The Urbane Ecologist


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UCL’s Definition of “Sustainable”–World Class Researchers in the Field, but Investing in Fossil Fuels

I take pride in the fact that I attend a university that attracts some of the best students, faculty, and researchers in the world. I do not take pride in the fact that University College London still has a long way to go before truly representing the sustainability a segment of its faculty is world famous for promoting.

As a student at the Development Planning Unit pursuing a Master’s in Environment and Sustainable Development, I am exposed to researchers and specialists who are part of—indeed, often lead–global conversations of what it means to be “sustainable” and question notions of “development”. Robert Biel, for example, has built a career on questioning the very foundations of modern society—capitalism—and whether or not you agree with him, you cannot accuse him of lazy or uncreative thinking. David Satterthwaite is known for development work that truly services the poor and marginalized. Despite the fact that I grew up surrounded by failed development, the work of many researchers such as these inspired me to give the field a chance and at least try to understand it. So far, I have found my program challenging, thought-provoking, and every bit as personally and intellectually difficult as I hoped it would be. At the same time, my university as a whole leaves me disgusted. Specifically, I’m ashamed by and angry at its promotion of fossil fuels and its inability to put its money where its mouth is.

To those who are completely new to environmental issues, as I was less than two years ago, this issue matters because our consumption of fossil fuels—such as oil, coal, and natural gas—are the source of a huge number of environmental problems, such as pollution and climate change. We don’t only consume fossil fuels by putting them in our cars; they are hidden in most of the products we use every day, from the fertilizers that grow our food and to the plastic that surround us and now resides in our bodies. Most consequences of using fossil fuels are negative and our use of them alters our environment in one or many ways that then make it less habitable for us and other organisms.

But why are environmentalists picking the fight with these companies and not with the people who consume their products? Fossil fuel companies actively engage in activities that are unethical. By virtue of the huge amount of money at their disposal, they have made it virtually impossible for anyone to make choices that do not, in one way or another, support the industry. The fossil fuel industry also has ties to related industries—such as chemical and agriculture—and are so powerful that they even control worldwide governance in their favor. Furthermore, they frequently rely on “dirty” tactics—bribes, or other subtle methods—of getting what they want. They are known for actively going to great lengths to hide the consequences of their actions and even refuse to take responsibility for it. (Examples here and here.) They spend unimaginable amounts of money manipulating the way the average person perceives the world and the role of fossil fuels in it, either in the form of raw political power (e.g. rigging elections, having a close relationship with politicians) or in the form of advertising. I see this myself at UCL, and I’ll come to that shortly. But to summarize, the people who are generally in favor of taking care of the physical environment—for the purposes of deriving benefits from it that last beyond this year or the next, or simply for the sheer joy in a clean environment–are generally opposed to the fossil fuel industry.

This has led to many student groups in the West promoting fossil fuel divestment. Universities make investments in various industries and companies as a way of making money to fund research and other functions. Students who are opposed to fossil fuels take part in divestment campaigns in order to demand that their universities take part in bringing down the fossil fuel industry. Glasgow University recently became the first academic institution in Europe to commit to divestment. Many American universities have divestment campaigns or have already committed to divestment. On November 10, the Fossil Free group at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) submitted its divestment petition with over 1,000 signatures.

So here we come to UCL, which invests over £14.5 million in fossil fuel companies, including BP, Shell, and Total, and has recently come under a lot of criticism for these investments. The university’s relationship with BHP Billiton, however, has gone beyond simple investments and has been particularly notorious.

BHP Billiton is not a name commonly known to people who aren’t into “this environmental thing”. But it is a huge mining company—one of the world’s largest producers and marketers  of coal—whose effects are global and far-reaching. And while fossil fuel companies more frequently refer to oil and natural gas companies (Shell, BP, Exxon, etc), coal is a fossil fuel and mining companies are accused of many of the same things fossil fuel companies are accused of. It has mines in Australia, South Africa, Colombia, and the USA (to mention just a few places). It is currently working on opening more mines in conserved rainforest area in Borneo.

In 2011, the company donated $10 million (£6 million) to UCL to establish the Institute for Sustainable Resources on the London campus and the International Energy Policy Institute (IEPI) on the Adelaide (Australia) campus. It also funds scholarships at the Australian campus and the “BHP Billiton Chain in Sustainable Global Resources” on the UCL London campus. This led to Professor Jane Rendell, then Vice Dean of Research at the Bartlett, to resign. While both institutes and the company claim that BHP Billiton’s connection to UCL has no bearing on the integrity of the university’s research, there is ample evidence to believe that this is untrue, and even “laughable”.  For example, UCL Australia has published papers in support of the company’s objectives.

