NetJets Invests in WasteFuel, Commits to Purchase 100 Million Gallons of Sustainable Aviation Fuel Over the Next Decade

COLUMBUS, OH, Feb. 04, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — NetJets today announces it has made a significant investment in WasteFuel, a next generation waste to fuel company that aims to transform landfill waste into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), making it the first private aviation company to buy a stake in the production of sustainable aviation fuel. NetJets will also purchase a minimum of 100 million gallons of WasteFuel's SAF over the next ten years.

NetJets and WasteFuel are in the early phases of developing a plant in Manila, Philippines, slated to be operational in 2025, in partnership with leading infrastructure developer Prime Infra. The fuel is anticipated to be imported into Los Angeles and distributed across the NetJets operations network.

"As the leader in private aviation, NetJets is deeply invested in advancing sustainability across the industry. After launching our expanded Global Sustainability Program last year, the opportunity to invest in the production of SAF with WasteFuel was a natural next step," said Brad Ferrell, Executive Vice President of Administrative Services. "The biorefinery tackles the dual environmental problems of the global waste crisis and sustainable fuel; and we're excited to take this step toward improving accessibility to SAF in the aviation industry."

At full capacity, the biorefinery will convert 1 million tons of municipal waste into 30 million gallons of SAF annually. Utilizing the most effective technologies available, WasteFuel will produce fuels that burn at least an 80 percent reduction in carbon compared to fossil–fuel based aviation fuels. WasteFuel's SAF has a Carbon Intensity (C.I.) of 0 compared to an average C.I. of 41 for alternative SAFs and a baseline of 89.4 for non–renewable aviation fuel.

Globally, landfills are the third largest source of methane produced by human activity, accounting for approximately 11 percent of estimated global methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas""about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100–year timescale, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years.

"Our waste can be our fuel," said Trevor Neilson, Chairman and CEO of WasteFuel. "Our partnership with NetJets and Prime Infra marks the beginning of a bold new era in travel "" the beginning of the hard work of making aviation truly sustainable."

Prime Infra's core investment strategy focuses on infrastructure that is socially relevant and sustainable, working hand in hand with host communities. "Solid waste management remains a major problem in the Philippines, especially in urban areas like Metro Manila, which generates around 10,000 tons of garbage per day. A biorefinery that will convert solid waste into SAF will make a big impact in reducing solid waste and ensuing environmental and health hazards, landfill emissions, and fossil fuel use. An added bonus, it will create jobs for the local community," said Guillaume Lucci, President, Prime Infra.

Other investors in WasteFuel include i(x) investments, Guy Oseary and Prime Infra. For investment opportunities, contact investorrelations@wastefuel.com.

Looking beyond Manila, NetJets and WasteFuel also have plans to develop four more biorefineries in the coming years. This partnership comes on the tails of the launch of NetJets' expanded Global Sustainability Program in October 2020, which prioritized a commitment to sustainable fuel, corporate responsibility and consumer participation. To follow NetJets' sustainability progress, visit https://www.netjets.com/en–us/sustainability.

About NetJets

NetJets Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company, is the worldwide leader in private aviation. More than 50 years ago, we launched the world's first private jet charter and management company. We went on to pioneer shared aircraft ownership""offering the advantages of owning a private jet, without the responsibilities. Today, we continue to innovate from cockpit and cabin to safety and accessibility. As the owner and operator of the world's largest and most diverse private jet fleet, NetJets hires only the most experienced and accomplished pilots and safety is our first and highest priority. Our full range of aviation options help individuals and businesses do more and miss less via the NetJets , Executive Jet Management , and Marquis Jet Card service brands in North America and Europe. For more information about the world's most reliable and trusted aviation company, visit netjets.com.

About WasteFuel

WasteFuel is a next–generation waste to fuels company that uses proven technology to address the climate emergency and revolutionize mobility. With an initial focus on air travel, WasteFuel uses proven technology that converts municipal waste into aviation grade biofuel that burns at an 80% reduction in carbon to fossil fuel–based aviation fuel. For more information visit: www.wastefuel.com.

About Prime Infra

Prime Infra, the core infrastructure arm of Filipino Billionaire Enrique K. Razon Jr., is involved in the business of developing, designing, managing and operating key infrastructure assets that enable the delivery of essential services to communities in emerging markets worldwide. Currently, our infrastructure assets include both Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Water, and Construction, but will soon expand to other industries, further diversifying our portfolio and improving our services and commitment to various communities around the world. For more information, visit www.primeinfra.ph.

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Why it’s Crucial Not to Limit the Youth’s Access and Use of Family Planning

A mother and her child from West Point, a low-income neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia (file photo). It is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth everyday in developing countries — amounting to 7.3 million births a year. Research shows that the media is the main source of information for the youth but this did not provide enough information on SHR or family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

A mother and her child from West Point, a low-income neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia (file photo). It is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth everyday in developing countries — amounting to 7.3 million births a year. Research shows that the media is the main source of information for the youth but this did not provide enough information on SHR or family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 4 2021 (IPS)

With the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affecting access to Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health (AYSRH) services, it’s imperative governments employ community-based initiatives and peer educators to ensure these services are still available to them.

