Covers environment, transportation, urban and regional planning, economic and social issues with a focus on Finland and Portugal.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ideological Clash: the most frequent conflict in 2008

Two parties- organized groups, states or organizations - determined to achieve their goals; interests or positional differences over national values. These are the two necessary elements for a clash (or conflict), according to the definition in the last 17th annual report released by the HIIK (Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research), the Conflict Barometer 2008, which describes recent trends in conflict development, escalations and settlements.

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The study classifies “conflict “ second 5 levels of intensity:

1 - Latent conflict (Low intensity, Non-violent)
A positional difference over definable values of national meaning, considering demands articulated by one of the parties and perceived by the other.

2 - Manifest conflict (Low intensity, Non-violent)
Stage preliminary to violent force. (for example, verbal pressure, threatening explicitly with violence, imposition of economic sanctions).

3 - Crisis (Medium intensity , Violent)
Tense situation in which at least one of the conflict parties uses violent force in sporadic incidents.

4 - Severe crisis (High intensity, Violent)
Violent force repeatedly used in an organized way.

5 - War (High intensity - Violent)
Violent conflict in which violent force is used with a certain continuity in an organized and systematic way. The extent of destruction is massive and of long duration.

The causes of conflicts are also classified second the next 9 items:
(these sum of factors - that often operate in conjunction, undermining the stability of states and the foundations of human security - point to a conflict syndrome, a new kind of war)

System/ideology (107 cases) - Continuing the trend of previous years, the most frequent conflict item in 2008 was “system/ideology”, with 107 cases. According to the HIIK study, this item means that conflicts were conducted in order to change the political or economic system or concerned ideological differences.

National power (74 cases)

Resources (71 cases)

Territory (53 cases)

Secession (50 cases)

Regional predominance (47 cases)

Autonomy (45 cases)

International power (38 cases)

Decolonization (0cases)

Others (28cases)

Some global conclusions

  • Compared to 2007, second the Conflict Barometer 2008, the number of conflicts remained almost the same – 344 in 2007 and 345 in 2008. 39 conflicts were fought out with the use of massive violence, 95 conflicts were conducted with sporadic use of violence (crises), and 211 non-violent conflicts were counted ( 129 manifest and 82 latent conflicts ).
  • After a relatively peaceful 2007, the number of highly violent conflicts rose once more in 2008. 9 wars and 30 severe crises were counted (6 wars and 26 severe crises - a total of 32 highly violent conflicts, in 2007).
  • Regarding global conflicts (low, medium and high intensity) from 1945 to 2008, the number of conflicts observed per year has risen more or less continuously. Most of the conflicts are low-intensity conflicts. A continuous and regular increase, interrupted by deescalation phases is obserbable on high-intensity conflicts.
  • In 1992, after the collapse of the USSR, it was reached the all-time high(49) in high intensity conflicts. After a remarkable decrease to 30 in 2005, the number of highly violent conflicts rose again to 36 in 2006, decreased to 32 in 2007, and rose again to 39 in 2008 – the highest number since 2004.
  • In recent years, the number of crises had soared to previously unknown values, peaking 113 in 2005, and then remaining on a very high level.
  • More than 2/3 of the conflicts monitored in 2008 were internal conflicts (254 intrastate and 91 interstate cases). Only 8 out of 91 of the interstate conflicts were conducted with the use of violence. Intrastate conflicts represents the vast majority of violent and especially highly violent conflicts.