I saw these dynamics at play myself at a conference about a week and a half ago titled: Stewardship for Planet Earth: Sustainable Resources & Governance – Evidence, Challenges & Solutions. It was hosted by the Institute for Sustainable Resources and organised by the current BHP Billiton Chair in Sustainable Global Resources, Raimund Bleischwitz, who took the position in August 2013.

The first speaker, anthropologist Jerome Lewis, lit a glimmer of hope in me by saying “we are mining planet Earth”. I was disappointed, however. His “we” was not the insatiable demand of Western society for the products of mining, nor the companies doing the mining, but was the individuals that populate the globe. Thus, the responsibility for solving the problem lay with them. In addition, rather than introducing a genuine discussion of the effects of mining companies on human society, he completely “other-ized” the issue. He framed environmental issues as something that tribal African people in the forests do, and played on Western notions of “development”: his rhetoric made it seem as if the only people affected by a damaged environment are “indigenous” communities in some far away land that most people can’t and don’t empathize with. His rhetoric is frequently employed by people and groups who skew environmental issues by making them seem like something crazy hippies who like to smoke strange substances in the forests of the tropics do.

Dr. Philip Andrews-Speed was another memorable speaker whose chief goal seemed to be selling his most recent book (co-authored with Dr. Bleischwitz). His talk focused on the overuse of environmentally damaging fertilizer in China (and consequent waste and overuse of water), which he squarely blamed—in an incredibly patronizing tone—on ignorant Chinese farmers. But, as we shall see, being patronizing seemed to be a unifying thread of this event.

The aspect of the conference I found the most shocking was the complete lack of discussion about multinational corporations. Despite the fact that “BHP Billiton” was plastered on the slides and was more than simply visible, the speakers and discussion revolved around discussions of grassroots communities on the first day and top-down governance on the second day. I did not hear the words “multinational”, “companies”, “corporations”—consequently, there was no way to have a discussion on the role of industries and multinational companies in the current “sustainability” crisis and how these companies intend to contribute to taking responsibility for or getting us out of it. When the general issue of responsibility for environmental degradation was mentioned, it was presented as a grassroots effort, purely based on individual passion and motivation. The paradox was so enormous that when the speakers spoke of grassroots efforts, their statements were generalized and simply repeating cliched ideas without any substance—and were often clouded by a patronizing tone.

That tone was no surprise. UCL has shown that it does not care much for the plight of the people and communities affected by BHP Billiton. When campaigners came to UCL to draw attention to the destructive—environmentally and socially—activities of BHP Billiton in their home countries (Colombia, Indonesia, and the Philippines), their room booking at UCL was mysteriously and unexpectedly canceled, meaning that they were not allowed to appear on campus. UCL Provost and President Michael Arthur also refused to meet them when they attempted to deliver letters detailing their concerns, meaning that the protesters could only leave their letters to a security guard.

My master’s class is going to Lima, Peru in the spring as part of a project to alleviate water poverty. As part of our research in preparation for this work, we have been discovering that environmental problems, which are so often framed in a physical way, are often more social problems than environmental, driven by power dynamics and associated with the legitimacy of some groups in contrast with the lack of recognition of others. In our case, water scarcity in Lima is portrayed as a consequence of having too little water when in fact some groups are denied access to clean, affordable, and sufficient water as a consequence of political and economic policies and other social issues.  I’m getting to the point in my research where I realize that the mining industry—so crucial to Peru’s national economy—is a huge factor in the water scarcity and the poverty of most of Lima’s population. It so happens that BHP Billiton owns a third of the Antamina mine, the largest mining project underway in the world, where workers began striking recently. Many environmental activists opposed to mining activities have lost their lives in Peru.

So how am I supposed to feel when I go to Lima? I am a naturally optimistic person, but I cannot help but think that, despite my excitement to see a new city and to contribute to practical development work as part of a world-class academic program known for its forward-thinking research, I will feel dirty and hypocritical inside.

UCL, divest from fossil fuels and end your partnership with BHP Billiton, which lasts until 2016. Make me, and all of your students proud: we want to attend not only a university that has a long history behind it, but is as forward-thinking and courageous as it prides itself on being.

