Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turton: Petition against assault on academic freedom

Following the highly controversial suspension of Dr Tony Turton from the CSIR, please stand up for academic freedom and sign this petition.

For background on the Turton case read Environment News, The Times, Business Day and Engineering News.

What if AIDS was treated with ARVs?

Bottom-line: 330 000 lives could have been saved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Real world impact of ecosystem valuation

Many environmental economists and ecologists seem to find common ground in the language of valuing "ecosystem goods and services". Since the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, numerous reports have been produced on the topic.  An increasingly important question that is being asked is whether this is all worth the effort.  Does it really make such a difference to provide an economic argument for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems? Would it not be better to just frame an ecological or biodiversity argument?  These questions are very relevant as a typical EGS valuation study does take a lot of effort, discipline and can be quite costly.

A new report 'Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Strategic Environmental Assessment. Lessons from Influential Case Studies' released by the Netherlands Commission on Environmental Assessment provides evidence that results are indeed emerging on a policy level.  

The main messages are as follows:
1. Recognising ecosystems services enhances transparent and engaged decision making
2. Insights in the distribution of ecosystem service benefits highlights poverty and equity issues
3. Valuation of ecosystem services directly facilitates sustainability

4. SEA and planning processes are enhanced by the identification and quantification of ecosystem services

5.  Valuation of ecosystem services is more influential with decision makers 

6.  Methodological complexities do not necessarily hinder influential decision making 

7.  SEA provides a platform to put valuation results in a societal context 

In a nutshell, the value of such a economic valuation of EGS approach is that all beneficiaries are identified and included as stakeholders, all values are taken into account and the distribution of such value can be explicitly included, ecosystems are immediately embedded in socio-economic realities and development needs of the area/city/region/country and the economic value of nature's services communicates far easier to policy makers concerned with poverty and development then biodiversity concepts on its own. 

Ecosystems have a value. Proper investment in such ecosystems improves human well-being and can save households, firms, farmers and authorities a lot of money. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Steady increase in greenhouse gases

Despite Kyoto and much talk about climate change, greenhouse gases of 40 industrialised nations are on the increase (again). 

Greenhouse gas emissions of 40 industrialized countries rose by 2.3 per cent between 2000 and 2006, while still about 5 per cent below the 1990 level, according to United Nations figures released today, two weeks before a major review conference on the issue.
For the smaller group of industrialized countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol setting reduction targets, emissions in 2006 were about 17 per cent below the Protocol’s 1990 base line, but they still grew after 2000. The pre-2000 decrease stemmed from the economic decline of transition countries in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1990s.

Africa is expected to be particularly vulnerable to climatic variability. For Africans this is not good news.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Open access Journal on Economics

Economics is a pathbreaking journal that captures the advantages of some highly successful natural science journals. It adopts an open source approach to publication, viewing research as a cooperative enterprise between authors, editors, referees, and readers.

Economics aims to cover all the main areas of economics. This is not a journal for a select field of economics.  For example, one environmental economic article caught my eye:
The Social Cost of Carbon by Prof Richard Tol

Click here to become a registered reader.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa: Hydrocarbons to the rescue?

Sub-saharan Africa is going through a hydrocarbon boom. Will this help alleviate poverty? The potential is there, but do not expect miracles without open and transparent governments.


Could revenues in oil- and gas-rich sub-Saharan African countries 

alleviate energy poverty? 

n Oil and gas exports in the top-ten producing sub-Saharan African countries are set 

to grow steadily to 2030, providing the means for alleviating poverty and expanding 

energy access. In the Reference Scenario, in which no change in government policies is 

assumed, their oil exports rise from 5.1 mb/d in aggregate in 2007 to 6.4 mb/d in 2030. Gas 

exports, largely as liquefied natural gas (LNG), increase from 21.6 bcm in 2006 to 130 bcm 

in 2030. These projections hinge on a reduction in gas flaring, adequate investment and 

avoidance of disruption to supplies through civil unrest. The ten countries flared 40 bcm 

in 2005 — almost three times the entire region’s gas consumption. These countries could 

make direct use of their gas resources by using currently flared gas for power generation 

or distributing it in cities. The liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) extracted from natural gas or 

produced in refineries can provide a low-cost source of supply for distribution networks. 

