Terrorism and the De-Gentrification of Istanbul

A devastating string of attacks and woeful city planning have driven away locals and tourists alike, prompting a swift process of decline.

lead_large.png
Backstreets along Istiklal Avenue had become host to dozens of new hotels that seemed to spring up overnight. But since a March 2016 terrorist attack, many have become plagued by extremely low occupancy rates. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

 

Istanbul’s central Beyoğlu district experienced sweeping gentrification throughout the 2000s, as its popularity increased among locals and a boom in tourism brought more and more visitors. But a devastating string of terror attacks and woeful city planning have driven away locals and tourists alike, prompting a swift process of decline.

“Everything goes well for a couple years. Then, out of a blue moon, something happens that one can hardly anticipate in advance,” says Dr. Murat Güvenç, who heads the Istanbul Studies Center at the city’s Kadir Has University. “There are bombs exploding, the country adopts a totally different future path or diplomatic standing, and the tourists are no longer coming.”

The effect has been instant even in some of the city’s most chic neighborhoods. Cihangir is home to dozens of popular cafes, bars, and a gorgeous collection of historic buildings—many of which gaze serenely out over the Bosphorus.

Long known for its intellectual and bohemian character, Cihangir of the early ‘90s was home to one of the city’s first punk venues, which occupied the top floor of a building that looked out at the iconic strait that divides Europe and Asia. The neighborhood was also a hub for the city’s transgender community until a wave of new cafes and bars swept through in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, leading to higher rents. Until recently, Cihangir was among the most coveted spots in the city but “for rent” signs are increasingly common now. Rental prices have dropped 20 percent since last year, according to Yalçın Bayazıtlı, a real estate agent who has lived and worked in Cihangir his entire life. Bayazıtlı said that most homeowners won’t go any lower, though some properties have managed to depreciate in value even further. “One apartment that was going for TL 5,000 ($1,400) a month is now listed at TL 3,500 ($980),” says Bayazıtlı.

The nearby Asmalımescit area was perhaps the most lively nightlife destination in Istanbul until around 2011, when a municipal decision to ban outdoor seating dealt a disastrous blow to its vitality. Rumor has it that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once tried to pass through the area in his car but became stuck in the narrow streets. When a drinker raised their glass to him, he became enraged and subsequently ordered the tables and chairs to be rounded up. Though Asmalımescit managed to weather the storm for a few years, venues closed down one by one and today the winding backstreets are a dismal sight with numerous shuttered bars and restaurants. Known as a dodgy area in the 1990s where glue-huffers would take refuge in the narrow alleyways, Asmalımescit is now at risk of resembling its former self.

b2deebc49.png
A Turkish police officer secures central Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping road of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Between these two neighborhoods is the pedestrian-only Istiklal Avenue, a once-majestic thoroughfare of European architecture, foreign consulates, cinemas, pastry shops, and historic arcades. In recent years, the street’s beloved and storied small business culture became suffocated by the openings of dozens of chain stores, which helped send property values skyrocketing.

But on a Saturday morning in March of last year, a suicide bomber linked to ISIS blew himself up on Istiklal, killing four people—all tourists. Traffic on the street—formerly a constant, swelling stream of people that was challenging to navigate through—plummeted, and name-brand stores started leaving the neighborhood as fast as they first appeared. Before the attack, adjacent backstreets had become host to dozens of impressive new hotels that seemed to spring up overnight, but many have become plagued by extremely low occupancy rates—about 20 percent as of last August.

For Güvenç, the city planning decisions made in Istanbul during its boom were oriented toward affluent globetrotters. Though they don’t live in the city, urban areas are often restructured to suit their tastes, Güvenç says. “These are the people that can travel the world, stay 10 days in New York, 10 days in Los Angeles, and then fly to Tokyo,” he says. “Their wishes and desires dictate what is to be done and what is to be put aside,” says Güvenç of the weight they carry in the planning of a typical 21st century global city. And as Turkish Airlines, the country’s flagship airline, expanded its routes to connect Istanbul to cities throughout the world, cruise ships also docked in the city with more frequency. The long-neglected Istanbul, and its breathtaking views, had become a must-see for this coveted demographic.

After more attacks struck Istanbul, including a particularly shocking shooting spree at the city’s main airport in June 2016, tourism revenues declined sharply—nearly 30 percent in 2016 compared to the prior year—and well before anyone could have previously anticipated any sort of tourism or real estate bust. While the occupancy rate for Istanbul in general increased 27.9 percent from April 2016 to April of this year, the average price per room decreased 29.8 percent, the worst performance in Europe.

Galataport, a $1.1 billion construction project on the coast just down the hill from Cihangir, sought to cater to the previously growing demographic of luxurytourists by creating a groomed waterfront with even more room for the cruise ships that were docking nearby, along with shopping promenades and hotels. “They started to restructure the entire waterfront area in the anticipation that more cruise ships would come, organizing the area in a such a way that these cruise ship travelers will be higher in number and spend more money in the vicinity,” says Güvenç.

The heavily-contested project has been a source of outrage for urban activists in Istanbul, and boiled over after two historic buildings were demolished within the scope of Galataport’s construction. The project was promptly halted by the city municipality in April, though Güvenç believes that the contractors welcomed this decision as they faced to lose a considerable sum of money for an endeavor that is sure to fail if the current tourism figures remain.

