly an issue.

Much like other environmental disputes, this one also revolves around a largely limited scientific knowledge and its practical interpretation positions Iceland’s government as the seemingly lenient. Reservations expressed by many Icelanders focus, however, on the killing method – with explosive harpoons – that is seen as particularly cruel. Nevertheless, while whale meat is absent from most Icelanders’ shopping list, the reason is not a consumer boycott but rather apparent changes in eating habits, in part due to the 20 year long whaling moratorium.

Similarly, while fishing is one of Iceland’s most important economic sectors, the economic value of the whaling industry is quite limited. The rise of the tourism industry, however, embodies the growing popularity of the whale watching cruises. And so, with delayed beginnings of two consecutive whaling seasons, it seems the scales might be shifting.

In search of authentic Iceland

It was in the early days of the 15th century when Basque hunters searching for the Right whale – named for being particularly easy target – made their way to the remote island of Iceland. 500 years later, the rapidly growing commercial whaling has made its own contribution bringing several whale species, including the North Atlantic right whale, closer to the brink of extinction.

The efforts to manage whale populations through international cooperation aimed at maximizing the output for the long run failed mainly due to significant uncertainties rising from scientific research. Consequently, the International Whaling Commission, nowadays composed of representatives of 88 nations, decided in its 1982 annual meeting on placing a moratorium on commercial whaling. Since coming into force four years later, the ban hasn’t been lifted.

Nevertheless, Japan, Norway and Iceland have been engaged in the controversial hunt since several years. Challenging the international ban, supposedly by making a retroactive reservation to it, Iceland decided to resume its commercial hunt of two whale species, minke and fin, within its territorial waters in 2006. In the three years preceding it, Iceland conducted scientific whaling using a chapter in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling that allows such cull.

“It’s in our culture,” says Hermann Bárðarson, manager of the Whale Museum in Husavik. “Partly, it’s historical because Iceland was dependent on the ability to exploit the fish populations and the nature on a scientific basis.”

Lodged in a former slaughterhouse, not more than sixty meters from North Sailing’s pier, current premises were designed to contain both the immense whale skeletons hanging on strings from the ceiling, and the rapidly growing visitor numbers, in part thanks to the neighboring whale watching businesses.

For many of the tourists traveling to Iceland for its pristine landscapes, whale meat is an attraction in its own right, part of the so-called authentic experience. And many restaurants in the capital Reykjavik are happy to offer anything whale from steaks to sushi.

Though, whale meat can also be found in supermarkets, in fact cheaper than other kinds of meat. Yet, 20 years long moratorium means whale meat is not the food of choice for most Icelanders, particularly of the younger generations.

Nevertheless, many of them view whaling as legitimate. What makes whaling controversial in Icelandic eyes is the hunting method. The use of explosive harpoons to kill these enormous animals is deemed by many Icelanders as a distinctly cruel way, as it entails minutes of suffer before the whale is dead.

“Well, it’s not like that,” says Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, director of the whaling company Hrefnuveiðimenn. “The whale is actually killed in a split second.” Otherwise, the hunters would use a shotgun, “and that happens in one out of fifty cases.” Yet, the ethical aspect of the hunt can be a make-or-break, says Bárðarson. While supporting whaling he says, “I don’t want to eat animals that suffered when they were hunted.”

Law of the jungle

Whale products in Iceland’s domestic market come only from minke whales, hunted primarily by Bergmann Jonsson’s Hrefnuveiðimenn. The Red List of Endangered Species, administered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), rates this species in the lowest extinction level. The same list classifies fin whales, hunted only by Hvalur and intended exclusively for export, as ‘Endangered’ but Iceland’s waters are known to host the species’ largest population. Coupled with self-regulated quotas devised by the government-funded Marine Research Institute (MRI), Iceland holds an obstinate position that its whaling operations are sustainable.

“The whales are actually in a competition with us humans,” says Bergmann Jonsson. Ostensibly feeding on commercial fish species or on these fish’s food, whales are seen by some whaling proponents as a threat to one of Iceland’s main sources of income.

But it is a contested argument. “It is highly unscientific to go whaling by the argument that you have to catch whales because they eat so much fish – that is ecological nonsense,” responds Hilmar Malmquist, curator of the Kopavogur Natural History Museum and one of the more vocal anti-whaling figures.

An ongoing MRI study, the Multi-Species Model, has been trying to identify whales’ impact on commercial fish stocks, particularly the valuable cod. But according to Droplaug Olafsdottir, a whale researcher at the institute, there is still no clear answer since the underwater food chain is a particularly complex one.

And while the hunt itself is in breach of international law, the export of fin whales’ meat to Japan is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

According to data from Statistics Iceland, the country’s main official statistics institute, the year 2010 saw Iceland exporting hundreds of kilograms of whale meat to Latvia and the Faeroe Islands, and a total amount of 764.3 tons of whale meat sent to Japan in six different occasions. The total value of these exports stands at almost 1.3 billion Icelandic Kroner (7.88 million Euro).

Most of these data, as well as records of two shipments to the Faeroe Islands during 2009, were exposed by the International Fund for the Welfare of Animals (IFAW). In response to the first disclosure in March 2010, the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture confirmed that the exceptional shipment to Latvia was in breach of international law, claimed that the shipments to the Faeroe Islands were in fact fish meal wrongly quoted as whale, and avoided referring to the export to Japan altogether.

