Envirofit Cookstoves According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “more than three billion people worldwide rely on polluting energy sources such as wood, dung and charcoal for cooking.” These practices are most common in impoverished areas within developing countries and come with severe health consequences. As women are usually tasked with the cooking responsibilities, the indoor air pollution caused by cooking with these traditional fuels disproportionately impacts women as well as children in the household. A social enterprise called Envirofit International aims to make clean cookstoves more accessible and affordable for families living in developing nations.

Polluting Fuels and Gender Inequality

Cooking with polluting energy sources not only leads to serious health repercussions but also contributes to economic gender inequality. Girls and women are the main gatherers of these polluting energy sources, which require more than twice as much time to gather in comparison to clean fuels. Girls from households that use polluting fuels spend roughly 18 hours per week collecting fuel in contrast to five hours a week for those from households that utilize clean energy sources. This time could go toward more productive activities such as learning and paid work. As a result, girls and women fall behind in education and economic advancement.

Health and Economic Repercussions of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the WHO, annually, almost four million people die prematurely as a result of household air pollution caused by “inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene.” Indoor air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Indoor pollution increases the risk of pneumonia in children by 50% and “is responsible for 45% of all pneumonia deaths in children” younger than 5. Gathering traditional fuels, a task typically performed by women and children can lead to musculoskeletal damage due to the arduous nature of this task.

Envirofit Cookstoves

Envirofit International works to replace dangerous and harmful traditional cooking methods with clean biomass cookstoves that are efficient, durable and inexpensive. The enterprise is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since its incorporation in 2003, Envirofit has manufactured and commercialized smart stoves that cook faster, use less fuel and produce less smoke and toxic emissions. Envirofit cookstoves reduce “fuel use, fuel cost and cooking time by up to 60%” and decrease smoke and harmful emissions by up to 80%. These fuel savings alone can increase household income by up to 15% a year.

Using a market-based approach, Envirofit has helped more than five million people in 45 nations around the world save money and time while also reducing their carbon footprint. Envirofits’s clean, pollution-free technology has saved lives by reducing preventable deaths due to pollution. Envirofit cookstoves feature efficient combustion chambers to decrease emissions and utilize biomass fuel, which is accessible for people in rural communities.

With regional headquarters and production sites in East Africa, West Africa, Asia and Latin America, Envirofit can deliver local solutions tailored to each region’s specific needs. Each regional headquarter also contributes to the local economy by providing new employment and business opportunities. Besides creating jobs and making cooking safer, more convenient and affordable, Envirofit promotes sales by conducting local awareness campaigns about the effects of air pollution on health.

Overall, Envirofit cookstoves contribute to the health and well-being of millions of impoverished people across the world, saving lives, time and money.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

SELF
Many developing nations struggle with energy poverty, which is defined as “a lack of access to modern energy services.” According to Energypedia, “access to energy is a prerequisite of human development.” Electricity is also essential for the “provision of social services such as education and health.” Energy access also links to the economic growth and development of a nation. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a nonprofit organization with a mission of harnessing solar energy to support social and economic development in disadvantaged communities.

Benefits of Solar Power

According to ZenEnergy, the use of solar energy helps to decrease the effects of climate change by reducing fossil fuel reliance, air pollution and water usage. Solar energy does not burn fuel, eliminating the harmful gas emissions that stem from fossil fuel energy production. Additionally, unlike the finite nature of fossil fuels, solar energy is abundant. Furthermore, solar energy does not require water to generate electricity. Solar power is a cost-effective and sustainable renewable energy source that can help reduce energy poverty throughout the world.

Addressing Energy Poverty

SELF implements solar projects to sustainably create energy, which provides for basic human needs and economic development. When SELF was first established in 1990, the organization began by fitting individual home solar-powered systems. However, the company yearned to make a larger impact with more long-term benefits. As a result, SELF adjusted its goals to include the creation of a business model “that could be self-sustained in communities” in developing countries. Thus, the Whole Village Development Model was born.

