Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Solar panels empower indigenous people in Canada's north

BEHCHOKO, Northwest Territories, Canada, Oct 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Daniel T’seleie, an indigenous activist in Canada’s far north, is campaigning to help his people wean themselves from a worrying dependence on imported fuel and food, recover old traditions and win greater autonomy from the government.

Daniel T’seleie

In a region with nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer, one way to help meet his goals seems obvious: more solar power.

“Right now a lot of communities in the Northwest Territories are dependent on diesel-generated electricity, along with store-bought food,” said T’seleie in an open air interview near Behchoko, a clutch of small wooden houses nestled along the shores of Great Slave Lake.

Standing beside spindly jack pine trees growing from thin soil on the hard granite rock that covers much of northern Canada, T’seleie sees renewable energy as the force which could respond to the region’s complex, intertwined challenges.

Canada’s north is particularly vulnerable to global warming, which is making it harder for indigenous people to continue their traditions of hunting and trapping on the land, as ice sheets melt and caribou herds collapse.

And although indigenous people want what they call a “nation to nation” relationship with the Canadian government, they largely depend on it for diesel fuel in order to keep warm.

By harnessing renewable energy, T’seleie believes indigenous communities could gain more freedom from the state and revive ancient cultural practices, while doing their part to combat climate change which is hitting them particularly hard.

“Any way that communities can produce energy at a local level produces independence,” said the 34-year-old, sporting a baseball cap and jeans, the informal dress common in Canada’s rugged north.


The Northwest Territories has seen a surge in the use of solar power over the last five years, after the regional government spent about $50 million to boost renewable energy production and improve efficiency, said Jim Sparling, the territory’s senior climate change manager.

“On a per capita basis, we are second only to Ontario (Canada’s most populous province) for installed solar capacity,” Sparling told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the territorial capital Yellowknife.

The huge and sparsely populated northern territory has fewer than 50,000 residents, about half of whom are indigenous, many from the Dene Nation, a tribal people who traditionally hunt caribou.

Solar power still represents a fairly small part of its energy consumption, though the level is rising, said Sparling.

Private individuals and companies in the territory are also installing solar panels on their own to try and bring down their energy bills and cut dependence on imports, he said.

That combination of rising use of renewable and better energy efficiency has allowed the province to hold its climate-changing emissions stable at 2005 levels despite a rise in the population and a growing economy, Sparling said.

The territorial government plans to be part of a Canadian delegation going to Paris for a U.N. climate summit in December, aimed at reaching a new global agreement on climate change.

Average temperatures in parts of the northern territory have already risen more than 3 degrees from pre-industrial levels, Sparling said.

Scientists say average world temperatures should not rise more 2 degrees if the world is to avoid the worst disasters associated with global warming.

“We have to scale up the ambition,” Sparling said. “We are very vulnerable if this problem gets worse.”


North of the Arctic Circle, the village of Colville Lake, with fewer than 200 residents, is in the midst of a major switch from diesel power to solar.

Last year, the mostly indigenous community faced weekly power outages. But after a new solar power system was set-up, the area is now nearly self sufficient in electricity production during summer months when the sun shines almost round the clock.

It still needs to import fuel for the winter, but officials believe the new investments will lead to a 30 percent drop in diesel consumption, helping the environment and saving money.

Other small northern towns are looking to mimic the project to save cash and allow people to maintain traditional lifestyles by being less dependent on expensive imports.

“In the last 10 to 15 years there has been a huge push from (indigenous) communities to try and support themselves,” said Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an indigenous studies professor at Cape Breton University and a researcher on climate change impacts.

As global warming leads to the thinning of Arctic sea ice and changes in the habits of northern animals, the region’s indigenous inhabitants are struggling to adapt their lifestyles while holding onto old traditions, she said.

The caribou population has collapsed in parts of the territory in a development experts link to climate change, and melting ice makes it harder for hunters to navigate the land in search of other animals to hunt.

“The north is the fastest changing geography in the world,” Cunsolo Willox said in a phone interview. “There is a lot of concern that traditional knowledge and skills will be lost with climate change.”


Building greater self sufficiency - including by adapting cleaner, cheaper energy - may be a strategy for holding onto the old ways, activists say.

T’seleie, a law school graduate, said he previously tried to work through Canada’s court system and treaty negotiations to win greater autonomy for his people, after what he considers years of colonial abuses.

In the 1920s, Canadian colonial administrators declared the government’s aim was to “get rid of the Indian problem” by ending indigenous cultural practices, corralling the population into reserves and forcing aboriginal children into grim residential schools.

Canada’s government signed treaties with many indigenous groups, often in return for political support during periods of conflict, granting them access to parts of the land they once controlled and other benefits.

But many legal scholars and historians say the government did not honor those agreements in good faith.

After becoming disillusioned with the legal process, T’seleie decided working towards greater self-sufficiency in food and energy was the best way forward.

T’seleie is part of the first generation of indigenous people not forced to attend residential schools usually run by religious groups in other parts of Canada which took children from their parents, and forced them to speak English rather than native languages as a means of assimilation.

Sexual and physical abuse were rife at the institutions, the government now admits following years of litigation.

Health experts and indigenous leaders believe the legacy from these schools - including that many parents never learned how to raise children, as they were taken from their own parents - partially explain high rates of substance abuse, family violence and poverty in some indigenous communities.

