Finnish town offers prizes to turn residents green

Lahti residents earn rewards if they cut car use under a scheme to encourage lower-carbon lifestyles. Ville Uusitalo, the project’s head of research, below. (AFP)
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Updated 27 August 2020

Finnish town offers prizes to turn residents green

  • EU-funded project allows residents of Lahti to track their carbon emissions

LAHTI, Finland: Inhabitants of a town in Finland can now earn rewards, including bus tickets or free food, if they cut car use, under a scheme to lure the public into lower-carbon lifestyles.

The EU-funded “CitiCap” project allows individuals in the town of Lahti to track their carbon emissions as they move around, using an app that detects whether they are in a car, on public transport, walking or cycling.

Anyone who uses up less than their allocated carbon allowance each week earns “virtual euros,” tradable for benefits such as swimming or bus tickets, as well as free bike lights or a slice of cake and a coffee at a cafe.

“Lahti is still a very car-dependent city and our goal is that by 2030 more than 50 percent of all trips are made by sustainable transport modes,” said the project manager, Anna Huttunen.

The current figure stands at 44 percent.

Yet the project’s wider aim is to develop a new method for encouraging greener behavior, using a “personal carbon trading” system that other cities can copy.

“CitiCap has gained a lot of interest all over the world, not only in Europe but also in the US and Canada,” Huttunen said.

The concept is modelled on the EU’s carbon trading scheme, under which companies and governments are allocated carbon credits, and must pay to pollute more than this amount, or can sell off any surplus if they emit less.

The CitiCap app gives each participant a weekly carbon “budget” based on their personal circumstances.

The average person in Lahti, a town of 120,000 inhabitants lying an hour’s train ride north of the capital Helsinki, “emits 21 kilos of CO2 equivalent a week,” said Ville Uusitalo, the project’s head of research.

The app challenges users to reduce this by a quarter, meaning on average replacing 20 km of driving with public transport or cycling.

Researchers also hope to learn whether larger rewards will encourage more citizens away from their cars.

“It’s possible to earn €2 if your mobility emissions are really low,” Uusitalo said.

“But this autumn we intend to increase the price tenfold,” he said.

The coronavirus lockdown led to a drastic drop in car journeys, meaning the project’s researchers cannot yet discern the impact of the app.

But they will continue to collect data next year, when Lahti will also be crowned the “European Green Capital.”

So far, 2,000 residents have downloaded the app, with up to 200 active users at a time.

“People find it very interesting to see their own emissions,” Huttunen, the project manager, said.

City council worker Mirkka Ruohonen, who has been using the app for around seven months, said she was surprised to see the impact of her own travel.

“I went for a hiking weekend and we did 15 km of hiking, but I had to travel 100 km by car,” she said. “After that I checked the app and I was like, ‘Was that a good thing?’ Maybe for me but not for the environment!”

However, Ruohonen has not yet managed to earn any bonuses as she does not own a car, meaning she has less scope for lowering her emissions.

Ruohonen said that she was unfazed by the privacy implications of an app that records all her travel.

“I think all the apps that I use collect some information,” she said.

Huttunen said that the app meets the EU’s data regulations, and that external bodies will not be allowed to analyze the data.

The scheme’s creators hope that it can in future help people to manage their emissions related to food and other consumption too.

“Mobility is only one part of our carbon footprint,” Uusitalo said.

“There are many options for how you can put personal carbon trading into action.”

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Pakistan says negotiating with Saudi Arabia to enhance oil facility to $3.6 billion

Updated 24 June 2022

Pakistan says negotiating with Saudi Arabia to enhance oil facility to $3.6 billion

  • Statement comes as Pakistan's economy teeters on the brink of a crisis, with foreign exchange reserves drying up fast
  • Under existing Saudi oil facility of $1.2 billion, Pakistan gets $100 million worth of oil on deferred payment every month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is negotiating with Saudi Arabia to enhance an oil on deferred payments facility to $3.6 billion from an existing $1.2 billion, a spokesperson at the petroleum division in Islamabad said on Friday.

The statement came as Pakistan's economy teeters on the brink of crisis, with foreign exchange reserves drying up fast and the Pakistani rupee at record lows against the US dollar over uncertainty surrounding talks to revive a $6 billion IMF bailout programme.

