News Article | April 23, 2017
Nigerian Navy forces on the lookout for illegal oil refineries in the Niger Delta region spot the tell-tale signs of billowing black smoke (AFP Photo/STEFAN HEUNIS) Kana Rugbana (Nigeria) (AFP) - Nigerian commander Remi Fadairo points to the roiling plume of black smoke blotting the morning horizon in the Niger Delta -— the unmistakable sign of an illicit oil refinery. "Let's see if we can go eat them for breakfast," he says with an ominous chuckle. The 44-year-old colonel, a man with broad shoulders wearing his fatigues tucked into gumboots, is standing in the middle of a destroyed illicit refinery in Kana Rugbana, an area in the swamplands some 20 nautical miles from Port Harcourt. Fadairo is part of the Joint Task Force Operation Delta Safe, a coalition of Nigerian security forces tasked with protecting the country's oil and gas infrastructure. Last year, militant attacks cut oil production to 1.4 million barrels per day in August, triggering Nigeria's worst economic slump in 25 years. Following talks with the government, the militants have suspended their sabotage. But Nigerian troops on the ground say the battle isn't over, it's just changed. Today, the military says one of its priorities is to crack down on the illicit refineries that they claim fund the operations of the militants. "The two are interwoven, if they aren't doing militancy, they are doing this," Fadairo tells AFP as he wades through crude-soaked muck. Despite the site looking like a scrap yard, Fadairo says it actually is being rehabilitated, showing new silver pipes welded to a rusted metal container. On the ground between iridescent oil puddles lay little sachets of gin, empty packets of instant noodles and cigarette butts left by the bush distillers. "We just destroyed all this but they are back," says Fadairo. "They are trying to revive it." The illicit refineries are just one component of oil theft in Nigeria, a mammoth industry estimated to be worth as much as $8 billion a year, according to a 2013 report by Chatham House, a London think-tank. "The principal security concerns are endemic corruption, which creates economic discontent, breakdown of the rule of law, which allows for criminality to be normalised, and the funding of militancy," said Ian Ralby, founder of the I.R. Consilium, a security advisory firm. In the past month, Fadairo's troops have destroyed more than 10 illicit refineries, which process oil stolen from the pipelines of multinational companies, including Shell and Eni, by heating it in car-sized metal containers. The waste is dumped into the surrounding swamplands, turning what should be a wetland paradise into a monochrome nightmare dominated by the white skeletons of dead mangrove trees. These artisanal refineries, as they are sometimes called, employ upwards of 50 men each, who work through the night to avoid detection. They offer a rare job opportunity to thousands of unemployed men in the Niger Delta suffering from extreme poverty. For militants like the Niger Delta Avengers, who say crude is their birthright, refining represents something bigger — a chance to take back oil profits from corporations and the Nigerian government. Perhaps recognising that fighting illicit refineries is an exercise in futility, as part of the government's Niger Delta outreach program Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has proposed legalising the "modular refineries". "There is a way out of violent agitation, but it is by creating opportunities and the environment where the people in the communities can benefit," Osinbajo said in early April. As an olive-branch to the Niger Delta, Osinbajo's plan has been welcomed by community leaders. Making it a reality is more complicated. Too many people, ranging from the refiners to militants to corrupt officials, have got used to enjoying the untaxed spoils of the land. Any disturbance to the delicate balance in the region may result in violence and, in the worst-case scenario for cash-strapped Nigeria, further disruptions to oil production. Going into presidential polls in 2019, analysts say the likelihood of more unrest is high, especially once electioneering begins in earnest. "Rival theft networks can lapse into turf wars and the proceeds from stolen oil could continue to be used to finance election bids," explains Gillian Parker, a Nigerian analyst at the Control Risks consultancy. Until then, Nigerian forces will continue playing the cat-and-mouse game in the creeks. For Fadairo and his team by mid-morning they have arrived in gunboats at the site of another illicit refinery. Landing on a sandy shore gently lapped by oily waves, the troops spot a group of men fleeing from the bush and disappearing into the creeks in a speed boat. "Sometimes they can out-manoeuvre us," says an officer, squinting his eyes as the men make their getaway. "The water is very wild."
