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Eurostep Weekly 680

Eurostep Weekly

Regular News Update from Eurostep, N° 680

16 April 2012

Aid cuts by EU member states puts people in developing countries at risk of increased poverty, NGOs warn

At the backdrop of the financial crisis that has led to the adoption of severe austerity measures in EU member states, aid to developing countries has been cut back by some of those countries, new figures released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reveal. NGOs have warned that lesser aid to developing countries may significantly impinge on results achieved so far and put more people at risk to fall into poverty.

The decisions to cut back aid taken by EU countries, such as the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium and Spain, is often informed by political expediency rather than necessity, some NGOs believe. “European countries are cutting aid faster than their economies are shrinking. We could see Europe entering an age of aid austerity, pulling back from supporting millions of poor people in developing countries”, said Olivier Consolo, Director of the European Confederation of Relief and Development NGOs (Concord).

EU member states have committed themselves to provide 0.7% of GNI in aid by 2015, a plan that has been further put off track amidst further aid cuts, development agencies have pointed out. While Norway, Denmark and Luxembourg already met those targets, and the UK, Germany and Sweden are heading towards meeting their commitments, most of the EU member states are not likely to be able to live up to the agreement, it is believed. “Failure of governments to meet their commitments to the world's poorest comes in stark contrast to the $18 trillion found to bailout the world's financial sector in the wake of the 2008 crisis”, Oxfam stated in a response to the OECD figures.

In light of calls by some major EU member states to oppose an increase in contributions to the next EU Budget, due to the financial crisis, the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) has warned that such plans may also have a bearing on the financial means available for EU development spending. In a recently published briefing paper, the European think tank assesses possible scenarios for the budgeting of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF), covering African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. “Any significant reduction in ODA from the Commission’s proposed budget 2014-2020 and 11th EDF could not only impair the ability to achieve the goals that the EU has set out for itself, but also undermine its standing as a leading development advocate and a reliable development partner with the ACP and beyond”, the paper reads. If the EU however manages to live up to its commitment to spend aid more efficiently, “a decrease in spending on development cooperation might not necessarily lead to a decrease in development results”, the paper concludes.

Read the Briefing paper here: European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) (pdf)

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International community urged to address growing problem of ‘climate refugees’

Ahead of the next UN climate change summit, to be held in Qatar at the end of 2012, migration activists have called on the international community to grant people experiencing displacements due to climate change the right to pledge for financial help and to be recognised in official legislation. With the number of environmental emergencies rising, the recognition of ‘climate refugees’ as a group of people that need urgent help is of vital importance, experts have warned.

According to latest studies, the number of people estimated to be displaced by environmental degradation by the year 2050 may exceed 150 million, and thus pose an imminent challenge to current migration policies that have failed to affectively address this group of refugees so far. “There are well-founded fears that the number of people fleeing untenable environmental conditions may grow exponentially as the world experiences the effects of climate change and other phenomena,” Janos Bogardi, director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security at the United Nations University (UNU-EHS) said. “This new category of ‘refugee’ needs to find a place in international agreements. We need to better anticipate support requirements, similar to those of people fleeing other unviable situations”, he believes.

In recent times, however, this problem has started to become subject of official negations, with government leaders at the Cancun Climate conference last year affirming that climate change migrants should qualify for assistance from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Migration agencies, such as the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) hope that such plans will be further addressed at the next Climate conference in Qatar. "We want people who have been victims of climate change — including those who cannot move — to benefit from this new policy that has recognised migration as part of the climate change adaptation framework”, said Diana Ionesco, migration policy officer at IOM.

According to David Thomas from the University of Oxford, migration is not necessarily something bad but should be seen as part of the solution to environmental change. Notions of vast flows of migrants fleeing their homes due to environmental emergencies have been flawed, Thomas believes, since the poorest and most environmentally threatened often do not have the capacity to leave their homes but stay “trapped”. “The people we should really be thinking about are not the refugees, but those who stay behind, who may wish to migrate but can't”, he believes.

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New EU report questions sustainability of biofuels

According to a draft EU report, conventional biofuels like biodiesel increase carbon dioxide and are too expensive to be considered as alternative fuel in the long term. The report’s findings echo concerns that have been raised by experts in recent times, questioning the EU’s current renewable energy targets of 10% in transport, to be achieved by 2020.

The EU draft report, entitled “EU Transport GHG: Routes to 2050” estimates that the costs of abatement of reducing emissions with biofuels would amount to 100-300€ per tonne of carbon, a number that would make the use of biofuels as alternative fuel very costly and inefficient in the future. The EU has set out that by 2020, 10% of the transport fuels should be provided by renewable energy, a target that has increasingly come under criticism. It is estimated that biofuels make up more than 8% of the energy, with up to 92% coming from conventional biofuels like biodiesel.