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Edited: 18 Nov 2014, 19 Nov 2014


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The International Energy Agency’s Africa Energy Outlook unabashedly promotes the fossil fuel industry

On October 13, the International Energy Agency released its first ever Africa Energy Outlook. The report promotes the interests of fossil fuel companies and fails to represent environmental and socially just issues. The report sees fossil fuels along with a mix of renewable energies as the key to providing electricity to the 620 million people on the continent who don’t have electricity.

According to the press release, “[Sub-Saharan Africa’s] energy resources are more than sufficient to meet the needs of its population, but that they are largely under-developed. The region accounted for almost 30% of global oil and gas discoveries made over the last five years, and it is already home to several major energy producers, including Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. It is also endowed with huge renewable energy resources, including excellent and widespread solar and hydro potential, as well as wind and geothermal.”

Despite the quote above, which seem to promote renewable forms of energy, the report—which the IEA calls a “comprehensive analysis”—is incredibly and blatantly unethical. It is heavily skewed by promoting continued reliance on fossil fuels (which the report calls a “modern” form of energy).

The fossil fuel industry, directly and indirectly, is behind a large proportion of environmental problems with global consequences—such as climate change.

In Africa, the fossil fuel industry has played a major part in deepening the inequalities and injustices begun by colonialism. For example Nigeria, which is the largest producer of natural gas at the moment, is falling apart and can likely expect a full-blown civil war within several years, partly due to the compounding effects of colonialism and the increasing inequality and social and political conflict caused by the fossil fuel industry in the country. The IEA blames oil theft in the country for “deterring investment and production”. This, however, is a myth actively constructed by the oil industry to prevent taking responsibility for the havoc it has wreaked on the local population.

I am not saying the IEA has a responsibility to publish a report that ignores or plots the death of the fossil fuel industry. The purpose of a report is to gather new data and propose solutions based on reasonable assumptions and the data that has been gathered. It would thus not be reasonable to provide solutions that do not take the fossil fuel industry into account. However, it is also ridiculous to promote the fossil fuel industry as the key to world–and African–“development”, given that the fossil fuel industry is at the root of so many of the continent’s problems to begin with.

The report contains data which could have favored interpretations in favor of the growth of the renewable energy industry. For example “renewables grow strongly to account for nearly 45% of total sub-Saharan [power generation] capacity, varying in scale from large hydropower dams to smaller mini- and off-grid solutions”. However, the report consistently favors interpretations in favor of the fossil fuel industry. The press release, in one paragraph, states that demand for oil products has doubled and that coal supply has grown by 50%, but states that per capita consumption of energy is low, and that “widespread use of fuelwood and charcoal persists”. The IEA attempts to blame population growth for the increase in consumption (“nearly one billion people gain access to electricity by 2040 but, because of rapid population growth, more than half a billion people remain without it”), but that doesn’t make sense given per capita consumption patterns and continued use of fuelwood and charcoal. Clearly, the rise in demand is not due to the average African becoming more “developed”, but is due to more consumption by a miniscule group of wealthy people–local elites and foreign business entities–that are profiting from exploiting the natural resources and energy resources of the continent.

The IEA recommends: “Better management of energy resources and revenues, adopting robust and transparent processes that allow for more effective use of oil and gas revenues.” When have “transparent” and “oil and gas” ever made it in the same sentence without comedic effect? Furthermore, the report states that its suggested “actions”, which include “adopting robust and transparent processes that allow for more effective use of oil and gas revenues”, “[will] result in more oil and gas projects going ahead and a higher share of the resulting government revenues being reinvested in key infrastructure. More regional electricity supply and transmission projects also advance, helping to keep down the average cost of supply. But the report warns that these actions must be accompanied by broad governance reforms if they are to put sub Saharan Africa on a more rapid path to a modern, integrated energy system for all.” The profits from oil and gas projects that have been taking place for decades have not been reinvested in key infrastructure and to suggest that they will begin doing so is facetious. So is recommending “broad governance reforms” when the governments of many African countries are intimately linked—even controlled by—the fossil fuel industry itself, and thus powerless against it.

I was intrigued by the list of “Many high-level government representatives and experts from outside of the IEA [who] have contributed to the process, from early consultations to reviewing the draft [of the IEA Africa report]” [whose] “comments and suggestions were of great value”. The first two columns—name and organization—are copied directly from the report. The latter two columns are my own, based on quick Googles of these people. I did not look up everyone, and I selected who I would look into randomly—some from the top of the list, some from the bottom of the list, and some from the middle. The table indicates that the “high-level” “experts” that the IEA chooses to ask for advice lend a very skewed interpretation (if we can even call it that) to the data. Although these people were not directly employed by the IEA, I noticed that many of them have been employed by the IEA in the past or have participated in workshops by the IEA or have contributed to work conducted for the IEA. There is an overabundance of people whose interests lie with oil and gas.