“I wasn’t sad at all when House Cafe closed down… That type of culture does not suit Istiklal.”

Erdem Dilbaz, an electronic arts producer that has lived in Beyoğlu for 20 years, started documenting the closures on Istiklal Avenue in a Facebook photo album. The album now features more than 50 photos. “There was never a point in time where there were vacancies on Istiklal,” Dilbaz said of his motivation to keep tabs on the startling trend.

Making matters worse is the disgraceful condition of the street itself, which has been paved over repeatedly. Following major efforts to repair the trolley line that the runs the length of the avenue (which involved stripping the entire track) Istiklal is now a patchy blend of faux-cobblestone, asphalt, and piles of rocks. I tweeted a photo of the street taken in 2000, when it was lined with trees and in much better shape. It has been retweeted more than 3,000 times, as the visual triggers shock from residents who had never seen the street in that condition and nostalgia from those who had.

Dilbaz sees a silver lining in the series of closures, and harbors no small semblance of schadenfreude for the expensive restaurants and chain stores that have recently departed. “I wasn’t sad at all when House Cafe closed down,” he says, referring to a branch of an overpriced local cafe chain where people went to be seen. “That type of culture does not suit Istiklal.”

Bayazıtlı, the Cihangir real estate agent, doesn’t believe that rental prices in his neighborhood will drop any further than the 20 percent figure he shares. “Owners will prefer to keep their homes empty with the hope that things will return to how they were before.” he says. Bayazıtlı admits, however, that he cannot be certain of this. “If another bomb explodes, perhaps they will continue to fall.”

Written by PAUL BENJAMIN OSTERLUND, published in CityLab 7 June 2017

LAWSUITS ARE CHALLENGING ALMOST ALL TRUMP’S ENVIRONMENTAL OFFENSIVES

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change

On Thursday, President Trump made international headlines by announcing his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement—a landmark decision that was met with outrage and dismay from climate activists and environmentalists. But while the gesture carries great symbolic significance, signaling the president’s disinterest in international climate efforts, any hope of actually achieving our domestic climate goals pledged under the agreement had already long since vanished.

Since January, the Trump administration has taken swift steps to dismantle numerous climate and environmental priorities established under the Obama administration, including the repeal of multiple environmental regulations. And environmentalists are fighting back—by way of the courts, that is. Just about every environment-related action the Trump administration has taken has been met with a legal challenge.

Trump is no stranger to litigation—reports suggest he was sued thousands of times as part of his career in real estate before ever becoming president. But since assuming office, he’s also been met with record-setting numbers of legal challenges. In his first two weeks as president alone, his administration was sued more than 50 times, mostly over the travel ban he implemented shortly after his inauguration. By March, reports suggest the number of lawsuits had risen above 100.

A major reason for the high rate of litigation has to do with the president’s generous use of executive orders, often in ways that environmental and social groups feel oversteps his authority, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The travel ban is perhaps the most high-profile example of these.

What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies.

“Executive orders tend to be directives from the president to administrative agencies to carry out internal tasks,” he said. “On occasion, they’re used to set broader policy agendas. But what we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. And some of the policies that these executive orders are seeking to create are at direct odds with the statutes that provide the executive branch with its authority to take any action at all.”

To date, several dozen of the lawsuits currently filed against the Trump administration are directly related to climate and environmental issues. A number of them, although certainly not all, are related to executive orders.

In regard to Paris, White House advisers had actually cited potential lawsuits as an extra reason the president should withdraw from the treaty. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, they’d suggested that if the U.S. remained in the treaty while failing to enforce greenhouse gas-reducing regulations—namely, the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration has been actively working to unravel—environmental groups could pin new lawsuits advocating for climate regulations on the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement.

But as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips recently pointed out, Trump’s getting sued for his environmental policies either way. He’s already facing a handful of cases over major policy points—and now that the Paris announcement has dashed hopes that the administration will make climate action a U.S. priority, more may be coming in the future.

We’ve put together some of the major examples of recent federal actions and the lawsuits they’ve inspired so far.

wastewater-310853_1280

What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies

The promised border wall

A cornerstone of President Trump’s campaign, from its earliest days, was the promise of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And a January executive order on the topic of immigration sealed his intent, calling for the immediate construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

The idea has been met with resistance from a wide array of social communities and organizations, but it’s also been challenged by environmentalists concerned about its effect on the natural landscape. In April, conservation group Center for Biological Diversity and Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that would block the project’s construction, claiming that the government failed to adequately assess the wall’s potential environmental impact. The plaintiffs express concern that the wall could have a negative impact on water systems and native species, particularly endangered ones like jaguars.

The revival of the coal industry

Another key Trump campaign promise involved the reinvigoration of the declining coal industry. And in March, the Trump administration took a step in that direction by lifting an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands. This directive was also issued in an executive order.

Almost immediately, the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, along with a group of environmental organizations, sued the Trump administration for lifting the ban without completing an environmental review of the coal-leasing program. The plaintiffs suggest that the government should have first evaluated the program’s “significant environmental, health, and economic impacts—including impacts from climate disruption caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and socioeconomic and environmental impacts to local communities.”

