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One of the biggest mysteries in the oil market: Iran’s secret stash of oil

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1One of the biggest mysteries in the oil market surrounds just how much oil Iran is hoarding at sea. That’s a key question because Iran’s nuclear deal with the West could lift crippling sanctions, and pave the way for tons of Iranian oil to hit the market. A surge in Iranian exports would only deepen the oil supply glut that has sent prices to fresh six-year lows this week to below $43. Maritime surveillance firm Windward has harnessed sophisticated technology to determine Iran is actually hoarding 50 million barrels of oil. That’s up nearly 150% from April 2014 when Windward started tracking this closely-watched metric. “That means when sanctions are lifted, there is going to be a flood of crude hitting the market because boy could they use the money,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. It’s important to remember the oil hiding at sea is ready to be shipped to a buyer — likely in Asia — at a moment’s notice. It’s already been pumped out of the ground, cleaned up and processed. [CNN]

2Why we disagree with Chuck Schumer on the Iran deal. “Rejection of the agreement would severely undermine the U.S. role as a leader and reliable partner around the globe. If Washington walks away from this hard-fought multilateral agreement, its dependability would likely be doubted for decades.Rejection would also destroy the effective coalition that brought Iran to the negotiating table. China and Russia would likely resume trade with Iran. U.S. allies, unsettled by Washington’s behavior, would move their own separate ways.The other five negotiators would likely have little stomach for going back to Iran “for a better deal.” The ambassadors of the five countries recently assured members of Congress that their governments would not return to the negotiating table should Washington reject the agreement” Richard Lugar and J. Bennett Johnston for Reuters.

3Russia has extended its list of countries subject to a food import ban in retaliation for Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the ban would now apply to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Albania and Montenegro. He said Ukraine would be added in 2016 if an economic agreement between Kiev and the European Union came into force. Speaking at a cabinet of ministers on Thursday, Aug 13, the PM said Iceland, Liechtenstein, Albania and Montenegro would also now be affected because they had joined EU sanctions against Russia.”Joining the sanctions is a conscious choice which means readiness for retaliatory measures from our part, which have been adopted,” Medvedev said in comments broadcast on state-owned channel Rossiya 24.

4Kazakhstan has seen an increase in oil and natural gas production in January-July 2015, the country’s Statistics Committee under the National Economy Ministry reported. The production of oil, including gas condensate, increased by 0.7 percent to reach 47 million tons in the reported period.The committee also said that the production of gasoline decreased by 2.8 percent to 1.6 million tons, and diesel fuel by 2.7 percent to 2.7 million tons in the first seven months of 2015. Energy-rich Kazakhstan produces oil mainly from its largest fields – Karachaganak and Tengiz.

5The new industrial zone in the Akhal province of Turkmenistan contains the production of materials and articles for construction industry, including glass, armature boards, paint and paint products, polyurethane products, hoisting slings, decorative stone, composite panels, hardware, electronic components, furniture, doors and windows, and packing containers.The implementation of the new industrial objects by the Turkmen Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs will create over 10,000 new jobs.

6The success in the negotiation process over the resolution of the nuclear dispute between the West and Iran and the positive developments following it, have lead to a boom in Iran’s tourism sector. Iranian officials have released recent figures showing an increase in a number of the people visiting the Islamic Republic, especially from Europe. Iran is seen as one of the world’s top potential tourist destinations, as it contains a countless number of ancient sites. The country ranks fourth in Asia and first in the Middle East in terms of the number of world heritage sites, with an impressive 17 historic sites that have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

7Azerbaijan’s next Parliamentary elections will be in the fall of 2015.Many political parties and groups have already expressed their wish to participate in the elections; however, not all have yet managed to hold meetings.Meanwhile, Representatives of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) met with the Chairman of the Central Election Commission Mazahir Panahov on August 12. During the meeting, it was noted that the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan appreciates relations with international organizations and intends to continue working with them closely.

8This is Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections and CEC is the key actor, so we are mainly fine to play our part of helping in the trainings which the European Union is doing in many countries in the world”, said Malena Mard, head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan. “We review key recommendations from the OSCE and the Council of Europe regarding the candidates’ registration. We hope to play our part in assisting the Central Election Commission for which we have had cooperation for a long time. We are happy to be a part of this project here in Azerbaijan and we are not only doing it in Baku, but we will several workshops and trainings all over the country, she said.

