| | Other topics
News articles on energy politics
Mongabay.com news articles on energy politics in blog format. Updated regularly.
Are small-scale hydro projects always greener?
(02/23/2015) Rising energy demand and global efforts to mitigate climate change have made renewable energy projects increasingly attractive. One widely known and well-developed source of renewable energy is hydroelectricity. However, past environmental campaigns against large dams have resulted in policy changes in some parts of the world, leading to an increasing number of small hydropower projects.
Chile drops hugely controversial mega-dam project in wild Patagonia
(06/12/2014) One of the world's most controversial mega-dam projects met its likely end this week when Chile's Committee of Ministers voted to cancel the permits for the HidroAysén project. Costing around $8 billion and expected to produce about 2.75 gigawatts, the project involved building five large dams on two wild rivers in Chile's famously-unspoiled Patagonia region.
Oil overthrow: Soco to suspend operations in Virunga National Park after sustained campaign by WWF
(06/11/2014) In a surprise announcement, British oil company Soco International has said it will suspend exploratory operations in Virunga National Park, home to half the world's Critically Endangered mountain gorillas as well as thousands of other species. The announcement follows several years of campaigning from conservation groups led by WWF.
EPA carbon proposal may be crucial step in addressing global climate change
(06/10/2014) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) June 2nd regulation proposal hit all the expected chords. Following on the heels of a January regulation for new power plants, the Clean Power Plan focuses on all existing electric generation. By 2030, the plan aims to reduce 2005-level carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent.
Controversial Amazon dams may have exacerbated biblical flooding
(03/16/2014) Environmentalists and scientists raised howls of protest when the Santo Antônio and Jirau Dams were proposed for the Western Amazon in Brazil, claiming among other issues that the dams would raise water levels on the Madeira River, potentially leading to catastrophic flooding. It turns out they may have been right: last week a federal Brazilian court ordered a new environmental impact study on the dams given suspicion that they have worsened recent flooding in Brazil and across the border in Bolivia.
Gas company to drill in Manu National Park buffer zone, imperiling indigenous people
(02/04/2014) The Peruvian government has approved plans for gas company Pluspetrol to move deeper into a supposedly protected reserve for indigenous peoples and the buffer zone of the Manu National Park in the Amazon rainforest. The approval follows the government rescinding a highly critical report on the potential impacts of the operations by the Culture Ministry (MINCU), the resignation of the Culture Minister and other Ministry personnel, and repeated criticism from Peruvian and international civil society.
Top scientists propose ambitious plans to safeguard world from devastating climate change
(12/05/2013) Two degrees is too much: that's the conclusion of a landmark new paper by top economists and climatologists, including James Hansen formerly of NASA. The paper, appearing in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, argues that global society must aim for only one degree Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impact of climate change, and not the two degrees Celsius agreed on by the world's governments. But given that the world's governments are not yet on track to even achieve the two degree target, how could we lock in just one? A combination of renewable energy, nuclear power, and, most importantly, a rising price on carbon emissions, according to the eighteen scientists.
UN talks tough to global coal industry
(11/19/2013) Yesterday, at the International Coal and Climate Summit—just a couple miles from the ongoing UN Climate Summit—Christiana Figueres delivered a speech unlike anything ever heard at a coal industry meeting before. Figueres, the Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), took time off from wrangling world leaders and officials toward a climate agreement to talk tough to an industry currently worth around $3 trillion.