Another chance for Keystone XL

Among the most controversial environmental issues that arose during the Obama administration was that of the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposal called for a new pipeline branch between Alberta and Nebraska, running through parts of Montana and South Dakota in the process. The idea was met with fierce protests from Native American, social justice and environmental groups, and it was ultimately rejected by President Obama.

But in January, Trump signed an executive order aimed at advancing the project, and in March the administration officially approved the pipeline’s construction. In response, multiple environmental organizations sued the administration, arguing that the approval of the project relied on an outdated environmental assessment and ignored new information about the pipeline’s potential impact. A separate lawsuit was also filed by conservationists and representatives of indigenous groups.

Tough breaks for wildlife

In yet another reversal of an Obama-era rule, Congress voted in February to undo a regulation aimed at protecting certain Alaskan wildlife from predator control operations on public lands, prohibiting the shooting of denning mother bears and wolves as well as certain types of trapping and aerial hunting. President Trump signed the reversal into effect.

In April, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strategy Congress used to repeal the regulation—a little-known law that allows Congress to overturn federal regulations within a limited amount of time after they’re finalized. The case challenges an aspect of this law that stipulates that after a rule has been repealed in this manner, no substantially similar regulation may be enacted again without congressional approval. The case argues that “this constraint on future rulemaking violates the separation of powers that must be maintained between the legislative and executive branches under the U.S. Constitution.”

At the time it was filed, Reuters reported that the lawsuit—the first of its kind to make such a challenge—stood little likelihood of success.

The expansion of offshore drilling

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that could expand offshore oil and gas drilling, directing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review an Obama ban on drilling in certain parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In May, a group of environmental groups responded with a lawsuitchallenging the president’s authority to make such a move.

The plaintiffs point out that President Obama initiated the ban in the first place under a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which provides guidelines for oil and gas development leasing. They argue that this act allows presidents to withdraw certain areas from consideration for leasing—but that “neither OCSLA nor any other provision of law authorizes Presidents to undo such withdrawals.”

Attacks on energy efficiency programs

It’s not just environmental groups that are pushing back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies—states are jumping on the bandwagon now as well.

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change.

In January, the White House directed federal agencies to place new or pending regulations on hold until they could be reviewed by incoming Trump administration agency heads. Among the regulations delayed as a result were a series of energy efficiency appliance standards introduced by the Obama administration. Energy efficiency standards are widely regarded by environmentalists as an important way to cut down on the energy consumption of individual households, businesses and other buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

As a result, in April a coalition of state attorneys general filed a notice of intent with the Department of Energy to sue within 60 days. The states were joined in their protest by the city of New York and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In a statement at the time, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decried the delays as harmful to both public health and the environment. “By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change – and denying consumers and businesses some $24 billion in savings,” he said.

Written by CHELSEA HARVEY, published in FUSION 5 June 2017.

Wind Project in Wyoming Envisions Coal Miners as Trainees

goldwind-master768.jpg
A Goldwind project in Shawmut, Mont. The company has an agreement to supply turbines for a project in Carbon County, Wyo., that will provide 200 jobs.

 

Goldwind Americas, an arm of a leading wind-turbine manufacturer based in China, has been expanding its business in the United States. It has been careful to seek out local, American workers for permanent jobs on the wind farms it supplies.

Now it is trying to extend that policy to an unlikely place: Wyoming, which produces more coal than any other state and has hardly welcomed the march of turbines across the country, even imposing a tax on wind-energy generation.

On Thursday at an energy conference in Wyoming, the company announced plans for a free training program for one of the nation’s fastest-growing jobs: wind farm technician. And it is aiming the program at coal miners having trouble finding work, as well as those from other industries.

Called Goldwind Works, the program would begin next month with a series of informational meetings in Wyoming and include a safety training and tower climb at a wind farm in Montana.

The company has an agreement to supply turbines, potentially 850, to a project in Carbon County, Wyo., where the state’s first coal mine opened a century ago. Once construction is completed, as many as 200 workers will be needed to maintain and operate the plant.

The chief executive, David Halligan, said in a telephone interview that he expected coal workers to have relevant skills, mainly electrical and mechanical, and experience working under difficult conditions.

“If we can tap into that market and also help out folks that might be experiencing some challenges in the work force today, I think that it can be a win-win situation,” he said. “If you’re a wind technician, you obviously can’t be afraid of heights. You have to be able to work at heights, and you have to be able to work at heights in a safe manner.”

The program could offer a needed boost. Hundreds of coal miners were laid off in Wyoming last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that national employment for mining and geological engineers will grow by 6 percent between 2014 and 2024, while employment for wind turbine technicians is expected to grow by 108 percent.

Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming, said the announcement could lead to a shift in thinking about the potential economic development benefits of wind projects. The state has some of the most robust winds in the country and has attracted keen interest from developers.

“This is actually a realization of these benefits in a way that hasn’t been apparent before,” Mr. Godby said. “The more you hear these positive stories and you start to see more direct benefits, it changes local perspectives and kind of begins to open minds.”

He cautioned, though, that the program could hardly make up for job losses in the coal industry, in part because each coal job results in related jobs, given the supply chain involved in handling and transporting the fuel.