9The Altau district of China and East Kazakhstan region signed a framework agreement on cooperation in the tourism sector on August 13.This agreement was signed by travel agencies of respective countries at the third International Forum on economic cooperation held as part of the Economic Belt of Silk Road.The sides committed to support the cooperation in cross-border tourism and interaction between tour operators of the two countries.Kazakhstan plays significant strategic and diplomatic role for China as it is the first stop on China’s Silk Road Economic Belt.

10US has joined hands with China and Russia to oppose negotiations for reforming the UN body. India and some other developing nations have worked hard for long to prepare a framework on UNSC reform. They had suggested that the UNSC include more countries as its permanent members and work in a transparent manner. However, the US, Russia and China strongly opposed the proposal – which can be described as an outcome of inter-governmental negotiations

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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After stalling last year, renewable power capacity additions to hit double-digit growth in 2019

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After stalling last year, global capacity additions of renewable power are set to bounce back with double-digit growth in 2019, driven by solar PV’s strong performance, according to the International Energy Agency.

The IEA expects renewable capacity additions to grow by almost 12% this year, the fastest pace since 2015, to reach almost 200 GW, mostly thanks to solar PV and wind. Global solar PV additions are expected to increase by over 17%.

Last year was the first time since 2001 that growth in renewable power capacity failed to accelerate year on year, largely due to a Chinese government policy change. This highlights the critical role of governments for the deployment of renewables and the need to avoid sudden policy changes that can result in strong market volatility.

Renewables have a major part to play in curbing global emissions and providing universal access to affordable, secure, sustainable and modern energy. Renewable capacity additions need to grow by more than 300 GW on average each year between 2018 and 2030 to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario.

“These latest numbers give us many reasons to celebrate: Renewable electricity additions are now growing at their fastest pace in four years after a disappointing 2018,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “We are witnessing a drastic decline in the cost of solar power together with strong growth in onshore wind. And offshore wind is showing encouraging signs.”

“These technologies are the mainstays of the world’s efforts to tackle climate change, reduce air pollution and provide energy access to all,” Dr Birol said. “The stark difference between this year’s trend and last year’s demonstrates the critical ability of government policies to change the trajectory we are on.”

The cost of solar PV has plunged more than 80% since 2010, making the technology increasingly competitive in many countries. The IEA estimates that global solar PV capacity additions will increase to almost 115 GW this year, despite a slight decline in China, the world’s largest market. This is set to be the first year that solar PV additions have surpassed 100 GW and the third year in a row that they account for more than half of global renewable additions.

The softness in the Chinese solar PV market is being offset by faster expansion in the European Union, led by Spain; a new installations boom in Vietnam as developers rush to complete projects before incentive cuts; and faster growth in India and the United States. Japanese solar PV developers are also expediting the commissioning of projects to meet deadlines for higher incentives.

The pace of acceleration in the Chinese solar PV market remains the biggest uncertainty for the IEA’s 2019 estimates. China’s policy transition from feed-in tariffs to competitive auctions resulted in relatively slow solar PV deployment in the first half of 2019. But installations in the second half of the year are expected to accelerate with the completion of the first projects linked to large-scale auctions and the emergence of projects that rely far less on incentives to compete with other power sources.

The rebound in renewables is also supported by higher onshore wind growth, which is expected to rise 15% to 53 GW, the largest increase since record deployment in 2015. In the United States, project developers have accelerated deployment before the phase-out of federal production tax credits. In China, lower curtailment levels have unlocked additional growth in several provinces this year, enabling faster expansion.

Offshore wind growth is expected to be stable at around 5 GW in 2019, led by the European Union and China.

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Liquidity Crisis Weighs on An Already Strangled Palestinian Economy

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Palestinian Authority (PA) faces a financing gap that could exceed US$1.8 billion for 2019 driven by declining aid flows and the unresolved transfer of taxes and import duties collected by Israel on behalf of the PA (clearance revenues), according to a new report released today by the World Bank. 

The report highlights the financing gap that has forced the PA to accumulate debt from domestic banks, and build up arrears to employees, suppliers and the public pension fund, creating large liquidity challenges for the economy. The Palestinian economic monitoring report will be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) on September 26, 2019 in New York, a policy-level meeting for development assistance to the Palestinian people.

“The outlook for the Palestinian territories is worrisome as drivers of growth are diminishing and the severe liquidity squeeze has started to affect the PA’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities of paying its civil servants and providing public services,” said Kanthan Shankar, World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza. “With the right actions and collaboration between the parties, the situation could be reversed and bring relief to the Palestinian people, its economy and living standards.”