This is according to Dr. Simon Binezero Mambo, co-founder and team leader of the Youth Alliance for Reproductive Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mambo was speaking to IPS following a two-day forum “Not Without FP”, which was organised by the International Conference on Family Planning and was attended by more than 7,000 people.

The virtual forum was organised to discuss the role of family planning in shaping universal health coverage schemes and explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted this discourse around the world.

The forum included a number of high-level speakers: Dr. Natalia Kanem, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Population Fund (UNFPA); Anutin Charnvirakul, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health; Beth Schlachter, Executive Director of Family Planning 2020; and Dr. Laura Lindberg, Principal Research Scientist from the Guttmacher Institute.

During a session focused on the youth, Mambo spoke alongside Christine Power, a policy advisor at the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), Sophia Sadinsky from the Guttmacher Institute, and Erika Dupuis, the Canada country coordinator at the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP).

Power explained to IPS why it’s crucial to focus on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of the youth.

They face stigma when they try to gather accurate and comprehensive information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights; they face barriers when they try to seek out quality care; and, if faced with an unintended pregnancy, they often face limited options and judgment,” Power told IPS.

According to UNFPA statistics, it is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth everyday in developing countries — amounting to 7.3 million births a year. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of death among adolescent girls.

Speaking during the panel session, Mastewal Zenebe Bekele from IYAFP, Ethiopia, said research showed that a prominent barrier to youth accessing these services was that they did not have access to correct information.

In 2018, Empowering Evidence-Driven Advocacy (EEDA), a project implemented by PRB and IYAFP in five African countries, including Ethiopia, conducted research into the experiences of youth accessing SRH services. It showed that media remained the main source of information for the youth but did not provide enough information on SRHR or contraceptives, Bekele explained.     

Speaking during the panel session, Sadinsky said the coronavirus lockdowns meant that the youth now had limited options to access SRHR services since schools are closed.

“Governments should identify ways to institutionalise service delivery methods that have gained traction during the pandemic — such as mobile clinic outreach, and patient call centres,” she said.

Sarah Ashraf, Director of Maternal, Newborn and Reproductive Health in Emergencies at Save the Children, told IPS there should also be focus on preparedness.

“There should be an emergency response system and pre-positioned resources as part of a health system that can be initiated or activated when an emergency happens,” she said, adding that this could include mobile outreach services or employing trained community healthcare providers.

“Empowering local organisations through localisation efforts can also work on bringing services closer to people during times of emergencies,” Ashraf added.

However, with the digital divide growing even wider under the lockdown, suggested services that require technology might be challenging for many communities. 

“For countries with no technology, the first thing to do is make AYSRH essential and include them in the pandemic plan response by training community-based distributers with services,” Mambo suggested.

“Second, work with young people as peer educators who can reach their fellow youth with messages of COVID-19 prevention coupled with SRH and this will yield more results for young people to adhere to the standard operational procedures,” he added.

There are also policy gaps as pointed out by Power from PRB.

“Gaps between policy commitments made by governments and stigma and barriers young people still face must be addressed,” she told IPS.  “Youth are the most effective change agents when it comes to strengthening youth SRH policies and therefore they must be meaningfully engaged in policy change.”

She said one mechanism of doing that would be to equip them with research, evidence, and the skills for them to educate others. PRB is working to set up such options with the Youth FP Policy Scorecard and activities to strengthen their communications and outreach.

Meanwhile, Dupuis highlighted the importance of including voices in the conversation that are often marginalised.

“We need Black, Indigenous, and radicalised youth leading the way,” Dupuis told IPS.

“We need to move beyond creating youth advisories for agencies or organisations that do not implement suggested findings or action items created by young people,” they added. “We need young people to sit at the table, but we also need a systemic overhaul.”

In 2019, the youth were a prominent focus of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) which aimed to accelerate progress towards universal SRHR, and women’s and  girls’ empowerment and gender equality.

During the conference, Dr Osamu Kusumoto from the Asian Population and Development Association, told IPS that the capacity of countries to accelerate and achieve ICPD25 commitments was dependent on the extent to which countries invested in their youth.

“Unplanned pregnancies are a big problem in developing countries. When you have a large population of young people pregnant while they should be in school, this is a problem for the economy too,” Kusumoto had said.

 


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NOTICE TO DISREGARD — GlobeNewswire Heartbeat Service

CHICAGO, Feb. 04, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — We are advised by GlobeNewswire Heartbeat Service that journalists and other readers should disregard the news release, “Test Release – 4–02–2021 – 738448” issued February 3, 2021, over GlobeNewswire.


Revoke Patents, Defeat the Pandemic & Deliver Global Justice

Wearing a full protective suit, a woman doctor who leads a group of volunteer medical professionals attending to COVID-19 patients at a community hospital in the Philippines. Credit: UN Women/Louie Pacardo

By Benny Kuruvilla
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 4 2021 – As the pandemic spills into its second year, the WHO tracker lists eight Covid-19 vaccines already in public use. Several others are awaiting regulatory approval. This is unprecedented in vaccine history and with effective international coordination, it presents the global community with a real chance for both pandemic and economic recovery in 2021.