Fracking: the good, the bad and the ugly
(11/18/2013) The last few years have ushered in a new national and global awareness of fracking, the 150-year-old technology for extracting natural gas and oil from rock. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, uses ultra-high-pressure slurries to create hairline fractures throughout solid rock. Oil, and more frequently gas, comes rushing out while sand from the mixture holds the fractures open in this nearly alchemical process. As many readers are aware, there are two very divisive schools of thought on fracking. One side touts it as the future of energy. The other derides fracking as inherently toxic and demands its immediate and permanent cessation. Like so many aspects of life, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Japan pledges to raise carbon emissions, instead of cutting them
(11/18/2013) In 2009, Japan pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 25 percent based on 1990 levels within 11 years. Four years later—including a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima—and Japan has reset its goal with a new target to cut emissions by 3.8 percent based on 2005 levels at the UN Climate Summit in Warsaw, Poland. But, the new target, which received widespread condemnation when announced on Friday, actually results in a 3.1 percent rise in emissions when viewed from the widely-accepted 1990 baseline.
World's most vulnerable nation to climate change turns to coal power
(11/18/2013) In October, a global risks analysis company, Maplecroft, named Bangladesh the world's most vulnerable nation to climate change by 2050. The designation came as little surprise, since Bangladesh's government and experts have been warning for years of climatic impacts, including rising sea levels, extreme weather, and millions of refugees. However, despite these very public warnings, in recent years the same government has made a sudden turn toward coal power—the most carbon intensive fuel source—with a master plan of installing 15,000 megawatts (MW) of coal energy by 2030, which could potentially increase the country's current carbon dioxide emissions by 160 percent.
Richest countries spent $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011, eclipsing climate finance by seven times
(11/13/2013) In 2011, the top 11 richest carbon emitters spent an estimated $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or seven times the amount spent on fast-track climate financing to developing nations, according to a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. Worldwide, nations spent over half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Bangladesh plans massive coal plant in world's biggest mangrove forest
(11/11/2013) On October 22nd Bangladeshi and Indian officials were supposed to hold a ceremony laying the foundation stone for the Rampal power plant, a massive new coal-fired plant that will sit on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. However, the governments suddenly cancelled the ceremony, instead announcing that the project had already been inaugurated in early October by the countries' heads of state via a less-ornate Skype call. While the governments say the change was made because of busy schedules, activists contend the sudden scuttling of the ceremony was more likely due to rising pressure against the coal plant, including a five-day march in September that attracted thousands.
Zombie coal: Borneo resurrects controversial coal plant
(09/18/2013) The Malaysian government is taking another look at building a hugely controversial coal-fired plant in the Bornean state of Sabah, a proposal that was thrown out in 2011 due to a large-scale grassroots movement. The 300 megawatt coal plant would have been built in Lahad Datu on the edge of a wildlife reserve and the state's renowned coral reefs. Reportedly, the government is now considering building the same plant only further south in Tawau, which also lies on the coast.
Southern U.S. logging soars to meet foreign biofuel demand
(06/06/2013) In order to meet the European Union's goal of 20% renewables by 2020, some European utility companies are moving away from coal and replacing it with wood pellet fuel. The idea is simple: trees will regrow and recapture the carbon released in the burning of wood pellets, making the process supposedly carbon-neutral. But just like other simple ideas, it misses out important details that can turn it on its head.
Canadian province cancels tar sands pipeline due to environmental impact
(06/04/2013) Efforts to expand production from the Alberta tar sands suffered a significant setback on Friday when the provincial government of British Columbia rejected a pipeline project because of environmental shortcomings. In a strongly worded statement, the government of the province said it was not satisfied with the pipeline company's oil spill response plans.
Indonesia's largest coal plant will be built despite protests, minister says
(05/26/2013) Indonesia will go ahead with construction of what is set to be its largest coal-fired power plant in Batang, Central Java next year, a senior government official has said, downplaying opposition from environmental groups and the local community. Developers have struggled to acquire the approximately 200 hectares of land needed for the planned PLTU Batang plant, which would have a 2000 megawatt (MW) capacity. Residents of five villages have protested the project, with some refusing to release their land on fears of potential environmental damage to the area. Environmental groups also oppose the plant, saying it overlaps with a marine protected area and runs counter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
Featured documentary: Damocracy, highlighting the battles over the Belo Monte and Ilisu dams
(04/29/2013) A new short documentary highlights the battles over monster dam projects imperiling local people and wild rivers. Examining the Belo Monte dam in Brazil and the Ilisu dam in Turkey, the documentary argues that such hydroelectric projects cannot be deemed "green" energy as they overturn lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems.