In light of growing evidence that biofuels are unsustainable in the long run, the EU has been blamed for not basing its policy recommendations on purely environmental objectives. “The truth is that policy makers inside and outside Europe are doing biofuels for other reasons than environmental ones” David Laborde, a leading agricultural scientist and author of biofuels reports for the European Commission, believes. Industrial lobbies as well as pledges of farmers for more subsidies have been informing the discussions on the EU’s Renewable Energy directive to a significant extent, the expert believes. Such concerns are reflected in a report published by the French national auditor in January stating that although farmers gained from the EU’s current biofuels policy, environmental benefits were ‘questionable’, with car holders being likely to consume more fuel and pay high prices. Earlier this year, leaked EU data had shown that greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels such as palm oil, soybean and rapeseed are higher than those for fossil fuels in case the effects of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC — clearing of forests and wetlands to compensate for lands taken to grow biofuels elsewhere) are counted.

One of the problems associated with biofuels is increased deforestation. “I think the science has proved clearly that because of the link to deforestation in places such as South East Asia, a lot of the biodiesels have significantly negative impacts on the climate”, said Robbie Blake, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth. “I think we can draw a clear conclusion that if member states stick to the plans they have laid out already then it's clear that it will cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and that’s especially the case when we rely on cheap but very damaging palm and soy oil”, he concluded.

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UN officials lament lack of funds to effectively respond to food crisis in the Sahel region

In light of the deteriorating situation for many people in the Sahel region of West Africa that have been affected by a severe food and nutrition crisis, Senior UN officials on 10 April called upon the international community to step up their assistance and to make more resources available. The crisis has not gathered significant attention so far, with other crises such as the conflict in Syria dominating the media, the officials lamented.

At a joint news conference in Geneva, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Anthony Lake, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, and Margaret Chan from the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against the event of a humanitarian disaster should the global inaction continue. The region has been hit hard by political unrest and instability and is experiencing the third major draught within the last 10 years. In December 2011, the UN issued an appeal for $724 million for aid operations, a pledge that has only amounted to half of its total sum so far, Guterres emphasised. Instead of waiting for the situation to further deteriorate, the international community should step up its assistance to the region and focus on building capacities to avoid such crises in the future, the high officials said. “To those who are fatigued, we would say that people and children, of course, are not simply statistics. All these are families fighting courageously in circumstances that few of us can imagine” Lake said.

In light of these aggravating circumstances, the European Commission increased its humanitarian action by an additional €164.5 million in development assistance. EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, has actively been engaged in attracting more attention to the region, especially among donors and European civil society. However, at the backdrop of other crises, such as the Syria conflict, media attention has been low and calls by international actors remained largely unheard so far, Guterres believes. “I know that there is a certain fatigue. I have read comments in blogs and elsewhere that ‘here we go again; once more a famine; once more African children are dying; once more there is an appeal for help.’”, Lake commented. “By acting vigorously and properly now, we can head off future crises… by building now in this crisis, health systems, community nutrition centres, more water bore holes… we can build capacity for the future” he concluded.

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The global scramble for Africa’s resources — recognition of emerging powers vs. preservation of old privileges

For decades, Africa’s resource wealth has been subject to international interests and has led to controversial discussions on the gains and losses the extraction of natural resources may signify for these countries. With the emergence of China and other emerging economies as significant actors in the scramble for Africa’s resources, the EU and the US have been confronted with a new global power structure challenging their traditional trade privileges.

As stated in the EU’s raw materials legislation, “access to and affordability of mineral raw materials are crucial for the sound functioning of the EU's economy. Sectors such as construction, chemicals, automotive, aerospace, machinery and equipment sectors which provide a total value added of € 1324 billion and employment for some 30 million people all depend on access to raw materials”. In light of growing interest for raw materials on behalf of emerging economies, such as China and Brazil, the EU has been working on securing its preferential access to African markets through so called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). Whilst the EU would enjoy preferential treatment on the African market, the addressed countries could rather suffer under the EPAs, as they are believed by many critics to damage local industry and counteract efforts at regional integration.

With some African countries enjoying significant economic growth rates in recent times, the continent has increasingly become of interest to foreign investors. Especially China has been investing heavily, leaving other players such as the EU and the US behind. Experts have noted with mounting interest that the US seems to have turned its attention away from Africa’s huge investment potential, a development China and also Brazil have been making use of as a means to increase their share on the market.

As the scramble continues, the different trade and investment strategies employed by the Western powers and emerging economies more and more have turned into the focus of discussions. China’s “non-interference” policy has been in stark contrast to the traditionally concessions- based approaches used by the US and European countries. African countries thus now have the choice to decide between different paradigms underlying the power relations in the scramble for Africa’s resources, specialists have emphasised.

Observing experts have also warned that the focus on natural resources has overshadowed humanitarian concerns in favour of economic bargain. The latest example is the newly-independent state of South Sudan, Emanuele Scimia from the Asia Times believes. Whilst the EU was stepping up its efforts in Central and East Africa, as a means to challenge China’s increasing influence in the region, the Southern Sudanese border dispute has been greatly neglected.“The truth is that both Europe and the United States are back to the old rules of geopolitics, in which humanitarian preoccupations are shelved and economic leverage gains momentum”, according to Scimia. “At bottom, it would be in the interest of all players — Europe, United States and China — to avert a Somalia-style war in North and South Sudan, when from Nigeria to the Horn of Africa, through the Sahel region, large part of the continent is sliding into a spiral of chaos”, he concludes.

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