For the last few years, the Saudi kingdom’s insistence on pumping oil at high capacity has dramatically depressed oil prices. The result has undermined Saudi’s major oil rivals in OPEC – like Iran and Venezuela.
It has also hit Russia, hard.
Rating agency Standard & Poor forecasts that Russia’s budget deficit is set to swell to 4.4 per cent of GDP this year. Russia’s own finance ministry concedes that if expenditures continue at this rate, within sixteen months – by around the end of next year – its oil reserve funds will be exhausted.
Meanwhile, over the last year real incomes have dropped by 9.8 per cent, and food prices have spiked by 17 per cent, heightening the risk of civil unrest.
Rumbling along beneath the surface of such financial woes are deeper systemic issues.
A report from the Swedish Defence Research Agency notes that “prolonged dry periods in southern Russia are having the effect of reducing the level of food production”.
Most of Russia’s wheat imports come from Kazakhstan, “where climate change is expected to exacerbate droughts. These impacts would make farming harder and food more expensive,” observe Dr. Marina Sharmina and Dr. Christopher Jones of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Russia’s looming energy crisis is the other elephant in the room. In 2013, HSBC forecasted that Russia would hit peak oil between 2018 and 2019, experiencing a brief plateau before declining by 30 per cent from 2020 to 2025.
That year, Fitch Ratings came to pretty much the same conclusion. And last year, Leonid Fedun, vice-president of Russia’s second largest oil producer, Lukoil, predicted that the production could peak earlier due to falling oil prices and US-EU sanctions.
Faced with overlapping economic, food and energy crises, Russia is well and truly on the brink. More
Furthermore, According to a recent report from the IMF, Saudi Arabia’s public debt is estimated to rise from below 2 percent of its GDP in 2014 up to 33 percent by the end of 2020. The report also shows that in the past three years, Saudi Arabia’s budget surplus was turned into a deficit reaching 21.6 percent of GDP in 2015. More
The Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford is pleased to invite applications for a fully-funded scholarship to undertake the part-time Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Sustainable Urban Development.
The successful applicant will undertake research on the economic impact, broadly considered, of the Coed Darcy oil refinery conversion project and the associated Swansea University Bay Campus development. Potential research themes include: economic sustainability of brownfield redevelopment projects; economic sustainability assessment methodologies; urban design and economic sustainability; sustainable regional development; R&D and growth poles; regeneration of economically vulnerable regions; green growth strategies and shrinking regions; institutional factors in sustainable economic competitiveness; corporate social responsibility and urban sustainability; or any other theme(s) of the candidate’s choosing.
This scholarship is jointly funded by the University and by the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community and is only tenable at Kellogg College. Further details regarding the scholarship, including a background to the project and eligibility, can be found on the DPhil website www.conted.ox.ac.uk/dsud/.
Scholarship application deadline: 22 January 2016.
Without water, life is impossible. Such a basic fact should imply that all human beings have, if they have any rights at all, a fundamental right to water.
And yet, it was not until 2010 that the international community fully and explicitly recognized the right to water.
That year, the UN General Assembly declared that “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights,” and called upon states and international organizations to work together to “provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.” Such belated attention highlights the growing awareness of a “global water crisis” that threatens the lives and dignity of billions of people around the world. Although the natural sufficiency of water is a real problem for some parts of the world, the scarcity that drives this crisis is, as the 2006 UN Human Development Report notes, “rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability.” As such, addressing the crisis will require the mobilization not only of economic resources and scientific expertise, but of public participation and political courage at all levels of society.
A University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric-led study challenges the prevailing wisdom by identifying the atmosphere as the driver of a decades-long climate variation known as the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO).
The findings offer new insight on the causes and predictability of natural climate variations, which are known to cause wide-ranging global weather impacts, including increased rainfall, drought, and greater hurricane frequency in many parts of the Atlantic basin.
For decades, research on climate variations in the Atlantic has focused almost exclusively on the role of ocean circulation as the main driver, specifically the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which carries warm water north in the upper layers of the ocean and cold water south in lower layers like a large conveyor belt.
