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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

World's poorest nations demand fraction of oil profits

The world's 50 poorest nations - ranging from Cape Verde and Haiti to Nepal and Sierra Leone - are turning to the major oil-producing nations for urgently needed assistance for development. Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, U.N. under-secretary-general for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), has proposed that oil-producing nations should consider earmarking just 10 cents per barrel from their rising incomes for infrastructure development in LDCs in the next 10 years.

"This is a part of our efforts to secure new sources of development finance for LDCs," Chowdhury told Inter Press Service [*.pdf]. "We need an expressed willingness on the part of producers and companies directly involved in oil production."

The 50 LDCs, described as the poorest of the world's poor, include 34 countries in Africa, such as Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Comoros, Malawi, Mali, Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia. As oil incomes generate massive currency reserves in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iran, the United Nations says that gross export revenues in the Middle East alone are expected to reach over 400 billion dollars in 2006 compared with 307 billion dollars in 2005.

This is based on an average price of about 57 dollars per barrel, according to a U.N. study released last April. But since then, oil prices have hit over 70 dollars per barrel - tripling since 2001.

If the world's top 17 oil producing countries - including Algeria, Canada, Venezuela, China, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the United States - earmark 10 cents per barrel for LDCs, the amount per month could reach as high as 17.6 million dollars on a total income of 176.6 million dollars, according to a chart prepared by Chowdhury's office.

Chowdhury told IPS there is already a precedent set by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), whose "remarkable action" in favour of LDCs in the mid-1980s resulted in a decision to "pick up the tab for the contribution of all LDCs to the newly-created Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) based in Amsterdam." He said the OPEC Fund is still continuing to do this. "LDCs already have many un-funded or under-funded infrastructure projects which could be supported by new money, when available," he added.

Chowdhury, who made the formal proposal at a recent meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva, is hoping for a positive reaction from oil producers. But there have been no firm commitments so far:
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One Arab diplomat told IPS that Qatar, a country rich in oil and gas reserves, initiated a special fund last year to help the 132 members of the Group of 77 developing nations, which includes the 50 LDCs. "But most of the Middle Eastern oil-producing nations are currently preoccupied helping the reconstruction of war-devastated Lebanon," he added.

Arun Karki, president of LDC Watch based in Nepal, told IPS he "strongly supports" the proposal made by Chowdhury. "This will help raise a special fund without affecting any other earmarked development funding." He said there should also be other "innovative sources of funding" for LDCs development. "One good example is the current surcharge on airline tickets," he added.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., a visiting professor at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York and former president of TransAfrica Forum, told IPS that in the 1970s, the oil shock devastated many non-oil producing countries in the global South, including some countries that stood in solidarity with the Arab oil embargo of 1973. "This devastation had a long-lasting impact on the living standards in the global South. It is, therefore, correct today to ask of the oil producing countries that they do put aside a certain percentage of oil income to assist development in the global South," he added.

Fletcher pointed out that Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has demonstrated how oil can be a vehicle for support rather than strangulation. "At the same time we must recognise that it is the largely the oil companies that must be scrutinised. The massive profits they have gained in the last year -- as prices continued to increase -- demonstrate the completely amoral attitude that oil companies take toward the world's peoples and issues of energy necessity," he added.

Most political parties and institutions will rhetorically go after the oil companies but shy away from any significant practical steps to recoup even a portion of the massive gains that these companies have secured, he said. Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute said that hunger and poverty in poorer nations is really a paradox in a world of plenty.

"The latest U.N. proposal for oil-producing nations to earmark a mere 10 cents per barrel for infrastructure development in the LDCs is an attempt to address growing inequities. However, one has to be cautious given the past record," she told IPS. As far back as the 1970s, the U.N. General Assembly urged the world's 22 richest countries to provide 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) as overseas development assistance (ODA) to developing nations, but only five countries have met this target: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

She said the United States, which spends 0.1 percent of its GNP on aid, has not even provided a timeframe to reach the U.N. target, or set goals for interim targets, putting Washington last among the 22 major nations. Also, aid as a fraction of rich country income is not a meaningful measure of the adequacy of aid flows. "It would be far better to estimate aid needs by starting on the recipient side with a meaningful model of how aid affects development," she added.

Meanwhile, in report to the next session of the General Assembly in September, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that despite improved economic performance, "Extreme poverty appears to be decreasing in very few of the LDCs, and increasing in many." "In unprecedented reversal of historical trends, life expectancy is declining in several LDCs, most affected by HIV/AIDS and civil strife." He also points out that climate change is emerging as "a new challenge to sustainable development of the LDCs, in particular those in Africa and the small islands."

Prepared by the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, the 27-page report says that most LDCs are constrained by many factors: structural weaknesses of their economies; limited human, institutional, technical, trade and productive capacity; inadequate infrastructure and unsustainable external debt.


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