How to make money from oil … without extracting it

June 22, 2012

Daniela Hirschfeld
Freelance journalist from Uruguay, SciDev.Net


Like a celebrity — arriving at what until then was just another low-profile Rio+20 side event— Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa entered the packed room and tens of photographers shot pictures and the public applauded.

The Yasuni – ITT: Changing Paradigms for a Sustainable Future, hosted by Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador. Flickr/ UN Women Gallery

Seeing people with Panama hats, some with indigenous ornamental feathers and others chatting very excitedly in Spanish, made it easy to tell that the topic of this session had something to do with Latin America.

The session ‘Yasuní initiative: changing paradigms for a sustainable future’ had one of the most high-level panels, and people responded.

Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president and UN Women executive director; Helen Clark, former New Zeland prime minister and current head of the UN Deveolpment Program (UNPD); and Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, scientist and Alternative Nobel Prize recipient, were some of the international leaders that accompanied Correa, who was wearing his traditional formal clothes: a suit and a white indigenous embroidered shirt.

After Ivonne Baki, State secretary of Yasuní initiative, made an eloquent introduction, Correa began by reminding how, during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, he announced that Ecuador had decided to forego the exploitation of oil in the Yasuní-ITT area, located in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.

This decision was “a substantial sacrifice for a small developing country whose economy still depends on petroleum, choosing to put social and environmental values first, while exploring other ways to benefit the country economically”.

By leaving the estimated 846 million barrels of oil “indefinitely” underground, Correa said his people were contributing to combating global warming by avoiding the emission of approximately 407 million tons of CO2, that in present oil prices worth US$14 billion.

The 982.000 ha Yasuní National Park is one of the five biodiversity hotspots on the planet, with around 100.000 species per hectare: 2.274 types of trees and bushes, 169 of mammals, 141 of amphibans and 121 reptiles. It is also home to two indigenous cultures —the Tagaeri and the Taromenane— living in voluntary isolation.

But Ecuador can’t afford losing so much money, even in order to preserve nature. So in exchange, Ecuador decided to seek financial contribution of the international community as a gesture of co-responsibility in the fight for climate change.

The Yasuní-ITT Trust Fund, administrated by the UNDP, was established in 2010 to raise US$3.6 billion in contributions, which will be used to finance renewable energy projects.

“This is the most concrete initiative in this conference to save the planet. It means moving from rethoric to facts”, said Correa.
Ute Coczy, member of the German Parliament and part of the German official delegation supporting the initiative, agreed with Correa: “[The Yasuní initiative] is still a very unique one, but it gives me more hope than all the other papers and proposals that are being discussed at Rio+20”.

For her, now the question is: “Is the world really ready for this initiative?”.

With an engaging speech, Shiva also applauded Ecuador, saying that “it is first country to have the courage and the imagination to protect the Earth and Human Rights”.

And she concluded: “Good ideas are coming from small countries. Smallness is the promise of the future, smallness can multiply”.
At the end of the session, the Yasuní initiative signed an agreement with the Regional Government of Wallonia, Belgium, that donated US$1.5 million to the Trust.

And after this, Correa and the panelists left the room like celebrities followed by the flashes from the cameras.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Arnold Schwarzenegger stood me up

June 22, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


The last few days have been a far cry from the sunny Rio of the last week; our punctual driver’s impeccable scheduling; and relaxed conference sessions.

The other day, our car broke down as we were stuck in heavy traffic and we had to walk a mile to the conference as VIPs were fast-tracked to the first day of Rio+20 summit. It felt like a war zone with heavily armed police-and army-personnel summoned to protect the heads of state. Yet the worst danger seemed to have been the Vegans for Peace protesters who gave out free breakfast and lunch outside the conference centre (which I somehow managed to miss).

But all that was easy to endure because I had plans to see Arnold Schwarzzeneger in the evening. The appointment was for 8pm at the Copacabana Palace, where he was to launch an online database of 100 chosen and scalable innovations for sustainable development – the Sustainia100.

So interesting was the prospect that I decided to pull out of a dinner I organised for fellow journalists.

Yet just an hour before the event I got an email: “Tonight the Sustainia100 is launched at a fully booked event. Unfortunately without attendance of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has cancelled his participation in Rio+20.”

I returned to dinner where I was teased: Arnie had stood me up.

Although perhaps I would have understood Sustainia a bit better if I’d went along to the launch.

Sustainia says its solutions, coming from 56 countries represent sustainable innovation in areas such as city planning, energy, fashion, water and waste management, high-tech and transportation.

“Sustainia is a new approach to a way how we communicate about sustainability,” says its executive director, Laura Storm.

But for a communication tool, they don’t seem to communicate very well: it is pretty hard to pin down exactly what Sustainia is, what it does, or what exactly these 100 solutions are and how they can be scaled up. Maybe I am missing something – but feel free to have a browse around their website and leave comments below if you manage to figure out what this of solution actually is.