This “all-encompassing approach” utilizes solar energy from the sun to power entire villages while improving “healthcare, education and food security.” In 2001, SELF celebrated the opening of its first “solar-powered computer lab” in a high school in Maphephethe, South Africa. Due to these solar-powered capabilities, student enrollment at the school increased by 40% and graduation rates rose by close to 15%.

Solar Power in Developing Communities

Although the entire world can benefit from solar energy, impoverished countries are especially targeted to improve air quality and reduce health issues linked to the burning of fuelwood, reports Science Direct. Solar photovoltaic is a type of technology that can provide renewable energy in impoverished communities. This particular solar source eliminates the financial burden of grid extensions. Grid extensions are not viable options in communities with scarce traditional energy sources. For many developing countries, solar energy provides the opportunity for a better life, and, environmental sustainability is a bonus.

Overseeing Vaccine Refrigerators

Among other projects, in partnership with PATH, “an international nonprofit global health organization” located in the U.S. state of Seattle, SELF recently pledged to enlist evaluation teams to ensure vaccine refrigerators are functioning effectively in vaccination sites around Haiti, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Developing countries often lack proper mechanisms to monitor the efficiency of vaccine refrigerators. The goal of the partnership is to provide this assurance.

Two solar technicians from SELF are responsible for visiting 42 sites in Haiti to evaluate refrigerators on a monthly basis. After a one-year evaluation, SELF analyzes the data and reports on it to the World Health Organization. As inadequate refrigeration can have adverse public health implications, the vaccine cold storage monitoring project is just one example of the important work SELF does to support global communities aside from solar energy projects.

SELF’s Commitment to Disadvantaged Communities

Presently, SELF is working on several different projects with the main objective of improving living conditions in developing countries. Some of its projects include bringing clean water to West Africa as well as expanding micro-grids and providing solar training in Haiti. SELF continues to light up communities in need with new projects and approaches that harness the sustainable power of the sun.

Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed interest in air quality as lockdowns and public health restrictions have led to improved quality in many areas. Additionally, research has found a link between poor air quality and poor COVID-19 outcomes. The decline in pollution will be only temporary, and in many areas was actually smaller than scientists anticipated.

The impacts of poor air quality on global health beyond COVID-19 are numerous. However, curbing emissions and improving quality where it is already poor are huge undertakings. Nonetheless, looking at those living in urban areas where quality is monitored, more than 80% of people are experiencing air pollution in excess of the limits suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). This makes air quality a pivotal global health issue.

Another important factor in addressing this issue is the distribution of the negative effects of poor air quality. In other words, the development of any program or policy interventions ought to consider the inequitable distribution of those effects. Research in the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that while wealthier people tend to be responsible for the majority of air pollutants, those living in impoverished areas disproportionately experience the harmful effects of those pollutants.

A. What Compromises Air Quality

There are two main categories of air pollutants: those naturally occurring and those human-made. While dust storms and wildfires can introduce harmful particulate matter, there are also numerous sources of pollution driven by human activities. These include automobiles, certain types of power plants, oil refineries and more. In addition to particulate matter, other pollutants that adversely affect health include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.

Finding new yet affordable ways to decrease the pollutants we release into the air is challenging but not insurmountable. Putting this into perspective, 90% of people around the world are breathing unclean air according to WHO guidelines.

B. What Poor Quality Air Does to Our Health

Beyond the link between air pollution and poor COVID-19 outcomes, research also shows the negative impact air pollution has on the risk of stroke and heart disease, certain types of cancer, lung infections and diseases and even mental health. Furthermore, both air quality and environmental quality tend to be worse in areas of the world already comparatively disadvantaged.

According to research on the effectiveness of European climate and pollution policies, the number of people prematurely dying after exposure to fine particulate matter pollution decreased by approximately 60,000 between 2018 and 2019. Better yet, between 2010 and 2020, there was a 54% drop in premature deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide pollution. Despite these positive outcomes, they also demonstrate the extent of the damage airborne pollutants can do to human health.

