EU Brokered Russian “Winter-Gas Package” for Ukraine buys time for Europe

With winter at our doorstep and just hours before leaving office, outgoing European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, announced a last minute deal to keep Ukraine and Europe warm this winter and give assurances to Gazprom that Ukraine will be able to pay its debts of $3.1 billion and make upfront payments for the 4 billion cubic meters of gas ($1.5 billion) to be supplied until March 2015. Ukraine now also feels comfortable that Russia will deliver on its commitments. Financing will come from the current IMF programs and other sources.

PutinGasThe gas supplies to Ukraine had been cut since June, following deteriorating relations between the two countries. Meanwhile the tension between Europe and Russia was increasing and fears that Russia would cut gas supplies like it did in 2006 and 2009 resurfaced. What aggravated Russia most was the re-export of Russian gas from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia to Ukraine. Retaliation through lower supplies to these highly dependent central-European states heightened the crisis.

Russia’s Eroding Negotiation Position

The deal implies a $378 per cubic meter rate price, far below the original Russian asking price of $485. Similarly, Poland managed to renegotiate its rates with Gazprom in 2012 with a 15% reduction on a price of around $550, the second highest in Europe at the time (after Macedonia).

The recent reduction in the price of oil may have played in favor of Ukraine and Europe. While Russia was counting on oil at $100 a barrel for its 2015-2017 budget, the recent drop to $80 and expectations that it may fall to $70 in the coming months has severe implications for Russian finances and economy. The deal with Ukraine and the EU provides much needed stability for the coming months.

A Golden Opportunity for Energy Security through Efficiency

Europe depends on Russia for 30% of its gas supplies. In Ukraine this dependence represents 40% of its entire energy consumption. But Ukraine is one of the least efficient countries in terms of its energy use and it is promoting energy waste through misguided fuel subsidies representing 7.5% of its GDP. With an energy intensity that is twice that of Russia and 10 times the OECD average, the IMF is correct in requiring a major energy reform to reduce energy waste as part of its bailout.

Similarly, the EU is looking at improving energy security by implementing energy efficiency policies that would result in 40% savings by 2030, with equivalent reductions in gas imports. These measures could save Europe up to €549 billion between 2011 and 2030 according to the Commission.

France adopts a new Energy Path

Photo: FranceBleu

Photo: FranceBleu

While the first ever World Nuclear Energy Expo is taking place in Paris, the French Parliament adopted an energy law proposed by Environment Minister Ségolène Royal that will reduce the share of nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025 as promised by Francois Hollande during his election campaign. The project was largely adopted thanks to the support of the socialists, the radical left and the green party. The law contains several interesting measures that should help to reduce energy bills through energy efficiency while creating long-lasting green jobs and improving the overall well-being of the french and of the climate given the ambitious target of a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030!

More Efficient Buildings  

Buildings are responsible for 43% of the energy used in France and deserve their reputation for being “des passoires thermiques” (thermal colanders). Prioritizing better insulation is therefore prioritized and will receive a 30% tax credit along with preferential interest loans for building related efficiency measures.

Promoting Renewable Energy

Photo from Murray Brown

Photo from Murray Brown

Once we have stopped wasting energy thanks to efficient buildings we cant think about clean and renewable generation options. The law projects to increase wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass generation to 23% in 2020 and 32% in 2030.

Electric Cars and bikes

6a00d83451b18a69e2017eeac264b0970dFrance will promote the electrification of cars and cleaner vehicles for state agencies, rentals and taxis. There will be help and financial incentives for individuals to buy electric / less polluting cars. Up to €10,000 will be available to replace a diesel car by an electric one. Reducing air pollution is one of the targets and will be most welcome, especially in urban areas.

A very interesting measure will be to provide a payment to people using their bikes to go to work. The amount would be €0.25 for each km. Talk about innovative thinking!

No more plastic bags and throw away plastic dishes & utensils 

Some 5 billion throw-away plastic bags are distributed in shops and 12 billion “fruit and vegetable” bags annually. They will no longer be allowed. Same for plastic plates and utensils. One has to look on the side of the roads in France to know where a good portion of these bags end up.

Trash Reduction Targets

By 2025, the volume of trash is to be reduced by 50% and a recycling rate of 55% should be attained. Waste to energy solutions will also be encouraged.