Instead, however, the world is on the brink of a ‘catastrophic moral failure’ on vaccine distribution, to use the words of WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Countries are mired in a stalemate of ‘vaccine nationalism’, with the rich world having secured contracts to vaccinate their entire populations thrice over by the end of this year, while 85 poor countries will not get vaccine rollouts until early 2023, if at all.

This hoarding of vaccines by rich countries for profit constitutes ‘vaccine apartheid’, which not only grants rich countries an unjust privilege but also naively approaches the pandemic as a national or regional problem, despite its obviously global nature.

And as a recent study showed, vaccine nationalism could cost rich countries alone USD 4.5 trillion because of its global economic interlinkages.

European hypocrisy

But even with the imbalance already strongly in its favour, the European Union lashed out at pharma giant AstraZeneca when the company announced it would be delivering fewer than half the 80 million jabs it promised by March 2021, disrupting the bloc’s plans to vaccinate 70 per cent of its adult population by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, a large majority of poor countries — most of the world’s population — will be lucky if they can vaccinate even 10 per cent of their populations by the end of the year.

In October 2020, South Africa and India moved a proposal at the WTO for a TRIPS waiver on patents, industrial designs and trade secrets that restrict access to vaccines and medicines or manufacturing of medical products essential to combat Covid-19.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, argued in November that the best strategy against the virus was geopolitical cooperation — not competition. Yet her ongoing fiasco with AstraZeneca has exposed the EU’s hypocrisy — as the EU threatened to invoke the same emergency provisions on behalf of Europeans that the EU are currently opposing for citizens of the global South.

Benny Kuruvilla

At the international level, rich countries and pharmaceutical corporations hide behind the innocuously named but disastrously enforced regime of ‘intellectual property’. Since its inception in 1995, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has arguably been the World Trade Organisation’s weakest link.

While TRIPS paradoxically advanced corporate monopoly rights, the rest of WTO agreements exhorted competition, deregulation and free trade.

AIDS: the global health crisis of the 1990s

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic was raging in the late 1990s, the prevailing cost of patented antiretroviral (ARV) drugs was over USD 12,000 per patient, per year. South African president Nelson Mandela led a worldwide revolt for access to affordable, lifesaving ARV drugs by overriding TRIPS provisions and launching a frontal attack on big pharma. In response to this call, the Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla stunned the world in February 2001 by introducing a drug to fight AIDS at less than USD 1 per day.

Buoyed by this victory, developing countries fought off US and EU opposition in pushing for the November 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS, which underlined the right to public health and access to medicines.

Two decades and another global health crisis later, a similar script is being played out by the same set of actors.

Publicly funded innovation

In October 2020, South Africa and India moved a proposal at the WTO for a TRIPS waiver on patents, industrial designs and trade secrets that restrict access to vaccines and medicines or manufacturing of medical products essential to combat Covid-19.

The proposal has now gained heft with sponsorship by Kenya, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt and Bolivia, along with the endorsement of nearly 100 countries at the WTO. The WHO, UNAIDS and several UN special rapporteurs are also backing the waiver.

Just like twenty years ago, a powerful cabal of rich countries led by the EU, US, UK and Japan are blocking the waiver. They argue that a waiver on patents will undermine innovation and that the TRIPS already offers flexibilities for public health.

The waiver can play a critical role in rapid expansion of vaccine supplies.

Both these arguments are flawed.

A study of 210 drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2010 and 2016 showed that public funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was the greatest contributor to research and innovation.

A more recent study showed that governments have allocated at least €88bn to Covid-19 vaccine companies in 2020, demonstrating the marginal role of corporate funding in innovation.

Rich countries should support the TRIPS waiver

Developing countries have long argued at the WTO that stringent provisions in the TRIPS have made it virtually impossible to use the existing flexibilities, and any attempt to invoke flexibilities results in arm-twisting and retaliatory trade pressures from powerful members such as the EU and US.

The waiver can play a critical role in rapid expansion of vaccine supplies. Given that the expertise to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine is reasonably widespread, production can be expanded in firms across the developing world.

In India, its production has been licensed only to the Serum Institute of India, which is struggling to keep up with demand. It is a scandal that while AstraZeneca is charging the EU less than USD 2 per dose, Thailand — a far poorer country — is being charged around USD 5 per dose. Locating production domestically will also help countries to bring down costs substantively.

If the US and EU are serious about contributing to a cooperative global effort on vaccines, they should support the waiver proposal when it comes up for discussions at the WTO on 4 February.

The pandemic is a global problem that requires a global solution, not a few national ones. It is of the utmost importance that all countries take quick and decisive action to put people and health before profits. Only then can we defeat this pandemic.

Source: International Politics and Society. Launched in January 2017, the online journal highlights global inequality and brings new perspectives on issues such as the environment, European integration, international relations, social democracy and development policy.

Based in the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s Brussels office, International Politics and Society aims to bring the European political debate to a global audience, as well as providing a platform for voices from the Global South. Contributors include leading journalists, academics and politicians, as well policy officers working throughout the FES’s global network.

