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Brazil’s Locomotive Breath



The process of growth and modernization in Brazil has been always described as an example to be followed by other developing countries. Nevertheless, the Brazilian ‘locomotive’ has stopped.

The country is going through a period of dramatic political and economic instability. Although the Olympics Games should have been an international show of Brazilian power, they revealed the structural weakness of a country full of ambiguities and contradictions instead. Petrobras’ inquiry, combined with negative effects of the economic crisis, seem to have temporarily buried the China of South America. Oil wealth becoming yet another time not a blessing but a curse.

“In a broader sense, the hydrocarbons and its scarcity phychologization, its monetization (and related weaponization) is serving rather a coercive and restrictive status quo than a developmental incentive” – diagnoses prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, and concludes: “That essentially calls not for an engagement but compliance.“

To describe the history of the nation we need to focus our attention on oil, because the black gold is the embodiment of the success -and fall- of the Brazilian economy.

Oil – how black is gold

One the central drivers of Brazilian economic growth has been the production and the export of natural resources and their products. Looking at Brazil’s GDP between 1982 and 2015, three main trends can be observed. (i) A stable growth pattern from 1982 to 2002. (ii) The GDP rocketing up between 2003 and 2012, with a light slowdown during 2009-2010 caused by the financial crisis. (iii) A fall of GDP’s values between 2012 and 2015. Analyzing the evolution of the percentage of annual GDP growth’s, it is not possible to identify a specific trend. The most significant point that can be made is the constant growth of the GDP between 2004 and 2008, which was around 5% per year. The economic growth does not just imply a dramatic increase of GDP but also the improvement in social-economic status of millions of poor brasilians. Starting from 2001 the level of absolute poverty – defined as the percentage living with less than two dollars per day – decreased 12%. The levels of relative poverty – defined as the percentange of people with less than 50% of the average income – fell by 25% between 2002 and 2013.

Graph 1: Trend of Brazilian GDP 1982 e il 2014


Graph 2: Percentage of GDP Grotwh 1982-2014


Graph 3: Trends of poverty levels 1995-2013


The value of export and of the satellite activities of natural resources for Brazilian is represented by their proportion on the total GDP. As clearly shown in Graph 4, one of the engines of the Brazilian boom in the 2000s has been oil. Its incidence on GDP increased remarkably from 1999, a stable growth that reached its peak during 2000s. Between 2003 and 2006 oil rents produced around 3% of total GDP. Graph 5 shows the cost of oil per barrel from 1980 to 2015. To clarify, the most important oil reserve in Brazil is Pré-Sal, which needs to compete in a market in which the price is of at least 70 dollars per barrel in order to be profitable. The fall of the international price of oil, then, has been penalizing the Brazilian economy that was already damaged by the crisis of Chinese demand and the slowdown of FDI.

Graph 4: Percentage of oil and natural resources on Brazilian GDP 1982-2012 


Graph 5: Trends of oil barrel 1980-2014


Eike Batista, imagine of Brazilian fable

The story of Erike Batista is bond with the growth and the fall of Brazilian economy. Batista has been one of the richest man in the world, 8th in the Forbes rank of worldwide billionaires and owner of 30 billion dollars in 2012. However, this changed in 2014 when he admitted to the loss of his wealth and his debt of one billion dollars. How is it possible that this self-made billionaire lost his wealth totalling a whopping 30 billion dollars? The success and the fall of Batista’s business is connected to oil. In the 80s, after completing his metallurgic studies, he went to Amazon forest to implement machines in the research and the extraction of gold. In the 1983 he bought a small society in the Canadian stock exchange, of extraction and trade of natural resources., that gained the value of 1.7 billion dollars in a few years. In 2002 he sold his company for 875 million. The devaluation of the asset was due to wrong investment done by the society in Greece, Russia and Czech Republic, which cost million of loss.

Batista exploited new opportunities that arose during the Brazilian economic boom. Between 2001 and 2002 he created and subsequently sold two companies to the Brazilian state; a thermodynamics and an iron production company. The holding that would make a Batista billionaire was OGX (Petròleo e Gàs Participacoes), specialized in the research and refinement of oil and gas. The market strategy of OGX was aggressive from the beginning. In 2007 he arranged the rights of exploration for 21 areas for OGX doubling the amount offered by its competitors. The next year OGX was able to produce barrels at the cost of 145 dollars per barrel and it announced their structures would be able to produce 1 million barrel per day in 2019. Batista’s ambitions and his confidence in Brazilian economy encouraged him to invest a large amount of money to build up an harbour at Acu, 400 km away from Rio de Janeiro. The project was supposed to create a centre for the refinement and the trade of oil products, thereby radically increasing OGX’ productivity.

