Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 11th 2014 Contents DECEMBER 2014 • WEEK TWO www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
ENERGY | BG9
The chief US climate negotiator, Todd Stern,
said in a recent speech that the "core imperative
has to be to break the link between growth
and fossil fuels."
That link prevails in part because the US
supplies a growing demand for fuel. But the
administration contends that America s energy
exports have not increased global demand or
global emissions. The US is the largest oil con-
sumer in the world and imports twice as much
crude oil as it exports in oil-derived products.
PANAMA'S SHELL GAME
Panama has long been an important player
in the global energy trade because of the Pana-
ma Canal. It is positioning itself to be an even
bigger conduit for US energy exports when a
$5.2 billion, third set of locks is completed next
year. This will enable tankers full of US liquefied
natural gas and potentially crude oil to tran-
sit.Panama also is expanding its network of
trade zones, which allow for duty-free imports
and export of gasoline and diesel.
The country plays its own shell game with
It says it contributes no carbon dioxide to
the atmosphere because its sizable forests
absorb more than what is released from vehicle
tailpipes and deforestation, the biggest sources
of climate-altering pollution in the country.
Its accounting includes forests owned inde-
pendently by the Guna people on the plus side
of the ledger, but it excludes pollution released
from three dozen or more oceangoing vessels
that pass through the Panama Canal each day,
paying about US$250,000 per trip. Ship pol-
lution, which accounts for about 3 per cent of
global carbon emissions, is not on any country s
balance sheet. It is controlled by the Interna-
tional Maritime Organisation, which has taken
steps to make modern ships more efficient.
ISLANDS AT RISK
Perhaps no one stands to lose more in Pana-
ma than the Guna, who have fiercely protected
their primitive way of life on this low-lying
archipelago on the Caribbean coast.
In 2012, Guna leaders passed a resolution
supporting plans to move the tribe to the main-
land. The plans are controversial within the
tribe and any move is several years away. "It s
our responsibility to prevent a catastrophe,"
the resolution said. "Climate change will sooner
or later affect the islands."
Population growth already has.
The school on the island of Gardi Sugdup
sacrificed its playground in an expansion to
hold more kids. Houses, or pens for chickens
and pigs, are built right to the edge of the
island, often on fill made from trash and coral
used to make more land.
Except for the Coca-Cola bottles and empty
snack bags that litter the dirt paths, the modern
world seems far away.
Women wear traditional dress, proudly dis-
playing the colourful embroidery known as a
mola across their chests, their forearms and
shins covered with tightly packed strands of
beads. Police carry elaborately carved wooden
canes and walk bare foot. Bathrooms without
plumbing empty into the open sea.
But the effects of carbon dioxide have no
boundaries, the Guna are finding out
A 2008 storm split apart one island and
sank two others, which were uninhabited,
according to Jorge Andreve, a Guna who is the
regional director for Panama s environmental
agency. Flooding on another island soaked the
wood, so people couldn t cook with it.
"Everything s changed," said Jose Davis, who
spoke on behalf of eight leaders, representing
26 communities, meeting here on a recent
Sunday. "We are not complying to the universal
world and how we should live with nature."
Davis said he would confer with the gods on
how better to live in harmony with nature.
Science has documented what the Guna
speak about spiritually. A paper by researchers
at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
in 2003 found that the sea surrounding the
archipelago was rising two millimeters per year.
Using satellite photos, they calculated how
much land had already gone underwater from
1966 to 2001. It was about the size of 12 football
The paper also said that the tribe s practice
of harvesting coral to fill in islands and make
space for more people exacerbated the prob-
AMERICA'S ENERGY PATH
In recent years, hydraulic fracturing tech-
nology has underpinned an American energy
revolution, allowing companies to extract oil
and natural gas from shale formations where
it was once inaccessible. That in turn has led
to cheaper natural gas prices, a feedstock for
refiners, and has depressed domestic oil prices
because of a 1970s ban on exporting crude oil.
At the same time, policies to address climate
change have slackened demand, along with
gasoline prices that, until recently, were high.
Fuel economy standards put in place by the
Obama administration are leveling off gasoline
consumption for the first time. A requirement
to add corn-based ethanol to gasoline also has
cut into oil s share of the gasoline market.
Since October 2007, US automobiles have
used 15.1 billion fewer gallons of gasoline and
diesel, according to Michael Sivak and Brandon
Schoettle of the University of Michigan. But
to meet rising demand in Latin America and
elsewhere, the US exported nearly seven times
that amount, according to US Energy Depart-
The White House said the exports do not
add more carbon to the atmosphere because
they replace fuel that would come from some-
place else. Sivak agreed that "we are doing the
world a net good" by reducing US consump-
Other experts dispute that. They note that
when a source of energy is plentiful and rea-
sonably priced, as is the case with US oil, it
tends to increase demand, making other poten-
tially cleaner energy sources less competitive.