 


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UN Calls for an ‘Ocean Science Revolution’

A peninsula separates the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in the southwestern village of Scottshead, Dominica. Dominica banned single use plastic in 2020. The UN Decade on Ocean Science is calling for amped up action on conservation and the sustainable use of ocean resources. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

A peninsula separates the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in the southwestern village of Scottshead, Dominica. Dominica banned single use plastic in 2020. The UN Decade on Ocean Science is calling for amped up action on conservation and the sustainable use of ocean resources. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 4 2021 – The United Nations Secretary-General has urged nations to rise to the ‘defining challenge’ of restoring the ocean’s power to support humanity and regulate the climate.

António Guterres addressed the “Brave New Ocean” high level event on Feb. 3. The virtual gathering of world leaders, scientists, philanthropists and ocean advocates marked the start of the UN Decade on Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

The 2021-2030 observance hopes to mobilise financial, scientific, volunteer and community support in ocean science, conservation and the sustainable use of marine resources. The UN chief said it comes as oceans face ‘unprecedented’ threats from human activity.

“By 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the sea.  The world’s tropical coral reefs could be dead by the end of the century if we don’t act now. Protecting and sustainably managing the ocean is essential for food, livelihoods and mitigating climate disruption and related disasters,” Guterres said.

The ocean is immense, containing 97 percent of the water on the earth’s surface. It is an important source of food and energy, while facilitating commerce and communication. Scientists have however warned that humanity’s dependence on the ocean has given way to overexploitation and increased pollution.

The UN’s First World Ocean Assessment, published in 2016, cited inaction as the greatest threat to ocean protection. It stated that as the global population continued to rise, demands on marine resources were soaring. It also warned that as many parts of the ocean were being degraded, pollution went unabated. Sewage, garbage, oil spills and industrial waste were destroying a provider of oxygen, food and water for humanity.

The UN chief has called for ‘an ocean science revolution,’ while noting that funding in this field is critical, but ‘miniscule.’ A number of youth activists from across the globe have volunteered to bring the message of conservation and sustainable ocean use to their peers.

“The ocean I want to see is the one where there is no pollution. Where humans live in balance with it and not just draining it and expecting the ocean to give more than it can,” said 13-year-old ocean activist Catarina Lorenzo.

While the Decade of Ocean Science is new, for some regions, a call to act quickly is not. The tourism-dependent Caribbean is well aware that it has a problem with plastic waste in its waters. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “the Caribbean is the second most plastic-contaminated sea in the world”. Many governments have enacted laws banning single-use plastics and now, a pilot plastic recycling project is underway on Saint Lucia, with plans for replication on other islands.

The project is RePLAST-OECS. It was launched in May, 2019 and is being implemented by UNITE Caribbean, a pan-Caribbean technical assistance and sustainable development partner. It includes the development of a plastic collection system and incentive scheme, the export of plastic, public education, management and eventual replication.

The project is community driven, with a roster of volunteers. It is support by constituency councils and youth groups such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network. Project officials supply materials for the establishment of a waste collection point and also provide training. There is a non-monetary incentive scheme. Citizens register and receive a reward card. Reward points are issued based the weight of plastic bottles and containers dropped off at the collection point.

“We are trying to do it with a community-based approach, as opposed to coming into a community and imposing something on them. We are trying to foster greater ownership of the collection activity and ensure sustainability when the pilot is complete,” project director Shanta King told IPS.

For Caribbean countries, a project like this goes to the heart of waste diversion, ensuring that plastics do not end up in the ocean or in landfills.

“When it rains heavily, go to any waterway and you will see a proliferation of plastic bottles. This is evidence of inadequate disposal,” said King.

“The plastics have not been disposed of through the solid waste collection process, but even waste which would go to the landfill is still not adequate because it reduces the landfill lifespan. These bottles take up a significant amount of landfill space and governments have to invest millions of dollars to create additional space. Our small islands just don’t have the landmass to do that.”

RePLAST OECS has established 4 collection points for Saint Lucia. The plastic is collected by a recycler, compacted and sent to Honduras. So far, 2 containers – about 26,000 lbs of plastic – have been shipped.

Constructing and maintaining a recycling plant is not a viable option for each island. The goal is to tackle the ballooning plastic waste problem by each island establishing collection points and shipping its plastic for recycling.

It came before the Decade for Ocean Science, but the Saint Lucia project reflects the kind of action being called for by the movement – to identify an issue plaguing the ocean and work towards a sustainable solution.

UN officials are urging nations to embrace this commitment to support science and jump start initiatives to protect oceans for the next ten years.

 


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China & Russia Throw Protective Arms Around Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Credit: World Bank/Markus Kostner

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 4 2021 – When million-dollar arms sales knock on the door, human rights violations and war crimes fly out of the window.

As the United Nations grapples for a reaction to the military coup in Myanmar, both China and Russia, two veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), refused to support a statement condemning the army takeover—a collective statement that warrants consensus from all 15 members.

The two big powers have long thrown their protective arms around Myanmar because of longstanding political, economic and military relationships with the troubled Southeast Asian Nation.

Russia and China have often provided support for each other (“you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…”). But they don’t always vote in sync, says one UN watcher.

Perhaps what is most significant is the fact that Russia and China are two of the major arms suppliers to Myanmar and will therefore protect the country from any form of UN military or economic sanctions.