News Article | April 21, 2017
A day would come, Percy Shelley predicted in 1813, when “the monopolising eater of animal flesh would no longer destroy his constitution by eating an acre at a meal”. He explained: “The quantity of nutritious vegetable matter consumed in fattening the carcass of an ox would afford 10 times the sustenance if gathered immediately from the bosom of the earth.” Two hundred years later, mainstream agronomists and dietitians have caught up with the poet. A growing scientific consensus agrees that feeding cereals and beans to animals is an inefficient and extravagant way to produce human food, that there is a limited amount of grazing land, that the world will be hard-pressed to supply a predicted population of 9 billion people with a diet as rich in meat as the industrialised world currently enjoys, and that it’s not a very healthy diet anyway. On top of this, livestock contribute significantly towards global warming, generating 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions, according to one much-quoted estimate from the United Nations. Now that the problem has been identified, the challenge is to persuade people in wealthy countries to eat less meat. That might seem a tall order, but governments have successfully persuaded people to quit smoking through a combination of public information, regulation and taxation. So far there has been nothing of this kind from the UK government regarding meat, but information campaigns and initiatives from voluntary organisations ranging from Greenpeace to Paul and Linda McCartney’s Meat Free Monday have succeeded in convincing some people to review their meat consumption. So it can be done. In Monkton Wyld Court, the community-run guesthouse in Dorset where I live, the main kitchen is entirely vegetarian, with a separate kitchen in the garden for special occasions. A growing chorus of voices is now calling for governments to intervene. In November 2015, the Chatham House thinktank published a report proposing that measures such as taxation should be introduced, along with an information campaign. A year later, a team from the Oxford Martin Future of Food Programme at Oxford University totted up the climate benefits from taxing meat, as well as the number of lives that would be saved if people turned to diets with a greater proportion of fruit and vegetables. Meat taxes have been proposed for other countries including Denmark and Sweden, and in May 2016 the UN’s International Resource Panel called for taxation on meat to discourage emerging economies from emulating North American and European diets. As yet, no country has taken the leap, and there are questions over what kind of taxation might work best. Ironically, the ideal solution might be not to tax meat itself, but to tax fossil fuels. If fossil fuel consumption were reduced to levels necessary to keep the global temperature rise under 2C, then meat production would decline as a consequence – partly because nitrogen fertilisers and other inputs used for growing animal feed would become more expensive, and partly because there would be increased competition for grazing land, from energy crops such as timber and elephant grass. Since the extraction of fossil fuels releases about the same volume of methane into the atmosphere as livestock, it is likely that methane levels in the atmosphere would soon stabilise. Unfortunately there isn’t much prospect of the global community agreeing to limit fossil fuels to the necessary level in the near future. Which brings us back to meat taxes, most proposals for which foresee different rates of tax applied to different animals. The problem with this approach is that scientists do not agree which species are more harmful: it depends how much weight you apply to different factors, such as methane emissions, nitrogen and phosphate pollution, effects on biodiversity, and the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Thus the Oxford Martin team recommends a 40% tax on beef and an 8.5% tax on chicken, whereas Swedish analyst Sarah Säll calls for a 40% tax on chicken and 28% on beef. In fact there may be greater differences between different management systems than between different species. For example, a pig fed on food waste and crop residues has a tiny fraction of the environmental impact of a pig fed on soya and grains. Beef from the progeny of dairy cows – being a byproduct of the milk industry – has lower carbon emissions than beef from pure-bred herds. An animal grazed on permanent pasture will be maintaining soil fertility and biodiversity, and storing carbon in the soil, while an animal fattened in a feed lot will be doing the reverse. If we were to have a meat tax, it would therefore be simpler to have a flat rate for all meat; and in the UK and the rest of the EU there is an oven-ready way of doing that which also brings other potential benefits. Imposing standard rate VAT (value-added tax, also known as GST in some parts of the world) of 20% on all meat products would be a simple matter, since the means of collecting it is already in place. It is also probably less likely to be resisted than a dedicated meat tax, since consumers are used to paying VAT on luxury food items such as ice-cream, confectionery, biscuits, shelled nuts and fruit juice. It is hard to think of a more seamless way of introducing consumers to the concept that meat, whatever its provenance, is a luxury item they will have to pay more for. There is one further aspect of applying VAT to meat that is intriguing. Small livestock farms with an annual turnover of less than the £85,000 threshold could be exempt. They would benefit from an advantage of up to 20% over supermarkets for any meat they sell direct to consumers, or to small-scale local retailers, who also stand to benefit if they have a turnover under a given threshold. This is unlikely to threaten the towering profits of the supermarkets, but it might help reverse the drastic decline in the number of small family farms, and give a boost to new entrants into farming. It would also provide a fillip to local economies, with farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture schemes, urban food co-ops, small farms in the green belt, conservation graziers and similar ventures all likely to benefit. Proponents of industrial farming would no doubt regard this as special pleading, and come up with figures purporting to show that the environmental performance of small farms is no better than that of large ones. However, small farms and local food economies provide social benefits because they keep consumers in touch with the source of their food, whereas rows of polystyrene trays in supermarkets manifestly do not. Consumers will understand better why meat needs to be expensive when they can engage with its production and the people who produce it. There are, naturally, other matters to consider before implementing a meat tax – not least how the government could use the proceeds to ensure that people living in food poverty have access to good quality meat and dairy products. That is a crucial element of the greater project of ensuring that everybody in the world has equitable access to the fruits of the earth. I’m sure Shelley would approve.