n Less than a third of households in the majority of oil- and gas-rich countries have access 

to electricity or to clean fuels for cooking, like LPG, kerosene, biogas and ethanol 

gelfuel. About 150 000 people, mainly women and children, die prematurely each year in 

these countries because of indoor air pollution from burning traditional fuels – essentially 

fuelwood and charcoal – for cooking in inefficient stoves or open fires. In the absence of new 

policy initiatives, the number of people living without electricity and relying on fuelwood 

and charcoal for cooking rises over the Outlook period, as the population grows. 

n Government revenues from oil and gas are set to rise strongly, giving these countries 

the means to speed up economic and social development and alleviate poverty. The 

government take in the top ten oil- and gas-producing countries is projected to rise from 

some $80 billion in 2006 to about $250 billion in 2030. Nigeria and Angola account for 86% 

of the $4.1 trillion cumulative revenues of all ten countries over 2006-2030. All these 

countries desperately need sustained and sustainable economic development. Modern 

energy services are a crucial prerequisite, bringing major benefits to public health, social 

welfare and economic productivity. In most of the countries, improving energy access 

will entail fundamental political, institutional and legislative reform, as well as efforts 

to strengthen the capability of regional and local authorities to implement programmes 

and to expand access to credit. 

n The upfront cost of expanding access to modern energy is small relative to the wealth 

that these countries’ hydrocarbon resources will generate. An estimated $18 billion is 

needed to achieve universal access to electricity and to LPG cooking stoves and cylinders 

– a mere 0.4% of the projected cumulative government revenues from oil and gas export 

revenues in 2007-2030. The cost relative to the government take in Equatorial Guinea, 

Angola and Gabon is only 0.1%. 

n Sub-Saharan Africa’s hydrocarbon-resource wealth will lead to economic development 

only if governments manage wisely and honestly the development of the sector 

and the revenues that accrue. An improvement in the efficiency and transparency of 

revenue allocation and the accountability of governments in the use of public funds 

would improve the likelihood that oil and gas revenues are actually used to alleviate 

poverty generally and energy poverty specifically.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Night Time Light as proxy poverty indicator

Tired of breaking your head on how to construct comparable measures of poverty? Remotely sensed data on artificial night time light may be a good proxy.  From a study published by Noor et al in in Population Health Metrics: 

Population health is linked closely to poverty. To assess the effectiveness of health interventions it is critical to monitor the spatial and temporal changes in the health indicators of populations and outcomes across varying levels of poverty. Existing measures of poverty based on income, consumption or assets are difficult to compare across geographic settings and are expensive to construct. Remotely sensed data on artificial night time lights (NTL) have been shown to correlate with gross domestic product in developed countries.

Notice any differences?

Obama's Green Revolution?

From WSJ, Environmental Capital:

In a video message prepared for a global-warming summit in California, Mr. Obama seems to say that battling climate change will be in the leadoff slot, with the clean-energy program batting cleanup (hat tip):

My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process. That will start with a federal cap-and-trade system. We’ll establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050. Further, we’ll invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private-sector efforts to build a clean-energy future.

If this is indeed the case it will send a strong signal to take carbon constraints seriously.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On resilience and the financial crises

The Stockholm Resilience Centre reports on 'Buzz' Holling's theory of (ecological) resilience and the importance for understanding the current financial crises:

Politicians and policy-makers all over the world struggle to stabilize the global financial system. But perhaps regulations and command-and-control won´t do much good. Instead, governments should take a closer look at the research on resilience - the capacity of an eco-system to cope with shock and then rebuild and renew itself. For more see here

Herman Daly, renowned ecological economist earlier had this to say on the crises:

The current financial debacle is really not a “liquidity” crisis as it is often euphemistically called. It is a crisis of overgrowth of financial assets relative to growth of real wealth—pretty much the opposite of too little liquidity. Financial assets have grown by a large multiple of the real economy—paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities. It should be no surprise that the relative value of the vastly more abundant financial assets has fallen in terms of real assets. 

Seems like Holling and Daly can have a creative chat on finding a balance between regulations, incentives and management designed to improve the overall system and interventions to increase the systems' overall ability to cope with shocks.

For more on Daly's response see here.
For Holling's own reflections on his work see here.