Although it does not officially release figures for its annual military budget or provide a breakdown of its expenditures on arms purchase, Myanmar purchased over $2.4 billion worth or arms between 2010-2019, according to a database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

China accounted for about $1.3 billion in arms; Russia $807 million; India $145 million; and South Korea $90 million.

Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at SIPRI told IPS these arms purchases included warships, combat aircraft, armed drones (UAVs), armoured vehicles and air defence systems from China while Russia supplied fighter aircraft and combat helicopters.

India, currently a non-permanent member of the UNSC, provided a second-hand submarine, the first large submarine for Myanmar, plus equipment and missiles for warships built in Myanmar.

“India is a rather new arms supplier and seems to aim to reduce Myanmar’s links to China — and it has, in the past, expressed concerns about Chinese influence in Myanmar and in (potential) Chinese military installations and bases in Myanmar,” said Wezeman.

India and China, both nuclear powers, have had several military confrontations in their ongoing border disputes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas.

Among other arms suppliers to Myanmar, Wezeman pointed out, are South Korea, Belarus and Israel.

Several members of the European Union (EU), he said, have also supplied equipment considered ‘major arms’ by SIPRI – despite EU sanctions which include a seemingly strong ban on supplying equipment or support to Myanmar’s military.
https://www.sipri.org/databases/armstransfers

In a statement condemning the coup, US President Joe Biden said “the United States removed sanctions on Burma (the US has long refused to recognize the name change to Myanmar) over the past decade based on progress toward democracy.”

“The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” he said “The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack.”

A State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters February 3 the United States provided nearly $135 million in bilateral assistance to Burma in FY2020.

“I should mention that only a portion of that, a very small portion, is assistance to the government. But we’re undertaking that review”.

“Again, we’re going to work expeditiously to determine the implications for Burma’s military leaders for their actions here. But there is a small sliver of that foreign assistance that would actually be implicated.”

It’s the vast, vast majority that actually goes to Rohingya, to civil society, and not to the Burmese military, said Price.

Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch, said the Security Council’s abysmal failure to address Myanmar’s past appalling human rights abuses assured the military they could do as they please without serious consequences.

“That approach should end now,” he added.

The Security Council, he said, should demand the immediate release of all detained political leaders and activists, and the restoration of civilian democratic rule. Targeted sanctions should be imposed on those military leaders responsible.”

Meanwhile, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US, along with the High Representative of the European Union, have unanimously condemned the coup in Myanmar.

“We are deeply concerned by the detention of political leaders and civil society activists, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and targeting of the media”.

“We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law. The November election results must be respected and Parliament should be convened at the earliest opportunity,” the G7 ministers said in a statement released here.

Calling for the de-militarization of Myanmar, Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), said war is the language of death.

“Civil wars are a refusal to recognize the humanity of our brothers and sisters. Violence never begets peace. War negates national harmony. The fruits of conflicts are bitterness, divisions and wounds that take years to heal. Seek unity, yes, but not by fear or threat”.

Speaking of militarization, Wezeman told IPS that Myanmar has started, in recent years, to modernize its armed forces in a more serious way, acquiring advanced combat aircraft (MiG-29, SDu-30MK and JF-17), advanced and basic trainer aircraft (K-8, Yak-130 and G-120TP) and various armoured vehicles to replace or add to those in service.

Myanmar has also acquired several types of air defence systems (which it did not really have before) and its first submarine. It has acquired new warships and has started building its warships of local design (but suspected to lean heavily on Chinese help in design and using imported weapons, sensors and engines).

In general, he said, it seems Myanmar has embarked on building more capable armed forces — more capable against the various rebel force in Myanmar but also more capable against other states.

Compared to its neighbours– China and India, and even Thailand– the Myanmar armed forces operate with less major arms and less advanced weapons systems, Wezeman said.

The writer is a former Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense Marketing Services (DMS), a Senior Military Analyst at Forecast International and Military Editor, Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group in the US.

  

Water Graves: Nightmare for Mexican Fishermen

By Rosi Orozco
MEXICO CITY, Feb 4 2021 – All of Erizo’s nightmares are the same. Since his return from the ocean – almost unrecognizable – every bad dream is identical. A wave punches his little boat and throws him into the deep sea where everything is so dark that he can’t even see his own hands.

Rosi Orozco

Even when he swam with all his energy, this 31 year old fisherman was never able to set foot on the mainland and to him, the Mexican Pacific ocean slowly became a grave formed only of water.

When Erizo dies in his nightmare, he wakes up in real life, opening his mouth like a dying fish that desperately tries to gasp some air. Then, he and his wife are on a midnight routine. Erizo stays in bed while Sandra walks over the sand floor of their home to reach for a glass of water for him. She can do that in total darkness without stumbling because there is barely anything; the furniture in this young couple’s home consists only of a bed, a small TV, a plastic table, two chairs, two hammocks, and a few plastic bags with clothes and shoes.

Their poverty reflects the 24-hour labor shifts that Erizo undertook each week sailing on his little boat -“Esmeralda”- named after his 4 year old daughter.