News Article | April 26, 2017
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) attends a meeting with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in Riyadh on April 19, 2017 (AFP Photo/JONATHAN ERNST) Dubai (AFP) - A recent Saudi government and security shake-up aims to strengthen King Salman's increasingly powerful son against a royal rival and to bolster ties with Washington, analysts and diplomats say. Royal decrees at the weekend saw a number of allies of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moved into key positions and another son of the king named as ambassador to Washington. The goal, a foreign diplomat told AFP, is "to strengthen MBS (Mohammed bin Salman) and the Salman branch" of the al-Saud family which has ruled Saudi Arabia since the country's founding. Mohammed bin Salman, 31, has risen to prominence since he was named deputy crown prince two years ago, a few months after his father took the throne following the death of King Abdullah. The king's nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, now 57, was at the same time named crown prince and is the heir apparent. Reports of rivalry between the two have spread since, with the bearded Mohammed bin Salman seen in the ascendant. He already serves as defence minister, head of Saudi Arabia's main economic policy coordinating body and chairman of a council overseeing state oil giant Aramco. One of the weekend decrees saw the creation of a new National Security Centre linked with the royal court. Details of how the new centre will operate have yet to emerge, but the foreign diplomat said its creation reflects "competition" for succession between Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Nayef, who is interior minister and heads an existing body, the Political and Security Council. Another decree also named a new national security advisor, Mohammed bin Salih Alghfaili, who foreign diplomats say will play a lead role on the council. He too is linked with Mohammed bin Salman and the new arrangement shows that the crown prince "is losing his power," a second foreign diplomat said. Both diplomats declined to be named because of the sensitivity of royal leadership matters. Another decree named Major General Ahmed Assiri, who the diplomats said is also a loyalist of the defence minister, as deputy chief of the General Intelligence Presidency. Peter Salisbury, a research fellow at London's Chatham House, told AFP that the various moves appear "a lot like Mohammed bin Salman has taken another step towards consolidating his control over the security services". Security matters are especially important to Mohammed bin Nayef, who made his name and won wide respect abroad for having led Saudi efforts against Al-Qaeda and other jihadists. Analysts and diplomats said other moves made at the weekend appeared aimed not only at boosting King Salman's branch among the thousands-strong royal family but at continuing to improve ties with longtime ally Washington. King Salman named another son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, as state minister for energy affairs, and one more, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as ambassador to Washington. The new ambassador Prince Khaled, believed to be younger than 30, is a former fighter pilot who flew missions as part of the US-led coalition bombing the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Another change saw Fahad bin Turki, a former head of the Saudi special forces, promoted to lieutenant general to head the army. These appointments appear to involve people "well-placed... to build relationships with senior military and administration officials in the US," Salisbury said. Ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama. Riyadh has found a more favourable ear in the Washington of President Donald Trump, who has echoed Saudi concerns about Iranian influence in the region. Mohammed bin Salman met Trump in Washington last month, a visit followed last week by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis's trip to Riyadh. Key for Riyadh will be US support for the Saudi-led coalition that for two years has been fighting in support of Yemen's government against rebels supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival. The United States has backed the coalition with intelligence, weapons, and aerial refuelling for its warplanes, but Obama's government in December blocked the transfer of precision-guided bombs because of concerns over civilian casualties. Under Obama, "things were really bad" between the two countries, the second diplomat said. Saudi officials realised that "they cannot survive on their own" and must depend on American security support, he said.
