News & Current Affairs

September 17, 2008

Norway joins fight to save Amazon

Norway joins fight to save Amazon

Carlito, a cattle rancher

Cattle ranching is blamed for up to 70% of current Amazon deforestation

Norway has pledged $1bn (£500m) to a new international fund to help Brazil protect the Amazon rainforest.

The donation is the first to the fund which Brazil hopes will raise $21bn to protect Amazon nature reserves.

Norway’s prime minister said the project was important in the fight to reduce global warming.

Brazil is one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, with three-quarters of its total coming from the burning of trees in the Amazon.

The money will be released over seven years to promote alternatives to forest-clearing for people living in the Amazon, and support conservation and sustainable development.

The Amazon rainforest
Amazon map
Largest continuous tropical forest
Shared by nine countries
65% Brazilian territory
Covers 6.6m sq km in total
Pop: 30m – 23.5m are in Brazil

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said: “Efforts against deforestation may give us the largest, quickest and cheapest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Brazilian efforts against deforestation are therefore of vital importance if we shall succeed in our campaign against global warming,” he added.

The Brazilian government wants to raise $21bn through foreign donors by 2021, although President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has insisted that the Amazon’s preservation is Brazil’s responsibility.

He welcomed Norway’s pledge, saying: “The day that every developed country has the same attitude as Norway, we’ll certainly begin to trust that global warming can be diminished.”

Japan, Sweden, Germany, South Korea and Switzerland are said to be considering donating to the fund, which was launched last month.

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August 30, 2008

Energy-hungry Europe warms to Norway

Energy-hungry Europe warms to Norway

Amid frantic newspaper headlines about the possibility of a new Cold War, more and more governments around Europe are talking about their need for “energy security”.

What most of them actually mean is that they are not sure whether or not to trust the Russians.

A gas platform off the coast of Norway

Norway remains one of only two major fossil fuel exporters in Europe

There are only two big exporters of fossil fuels in Europe: Russia and Norway, so the choice – for countries without energy reserves of their own or fast depleting them – is limited.

And, undiplomatic as it is to admit it, the Norwegians stand to do very well out of the current political situation.

Officially, a healthy and productive competition exists between the two countries who share a border well above the Arctic Circle.

“We are also partners,” says Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, “because both Russia and Norway have an interest in the development of the European oil and gas market.

“And we welcome them into the market, because the market will be bigger if there are several suppliers.”

Mr Stoltenberg was speaking at the opening of an international conference about offshore energy in Stavanger, southern Norway.

Transparency

And, alongside the reassurances to his Russian neighbours, he did hint at his country’s trump card, when asked why the rest of Europe should take Norway as its energy supplier of choice.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Norway offers a reliable energy supply and a stable democracy

“We are a reliable supplier. And we have proved that over many years. And we have a very transparent, open energy sector.”

The head of the conference, ONS Director Kjell Ursin-Smith, was prepared to go even further.

“The situation is very interesting for Norway, of course. We are looked upon as a stable nation, whereas Russia still has a tainted reputation in that respect. So I think we will try to prove that we are a stable producer of oil and gas for Europe.”

The proof of the UK’s commitment to Norway as a gas provider of the future is a massive new pipeline – the biggest engineering project of its kind in the world – known as Ormen Lange.

The pipeline, whose name means “giant serpent” in old Norse will stretch from the Norwegian North Sea fields to Easington on the East Yorkshire coast.

Further afield

Some 745 miles of steel tubing have been painstaking laid up and down the canyons of the seabed, designed to deliver about 20% of the UK’s domestic gas needs for the next 50 years. It came on stream late last year.

The Ukraine issue sent a shiver down the European energy spine and Georgia is a recent episode which will focus a lot of minds.
Malcolm Wicks, UK energy minister

The days when Britain could rely on its own reserves to be self-sufficient in oil and gas are long gone – with a current annual depletion rate of about 8% a year – so there is no choice but to look abroad.

Britain has always made a virtue of its lack of political interference in the energy market, preferring to make deciding on a supplier a matter of pure economics and stress the need for “diversity of supply”.