Erizo is a fisherman in a small town 20 minutes away from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, where everybody knows his neighbors by their nicknames. Erizo’s name means hedgehog, a name given to him because of his short and straight black hair. His friends are Pelao and Rana (frog). On the surface or in plain sight, they look like a relaxed group of friends who drink beer by the ocean and listen to The Hermanos Cota music band. When you look closely at that community you can see the open wounds inflicted on these fishermen by labor exploitation. Pelao has been struggling for years with an unpayable debt that has led him to alcohol addiction and Rana suffers from terrible pain in his hands due to the frequent injuries suffered from handling the heavy fishing nets.

Erizo is not the same person ever since fish sales dropped in March 2008 and he couldn’t afford gasoline for his little boat to go to sea and return home every day with his catch. He decided to enter the deep sea and stay there for five days until he catches as many fish as possible. On the third day, a big wave hit him nearly pinning him to the seabed.

He managed to keep afloat for eight days, clinging on to a big plastic jug of water, eating his own vomit, biting and eating live and raw fish for eight days.

During the first days, he prayed to God for survival. The next six days he prayed for death until on the last day when he closed his eyes and thought it was over — just to realize that a boat had rescued him and saved his life. “I didn’t die at sea, but a part of me is still there. Being a fisherman in this country is like having no life”, he told me.

Erizo and his friends are hired on verbal agreements by anonymous men who represent shady businesses. It’s a common strategy in the fishing industry that exploits the most vulnerable ones without paying any social costs or support. Hiring companies pay between 0.7 and 1.4 dollars per kilo of fish and shrimp respectively, which goes to “Central de Abastos” – the largest fish market in America. There it is sold at 15 dollars per kilo. In a fancy restaurant located in the rich neighborhood of Polanco in Mexico City, a shrimp soup could cost 35 dollars.

Of the small profits that the Mexican fishermen make, they must take off the cost of gasoline, food, helpers, boat maintenance and the fee to anchor on shore. Often they work with clear financial loss. Such is life for the 300,000 fishermen in Mexico, the country that is globally ranked 16th in seafood production. They produce 800,000 tons of food for a multibillion dollar industry. Yet, the fishermen work like slaves. Most of them earn and live 10 dollars a day. They don’t have health insurance, social security, or household credits. Also, no financial services are available to them nor any money to have fun or enjoyment in their lives, according to the “Social Impact of the Fishing Industry in Mexico” report.

The pandemic has deepened their poverty. The coronavirus has been a curse, but it can be a salvation: the fishing industry needs to transform and this is the ideal time to pay the long-time debt owed to these women and men, like Erizo. It’s now or never to demand better work quality for them. Regulations and sanctions imposed on abusive companies are essential in the new world after this global crisis of Covid-19 is over.

A country that devours the delicacies of the sea, leaving the people who bring it to their tables to starve only leaves a bitter rather than a good taste.

The author is a human rights activist who opened the first shelter for girls and teenagers rescued from sexual commercial exploitation in Mexico. She has published five books on preventing human trafficking; she is the elected Representative of GSN Global Sustainability Network in Latin America.

 


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El Aromo Solar Project Sets Precedent for Renewable Energy in Ecuador

Panorama of the port city of Manta, in Ecuador, close to where the El Aromo project is planned to be built. Photo: Diego Lizcano / Flick-CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

By Tristan Partridge
MANTA, Ecuador, Feb 4 2021 – In December 2020, the “El Aromo” solar energy project was approved in coastal Manabí province, Ecuador. Operated by the Spanish company Solarpack, the project is expected to transform national solar output. El Aromo will occupy 2.9km2 of land that was previously cleared to build a multi-billion dollar oil refinery, plans that have since been abandoned.  While El Aromo holds symbolic significance, it remains uncertain whether the project will mark a significant step toward more environmentally sustainable energy development in Ecuador.

The recent history of energy in Ecuador is dominated by oil–its central role in the country’s export economy as well as its devastating environmental impacts in Amazon regions, suffered by Indigenous groups in particular. While the country hosts high hydropower capacity and continues to build new hydroelectric plants, only recently has the government significantly expanded support for other low-carbon energy sources.

El Aromo is set to boost Ecuador’s solar capacity almost tenfold, adding 258MW to the current output of 27MW. While this reflects a dramatic increase, it represents only a very small part of the national energy mix

The country is poised to elect a new president next month, each candidate holding different views on energy development and globalized neoliberal economics. The history and potential future of El Aromo will set an important precedent within the context of Ecuador’s apparent turn toward increased renewable generation. The lasting impacts of El Aromo will also depend on whether the development is successful enough to encourage government, industry, and society actors to support further national solar expansion.

 

Ecuador’s Energy Makeup

El Aromo is set to boost Ecuador’s solar capacity almost tenfold, adding 258MW to the current output of 27MW. While this reflects a dramatic increase, it represents only a very small part of the national energy mix. The most recent government figures from 2018 show total capacity from all energy sources in Ecuador was 8677MW, drawing primarily from hydropower (58.4 percent), fossil fuels (39.1 percent), biomass (1.7 percent), and solar, wind, and biogas, which are less than 1 percent each.

But forecasts anticipate change of a greater magnitude. Data analysis company GlobalData recently plotted an optimistic scenario for solar growth of 15 percent over the decade, taking the country’s PV generation from just 26.7MW in 2019 to 450MW by 2030, or more than 4GW if the global rate of solar growth continues to increase. These reports have fueled hope in the government and among international energy companies keen to capitalize on Ecuador’s solar potential. That would have the potential to radically alter Ecuador’s energy mix.