Allowing people to stay on their ancestral land, continuing hunting and trapping practices, and learning stories and traditions from community elders are key to overcoming these problems, said Cunsolo Willox.

To support traditional practices and allow indigenous communities to live off the land as they have done for centuries, they need access to renewable energy, T’seleie said.

“A huge aspect of our lives, culture and language is lost when we can’t be on the land,” he said. “For me, that’s one of the biggest threats of climate change.” More


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

IEA Ministers Call for Successful COP 21

18 November 2015: The International Energy Agency (IEA) held its 2015 Ministerial meeting under the theme, ‘Innovation for a Clean, Secure Energy Future.’

According to the Summary of the Chair, Ernest Moniz, US Secretary of Energy, discussions focused on “the critical role that energy sector policies and energy innovation can play to successfully combat climate change.” Among the meeting outcomes was a statement calling for the successful outcome of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UNFCCC.

The IEA Ministerial Statement on Energy and Climate Change highlights five key opportunities for reducing emissions from the energy sector and advance the date that emissions peak. These opportunities are: increasing energy efficiency in the industry, buildings and transport sectors; phasing-out the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants; increasing investment in renewable energy technologies (including hydropower); gradual phasing out of inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users; and reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production.

In the context of COP 21, the ministers call for explicit recognition and a signal that an energy transformation is necessary to achieve climate goals and that the transformation is underway. They further pledge to support their negotiators to successfully conclude an ambitious agreement.

During the meeting, ministers heard from IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol on three pillars for modernizing the IEA, the first being the opening of the IEA’s doors to membership of emerging economies. On 16 November 2015, Mexico announced its decision to pursue membership of the IEA. The second pillar, according to Birol, is broadening the IEA’s core mandate of energy security, and the third pillar relates to “transforming the Agency to become a global hub for clean energy technologies and energy efficiency.” According to the Chair’s Summary, ministers also noted an analysis by the IEA Secretariat that energy efficiency is the “first fuel” and is supporting economic growth without increasing emissions.

The meeting was held 17-18 November 2015, in Paris, France. All 29 IEA countries were represented by ministers or other high-level officials at the meeting. Nine partner countries and 30 top business executives also attended. [IEA Press Release] [Chair’s Summary] [IEA Ministerial Statement on Energy and Climate Change]


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Saudi Arabia risks destroying Opec and feeding the Isil monster

The rumblings of revolt against Saudi Arabia and the Opec Gulf states are growing louder as half a trillion dollars goes up in smoke, and each month that goes by fails to bring about the long-awaited killer blow against the US shale industry.

Saudi Arabia is acting directly against the interests of half the cartel and is running Opec over a cliff. Helima Croft, RBC Capital Markets

Algeria’s former energy minister, Nordine Aït-Laoussine, says the time has come to consider suspending his country’s Opec membership if the cartel is unwilling to defend oil prices and merely serves as the tool of a Saudi regime pursuing its own self-interest. “Why remain in an organisation that no longer serves any purpose?” he asked.

Saudi Arabia can, of course, do whatever it wants at the Opec summit in Vienna on December 4. As the cartel hegemon, it can continue to flood the global market with crude oil and hold prices below $50.

It can ignore desperate pleas from Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria, among others, for concerted cuts in output in order to soak the world glut of 2m barrels a day, and lift prices to around $75. But to do so is to violate the Opec charter safeguarding the welfare of all member states.

“Saudi Arabia is acting directly against the interests of half the cartel and is running Opec over a cliff. There could be a total blow-out in Vienna,” said Helima Croft, a former oil analyst at the US Central Intelligence Agency and now at RBC Capital Markets

The Saudis need Opec. It is the instrument through which they leverage their global power and influence, much as Germany attains world rank through the amplification effect of the EU.

The 29-year-old deputy crown prince now running Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, has to tread with care. He may have inherited the steel will and vaulting ambitions of his grandfather, the terrifying Ibn Saud, but he has ruffled many feathers and cannot lightly detonate a crisis within Opec just months after entangling his country in a calamitous war in Yemen. “It would fuel discontent in the Kingdom and play to the sense that they don’t know what they are doing,” she said.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the oil price crash has cut Opec revenues from $1 trillion a year to $550bn, setting off a fiscal crisis that has already been going on long enough to mutate into a bigger geostrategic crisis.

Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Oman’s (non-Opec) oil minister, said the Saudi bloc has blundered into a trap of their own making - a view shared by many within Saudi Arabia itself.

“If you have 1m barrels a day extra in the market, you just destroy the market. We are feeling the pain and we’re taking it like a God-driven crisis. Sorry, I don’t buy this, I think we’ve created it ourselves,” he said.

The Saudis tell us with a straight face that they are letting the market set prices, a claim that brings a wry smile to energy veterans. One might legitimately suspect that they will revert to cartel practices when they have smashed their rivals, if they succeed in doing so.

One might also suspect that part of their game is to check the advance of solar and wind power in a last-ditch effort to stop the renewable juggernaut and win another reprieve for the status quo. If so, they are too late. That error was made five or six years ago when they allowed oil prices to stay above $100 for too long. But Opec can throw sand in the wheels. More