From 2008 onwards, the Brazilian magistrate started to investigate bribes that Batista allegedly gave to the Governator of Amapà, Waldex Gòez, concessions of privileges for his companies. Even though the media caught wind of the investigation, the judiciary case was closed without any charges. The slowdown of Brazilian economy and the fall of the oil barrel started to strain foreign investors and foreign shareholders and lead them to reduce investments into Batista’s companies. The final blow was caused by the Abu Dhabi fund, Mudabala Development, which retired from EBX – one of Batista’s holdings – and asked for the liquidation of all their stock options which totaled 1.5 billion dollars. The financial pressure then cut the liquidity of Batista’s companies, which, having invested a lot of money, survived using financial leverage. Like a balloon, EBX snapped under the weight of financial debts that made Batista lose all of his assets.

Petrobas investigation

In March 2014, a group of Brazilian judges started to investigate the relationship between the Worker’s Party and the public oil company Petrobras. The charge was that executive directors of Petrobras and of the main building societies (Btp) developed a corrupt system in which Btp would receive contracts for the construction of oil platforms increasing the building costs between 1% and 3%. In exchange, governmental parties would obtain illegal funds to sponsor political campaigns. The companies involved were Camargo Corrêa, Oas, Utc-Constram, Odebrecht, Mendes Júnior, Engevix, Queiroz Galvão, Iesa Óleo & Gás e Galvão Engenharia and members of the Workers’ Party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Pmdb) and the Progressive Party. (Pp).

The main consequence of the inquiry was the delegitimization of the Workers’ Party that led Brazil from 2002 onwards. The President, Dilma Rouseleff was forced to leave office despite the fact she was not personally involved in the investigation. The successor of former President Lula endured immediate pressure to resign for her knowledge of systematic corruption as Chairman of Petrobras and Minister of Energy (2003-2005). Nevertheless, the impeachment of Rouseleff regarded the charge of having transferred public funds from national banks to finance social expenses that went beyond the fixed amount allocated for public expenses. However, the charges that led to her dismissal did not include the Petrobas scandal. Eduardo Cunha was the political leader leading the group that called for Dilma’s dismissal. Paradoxically, he was not only found with a secret million dollar bank account in Switzerland, but was also barred from assuming any public position for eight years due to an investigation for his involvement in corruption and bribes. Some representatives of worldwide left-wing parties talk about a conspiracy to dismiss the Workers’ Party. The Brazilian and international elite allegedly exploited the economic crisis to destroy the consensus of Lula and Rouseleff’s party, which had always had significant popular support. Lula won the election in 2002 with 46.4% of the votes against just 23.3% of his opposing candidate José Serra. In 2006, Lula was confirmed President with 48.6% in the next election. His successor, Dilma Rouseleff, won in 2010 with 46.9% of the votes. Even though she experienced a small decline, Rouseleff won the election in 2014 with 41.6% of the votes. These Brazilian governments made enemies in the international market due to their politics of nationalization and semi-nationalization of natural resources. For example, Petrobras, founded in 1953, was partially privatized during the 90s. However, Lula started a propagandist campaign in 2007 to return company under state control. In addition, to prevent the private exploitation of the Pré-Sal oil reserve, Lula’s government passed a law to give to Petrobras the monopoly to explore the area and extract oil from Pré-Sal.

Some influential voices, such as independent Brazilian experts and academics raised concerns about the nature of the process. Pedro Fassoni Arruda argues that there were secret powers behind the impeachment that were also involved in the coup d’etat in 1964. In a similar vein, Pablo Ortellado criticised the framing of Rouseleff in the media. Sapelli contends that the modern political history of Brazil is characterized by a deep fragmentation of parties, which means every President has to deal with many small personalist parties. The external support that every government needs to administrate generated the construction of a system of corruption intrinsic to Brazilian society. Many experts believe that judge’s actions could enforce the trust of markets and investors in Brazilian institutions. Cutting the ambiguous bonds that exist between parties and companies should help to make the legal framework more stable and safe, strengthening the power of the Law. This could be a message from Brazil to all the world, that whoever is corrupted, no matter what status, will be punished.

Recently, the news reported the Brazilian parliament approved a law with 292 in 393 to abolish the monopoly of Petrobras on the reserve of Pré-Sal. This law seems to be just the first step of a greater project of privatization pursued by President Michel Temer. With strong politics of liberalization for Brazilian natural resources, Brazil seems to offer intriguing opportunities for business and investments for many multinationals. If Petrobras’ inquiry is just conspiracy or smart intuition is hard to understand. Surely, the destiny of Brazil will be, another time, defined by black gold. For better or worse.


Indonesia’s ‘Superheroines’ Empowered with Renewables

MD Staff



Ibu Bekti, a Wonder Woman from Labuan Bajo, Indonesia. Photo credit: Kopernik

About a third of Indonesians, roughly 80 million people, live without electricity and many more with only unreliable access. In the country’s eastern Solor archipelago, a programme is looking to tackle this issue with an innovative approach, by empowering women with renewable solutions for rural and remote communities.