Saudi Arabia agreed to provide a $4.2 billion support package to Pakistan, including a $1.2 billion oil loan facility, during a visit of former Prime Minister Imran Khan to Riyadh in October last year. 

“We are trying to take our existing facility with Saudi Arabia from $1.2 billion to $3.6 billion,” Syed Zakria Ali Shah, joint secretary of international and joint ventures at the Pakistani petroleum division, told Arab News.

Under the existing Saudi oil facility, Pakistan gets $100 million worth of oil on deferred payment every month.

“When it was negotiated the oil prices were low but due to exponential rise in it, we are negotiating with Saudis to enhance the oil facility from $100 million to $300 million per month.”

Shah said Saudi Arabia was also helping Pakistan utilize another existing oil financing facility with the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), a member of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) group.

“The government of Pakistan has this facility for oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports under the framework agreement with ITFC since 2017-18 and the last framework agreement was signed for this facility between the our economic affairs division and ITFC on February 21, 2022,” Shah said.

“It is a total $4.5 billion facility for three years from 2022 till 2024 which is around $1.5 billion annual on the best effort basis,” the official added. 


EXPLAINER: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed and what’s next

Updated 24 June 2022

EXPLAINER: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed and what’s next

  • Sri Lanka seeking help from neighboring India and China and from the IMF

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s prime minister says the island nation’s debt-laden economy has “collapsed” as it runs out of money to pay for food and fuel. Short of cash to pay for imports of such necessities and already defaulting on its debt, it is seeking help from neighboring India and China and from the International Monetary Fund.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office in May, was emphasizing the monumental task he faces in turning around an economy he said is heading for “rock bottom.”
Sri Lankans are skipping meals as they endure shortages, lining up for hours to try to buy scarce fuel. It’s a harsh reality for a country whose economy had been growing quickly, with a growing and comfortable middle class, until the latest crisis deepened.

How serious is this crisis?
Tropical Sri Lanka normally is not lacking for food but people are going hungry. The UN World Food Program says nearly nine of 10 families are skipping meals or otherwise skimping to stretch out their food, while 3 million are receiving emergency humanitarian aid.
Doctors have resorted to social media to try to get critical supplies of equipment and medicine. Growing numbers of Sri Lankans are seeking passports to go overseas in search of work. Government workers have been given an extra day off for three months to allow them time to grow their own food. In short, people are suffering and desperate for things to improve.

Why is the economy in such dire straits?
Economists say the crisis stems from domestic factors such as years of mismanagement and corruption, but also from other troubles such as a growing $51 billion in debt, the impact of the pandemic and terror attacks on tourism, and other problems.
Much of the public’s ire has focused on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The latter resigned after weeks of anti-government protests that eventually turned violent.
Conditions have been deteriorating for the past several years. In 2019, Easter suicide bombings at churches and hotels killed more than 260 people. That devastated tourism, a key source of foreign exchange.
The government needed to boost its revenues as foreign debt for big infrastructure projects soared, but instead Rajapaksa pushed through the largest tax cuts in Sri Lankan history, which recently were reversed. Creditors downgraded Sri Lanka’s ratings, blocking it from borrowing more money as its foreign reserves sank. Then tourism flatlined again during the pandemic.
In April 2021, Rajapaksa suddenly banned imports of chemical fertilizers. The push for organic farming caught farmers by surprise and decimated staple rice crops, driving prices higher. To save on foreign exchange, imports of other items deemed to be luxuries also were banned. Meanwhile, the Ukraine war has pushed prices of food and oil higher. Inflation was near 40 percent and food prices were up nearly 60 percent in May.

Why did the prime minister say the economy has collapsed?
Such a stark declaration might undermine any confidence in the state of the economy and it didn’t reflect any specific new development. Wickremesinghe appeared to be underscoring the challenge his government faces in turning things around as it seeks help from the IMF and confronts criticism over the lack of improvement since he took office weeks ago. He’s also fending off criticism from within the country. His comment might be intended to try to buy more time and support as he tries to get the economy back on track.
The Finance Ministry says Sri Lanka has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves. That has left it without the wherewithal to pay for imports, let alone repay billions in debt.
Meanwhile the Sri Lankan rupee has weakened in value by nearly 80 percent to about 360 to $1. That makes costs of imports even more prohibitive. Sri Lanka has suspended repayment of about $7 billion in foreign loans due this year out of $25 billion to be repaid by 2026.

What is the government doing about it?
Wickremesinghe has ample experience. This latest is his sixth term as prime minister.
So far, Sri Lanka has been muddling through, mainly supported by $4 billion in credit lines from neighboring India. An Indian delegation was in the capital Colombo on Thursday for talks on more assistance, but Wickremesinghe warned against expecting India to keep Sri Lanka afloat for long.
“Sri Lanka pins last hopes on IMF,” said Thursday’s headline in the Colombo Times newspaper. The government is in negotiations with the IMF on a bailout plan and Wickremesinghe said Wednesday he expects to have a preliminary agreement with the IMF by late July.
The government also is seeking more help from China. Other governments like the US, Japan and Australia have provided a few hundred million dollars in extra support.
Earlier this month, the United Nations began a worldwide public appeal for assistance. So far, projected funding barely scratches the surface of the $6 billion the country needs to stay afloat over the next six months.
To counter Sri Lanka’s fuel shortage, Wickremesinghe told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he would consider buying more steeply discounted oil from Russia to help tide the country through its crisis.


Full Brexit yet to play out on British finance, lawmakers say

Updated 23 June 2022

Full Brexit yet to play out on British finance, lawmakers say

  • “You should be a little bit wary because there’s a lot still to play out in this.”

LONDON: Britain should avoid major, hasty reforms to make its financial sector more globally competitive following the industry’s separation from the European Union by Brexit, a parliamentary report said on Thursday.
The finance ministry has proposed scores of changes to rules governing capital markets, company listings and insurance to exploit independence from EU regulation and create an opportunity for Britain to innovate. Legislation is due this year.
The outlook for the “resilient” financial sector “seems relatively positive,” given that far fewer finance jobs than expected had moved to the EU, the House of Lords’ European Affairs Committee said in its report.
But committee chair Charles Hay said: “You should be a little bit wary because there’s a lot still to play out in this.”
Britain is proposing to give regulators a secondary objective of aiding financial sector competitiveness, but Hay said the committee was asking the government to explain exactly how this would work in practice.
A separate parliamentary report last week declined to back the objective, saying it risked weakening standards.
Bankers have called on the government to speed up reform, but Hay said it was critical to get the right sequencing to reach the “new place” for a sector that accounts for 10 percent of total British tax receipts.
“More important than the speed is the final answer because if you rush and do the wrong thing, then you will damage something very precious,” Hay said, outlining the report.
British relations with the EU are strained, with UK clearing house access to the bloc set to end in three years. A spat over Northern Ireland has put on ice a new British-EU financial regulatory cooperation forum.
While the government would be unwise to bet on “unlikely” future access to the EU for British finance, it should weigh up the benefits of diverging from rules it inherited from the bloc and thereby imposing new costs for companies, the report said.


Brexit will cost UK workers £470 a year, study predicts

Updated 22 June 2022

Brexit will cost UK workers £470 a year, study predicts

LONDON: Britain is becoming a more closed economy due to Brexit, with damaging long-term implications for productivity and wages which will leave the average worker £470 ($577) a year poorer by the end of the decade, a study forecast on Wednesday.
The report was written by London School of Economics associate professor Swati Dhingra — who will join the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee in August — and researchers from the Resolution Foundation think tank.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which struck just after Britain left the European Union in January 2020, has complicated the task of analizing the impact of Brexit.
New post-Brexit trade rules which took effect in January 2021 unexpectedly did not lead to a persistent fall in British trade with the EU, relative to that with the rest of the world, the researchers said.
“Instead, Brexit has had a more diffuse impact by reducing the UK’s competitiveness and openness to trade with a wider range of countries. This will ultimately reduce productivity, and workers’ real wages too,” Resolution Foundation economist Sophie Hale said.
Britain does not face tariffs on goods exports to the EU, but there are greater regulatory barriers.
The net effect of these would lower productivity across the economy by 1.3 percent by 2030 compared with an unchanged trade relationship — translating to a 1.8 percent real-terms fall in annual pay of £470  per worker.
These figures do not include any assessment of the impact of changed migration rules.
The impact for some sectors will be much starker. Britain’s small but high profile fishing industry — many of whose members advocated strongly for Brexit — was likely to shrink by 30 percent due to difficulties exporting its fresh catch to EU customers, the report said.
By contrast, although highly regulated professional services such as finance, insurance and law will find it harder to serve EU clients, their share of the British economy was only likely to drop by 0.3 percentage points to 20.2 percent.


