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Category: Climate Change

Solar Power’s Surprising Win in Chile

Chile, Spain, Dubai, solar energy, renewable energy, climate change

Chile has officially debunked the argument that coal is cheaper than solar.

Solarpack Corp. Technologica, a Spanish developer, won contracts to sell solar power for $29.10 per megawatt-hour at an energy auction in August, the lowest price ever. Not only does this beat out the deal in Dubai from last May, it went for almost half the price of coal at the same event. Chilean solar power is now at one of the lowest rates for any kind of electricity anywhere, according to Solarpack General Director Inigo Malo de Molina.

“Solar energy technology has evolved and proved it is competitive,” Molina told Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Santiago. “Prices for electricity generation have changed drastically in the last years. Solar energy in Chile is now the cheapest in the market.”

From Energy Crisis to Energy Abundance

It’s an amazing turn-around, given the county’s recent energy woes. Just five years ago, Chile’s energy prices were among the highest in Latin America. A few monopolistic utility companies dominated the sector, and Argentina had stopped selling natural gas to its neighbor. Facing the risk of blackouts, the private sector planned to open more coal-burning power plants and build hydroelectric dams that would have flooded Patagonia.

A Model for Climate Change: Guatemala's Agro-Ecological Center

Guatemala, Climate Change, German Society for International Cooperation, Agriculture, Food Security

Plagued by rising temperatures, droughts, and elevated carbon dioxide levels, Central America's agricultural sector hangs in the balance. But the Guatemalan town of San Miguel Chicaj in Baja Verapaz may have the answer to this increasingly worrisome problem. With support from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), San Miguel Chicaj will soon be home to an agro-ecological center designed to serve as a model of adaption to climate change.

For the past ten years, the state of Baja Verapaz has been part of the 'dry corridor', making it the perfect testing ground for the agro-ecological center's techniques. The center, located in a small forest surrounded by cornfields and nurseries, plans to teach people to adapt crop production to the changing environment.  

"It will strengthen our crops…serve as a space for youth to be trained in agricultural-related activities," the chief counselor of San Miguel Chicaj told El Periodico.

The project, which is in the second phase of the "Adapt" initiative of the GIZ, has been called "innovative" and "a new way to address climate change" by the organization's head of cooperation Thomas Cieslik.

Under construction on municipal land, it will cost around $100,000 USD to complete. GIZ, meanwhile, is providing €10.5 million over six years (2013-2018) to invest in consulting and training. Once open, the center will fund operations by charging schools, universities, and companies for training students and employees.

It won't be ready for about a year-and-a-half, but GIZ is already conducting workshops to teach residents of Baja Verapaz how to reduce their impact on the environment. 

Zika? Or Should We Say "Eureka!"?

What can we do to fight Zika?

Zika was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 and was seen as a mild illness. Current events, however, tell a different story. Zika is now one of the most feared diseases, potentially causing cases of microcephaly and Guillian-Barré syndrome. Microcephaly is a condition that causes a baby to be born with a small head and can lead to improper brain development, while Guillain-Barré syndrome can result in muscle weakness and breathing problems.

Zika started out in small areas, but now has spread to over 20 different countries. One of the reasons Zika has spread so much is climate change. Global temperatures have increased, and so has the amount of rain. This type of weather makes it easier for mosquito-borne illnesses to develop. Zika originates from a mosquito called the Aeded aegypti, which thrives in warm and wet climates. Further climate damage could play a future role in spreading the Zika virus.

Although there is no official cure for Zika, there are some ways you can protect yourself. 

It is highly suggested for pregnant woman to refrain from travel at all costs. If you are planning to travel soon, it is important to wear long-sleeved shorts and long pants. Use insect repellants that contain DEET or picaridin. Keep doors and windows closed and use air conditioning. Basically, avoid getting mosquito bites as much as you can.

The United Nations: A Brief Look Back at 2015 and a Look Ahead to 2016

This article was originally written for the Northern New Jersey Chapter of UNA-USA. It has been cross-posted with the author's permission.

Last year marked a significant time in the history of the United Nations: It celebrated its 70th anniversary. This is no small accomplishment. There are many who over the years wished the global institution out of existence, yet here it is today, still standing and performing the work it was created to do.

2015 also saw the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the transition to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are an ambitious agenda consisting of 17 goals with 169 targets that seek to tackle some of the world’s largest challenges, such as: poverty, hunger, clean water, climate change, education, health, and inequality, to name a few. It is a significant task that can only be undertaken by an institution like the UN.

To highlight a few of the MDG successes, those living in extreme poverty (characterized as living on $1.25 a day) was reduced to 836 million people in 2015 from 1.9 billion people in 1990. In addition, the enrollment for primary school-age children showed an increase. However, the number is not quite where officials wish it to be so there is more work to be done in this regard. A notable achievement was in the area of people garnering access to clean drinking water. There was a net increase of 2.6 billion people since 1990, which was met in 2010—five years ahead of schedule.

UN Environment Programme Post-Paris Update

A Broken World. Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe


“Later that night, I held an atlas in my lap,

Ran my fingers across the whole world,

And whispered… where does it hurt?

It answered




--Warsan Shire 

Last week I attended a United Nations Environment Programme event held in collaboration with George Washington University that invited speakers and organizations to discuss their plans to incorporate the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement. There were two keynote speakers from the White House and three panels consisting of 10 high-ranking members of various organizations known for their efforts to curb climate change.