Readers, you are welcome to do more in-depth research—please contribute in the comments!

Name Organization Industry/Interest What a Quick Google Reveals
Emmanuel Ackom United Nations Environment Programme Biofuels, renewables He is a Senior Scientist at the Technical University of Denmark, where he works as part of a partnership with UNEP. His university page reveals a research focus on the urban poor in developing countries, biofuels, “South-South lessons”. Here is his Google Scholar citation page.
Abiodun Afolabi Total Oil Mr. Afolabi is Total’s general secretary for Africa. This article, about drilling offshore oil wells off the coast of South Africa (and possibly Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire), quotes him. Here’s a short professional bio.
Barakat Ahmed African Union Unclear A quick Google reveals he’s a “special assistant” to the African Union Commission, but it’s hard to figure out what he actually does.
Olivier Appert French Institute of Petroleum Oil He’s an expert that has “assessed world oil supply limits”. Here’s his profile on Forbes.
Andrew Barfour Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, Ghana Oil Mr. Barfour “serves on the Boards of Companies” in addition to his government role.
H.E. Kamel Bennaceur Minister of Industry, Energy and Mines, Tunisia Oil and gas His LinkedIn Summary lists expertise only in the oil and gas sectors. In news articles, he is quoted as promoting renewable energy (here and here).
Paul Bertheau Reiner Lemoine Institut Fossil fuels and renewables He is a researcher whose interests include the “hybridization of conventional energy systems with renewable energies”.
André Kabwe Bibombe Energy Commission, Democratic Republic of Congo Probably oil and gas He seems to also be “Director (HEAD OF ELECTRICITY DEPARTMENT)” at Empower Newgen C.I.C, a somewhat sketchy London-based Company. (Googling the company yields this, this, this, and this.)
Aad van Bohemen Ministry of Economic Affairs, The Netherlands Oil and gas Here is his CV. His area of focus is oil and gas. He has presented on “The IEA Response…for Oil Supply Emergencies”.
Federico Bonaglia Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Probably oil and gas He is a researcher with a definite pro-capitalism focus.
François Milere Bouayekon Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, Cameroon Unclear There is not much online information available for him. He participated in a global conference on rural energy access and in a training workshop in energy statistics.
Keith Bowen Eskom Nuclear Mr. Bowen is chief economist of Eskom. He comments on the costs of nuclear energy in this article. Here is another short profile.
Nick Bridge British Ambassador to the OECD/IEA Probably oil and gas Mr. Bridge blogs here. His goals and that of the rest of the team representing the OECD/IEA are UK prosperity.
Oliver Broad Royal Institute of Technology (KTH-dESA), Sweden Unclear Mr. Broad is a researcher who models and analyzes the African energy sector.
Nigel Bruce World Health Organization Probably renewables Dr. Bruce has published articles on the heath effects of particular fuel use in Africa, and has also participated in the Global Burden of Disease studies. His research interests include the effects of air pollution, climate change, and household energy.
Policarpo Calupe Ministry of Energy and Water, Angola Unclear A quick Google didn’t reveal any information.
Peter Cattelaens EU Energy Initiative Partnership Dialogue Facility Renewables This summer, he was present at a conference on “Higher Education for the Renewable Energy Sector in Africa”. He has taken part in a “stocktaking mission” to Guinea-Bissau with the goal of developing the country’s renewable energy policy.
Promise Chukwu Energy Commission, Nigeria Probably oil and gas Mr. Chukwu, the scientific officer for the Energy Commission”, was present at an IEA Energy Statistics Training last year and presented on the “Challenges of Energy Data Collection in Nigeria”.
Lesley Coldham Tullow Oil Oil and gas Africa’s Leading Independent Oil Company” wants to extend its exploration license in Ethiopia and has already found “commercially viable” deposits in Kenya. Ms. Coldham has also worked for De Beers, the diamond trading company.
Emanuela Colombo Department of Energy, Milan Polytechnic Unclear Dr. Colombo has given a speech on “the contribution of research, education and training to the definition of the post 2015 global development agenda”. She has also been present at a conference for universities participating in development to network. She has also had a role with UNESCO.
Philippe Constant Project SIE-Afrique Co-ordinator, Econotec Probably oil and gas Econotec is a consulting group of which Dr. Constant is the head. The company focuses on energy and environmental issues. He was present at a contractor’s meeting for “Energy Services for Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa” in 2007. He is listed as a collaborator on an energy information systems report in Togo.