'Carbon bubble' could cause next global financial crisis
(04/22/2013) The world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars, according to leading economists. "The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed," said Lord (Nicholas) Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics. He said the risk was "very big indeed" and that almost all investors and regulators were failing to address it.
At top of the world, activists say exploiting Arctic is 'utter madness'
(04/17/2013) Four young explorers including American actor Ezra Miller have planted a flag on the seabed at the north pole and demanded the region is declared a global sanctuary. The expedition, organized by Greenpeace, saw the flag lowered in a time capsule that contained the signatures of nearly 3 million people who are calling for a ban on exploitation in the region.
Proposed coal plant threatens Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo
(04/02/2013) One kilometer off the Philippine island of Palawan lies the Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary; here forest grows unimpeded from a coral island surrounded by mangroves and coral reefs. Although tiny, over a hundred bird species have been recorded on the island along with a major population of large flying foxes, while in the waters below swim at least 130 species of coral fish, three types of marine turtles, and that curious-looking marine mammal, dugongs. Most importantly, perhaps, the island is home to the world's largest population of Philippine cockatoos (Cacatua haematuropygia), currently listed as Critically Endangered. But, although uninhabited by people, Rasa Island may soon be altered irrevocably by human impacts.
Indigenous protester killed by masked assailants in Panama over UN-condemned dam
(03/25/2013) A Ngäbe indigenous Panamanian, Onesimo Rodriguez, opposing the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project was killed last Friday evening by four masked men. His body was then thrown into a nearby stream where it was discovered the following day. Onesimo Rodriguez was attacked with a companion in Las Nubes, after they had attended a demonstration in Cerro Punta, Bugaba, against the dam. His companion, whose identity is being withheld for security reasons, received serious injuries but managed to escape and is having his injuries tended to by the local indigenous community.
Burning coal may be killing over 100,000 people in India every year
(03/13/2013) India's dependence on coal-fired power plants for energy may be leading directly to the deaths of 80,000 to 115,000 of its citizens every year, according to the first ever report on the health impacts of coal in the country. The report, commissioned by the Conservation Action Trust and Greenpeace-India, deals only with the direct health impact of coal and not climate change. But even ignoring the rising pain of global warming, the bleak report outlines that coal consumption in India is causing over 20 million asthma attacks, nearly a million emergency room visits, and killing some 10,000 children under five annually.
Fish unable to pass through dams in U.S. presents 'cautionary tale' for developing world
(01/17/2013) Dams create a largely impenetrable barrier for fish even when the dams were installed with specially-built passages, according to a new study in Conservation Letters. The scientists found that migrating fish largely failed to use the passages in the U.S., resulting in far fewer moving through the state-of-the-art hydroelectric dams than had been promised. The researchers say that their findings are a "cautionary tale" for developing nations.
Malaysian candidate pledges to drop controversial dam in Sarawak if elected
(01/14/2013) Malaysia's current opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, has pledged to cancel the controversial Baram Dam in Sarawak if upcoming general elections sweep him into the office of Prime Minister. Ibrahim made the announcement while visiting the state of Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo, over the weekend, according to the indigenous rights NGO, Bruno Manser Fund.
Wealthy nations' fossil fuel subsidies dwarf climate financing
(12/05/2012) A new analysis finds that 21 wealthy countries spent five-times more on subsidizing fossil fuels in 2011 than they have on providing funds for poor nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The analysis, by Oil Change International, comes in the midst of the current UN Climate Summit held in Doha, Qatar; progress at the talks has been stymied due to the gulf between poor and rich nations, including on the issue of climate financing.