Ecuador’s Master Plan for Electricity (PME) 2018-2027 outlines energy initiatives led by the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources (MERNNR). Despite some setbacks due to Covid-19, governmental support for new solar projects increased during 2020. In June, the Galapagos Conolophus project was launched, proposing 14.8MW of solar generation and 40.9MWh battery storage capacity to replace the use of diesel fuel for power generation on the Baltra and Santa Cruz islands.

By August, five interested companies had been invited to submit bids. In September, MERNNR announced a further slate of 24 renewable energy projects totaling 200MW, two of which would be solar (each 30 MW in size) to be constructed in either Santa Elena or Guayas province. A range of six small-scale hydro plans between 3.4MW and 30MW in size were also included, with final selection decisions due by August 2021.

This means that many renewable energy projects are scheduled to come online under the next administration. Both Moreno and Solarpack executives have expressed confidence in the future of El Aromo. But analysts question how foreign investors will respond to potentially a changed relationship with the IMF following February’s election and how the new president will manage Ecuador’s fraught relationship with the Fund.

A previous IMF deal in March 2019 led Moreno to introduce austerity measures in October that year, including the elimination of long-standing gasoline subsidies. Overnight, the price of diesel more than doubled and the price of petrol increased by 30 percent. This resulted in weeks of protests that were met with police violence, including evidence of excessive force, killings, and arrests.

Ahead of the August 2020 IMF deal, Moreno’s government introduced new fuel subsidy reform in May. Hailed as historic by some analysts, the measures introduced monthly caps to prevent shock increases in retail prices. Met with less resistance than previous reforms, the cuts have been praised by the IMF for improving the “reliability and efficiency“ of the energy sector. But opponents of the August 2020 IMF deal point to its similarity to past deals, requiring Ecuador to introduce austerity measures, cuts in public investment and wages, and new privatizations—all in the hope of attracting more foreign investment.

The three leading candidates have different views on the IMF. Pachakutik leader Yaku Pérez has refused to meet IMF officials, while conservative Guillermo Lasso is expected to comply with IMF loan conditions, despite his criticisms of the required tax increases. Meanwhile economist Andrés Arauz, chosen by Correa to lead the UNES political coalition and leading in some recent polls, is vocally opposed to the August 2020 IMF deal. He maintains Ecuador is not bound to the deal’s terms since it is not an international treaty, and proposes instead immediate increases in public spending, an end to privatization, and wealth tax reform.

A focus on economics in the run-up to the election has overshadowed discussion of related concerns such as candidate views on environmental policy and the protection of rights enshrined in the 2008 Constitution. On one issue, though, Arauz is alone–in his support for Correa-era plans for the fossil fuel industry, including at the El Aromo site.

 

A gathering of the Troja Manaba, a grassroots school that offers training in agricultural techniques for food sovereignty in Manabí, Ecuador (La Troja Manaba).

 

A Disputed Site, With a Future in Solar Energy?

First announced in August 2019 together with the 110MW Villonaco II/III wind projects, El Aromo attracted international attention with eight global companies submitting qualifying proposals by April 2020. Three finalists from Europe were announced in October and Solarpack’s successful bid–offering an energy price of US $69.35 / MWh on a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) contract–was confirmed in December. While some in the industry expect setbacks due to ongoing uncertainties around Covid-19, operations at El Aromo are set to begin by the end of 2022 and generate 340 GWh per year, or more than 22 percent of energy demand across the province and more than 60 percent of demand in Manta, Manabí’s largest city.

The future of solar energy in Ecuador, however, depends on more than merely increasing output and further policy changes are also required. Marcos Ponce Jara of the ULEAM University in Manta is a specialist on Ecuador’s electricity sector. He notes that Ecuador currently has only one energy policy related to photovoltaic solar energy: a net-metering policy introduced in October 2018 to promote distributed generation and to allow residential, commercial, and industrial operators to consume power generated using their own solar equipment. This policy has neither led to an increase in national solar capacity nor is it expected to significantly impact Ecuador’s energy output.

Ponce Jara says future solar growth faces obstacles including competitiveness (hampered in part by the difficulty of removing current subsidies for electricity generation from fossil fuels), financing, and the broader regulatory context. On this front, the Ecuadorian government is taking steps to incentivize investment in renewable energy development. Like other recently approved projects in Ecuador, El Aromo will be built according to the country’s private investment stimulus package which offers companies a wide range of tax benefits.

Current economic conditions and the government’s incentive package have been sufficient to support growing international interest in Ecuador’s energy sector, especially in wind and solar. But these projects also follow BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) contracts in which private investors are responsible for project construction and operation, before transferring infrastructure to the state at the end of the contract period. Due to its scale and location El Aromo remains a bellwether project for Ecuador’s solar future.

While Solarpack already has 15 solar generation projects in Spain, Chile, Peru, and India, El Aromo will be the company’s first power plant in Ecuador. The project will occupy a location 20km from Manta that has long been the subject of controversy and the solar development will mark a shift in land use from carbon-intensive to low-carbon energy production. This site is notorious for being where an international megaproject was proposed and ultimately abandoned: the “Refinería del Pacífico” (RDP) petrochemical plant.