News Article | April 17, 2017
A little over two months since the inauguration, the Trump administration has begun to issue executive orders, make appointments and reveal positions on tax and trade issues, and the energy industry is reading the tea leaves. A gathering late last month offered a look at what people are thinking. Some of it might surprise you, including the reactions from industry to dropping environmental regulations. The workshop, hosted by the Gutierrez Energy Management Institute, part of the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, operated under the Chatham House rule of no attribution to individuals or their employers. That encouraged an open discussion among participants from the major sectors of the energy business (upstream, midstream, downstream and power). A series of sector panels set the context for discussions. The decision to dismantle environmental regulations tends to stir up grassroots activism without significant benefit in terms of returns for the oil and gas industry, as compliance from the previous administration has already been engineered into systems and work flow. Dealing with activism at the local and state levels is often more challenging than dealing with regulations at the federal level. In break-out sessions, workshop participants recognized the new administration is friendlier to the energy business than its predecessor, though energy policy seems a lower priority than health care, tax reform and immigration. Nevertheless, it was a refreshing change from the previous hostility to hydrocarbon fuels. There was concern that President Trump “risks doing exactly what President Obama did: leaving no long-term impact because of the unilateral executive branch decision-making that only has meaning while the incumbent is in office.” The roll-back of prior environmental orders through contrary executive orders amplifies divisiveness and makes productive legislation more difficult and long-term corporate planning for capital investments even more difficult. Participants were encouraged by administration support for energy infrastructure investments manifested by approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and by the promise of better access and more streamlined permitting for federal lands. But forcing the use of U.S. steel would cause project delays, increase costs, raise tariffs and reduce U.S. energy competitiveness. Furthermore, there was grave concern on the apparent incoherence of rhetoric on trade and tax reform with the nascent energy policy. All energy sectors depend on free access to export markets: upstream companies export light crude oil and natural gas; refiners and petrochemical companies leverage abundant and relatively inexpensive indigenous feedstocks into comparative advantage over international competitors; power companies benefit from enhanced infrastructure to optimize fuels supplies. Restrictions on trade and disputes over NAFTA would harm the whole industry, since Mexico and Canada are vital oil and gas trade partners for the U.S. Proposed tax reform would have implications for energy sectors that are difficult to predict.
News Article | May 30, 2017
At ExxonMobil (Proposal #11), Arjuna Capital and Baldwin Brothers Inc. are asking for a commitment to increase the total amount authorized for capital distributions (summing dividends and share buybacks) to shareholders as a prudent use of investor capital given growing climate-related risks of stranded carbon assets. This is the second year the shareholder proposal asking ExxonMobil to prioritize returning more capital to shareholders in light of increasingly risky investments in potentially stranded carbon assets will be put to the ballot. The company fought to exclude the proposal at the SEC two years running, but lost its challenges. The Exxon resolution is available online at: https://arjuna-capital.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/XOM-Proposal-Capital-Distributions_2017.pdf along with a memo to shareholders at: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/34088/000121465917003519/d511171px14a6g.htm Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, said: "Oil majors have to get real if they are going to successfully transition to a carbon-constrained world. Exxon and Chevron's continued investment in high-cost fossil fuel reserves in the face of global climate change, the Paris Climate Agreement, and disruptive technology development is no longer a prudent path forward for the companies or their investors. And simply denying climate risk is not a viable business plan. At Exxon, we believe a disciplined path would prioritize value over growth, by investing in the most profitable lower-carbon assets and returning a greater percentage of profits to shareholders. At Chevron, we are asking the company to disclose its plans to transition to a low carbon economy. Bottom line, investors need to understand if their capital is at risk or if there is a viable path forward." "The energy market is at a crossroads, "said As You Sow President Danielle Fugere, "low cost, low carbon technologies are competing head-on with traditional fossil-fuel based energy sources. We know who will ultimately win that match-up and it will not be high carbon energy resources. Companies like Chevron and Exxon must not only recognize this growing risk and disclose it to shareholders, but develop plans to strategically and creatively change their focus toward lower carbon, lower cost energy. We are looking forward to seeing our Companies' creative and strategic response." In releasing a July 2016 report on the growing risks facing oil majors, As You Sow stated: "Higher extraction costs. International supply competition. Falling profit margins. Mounting debt. Shrinking cash. Competing technologies. Rising regulatory risk. Social pressure due to climate change. Indicators are now flashing yellow for the oil industry, which is in danger of 'weakening' if major oil companies continue to operate as though they are in a business-as-usual environment …" In 2014, ExxonMobil wrote a report in response to Arjuna Capital/Baldwin Brothers and As You Sow on the potential for unburnable stranded carbon assets, following a landmark negotiation with shareholders. ExxonMobil has maintained that none of its carbon assets will be stranded, based on its internal projections of unabated global energy demand and a belief that global governments will not take meaningful action to curb global warming. Chatham House, the London-based Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs and 2nd most influential global think tank, advocates prioritizing capital distributions over reserve growth, stating, "A major new strategy for the IOCs [Integrated Oil Companies] could be to shrink their capital base to match specific demand; shareholders will then benefit from the value released from their shares." https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/international-oil-companies-death-old-business-model#sthash.VrQVWX2x.dpuf To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/arjuna-capital-exxon-chevron-face-major-shareholder-votes-wednesday-to-get-real-about-surviving-in-a-carbon-constrained-world-300465357.html