Other interesting conclusions:
  • In this analysis, conflicts very often involve more than one item. Combinations of the 3 most frequent items were common - territory and resources, regional predominance and resources, or international power and system/ideology.
  • Conflicts over national power, regional predominance, secession or autonomy, resources, and system/ideology were violent in about 50% of the cases.
  • Conflicts over territory and international power were conducted without the use of violence in a large number of cases.
  • About 20% (20 cases) of the conflicts concerning system/ideology were even fought out with the use of massive violence, making this item the most important one in highly violent conflicts: 20, more than half of the 39 high-intensity conflicts, were fought out over questions of system or ideology, alone or in combination with other items. The second most important items in high-intensity conflicts were national power, resources, and secession with 10 cases each.
  • There are remarkable differences between the various world regions , indicating different regional patterns of conflicts. System/Ideology, the most frequent item in total, was the prevalent item in Asia and Oceania (38 cases, 1/3 of conflicts), in the Middle East and Maghreb (27 items, more than 50%), and in the Americas (24 cases, more than more than 50% of conflicts as well).
  • System/Ideology item was of minor importance in Europe (12 cases), and almost unknown in Africa (6 cases). The second most frequent item on a global scale, national power, was significant in Africa (25 cases, almost half of the conflicts) and in Asia/Oceania (24 cases), as well as in the Middle East and Maghreb (15 cases). However, it was comparatively rare in the Americas (6 cases) and Europe (5 cases).
  • The item ranking third in global terms, resources, was prevalent in Africa (29 cases), where many conflicts were fueled by natural resources exploited by rebel groups, and in the Americas (20 cases), but rare in Europe ( 6cases), Asia and Oceania (11 cases), and in the Middle East and Maghreb (5 cases).
  • Conflicts over regional predominance were fought out primarily in Africa (18 cases) and in Asia and Oceania (22 cases). This item was unknown in Europe (zero cases) and very rare in the Middle East and Maghreb (one case). In the Americas, it was not very frequent (6 cases), but it was accounted for both high-intensity conflicts in this region.
  • Conflicts over self-determination (over autonomy or secession), were prevalent in Europe (14 and 20, respectively) and common in Asia and Oceania (15 and 18), but not too frequent in Africa (both 9), and quite rare both in the Americas (3 and 1) and in the Middle East and Maghreb (4 and 2).
  • Although there is rarely only one cause of dispute, ideological change (System/Ideology) represents the most common cause of conflict. In fact, these conflicts were conducted in order to change the political or economic system or ideological differences, which signifies deep socio-economic inequalities behind them.

The Impact of Climate Change: 2 ways
(links between climate change and wars)

The “physical consequences of climate change” enumerated in the report A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War, by International Alert (melting glaciers, sea-level rise, loss of island coastline, less usable land, droughts, floods, desertification, spread of disease and pestilence, changes to crop seasons and output), as well as the “unintended” consequences or the “knock-on socio-political consequences of climate change” (livelihood insecurity, food insecurity, increased social tension, less access to useable water, decreased trade, decline in human health, increased poverty, decreased physical security, increased migration) do not directly cause violent conflict. The outcome depends on social and political factors that impact on the potential for violent conflict - some variables increase and others decrease conflict probability. So , second the International Alert report, we have two possible ways: “Good governance and integrated planning for adaptation” or “Bad Governance and institutions/ patterns of violent conflict”.[2]

Both ways depend on some factors, which we don’t know exactly and how they influence the capacity to adapt to climate change. But the current understanding is that we are talking about 3 political and social characteristics [3]:

1 - the deeper the divisions between ethnic and religious groups or between classes are, the more likely it is that environmental scarcity causes violent conflict.

2 - states with weak political institutions are particularly vulnerable, since they find it difficult to manage the social tensions caused by climate change.

3 - democracies are better able to protect the environment and manage peacefully the consequences of environmental degradation.

According to the International Alert report, the first way results in “risk reduction and peacebuilding”, in a “sustainable and non-violent adaptation to consequences of climate change”, strengthening good governance, while the second one results in a violent conflict, exacerbating the physical impacts and knock-on consequences of climate change , weakening already bad governance and locking states into repeating cycles of conflict.

It is not surprise that the most frequent conflict item in 2008 was “system/ideology”. As we said before, it means that they were conducted in order to change political or economic systems or ideological differences. Social inequalities were always the ignition of transformation, in a world where the consequences of neo-liberal policies are leading to a growing social injustice and job insecurity.

However, for the markets of “legitimate use of violence” and for the global “military-industrial complex”, the horror caused by them is a mere “collateral damage”, some unaccounted market externalities . They want the “final push”, “the last battle” to impose total submission.