C. What Has Proven Successful in Protecting Air Quality

Like health policy progress, innovations in air quality programs and policies often start at the local government level. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), cities around the world are implementing ultra-low and zero-emission urban access zones, deploying hundreds of thousands of electric buses, and learning from their own successes in moving to clean municipal transportation in order to teach other cities to do the same.

The EDF notes the importance of gathering detailed data on air quality. This data allows organizations to identify communities disproportionately affected by pollution and develop targeted approaches to protecting and improving air quality. This type of data can help localities not only measure levels of pollutants over time but pinpoint hotspots. Hotspots include, for example, those caused by construction sites and manufacturing facilities. The need for this type of data is worldwide, but developing nations are in particular need of the tools necessary for thorough air quality monitoring.

Highlighting the successes experienced in air pollutant reduction efforts in wealthier counties may seem counterintuitive given the importance of addressing inequalities across the world. Still, they also represent numerous lessons for developing cities and countries to learn. The negative experiences of areas already developed have yielded data, technology and sample policies from which leaders worldwide can draw. Moving forward, it is essential that organizations and leaders around the world prioritize improving air quality.

Amy Perkins
Photo: Pixabay

How Air Pollution Affects Poverty in EuropeAir pollution is disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of people living in poverty, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency. The report titled “Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe,” calls for improving air quality in Europe by decreasing emissions and adding green spaces. Many consider air pollution to be an environmental issue or a global health concern that affects us all equally. However, the report makes the case that impoverished communities face a higher burden of air pollution and other environmental stressors.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Poverty

The Borgen Project held an interview with Catherine Ganzleben, head of the air pollution and environmental health groups at the European Environment Agency (EEA). She said, “Pollution hits poorer communities harder than affluent communities because of lack of access to medical care and exposure to the byproducts of climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to worsen so does air pollution and extreme weather, disproportionately affecting those living in poverty. “In large parts of Europe, [vulnerable communities] are more likely to live next to busy roads or industrial areas,” Ganzleben said. “[They] face higher levels of exposure to air pollution.”

Even when both affluent and impoverished people experience the same exposure, air pollution affects the health of the impoverished more. Ganzlebe continued, “People living in lower-income regions [were found] to be more susceptible to the health effects of [pollutants] than wealthier people living in polluted areas.” Additionally, families with lower socio-economic status face more significant negative effects of pollution. Several factors could contribute to the disproportionate effects of air pollution. These include access to healthcare, underlying conditions and poor housing situations.

The Struggle for Clean Air in Poland

Traffic and industrial pollution are two of the main factors contributing to air pollution in Europe. But, in some countries, like Poland, the largest contributor to air pollution is burning coal to heat single-family households.

Poland is infamous for having one of the worst levels of air pollution in the European Union, according to K. Max Zhang in his interview with The Borgen Project. Zhang is a professor of energy and the environment at Cornell University. Poland still generates electricity and heat using coal, one of the most polluting forms of energy.

Poland’s reliance on coal can mainly be attributed to its abundance of old, single-family houses built in the 1970s. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Magdalena Kozlowska claimed that these homes remain unrenovated. She is the project coordinator of Polish Smog Alert. She also added that the most impoverished populations in Poland are less able to update their energy sources.

Polish Smog Alert is an organization that is committed to cleaning Poland’s air and meeting the European air quality standards through advocacy and mobilization. It also works to inform the public and help people make their houses more energy-efficient, Kozłowska said. The organization formed in 2013 when they started working to ban the burning of solid fuels in Krakow.

This ban on burning solid fuels came to fruition in 2019, when Polish Smog Alert worked with local and national governments to enact “changes in the national law [and the] city had to cooperate and offer money to exchange the boilers and help people experiencing poverty to pay the difference in bills,” Kozlowska continued. “And still, the city is doing that.”