News Article | May 24, 2017
25 May, Washington, US, and online. TRADE, SECURITY, AND THE U.S.-MEXICO RELATIONSHIP. This event is being organised by the Brookings Institution’s Mexico Initiative and will feature a series of panel discussions that will explore the various dimensions of the US-Mexico relationship, including on trade. Please note that the event will also be webcast live. To learn more and to register, please visit the Brookings website. 25 May, Geneva, Switzerland. GLOBAL HEALTH R&D: HOW CAN WE BEST SET PRIORITIES BASED ON EVIDENCE? This event is being organised by the governments of Switzerland and South Africa, as well as the European Commission, and will be hosted by the Global Health Centre. The meeting will examine research and development (R&D) activities within the context of global health, examining different initiatives that are currently in place to help in setting priorities for future R&D financing. To learn more and to register, please visit the event website. 29-31 May, Dakar, Senegal. PRACTICAL WORKSHOP ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND TRADITIONAL CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS. This workshop is being organised by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and will focus on building knowledge and exchanging views on the subjects of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. To learn more, visit the WIPO website. 31 May-1 June, Almaty, Kazakhstan. WORKSHOP: EFFICIENT MANAGEMENT OF STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES. This workshop is being organised by the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) and will examine the challenges and prospects for reforming state-owned enterprises in Asia. The event will bring together government representatives from various countries in the region. Please note that attendance is by invitation only. For more information, please visit the ADBI website. An updated list of forthcoming WTO meetings is posted here. Please bear in mind that dates and times of WTO meetings are often changed, and that the WTO does not always announce the important informal meetings of the different bodies. Unless otherwise indicated, all WTO meetings are held at the WTO, Centre William Rappard, rue de Lausanne 154, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland, and are open to WTO members and accredited observers only. 30 May: Workshop on Aid for Trade 31 May: Committee on Trade and Development – Session on Aid for Trade 1 June: Working Party on the Accession of Comoros 2 June, Washington, US. INDIA’S SEARCH FOR PROSPERITY. This event is being organised by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and will feature economist Vijay Joshi as the guest speaker. Joshi will lead a discussion based on his book, India’s Long Road: The Search for Prosperity, which examines the evolution of the Indian economy and the roles of different actors in this context. Joshi will be part of a panel featuring speakers from the International Monetary Fund and the Carnegie Endowment. To learn more and to register, please visit the Carnegie website. 12 June, Geneva, Switzerland. DISCIPLINING FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES: A CONTRIBUTION OF THE TRADE SYSTEM TO CLIMATE MITIGATION AND SDGS. This roundtable is being organised by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) as part of the E15 Initiative, which is jointly implemented with the World Economic Forum. The focus of this event will be looking at trade tools and how these can be used to help discipline subsidies for fossil fuels. The meeting will include both WTO negotiators and experts in the field. Please note that attendance is by invitation only. To learn more, visit the ICTSD website. 14 June, London, UK. BREXIT, TRUMP AND THE FUTURE OF THE TRANSATLANTIC ALLIANCE. This Chatham House event will examine the implications of Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump for the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. The event’s guest speaker will be Sir Nigel Sheinwald GCMG, who is a Visiting Professor at King’s College London Department of War Studies, and was previously the UK’s ambassador to the United States and the UK’s permanent representative to the European Union. Please note that attendance is by invitation only. To learn more, visit the Chatham House website. 20 June, Brussels, Belgium. INTERNATIONAL FORUM ON WOMEN AND TRADE. This event is being hosted jointly by the European Commission and the International Trade Centre, bringing together stakeholders from a range of backgrounds with the goal of building support for empowering women through trade. A full event agenda is available online. To learn more and the register, please visit the European Commission website. 30 June – 2 July, Geneva, Switzerland. FIFTH GLOBAL REVIEW OF AID FOR TRADE: “REDUCING TRADE COSTS FOR INCLUSIVE, SUSTAINABLE GROWTH.” This biennial WTO event will feature over 50 sessions focusing on the Aid for Trade Initiative, as well as how to address the issue of trade costs in the context of the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Please note that registration closes on 26 June. To learn more, please visit the WTO website. 26-28 September, Geneva, Switzerland. WTO PUBLIC FORUM 2017. This year’s edition of the WTO’s outreach event will have as its theme “Trade: Behind the Headlines.” The meeting will aim to look at the real-life implications of trade, as opposed to rhetoric, and will also look at how trade can support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and related issues. A call for proposals is currently open for those who wish to organise sessions at this year’s forum, with a due date of 4 June 2017. To learn more, please visit the WTO website.
