Friday, 26 September 2014

Talking resources

Both sides of the corporate coin were on parade this week. Dozens of bankers and chief executives attended the United Nations Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, which was a prelude to negotiations in Paris next year for a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 (see United Nations | Africa: The fire this century). They came bearing elaborate plans for voluntary and 'market solutions' to global warming, with innovative plans for solar power and wind production that could make African energy producers into the greenest and most cost-effective on earth.

A day earlier, executives from some of the world's biggest power companies told African delegates how new technology and investment could overcome the continent's energy crisis within 15 years. The African Development Bank says Africa's oil and coal producers could raise the necessary US$300 billion if they reinvested just 5% of their export revenue in that period.

Elsewhere, the United States' biggest companies were locked in a three-way battle with anti-corruption activists and the New York Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) about how to implement the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. This demands that oil, gas and mining companies produce annual reports of all payments they make to African and other governments for the extraction of those resources.

Last year a court in Washington threw out the SEC's first attempt to set new rules for these disclosures and now Oxfam and other activists are suing it for dragging its feet. Nor are Chinese companies escaping scrutiny. On 24 September, the World Bank announced that for the first time, it was debarring a state-owned company, China International Water and Electric Corporation, from bidding for Bank contracts for three years after a lengthy probe into its technical capacity and working practices on a hydro-power project in Africa.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Ebola side-effects

If there are any positive side-effects from the Ebola outbreak that has already cost more than 2,300 lives in West Africa, it may be to highlight the short-sightedness of funding cuts to international health agencies. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the United Nations' World Health Organisation, says the ability of the agency to respond to health emergencies has been badly undermined. After its total budget was cut by US$500 million to $4 billion, the WHO reduced allocations for responding to health crises by over 50% to about $115 mn. a year.

The WHO reckons it will cost at least $600 mn. to deal with the Ebola outbreak, although the financial losses caused by the disease may run into several billion dollars. But the race to raise emergency funds is proving a great distraction from galvanising action for a regional plan to stop the outbreak.

This comes as United States officials have assessed the Ebola outbreak to be out of control in Liberia and Sierra Leone and estimate that as many as 20,000 could die before its spread is stopped. Concerned by the withdrawal of several voluntary agencies from the Ebola-hit countries, the US is sending in new teams of specialists from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. But Washington has its own economic hurdles, and President Barack Obama has had to urge Congress to fast-track an appropriation of $58 mn. to speed up production of Zmapp, a drug that could help people infected with Ebola.