It s a cycle the US is doing little to break in
the world market. Obama has called for an
end to fossil fuel subsidies in the US but has
gotten little support in Congress.
The energy-efficiency push that has helped
restrain demand in the US is all but absent in
Panama, where gasoline sells for about US$1
a gallon. The country has the lowest fuel taxes
in Central America. It has no refineries, so it
imports all fuel but charges no tariffs on it.
The government discounts the price because
the fuel is dirtier than what foreign refiners
charge for cleaner blends of US gasoline. It
requires a blend with 5.0 per cent sugarcane
ethanol and has tree-planting programmes to
Panama s national environmental authority
cannot say whether rising imports of US gaso-
line have increased emissions. Fewer than a
dozen people at the agency work on global
"To manage all the things that involve climate
change, that takes more people than just the
few of us," said Daysi Vargas, a climate change
analyst with the agency.
Among the things they are not enforcing
are tailpipe tests aimed at making sure cars
are running efficiently and releasing the least
amount of pollution. The AP visited one testing
facility in Panama City and it appeared aban-
doned. The workers and owners said no one
comes for the US$16 test.
Panama last year was the largest recipient
of some of the dirtiest diesel fuel---grades no
longer allowed in US engines.
In the past five years, the country s gasoline
and diesel imports from the US have more
than tripled, based on the AP s analysis of
Energy Department data. Embedded in those
imports were roughly 48 million tonnes of car-
bon dioxide emissions, off the US climate books
and put on Panama s, or about 10 per cent of
the country s estimated emissions from all
The government is still working to figure
out just how much carbon pollution Panama-
nians contribute to global warming. Panama
says it is not obligated to reduce emissions
because it is a developing nation.
MONEY GROWS ON THESE TREES
Deforestation is by far the biggest source of
carbon pollution in Panama, and the govern-
ment is working to ensure that it plants trees
or protects forests so its carbon balance sheet
It also is preparing for the potential sale of
carbon credits from its preserved forests, to
help other countries or companies reduce their
own carbon footprints --- an idea that the
nation s indigenous people initially rejected. A
truce was reached last December, jumpstarting
the US$5.8 million UN programme in Panama
after it was suspended because of objections
by indigenous groups.
The Guna are still sceptical.
"They are willing to give us money, but they
are still going to contaminate," said Hernaclio
Herrera, a biologist with the National Asso-
ciation for the Conservation of Nature. "It s a
license to pollute."
The Canal Authority has profited from selling
credits from some of the trees it owns. A private
broker failed to make a deal with the Guna to
pay them to preserve their forests in order to
sell the credits to a German insurance company
that wanted to neutralise some of its carbon
The Guna refused the offer, even though the
money could have helped pay for their escape
from climate change.
Forests, according to the Guna, are sacred
sanctuaries that should not come with a price.
"When we speak about trees, we talk about
our brothers and sisters," said Jorge Andreve,
director for Panama s environmental agency
in the Guna Yala region and a Guna himself.
"You can t put a T-shirt with a dollar sign on
a tree, when you don t own that tree." AP
From Page 20
In this Tuesday, September 9, 2014 photo, a
worker walks in front a wall of the Panama
Canal expansion project on the Pacific side in
Cocoli, Panama. Panama has long been a key
player in the global energy trade because of
the Panama Canal. It is positioning itself to
be an even bigger conduit for US energy
exports when a US$5.2 billion, third set of
locks is completed next year. This will enable
tankers full of US liquefied natural gas and
potentially crude oil to transit. The country is
also expanding its network of trade zones,
which allow for duty-free imports and export
of gasoline and diesel. AP
A man paddles his traditional fishing vessel near Gardi Sugdup island, Panama. The Guna
people have reduced what was already a minuscule carbon footprint: They cook with
clean-burning gas. They use a small amount of diesel fuel to power fishing boats and a
generator to light bare bulbs dangling above dirt floors after sunset. They own one of
the most pristine stretches of tropical rainforest in all of Panama, cleansing the
atmosphere of carbon dioxide naturally. But larger forces threaten to uproot them,
stemming from the failure by the rest of the world to rein in carbon emissions and as
carbon rises, so will the seas that imperil them. AP
This Sunday, September 7, 2014 photo shows a general view of the rainforest near the
ocean, as seen from Guna Yala, Panama. Deforestation is by far the biggest source of
carbon pollution in Panama, and the government is working to ensure that it plants trees or
protects forests so its carbon balance sheet remains positive. AP
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