Green Jobs 

With these measures France aims to create 100,000 green jobs over 3 years. Comparing with the 400,000 green jobs created by the Germans, this appears to be a modest objective.  This is an area the trade unions have been pushing for because the french were far behind in terms of developing the skills and qualifications for jobs in this sector.

Preparing for the 2015 Climate Conference

Given the €70 billion energy bill of the French in 2013, any meaningful reduction would be most welcome. The law is also a timely reminder that in 2015 Paris will host the climate conference that aims to limit average global temparatures at +2 degrees Celsius. France will try to do its share by cutting its emissions by 40% by 2030. 

Commendable effort for President Hollande and Environment Minister Ségolène Royal that should be recognized and celebrated. Let’s hope that nothing gets lost in the  implementation phase.

Why older people suffer excessively in Environmental Disasters

To raise awareness about the growing frequency and destruction of natural disasters, in 2009, the United Nations designated October 13 as the International Day for Disaster Reduction. This year, the focus is on older people who suffer disproportionately when disasters hit.

Picture1In 2005, 75% of the fatalities of Hurricane Katrina were over 60 while they made up only 15% of the New Orleans population. One-third of the victims of the Haiyan typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013 were over 60, even though they represented less then 10% of the population.

Globally, our vulnerability to disasters is increasing from several factors. Firstly, as a result of climate change there is an intensification of extreme climate and disaster events. It is estimated that the number of natural disasters has increased from 200 to 400 per year in the last 20 years. Secondly, we are increasingly exposed to the impacts of such occurrences due to a growing world population and the concentration of people and infrastructure in exposed locations (on coastlines for example).

JOINT TASK FORCE (JTF) KATRINABut older populations are particularly at risk. While the elderly live longer in many parts of the world it does not mean that they are in good health. With advancing age they increasingly face health conditions that reduce their mobility. 42% of Americans over 65 have a functional limitation that makes it difficult to evacuate them quickly. Health problems and the disruption of medical care can also be fatal in the aftermath of disasters. Around 100 million elderly people around the world live in abject poverty. This is  not only a developing country problem. It is estimated that 1 out of 6 elderly Americans lives in poverty. Many older people live alone, tend to be poor and isolated, and are therefore the most vulnerable.

An Ageing World

Picture2Globally, some 870 million people, 12% of the world population, are over 60. It is predicted that by 2030, there will be more then 2 billion people over 60. “Older people bear the initial brunt of disasters often because they cannot flee,” said Toby Porter, from the HelpAge International, an international NGO that works to help address the challenges faced by older people.

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Margaret Wahlström (ISDR) and Adam Koniuszewski

Margareta Wahlström, United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), said: “The older person is often invisible in our communities until they show up in the mortality figures after a disaster event. Demographic change means we are living in an ageing world. It is important to include older persons in disaster management for both their improved protection and to make full use of their experience, skills and knowledge in support of that”.

An Age of Opportunity 

While it is important to include the needs of older people in planning and preparing for disasters there may be a silver lining in involving them in the overall process. Older people have knowledge and experience that can be put to use for the benefit of the impacted communities and society as a whole. It would be a shame to let this potential go to waste.

UNISDR is the UN office dedicated to disaster risk reduction. It is led by Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and works to “substantially reduce disaster losses, in lives and in the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries.”

Sport can’t stop Tanks but it can build Bridges for Peace

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela recognized that through sport, he could reconcile a nation divided by racial segregation since colonial times. At rugby games, black spectators were only allowed in the standing sections of the stadium to watch an all white national team. Many viewed the “Springboks” as a symbol of segregation and called for Mandela to form a new mixed-race team. Madiba (Mandela) felt such retribution would aggravate white South-Africans and the historic 1995 victory of the “Springboks” over the New Zealand “All Blacks” became the symbol of a nation that was healing its wounds and redefining itself as the “Rainbow nation” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu).

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Wilfried Lemke

Last week, the United Nations “Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace”, Mr. Wilfried Lemke, visited Krakow on the special invitation of the Mayor to give a lecture on the wider role of sport in society and to meet the kids from the Siemacha Association that provides daily after-school education to 2,000 children and uses sport as a pillar in its approach to youth development.

The role of Sport in Education

Used properly, physical activity and sport can play an important role in the healthy development of kids, it can help build confidence, self-esteem and pave the way for healthy lifestyles in adulthood. Through sport, kids can learn important values like fair play, tolerance, trust, discipline, leadership and teamwork. But a proper approach is essential. In the typical gym classes, the selection of sports teams where the best players are chosen first while the weakest are selected last has left many kids stigmatized.