Ten days later, a third shipment bound to Japan was intercepted by Greenpeace activists in the port of Rotterdam. According to Statistics Iceland, this 149 ton load was valued at over 216 million Icelandic Kroner (roughly 1.3 million Euro).

In May this year, the Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid quoted Hvalur’s CEO Kristjan Loftsson, saying that this summer’s fin whale hunt will be suspended, at least until late August, due to the situation in Japan in the wake of the earthquake and the tsunami in March and the ensuing nuclear crisis. Nevertheless, and despite the disclosure of Hvalur’s past exports by environmental organizations, data reveal that whale meat has been shipped to Japan in March and April 2011.

An international price tag

Though, it is the second consecutive season to start later than planned. With no special explanations, the previous whaling season started ten days later than originally planned, and in fact, not before the conclusion of the IWC meeting in Agadir, Morocco.

A compromise proposal drafted ahead of the summit was supposed to be a historical turning point. In a bid to find common grounds among the whaling nations and their opposition, the American-led deal proposed allowing the hunt for a decade more under a set of conditions, and chiefly smaller quotas.

When it seemed negotiations are nearing dead end, Hvalur’s controversial owner Loftsson, said in an interview to AFP news agency, “whales are just another fish for me, an abundant marine resource, nothing else,” but also added, “I would never participate to catch the last one.”

Talks eventually collapsed, and when the Icelandic news site Visir reported on the (late) commencement of the whaling season, Loftsson was quoted saying, he hopes to exceed the 2010 quota of 154 fin whales despite the looming uncertainty about the future of whaling. Three months later, at the end of the season, Hvalur’s catch, just six whales below the quota, was the largest since the international moratorium went into force.

The minke catch of 60 whales, however, registered a 25 percent decrease from the year before. When I met him at the onset of the season, Hrefnuveiðimenn director Bergmann Jonsson predicted a significantly larger figure, but also that the domestic consumption would stand at 60 whales without explaining what will be done with the rest of the catch.

Nevertheless, the young manager wishes to see his clientele expanding overseas. “We’re not exporting anything,” he said, “but hopefully we will, someday, to Japan.” These aspirations are supported by a report commissioned by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and released late March 2010 that argues, that export of minke whale products could yield nearly 270 million Icelandic kroner (1.64 million Euro) a year for 150 minke whales – effectively the difference to the last yearly quota.

Asked about such prospects, Ministry spokesperson Matthiason says, “if there’s market for it – then surely. But, those who are in the industry of catching whales, they will stop if it isn’t profitable.”

And indeed, the profit question doesn’t seem to have such obvious of an answer. Iceland’s economy is still recovering from the economic crisis that had hit it particularly hard in 2008. Fisheries make one of its main sectors, representing 12 percent of the gross domestic product and 38 percent of the exports in 2010. Whaling, however, amounts to a tiny fraction of that.

The Ministry’s ‘Macroeconomic Value of Whaling’ report from March 2010 concludes, “it seems economically viable to continue whaling in Iceland.

These results might, however, need to be reassessed at a later stage if experience shows that whaling has a significant and negative impact on tourism, environmental quality for Icelanders or the nation’s image.”

And tourism indeed makes another significant part of the Icelandic economy. The World Travel and Tourism Council projects the tourism sector to comprise a 4.7 percent direct contribution to the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, and data from the Icelandic Tourist Board show that whale watching tours entertained 36 percent of all visitors to the country in 2010. And in fact, comparing to revenues produced by whaling, the whale watching business has been proving to be significantly more profitable.

But numbers aside. “[T]he most important reason to understand why we do whaling – and this is often forgotten – is the principle,” Iceland’s Whale Commissioner Tomas H. Heidar wrote in an op-ed published in The Independent following the IWC meeting last summer. “This is about the right of a coastal state to exploit its living marine resources in a sustainable manner.”

Addressing the issue from a nationalistic perspective that views whales as an Icelandic resource, argues museum curator Hilmar Malmquist, stems from a “very common misunderstanding”. “None of the species that we have been hunting for commercial use are born here,” he says. “These are migrating mammals.”


Without withdrawing from other arguments supposedly in favor of whaling, Iceland’s insistence on maintaining the hunt as an expression of sovereignty has been most evidently disputed in the context of the negotiations on its accession to the European Union – an issue that is reflected by the divided public opinion within Iceland over the issue.

In a resolution from July 2010, the European Parliament came out in support of the accession process but stated that Iceland should cease its whaling operations. Iceland received an even stronger message last March when eleven governments – from Moncao to the United States and from Israel to Australia – delivered a joint statement against Icealnd’s ongoing commercial whaling and illegal trade in whale meat.

No doubt, Iceland is trying to resist both the international pressure and the implications that keeping its whaling industry alive would have – politically, economically, ethically and to some degree also environmentally. But Icelanders realize that their persistence might not prevail. “Maybe if the pressure is enough, and we want to join [the EU] enough, and they give something to compensate…,” Matthiasson said to me last year without completing the sentence.

Similarly, although whaling and whale watching in Iceland have been living side by side with the former hardly influencing the latter, some have been eying the alternatives. Hrefnuveiðimenn, Iceland’s largest company hunting minke whales, has just purchased its first ship last year. But on July 4th it will embark on its first ever “whale watching with whalers” trip, as described on its website. For 140 Euro each, tourists are promised to “see and hear [a] shot from our harpoon” and also enjoy whales both at sea and on the plate. But more than an additional income source, the whalers hope this would allow them to avoid installing the wooden plank in the ship’s deck side.

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