Goals of the European Environment Agency’s Report

The attention to air quality around the world has been increasing in recent years. However, the EEA wants to see more policy changes and tangible action from the European government, Ganzleben said. These policies should also not have the sole aim of protecting the environment. In addition to environmental efforts, these policies should protect communities that are feeling the brunt of climate change’s effects. “Policies to deliver high environmental quality should be aimed at preventing and reducing the unequal distribution of environmental health risks, ensuring fair access to environmental resources and enabling sustainable choices,” said Ganzleben.

The report also explains the benefits of green spaces, even within polluted city environments. Green spaces, like parks and lakes, can benefit people’s well-being. “Mental and physical [health] are linked,” said Michael Brauer, professor of environmental health at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Reports like this one from the EEA, Brauer said, are a result of a growing urgency related to air pollution. In recent years, there has been much more attention globally to the issue, “[As a] response to increasing awareness of air pollution and the problem,” Brauer continued. “There is really no evidence of a safe level of air pollution.”

Combating Air Pollution’s Disproportionate Effect on the Poor

There need to be policy changes that address the socio-economic effects of climate change. This will alleviate the burden of air pollution on those living in poverty. “At the local level, integrating environmental health concerns into welfare policies, health policies and urban planning and housing policies can help to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of the population,” the report read. “Air pollution not only hurts the environment, but it also exacerbates poverty, and worsens the living conditions for the poor.” While humanitarian organizations like the Polish Smog Alert are working to alleviate pollution in Europe, there is still much to be done to eradicate air pollution and help those disproportionately experiencing the consequences of climate change.

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr 

Electrifying Transportation
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded seven million premature deaths globally as a result of elevated levels of air pollution. In 2016, the WHO reported that 91% of the world’s population reside in areas that did not meet the threshold for acceptable air quality. Such conditions escalate the effects of and increase mortality from strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and infections, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2010, the World Bank along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that over 180,000 deaths and 4,100,000 disability life adjusted years of healthy life lost were directly attributable to road transport air pollution. Also, when declaring the ‘best practice group’ for policy handling of air pollution, the list consisted mainly of high-income countries that can afford preventative measures like electrifying transportation.

Air Quality and Poverty

The WHO reports that low-and middle-income countries suffer the highest effects from elevated exposure to harmful air pollutants. In fact, the majority of the world’s cities with the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) are found in developing nations. These countries typically do not have adequate laws or enforcement to protect against air pollution. They tend to contain a higher prevalence of coal power stations, and less stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions.

Further, developing nations experience great disparity in the effects of air pollution and the burden typically falls on the countries’ poorest populations.  The reason being, the poor usually reside in highly concentrated areas with dense harmful emissions. This is due to their exclusion from suburban areas where there are fewer pollutant generating spaces.

Despite air pollution challenges, clean air has been deemed a human right and is covered under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. In order to improve air quality, amongst others, one of the UN’s main suggestions has been to adopt clean and renewable energy and technologies.

Electrifying Transportation

The emission from our current fuel and diesel-powered traditional transportation systems consisting of fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks and buses have been found to generate pollutants that have adverse effects on every organ in the human body. It is also responsible for approximately half of all the nitrogen oxides in our air and is amongst one of the greatest sources of green-house gases. Given the large contribution or main-stream fuel and diesel vehicles make to air pollution, electrifying transportation systems is anticipated to be one of the most effective, shorter-term solutions to air pollution, and thus lifting some of the burdens on poor and vulnerable populations.

One of the main advancements in renewable technology has been the use of electric vehicles. One estimate finds that with the widespread accelerated adoption of clean transportation through the electrification of vehicles and fuel, an approximated 25 million aggregate years of life would be saved by 2030. Included in this figure is at least 210,000 reduction in premature deaths in 2030 alone. These gains would primarily occur in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and developing Asia, all locations with amongst the highest rates of poverty.