News Article | May 29, 2017
Donors to Mozambique are hoping the ruling party will flush out officials who profited from the "tuna bond" scandal, after a forensic report into the affair was completed by accounting firm Kroll, reports the Financial Times. “Donors will be upset if nothing happens,” said one western diplomat. “I don’t think that Nyusi [the president of Mozambique] would have agreed to the audit if he wasn’t prepared to follow up.” “It’s the $2 billion question,” said one diplomat in Maputo, referring to the debt Mozambique defaulted on last year. However, having united in their call for an audit, donors may be divided over what the next step to relieve the country's debt burden should be, said Alex Vines, Africa director at Chatham House. “The politics of [the audit] will be compromise." The "tuna bond" scandal began four years ago with a $850 million sovereign-backed bond for a new tuna fishing fleet. This sparked an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange and the UK's Financial Services Authority into mis-selling bonds, after it emerged some of the funds were used to buy gunboats and were possibly misappropriated. Click here for the full story.
News Article | May 25, 2017
Yang Qichang walks through his “plant factory” atop the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, inspecting trays of tomato vines that may help farmers slip the stranglehold that toxins have on China’s food supply. The containers are stacked like bunk beds, with each vine wrapped in red and blue LED lights that evoke tiny Christmas trees. Yang is testing which parts of the visible-light spectrum are optimal for photosynthesis and plant growth while using minimal energy. He’s having some success. With rows 10 feet high, Yang’s indoor patches of tomatoes, lettuce, celery and bok choy yield between 40 and 100 times more produce than a typical open field of the same size. There’s another advantage for using the self-contained, vertical system: outside, choking air pollution measures about five times the level the World Health Organization considers safe. “Using vertical agriculture, we don’t need to use pesticides and we can use less chemical fertilizers—and produce safe food,” said Yang, director of the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture. Yang’s government-funded research on vertical farming reflects the changing mindset of China’s leaders, who for decades preoccupied themselves with raising incomes for 1 billion-plus people. Runaway growth created the world’s second-biggest economy, yet the catalyzing coal mines and smokestacks filled the environment with poisons and ate up valuable farmland. That stew inhibits the nation’s ability to feed itself, and is one reason why China increasingly relies on international markets to secure enough food. For example, it imported about $31.2 billion of soybeans in 2015, an increase of 43 percent since 2008, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. About a third of that came from the U.S. Given the fluctuating state of trade relations with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and the increasing global competition for resources, China is turning to technology to make its land productive again. “We will undertake rigorous investigations on soil pollution, and develop and implement category-based measures to tackle this problem,” Premier Li Keqiang told the National People’s Congress in March. The silver bullet would be to eliminate emissions and industrial waste, an unrealistic option for a developing $11 trillion economy. Yet inventors and investors believe there are enough promising technologies to help China circumvent—and restore—lost agricultural productivity. Government money backs a variety of efforts to modernize farming and improve growers’ livelihoods. The state-run Agricultural Development Bank of China pledges 3 trillion yuan ($437 billion) in loans through 2020 to finance key projects promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture. By comparison, the value of U.S. agricultural production last year is forecast to be $405.2 billion. Favorable terms will be offered to projects trying to improve efficiency, increase the harvest, modernize farming operations and develop the seed industry to ensure grain supplies, the bank said. The loan program also intends to stimulate overseas investment in agriculture by Chinese companies. The biggest example would be state-owned China National Chemical Corp.’s planned acquisition of Switzerland’s Syngenta AG for $43 billion. That will give ChemChina access to the intellectual property, including seed technology, of one of the largest agri-businesses. Yet China is reluctant to unleash genetically modified foods into its grocery stores. The government doesn’t allow planting of most GMO crops, including pest-resistant rice and herbicide-resistant soybeans, especially as an October survey in the northern breadbasket of Heilongjiang province showed that 90 percent of respondents oppose GMOs. China will carry out a nationwide poll on the technology next month. “China’s past food-safety problems have caused the public to distrust the government when it comes to new food technologies,” said Sam Geall, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London. About a fifth of China's arable land contains levels of toxins exceeding national standards, the government said in 2014. That's more than half the size of California. About 14 percent of domestic grain is laced with such heavy metals as cadmium, arsenic and lead, scientists at government-affiliated