Lebanon, Egypt sign agreement to supply Beirut with gas

Updated 23 June 2022

Lebanon, Egypt sign agreement to supply Beirut with gas

  • World Bank agrees to finance the gas import agreement on the condition that Lebanon enacts power sector reforms

BEIRUT: Lebanon and Egypt inked, on Tuesday, a deal to import Egyptian gas to a power plant in northern Lebanon through Syria. The agreement would increase badly needed electricity supplies in Lebanon that is suffering a severe energy crisis and chronic outages. However, US assurances are needed that the countries involved namely Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan will not be targeted by American sanctions and the Caesar Law imposed on Syria. This is not yet guaranteed.

The deal would see gas piped to Lebanon’s northern Deir Ammar power plant, where it could add some 450 megawatts, or around four extra hours of power per day to the grid.

“This agreement would not have happened without Egypt adopting the project from the first moment and following it up with its details and supporting all its stages to ensure an increase in quantity,” said Walid Fayad, minister of energy in the Lebanese caretaker government, at a press conference held at the Ministry of Energy after the signing of the two contracts.

With the signing of the agreement, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria have completed all steps to move forward to secure electricity for the Lebanese people.

“We are looking forward to get the final guarantees from the United States, especially regarding sanctions, therefore the support of the United States and the international community is essential,” Fayad said.

The agreement was signed by the director general of oil facilities at the Lebanese Energy Ministry Aurore Feghali, Chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) Magdy Galal and the Director of the Syrian’s General Petroleum Corporation Nabih Khrestin.

“Lebanon, Syria and Egypt agreed to transport 650 million cubic meters of Egyptian gas through Syria to Lebanon annually,” the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported.

“Syria has made great efforts despite the pressures and difficulties to prepare the line that was damaged, during a short period of time. We are now ready to transport the Egyptian gas, and there are no legal problems,” said a representative of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon.

Political observers in Lebanon have linked the facilitation of the file of gas import through Syria to bartering with the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.

Former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora said that the “initiative to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Egypt and Lebanon to import Egyptian gas is a very good one.”

“In the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was an agreement to build a pipeline to transport oil from Iraq (IPC) through Syria, and then to two Mediterranean estuaries in Syria and Lebanon," Siniora said in an interview with the Egyptian channel DMC. “In the early 1950s, the Tapline pipeline was built to transport oil from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. These lines were practically discontinued in the 1980s. The signing of the agreement today is very important economically, politically and nationally.”

Siniora noted that “the gas to be transported to Lebanon through the construction of pipelines across the Mediterranean was the idea of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2003, but the Syrian-Lebanese security system, which the government was suffering from at the time, hindered this plan.”

Siniora said that during his tenure as prime minister “an agreement was signed between Lebanon and Egypt to transport Egyptian gas to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria and Egyptian gas was pumped for nearly a year between 2008 and 2009 to Tripoli. However, the problem that still exists so far is that there is not yet a complete gas pipeline connecting southern and northern Syria. Therefore, the transfer of Egyptian gas to Tripoli was replaced by the pumping of Egyptian gas from Egypt to Jordan, and therefore to southern Syria. Syria used this gas in its south and in turn supplied Lebanon with the same amount of gas from the gas fields in Homs in northern Syria and transported it to northern Lebanon, i.e. to the Deir Ammar power plant.”

The gas supply to Lebanon still requires Lebanese logistical preparations. The World Bank has said it is ready to finance the operation with a 270-million-dollar loan, provided that Lebanon enacts long-awaited power sector reforms. But Lebanon has not yet made the reforms.

Amos Hochstein, the US mediator of Lebanon’s maritime borders negotiations with Israel, who visited Lebanon last week, was informed of an undisclosed Lebanese position on the demarcation of the maritime border.

Lebanon appeared to have abandoned line 29, which is being advocated by a technical team in the Lebanese army based on British documents.

President Michel Aoun refused to sign an amendment to a decree handed over to the United Nations years ago saying line 23 was the border line, making line 29 the correct line.

Aoun said line 29 was a “negotiating line.”

During his recent visit to Lebanon, Hochstein met with the Lebanese ministry of energy as part of his political meetings.