UN Calls for Summit Forum on Refugees and Migrants

Karen AbuZayd (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Last month I suggested that a UN-led conference would be necessary to confront the growing refugee and migrant crisis. Now I am pleased to report that the UN has called for a high level Summit on “Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.”

The forum is scheduled for September 19, 2016 at UN Headquarters in New York, one day before the opening of the UN General Assembly. A report of the Secretary-General will be published in May to structure the discussions and to facilitate research and the collection of up-to-date information at the national and regional levels.

Ms. Karen AbuZayd of the U.S. has been appointed as the Special Adviser--effectively the organizer--for the Summit. From 2005 to 2010, she was Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Previously she held high posts in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She is an academic specialist on the Middle East.

Dear Obama, Thank You for Banning Coal Leasing on Public Lands

Beulah Mine in North Dakota

It was a Thursday night. I was overwhelmed by midterm papers and exhausted from the afternoon's track workout. But rather than spending my evening studying, I was waiting in line in the bitter cold, filing slowly into a packed auditorium in downtown Spokane. Why? Because my environmental studies professor had "strongly encouraged" me and my classmates to attend that night's NEPA hearing.

A NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) hearing is an event where each citizen gets a small window of time to voice their support or opposition to a government project. The government is required to consider what every person says... but they don't necessarily have to act according to majority opinion. This particular hearing concerned plans to build a railway to transport cheap coal (deemed to be of too low quality to burn in the US) from the Powder River Basin to Vancouver, WA, where it would then be exported to China.

Once we settled into our seats, the novelty of the event disappeared. My brain became so inundated with numbers that citizens were rattling off--statistics about noise pollution and air pollution, rates of asthma, claims about the number of jobs that would be lost or created, etc—that it began to switch off....

Then, thankfully, it was jolted awake by an impassioned voice. A Cheyenne elder from the Powder River Basin was speaking about how tearing up the land for coal mining was not only contaminating the Tribe's air and water, but was literally tearing up their culture—a culture engrained in the land. Ten other Cheyenne tribe members followed the woman's speech, echoing her sentiments. [Click here to read more on the Northern Cheyenne Tribe's relationship with coal]. 

Catholic Social Doctrine and World Parliament

Pope Francis meets with poor children in the Philippines

The following is the introduction to an updated paper by Dr. Maja Brauer and Mr. Andreas Bummel with the German-based Committee for a Democratic UN (KDUN). The full paper is available on KDUN's website here.

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis published his second encyclical titled Laudato Si (Praise be to you). On behalf of Christianity, the Pope urged responsibility in dealing with humanity’s “common home,” the earth.

The statement elaborates in detail on critical economic, social, and ecological grievances in the world. In view of these, the Pope calls on all human beings--Christians as well as followers of other religions and disbelievers--to “bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.” This is supposed to lead to a more humane world society that ensures a dignified existence not only of all alive today, but also of future generations, as well as of “Sister Earth” itself.

In addition to discussing ethical norms and possible political measures, the Pope also addresses the underlying conditions of the global political system. Referencing his predecessor Benedict XVI, he calls for the creation of a “true political world authority” that is able to cope with global challenges. To explain this more fully, Francis quotes a passage from Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth):

Will We Learn this Time?

No Lost Generation: Syrian children development center

Hunger and starvation are in the news again, this time in Syria. They shouldn’t be. For decades, the world has produced more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child. Yet today, 16 years past the due date for ending hunger, we still have to read about it on the front page.

Even on a day when hunger is not on the front page, or any page, 17,000 children will die from easily preventable malnutrition and related infectious diseases. And for each child that dies, 10 more will live on with permanent mental and/or physical disabilities.

While some in the world suffer from threats posed by groups like ISIS, experts argue about the definition of “terrorism” and politicians debate how to defeat it. But there should be no debate about the ultimate terror--a parent’s loss of a child or fear of losing a child from a lack of food, one of the most basic of human needs. Nutritious food is one of the most basic of all inalienable human rights.

Sadder still is our failure to learn--after decades of presidential commissions, scientific studies, intelligence reports, and righteous scriptures--that when people are hungry and their children die, all humanity pays a monstrous price in the form of war, disease, revolution, terrorism, and economic instability fueled by hunger. This cost in lives and dollars is always preventable. Given the unbelievably low cost in preventing it, this policy failure should be criminal.

President Jimmy Carter has been chastised for his perceived ineptness at foreign policy, but in hindsight, his administration was the wisest and most insightful. Congress just didn’t listen.

From Paris to Present: Addressing Climate Change in the New Year

Secretary-General Interviewed Ahead of COP21 in Paris

Last month, 196 countries reached a historic agreement to address climate change. While the agreement does not address everything—such as the affect of climate change on migrants/refugees—it does seek to set strict limits on emissions and to help developing countries create the infrastructure to meet these limits as well.

While there is much to celebrate, there is also room for skepticism. Given the history of UN multilateral agreements, won’t countries just find another way to dodge their commitments? Will the terms of the agreement be enough to curb the effects of climate change? Will rich countries follow through on their promises to poor countries, and how this will affect aid that is typically used for other forms of development?

Though the United States cannot act for everyone, its individual actions can have a big influence on whether these concerns become true in the future. What can we do as citizens to ensure our government supports and builds on the work done in Paris? We must urge our representatives to enact national measures such as providing funds to states to convert dirty industries to renewables; mobilizing American businesses to open new markets for renewable industries and tools around the world; and supporting the development of local, sustainable food markets in poor countries by changing the way we regulate aid.