In January 2008, Presidents Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez signed a memorandum of understanding to create the RDP company. They hoped to use the RDP complex to process 300,000 barrels per day, increase domestic supplies of refined petrochemical products, and to continue work toward national “energy sovereignty.” Expected to cost $10 billion, the deal linked state companies Petroecuador and PDVSA of Venezuela with further financing from China’s National Petroleum Corporation and Industrial & Commercial Bank.

In 2018, Mongabay reported on environmental disruption within the nearby Pacoche Coastal Marine Wildlife Refuge caused by deforestation, road building, and the clearing of native trees for the RDP complex, at that time covering 1200 hectares (12 km2). Initial construction began, including work completed by Brazilian company Odebrecht, but the project languished without full and transparent funding for years and, by 2019, had become the focus of corruption investigations.

Despite all this, presidential candidate Andrés Arauz has stirred controversy by echoing Correa’s insistence that the refinery should still be built. For environmental groups, pressing ahead with the RDP project amounts to a crime against nature and Indigenous peoples, as it would be used to process heavy crude extracted from the ITT sector of Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet and home to Indigenous groups living in isolation. It remains to be seen whether construction of the El Aromo solar project rules out any further work on the RDP refinery, but any such support for the oil industry would be met with widespread opposition.

The RDP site has also become the focus of other investment plans, some still under negotiation, seeking to make use of this location prepared for industrial operations. The plans include an EU development grant for new agroindustrial maize, soy, and shrimp production and, in May 2019, proposals for a “Food City” processing and packaging complex. A more recent idea to use the site as an isolation center for patients infected with Covid-19 was derailed by local opposition.

A housing camp of 140 small dwellings built in 2011 for RDP workers was used sporadically by Odebrecht personnel and then later served as an emergency operations center after the April 2016 earthquake. The site lay largely abandoned till March 2020, when one of the dwellings was burnt in a suspected arson attack amid protests against the Covid-19 isolation plan.

Now, Solarpack has the green light to use the El Aromo site for solar generation, and the focus is, once again, on Ecuador’s energy matrix. Of the original 1,500 hectares cleared at the RDP site, El Aromo will cover 290 hectares. Ponce Jara suggests that government approval for the project has been driven, at least in part, by a desire to finally settle the question of what to do with (some of) this contentious plot of land.

 

Environmental Justice Goes Beyond Energy Generation

The local impacts of El Aromo are not limited to this site. On the positive side, as Ponce Jara notes, increased local solar generation at El Aromo could lead to reduced use of regional oil-powered power stations (particularly the 140MW Jaramijó plant) and related improvements in air quality and emissions reductions. On the other hand, the environmental impacts of constructing requisite power transmission lines have not yet been evaluated. And in an area where agriculture and aquaculture dominate, the question of land use remains paramount.

Carlos Quinto Cedeño Bermeo is an activist and permaculture practitioner who works in Manabí province to support small-scale agroecological farming and is a member of the Troja Manaba grassroots school that offers training in agricultural techniques for food sovereignty. While debates over energy generation have focused on Manabí, Cedeño Bermeo cautions that the province’s commercial shrimp farms, “camaroneros,” currently threaten small-scale farming and efforts toward food sovereignty on a scale beyond the risks created by the energy sector.

Shrimp farms continue to grow in number and scale, occupying ever larger tracts of land. These operations also put local water supplies at risk of contamination from chemical run-off. Cedeño Bermeo says that renewable energy projects will have to create many more jobs before they can have a significant impact on local labor markets, where many women move to the cities for domestic or retail work and men take up unskilled jobs in the shrimp or oil industries.

A shift toward less polluting modes of electricity generation is welcome and the idea of repurposing land away from polluting industries is popular. But some in the region remain unconvinced. A December editorial in the Manabí newspaper El Diario, for example, raised doubts about the project, questioning whether the price of energy from El Aromo will remain competitive against hydro and fossil fuel energy and seeking to clarify both how much of the abandoned RDP site will be covered with solar panels and how the remaining land will be used.

Furthermore, El Aromo alone does not create enough new employment opportunities to generate widespread socio-economic change in Manabí, nor does it protect small farmers against the encroachment of growing agro-industrial operations. The province is still dominated by export-oriented production just as the national economy still depends heavily on the oil sector, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Ecuador’s export earnings and around 25 percent of public sector revenues.

Creating a just energy transition in Ecuador–promoting solar and wind generation, reducing dependence on oil, and providing employment for those whose livelihoods are disrupted by such changes–will require policy and action that go beyond replacing oil refineries with solar panels, even while doing so is a crucial step in remaking the country’s energy matrix.

Only if El Aromo delivers on the promise often associated with solar power—specifically by reducing the amount of oil being extracted and burned, as well as providing tangible health and economic benefits for local residents—will it help Ecuador turn a corner toward a less destructive and more future-proof energy sector.

Tristan Partridge is a social anthropologist and Research Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research addresses Indigenous rights, collective action, and environmental justice.

 

This story was originally published by NACLA – The North American Congress on Latin America