Beyond Wyoming, the program could have implications for complex trade relations with China. In 2013, the Commerce Department finalized steep tariffs on some wind towers after finding that China was providing unfair subsidies to manufacturers that were then selling their products at below-market prices.

“This seems to be an effort — and perhaps a smart effort — by a Chinese company to win its way into the hearts of this administration and get beyond what’s happened in the past by targeting a core group of supporters of this president,” said Rory MacFarquhar, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“But this administration has been talking much more about manufacturing than about services,” added Mr. MacFarquhar, who helped set international economic and trade policy in the Obama White House. “They seem to want to actually have factory jobs back in the United States.”

Mr. Halligan said that Goldwind did not have plans for American manufacturing, but that the Wyoming wind project could generate thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of full-time operations and support positions.

The company plans to use the Wyoming program as a pilot. It hopes to eventually roll it out in other states where it supplies turbines, like Texas.

Written by 

What Does Trump’s Budget Mean for the Environment?

His proposal would gut federal enforcement and effectively halt many Superfund cleanups.

Didn’t we just go through this?

In early March, President Trump proposed a budget that would have scaled back the federal government’s stewardship of the environment beyond recognition. The budget traded historically unprecedented cuts to the EPA for $50-billion boosts to defense spending, and it shuttered long-running programs that protect wild areas outside of any one state’s dominion, like the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The budget scared environmental leaders, who also assured supporters that such a plan could never pass Congress. (Among American adults, environmental protection is really quite popular.) And they were right. After two months of negotiations, Congress approved a bipartisan spending bill that preserved nearly all of the EPA’s funding while actually increasing support for renewable-energy programs.

In other words, all those Trump proposals—slashing the EPA’s budget by $3 billion, laying off 3,500 EPA employees, and closing many regional programs—never became a reality. Congress would not accept them. Trump signed the budget on May 5.

But that bill—and that fiscal year—will expire on September 30, 2017. So now the White House and Congress must go through the entire ordeal again for 2018. And it seems neither irresponsible nor inappropriate for the average news consumer to ask: Well, will this time be any different?

Trump’s approach this time around certainly seems no different in ambition. The White House’s proposed plan for the 2018 budget, unveiled Tuesday, adopts many of the same cuts that made the previous edition. Some cuts are even more severe. The highlights include:

  • Trump wants to cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third, reducing its overall funding level to $5.6 billion. On a percentage basis, that is the largest proposed cut to any federal agency. It would give the EPA its smallest budget in 40 years, adjusting for inflation.
  • This would cut the EPA’s workforce by 20 percent, removing 3,800 jobs.
  • Most significantly, Trump wants to cut by 40 percent the EPA’s federal enforcement office—the people who make sure corporations are complying with federal regulations. Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, has previously said that he believes that states—and not the EPA—should oversee enforcement of rules themselves. But Trump’s budget would alsocut by 45 percent the grants that allow states to do that enforcement. These changes would almost certainly ensure far less enforcement of existing environmental rules than happens now, at federal and state levels.
  • The EPA office which determines standards for the amount of acceptable pollution in drinking water will also have its budget cut by half. (Earlier this year, the same office struck the words “science-based” from its mission statement, replacing them with “economically … achievable.”)
  • Superfund, the EPA program that cleans up toxic-chemical spill sites that have become public-health hazards, will have its budget cut by 25 percent. Such a cut will halt many cleanups.
  • Trump also wants to shut down many of the same EPA programs targeted in March. He would terminate the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound cleanup programs. He would also close Energy Star, which informs consumers which home appliances are most energy-efficient.
  • Beyond the EPA, the budget also slashes environmental-science programs throughout the government. Many of these target climate change. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, has said that he considers climate science to be a “waste of your money.” So Trump’s budget cuts $59 million in Earth-science research grants from NASA. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research office would see its budget reduced by one-fifth.
  • But the slashed science programs go far beyond climate change. Trump proposes to end a NOAA program to research and better predict tornadoes in the south, and he also cuts $11 million from a tsunami-warning program for the Pacific coast. He also wants to slash NOAA’s weather-satellite budgetby 17 percent.
  • Finally, he proposes to savage Department of Energy programs with environmental ends. While that department’s overall budget is only reduced by five percent, he would cut many of its greenest programs. Trump wants to close ARPA-E, the government’s energy-innovation R&D lab; and many of the loan-guarantee programs that support renewable-energy companies.
lead_960-2.jpg
Donald Trump meets with his cabinet in early March. Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, and Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, sit together at the end of the table

These are—to state the obvious—a lot of cuts.

Taken together, they advance a sweeping—and there is no word but radical—plan to roll back the government’s stewardship of the environment and natural resources. By the standard of the last 30 years of American politics, these are unprecedented proposals for the EPA specifically. For comparison, President George W. Bush (today considered no friend of the environment) proposed to cut the EPA’s budget by only 5 percent in his first budget.

Of course, Bush ran as a compassionate conservative; Trump promised during his campaign to abolish the EPA “in almost every form.” And this budget—while not zeroing out the agency—does point to how the White House could effectively knee-cap it. You cannot cut funding for the EPA office of enforcement by 40 percent, while slashing enforcement grants for states by 45 percent, and not expect to see a dramatic increase in unlawful pollution.