Similarly, over-emphasis on “winning” undermines other competitors. For all kids to learn and benefit from winning and losing there must be respect for the loser and fair congratulations for the winner. The first thing that should take place after a match is for the teams to congratulate each other with sincerity, respect and appreciation. This is particularly important for young people. From the youngest age they can learn about the values of life and develop positive relationships through sport. This way, sport can become a powerful tool to empower people, promote acceptance for all and transform community attitudes to foster understanding and respect between people.

Sport for Peace

In the spirit of Mandela’s Springbok experience, grass-roots sports initiatives are taking place around the world to build bridges between communities that otherwise find it difficult to cooperate. Through football, Arabs and Jews have the opportunity to regularly play sports together. Similar projects are underway to revive diplomatic relations between North and South Korea through “football diplomacy”. In a world where international relations are increasingly tense and conflictual, we need such constructive grass-roots initiatives where competition can take place in a spirit of respect and fair play, for friendships to develop and bridges of peace appear.

Promoting Inclusiveness

Siemachabasen

Swimming pool managed by the Siemacha Association

Oftentimes, especially in developing countries, the availability of sports options for kids is lacking, particularly for girls. Similarly, the inclusion of people with disabilities is a problem even in developed countries. This has serious consequences because physical education is critical to provide children with survival skills in many parts of the world. Few realize that many children do not know how to swim and that, as a result 300,000 children, mainly girls, drown each year in Asia. Mandatory swimming lessons would be an important step in reducing child mortality. Siemacha does its share in this area by 70,000 swimming lessons/activities to 5,600 kids annually. The efforts of other organizations like UNICEF, UK Sport and the International Swimming Federation (FINA) in this area should also be encouraged.

piotr_pawlowski

Piotr Pawlowski

Also, “adapting existing sports facilities to the needs of people with disabilities will not only improve access but also help the integration of persons with disabilities in their communities” according to Piotr Pawlowski, President of Integracja, the association that represents 4 million disabled persons in Poland.

Role Models

Athletes, professional athletes in particular, can become important role models for young people. Millions of African kids want to become the next Eto’o but only one or two will. It is important for athletes to be responsible and to embody the values that make them worthy of such admiration. Unfortunately many professional athletes lack the maturity and education to properly manage their own lives. Despite earning more in one season than most people will earn in their lives, 78% of NFL players and 60% of NBA players will be bankrupt within five years of retirement and oftentimes their behavior results in them making the front page of media for all the wrong reasons.

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Robert Korzeniowski, Adam and Margo Koniuszewski

Fortunately there are exceptions. Four-time Olympic race-walking champion Robert Korzeniowski embodies the values that young people can look up to. In addition to being an ambassador for the UN World Food Program to raise awareness about the problem of hunger in the world, he is also an inspirational speaker and runs his foundation to promote sport in Poland.

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Dariusz Dudek, Dominik Rogoz, Maciek Malski, Margo Koniuszewski, Rev Andrzej Augustynski, Wilfried Lemke, Adam Koniuszewski, Jerzy Dudek

Similarly former professional football players Jerzy Dudek and his brother Dariusz have committed himself to helping young people develop themselves through football. Together they run the Siemacha AS Progress Academy where over 500 kids learn football.

A time for Solutions

At a time when the tensions and conflicts are on the rise and global issues seem overwhelming, there is more then ever a need for partnerships and solutions that promote multiple objectives. From developing positive values, goodwill and cooperation at all levels to improving inclusion and helping ease tensions and conflicts between communities and nations, a constructive approach to sport can provide such a platform. The visionary approach of the United Nations when it comes using sports as a tool for social progress and peace should be recognized and celebrated.

Chapeau-bas! Mr Lemke for your extraordinary commitment to this noble cause.

Margo and Adam Koniuszewski, initiators of the visit of Mr. Lemke to Krakow would like to thank our honorary guest Mr. Wilfried Lemke and his team at the UNOSDP as well as the sponsors and partners that have made these events possible: The City of Krakow, Arena Krakow, the German Embassy, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, BMW PolandHotel Stary, Hotel Rubinstein, and, Pawel Widel from GM Poland and Ela Raczkowska from Vital Voices. Special thanks also go to Robert Korzeniowski and Tim Runzheimer, General Manager of Nike Poland, for their presence.