Penan suspend dam blockade, give government one month to respond to demands
(11/15/2012) Members of the Penan tribe have suspended their month long blockade of the Murum dam in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, reports Survival International. However, according to the indigenous group the fight is not over: the departing Penan said the Sarawak government had one month to respond to demands for sufficient compensation for the dam's impact or face another blockade. Over 300 Penan people participated in the blockade, which stopped traffic leading to the construction site.
Indigenous groups re-occupy Belo Monte dam in the Amazon
(10/09/2012) Construction on Brazil's megadam, Belo Monte, has been halted again as around 150 demonstrators, most of them from nearby indigenous tribes, have occupied the main construction site at Pimental. Over a hundred indigenous people joined local fishermen who had been protesting the dam for 24 days straight. Indigenous people and local fishermen say the dam will devastate the Xingu River, upending their way of life.
Indigenous blockade expands against massive dam in Sarawak
(10/08/2012) Indigenous people have expanded their blockade against the Murum dam in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, taking over an additional road to prevent construction materials from reaching the dam site. Beginning on September 26th with 200 Penan people, the blockade has boomed to well over 300. Groups now occupy not just the main route to the dam site, but an alternative route that the dam's contractor, the China-located Three Gorges Project Corporation, had begun to use.
Mekong dam spree could create regional food crisis
(08/27/2012) Fish are a hugely important protein source for many people around the world. This is no more evident than along the lower Mekong River delta where an estimated 48 million people depend directly on the river for food and livelihoods. But now a new study in Global Environmental Change cautions that 11 planned hydroelectric dams in the region could cut vital fish populations by 16 percent while putting more strain on water and land resources.
Greenpeace abandons occupation of Arctic oil drilling rig after workers throw metal at them
(08/26/2012) On Friday the head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, and five other activists occupied an Arctic oil platform owned by Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom to protest exploiting fossil fuel beds in the Arctic ocean. The action by Greenpeace was short-lived after workers began spraying them with cold water from high-powered hoses and then threw pieces of metal at them, according to Naidoo, who communicated via Twitter during the civil disobedience.
Belo Monte mega-dam halted again by high Brazilian court, appeal likely but difficult
(08/15/2012) A high federal court in Brazil has ruled that work on the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon be immediately suspended. Finding that the government failed to properly consult indigenous people on the dam, the ruling is the latest in innumerable twists and turns regarding the massive dam, which was first conceived in the 1970s, and has been widely criticized for its impact on tribal groups in the region and the Amazon environment. In addition the Regional Federal Tribunal (TRF1) found that Brazil's Environmental Impact Assessment was flawed since it was conducted after work on the dam had already begun.
United States ranks near bottom on first ever energy efficiency scorecard
(08/15/2012) Last month, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy released its first ever international energy efficiency scorecard, which gave the United Kingdom the top score. Using data points honed over years of rating U.S. states, the organization hoped to inspire nations to learn from each others' effective policies, as well as encourage "friendly competition" in the spirit of lowering global carbon emissions. At number one, the United Kingdom achieved a score of 67 out of 100 points, followed by Germany, Italy and Japan. As a whole, the European Union tied with China and Australia, and nine points below them, the United States came in with a score of 47 out of 100.
Tigers vs. coal in India: when big energy meets vanishing cats
(08/01/2012) Burning coal fuels climate change, causes acid rain, and spreads toxic pollutants into the environment, but now a new Greenpeace report warns that coal may also imperil the world's biggest feline: the tiger. Home to world's largest population of tigers—in this case the Bengal subspecies (Panthera tigris tigris)—India is also the world's third largest coal producer. The country's rapacious pursuit of coal—it has nearly doubled production since 2007—has pushed the industry into tiger territory, threatening to destroy forests and fragment the tiger's already threatened population.
Republican stalwart calls global warming 'a matter of fact', pushes for carbon tax
(07/13/2012) Former Secretary of State George Shultz is calling for a carbon tax to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption, according to an interview released today by Stanford University.