And yet. Trump can be as ambitious as he fancies in this document, because his plans are still extremely unlikely to go anywhere. As my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote in March, any federal budget passed before 2021 has to meet certain criteria created six years ago as part of the Budget Control Act. That law—usually called “sequestration”—set certain automatic spending cuts into effect. It also prohibited increasing defense spending while cutting non-defense discretionary spending. This is exactly what Trump proposes to do in 2018.

Congress can get around those rules, but it would need to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate. That means that Republican leaders will need some Democrats in the Senate to help them shepherd a budget through. And Senate Democrats will not agree to a 30-percent cut to the EPA.

And there is even some mild Republican opposition to some of these cuts. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, wants to save the Great Lakes cleanup program. And it’s unlikely the 16 senators from states that touch the lakes would let it die.

But Republicans may still try to get many of smaller cuts through. Paul Ryan said Tuesday that “the aspiration and the goal [of this budget] is right on the target.” The budget hacks so far into the social safety net—Medicaid would be cut 47 percent by 2027—that Democrats may have to cede environmental ground to preserve some semblance of anti-poverty programs. And any cuts to the EPA that Republicans propose—even if they exceed the Bush 5-percent reduction—will seem moderate compared to Trump’s proposed lopping.

And even if the budget preserves Obama-era funding for the EPA, the agency won’t necessarily go about its Obama-era work. Many of Pruitt’s goals for the agency will require plenty of policy-writing staff. And elsewhere he can accomplish his means by other ends. For instance, even if the entire enforcement division survives, Pruitt can order the agency to hinder actual enforcement. There’s evidence he’s already doing exactly that.

Which is to say: None of the disclaimers—about Congressional intent, about political reality—make Trump’s proposal any less striking. This budget proposal has a clear goal. If he had the power, Donald Trump would allow polluters to spew carbon and chemicals into the air and water, muzzle the science that identifies why that’s a problem, and cut off the research and development which is finding a more renewable way of generating power.

As I wrote last go-round, Trump’s budget remains a kind of fiduciary fan fiction for Freedom Caucus conservatives, who can fantasize about a skinnier government without ever living with the political consequences. So even if it never come to pass, it’s worth noting: This is what they want.

Written by ROBINSON MEYER, published in The Atlantic 24 May 2017

9.8 million people employed by renewable energy, according to new report

“In the last four years the number of jobs in the solar and wind sectors combined has more than doubled”

Nearly 10 million people were employed in the renewable energy sector last year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said on Wednesday.

IRENA’s report, Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2017,states that global renewable energy employment in 2016, excluding large hydropower, hit 8.3 million. If direct employment in large hydropower is included, that figure climbs to 9.8 million.

“Falling costs and enabling policies have steadily driven up investment and employment in renewable energy worldwide since IRENA’s first annual assessment in 2012, when just over seven million people were working in the sector,” Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA’s director-general, said in a statement.

“In the last four years, for instance, the number of jobs in the solar and wind sectors combined has more than doubled,” Amin added.

The report showed that solar photovoltaic was the biggest employer last year, accounting for 3.1 million jobs, up 12 percent compared to 2015. The wind sector represented 1.2 million jobs, while biofuels were responsible for 1.7 million jobs.

104489312-GettyImages-684080492.530x298
Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

 

Amin went on to state that the potential for renewable jobs was significant. “As the scales continue to tip in favor of renewables, we expect that the number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world.”

Globally, IRENA said that 62 percent of jobs were to be found in Asia. In China alone, 3.64 million people were working in renewables last year, an increase of 3.4 percent.

Africa was another area where utility scale developments had made “great strides”, IRENA said, although off-grid solutions were also playing a key role.

“In some African countries, with the right resources and infrastructure, we are seeing jobs emerge in manufacturing and installation for utility-scale projects,” Rabia Ferroukhi, head of IRENA’s Policy Unit and deputy director of Knowledge, Policy and Finance, said.

“For much of the continent however, distributed renewables, like off-grid solar, are bringing energy access and economic development,” Ferroukhi added. “These off-grid mini-grid solutions are giving communities the chance to leap-frog traditional electricity infrastructure development and create new jobs in the process.”

Written by  and published in CNBC the 24th of May 2017

The Logging Company That Wants to Take Down Greenpeace

A Canadian company is suing Greenpeace for $220 million—and it might have a case

Written by David Ferry and published in Outside the 16th of May 2017

For the past year, Greenpeace has been quietly embroiled in a lawsuit the environmental group says is designed to sue it “out of existence.”

The suit, a $220-million behemoth that’s received little media attention since it was filed in May 2016 in federal court in the southern district of Georgia, was brought by one of the largest forestry and newsprint companies in the world, Canada’s Resolute Forest Products. Greenpeace has been a fierce critic of Resolute’s logging practices in Canada’s sensitive boreal forests. And while the group has regularly been on the receiving end of legal action, this is no trespassing or defamation case. Instead, Resolute has brought a case forward that’s defined as much by its aggressive legal strategy as its apparent intention to punish the eco-group.

In its complaint, the logging giant claims that Greenpeace is an illegal enterprise, a racket designed only to raise money. And, by using a law designed to take down organized criminal enterprises like the mafia, Resolute is aiming to bury the eco group in debt and silence its critic, according to an amicus brief filed in court last fall by several First Amendment groups.