Overall revenue received in the first half of 2019 was half the amount in the same period last year mainly due to a 68 percent drop in clearance revenues. The PA has rejected the transfers of all clearance revenues due to deductions by Israel of US$138 million per year. As a result, the PA has taken a number of steps to cope with the loss of liquidity including fully using its borrowing capacity from domestic banks and paying only 60 percent of salaries to its employees while protecting those that make NIS2,000 per month (US$ 550) and below.

The retroactive transfer of fuel taxes made by the Government of Israel in August 2019 is expected to enable the PA to manage till the end of 2019 with reduced spending, while continuing to accrue arrears to employees, and private sector suppliers. Transferring to the PA the responsibility for fuel taxes that comprise about a third of total clearance revenues would be a partial help, but a more comprehensive agreement needs to be reached covering the mechanism and nature of Israeli deductions from clearance revenues going forward. 

Growth in the Palestinian territories is estimated at 1.3 percent in 2019. This forecast is largely due to a slight improvement in Gaza of 1.8 percent growth, after a dramatic 7 percent decline in 2018. Reflecting the liquidity squeeze, growth in the West Bank is expected to slow in 2019 to the lowest level over the last five years at 1.2 percent.  As the PA, businesses and households exhaust their options for coping with the liquidity crisis, a recession is forecasted for subsequent years in the absence of an agreement that restores the normal flow of these revenues.

 “While the regular flow of clearance revenues is an immediate priority, for sustained economic expansion, steps need to be taken to reduce access and trade barriers. Work also needs to be done to enhance the business environment for Palestinian businesses. Coordinated efforts and support by all parties could offer better economic prospects for Palestinians,” added Shankar.

Progress can be made by expanding the pilot of door to door transport (a single movement of cargo on one mode of transport) through the West Bank crossings; completing the negotiations over electricity purchases between Palestinian and Israeli electricity companies; and revising the dual use goods system. Internally, reforms to improve the business climate are critical, including finalizing the revised Companies Law before the end of the year; and completing the institutional reform at the Palestine Land Authority to improve the efficiency and transparency of land administration. 

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New Study Offers Pathways to Climate-Smart Transport

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A two-volume study laying out a pathway to a low-carbon and climate-resilient transport sector in Vietnam was released at a workshop on Addressing Climate Change in Transport, held in Hanoi today.

This analytical work comes at a critical time when the Government of Vietnam is updating its Nationally Determined Contribution on reducing carbon emissions and set out its next medium-term public investment plan for 2021-2025.

“A resilient transport system is critical to the continued success of Vietnam’s economy, which relies heavily on external trade and seamless connectivity,” said Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “We hope that the findings and recommendations of this new report will help Vietnam in its efforts to achieve a resilient and sustainable transport sector.

The first volume demonstrates that by employing a mix of diverse policies and investments, Vietnam can reduce its carbon emissions in the transport sector up to 9 percent with only domestic resources by 2030, and 15-20 percent by mobilizing international support and private sector participation.

Currently, the transport sector contributes about 10.8 percent of the total CO2 emissions. In a business-as-usual scenario, these emissions are projected to grow at an annual rate of 6-7% to nearly 70 million tons CO2e. The most cost-effective measures to boost the resilience of the transport sector include shifting traffic from roads to inland waterways and coastal transport, deploying stricter vehicle fuel economy standards, and promoting electric mobility.

The second volume provides a methodological framework to analyze critical and vulnerable points of the transport network, and presents a strong economic case for investing in building the climate resilience of Vietnam’s transport networks. A vulnerability assessment looks at the potential impact of different hazards on the transport corridor or network, and the criticality assessment considers such questions as which links and routes along transport networks are the most critical for the unimpeded flow of transport across a particular transport network.

The study identifies systemic critical issues and hazard-specific, high-risk locations in Vietnam’s transport network. Considering climate change, it is estimated that 20 percent of the network is most critical in terms of its exposure to future disaster risks. Meanwhile, road failures can result in very high daily losses of up to US$1.9 million per day, while railway failures can result in losses as high as US$2.6 million per day.

To prepare for the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme hazards due to climate change, it is imperative to make investments to overhaul existing road assets to higher climate-resilient design standards.

Given the vulnerability of land-based transport, a shift to waterborne transport offers a good resilience strategy. A 10-percent shift in that direction could reduce climate risks by 25 percent, according to the report.

This report is a collaborative effort among the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport, the World Bank and Deutsche Gesellschaft für InternationaleZusammenarbeit GmbH (German Development Cooperation GIZ) under the commission by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). It is sponsored by the Australian Government through the Australia-World Bank Group Strategic Partnership in Vietnam – Phase 2 (ABP2) program.

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