Massive coal mine in Australia beats back climate change legal challenge
(04/03/2012) An Australian court last week ruled that climate change was not reason enough to halt the $6.3 billion Wandoan coal mine in Australia in a landmark case. Swiss coal mining company Xstrata succeeded in defeating a challenge from the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth and local farmers, which argued that the mine should be halted due to its resulting carbon emissions.
Judge suspends Brazilian dam that would flood sacred waterfalls
(04/02/2012) A federal judge has suspended the construction of a 1,820 megawatt dam on the Teles Pires River in the Amazon. The judge found that indigenous communities were not properly consulted about the dam, which would flood a sacred site, known as the Seven Waterfalls, as well as imperil the livelihoods of indigenous fishermen.
Mining cancellation throws wrench into Sarawak dam-building spree
(03/27/2012) The world's third largest mining company, Rio Tinto, and a local financial and construction firm, Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), have cancelled plans for a $2 billion aluminum smelter to be constructed in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The cancellation calls into question Sarawak's plan to build a dozen massive dams—known as the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) initiative—that were proposed, in part, to provide power to the massive aluminum smelter. However, the mega-dam proposal has been heavily criticized for its impact on Sarawak's rivers, rainforest and indigenous people.
International Labor Organization raps Brazil over monster dam
(03/07/2012) The UN's International Labor Organization (ILO) has released a report stating that the Brazilian government violated the rights of indigenous people by moving forward on the massive Belo Monte dam without consulting indigenous communities. The report follows a request last year by the The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the Brazilian government to suspend the dam, which is currently being constructed on the Xingu River in the Amazon.
Opposition rising against U.S. Arctic drilling
(02/09/2012) Drilling in the Arctic waters of the U.S. may become as contested an issue as the Keystone Pipeline XL in up-coming months. Scientists, congress members, and ordinary Americans have all come out in large numbers against the Obama Administration's leases for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea and the Chuckchi Sea.
Black Swans and bottom-up environmental action
(02/08/2012) The defining events shaping the modern world - economic, social, environmental, progressive and disruptive - are frequently characterized as "Black Swans."The Black Swan term and theory were characterized by author and analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb who explains, "What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." Taleb identifies the emergence of the internet, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the popularity of Facebook, stock market crashes, the success of Harry Potter, and World War I as among Black Swan events.
Brazil begins preliminary damming of Xingu River as protests continue
(01/19/2012) Damming of the Xingu River has begun in Brazil to make way for the eventual construction of the hugely controversial, Belo Monte dam. The Norte Energia (NESA) consortium has begun building coffer dams across the Xingu, which will dry out parts of the river before permanent damming, reports the NGO International Rivers. Indigenous tribes, who have long opposed the dam plans on their ancestral river, conducted a peaceful protest that interrupted construction for a couple hours.
IEA warns: five years to slash emissions or face dangerous climate change
(11/13/2011) Not known for alarmism and sometimes criticized for being too optimistic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that without bold action in the next five years the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively 'safe' by many scientists and officials.
Obama administration opens more of the Arctic to drilling
(10/05/2011) Nearly 500 Arctic oil and gas leases from the Bush administration have been restarted this week by the Obama administration. Known as Chukchi Lease 193, the various leases had been held up in court after environmental groups and indigenous groups challenged them, citing a significant lack of baseline information about the Chukchi Sea ecosystem. The Obama administration now says that many of the ecosystem gaps need not be filled, but Arctic indigenous and environmental groups disagree.
Fossil fuel subsidies going in the wrong direction?
(10/05/2011) In 2009, G20 nations committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term, yet are further away today than they were two years ago from keeping the pledge. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) fossil fuel subsidies rose by nearly $100 billion in the last year alone, from $312 billion in 2009 to $409 billion in 2010. The agency warned that subsidies could reach $660 billion by 2020 if governments don't act on reform.