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.”

Latest Developments, September 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Waiting for the politicians
Grist reports that 11 major engineering organizations have issued a joint statement saying a lack of political will, rather than technological shortcomings, are standing in the way of an 85-percent cut in global emissions by 2050.
“The statement calls on world leaders to reach a global commitment to emissions reduction and energy efficiency at December’s COP17 climate change talks. Once that commitment is in place and adequately backed up, say the engineers, the technology is there to carry it out.”

Killer profits
The Arms Trade Treaty Monitor has collected statements made last week to the UN General Assembly by the leaders of countries such as Mexico, Nigeria, Ghana and Costa Rica concerning the agreement which should be finalized in 2012.
“It is unjust and inhuman that the profits of the arms industry should decide the deaths of thousands of people,” according President Felipe Calderón of Mexico.

Untapped markets for unmanned aircraft
The Globe and Mail reports worldwide drone sales are expected to double over the next decade but with a sluggish US market, the quest for profits could trump proliferation concerns.
“Both surveillance and armed U.S. drones, which have been widely deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, have received strong interest from Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia and nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan, among others.”

Trafficking losses
The Financial Times reports on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s growing interest in cracking down on loopholes that enable companies to play one country against another in order avoid paying taxes.
“The OECD last year highlighted its fears about the ability of banks to use losses accumulated since the financial crisis – calculated by the OECD to be worth $700bn – as a tool for aggressive tax planning. Among the concerns is ‘loss trafficking’ – schemes in which losses are sold to other companies to reduce their tax payment. In a report published in August, the OECD also warned about aggressive tax planning concerning the carry-forward of ‘vast’ corporate losses than can be as high as 25 per cent of gross domestic product in some countries.”

G20 and tax dodging
Christian Aid’s David McNair accuses G20 finance and development ministers of “backing away from their commitments to help poor countries collect more of the billions they lose to tax dodgers” at last week’s meeting in Washington.
“If the G20 were serious about harnessing the power of tax against poverty, they would have made a specific commitment to the big solution to tax dodging – financial transparency. Such transparency would make life far harder for companies and individuals hiding wealth in tax havens, not to mention the multinationals that use financial secrecy to dodge billions in tax in poor countries.”

Dodgy oil contracts
A new Global Witness report calling for reforms in Liberia’s oil sector also touches on some questionable behaviour by American oil giant Chevron.
“In 2007, Nigeria’s Oranto Petroleum authorized a bribe to be paid to the Legislature in connection with the passage of at least one of its contracts. In 2010, US company Chevron purchased a 70 % share of the same contracts, despite information about how they were obtained being in the public domain.”

Oversimplifying the economy
University of Toronto historian Michael Bliss suggests the thinking underlying the last few decades of Western economic policy reveal “a naive, self-serving misreading of history” and warns against anyone who suggests “obese and addicted societies” can painlessly right themselves by pushing the right fiscal buttons.
“The danger of listening to the people who oversimplify the past and then oversimplify the present… is that they really can make things worse, especially when they propose to dope us up on more of the same. The longer we avoid accepting complex, unmanageable realities, and the real discomforts involved in convalescence and recovery, the more we risk the long-term future for our children and grandchildren.”

The power of aid
The Guardian reports on the remarkable similarities between the UK’s “centre right development policy,” as described by the man who runs it, Andrew Mitchell, and the development policy of the ostensibly centre left Obama administration.
“Over the past 18 months, the US and the UK have been treading very similar development policy paths. As well as results, both talk about the important role to be played by the private sector, and by science and technology, in bringing about development. And both pepper speeches and announcements with mentions of national interests, security and power. The opening line of the executive summary in the USAid policy framework for 2011 to 2015, published earlier this month, provides a clear example. ‘International development co-operation is a key component of American power, along with diplomacy and defense,’ it reads.”