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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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First global urban biodiversity study: anthropogenic drivers are major culprits of decreasing bird and plant diversity

In February, the Proceedings of the Royal Society published “A Global Analysis of the Impacts of Urbanization on Bird and Plant Diversity Reveals Key Anthropogenic Drivers“. This is the first study to have been done that compares the biodiversity of cities worldwide and is so far the largest global compilation of urban biodiversity data.

Despite the fact that over half of the world’s people live in cities [1], they only cover about 3% of the world’s surface [2]. In addition to the fact that the needs of urbanites go beyond the boundaries of a city and affect people and ecosystems around the globe, cities are located in places that were not only beneficial to the people who settled there, but allowed diverse and rich ecosystems and networks to flourish. In other words, the characteristics of a place that attracted people to a particular place are usually what make those same places “biodiversity hotspots”–i.e. a species-rich region [3-5]. In these regions, however, species are threatened by many anthropogenic changes, such as habitat loss and species introductions [6].

For a long time, people have recognized that biodiversity is important to cities and that more research on urban ecology needs to be done [7-9]. However, a global synthesis such as this paper had been lacking. Previously studies surveyed the biodiversity of several species worldwide, or used species diversity studies focused on individual cities to extrapolate the effects of urbanization on biodiversity worldwide. What we do know is that cities are novel ecosystems [10] with very fragmented or otherwise changed natural environments, high densities of artificial structures, and impervious surfaces that retain a lot of heat [11].

Many scientists hypothesized that the world’s cities would have very similar species compositions, due to very similar patterns in development and spatial structure, in addition to human-mediated movement of species from one place to another [12]. The frequent movement of species from their native environment to a non-native one increases the likelihood of exotic species becoming invasive and interacting with habitat alteration to destroy the finely tuned balance of local ecosystems [13]. This study, however, showed that cities may be better at retaining regional diversity than expected.

This study compiled a list of urban bird species for 54 cities and a list of vascular plant species for 110 cities. These cities fell on 36 countries, 6 continents, and 6 biogeographic realms. The cities covered a range of population size, geographical areas, and establishment dates (4000 BC to AD 1971). They examined the bird and plant diversity in these cities, how homogenized the biota were, species density in urban vs non-urban environments, and the how species density correlated with anthropogenic and natural variables.

What were the authors’ key findings?

  • Bird and plant species were significantly different among cities. Of the over 10,000 recognized bird species worldwide, 20% occur in cities, representing nearly three-quarters of all bird families. Of the almost 280,000 recognized  vascular plant species worldwide, 5% occur in cities, representing two-thirds of all plant families.
  • Within biogeographic realms, cities retained similar compositional patterns. This is good! It means that urban biotas have not become as globally homogenized as we feared, and that they continue to reflect regional species pools.
  • The number of exotic species, which are an increasingly grave threat to global biodiversity [14], varies broadly among cities. On average, cities have more native bird and plant species than exotic, and in general the proportion of exotic bird and plant species to native is similar. However, Australasia has a significantly higher proportion of exotic species–this is true in New Zealand cities in particular, which have had many exotic species deliberately introduced [15] and also has unfilled ecological niches.
  • “The relative proportion of exotic plant species is much greater than that of exotic bird species.” This likely indicates that the processes underlying how urban bird and plant communities are assembled are different. Factors that are involved in determining how communities are assembled include introduction rates [16], establishment rates, and varying needs for survival or success.

What are the most common birds and plants found in the world’s cities?

  • These four birds occur in over 80% of cities: the rock pigeon, the house sparrow, the European starling, and the barn swallow
  • These plants occur in all biogeographic realms: annual meadow grass, shepherd’s-purse, chickweed, ribwort plantain, and the common reed. Most of these plants were introduced to Europe before 1500 AD, meaning that they developed urban populations in European cities before they became successfully established in cities around the world.

What were the findings relating to species threatened with extinction?

  • Bird species that are threatened by extinction were found in 30% of cities.  Singapore had the largest number.
  • Threatened plants were found in 8% of cities. Singapore and Hong Kong had the largest number.
  • At a larger scale, the greatest number of threatened bird and plant species were found in Indo-Malaya. The Nearctic has the fewest threatened bird species. The Palearctic has the fewest threatened plant species.
  • These proportions are probably conservative, especially for the plant species, because national lists often include species that are not assessed by the IUCN.