“The idea of the ocean as the driver has been a powerful one.” said UM Rosenstiel School Professor Amy Clement, the lead author on the study. We used computer models in a new way to test this idea, and find that in fact there is a lot that can be explained without the ocean circulation.”
While the overall rise in average temperature of the Atlantic is caused by greenhouse gases, this study examines the fluctuations occurring within this human-related trend. Identifying the main driver of the AMO is critical to help predict the overall warming of the North Atlantic Ocean in coming decades from both natural and human-made climate change. Recent research suggests that an AMO warm phase has been in effect since the mid-1990s, which has caused changes in rainfall in the southeastern US, and resulted in twice as many tropical storms becoming hurricanes than during cool phases.
Using multiple climate models from around the world, Clement’s research team removed the ocean circulation from the analysis to reveal that variations in the Atlantic climate were generally the same. The AMO results in a horseshoe-shaped pattern of ocean surface temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean that have been naturally occurring for the last 1000 years on timescales of 60-80 years. This new analysis shows that the pattern of the AMO can be accounted for by atmospheric circulation alone, without any role for the ocean circulation.
“These results force us to rethink our ability to predict decade-scale temperature fluctuations in the Atlantic and their associated impacts on land. It may be that many of the changes have limited predictability, which means that we should be prepared for a range of climate outcomes associated with global warming,” said Clement. More
The work was support by grants from the Department of Energy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
7 October 2015: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has elected Hoesung Lee, Republic of Korea, as its new Chair. Lee was elected by 78 votes to 56 in a run-off with Jean-Pascal van Ypersele of Belgium.
Speaking after the vote, Lee said he was "honored and grateful" to have been elected. He underscored the need for more information regarding existing options for preventing and adapting to climate change.
Lee further noted that the next phase of the IPCC's work will see an increased understanding of regional impacts, especially in developing countries, and an improvement in the manner in which the IPCC's findings are communicated to the public.
Various UN officials congratulated Lee on his election, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
The election took place in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on 6 October, where the IPCC is holding its 42nd session (IPCC 42). Six candidates had been nominated for the position: Ogunlade Davidson, Sierra Leone; Chris Field, US; Hoesung Lee, Republic of Korea; Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Austria and Montenegro; Thomas Stocker, Switzerland; and Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Belgium.
Elections for other IPCC Bureau positions also took place during the course of IPCC 42. On 7 October, Thelma Krug, Brazil, Ko Barrett, US, and Youba Sokona, Mali, were elected IPCC Vice-Chairs.
Lee is a professor of the economics of climate change, energy and sustainable development at Korea University's Graduate School of Energy and Environment in the Republic of Korea, and is currently one of the IPCC's three vice-chairs. The election of the new IPCC Bureau, which will have 34 members including the Chair, paves the way for work to begin on the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report, expected to be completed in 5-7 years.
The IPCC was established by the WMO and UNEP in 1988 to provide a clear scientific assessment of the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts, and to identify possible responses. [IPCC Press Release] [UNEP Press Release] [WMO Press Release] [UN Press Release] [Statement of the UN Secretary-General] [UNFCCC Press Release][IISD RS coverage of IPCC 42]
As if there weren’t already enough problems to worry about in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia might be headed for trouble.
From plummeting oil prices to foreign-policy missteps to growing tensions with Iran, a confluence of recent events is mounting to pose some serious challenges for the Saudi regime. If not properly managed, these events could eventually coalesce into a perfect storm that significantly increases the risk of instability within the kingdom, with untold consequences for global oil markets and security in the Middle East.
Here are some of the percolating problems that could throw the country off kilter.
Fissures Within the Royal Family. Last week, the Guardian published two letters that an anonymous Saudi prince recently circulated among senior members of the royal family, calling on them to stage a palace coup against King Salman. The letters allege that Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, and his powerful 30-something son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have pursued dangerous policies that are leading the country to political, economic, and military ruin. In an interview with the Guardian, the prince insisted that his demand for a change in leadership not only had growing support within the royal family but across broader Saudi society as well. “The public [is] also pushing for this very hard,” he claimed. “They say you have to do this or the country will go to disaster.” The article, which includes the letters, written in Arabic, has been shared more than 15,000 times.
