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Africa/Global: Beyond the Paris Climate Talks

AfricaFocus Bulletin
December 10, 2015 (151210)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

As the climate talks in Paris draw to a close this week, the countries present are still far from full agreement. Among the latest surprises was the announcement by the Marshall Islands and St. Lucia of a "Coalition of High Ambition Countries," spearheaded by small island states which are the most at risk of being submerged due to climate change. The coalition includes over 100 countries, including the European Union countries and the United States, but notable exceptions are the largest developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil, and South Africa.

Details of the latest negotiations are complex, the outcome still highly uncertain, and positions within each of the many negotiation alliances are themselves subject to change. The remaining stumbling blocks as of today are summarized in this article in The Guardian, which has been covering the talks extensively as part of its "Keep it in the ground" campaign.

"The six key road blocks at the UN climate talks in Paris" The Guardian, December 10, 2015

What is agreed among virtually all observers and participants is that the results of the conference will fall far short of that needed to curb climate change short of even more catastrophic results in the coming decades, added to the documented increase in "extreme weather events" already making themselves felt.

The outcome will depend in part on the agreed words on paper in the next few days, but even more on the practical effect of multiple technical and political trends around the world, both positive and negative.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains substantial excerpts from articles on two particularly important issues beyond those in the Paris text, namely the future of coal, and the threat to climate action by governments coming from parallel and little noticed negotiations in Geneva on the "Trade in Services Agreement" (TiSA).

There are also brief snippets from other relevant articles, on agriculture, on critiques of the new OECD report estimating rich country contributions to climate finance to date, and on rapid advances predicted in renewable energy for both Africa and the United States.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate and the environment, visit


Year-end Break for AfricaFocus; Asking for your Support

With this issue AfricaFocus Bulletin begins a year-end break in publication. Publication will resume in early to mid-January. As usual, the AfricaFocus website and social media pages will continue to be available.

This is also time for a reminder that while AfricaFocus is and will remain free to you and other readers, it continues to depend on support from those readers who decide to make a voluntary payment to help support this work. If you are able to do so, and continue to find this publication useful, this publication, please go to to make a secure contribution on-line or to download a form to mail in with your check or money order. Although this contribution is not tax-deductible, it may be deductible as a business expense.

Best wishes to all for the holiday season and for the coming year.

William Minter, Editor, AfricaFocus Bulletin

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

"Thousands of Planned Coal Plants, if Built, Could Doom Efforts to Contain Global Warming"

by Maureen Nandini Mitra, managing editor, Earth Island Journal

Alternet, December 4, 2015

I landed in Calcutta (Kolkata, if you are a stickler for official names) on November 30, the day the world leaders, policy makers, and environmental activists gathered in Paris to figure out how to curb climate change. Officially, it's wintertime in this city of my birth, but the air on Monday night was anything but chilly. Instead, it was uncomfortably muggy. The only sign of winter was the hazy air -- a regular year-end feature in this overcrowded, traffic-choked metropolis in eastern India.

The unusually warm weather might be an anomaly, at least that's what the local weathermen say, but in my experience, winters here have certainly become milder in recent years. (While winter is receding here, the waters are rising. Calcutta is among coastal cities across the world most vulnerable to increased flooding due to climate change.)

Meanwhile farther south by the tip of the Indian peninsula, another coastal city, Chennai, has been flooded for two months due to torrential rains that have submerged homes and disrupted normal life. The Indian Army has been deployed there to rescue people stranded in their homes. The rains have broken a 100-year-old record with one day's rainfall covering an entire month's average in a city that's more used to blazing heat than damp days.

When I spoke with a journalist friend living there last morning (it's past 3 a.m. Thursday morning here as I write this), she was stuck in her second floor apartment with her invalid mother and little girl with no power. Her cellphone, the only way she can connect with the outside world, had barely any charge left. The first floor of her building was completely inundated and she feared the waters would soon rise further. "Even if the rescue boats come, I can't leave because they most likely won't be able to evacuate my mother," she told me, before I hung up, not wanting to waste her cellphone charge needlessly. I haven't heard from her since.

This is it: the real, harsh, personal face of climate change. Given such stark news, it was doubly depressing to read a new report by Climate Action Tracker that shows that thousands of new coal plants being planned in countries across the world, including India, could doom efforts to contain global warming.

If all the 2,440 coal plants in the pipeline were to be built, by 2030, emissions from coal power would be 400 percent higher than what is consistent with a 2degC pathway, says the "Coal Gap" report, which was released in Paris on Tuesday. Using data from Earth Island Institute's CoalSwarm project's updated Global Coal Plant Tracker, the researchers calculated the effect of coal-fired power on global emissions and concluded that even with no new construction, in 2030, emissions from coal-fired power generation would still be more than 150 percent higher than what is consistent with holding warming below 2degC.