You leave comments and I’ll be back.

Video:


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Giant poem and an ocean of emotions

June 22, 2012

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


The ocean and the sea have always been a source of literary inspiration.

People add to the poem at Rio+20

Now, UNESCO is bringing people together to write about the ocean, in what they call “the longest poem ever written on a beach”. The poem is 150 meters long and anyone can contribute to it, in any language.

With the initiative, UNESCO aims to call attention to the fact that 40 per cent of the world’s oceans are already heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries and loss of coastal habits.

“Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future”, says UNESCO’s promotional material.

We started the project five years ago in Mexico and, since then, we’ve been to 45 cities in 19 countries; Rio de Janeiro is the first city in Brazil”, Angel Arenas, coordinator of the project and international representant of UNESCO in Andalucia, Spain, tells SciDev.Net.

The poem is being held in Rio, and was available for participation on 21 June, at Copacabana beach.

Read more about it here: http://www.giantpoem.com/


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


A bleak day, a disastrous meeting – NGO verdict on Rio+20

June 21, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


A group of bitter NGOs held a press conference this morning to denounce the Rio+20 conference.

This followed yesterday’s public request to world leaders by the NGO Major Group representative to remove reference in the first paragraph of the final agreement to its having been achieved “with full participation of civil society”.

Today Lasse Gustavsson of WWF told journalists: “This is a bleak place to be in”.

From peaceful vegans to conscientious corporates, everyone has had an event at Rio+20

It is hard to believe that the document had been put together by the planet’s best diplomats, he said. Greenpeace’s Daniel Mittler added that Rio+20 had been an “epic failure … developed countries have given us a new definition of hypocrisy”. Oxfam agreed that the meeting, which doesn’t end until Friday, had ‘failed’.

They highlighted the fact that there was no decision on the elimination fossil fuel subsidies and glacial movement on regulating the high seas. No new money for developing countries, Oxfam pointed out.

But they also turned for solace to the quantities of effervescent activity going on outside the conference itself. As well as the stunts and demonstrations (20,000 people on the streets of Rio yesterday, the People’s Summit and other displays we have covered in our blog in the last few days) there have been some serious meetings of powerful people other than heads of state.

These events include the Corporate Sustainability Forum, and a gathering of chief justices and attorneys, highlighted by Peter Lehner of Natural Resources Defence Council, which is seeking ways to implement environmental laws. “It’s critical we do not equate Rio+20 with the document,” he said. “If you see it as a gathering of people from around the world then it’s a different view. Completely separate from theUN document we have seen companies, countries, cities, come up with new initiatives.”

He highlighted the World Bank-driven pledge, made at Rio+20 this week, by 86 companies and 57 countries, to measure their natural wealth as part of their natural accounting.

It’s true there are thousands of separate events going on, and hundreds of voluntary pledges (the latest official tally is 517, including a $1 billion pledge by SINOPEC (China Petrochemical Corporation), one of the world’s largest companies, to improve its energy and environmental footprint.

The question is whether multiple actions by thousands of individuals, networks, businesses and professional groups can effect global change at the level that could be achieved if governments between them took some radical decisions. That’s a question of where real power lies.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Under the rain at the Athlete Park

June 21, 2012

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


It probably wasn’t the best day for visiting Athlete Park, in front of Riocentro, where the UN Summit is being held: I arrived there soaking wet.

The site is home to pavilions and tents where government and intergovernmental organisations publicise their programmes and products related to sustainable development.

Brazil, of course, has a strong presence , with it’s own national pavilion plus other spaces occupied by public (or private) companies. Furthermore, the Amazon states joined efforts to show more about the local culture and biodiversity.

Other countries are also present including Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom.

Many of the stands followed the traditional approach of distributing leaflets, pens and edible treats such as delicious banana chips.

Others employed alternative strategies to attracting visitors. The Rio de Janeiro stand, for example, calls attention by using wooden boxes, plants and images and an exhibition with beautiful images. It includes a google map to allow visitors to virtually visit the city, including an exciting view of Corcovado (the famous statue of Christ).

The project for natural colored cotton, presented as an agricultural innovation, shows giants balls of – now rain-soaked – cotton.

Furnas, an energy company linked to the Ministry of Energy, exhibited a 5D movie on sustainable development – which proved to be a bit of a weird experience!

A series of debates and side events are also being held on a wide range of topics from the impact of climate change on hill mountains to country collaboration agreements, and renewable energy.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Literally, a green bus

June 21, 2012

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


The researcher Paulo Emilio Valadão de Mirada  from COPPE (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) was at the Athlete Park proudly presenting his “baby”: a green bus.

The bus is a hybrid which means it uses electric energy from pre-connection to an electrical source (as other electric cars) and produces energy on board, from a battery fed by hydrogen. It also utilises kinetic energy every time the driver accelerates or decelerates the vehicle.