The Yemen War. The longer it drags on, the greater the risk that the Saudi intervention against Houthi rebels could become a serious source of internal dissension. In its story on the prince’s letters, the Guardian reported that “many Saudis are sickened by the sight of the Arab world’s richest country pummelling its poorest.” Particular blame is attached to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also serves as the kingdom’s defense minister and by all accounts has been the driving force behind the war effort. Tagged with the unofficial nickname “Reckless,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of rushing into Yemen without a clear strategy or exit plan, resulting in mounting costs in blood and treasure, an ever-expanding humanitarian crisis, and growing international criticism.
Economic Problems. Thanks largely to Saudi policy, oil prices plummeted by more than 50 percent in the past year. Facing a market glut due to the U.S. oil boom, Saudi strategy has been to maintain high production, fight for market share, allow prices to collapse, and wait for higher cost producers, particularly in America, to be driven out of business. With cheaper oil spurring increased demand and squeezing out excess supply, the theory was that higher prices would return before the kingdom ever felt any real economic pinch.
But it hasn’t quite worked out that way — at least not as quickly as the Saudis anticipated. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s 2015 budget was based on the assumption that oil would be selling at about $90 per barrel. Today, it’s closer to half that. At the same time, the Saudis have incurred a rash of expenses that weren’t planned for, including those associated with King Salman’s ascendance to the throne (securing loyalty for a new king can be expensive business) and the war in Yemen.
The result is a budget deficit approaching 20 percent, well over $100 billion, requiring the Saudis to deplete their huge foreign exchange reserves at a record rate (about $12 billion per month) while also accelerating bond sales. The Saudis have reportedly liquidated more than $70 billion of their holdings with global asset managers in just the past 6 months.
While there’s no danger that the kingdom will run out of money anytime soon, the longer this trend of large budget deficits, lower oil prices, and declining foreign exchange reserves continues, the more nervous international markets will become — with potential implications for key indicators like credit rating and capital flight. Adding to long-term concerns is the fact that Saudi net oil exports have been in slow decline for years as internal energy consumption rises dramatically. Indeed, analysts now suggest that rapidly expanding domestic demand could render the kingdom a net importer of oil by the 2030s. It goes without saying that such a development poses a mortal threat to the kingdom, where oil sales still account for 80 to 90 percent of state revenues. More
Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science -- and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.
Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature. This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. In that movie -- most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City -- melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters. At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.
Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable. In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.
Take the disruption of the North Atlantic Current, the pivotal event in The Day After Tomorrow. Essentially an extension of the Gulf Stream, that deep-sea current carries relatively warm salty water from the South Atlantic and the Caribbean to the northern reaches of the Atlantic. In the process, it helps keep Europe warmer than it would otherwise be. Once its salty water flows into sub-Arctic areas carried by this prolific stream, it gets colder and heavier, sinks to lower depths, and starts a return trip to warmer climes in the south where the whole process begins again.
So long as this “global conveyor belt” -- known to scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC -- keeps functioning, the Gulf Stream will also continue to bring warmer waters to the eastern United States and Europe. Should it be disrupted, however, the whole system might break down, in which case the Euro-Atlantic climate could turn colder and more storm-prone. Such a disruption might occur if the vast Greenland ice sheet melts in a significant way, as indeed is already beginning to happen today, pouring large quantities of salt-free fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its lighter weight, this newly introduced water will remain close to the surface, preventing the submergence of salty water from the south and so effectively shutting down the conveyor belt. Indeed, exactly this process now seems to be underway. More
The repercussions of climate disruption are still not being acknowledged fully, warned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, addressing an audience of Baby Boomer and Greatest Generation climate activists on September 9.
|Dr. Jim Hansen|
“We’ve now got an emergency,” he told about 150 “elder activists” at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, who were participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day.