“In rural Indonesia, energy poverty affects men and women differently and there is a clear and important intersection between energy access and gender equality,” says Sergina Loncle, the Communications Manager at Kopernik, a non-profit organisation headquartered in Indonesia. “Although women have been traditionally restricted from access to information, assets and resources, in many cases they generally are the decision makers on energy issues at the household level, which makes the inter-linkages between energy and gender more pronounced.”

Kopernik believes that empowering women to become micro-social-entrepreneurs will help boost incomes and make clean energy technologies available in off-grid communities. To support this, the organisation launched Wonder Women, or in Indonesian, Ibu Inspirasi, which literally means inspirational women and mothers, says Loncle. The Wonder Women programme gives Indonesian women solar technologies on consignment and shares a margin on every sale — boosting the  ability of women to support their families, helping to reduce the problems associated with inadequate and dangerous energy technologies, and improving the quality of life within the community.

A Kopernik survey suggests the programme is working. Reports show that after 12 months 26% of ‘Wonder Women’ know how to run a business and 21% become more empowered within their families — taking on a greater role in household decision making. Almost half of the survey’s respondents perceived an improvement in their self-status and 19% have increased their empowerment within the community.

Women in the programme are inspirational figures in their villages as they help make clean energy technology available to friends, relatives and neighbours, explains Loncle. Wonder women often become a pillar of support and inspiration for other women in the village, encouraging them to join the programme or support other business ventures.

“I am grateful because people in my community now use affordable, clean energy technologies,” says Maria Nogo, a Wonder Woman in Larantuka, East Flores who has been a part of the programme since March 2015. “By becoming a Wonder Woman, besides saving money, I also have opportunities to introduce these technologies to the people in my community, so I can support them to have a better life.”

A better life with renewables

In its market analysis for Southeast Asia, IRENA supports the Wonder Women programme and advocates for the host of socioeconomic benefits renewables bring to Indonesia and the countries in its region. IRENA shows that renewable energy solutions can reduce fuel expenditures — which drains the limited resources of the poor — and decentralised renewable energy access can substantially reduce poverty by empowering individuals and communities to gain control over their energy supply and reduce their energy spending.

“Over 206,000 Indonesians are directly employed in the renewable energy sector, but there is growing body of evidence that renewable energy solutions support income generation and job creation beyond the energy supply chain,” says Rabia Ferroukhi, Head of IRENA’s Policy Unit and Deputy Director of its Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre. She says renewables enable technologies that contribute to improved health, access to education, clean water and good nutrition, and can increase economic productivity.

To better assess the economic benefits of decentralised renewable energy in rural areas, poor urban communities, and remote islands of South East Asia, IRENA advises policy makers to look beyond the consumptive uses of energy (e.g. household lighting, cooking) and to also consider its productive uses.

“In remote and rural areas, like those found in Indonesia, renewables are not only the most cost-effective way to provide energy access, they’re a reliable way to support social services and economic development, and that’s a strong reason for governments in the region to support programmes like Wonder Women,” Ferroukhi adds.


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Economic value of energy efficiency can drive reductions in global CO2 emissions

MD Staff



Ambitious energy efficiency policies can keep global energy demand and energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO₂) emissions steady until 2050, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. Perspectives for the Energy Transition: The Role of Energy Efficiency shows that despite a near-tripling of the world economy and a global population that increases by nearly 2.3 billion, end-use energy efficiency alone can deliver 35% of the cumulative CO₂ savings through 2050 required to meet global climate goals.

Global energy demand grew by 2.1% in 2017 according to IEA estimates, more than twice the growth rate in 2016. At the same time, global energy-related CO₂ emissions increased for the first time in three years, as improvements in global energy efficiency slowed down dramatically to 1.7%.

“Among all energy trends in 2017, the one that worries me the most is the slowdown in energy efficiency improvements,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. “The rate of improvement that we saw is around half of the rate that is required to meet clean energy transition goals.”

IEA analysis in Perspectives for the Energy Transition: The Role of Energy Efficiency demonstrates that on top of a wide range of benefits including cleaner air, energy security, productivity and trade balance improvements, there is a compelling economic case for energy efficiency. But, without further policy efforts, these benefits are unlikely to be realised as less than a third of global final energy demand is covered by efficiency standards today.

Realising the full potential of energy efficiency will require a step-change in investments on the demand side of the energy equation, rising to USD 1.7 trillion per year through 2050, the majority of which is for energy efficiency and the electrification of transport. On the supply side, the focus is on reallocating investments towards renewables and other low-carbon technologies such as nuclear and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

While the scale of the demand-side investment required may appear challenging, fuel cost savings over the lifetime of most technologies are larger than the investment required, which implies a strong economic benefit that arises from energy efficiency investment. Although there are still many low-hanging fruits that can pay back their initial investment quickly, payback periods are often too long to attract investment from consumers and businesses. Effective policy frameworks are needed to overcome economic and non-economic barriers to energy efficiency and to incentivise adoption of more efficient technologies.