The bus has been used for transporting students around his university campus.

According to Paulo Emilio, this is the most efficient hydrogen bus in the world. “A European company tested a hydrogen bus in ten cities, which consumed 25 kilos of hydrogen for each 100 kilometers; this month, the same company launched an improved version, with 14 kilos of hydrogen consumed for each 100 kilometers” where as “our bus consumes just 5 kilos of hydrogen”, he says.

I asked Paulo Emilio what is necessary to put the bus on the streets. “A company interested in it”, he said, indicating that there are already some potential clients. His expectation is that the bus be available for the World Cup in Brazil, in 2014.

Coppe is inviting the public to know more about the high level research done at the institution he works for, with several projects related to Rio+20 issues: biofuel of second generation, production of electric energy with wave energy and protection of oceans.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


The word ‘science’ vanishes from a crucial place

June 20, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


The Scientific and Technological Major Group, whose Rio+20 campaign we have charted, has suffered a small but possibly potent loss in the agreed final draft of the outcome document (due to be signed off by heads of state by Friday).

Science: everywhere but in the outcome document
Flickr/NASA desert rats

It’s only one word – but the word is ‘science’ and it has been dropped from the title of the section detailing how science, technology and innovation can be part of the means of implementation of what is agreed – in other words, a key part of the document.

The title of this section has, over the course of the negotiations, had many permutations, containing words such as Science, Technology, Technology Transfer and Innovation. ‘

It has also had a lot of bracketed text trailing behind it, indicating the proposals by various nations on how it should be altered or their refusals to accept the current text.

In particular the hostility of the United States and other developed countries to mentions of the transfer of technology had helped to make the title contentious.

So, when Brazil took over as host of the negotiations a few days ago and produced a new draft, it decided to remove every contested element from the title. The only word that remained was: Technology.

“The lack of [the word Science] sends a very unfortunate message to the global science community and its sponsors,” says Steven Wilson, executive director of the International Council for Science (ICSU)

But can a single word make such a difference?

“As budgets are cut you are never sure,” says Gisbert Glaser senior advisor at ICSU who has been following the fate of S,T&I at each step of the negotiations. “Something like this could cut budgets going into science because the donors [guided by the philosophy of the document] don’t want to cut funding for technology issues”.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


World leaders kick off negotiations with a good film

June 20, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


When world leaders kicked off their three-day meeting this morning they watched this video below, to remind them why they are here. It was produced by the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme and premiered at the Planet Under Pressure meeting in London last March.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


On board of Greenpeace

June 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior (as the ship is called) became the stage for the indigenous group Xavante, from the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, to highlight an unfulfilled promise made 20 years ago, at the first Earth Summit.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior

Due to international pressure, the Xavante were to have their land returned to them from an Italian company, but until today they still don’t have their land.

Even though visitors were not allowed on this day, I was warmly welcomed aboard. The boat —with 1,200 meter squares of sails — has been specially built for Greenpeace to include everything you need for a campaign anywhere in the world. In the case of Brazil, it is about two main campaigns: ‘Deforestation Zero’, which, as the name suggests, aims to reduce the deforestation in Brazil, and ‘Solar Energy’.

For those who can have a romantic image of a traditional sailing ship, forget it. It is much more like a Hollywood movie, I mean, a very high-tech ship, with room for radio masts, antennas, and domes that provide Internet and satellite communications allowing for video broadcasts from remote locations and tweet from any ocean.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Organic farmers are doing it for themselves

June 20, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Although governments are expected to agree on an outcome document at Rio+20, critics and campaigners say the initiatives launched at the sidelines of the summit by countries, NGOs and other stakeholders may be just as – if not more – important in terms of real change.

One of the first such ‘voluntary pledges’ announced on Friday (15 June) by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), was a global organic agriculture research network scheduled to launch in February 2013.

Flickr/ Find Your Feet

 

“The idea is to integrate existing organic agriculture research networks at the local, national and regional level,” Urs Niggli, director of Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and a professor at University of Kassel-Witzenhausen, both in Switzerland, told SciDev.Net. Niggli is hoping that through the new network they can build a series of research projects focused on the South that would have a high impact on famers’ wellbeing.

His center is already conducting long-term trials evaluating organic farming systems in a range of developing countries and “most of them are research projects where farmers are involved, a very positive development.”

The network’s outcomes would include profiling success stories to make organic farming more visible to policymakers and scientists, and to mainstream it.

Carlo Scaramella, coordinator with the World Food Programme, told SciDev.Net:

“This research could help us understand in which context certain solutions are most affordable and most appropriate.”

“Enhancing the ability of governments, and community stakeholders to implement organic farming in a systematic manner would probably help effectively realise better and more resilient food security – and that would be an extraordinary outcome.”


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


%d bloggers like this: