Financing the African Water Revolution

by Sara Löwgren

Stockholm World Water Week – August 26th  2018

During the first day of the annual World Water Week, one of the most anticipated sessions was the Falkenmark Symposium. In the crowded conference room, scientists, politicians, the World Bank, ambassadors, development organizations, technical experts, and many more gathered to discuss the African Water Revolution. More importantly, to discuss the finance of the African Water Revolution.

The African Water Revolution is how Africa will meet the present and future challenge of rapid population growth, lack of irrigation water, and increasing food insecurity and hunger.

While the term can refer to different aspects, including WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), the Falkenmark Symposium focused on the green water revolution. Green water is water that is found in the soil and it is the only water, as Professor Malin Falkenmark herself pointed out, that plants can utilize. Without green water, plants dry up and subsistence farmers and whole nations lose their source of food. Green water comes from rainwater and when left alone, up to 50% of the precipitation in Africa is lost to evaporation. Rainwater collection and storage, the core of the African Water Revolution, thus holds massive, untapped potential.

But there is a mismatch between the water that is used for agriculture and the water that receives funding. Professor Johan Rockström remarked that while 95% of agriculture in Africa is done using green water, blue water projects (such as drilling wells or treating water from lakes and rivers) receive about 90% of the funding. The rainwater projects are usually very small scale and the Falkenmark panelists suggested the financing organizations prefer larger projects, like typical blue water project, because they are more profitable and projects can usually demonstrate security and a credit history. Most subsistence farmers lack financial history and therefore struggle to receive investments.

The panelists suggested different ways of overcoming the challenge, ranging from microfinance to domestic tax revenues. But, besides some comments on philanthropic contributions from the Rockefeller foundation, a problematic assumption burdened the conversation. Dr. Belay Begashaw, who delivered the closing remark, shone light on it: almost all solutions discussed seemed to assume that it is up to the individual countries to raise funds for the green water revolution. It makes very little sense to demand already poor countries, where only a low percentage of the population have formal jobs that generate income and tax revenue, to increase domestic investments.

Thinking about financing the African Water Revolution through a climate change lens, it becomes very clear that industrialized countries must step up and take their ‘polluter-pays’ responsibility seriously. Due to climate change, most of Africa can expect future dramatic changes to precipitation patterns. Drought, famine, and hunger due to greenhouse gases they did not emit. It is great that so much technology and knowledge is available for rainwater harvest, but now it is time for industrialized countries to step up to the challenge of financing the African Water Revolution.


follow parts of the World Water Week here!

photo by Adam Cohn “Storm is Brewing” Creative commons on flickr.com


When it happens at home

by Sara Löwgren
This is a personal story. It is different from our regular blog posts and may present a different perspective.

I have written about the impacts of climate change for years. Seeking to inform, animate, and provoke action, I put words to emotions I did not yet know. I am extremely privileged: I still do not know what it feels like when a drought threatens your family’s daily meal, when your house is washed away in a flood, or when you know that within 50 years, your home nation will be entirely submerged by the ocean. But after a life of feeling safe and protected, climate change is finally knocking on my own, Swedish door. It is not a matter of life and death, but it is happening at home and I am scared.

The other day, my grandfather posted a picture of a patch of sandy, dry soil, remarking that this used to be their lawn. I know that lawn way too well, know that it is green and lush and that you must watch out for chicken poop before you lay down to enjoy it. That’s how it used to be, last year and the all years I can remember before that. Across my green home country, lawns and field are turning brown. Urgent lack of feed is pushing farmers to give their cattle away, or slaughter half their herds prematurely. No machinery is allowed that could heat or drop sparks on the ground; there are already more than 60 wildfires raging across the country, engulfing unprepared properties and fuel-loaded forests as they go.

“We used to call this a lawn.” My grandpa recently posted this picture on Facebook.

Compared to other countries’, Sweden’s recent experience with climate change is harmless. In a way, drought is Sweden even seems fair. When thinking about climate justice, I often wish that polluters would bear the whole burden of their emissions. Easy to say, but how true do I stay to my principles, when it is about my own country? Per capita, Sweden pollutes a lot. But my granpa’s lawn? Rationality and perspective feel far away. I keep wishing for someone else to act; I blame larger countries and capitalism.

As an individual, I sometimes feel overwhelming powerlessness. I study climate change, climate policy, and climate justice, but when climate change is disrupting life at home, I stand helpless. I cannot create rain and stop a drought.

Powerlessness is paralyzing, but we must keep moving. Sweden is taking some steps towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions, steps which clearly must become more ambitious. I believe that as a political and economic unit as well as 10 million individuals, Sweden must internalize the externalities of our import-based economy, put pressure on ourselves and other countries, and cut all unnecessary consumption. The drought is scary, but we can unite over our emotions from the summer of 2018 and let them fuel our necessary revolution of climate change mitigation. Superseding fear and frustration, I feel motivation and hope.


featured image by Christine Ohlsson/TT.


Spilling and Killing: Trump’s expansion of US offshore drilling continues

By Sara Löwgren

In January this year, a frightening press release shook Americans from coast to coast. Trump expanding drilling in offshore waters! In fear and fury, we spoke up. In Augusta, Maine, more than a hundred people attended the public hearing and the alternative public hearing, both hosted on different floors of the civic center. We were all there: students, fishermen, lobstermen, tourism sector, residents, city planners, mothers, fathers… our worries ranged from oil spill to climate change, but our message to the ever-so-friendly representatives was clear: No drilling in Maine waters.

Is Maine off the hook? We don’t know. Much of the country is not.

In one month, leases to federal waters are once again for sale. This time, on August 15th 2018, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is selling leases to offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for oil exploration and development. The scheduled sale is the third out of 10 planned in the National Outer Continental Shelf Gas and Oil Leasing Program which, during 2017-2022, aims to sell off all federal water in the Gulf of Mexico, an area twice the size of New York State (78 million acres).

Opening such vast areas of federal water to oil drilling is another of the Trump administration’s short-sighted projects. In Implementing an America-first Energy Strategy (Executive Order 13795) on April 27th 2017, Trump ordered the United States to encourage domestic energy production, putting “the energy needs of American families and businesses first and continue implementing a plan that ensures energy security and economic vitality for decades to come” (section 1).

It doesn’t take much to realize how flawed the strategy is. Which American families benefit from offshore drilling? Energy security and economic vitality are uncertain predictions (and how secure is a finite energy resource, anyway?), but the scientific evidence is overwhelming that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Is offshore drilling meant to benefit the upper class, allowing them to drive their private cars for a few cents less per mile? Is it meant to benefit the thousands of households–many marginalized–who already struggle through worsening horrors of sea level rise, frequent storms, droughts, and floods? Families who cannot afford food if a drought year causes prices to fluctuate?

The executive order talks about maintaining American energy leadership. Drilling for offshore oil is more than one step backwards. Across the globe, countries are transitioning toward renewable energy, some driven by governments and some by people. In the United States, governors, experts, and residents on the East and West coast oppose offshore drilling; yet, Trump continues to slash federal marine protection. Offshore drilling may have quieted down in general media, but we must not be silenced.

Keep resisting fossil fuels. Keep struggling for a just energy transition.

To stay inspired and connect with others, check out these two sites:


Rise for climate


The New York Times also offers some helpful graphics.


picture by Arbyred on flickr.com

Climate Change: a post-development and post-colonial exploration

My interest in climate justice has been constant through my four years at College of the Atlantic (COA). During my second, third and fourth years I was part of the COA delegations that attended the UN climate negations. In addition, I did my internship at the National University of Mexico in the Political and Social Sciences Faculty where I did research on different ways to promote renewable energy from a public policy perspective.

While attending these spaces, I realized that many of the so-called “climate solutions” assumed particular economic and political goals. It was easy to identify a strong developmental agenda engrained in the climate projects discussed, proposed, and financed at the UN space. With this in mind, for my undergraduate thesis (Senior Project) I decided to explore the UNFCCC discourse on Climate Solutions through the lenses of post-development and post-colonial theory. Read more…

Extracción Petrolera en Alta Mar: el plan de Trump

Escrito por Rachael Goldberg, traducido por María Sánchez Esteban

El 20 de Abril del año 2010, el mundo fue testigo del mayor derrame de petróleo en la historia de la industria de hidrocarburos, cuando la estación Deepwater Horizon derramó 4.9 millones de barriles de crudo en el Golfo de México.

Ocho años tras este devastador desastre, la Oficina para la Administración de Energías del Océano (BOEM por sus siglas en inglés), bajo el mandato del Departamento del Interior de Estados Unidos, está desarrollando un nuevo programa de arrendamiento para la extracción de petróleo y gas. Este nuevo plan de Trump espera poner al alcance de la industria petrolera la mayor parte de la costa Estadounidense y reemplazaría el plan para el periodo entre 2017 y 2022 creado por la administración de Obama, el cual retiraba por completo la costa del Atlántico, pero aún incluía parcelas en el Golfo de México y la costa de Alaska. Este proyecto pone bajo amenaza a comunidades costeras, a pescadores, a la vida marina y al clima, para beneficiar a (¡sorpresa!…) las Grandes Corporaciones Petroleras. El cuatro de enero del 2018, se publicó el primero de tres borradores para el Programa de Arrendamiento del Petróleo y Gas. Esta publicación fue seguida por un periodo de 60 días para la pronunciación de comentarios. El primer periodo finalizó el nueve de marzo del 2018 y el siguiente periodo tomará a lugar este mismo año antes de la publicación del último borrador.

Gobernadores en los estados de Nueva York, Nueva Jersey, Delaware,Maryland, Virginia, Carolina del Norte, Carolina del Sur y Florida se han pronunciado en contra de la apertura de la costa a la explotación de hidrocarburos. Solo el gobernador de Maine, LePage, ha expresado abiertamente su apoyo al proyecto de Trump. El único estado en vistas de ser exento por el secretario Zinke (por ahora) es Florida, debido a los lazos del gobernador conservador Rick Scott con el gobierno federal. Esta declaración ha motivado una ola de voces en oposición preguntandole a Zinke porqué las playas de Florida gozan prioridad ante las costas del resto de estados. Existe poco apoyo a esta decisión. Medioambientalistas, recreacionistas y trabajadores de la industria turística y la industria pecadora se oponen al desarrollo petrolero en las costas. El devastador impacto de un derrame sería social, medioambiental y económico pero esto no ha detenido el desarrollo de infraestructura en el pasado. De hecho, en el 2014, cuando el Departamento del Interior redactó la declaración sobre los impactos medioambientales de la extracción de hidrocarburos en el Ártico, encontraron un 75 por ciento de posibilidad de derrame y aún así continuaron a apostar por el proyecto.

La promesa de Trump y de Zinke, de que la extracción de hidrocarburos traerá prosperidad económica y la creación de empleos, es exagerada y absurda. Según un reporte del Proyecto de Vigilancia Gubernamental (POGO por sus siglas en inglés), las compañías rara vez compiten por permisos (el 76% de las parcelas en el mar reciben solo una oferta) y en el Golfo de México el precio promedio por hectárea ha bajado de $9,068 a $391, una disminución del 95.7% desde 1983. La extracción de hidrocarburos en alta mar es una catástrofe medioambiental que llena de dinero los bolsillos de las cabezas de la industria petrolera. Los impactos de un derrame y las implicaciones que la explotación de combustible fósiles tiene con el cambio climático,  la pesca y otros empleos dependientes de los mares, tendrían que ser suficientes para detener la perforación del lecho marino en lugar de seguir fingiendo que estos proyectos pueden conducir a cualquier tipo de beneficio para gente fuera de la industria de hidrocarburos.

No hay duda de que seremos parte de una batalla formidable en los meses que vienen conforme avance el plan para extraer hidrocarburos de los mares en las costas de Estados Unidos. Si queremos mantenernos bajo 1.5° centígrados o incluso bajo 2° centígrados, la mayor parte de las reservas de combustibles fósiles del mundo tiene que permanecer sin desarrollar. No es el momento de instalar nueva infraestructura para combustibles fósiles, es momento de hacer una transición rápida y justa hacia energías limpias para asegurar un mundo en el que poder vivir.