But things might be changing.

“We’re aware of what’s going on now”, says the UK Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks.

He still stresses the need to source from more than one country, more than one route.

High stakes

But, he adds, referring to the incident in 2006 when Russia turned off gas supplies to its neighbor in order to force higher prices: “The Ukraine issue sent a shiver down the European energy spine and Georgia is a recent episode which will focus a lot of minds.

Map

“I think we have to be – how can I put it? – streetwise, when it comes to issues around energy security. Norway is a great partner to have. It’s a very sophisticated democracy with a great record when it comes to human rights. So the new pipeline is a good piece of democratic politics.”

The proportion of its energy western Europe has to import is likely to rise to about 70% in the coming decades, so the market is guaranteed and the stakes are high.

It remains to be seen whether the big two suppliers – Norway and Russia – will clash or co-operate when it comes to developing what is a potential El Dorado of the North – vast swathes of Arctic territory, largely in the Barents Sea, which new technology is opening up to oil and gas exploitation for the first time.

The disputes have already begun as to who owns what territory. Vast amounts of money are to be made.

Norway has known great wealth for nearly 40 years now, mostly thanks to its fossil fuel resources.

Russia, with an average per capita income still about a tenth the size of that of its tiny Scandinavian neighbor, has not.

And in these days of ‘new’ Russia rediscovering its confidence, reasserting its power in the world, observers of geo-politics can almost certainly expect fireworks.

August 21, 2008

Rebels push to sever Georgia ties

Rebels push to sever Georgia ties

Pro-independence rally in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, 21 Aug 08

Russian TV showed a huge crowd at the rally in Abkhazia

The separatist leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have urged Russia to recognize their independence, at mass rallies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow’s response to their pleas would depend on the conduct of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russia says it will keep troops in a security zone around South Ossetia.

The zone will stretch several km into Georgia proper. Russia also plans to reinforce its South Ossetia force.

“Tomorrow, eight checkpoints will be established in the security zone in which 500 peacekeepers will be deployed, no more than that,” said Mr Lavrov, quoted by Reuters news agency.

It is still not clear to what extent Russian military forces have withdrawn from Georgia, despite Moscow’s promise to pull out most of its troops by the end of Friday.

Russian troops on Abkhazia/Georgia border

Russian troops moved far into Georgia from the breakaway regions

Russian news agencies say an armored column, consisting of more than 40 vehicles, has passed through South Ossetia, on its way to the Russian border.

A correspondent in the Georgian village of Igoeti, just 35km (21 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, said he saw the Russian military pulling back towards South Ossetia early on Thursday afternoon. Russian forces were also reported still to be dug in around Georgia’s main Black Sea port of Poti.

Russia poured troops into Georgia after Georgian forces tried to retake South Ossetia on 7 August. Russian-led peacekeeping troops had been deployed there since a war in the early 1990s.

Thousands of people attended pro-independence rallies in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi and war-ravaged South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on Thursday.

The world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiyev – himself an Ossetian – plans to give a concert in South Ossetia with his St Petersburg orchestra on Thursday.

Chill in NATO-Russia ties

Meanwhile, Russia says it is reviewing its co-operation with NATO, which has insisted that Moscow pull its troops out of Georgia, in line with a French-brokered ceasefire agreement.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Nato said on Tuesday there could be no “business as usual” with Moscow.

At an emergency meeting, NATO suspended formal contacts with Russia because of the Russian military presence in Georgia.

“Relations with NATO will be reviewed,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency on Thursday.

“This will apply to the military co-operation programme,” he said.

Nato has accused Russia of failing to respect the truce, which requires both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to the positions they held before heavy fighting erupted in South Ossetia.

On Wednesday, Norway’s defence ministry said Russia had informed Norwegian diplomats that it was planning to freeze co-operation with Nato.

Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper said Oslo was trying to establish exactly what impact the Russian decision would have on existing co-operation, such as joint rescue operations and border controls. Norway shares a border with Russia in the Arctic.