Hansen — formerly NASA’s head climate scientist, now adjunct professor at Columbia University — is probably best known for bringing definitive evidence of global warming to Congress in testimony in 1988. In July of this year, he released a report with sixteen co-authors studying glacier melt in Greenland and Antarctica. Unlike previous models, the new report takes into account some feedback loops which may be hastening the loss of ice sheet mass far faster than anticipated.
Time is running out to transition to renewable energy, Hansen said, yet the most “relevant” people in power aren’t aware of the situation’s gravity. “Even people who go around saying, ‘We have a planet in peril,’ don’t get it. Until we’re aware of our future, we can’t deal with it.”
Mass species extinction, extreme weather events, dry spells and fires are climate change impacts which are happening now. A warmer atmosphere and warmer oceans can lead to stronger storms, he explained. Superstorm Sandy, for example, remained a hurricane all the way up the Eastern seaboard to New York because Atlantic waters were abnormally warm.
“Amplifying impacts” and feedback loops will accelerate the changes, according to Hansen. “It will happen faster than you think,” he said. If major coastal cities become “dysfunctional” because of sea level rise, as he believes is possible, the global economy could be in peril of collapse.
It is therefore imperative to stop using coal, oil and gas as energy sources now. “We’ve already burned as much as we can afford,” he said. Fossil fuels already burned will continue to have impacts, because the climate system “has inertia.” “We’ve only felt the warming for half of the gases that are up there,” he said.
The use of fossil fuels is still on the rise in spite of the dangers, he said, because governments subsidize them and don’t make companies bear the real costs to society. The only viable way to make the price of fossil fuels “honest,” in his opinion, is to implement a “fee and dividend” system.
While Hansen denounced “unfettered capitalism”and “scary” trade agreements in the works, he believes government regulation can steer captains of industry onto the right path. “We’ve got to make the system work for us,” he said. “If you properly harness the market, it will work for you.”
He gave an example of incentives and tax breaks for solar panels, which he has on his own home, and how he contributes electricity to the grid. Yet one audience member took issue with a corruption-free scenario. “Come to Virginia, I dare you!” he said. (In Virginia, where Dominion Virginia Power has a stranglehold on state politics, “standby” fees and other barriers stifle solar panel installation by individuals.)
Hansen, a grandparent himself, was the keynote speaker at Grandparents Climate Action Day, an event to mobilize elder activists and promote a policy agenda aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Hansen believes elders possess resources and wisdom which, combined with the zeal of youth, can help find solutions to climate change. “Older people have a lot of clout, a lot of votes, and time,” he said. With more older people getting involved, there will be more pressure to make needed changes.
Fellow speaker John Sorensen, co-founder of the Conscious Elders Network, echoed this point. The 80 million elders in the U.S. — 25 percent of the population — are living longer and healthier lives with more time and resources to devote to activism.
Hansen is supporting a lawsuit in which 21 young people are suing the U.S. government. (One of the plaintiffs is his granddaughter Sophie.) The lawsuit alleges that the federal government knew decades ago that burning fossil fuels and climate were linked, but continued on the same course anyway.
In his testimony for Youth v. Obama, Hansen said, “In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal, nature of U.S. climate and energy policy.”
The judiciary, he believes, is the only viable recourse left for the younger generation, “because the courts will be less under the thumb of the fossil fuel industry.”
“Young people have all these rights that are guaranteed by the constitution, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to look at, and I think this may be our best chance to force the government to do its job,” he said.
Most of the elders participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day probably won’t live to see the worst effects of climate change, yet they were eager to learn about the earth future generations will inherit. One participant explained her reason for being there. After working with children for her whole career, she realized that “all of it mean[s] nothing if we don’t have a livable planet.”
“Young people have all these rights that are guaranteed by the constitution, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to look at, and I think this may be our best chance to force the government to do its job,” he said.
Most of the elders participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day probably won’t live to see the worst effects of climate change, yet they were eager to learn about the earth future generations will inherit. One participant explained her reason for being there. After working with children for her whole career, she realized that “all of it mean[s] nothing if we don’t have a livable planet.” More
Around the world we are seeing evidence of coral decline due to bleaching, pollution, change in water temperature and myriad other factors.