universities wrote in 2015. The danger is most evident in industrial coastal provinces, where many of the world’s iPhones and Nikes are manufactured. The government of Guangdong province, adjacent to Hong Kong, said in 2013 that 44 percent of the rice sampled locally was laced with excessive cadmium, which can damage organs and weaken bones if consumed regularly in high quantities. That’s where Yang’s “plant factories” would come in. For now, the greenhouse-like structures are mostly demonstrations as he tries to improve their energy efficiency and make their produce more affordable to consumers—and a better investment for the government. Yang’s work is supported by an $8 million government grant. “With the challenges our agriculture is facing, including China’s rapid urbanization and the increasing need for safe food, plant factories and vertical agriculture will undergo a big development in China,” he said. “There will be many ways to farm in big cities.” He isn’t alone in hunting for techniques to grow untainted food in the concrete jungle. A Beijing startup called Alesca Life Technologies is using retrofitted shipping containers to farm leafy greens. A demonstration model is parked atop metal stilts in an alley between a Japanese restaurant and a block of office buildings in Beijing. Inside, co-founder Stuart Oda, a former investment banker for Bank of America Merrill Lynch in the U.S. and Japan, checks on rows of planters sprouting peas, mustard, kale and arugula under LED bulbs. Alesca Life’s smartphone app allows growers to monitor air and water conditions remotely. “Agriculture has not really innovated materially in the past 10,000 years,” Oda said. “The future of farming—to us—is urban.” The containers can sell for $45,000 to $65,000 each, depending on the specifications, Oda said. Alesca Life sold portable, cabinet-sized units to a division of the Swire Group, which manages luxury hotels in Beijing, and the royal family of Dubai. The startup hasn’t publicly disclosed its fundraising. Shunwei Capital Partners, a Beijing-based fund backed by Xiaomi Corp. founder Lei Jun, has invested in 15 rural and agriculture-related startups in China, including one that makes sensors for tracking soil and air quality. Shunwei manages more than $1.75 billion and 2 billion yuan across five funds. “For agriculture technology to be adopted on a wider scale, it needs to be efficient and cost-effective,” said Tuck Lye Koh, the founding partner. That’s one reason why Shunwei is backing agricultural drones, which more precisely spray fertilizers and the chemicals that ward off crop-destroying pests and diseases. As China’s farmland dwindled because of urbanization, the remaining growers attempted to boost yields by soaking fields with fertilizers and pesticides, degrading the soil and contaminating the crops. Farmers in China use four-and-a-half times more fertilizer per hectare (2.4 acres) of arable land than farmers in North America, according to the World Bank. “There’s overuse of fertilizers in every country, but especially China,” said Jeremy Rifkin, whose books include “The Third Industrial Revolution.” “The crops can’t even absorb the amount of fertilizers that are being dumped.” As dawn squints over cornfields on Hainan island, a pastel-blue truck rumbles down the gravel road and stops. Workers emerge with a pair of drones made by Shenzhen-based DJI and a cluster of batteries. Zhang Yourong, the farmer managing 270 mu (44 acres), arrives in a pickup loaded with pesticide bottles. The crew adds water and pours the milky concoction into 10-liter plastic canisters suspended under the drones. The stalks part like the wake of a boat as the drones fly over. Every 10 minutes, the eight-armed machines return, and the crew refills canisters and changes batteries. Zhang used to hire four or five workers to walk the fields with backpack sprayers for five days. Now, the drones cover his crops in a morning and use 30 percent less chemicals, he said. That’s what the government needs to hear as it tries to make China’s food supply safer. “This is much easier and much faster than before,” Zhang said. “This is the future. Many farmers are switching.” —Reporting by Christina Larson and Lulu Yilun Chen, assisted by Vicky Feng
News Article | May 24, 2017
WEBCAST: TALKING DISPUTES | THE RUSSIA – EU (PIGS) DISPUTE. Published by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). This video shows the discussions which took place on the Russia – EU (Pigs) WTO dispute during a 19 May event co-hosted by ICTSD and WTI Advisors. The video is available in full here. INVESTOR-STATE DISPUTE SETTLEMENT: REVIEW OF DEVELOPMENTS IN 2016. Published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) (May 2017). This latest edition of UNCTAD’s issues note on international investment arbitration examines the various cases and decisions issued in this field over the year 2016. The full issues note is available for download at the UNCTAD website. 