Célia de Amor Gomes Correia National Petroleum Institute, Mozambique Oil and gas A quick Google does not reveal any information about this person.
Marney Crainey Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom Unclear This person is listed as a Programme Manager at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. (S)he is listed in the acknowledgement section in a paper about carbon pricing and energy policies for the IEA.
Steve Crossman Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom Oil and gas He heads the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s team responsible for climate and energy in Asia, the Americas, and Africa. The team’s work is to “ensure a stable and affordable flow of hydrocarbons to the global market, to work to balance supply and demand [which is] crucial to the UK’s own energy security“.”
Bayaornibè Dabire Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Oil and gas He is the energy director of ECOWAS, and he has been present at a seminars aimed at promoting the natural gas industry in West Africa. He was expected at the Ghana Gas Forum.
Codjo Bertin Djaito Ministry of Energy, Benin Probably oil and gas He was present at a workshop representing the interests of petroleum and renewable energies.
Jens Drillisch KfW, Germany Probably renewables KfW is a development bank owned by the German government. He is an economist for the bank. In 2010 he gave a speech on financing energy projects in developing countries.
Stanislas Drochon IHS Oil and gas Mr. Drochon is a consultant representing the oil and gas sector. “In East Africa the problem is not geology. Rather the question is what to do with the oil and gas produced.”
Hussein Elhag African Energy Commission (AFREC) Renewables Dr. Elhag promotes hydropower projects, nuclear energy, and solar energy.
Jonathan Elkind Department of Energy, United States Probably oil and gas Mr. Elkind is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and focuses on energy security and foreign policy, with specialized knowledge in Soviet and Eurasian affairs.
Mark Elliott CITAC Africa Limited Oil and gas CITAC is a UK-based consulting firm that offers knowledge of oil products. Mr. Elliot is chairman. He has previously worked with Chevron, Gulf Oil, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, and Total.
Mosad Elmissiry New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Oil and gas Dr. Elmissiry is the head of energy programmes at NEPAD, which includes projects “in the Electrical [sic], renewable, oil, and gas areas”. In this article, he talks about hydropower projects and cross-border oil pipelines.
Mike Enskat GIZ, Germany Renewables GIZ stands for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Society for International Cooperation), of which Dr. Enskat is Senior Programme Manager. Renewable energy is an interest of his.
Joseph Kow Essandoh-Yeddu Energy Commission, Ghana Oil and gas He has contributed to WGIII of the IPCC report (2014). His doctorate thesis is titled “Energy-Economic Analysis of Power Plant Carbon Dioxide Capture and Pipeline Transport in Texas Gulf Coast”.
Latsoucabé Fall World Energy Council, Senegal Unclear He has a long career with the Senegalese government. He is on the Steering Committee of a conference titled “Energy, the Key Driver for Africa’s Economic Growth” next year.
Jean-Pierre Favennec Association for the Development of Energy in Africa Oil and gas He has degrees in chemical engineering and oil economics. He has spent his career consulting for the oil and gas industry. This summer, he taught a class titled “Gas and oil: the future of Africa”. Here is a PowerPoint he’s presented on the subject; his only mention of renewables is a bullet point: “Are renewables a solution?” (I’m confident in betting his answer is a resounding “no”.) His spin on the topic is that the oil and gas industry promotes youth employment in West Africa. (If that were the case, many more people would have been “gainfully employed” by the oil and gas industry by now rather than participating in local violence and civil wars and joining militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.)
Francis Gatare Government of Rwanda Unclear He is CEO of the Rwanda Development Board.
Francesco Gattei Eni Oil and gas He is “Investor Relations Senior Vice President” at Eni, which is “committed to growth in the activities of finding, producing, transporting, transforming and marketing oil and gas”.
Adama Gaye Newforce Africa Oil and gas Oxford-educated Adama Gaye is an expert on “China Africa relations” and oil and gas.
Elitsa Georgieva CITAC Africa Limited Oil and gas Georgieva is Director of Consulting Services at CITAC.
Klaus Gihr KfW, Germany Renewables He is involved in rural electrification projects which are “neutral with regard to the technology although specific consideration given to renewables”. He says KfW is one of the larger financiers of renewable energy in Africa. He has worked on geothermal projects.