A statement from the Norwegian defence ministry said: “Norway notes that Russia has decided that for now it is ‘freezing’ all military co-operation with Nato and allied countries.

“We expect that this will not affect planned activities in the areas of coastguard operations, search and rescue and resource management, because on the Russian side these are handled by civilian authorities.”

Russia has not yet given Norway formal written notification about its suspension of co-operation, a ministry spokesperson said.

Russia’s permanent envoy at Nato headquarters in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, has been recalled to Moscow for consultations, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reports.

He said that in light of Nato’s position on the Georgia conflict, relations with Nato “really cannot remain as before”, but he added that “there will not be a cold war”.

A state secretary in Norway’s defence ministry, Espen Barth Eide, said “there’s no doubt that our relationship to Russia has now chilled”.

Georgia map

August 5, 2008

Dutch climbers airlifted from K2

Pakistani helicopters have rescued two Dutch climbers from a group that lost 11 members over the weekend on the world’s second-highest mountain, K2.

Rescue climbers have reached an Italian mountaineer and are helping him to an advance camp high on the mountain slopes, Reuters news agency said.

About 25 climbers reached the summit on Friday but nine died on descent after an avalanche swept away their ropes.

Earlier, on the ascent, two climbers fell to their deaths.

Many regard the 8,611m (28,251ft) peak as the world’s most difficult to climb.

In the deadliest day in K2’s history, the avalanche occurred when a chunk from an ice pillar snapped away on a feature called the Bottleneck.

Several climbers were swept to their deaths; others froze to death after they were stranded high on the mountain.

Cpt Azeemullah Baig said a Pakistani army helicopter had already picked up the two Dutch climbers.

“Thanks to Almighty Allah, the rescue operation has started this morning,” he told Reuters news agency.

Four rescue climbers reached Italian mountaineer Marco Confortola after attempts to reach him by helicopter were called off in bad weather, Pakistani guide Sultan Alam told Reuters news agency from the K2 base camp.

The rescuers were guiding Mr Confortola to the advanced base camp 6,000 metres up the slopes of K2.

The head of an Italian mountaineering group who spoke to Mr Confortola by satellite phone said his feet were in “very bad” shape from frostbite but that he could still walk and that his hands were in good condition.

Mr Confortola’s brother also spoke to the stranded climber.

“Up there it was hell,” Ansa news agency quoted Mr Confortola telling his brother Luigi.

“During the descent, beyond 8,000 metres (26,000 feet), due to the altitude and the exhaustion I even fell asleep in the snow and when I woke up I could not figure out where I was”.

The Death Zone

The two rescued Dutchmen are being treated for frostbite in a Pakistani military hospital.

“Everything was going well to Camp Four and on [the] summit attempt everything went wrong,” one of the Dutchmen, Wilco Van Rooijen, told Associated Press news agency.

He said some ropes had been laid in the wrong position – a mistake which took several valuable hours to correct, delaying the summit push until just before darkness.

As climbers descended from the peak in the dark, the ice pillar collapsed, sweeping away climbers and stranding others in the high-altitude level known as the Death Zone – where there is not enough oxygen to support life.

Pakistani authorities said three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistani porters, and French, Serbian, Norwegian and Irish climbers had died on the mountain.

Expedition organisers only learned of the avalanche after a group of climbers arrived back at the mountain’s base camp on Saturday evening.

Reports from the mountain’s base camp say two separate parties of Serbian and Norwegian climbers were able to make it back to base camp.

The Serbians said they buried their team member as it was impossible to bring his body back. The Norwegians said their companion was lost in the avalanche.

Only a few hundred people have climbed K2 and dozens have died in the attempt.

The fatality rate for those who reach the summit at 27% is about three times higher than that for Mount Everest.

One of the worst single-day death tolls was on Everest on 11 May 1996, when eight people died in summit attempts.

Six people fell to their deaths or disappeared during a storm on K2 on 13 August 1995.

The summit of K2 was first reached by two Italians, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, on 31 July 1954.

Do you know anyone involved in any of the expeditions or have any information about them? Have you ever attempted to climb K2?

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