April 26, 2010

This Weekend's News: Niger, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and South Africa

What do these countries have in common? For the purposes of this blog post, they were all featured in important natural security news over the weekend.

Let’s start with Friday: in The Washington Post Rajiv Chandrasekaran highlighted a rift between the civilian and military leadership on how to increase electricity in Kandahar as part of the hearts and minds campaign there. On one side are advocates for a major purchase of diesel generators and requisite fuel; on the other, a harder look at improving the city’s electrical systems and reducing inefficiencies (both human and electric) to increase energy supplies. He writes:

Military and civilian officials also remain divided over whether increasing electricity in Kandahar will have a substantial effect on the security situation there. Military officers in southern Afghanistan maintain that if residents' power supply increases, they will have a better opinion of their government and employment will increase, which will help to marginalize the Taliban…But embassy and USAID officials contend that Kandahar residents are more concerned about the lack of a credible justice system and the dearth of employment. Civilian officials say small generators could be used to reopen factories and run cold-storage facilities, but they worry that increasing electricity across the board will lead more people to buy air conditioners and refrigerators, resulting in a continued shortage.

Instead of buying fuel, Eikenberry and other embassy personnel want the electric utility in Kandahar to do a better job of collecting fees and to use the money to buy fuel for the generators it already has, which would increase supply but not eliminate the shortage. USAID is offering help through its Afghanistan Clean Energy Program, a $100 million effort to promote "green" power in the war zone. The agency plans to install solar-powered streetlights in the city this year. It is also paying for repairs to some of the existing generators, but it will not buy diesel for them.

Uranium was another major feature over the weekend's news, taking us to both Niger and Zimbabwe, as it seems that – guess who! – China and Iran are both working new deals to secure this substance that is used to produce nuclear power and I believe some additional piece of technology. Even better – there are oil deals wrapped up into this minerals story as well. The Sunday Telegraph reported that Iran signed a deal with Robert Mugabe about a month ago to swap oil for uranium. Meanwhile, The New York Times featured a report yesterday that China has weathered the coup in Niger just fine. While it may see minor tweaks in deals signed with the ousted leadership, both sides expect the economic relations grounded in uranium and oil exploration to hold strong. (And I suspect they have or will find more important minerals around there as well, not just uranium.)

And while the United States may be losing momentum for climate legislation at home, several rising economies known as the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) met over the weekend in South Africa to plan and position themselves for this year’s post-Copenhagen climate negotiations. We’ll keep an eye out for more reports on what transpired.


The Week Ahead

First and foremost, we hope you can all join us for Natural Security: Navigating the Future Global Environment, featuring a keynote address by Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. We already have about 300 attendees, so register as soon as you can. This is going to be a great natural security party everyone. Don’t miss it!

On Tuesday, CSIS will release their latest report on global food security at a 10am event.

Early Wednesday morning at 8:30am CSIS will have a discussion on U.S. Strategic Interests in the High North. Shortly after that event begins, at 9am, Brookings will be hosting a multi-panel event on Scaling Up Solar: How Far Can We Go? At 9:30am, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment will hear testimony over Clean Energy Policies That Reduce Our Dependence On Oil. Later that day at 12:30pm, Brookings will also hold a live web chat with Director of the Energy Security Initiative, Charles K. Ebinger on creating a bipartisan climate change bill. Finally, that night at 5pm, the World Resource Institute will be holding an event to discuss the importance of energy sector governance in Central Asian stability.

Thursday, check out a discussion on the road to American energy independence at the American Enterprise Institute beginning at 3pm.