Fabrice Kermorgant General Electric Oil and gas His LinkedIn profile lists his sector as “Oil and Energy”.
Daniel Ketoto Office of the President, Kenya This person is an engineer. It is not clear in what type of energy he specialises.
Peter Kiss KPMG Oil and gas Mr. Kiss is a consultant on issues of nuclear, renewables, coal, gas, hydro, electricity, and business strategies.
John Francis Kitonga Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Tanzania Unclear His Master’s thesis is on “Electricity Industry Restructuring in Tanzania”. He has also written a paper “Power Sector Reform Strategies in Tanzania”.
Joel Nana Kontchou Schlumberger Oil and gas At Schlumberger, he is the General Manager of Central West Africa. He is also CEO of AES Sonel, a Cameroonian power generation, transport, and distribution company. Here is another article on this “energy guru”.
Ken Koyama Institute of Energy Economics, Japan Oil and gas His fields of expertise include the world oil and natural gas markets, energy security, and the geopolitics of energy.
Martin Krause United Nations Development Programme Renewables His areas of expertise include energy access and renewable energy. Here he promotes biodiesel and biogas.
Jeffrey Sachs Earth Institute and United Nations Unclear Dr. Sachs is a sustainable development professional and promotes capitalist ways of doing development.
Jamal Saghir World Bank Unclear Mr. Saghir is the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Director for the Africa region.
Jules Schers CIRED, France Unclear Mr. Schers is a student on modeling green growth in South Africa.
Hana-Muriel Setteboun FK Group Oil and gas Dr. Setteboun is an expert in finance and investments. She is mentioned in this release by POWER-GEN Africa. On LinkedIn she lists her sector as Oil and Energy.
Panganayi Sithole Zimbabwe Energy Council Unclear Mr. Sithole is Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the Zimbabwe Energy Council.
Henri-Bernard Solignac-Lecomte OECD Unclear Dr. Solignac-Lecomte studies international development.
Vignesh Sridharan Royal Institute of Technology (KTH-dESA), Sweden Unclear Mr. Sridharan is a researcher on energy modeling systems.
Even Stormoen Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway Unclear It’s not clear what, exactly, Mr. Stormoen does.
Glen Sweetnam Department of Energy, United States Oil and gas Mr. Sweetnam is currently Director of the Office of African and Middle Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy. Prior to that, he focused his career on the oil and gas industry. This article lists him as one of Obama’s “oilmen”.
Godwin Sweto Encorex Oil and gas Encorex is a consulting company, of which Mr. Sweto is Managing Director. He specializes in oil and gas.
Minoru Takada United Nations Renewables Dr. Takada is involved in renewable energy issues and has experience in Ghana and Angola and in grassroots activities and international development organizations.
Mika Takehara Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation Oil and gas Ms. Takehara is an expert in fossil fuel production in China.
Constantinos Taliotis Royal Institute of Technology (KTH-dESA), Sweden Oil and gas Mr. Taliotis has been involved in research involving electricity exports, natural gas, and petrochemicals, and has modeled “the energization of the African continent via a cost optimization approach”. He now does research in “Strategic Policies and Investments”.
Wim Thomas Shell Oil and gas Mr. Thomas is an expert on Shell scenarios related to the global energy system.” He’s been employed by shell for over two decades and has quite the illustrious oil and gas career.
Mfon Udofia Shell Oil and gas Ms./Dr. Udofia is listed as a former Shell Exploration Geologist. It is not clear if she participated in discussions regarding the report in this capacity. In this article she lends her expertise to issues of exploratory drilling.
Michael de Vivo International Organisation for Large Dams Hydropower This article quotes him as promoting more hydropower in Myanmar.
Jay Wagner Plexus Energy Oil and gas Plexus Energy is a consulting company that offers expertise to oil, gas, and mining companies. Based in London, Mr. Wagner has worked on projects for Shell and BP.
H.E. Alhaji Mohammed Wakil Minister of State for Power, Nigeria Oil and gas Alhaji Wakil has shown an interest in Chinese investors in power in Nigeria.
Manuel Welsch Royal Institute of Technology (KTH-dESA), Sweden Unclear Mr. Welsch is a researcher on energy models. Here is his Google Scholar citation list.
Rick Westerdale Department of State, United States Oil and gas Mr. Westerdale’s career has been focused on oil and gas.
Marcus Wiemann Alliance for Rural Electrification Unclear Secretary General of the Alliance for Rural Electrification, a non-profit.
Francis A. Yeboah Energy Commission, Ghana Unclear There isn’t anything on this person online.
Florian Ziegler KfW, Germany Renewables He was present at a working group to design a program for scaling up renewable energy.

