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Thinking for a cooler world

Sonia Phalnikar | Ideas

Climate change linked to more violence

Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Santiago Medem/flickr: small changes in average temperatures or rainfall can cause people to become more aggressive and resort to violence. That’s what a new study published in Science by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley claims. The researchers say there’s a “substantial” correlation between climate and conflict, including domestic and ethnic violence.

Their examples include an increase in domestic violence in India during recent droughts, and a spike in assaults, rapes and murders during heatwaves in the US. The researchers also say that with the current projected levels of climate change by 2050, the world is likely to be a more violent place. They estimate that frequency of violence between individual people could rise by 8 to 16 percent and conflicts between groups by as much as 28 to 56 percent.

Marshall Burke, from the University of California, Berkeley, said: “This is a relationship we observe across time and across all major continents around the world. The relationship we find between these climate variables and conflict outcomes are often very large.”

The researchers looked at 60 studies from around the world with data spanning hundreds of years. Some of the individual studies they examined looked, for instance, at whether people blow their horns more with rising temperatures or whether players at a baseball game are likely to play rougher. But they also studied rapes and murders, violence between groups such as conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in India, land conflicts in Brazil and civil wars in Africa.

The authors said that in all of the studies of modern societies they looked at, higher temperatures showed a correlation with rising rates of violence. Though the researchers say they do not want to attribute any single event to climate in particular, they say economic and even psychological reasons – with some studies suggesting that heat causes people to be prone to aggression – could be at play.

“One of the main mechanisms that seems to be at play is changes in economic conditions. We know that climate affects economic conditions around the world, particularly agrarian parts of the world,“ Burke said. “There is lots of evidence that changes in economic conditions affect people’s decisions about whether or not to join a rebellion, for example.”

It’s not the first time that a warming climate has been linked to climate. The United Nations has warned that the growing number of climate refugees displaced by extreme weather could lead to conflict. The UN estimates that between 150 to 200 million people will be forced to flee climate changes by 2050.


August 3, 2013



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Sonia Phalnikar | Ideas

Mafia launders dirty money in clean energy

Wind farms are attracting much attention from the Italian mafia (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Peter Rood)

We recently reported on corruption in the climate change industry. Now, a new report by the European Union’s police authority, Europol, says the Italian mafia is increasingly zooming in on clean energy projects such as wind farms in Italy as a way of laundering their illegal money.

The report say that green schemes in Italy “offer attractive opportunities to benefit from generous EU grant and tax subsidies.”

Though Italy is struggling with recession and unemployment, the renewables industry in the country is booming. Reports suggest the Italian government, helped by EU funds to promote clean energy, has provided more than $75 billion to producers of wind and solar energy over the past six years, leading to surging revenues.

That boom, the Europol report says, as well as the legal business structures that the renewable projects offer make the industry attractive to the mafia.

“The Italian mafia is investing more and more in renewable energy, especially in wind farms, to profit from generous European grants paid for by member states which allow them to mix dirty money with legitimate economic activities,” the report said.

In April this year, Italy made its biggest confiscation of mafia assets in history, including dozens of alternative energy companies worth a total of over $1.6 billion, according to news agency Reuters.

The owner Vito Nicastri, a 57-year-old businessman , once dubbed the “Lord of the Wind” because of his vast wind farm holdings, invested money made from extortion, drug sales, and other illicit activities for a heavyweight in Sicily’s Cosa Nostra crime group.


July 7, 2013



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claudij | Ideas

Water blog Part I – can virtual water tackle a looming crisis?

The “water footprint” is the total amount of water used to produce goods and services (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Thor/

In 2010, UN Resolution 64/292 explicitly recognized the human right to clean water and sanitation, acknowledging that they are essential to the realization of all human rights. The numbers are staggering. The UN claims that 783 million people had no access to clean water in 2012.

But according to Asit Biswas, a former member of the World Commission on Water, the real figures are probably much higher.  “Look at South Asia alone. Some 1.7 billion people live in this region. I challenge anyone to show me a single city or village where people have access to clean water. My guess is that some 2.3 billion people are now without access to clean water”,  Biswas told The European.

So is the world fast running out of clean water, or is it all a question of better water management? And if so what could it look like? This three-part blog series by Julian Claudi will focus on several proposed and partly tried and tested methods and techniques for improving the situation.

We start off by taking a closer look at virtual water trading and real water trading. What’s the deal with these concepts? They’re not really new terms and a lot has been said and done about them for several years. But could they become tools for a solution?

