Latest Developments, November 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Chevron spill
Agence France-Presse reports Brazil is fining oil giant Chevron “at least $28 million” over a spill from one of its wells off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.
“Haroldo Lima, head of the National Oil Agency said Chevron was facing a series of fines that each could be worth $28 million dollars for having given false or incomplete information about the incident. Exactly how many fines will be determined by the investigation, he added.
ANP accused Chevron of having released “false information” in presenting an action plan that called for the use of equipment not currently available in the country and also of having presented edited pictures on the damage, according to Lima.
Meanwhile Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira also said more fines would be imposed if environmental violations were proven.”

Reversal of fortunes
The New York Times reports debt-ridden Portugal is appealing to its former colony Angola – “once a prime source of slaves, then a dumping ground for the mother country’s human rejects and now swimming in oil wealth” – for investment, but not everyone sees a new dawn in relations.
“There is still the colonial mentality in Portugal,” according to anticorruption campaigner Rafael Marques de Morais. “They just want to extract resources and plunder the country. The only difference is this time they didn’t take them by force.”

Plundering the Congo
Reuters reports a British lawmaker believes the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government is selling its mining assets at below-market prices to shell companies located in tax havens.
“[Labour MP Eric] Joyce said the documents showed that four sales of assets in Katanga had officially netted the government just $272 million, instead of $5.8 billion, which he said was the estimated total market value for the assets.
The involvement of off-shore vehicles had made it impossible to track who had in fact benefited from the sale, he added.”

Growth not enough
The Guardian reports on a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development document that warns of the dangers posed by increasing levels of inequality, not only in fast-growing countries such as China and India, but also in 17 of the 34 members of its own rich-country club.
“‘Both poor and middle-class populations are increasingly alienated from the richest in many societies. Stark inequalities persist between groups defined by sex, working status and ethnic origin. Both rising inequalities and their persistently high levels can sow the seeds of future conflict and social unrest,’ says the report. It warns that ‘the emergence of a global elite that is isolated from less fortunate echelons of the societies from which its members originate is an important risk that policymakers must be aware of’.”

Climate cop-out
The Guardian also reports that rich countries have “given up” on the prospect of a new climate change treaty for this decade, even before international negotiations on replacing the expiring Kyoto protocol get underway in South Africa next week.
“The UK, European Union, Japan, US and other rich nations are all now united in opting to put off an agreement and the United Nations also appears to accept this.
Developing countries are furious, and the delay will be fiercely debated at the next round of international climate talks beginning a week on Monday in Durban, South Africa.
The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents some of the countries most at risk from global warming, called moves to delay a new treaty ‘reckless and irresponsible’.”

Africa leading on climate
The head of the UN Environment Programme tells Reuters that Africa is leading the world when it comes to actually implementing clean-energy policies.
“Kenya is currently doubling its energy and electricity generating infrastructure largely using renewables. These are policies that are pioneering, that are innovative,” according to UNEP’s Achim Steiner.

“We see across the continent both a realisation of how threatening climate change really is and also the inevitable necessity that governments have an interest in beginning to put their own development priorities on a different trajectory.”

Dismissing the three Ds
New York Univesity economist Bill Easterly argues the US aid program has been “taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building” and calls for a clear separation between aid and defense departments.
“The misguided mindset across two administrations has been that development is – as Hillary Clinton put it in January 2010 – ‘mutually reinforcing’ to defence. Experience and commonsense suggest the opposite – aid works better where bullets are not flying. As for aid winning hearts and minds in war zones, it hasn’t worked. Not in Pakistan, where despite $3.7bn in economic aid between 2003 and 2009, the US is more unpopular than ever. Not in Afghanistan, where 52% of Afghans said ‘foreign aid organisations are corrupt and are in the country just to get rich’.”

Food imbalances
World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy argues the trade policies of major food-exporting countries have as much to do with hunger in Africa as the continent’s low yields.
“The burden must not fall on Africa alone. The developed world also has a role to play by curbing the use of trade distorting subsidies which result in food surpluses being dumped on third country markets.
Low levels of African agricultural productivity have kept the continent on the sidelines of global agricultural trade and helped create a situation today in which a handful of countries dominate production and export. In a world of nearly 200 countries, there are only between five and 10 major exporters of cereals.”

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