[1] Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research at the Department of Political Science, University of Heidelberg, Conflict Barometer 2008,Crises - Wars - Coups d’Etat / Negotiations - Mediations - Peace Settlements, 17th Annual Conflict Analysis

[2] Dan Smith, Janani Vivekananda, A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War, International Alert, London UK, 2007-11

[3] Tapani Vaahtoranta, The wars of climate change, OSCE review 3/2007, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Wind Power Forecast Project in US

Project began in December and will extend up to September 2010

The US Department of Energy (DoE) invited the Portuguese INESC-Porto (Research Institute of Computer Systems) to develop a new and better platform for wind power forecasting. The project will enable to estimate with high accuracy and less uncertainty the production of wind energy for timelines up to 72 hours (short-term forecasts).

The work is for ANL (Argonne National Laboratory), from the network of Laboratories of the DoE. It began in December and it will extend up to September 2010, seeking to reduce the current forecasts margin of error of around 20 % to about 15 %, according to Vladimiro Miranda, Director of INESC and coordinator of this project. It is a tool that can "minimize the potential risks of the increasing US dependence on renewable energies: blackouts."

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"The work that we will develop will add new features to the models that we have today. What we pledge to do for ANL was a different and more intelligent model. Something different and better than the actual," told the director of INESC, adding that the current wind power forecasting tools already have an anticipation of three days. The challenge now is to reduce the margin of error and do an upgrade of these instruments. By the end of this year the INESC will develop a prototype and will go to comparative tests with real data.

With a climate that ranges between temperate and subtropical and given the local geography, the errors in predicting the wind, second Vladimiro Miranda, can have more serious consequences in the US than in any European country . Thus, the model designed by the Portuguese team of researchers will be used in the unstable US territory to prevent possible power cuts. "Prevention has to do with the need to forecast accurately," notes Miranda. The Project coordinator emphasizes that planning is more important in the US, where there is no hydroelectric alternative (as exists in the Iberian Peninsula, for example) and where, in an emergency due to a failure of a thermal power plant, wind power can be activated in some hours and a nuclear can take days.

"It is expected that the more accurate estimate of the amount of wind in a given location will have a considerable impact on the North American electricity industry, allowing lower price of wind energy in the US. The Horizon Wind Energy, owned by EDP Renováveis, the 4th largest wind energy producer in the world, whose presence in the US is increasingly strong, was invited by ANL (Argonne National Laboratory) to be an observer and a potential provider of real data, " said a press note from INESC.

Despite the low position in the international context with a percentage of production of only 1 %, the US have the faster pace in the development of wind power around the world. Portugal is one of the leaders in this area, occupying the 3rd place (behind Denmark and Spain) in the world ranking of wind energy with a production of about 10 %. According to Vladimiro Miranda, that means one in every ten hours of energy we spend comes from the wind, adding that INESC collaborates in a project to ensure the supply security in the Iberian Peninsula by 2025.

However, despite only reserving 1 % of the energy production for wind, the US already has more capacity than Portugal in terms of absolute values. Therefore, Portugal will export to the U.S. some of the knowledge acquired in this field. "In the field of wind energy Europe is about ten or twelve years ahead of the U.S.," notes the project coordinator of INESC.

Image: Aerial photo of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory,


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Explore the ocean and travel through time in Google Earth 5.0

Now, Internet users can dive into the oceans, travel in time and see the planet Mars in high resolution, through the new features of Google Earth 5.0 (beta application), which were presented at the Lisbon headquarters of the company, during a press conference included in the series of worldwide presentations.

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According to Inês Gonçalves, marketing director of Google Portugal, Google Earth 5.0 will also allow the sharing of images, videos and pictures made by the users. The new Google tool will show the Earth's surface covered by ocean, 5 % of which is already explored, mapped and displayed in more detail.

It is important to observe that Portugal has the 3rd largest EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of the European Union and the 11th in the world. The seazone over which the Portuguese state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, has an area of 1,727,408 km2.

With Google Earth 5.0, you will be able to “navigate” the surface and the bottom of the ocean (like visit the Mariana Trench) and you can follow the journey made by a monitored white shark as well.

Google Ocean also allows us to know water temperature and the best places for surfing, kitesurfing and diving along the Portuguese coast, and we can also learn about ocean observations, climate change and endangered species.

The Internet user can also track changes made by man over time, through the availability of historical imagery from around the globe (like the impact of suburban sprawl or global warming), or record and share a trip, adding a soundtrack or a narration to personalize the journey.

This version is available in 40 languages, including Portuguese. To access the Ocean in Google Earth simply download the latest version at Google Earth

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