SCUBA divers pay for special certifications to maintain perfect buoyancy lest their fin kick a sea fan or their hand make contact with a coral head.Considering such efforts are being made to protect coral, it seems the recent announcement that the Cayman Island government will soon be dredging a large portion of these reefs is a sad irony. Many islanders believe that the plan to install concrete piers for easy cruise ship guest access is short sighted and the loss of corals will actually hurt not only the marine ecosystem, but also an important part of island income, tourism.Recent scientific studies show that silt and other dredging byproducts will lower resistance and make corals 50% more vulnerable to disease.
So the corals that are not directly killed by the dredging and cruise ship traffic will be at higher risk of death.Cruise line officials claim that more goliath cruise ships will make port at Grand Cayman Island, if passengers do not have to endure the five minute tender transfer across the quaint Georgetown harbor. Keith Sahm, manager of one of the islands oldest hotels states, “Do you know that out of all the islands the cruise industry own, there is only one with a pier? Just one, because the cruise companies want to keep their islands pristine for their passengers. In addition to the paramount environmental concerns, there are economic issues.
SCUBA diving has been a constant island income source for many years. People trying to jump on the cruise ship bandwagon to make some fast money will leave a decimated marine environment in their wake. Once this is gone, there is no going back. Unless you can wait around for 2,000 years.”The environmental impact assessment indicates that dredging and the resulting silt will destroy many of the reefs ecosystems. Coral reefs are particularly slow to develop and many of these reefs are thousands of years old.While worldwide coral reef decline is a serious concern, Grand Cayman is the current home to healthy specimens of corals included on the IUCN* Red List as critically endangered.Jay Ireland, co-founder of Cayman’s “Stingray City” commented, “When you mention the Cayman Islands people think immediately of banking and coral reefs.
The 200-foot visibility, the warm water and the myriad corals, fish, turtles and flamboyant invertebrates currently thrive in the living aquarium around Cayman. To risk ruining this because transient cruise ship passengers do not want to inconvenience themselves with a short tender ride to the shore is lunacy.”Click here to sign a petition urging officials to reconsider the installation of these piers. Nosy Turtle image courtesy Cathy Church. More
Green Aruba is an annual conference born in 2010 with the specific aim to place dedicated emphasis on Aruba's energy transition to 100% fuel independence.
Besides showcasing Aruba's progress and challenges to the accelerated penetration of renewables in the total energy mix, Green Aruba also exhibits the experiences and knowledge of other institutions and island nations in this field. Over the past six years, Green Aruba has evolved into a practical and valuable well-known platform within the region for the exchange of information and applied knowledge on sustainable and best practices for the shift to cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy sources and resources.
Green Aruba VI – Share Sustainability
At this year's Green Aruba conference to be held October 27th and 28th, the main theme will focus on sharing sustainability by together confronting the common barriers we face, identifying the solutions moving forward and creating the essential roadmaps to achieve our desired growth paths of the sustainability journey for our island nations.
Aruba has made remarkable progress over the years in the penetration level of renewables and/or efficiency at production level, with in 2015 reaching close to the 20% mark. With the ongoing and upcoming planned projects operational by the end of 2017, the 40% barrier will be surpassed by 2018!
With our goal to reach 100% fuel free energy production by 2020, and in order to surpass the 40% level, it is fundamental to embark on a "deep dive" into our existing energy mix. Aruba is examining cutting-edge technologies and new business models for our utility companies, all in conjunction with our RAS framework, to create a balance between Reliable and Sustainable investments. This balancing act will only be achievable if energy production costs remain Affordable for the customer base.
Local utility stakeholders together with foreign renowned institutions are preparing for this dive known as the Aruba Renewable Integration Study (ARIS), and will present their approach and concept at the upcoming conference. The ARIS will provide models that map out the road forward towards Aruba's aspiring renewable energy goals, while maintaining grid reliability and minimizing overall system costs, and can serve as a prototype or starting point for fellow island nations. More