The researchers based their assessment on planned new coal plants both globally, and in the eight countries that each plan to build more than 5GW of coal power capacity: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey -- plus the EU28. In emerging economies, like India, the plants are being planned in hopes of meeting rapidly increasing electricity demand, while in the EU28, new coal plants will mainly replace existing capacity.

Of course, the biggest offender here is China, which has 722 planned plants that would emit 2.2 gigatons of carbon emissions a year. But India isn't lagging too far behind. The report notes that the large amounts of new coal capacity planned in India and Turkey "could have a relatively significant impact."

"In India, stopping new coal fired power plants to be built could mitigate 0.7 GtCO [gigatons of carbon emissions], provided low carbon technologies are implemented," it adds.

The researchers say, ideally, plans for these plants should be canceled, but I sincerely doubt that will happen. At least not here in India, where coal companies have deep ties with the political class, and where the environment minister (who's currently in Paris) gives that same old line about the floods in Chennai being a "natural calamity" that "can't be directly linked to climate change."

The Coal Gap: planned coal-fired power plants inconsistent with 2degC and threaten achievement of INDCs

Climate Action Tracker, Dec. 1, 2015


  • Holding temperature increase below 2degC, or below 1.5degC by 2100, requires a rapid decarbonisation of the global power sector. IPCC AR5 scenarios indicate that this sector needs to reach zero carbon emissions globally around 2050, 35 years hence. This means phasing out emissions from coal-fired power by 2050.
  • Even with no new construction, emissions from coal-fired power generation in 2030 would still be 150% higher than what is consistent with scenarios limiting warming to below 2degC above preindustrial levels (middle of the range). If the planned new coal capacity - estimated by the Global Coal Plant Tracker - were to be built, it would exceed the required levels by 400%.
  • The planned new coal plants alone (globally, 2440 plants, totalling 1428 GW) could emit approximately 6.5 GtCO2 , 16 - 18% of the total allowed emissions in 2030 (under a 2degC-compatible scenario). Including existing capacity with a technical lifetime beyond 2030, total annual emissions from coal-fired power generation could reach 12 GtCO2 in 2030.
  • The CAT has assessed the impact of planned new coal plants both globally, and in the eight countries that each plan to build more than 5GW of coal power capacity: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey - plus the EU28. [The USA only plans to expand coal capacity by 3.5 GW.]
  • Of these nine countries (incl. EU28) all have a CAT-rated INDC of "inadequate" or "medium" (i.e. not sufficient to keep warming below 2degC), and have "current policy pathways" that are even less ambitious. Their combined planned new coal capacity (2011 new coal plants, totalling 1210 GW) could put them in an even worse situation, adding emissions of around 1.5 GtCO2 to the CAT's projected currently policy levels.
  • In seven of the nine studied countries - China, EU28, India, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey - planned coal plants threatens the achievement of the already only medium or inadequate INDCs.
  • The estimated emissions impact of planned plants that have been announced and pre- permitted - i.e. not under construction or permitted - would be 3.5GtCO2. Cancelling these plants could lead to emissions reductions of 2GtCO 2 below current policy levels, bringing countries closer to their proposed INDC levels.

[more at]

Climate Deception: Non-binding "Targets" for Climate, but Binding Rules on Trade in Services by Deborah James

Huffington Post, December 4, 2015

[Also note that the global Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network works with PSI against the proposed TiSA. For more information, visit]

The whole world is watching as world leaders from nearly every country across the globe meet in Paris this week to set carbon emission reductions targets to address global climate change.

Unfortunately representatives of 50 of the same governments are also meeting this week in Geneva to negotiate binding rules that will seriously constrain countries' ability to meet those targets.

The 15th round of talks to create a "Trade in Services Agreement," or TiSA, are occurring once again in Geneva. Members of the TiSA currently include Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, the U.S., and the 28 member states of the European Union. How come everyone knows about the Paris talks, but not those in Geneva? Because the Geneva talks are convened in secret - precisely because the negotiators don't want the public to know what they're up to.

The TiSA is modeled on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the WTO, which Naomi Klein has documented in her book, This Changes Everything, has been used extensively against environmental policies. Yet the point of the TiSA is to go further than the GATS because corporations see the existing rules as not "ambitious enough." The financial services, logistics and technological corporations, largely in the United States and also the EU, are attempting to expand the WTO's GATS to develop a set of deregulation and privatization rules that constrain public oversight of how services operate domestically and globally, setting aside environmental, labor, and development issues in favor of transnational corporate rights to operate and profit.

Fortunately, Wikileaks has come again to the rescue. Today they are publishing analysis and secret, leaked proposals that would create far-reaching rules that give corporations rights to access markets and limit public oversight of environmental and energy services and road transportation in TiSA member countries.