What were the general patterns of biodiversity that were observed?

  • The highest densities of bird species were found in Palearctic species, mainly in European cities, and the lowest densities were in Nearctic and Australasian cities.
  • The lowest densities of plant species were in cities in Indo-Malaya and Australasia.
  • Compared to non-urban areas, species densities were low in cities. Indo-Malaya and Australasia experienced the greatest loss in plant species density compared with non-urban levels. This is particularly troubling, as these regions are important biodiversity hotspots [17] and are also regions were urban land area is projected to increase [18].
  • Bird and plant densities were best explained by the anthropogenic features of the city.
    Bird density was negatively associated with urban landcover, perhaps indicating that managing vegetation structure is an important part of bird conservation in cities.
    Plant density was positively associated with the cover of intact vegetation and city age. In other words, plant species are best preserved in older cities where there were more tracts of vegetation left unfragmented.

This study showed that although cities can and do support regional biodiversity and native species, urbanization substantially decreases biodiversity, at least compared to non-urban environments. The authors suggest that focusing on conserving and restoring the native vegetation within cities could help bolster bird and plant diversity, thus hopefully counteracting likely declines in biodiversity that accompany urbanization [18].

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Literature Cited

[1] UN. 2011 World Population Prospects: 2010 Revision. New York, NY: UN.

[2] Schneider A, Friedl MA, Potere D. 2010. Mapping Global Urban Areas Using MODIS 500-m Data: New Methods and Datasets. Remote Sens. Environ. 114, 1733-1746.

[3] Luck GW. 2007. A Review of the Relationships between Human Population Density and Biodiversity. Biol. Rev. B82, 607-645.

[4] Kuhn I, Brandl R, Klotz S. 2004. The Flora of German Cities is Naturally Species Rich. Evol. Ecol. Res. 6, 749-764

[5] Cincotta RP, Wisnewski J, Engelman R. 2000. Human Population in the Biodiversity Hotspots. Nature 404, 990-992.

[6] Williams NSG et al. 2009. A Conceptual Framework for Predicting the Effects of Urban Environments o Floras. J. Ecol. 97, 4-9.

[7] United Nations Environment Programme. 2007. Report of the Cities and Biodiversity: Achieving the 2010 Diversity Target. Montreal, Canada: UNEP/CBO.

[8] Sukopp H. 2002. On the Early History of Urban Ecology in Europe. Preslia 74, 373-393.

[9] Pickett STA et al. 2011. Urban Ecological Systems: Scientific Foundations and a Decade of Progress. J. Environ. Manage. 92, 331-362.

[10] Hobbs RJ et al. 2006. Novel Ecosystems: Theoretical and Management Aspects of the New Ecological World Order. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 15, 1-7.

[11] Rebele F. 1994. Urban Ecology and Special Features of Urban Ecosystems. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. Lett. 4, 173-187.

[12] La Sorte FA, McKinney ML, Pysek P. 2007. Compositional Similarity Among Urban Floras Within and Across Continents: Biogeographical Consequences of Human-Mediated Biotic Interchange. Glob. Change Biol. 13, 913-921.

[13] Winter M et al. 2011. Plant Extinctions and Introductions Lead to Phylogenetic and Taxonomic Homogenization of the European Flora. Proc. Natl. Acad. Scie USA. 106, 21721-21725.

[14] Butchart SHM et al. 2010. Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines. Science. 328, 1164-1168.

[15] Atkinson IAE, Cameron EK. 1993. Human Influence on the Terrestrial Biota and Biotic Communities of New Zealand. Trends Ecol. Evol. 8, 447-451.

[16] Hulme PE et al. 2008. Grasping at the Routes of Biological Invasions: A Framework for Integrating Pathways into Policy. J. Appl. Ecol. 45, 403-414.

[17] Myers N, Mittemeier RA, Mittemeier CG, da Fonseca GAB, Kent J. 2000. Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities. Nature 403, 853-858.

[18] Seto KC, Guneralp B, Hutyra LR. 2012. Global Forecasts of Urban Expansion to 2030 and Direct Impacts on Biodiversity and Carbon Pools. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109, 16083-16088.

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