2020 PROJECTIONS OF CLIMATE FINANCE TOWARDS THE USD 100 BILLION GOAL. Published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (22 May 2017). This new publication aims to support the efforts underway by developing economies to meet their goal of mobilising US$100 billion in climate finance by the end of this decade for developing countries. To access the publication, please visit the OECD’s iLibrary. THE PAYOFF TO AMERICA FROM GLOBALIZATION: A FRESH LOOK WITH A FOCUS ON COSTS TO WORKERS. By Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Zhiyao Lu for the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) (May 2017). This policy brief calculates the gains for the United States from trade expansion during the period of 1950-2016, estimating these to be approximately US$2.1 trillion. The authors call for increased liberalisation in trade and improved programmes for displaced workers. To download the full document, please visit PIIE website. LEVERAGING GLOBAL PRODUCTION NETWORKS. By the Asian Development Bank (ADB) (May 2017). This study examines the potential gains for India’s new economic corridors in relation to global value chains and production networks, with the authors reviewing India’s case relative to other economies. To download this study, please visit the ADB website. AS TRUMP WEIGHS PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT 6 WAYS THE WORLD HAS CHANGED. By Nathan Hultman for the Brookings Institution (May 2017). This op-ed presents six key shifts in climate change in recent decades, presenting these as issues for the Trump Administration to consider as they weigh their approach to the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change. Hultman argues that the Paris Agreement has the best structure that could be achieved while balancing international action and national needs. To view this op-ed, please visit the Brookings Institution website. STAYING CONNECTED: KEY ELEMENTS FOR UK-EU27 ENERGY COOPERATION AFER BREXIT. By Anthony Froggatt, Georgina Wright, and Matthew Lockwood for Chatham House (May 2017). This paper examines future energy policy negotiations between the UK and EU27 post-Brexit, including where the two sides may be able to reach convergence. The authors further argue in favour of establishing a new pan-European energy partnership. To download this paper, please visit the Chatham House website.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 410.94K | Year: 2012
This proposal seeks to build on the achievements of the Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies (CEELBAS) in building UK capacity to understand and respond to developments in the strategically-important region of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. The three development pathways outlined here are designed to enhance impact, particularly through interaction and engagement with non-academic communities, with a specific focus on the Humanities and Language elements of CEELBAS research and training (although the Centre will promote interdisciplinarity and will explore other funding sources to continue specifically social science-based activities). Phase 2 of CEELBAS offers a significant opportunity to underline and showcase the vital contributions made by Humanities and Language expertise in addressing major research and policy challenges in areas such as the changing global order, migration and mobility, security and stability, health and wellbeing, and inter-cultural relations. A major goal in the new phase of the project will be to clarify and promote the conceptual and practical (economic, political, social) impacts beyond academe that have been and will be generated by research in the fields of History and Culture. Drawing on networks and partnerships established since 2006, and developing new ones, the first pathway aims to create sustainable knowledge exchange relationships with public, private and third-sector organisations through both collaborative events and, where feasible, internships and placements. Efforts will be made to demonstrate the mutual benefits of interaction and exchange between researchers and external partners. In order to achieve enhanced impacts, the project will disseminate the knowledge produced by leading edge research beyond academic institutions and environments, whilst giving researchers increased access to the knowledge, perspectives and feedback of user organisations. The second pathway centres on international research networks and exchanges, through which the numerous international contacts and partnerships at CEELBAS universities will be developed to enable UK and international researchers to collaborate and share expertise, including in areas of knowledge exchange and user engagement. This aims to raise the international profile and connectedness of UK research, helping to create a vibrant research environment in which different insights and approaches are shared and applied across borders. The third pathway aims to build capacity in research and language skills training networks for postgraduates. This includes training for knowledge exchange, public and media engagement, and interaction with non-academic audiences. Building on successful CEELBAS training initiatives developed since 2006, this pathway seeks to put in place the resources and infrastructure to deliver sustainable, cost-effective and innovative provision in advanced language and research skills. The pathway activities aim to develop a template for best practice that will be applicable beyond the East European area studies research community (and its users), particularly, for example, in supporting future LBAS development for other regions, such as South Asia and Latin America. More broadly, CEELBAS aims to show innovation and leadership in promoting research excellence and knowledge exchange, and in providing training and career opportunities for postgraduate and early-career researchers. This will help to ensure that Humanities and language-based expertise at UK universities continues to play a central role in addressing issues of strategic national importance and in advancing international cooperation and intercultural communication and exchange.