 

Individuals I have not done a quick Google on are Avi Gopstein (Department of State, USA), Haruna Gujba (African Union), Klas Heising (GIZ, Germany), Andrew Herscowitz (Agency for International Development [Power Africa], USA), Mark Howells (Royal Institute off Technology [KTH-dESA], Sweden), Hans-Petter Hybbestad (Statoil), H.E. Elham Ibrahim (African Union), Robert Ichord (Department of State, USA), Godknows Igali (Ministry of Power, Nigeria), Kanya Williams James (Central Bank of Nigeria), Michio Kawamata (Mitsubishi Corporation), Jean Lamy (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France), Steve Lennon, Eksom), Teresa Malyshev (The Charcoal Project), Wenceslas Mamboundou (Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Hydrocarbons, Gabon), Elizabeth Marabwa (Department of Energy, South Africa), Thierry de Margerie (Alstom), Luigi Marras (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italy), Lucius Mayer-Tasch (GIZ, Germany), Susan McDade (Sustainable Energy for All), Dimitris Mentis (Royal Institute of Technology [KTH-dESA], Sweden), Russel Mills (Dow Chemical), Vijay Modi (Earth Institute, Columbia University), Jacques Moulot (African Development Bank), Diosdado Muatetema (Ministry of Mining, Industry and Energy, Equatorial Guinea), Grégoire Harmand Ndimb (Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, Cameroon), Francesco Fuso Nerini (Royal Institute of Technology [KTH-dESA], Sweden), Laura Nhancale (Ministry of Energy, Mozambique), Philippe Niyongabo (African Union), H.E. Fidel M. Meñe Nkogo (Deputy Minister of Mining, Industry and Energy, Equatorial Guinea), Günter Nooke (Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany), Petter Nore (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway), Nick Norton (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom), Tim Okon (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), Ciro Pagano (Eni), Monojeet Pal (African Development Bank), Marilena Petraglia (TERNA), Mario Pezzini (OECD), Volkmar Pflug (Siemens), Almo Pradana (University College London), Pamela Quanrud (Department of State, United States), Pippo Ranci (Florence School of Regulation, European University Institute), Audrey Rojkoff (African Development Bank), Nawal Saadi (Royal Institute of Technology [KTH-dESA], Sweden).


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What is development?

I’ve started my one-year master’s at UCL in Environment and Sustainable Development! The move to London was filled with excitement and I don’t feel quite moved into my bedroom yet, but I definitely feel the closest thing to “home” (whatever that is) in this city. But I’ve noticed that a lot of people outside of my program have been asking me “what is development?” As a matter of fact, one of my first lectures this week tried to address this. I think a fitting way of restarting updates on my blog is to (try to) answer that question.

Development is like a fly–the harder you try to pin it down, the more elusive it becomes. In no way will my blog post come close to fully capturing the tomes that have been written on how to define it and think about it. But I hope, for those of you who have no inkling of what the title of my master’s program means, this blog post will be somewhat informative.

At its most simplified, “development” is the attempt to reduce inequality and bring everyone in the world to some acceptable standard of living (i.e. to “eradicate poverty”). When most people think about development, they think of UN or other NGO workers going to developing/Third World/poor/Global South countries to do work like setting up schools, bringing up water pumps to villages, or promoting women’s rights. One author has described it as a “global promise of generalised happiness” (1). People from Médecins sans Frontiers, UNICEF, WHO, and similar organizations who go to countries in crisis from war or famine or some other catastrophe are known as “aid workers” and their job is different from development. Aid workers swoop in during or shortly after a catastrophe in an attempt to patch up the worst damage and try to get people (often literally) back on their feet. Development workers are committed to more long-term efforts to help get countries more educated and industrialized and less poor–although they are often funded by Western “aid” money as well.

Although aid and development work is most commonly associated with international NGOs such as the UN, there are many avenues by which to perform this type of work, including private companies, university-related work, or individual efforts. Although most people think of development as something that occurs when people from richer, industrialized countries go to poorer less industrialized countries, it can occur locally within poorer countries or even within richer countries. Working with people who live in slum areas in London, for example, would classify as a type of development work.

I struggled internally when applying for my program because I grew up (in Abuja, Nigeria) seeing and listening to the parents of my schoolmates, many of whom were “development people”, and I did not admire what they did for a variety of reasons. I thought them too optimistic and unrealistic. I saw how projects were often started and left unfinished or unmaintained. I witnessed so many opportunities being missed due to basic cultural and situational misunderstandings. I resented how they lived in what I perceived as disrespectful wealth (they have pools in their compounds?!) while going out in the morning to supposedly help people who didn’t even know how to read or had never gone to sleep without worrying about the following day’s food. My emotional and cerebral attitude to development has changed and become more complicated since I was a schoolgirl, but it is interesting that many of my criticisms growing up are actually many of the criticisms that many other people have made of development work.