The Virtual Water conceptreveals how much water it takes to produce any product. It refers to the “hidden” water use embedded in products and helps us realize how much water is needed to produce the goods we use and the food we eat. For instance, for one cup of coffee about 140 liters of water is needed. That includes the water used in growing, producing, packaging and shipping the beans that went into that cup of coffee. Read more:

Few are aware of the “hidden” amounts of water that goes into the goods and food we consume daily (Photo credit: Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Ian Murphy/

Virtual water trade refers to the flow of water if food or other commodities are traded from one place to another. That means there is a virtual flow of water from producing and exporting countries to countries that consume and import those commodities.

A new study by the EU commission has shown that agricultural products are by far the largest drain on water resources.  It says that the consumption water footprint of the average EU citizen is 4,815 litres per day, 40 percent of which is the result of imports from other countries, mainly cocoa, coffee and cotton. Comparing imports and exports showed that the EU28 is a net importer of ‘virtual’ water.

John Anthony Allen, a British geographer is widely credited with creating and popularizing the idea of “virtual water” with his book, Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to our Planet’s Most Precious Resources.  “Our ignorance is immense,”  Allen has said. “Most of us don’t have the slightest idea about the sheer volumes of water involved in our daily lives.” He was awarded the the Stockholm Water Prize in 2008 for his contributions.

So would it make sense to use virtual water calculations for a global trading system? Opinions are divided. Much like the criticism surrounding carbon emission trading between industrialized nations and developing ones,  critics of the virtual water trade concept argue that several aspects carry negative consequences for the poorest countries like rising dependency on external water resources or the possibility given by trade to “exploit” water resources in other parts of the world.

A paper written for Germany’s Helmholtz Center for Environment Research  says global interlinkages of water resources induced by trade can worsen gaps between nations.

“Feelings of unfairness arise due to the fact that those countries which are endowed with the most abundant water resources and thus are able to supply virtual water to the arid countries of the South (the Big Five), belong to the group of wealthy industrial countries, which are able to influence agricultural trade in many ways. On the one hand, high levels of protection in the form of tariffs and quotas, especially of the European Union, the USA and Japan, are criticised for being a major constraint for ‘the development of the virtual water market’”.

In contrast, hydrologist Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, sees the virtual water system as a water saving solution, concluding “that in most scenarios the total amount of virtual water trade will decrease by 2030, but the amount of water saved as a result of the trade will increase.

The whole virtual water phenomenon has also led to a debate on water trading markets, which some say have the potential to revolutionize the way water is managed.

Yet, the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) says in the study “Water Governance in the 21st Century: Lessons from Water Trading in the U.S. and Australia” that allocation of water should not be based on commodification and economic efficiency alone.

“The national water sector reforms underway in many countries should consider the hidden costs of existing market based approaches, and should be premised on the notion of water as a commons, available first and foremost for public purposes (including the realization of right to water and right to food).”

Millions of people around the world lack access to clean water (Photo credit:CC BY 2.0: John O’Nolan/

Finally, one thing most experts seem to agree on is that the virtual water concept does raise awareness about the daily water consumption in the western world. 

But at the same time it appears that as long as the concept of virtual water is inextricably linked with the current prevalent global economic trade system, there is always the risk of an ineffectiveness of the system causing unjust financial advantages and a distraction from the search for other solutions.

Some experts such as Maude Barlow, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, warn of water’s close links to the international trading system.

“We’ve got to stop thinking that the water wars of the future will be on a battlefield somewhere, they’re going to be on the grain markets, the stock markets and grain trading as part of the international trading system. It is about the water that has been pulled into this profit-making mostly food production and it’s very dangerous,” Barlow said.


July 5, 2013



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Sonia Phalnikar | Ideas

A phone call against climate corruption

Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Erik Hersman/

Kenyans can anonymously call a hotline to report corruption

Fighting climate change has spawned a massive industry with vast sums of money sloshing around relatively new and untested channels. That has opened the door to bribery and corruption.  Our reporter Franziska Badenschier has more.

Transparency International’s anti-corruption hotline in its Kenya office recently received a disturbing call. The caller claimed that someone was planning to build a private crematorium on a piece of public land on the coast and clear mangroves in the area. Judy Ndichu and her colleagues at the “Advocacy and Legal Advisory Center” at Transparency International in Nairobi were alarmed.