“This is not right,” says Greenpeace spokesman Rodrigo Estrada. “This is a complete attack on free speech.”

greenpeace-resolute-lawsuit-logging-canada_h.jpg
A logging truck loads up with freshly cut trees in Canada.    Photo: Jeremy Rempel/Flickr

 

Resolute’s suit argues that Greenpeace is in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), an exceptionally powerful law enacted in 1970 to put corrupt entities like the mob out of business. The legal tactic allows Resolute to sue Greenpeace for triple any damages it says the environmental group has caused. So far, Resolute asserts, Greenpeace has cost the company about 100 million Canadian dollars in lost revenue due to its public campaign to label Resolute a “forest destroyer” and convince costumers to drop the company’s paper products.

“RICO is purposely designed to put corrupt organizations—racketeers—out of business,” says James Wheaton, senior counsel at the First Amendment Project, a non-profit group that provides free legal services for defendants in free speech cases. “When you take that blunderbuss and point it at a non-profit, the effect is pretty stunning.”

Tuesday, the court in Georgia agreed to transfer the case to the northern district of California, where many of Greenpeace’s defendants are based. Estrada hailed the decision in a press release as a victory because of the state’s strong free speech laws. And several hours earlier, Greenpeace released a report pushing back against Resolute’s suit and trying to rally allies to its side.

The lawsuit, Greenpeace’s report says, “could impact individuals and groups across civil society that seek to make positive changes by making it too expensive and risky to engage in free speech, advocacy, informed expert opinions, and even research.” Some of Resolute’s most prominent customers, the report notes, are companies that rely on free speech to exist—publishers including Penguin Random House. Several newspapers, like News Corp’s Wall Street Journal, are printed on Resolute’s paper, too. If Greenpeace loses, says Amy Moas, a campaigner and defendant in the suit, “not only could it mean a world without Greenpeace and the 45-year record of a movement to protect the environment, but a world where free speech becomes more restricted for advocacy groups, individuals, artists, journalists, and publishers.”

The lawsuit marks the bitter end of a detente that began in 2010. That year, Greenpeace and several other environmental groups and forestry companies, including Resolute, signed the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. The companies agreed to suspend logging in 29 million hectares of boreal forest to preserve old growth and ensure that the threatened boreal caribou could thrive. In return, Greenpeace and the other environmental groups agreed to drop any boycotts they were promoting against the forestry companies. In Canada, where forestry is big business, environmental groups like Greenpeace had been publicly condemning Resolute and others for logging in sensitive areas for decades. Media reports at the time described it as a landmark “peace agreement” between two warring factions.

But by December 2012, the truce had faltered. Greenpeace and other environmental groups said Resolute wasn’t keeping up its end of the deal. Greenpeace then published photos that it claimed showed Resolute’s destructive activities, like road-building, in the protected forest areas. But the photos, it turned out, weren’t actually taken in the protected areas and Greenpeace retracted its claims. Soon after, Resolute sued Greenpeace for defamation in Canadian court. (Greenpeace says the evidence the photos purported to show was not the only reason the group pulled out of the forest agreement. The group also notes in its report that by end of 2013, “every environmental organization had either left the agreement or publicly broken off dialogue with Resolute” because the company “would not do the minimum that the science says is required to protect our forests.”)

Resolute says in its court complaint that it lived up to its part of the bargain, and that there is “no evidence” it ever deviated. Greenpeace, the company says, has made exaggerated claims about the effect Resolute’s logging had on caribou habitat. The environmental group “will be held accountable” for its false claims and fake photos, Resolute VP for communications and sustainability Seth Kursman wrote in an email to Outside. The group’s behavior is “reprehensible,” he added. In an op-ed published yesterday, Kursman argued that Resolute has a “moral and ethical obligation” to go after “bullies” like Greenpeace.

“Greenpeace is a fraud,” the company’s filing begins. It goes on to say that Greenpeace’s true focus is on “emotionalizing” issues and raising funds rather than any lofty environmental initiatives. “Because soliciting money, not saving the environment, is Greenpeace’s primary objective,” Resolute argues, “it has demonstrated time and time again that it will do anything to drive donations, including fabricating evidence”—a reference to the photos Greenpeace retracted. Greenpeace, the suit alleges, is an “illegal enterprise” and its efforts to disseminate information about Resolute’s logging practices constitute mail and wire-fraud, since the group uses its campaign to fundraise and pitch donors. Greenpeace, the filing continues, is a “rogue environmental group engaged in illegal and unethical behavior to make money for itself and its leaders.”

Whether Greenpeace is “rogue” or not will be up for the courts to decide. The far-left advocacy group is indeed known for its controversial stunts and die-hard resistance to corporate malfeasance and environmental degradation. (Going after whaling ships is just the most public example of its advocacy.) The group is regularly condemned—and lionized—for going too far, and in the past has published incorrect information and misleading photos in its campaigns. In its reply to Resolute’s motion, Greenpeace’s attorneys argued that statements the group made about Resolute’s logging were “non-actionable opinion and rhetorical hyperbole protected by the First Amendment.”