Perspectives for the Energy Transition: The Role of Energy Efficiency demonstrates a compelling economic case for energy efficiency as being essential to make the energy transition affordable, faster and more beneficial to all. The IEA recommends that governments adopt a strategic approach to energy efficiency, supported by well-designed efficiency policies and a strong focus on implementation and enforcement.

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Report: Powerful New Policy Options to Scale Up Renewables

MD Staff



A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition, is an unprecedented collaboration that sheds new light on the policy barriers to increased deployment of renewables and provides a range of options for policymakers to scale-up their ambitions.

Since 2012, renewable energy has accounted for more than half of capacity additions in the global power sector. In 2017 alone a record-breaking 167 GW of renewables capacity was added worldwide. 146 million people are now served by off-grid renewable power, and many small island developing states are advancing rapidly towards targets of 100% renewables.

One of the main rationales behind the call for a higher share of renewables in the energy mix is the urgent threat posed by climate change. Of the 194 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 145 referred to renewable energy in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and 109 included quantified renewable energy targets. Air pollution is also a pressing issue, with an estimated 7.3 million premature deaths per year attributable to household and outdoor air pollution. Energy security is another influencing factor, with small island states particularly affected by security issues and resilience in the face of natural disasters. Finally, countries looking to expand energy access in rural areas are increasingly turning to renewables as the most cost-effective, cleanest and most secure option.

But the pace of the energy transition needs to be substantially accelerated to meet decarbonisation and sustainable development objectives. As outlined in IRENA’s recently-released Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, to achieve the two-degree goal of the Paris target, the share of renewables in the primary global energy supply must increase from 15% today to 65% by 2050. Gains in the electricity sector must be matched in end-use sectors such as heating and transportation, which together account for 80% of global energy consumption.

Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition provides policymakers with a comprehensive understanding of the diverse policy options to support an accelerated development of renewables across sectors, technologies, country contexts, energy market structures, and policy objectives, to scale up renewable energy deployment. An updated joint classification of renewable energy policies to illustrate the latest policy developments around the world.

Key areas of focus:

Heating and Cooling

Heating accounted for over 50% of total final energy consumption in 2015, with over 70% of that met by fossil fuels. To increase the use of renewables, a range of policy instruments are required. These include mandates and obligations, which can offer greater certainty of increased deployment; building codes, which implicitly support renewable heating and cooling from renewables by setting energy performance requirements; renewable heat and energy efficiency policies that are closely aligned to leverage synergies and accelerate the pace of transition; fiscal and financial incentives, which reduce the capital costs of renewables; and carbon or energy taxes, which provide important price signals and reduce externalities.


Transport is the second largest energy end‑use sector, accounting for 29% of total final energy consumption in 2015, and 64.7% of world oil consumption. With the exception of biofuels, there is little practical experience of fostering renewables in transport. Policies and planning should help overcome the immaturity or high cost of certain technologies, inadequate energy infrastructure, sustainability considerations and slow acceptance among users as new technologies and systems are introduced. They should also build improved understanding between decision makers in the energy and transport sectors, so as to enable integrated planning and policy design. Removal of fossil fuel subsidies is also essential, especially in shipping and aviation.

Power sector

Although the power sector consumed only about a fifth of total final energy consumption in 2015, it has received the most attention in terms of renewable energy support policy. Investments in the sector are largely driven by regulatory policies such as quotas and obligations and pricing instruments, supported by fiscal and financial incentives. Quotas and mandates cascade targets down to electricity producers and consumers, but require a robust framework to monitor and penalize non-compliance. Administratively set pricing policies (like feed-in tariffs and premiums) need to continuously adapt to changing market conditions and the falling cost of technology. Auctions are being increasingly adopted, given their ability for real-price discovery, and have resulted in a five-fold price reduction between 2010 and 2016, though auction design is crucial.

System integration

A number of countries and regions are reaching high penetrations of VRE in their power systems, and implementing policies to facilitate their system integration. Strategies for system integration of renewables are crucial to minimise negative impacts, maximize benefits and improve the cost effectiveness of the power system. As VRE shares grow in the power system, so do the challenges of system integration.

A wide range of policies have been adopted to support the growth of renewable energy around the world. The nature of those policies in a given country depends on the maturity of the sector, the particularities of the market segment, and wider socio-economic conditions. As this report shows, as deployment of renewable energy has grown and the sector has matured, policies must adapt and become more sophisticated to ensure the smooth integration of renewables into the wider energy system – including the end-use sectors – and a cost-effective and sustainable energy transition.


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