Criticisms of development include:

  • Development work can impose Western cultural values upon other communities. It can also have a homogenizing effect upon regional cultures–this can be related to, but is not the same as, Westernization.
  • As an industry, development work promotes capitalism. Capitalism, in turn, cannot solve inequality or poverty because it needs a certain proportion of people living in poverty to sustain itself. The World Bank is particularly notorious for it pro-capitalism policies.
  • People from developed/First World/rich/Global North countries who move to less developed/Third World/poor/Global South countries to perform development work can fall into the old trap of glorifying poverty or the exotic, thus hindering their ability to perceive things clearly and help properly.
  • Despite decades of development work, the majority of people living in many poor countries are not that much better off than they were before.
  • The development field lacks a sense of its own history. When many people describe it, they place its origins after World War II, with efforts like the Marshall Plan. However, the efforts of groups of people and governments to improve the living conditions of lower socioeconomic classes go further back than that. By seeing the field as so new, we may be missing out on the lessons of history.
  • For the people who are the targets of development work, the field defines them based on the things they lack or the things they are not. And when development professionals come in to help them, they can be left with the impression that the solutions to their problems belong to other people and ways of thinking (2).

There are, of course, counter-arguments to all these complaints about development. They include:

  • Development work doesn’t just boss people around and impose its whims upon people from other cultures. Many communities in less developed/Third World/poor/Global South/I-need-to-figure-out-a-way-of-saying-this-concisely countries around the world have shown agency and are getting development work done on their own, without backing from international or foreign organizations and without spectacular funding.
  • Culture naturally changes over time, so pressuring cultures to change in a particular fashion is not always unnatural or does not always spell the death of a way of life.* For example, I firmly believe in gender equality. I fully support equal rights for men and women, and I believe that people of a non-strictly heterosexual mindset or lifestyle have the same rights to determine how to run their lives as heterosexual people. I encourage means to change cultures that do not promote those same ideas. However, I don’t think that the way to go about it is to come in and keep screaming until something happens–because it won’t. Framing arguments in a sensitive way and taking action in a way that makes sense locally or regionally is crucial.
  • Development is not a homogenous, negative, overpowering force. It is done by a variety of people from a variety of places and in a variety of contexts. Some development work is quite good.
  • In other words, we can be so focused on all the ways development has failed us in creating the perfect society that we lose sight of the many material benefits and other good development has given to a lot of people who would have not had these things otherwise. A common example is immunization programs. As one author put it: “There is a disturbing tendency…to see poverty in terms of the social construction of a deficient world rather than the material reality of absolute deprivation in a deficient world.” (3)

To reiterate, I can in no way hope to elucidate all the definitions of development, and explain all the back-and-forth that has gone on since its existence. This is just the bare bones. However, a good source to introduce yourself to the history of criticisms of development–and the criticisms of these criticisms–and to learn all the -isms and philosophical movements that go along with these ideas is McGregor, A. (2009). “New Possibilities? Shifts in Post-Development Theory and Practice”, Geography Compass, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 1688-1702.

* Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains this quite eloquently in the last quarter or so of her famous “We Should All Be Feminists” TED talk.

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Literature Cited

(1) Rist, G. (2007). Development as a buzzword. Development in Practice 17 (4-5), pp. 485-491.

(2) Esteva, G. (1992). Development. In: Sachs, W. (ed.) The development dictionary: a guide to knowledge as power. London: Zed Books, pp. 6-25.

(3) Peet, R. and Hartwick, E. (2009). “Critical Modernism and Democratic Development”, Theories of Development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives (2nd edition), Guilford Press, New York, Part III Ch. 8, pp. 275-291.


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What risks does Africa face from climate change?

The African continent is the biggest and most populous after Asia (UN DESA 2013). It is also one of the most vulnerable to climate change, because it is highly exposed to many climate-related risks and has low adaptive capacity.

These are the top climate-related regional risks for Africa (click to see large version).

Top Climate-Related Risks in Africa - New Page

Risks based on the final draft of Chapter 22: Africa of the IPCC’s AR5, WGII report, available here.

Image credit (satellite image of African continent only): NASA/JPL-Caltech; source: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA04965. File is in public domain.

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