BOS_GNF_EN

Regardless of the veracity of Greenpeace’s statements, Resolute alleges, the group has cost the logging company millions of dollars in lost revenue. In November 2014, Greenpeace launched a boycott of Best Buy urging the company to stop using Resolute’s paper products to print its mailers and catalogues. “Best Buy is wasting ancient forests, one flyer at a time,” the group said. On Black Friday that year, over 50,000 Greenpeace supporters flooded the retailer’s site with fake reviews and emails. Resolute’s suit alleges that a hacking group shut down Best Buy’s website that day, as well. By December, Best Buy announced that it would find another source for its paper.

To Greenpeace, the move was intended to convince Resolute to improve its environmental practices. To Resolute, it was an attack. “Real peoples’ lives have been impacted. People have lost their jobs and the socio-economic repercussions in communities has been vast,” Kursman said, noting that the company had “closed machines and mills” because of “misinformation” from Greenpeace. The lawsuit Resolute filed last May is meant to recoup damages Greenpeace has cost the company, according to Resolute’s court filing.

But according to first amendment groups, the case may well be an effort by Resolute to silence its most outspoken critic by burdening it with heavy legal spending. The First Amendment Project’s Wheaton says this is an example of a lawsuit called a SLAPP suit, meaning a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” Often, Wheaton says, plaintiffs don’t even expect to win their SLAPP suits—they just use them to crush opponents with hefty legal fees. “They’re intended to threaten. And the threat is intended to divert your attention, tie up your resources, drive away supporters and legalize political disputes,” says Wheaton, who teaches first amendment and media law at Stanford and Berkeley’s journalism schools.

“This is a classic SLAPP,” Wheaton says. “It’s not just a classic SLAPP, it’s the paradigm of a developer or resource extractor angry at their environmental non-profit critics and lashing out at them.” The First Amendment’s broad protections on free speech, combined with anti-SLAPP laws in Georgia, where the case was filed, means that Wheaton ultimately thinks the law is on Greenpeace’s side. “I’m quite confident that Resolute is going to lose,” he says, in the long run.

But in the meantime, Greenpeace is still on the hook for ballooning legal costs. The court in California will now consider pre-trial motions before the case moves forward and, Greenpeace’s Estrada says, “anything could happen.”

MEP SIRPA PIETIKÄINEN: ‘TO REACH A CIRCULAR ECONOMY, DISRUPTION IS REQUIRED’

“If we’re shaping the economy for 2050, we’re in a hurry when it comes to getting guidelines and frameworks in place.”

Written by  and published in Circulate News the 24th of April 2017

The European Parliament has been vocal in the circular economy debate, and recently voted in favour of an increased recycling target as part of the Commission’s action plan. Former Minister of the Environment for Finland Sirpa Pietikäinen is one of the driving forces behind the circular agenda in the Parliament, having acted as rapporteur in 2015, in the run-up to the adoption of the package. With the legislative process now underway, Circulate caught up with Pietikäinen to hear why she thinks we need to move from ‘end of pipe’ solutions to painting the full picture of an economy that works in the long term; why the circular economy isn’t just about materials but could offer a path away from populism and towards prosperity; and what we need to do to change the shape of the economy by 2050.

As the Juncker Commission took office, the European Parliament played a significant role in getting the package to its current state, and as Pietikäinen recalls, “there was quite a lot of pressure coming from various angles, both in the business and the political arenas. MEPs worked to ensure ambitions were kept high, while trying to make the circular economy concept more widely understood.” Pietikäinen, who is a member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, is convinced the circular economy is the systemic change Europe needs in order to successfully enter the 21st century – and as such, she’s keeping a close eye on the way enabling conditions are being put in place. “The Commission is quite silent at the moment, yet I’m aware there is a lot of work being done in the background”, she says. “However we need more exposure of the concept, and to continuously show it’s a priority. Recently, the draft Plastics Strategy has been released, and we now expect to see a refined, targeted version of the document at the end of the year: it is for example important to push re-use rates, which I see as a stumbling block because they are way too low. But the focus cannot be on one material only, and it’s important for European institutions to show that the circular model has system-wide implications.”

ELEVATING THE NARRATIVE

Pietikäinen emphasises that circular economy is still too often used as a proxy for materials management, in a downstream or end-of-pipe fashion. “This is a pervasive phenomenon”, says the MEP, “we also see it at play in the food waste reduction debate, which very rarely seems to consider the source strategies – how we produce and distribute food – but mostly focuses on the end of the line.” This specific topic might not be the most visible element within the general circular economy debate, yet it’s important to remember that the European Commission has adopted the food waste reduction objective set by target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals… and because goals need delivery mechanisms, it’s key to position circular strategies as an overarching framework and not a collection of niche applications. “One crucial factor, as far as I’m concerned, is to be able to connect all the dots”, Pietikäinen continues, “and that means painting the picture of the overall system: what strategies can be called upon to deliver the big ambitions that the Commission has for mobility, industrial policy, citizens, investment? Circular economy is not an isolated topic on the legislative agenda, it influences everything.”