The analysis of a proposal for an "Energy Related Services (ERS)" annex of the TiSA would give "rights" to foreign energy corporations in domestic markets. Far from mandating reductions in carbon emissions or promoting access for poor countries to clean technologies, the proposed TiSA annex would actually limit the ability of governments (on national, regional, or local levels) to set policies that differentiate between polluting and carbon-based energy sources, such as oil and coal, from clean and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This is according to the "principle of technological neutrality," revealed in the analysis of the proposed chapter by Victor Menotti published by the Public Services International (PSI) global union federation today.

Since reducing the dependence on fossil fuels is the basis of much of today's climate policy, it is hard to imagine how governments could achieve the reductions in fossil fuel usage required by the targets if they are not able to differentiate among energy sources.

Developing countries have demanded that principles of common but differentiated responsibility become enshrined in any new climate deal; the TiSA would instead sidesteps developing country concerns raised at the WTO, and fails to include the (weak) flexibilities for developing countries included in the WTO's GATS.

In fact, a main point of the TiSA seems to be to "shift political power over energy and climate policies from people using their governments for shaping fair and sustainable economies to global corporations using TiSA for restricting governments from regulating energy markets, companies, and industry infrastructure," according to Menotti. This includes ensuring domestic economic benefits from natural resource extraction, a key strategy for poverty reduction in many developing countries.


Both the TPP and the proposed TiSA would restrict governments' ability to use public procurement to promote "green purchasing," through the chapter disciplining government procurement, which in the TiSA is cross-referenced to environmental and energy services chapters. According to the analysis by the Third World Network, government purchasing "provides a major source of demand for domestic service suppliers and reserving that for domestic companies (or otherwise preferring them) can facilitate social and economic development, provide employment and business opportunities for marginalized or disadvantaged individuals and communities and act as a 'wealth redistribution' tool." The leaked chapter on government procurement in the TiSA would open up government purchases that are subject to public tender, by all government agencies, in any amount.

Thus like the TPP, the TiSA constrains the ability of governments to set policies that favor environmental job creation policies advocated for by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and the call for a Just Transition developed by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and endorsed by We Mean Business, The B Team and seven major civil society networks including CIDSE (the international alliance of Catholic development agencies), Friends of the Earth International, ActionAid International, Greenpeace International, Christian Aid, WWF and Oxfam International.

[For more, read full article at more at]

Other relevant recent articles

(snippets only; for full articles see links)

"US Solar Market Prepares for Biggest Quarter in History" Greentech Media, Dec. 9, 2015

GTM Research expects the fourth quarter of this year to be the largest quarter for solar installations in U.S. history. Led by the utility-scale segment, the United States will install more than 3 gigawatts. Looking further out, cumulative PV installations will nearly double between now and the end of 2016, bringing the nationwide total to 41 gigawatts.


"Africa plans renewable energy drive that could make continent world's cleanest," The Guardian, Dec. 7, 2015

The African Renewable Energy Initiative (Arei) plans to develop at least 10 GW of new renewable energy generation capacity by 2020, and at least 300 GW by 2030, potentially making the continent the cleanest in the world.

The International Energy Agency, which has said that Africa is at the “epicentre of the global challenge to overcome energy poverty”, estimates that annual electricity consumption per capita in Africa for 2012 was around 600 kWh, compared with the world average of 3,064 kWh.

The plan to accelerate solar, hydro, wind and geothermal energy could see Africa leapfrogging other continents by developing thousands of small-scale “virtual power stations” that distribute electricity via mini-grids and would not require transmission lines, which involve a loss of up to a quarter of power during the process.


"More countries reject OECD study of climate aid" The Guardian, Dec. 8, 2015

China, Brazil and South Africa have joined India in rejecting a key OECD study stating that rich countries have already mobilised nearly two-thirds of the $100bn (£67bn) pledged to secure a new climate deal.

The refusal by the world's four most powerful developing countries to accept the methodology used by western economists, to calculate the money raised for poor countries to adapt to climate change, suggests that finance will be the major hurdle at the end of the talks on Friday.

The OECD study claimed that rich countries had already mobilised $57bn of climate aid in 2013-14, as pledged in 2009. But Indian government economists have claimed that the OECD study counted loans made to developing countries and double-counted aid money, putting the real figure closer to $2bn.


"A secret weapon to fight climate change: dirt" The Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2015

We think of climate change as a consequence of burning fossil fuels. But a third of the carbon in the atmosphere today used to be in the soil, and modern farming is largely to blame. Practices such as the overuse of chemicals, excessive tilling and the use of heavy machinery disturb the soil's organic matter, exposing carbon molecules to the air, where they combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. Put another way: Human activity has turned the living and fertile carbon system in our dirt into a toxic atmospheric gas.

It's possible to halt and even reverse this process through better agricultural policies and practices. Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered in Paris this past week have paid little attention to the critical links between climate change and agriculture. That's a huge mistake and a missed opportunity. Our unsustainable farming methods are a central contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, quite simply, cannot be halted without fixing agriculture.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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