“For one, mangrove forests are a fragile ecosystem and on the other hand, they form a barrier to protect the mainland since most coastal areas in Kenya are threatened by rising sea levels. In addition, this is a protected forest area,” Judy Ndichu said. She was speaking at a recent event organized by the Forum for International Cooperation for Sustainable Development (f.ize) in Berlin.

The call prompted Ndichu and her colleagues to dig deeper into the issue. “We found that a million Kenyan shillings (around 8,800 Euros) had changed hands in the form of bribes so that the case wouldn’t get out in the public sphere,” Ndichu, who works for the “Climate Finance Integrity Program” at Transparency International, said. Ndichu’s team handed over the case to the National Environment Management Authority and Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission. “Finally, the project was stripped of its license,” Ndichu said. It may sound like a small victory against corruption in the environment and climate sector. But for Judy Ndichu, that’s better than not reporting it at all.

The case is by no means an exception in the booming sector that has emerged to fight climate change. The issue was the focus of the “Global Corruption Report  in 2011. “The efforts to rein in climate change and react to it will come with a huge price tag,” the report said. When huge sums of money flow through new and untested financial markets and mechanisms, there is always a risk of corruption, it said. Estimates suggest that $700 billion will be invested by 2020 in measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change. And each year, at least $250 billion in public funds will flow through channels that are “new, relatively uncoordinated and untested,” the report said, adding the situation was certainly vulnerable to bribery and corruption.

That’s why the African Central Bank, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Bank and other international institutes have long grappled with the best way to spur honest people to report about corruption and abuse in the fight against climate change. “In Kenya, for instance, these multilateral institutions have set up their own complaint cells,” a member of Transparency International in Berlin said.

But that could lead to problems too. A potential whistleblower in Kenya could be forgiven for being confused about which office to approach with a complaint. Besides, how do you ensure that the whistleblower is protected so that he’s not hounded later by those he exposes? Transparency International’s answer to that is setting up a central hotline.

“The anti-corruption helpline. Call 0800-720-721 or text 3129 for FREE assistance on CORRUPTION-related cases.” That’s what it says on stickers plastered, for instance, on taxis in Kenya. Since the end of last year, Kenyans can anonymously call the number to complain about corruption and bribery in any sector whether climate, health or education.

So what’s the watchdog’s verdict six months on? “We get an average of 64 calls each month and around five of those relate to climate issues,” July Ndichu said. The land grabbing case on the coast was one of them. Judy Ndichu hopes the hotline will prompt further calls and shed light on shady deals and corruption in the country.


July 1, 2013



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Klaus Esterluß | Ideas

The President calls to act – Obama’s climate speech

US-President Barack Obama gave a speech on climate change yesterday. His words could lead to a milestone-process for US climate politics. He made clear that the United States have to play a leading role in the world’s ambitions to tackle global warming.
The plans the president rolled out are foreseeable wide-ranging, including a limit on carbon pollution for the first time in US history.

Emissions need to fall by 17 percent until 2020, the President said. This will “put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution.”

The emissons already dropped last in 2012 on the lowest amount in 20 years. But not for climate security reasons. The moderate economic developement of the United States and the growing use of natural gas (which has an lower amount of carbon dioxide) rather were responsible for the decreasing numbers.

The exact plans

According to the speech he held in Washington, the United States would boost the production of renewable energy, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

So what exactly the president wants to happen?

The energy that is harnessed from sun and wind should be doubled, according to Obama. That makes a power supply for more than six million househoulds in the US. The president also spoke about the highly debated Keystone Pipeline-project, that is planed to transport tar sand-oil from Canada to refineries at the Gulf of Mexico. This pipeline will only be build if it „does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.“

Another point was the building of a new nuclear power plant, the first one in 30 years. In opposition to Germany for example US still count on nuclear power as a green and save source of energy.

Impacts for the private sector

Obamas plans also reach for the private sector as well. Besides a fuel consumption that is now enlarged from cars to trucks the President wants to fight the waste of energy in private homes, public buildings or companies by supporting building insulation or energy saving light sources.

So, the speech offers a lot of plans. But what can be done? Nothing can be established immediatly, there’s always a long process about a few years. And Obamas presidency lasts for three more years. But at least the plans would be put in place through an executive order, bypassing the Congress, which has stalemated over climate legislation in recent years.

During his presentation the audience could literally see what all this is about: The oppressive heat of June often forced beads of sweat on the presidents forehead.


June 26, 2013



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