Sirpa-in-line.jpg

Having said that, the former environment minister also acknowledges the importance of a targeted approach, and is notably convinced that a thorough revision of the Ecodesign Directive would be a good way to start shifting the system: “The Parliament has been pushing in that direction, because using existing mechanisms is a good way to get traction.” Indeed, adding weight to the legislative apparatus by requiring new texts to be drafted and new rules to be created is an efficient way to generate immobility – so pragmatism should prevail. “Looking beyond the energy consumption of products (which is what Ecodesign has traditionally done) and taking into account criteria such as material choices, repairability or recyclability seems like a logical step for the directive, no need to reinvent the wheel when you can broaden the scope: by being thoughtful about what you put on the market in the first place, you reduce the need for costly clean-ups”, Pietikäinen argues. “It’s simply about designing out the waste and the negative impacts, and we have to keep stressing this point because too few stakeholders understand that this is precisely the core of the circular economy idea.”

GETTING POLITICAL TRACTION

Reaching that level of understanding will also help avoid linear lock-ins and “sunk investments, an example of which is incineration capacity in Europe”, says the MEP. “The signals sent by policymakers determine the level of uptake of the circular economy, to a certain extent. I think that businesses understand the notion and see their interest in it, but they want visibility in order to trigger large-scale programmes. The risk for Europe is that if it misses that boat, it might end up in a difficult position in the context of global competition… and we know that a poorly performing economy fuels populism. There are big choices to be made, and some level of disruption required. For example, we are still subsidising unprofitable coal mines: we can’t send a message that in essence says that circular economy is the future, while at the same time continue favouring the old extractive model.” Alignment is therefore central to the strategy, and as Pietikäinen emphasises, the crux of the matter lies in the fact that all stakeholders have to understand that the circular economy shapes society as a whole – it cannot co-exist with the current system conditions. “You can’t do a circular bit here and leave the rest as it is, hoping things will gradually catch. In that respect, it would be very important to see comprehensive national roadmaps emerge, as that would allow member states to learn from each other, and generate some emulation.”

The MEP, who is not known for being complacent when the going gets a bit tough with the Commission, says that national governments also have a responsibility and should lead by example – “It’s too easy to blame the Commission. When the level of ambition is too low or delivery is too slow, of course that needs to be called out, but when things are progressing then it becomes member states’ duty to move into implementation phase and send strong signals about the adoption of circular economy.”

PEDAGOGY AND PRESSURE

Pietikäinen also underlines the importance of elements such as the innovation funds made available to member states, as well as Europe’s push for better channelled financing instruments. “Stranded assets and misguided or sunk investments threaten our pensions, it’s really important to build resilience and adopt long-term strategies”, she explains. This of course has an impact on accounting standards – can stocks be considered, in certain cases, assets rather than liabilities? If companies start looking at their products (vehicles, appliances…) as material banks and retain the ownership, how do models which favour throughput and ever-growing volumes sold stand in the way of circularity? “Getting these ideas to permeate is something that I spend quite of bit of time doing”, says Pietikäinen, “and I use concrete examples of companies selling services rather than products. It questions the notion of ownership, but also allows to make the connection between digital and the circular economy.” Pedagogy and pressure are the two instruments that the Parliament should use in its dealings with the Commission, according to the MEP, who says that currently her focus is on buildings: “We need to make sure proper plans are in place for this sector, since its impact is considerable both in terms of materials consumption and externalities during the use phase. The Commission is working on the topic, but the release of the official documents seems to be delayed – a bit like what’s happened for the plastics strategy. I’d issue a warning signal here, because time is of the essence. Between the adoption of a strategy and its proper implementation, it can take five years… and in five years a few significant investment decisions can be made: it’s therefore important to know where things are going as soon as possible. If we’re shaping the economy for 2050, we’re in a hurry when it comes to getting guidelines and frameworks in place.” And of course as always, the difficulty is to strike the right balance between ambition and feasibility: too much of the former leads to something that sounds nice but does not translate into a reality, and too much of the latter means watered-down objectives. Pietikäinen illustrates the point: “For example, we should set the target that a building renovation project needs to render it energy-positive, which implies incorporating renewable energy production in the process. Secondly, the target should state that the best available technology has to be used, taking into account efficiency, air quality issues, ease of handling after the first use phase, modularity…”

REFINE THE VISION, LEAVE ROOM FOR INNOVATION

Doesn’t that sound like a bit of a handful for policymakers, who would have to come up with detailed and intricate pieces of regulation, at the risk of encountering hostility from the private sector – the infamous ‘red tape’ syndrome? Pietikäinen does not think so: “What’s needed is an overall objective, with a solid set of indicators. It’s a bit like accounting: no one tells you how much you can spend on hiring people, how to shape your supply chain or what budget to allocate to marketing campaigns. What you know is that you can’t end up in the red zone. The same logic applies here, you know you can’t be above a certain level of toxicity or below a threshold in terms of re-usability, for example. If you couple that with the obligation to use the best available technology, it means you don’t have to specify and qualify every single glue or polymer. That leaves room for innovation, and to go back to a previous point, the Ecodesign directive can be a powerful tool to set the standards – with the burden of proof on the producer: how do you demonstrate that your product is re-usable, non-toxic, repairable? This approach should be coupled with a hierarchy of post use-strategies, with recycling being clearly positioned as the last resort. At the risk of repeating myself, I strongly believe that acting upstream is the way forward.”

Useful links

Sirpa Pietikäinen’s official EU Parliament profile page:

EU Parliament briefing, EU legislation in progress – Circular economy package