So far, there are three classes of electric vehicles:

1.       E4W – Electric four wheelers

2.       E2W – Electric two-wheelers

3.       HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles.

Access in Developing Countries

One of the main barriers to electrifying transportation in developing nations is the fact that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are typically more expensive than traditional fuel and diesel-powered vehicles. However, switching to EVs can prompt savings. Developing nations exist on a spectrum of development. For those with public transportation systems, working police and emergency health care fleets, the governmental investment in the transition towards electric vehicles and trucks would not only help to improve the air quality in the respective nations but would also prove to be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run. Of the available classes of electric transport options, the E2Ws would be most beneficial in developing nations. This is because E2Ws have the lowest energy consumption rating. Unlike E4Ws, the E2W class’ of EV ability to be charged via regular home outlet means that there are no substantial charging infrastructure investment requirements.

In terms of operational costs, all classes of EVs were found to have lower operational costs than their corresponding fuel vehicles. However, the E2W class was found to have benefits ranging from 24% less, up to eight times less of an operating cost than their corresponding fuel-based transportation. Many developing nations might not yet be in a position to invest in and benefit from the E4W or HEV EV classes due to its high initial investment and required charging infrastructure investments. The E2W class by contrast has been found to be a feasible investment for electrifying transportation for poverty reduction. Not only will this contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution, lightening its burden on the poorer populations, but it will also prompt savings for governments and stimulate economic growth. Additionally, as investments in EVs continue to rise, the initial purchase prices will fall and so developing countries might be able to afford higher classes.

Rebecca Harris

Photo: Flickr

Pollution in Mongolia
Pollution is just as much of a problem in the developing world as it is in the developed world, perhaps even more so. For one, developing countries cannot always afford to fight it. Additionally, oftentimes pollution is created directly by what is needed to survive. This is the case in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Efforts to address pollution in Mongolia go hand-in-hand with helping the poor.

Pollution and Poverty

Many people in Ulaanbaatar, often impoverished, rely heavily on coal to keep themselves warm during cold winters. The problem is that the widespread usage of coal concentrated in one area creates a great deal of air pollution. Temperatures in the city rarely reach above the upper 60s, creating an almost yearlong reliance on coal.

In turn, air pollution negatively impacts the impoverished in Ulaanbaatar, where poverty is increasing. Many struggling Mongolian families deal with the unhealthy air firsthand. Air pollution can cause a variety of health problems, including lung and heart diseases. As the impoverished are likely to be unable to afford or access high-quality health care, this often leads to higher mortality rates.

Potential Solutions

The most straightforward solution would be to do away with coal usage. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done, considering the temperatures in Ulaanbaatar. The government would need to establish more sustainable and better methods of heating to provide people with the necessary heating to survive. It is also essential for these methods to be affordable to ensure the impoverished can use them. Two alternative methods are geothermal heating and underfloor heating.

Geothermal heating involves using the underground to heat a home, as the temperatures underground are often reliably warmer than above-ground temperatures. Installing geothermal heating pumps requires finding suitable areas underground to drill. Unfortunately, the pumps can also be expensive to install; humanitarian organizations would need to provide significant funding to set up this heating system in Ulaanbaatar.

Another viable method of heating is underfloor heating. It is similar to geothermal heating but a bit less work and has significant benefits such as being much cheaper than other heating sources and eliminating drafts entirely. However, it also requires funding for installation. The installation could help those in poverty, however, as it could utilize local workers for the construction.

Underfloor heating may also be the better alternative because many poor Mongolians have a nomadic lifestyle and the installation must take place in unused areas. With an understanding of migration patterns, underfloor heating could be installed in areas that are currently in disuse so that it is ready to be used when people return.

Moving Forward

Pollution in Mongolia continues to be an issue, particularly in cities like Ulaanbaatar. With concerns about health problems associated with high air pollution, it is clear that a sustainable alternative to coal needs to be implemented. Implementation, however, will require significant funding from the Mongolian government and humanitarian organizations. Moving forward, it is essential that these groups make addressing pollution in the country a priority of their efforts. Pollution and poverty are intertwined; pollution must be adequately addressed in order to eradicate poverty.

Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

Last December, children in Kosovo, a disputed territory in southeast Europe, already wore masks on their way to school. They weren’t worried about COVID-19, the deadly contagion that has since gripped the world. Instead, children wore masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Kosovo.

Power plants that run by burning coal, private residences that burn coal for heat and antiquated automobiles that run on less environmental-friendly engines contribute to air pollution in Kosovo. In particular, the Kosovo B power station, outside Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, released a massive quantity of nitrogen oxide and dust emissions until the plant’s modernization began in 2019. Modernization efforts seek to immediately improve air quality. In the long term, modernization efforts will meet the standards of the European Union’s environmental safety regulations, as well as improve Kosovo’s domestic infrastructure.

The European Union invested in two initiatives that would help Kosovo’s air pollution relief efforts. First, the European Union granted $83 million to the Kosovo B power station’s modernization. Second, the European Union invested another $7.6 million to renovate heating systems in private and public buildings throughout Kosovo, including schools and homes.

Poverty’s Impact on Methods of Heating Private Homes

Much debate surrounds the question of whether wood is an environmentally responsible source of heat energy. Many scientists fear that acknowledging wood sources as an environmentally friendly form of heat energy will give the green light to deforestation, one of the primary contributors to the environmental crisis. For many citizens of Kosovo, wood and coal are the least expensive methods to heat their homes.

Around the world, more than one and a half million people are killed each year by indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution is caused by burning substances like coal, wood and human or animal feces in small, enclosed areas with antiquated heating systems. Along with the human toll, indoor air pollution contributes to the environmental crisis.

For example, indoor air pollution is a factor that contributes to overall air pollution in Kosovo. The bulk of the E.U.’s investment to address air pollution in Kosovo went toward modernizing the Kosovo B power station. The amount of money the E.U. invested in addressing indoor air pollution amounted to about a tenth of the money the E.U. invested in modernizing the power station. Former Environment Minister Fatmir Matoshi put the weight of the responsibility of addressing indoor air pollution on Kosovo’s citizens when he asked them to refrain from using coal and wood to heat their homes. However, low-income households would face severe challenges in obtaining an alternative heating source as stated previously, wood and coal are the least expensive methods for families to heat their homes.

Efforts to Address Poverty and Air Pollution in Kosovo

People who live in poverty have to rely on more accessible, less expensive means to heat their homes. Toxic biomass fuels, like coal and wood, are used by approximately two and a half billion people worldwide. In Kosovo, people are unable to stop using coal and wood because they lack the means to heat their homes with other, non-toxic materials.

To reduce air pollution in Kosovo, poverty must first be addressed. Fortunately, some organizations are making strides to mitigate the issue. The Ideas Partnership selects individual families from minority groups in Kosovo to support. Many such families have subsisted via “garbage picking,” the only source of income and sustenance otherwise available to them. The Ideas Partnership aims to remove families from overcrowded dwellings and provide them with food and shelter, so parents can focus on educational and well-being goals for their children.

The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education recognizes the role education plays in preparing Kosovo’s youth for the labor force. Kosovo’s population is young; a quarter of its citizens are younger than 19 years old. In 2017, over one half of Kosovo’s youthful population was unemployed. The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education began in 2015. Today, more than 15,000 have participated in the program as volunteers and students. Its goal is to improve the quality of education in Kosovo while preparing students to enter the workforce.

Air pollution in Kosovo is caused by a variety of factors that must be vigorously addressed. Widespread, oppressive poverty in Kosovo is at the root of this issue. Both poverty and air pollution should be addressed simultaneously to arrive at the best results for Kosovo’s future health.

—Taylor Pangman
Photo: Pixabay

SDG 11 in Luxembourg
Luxembourg is a small European country sandwiched between Belgium, France and Germany. Around 630,000 people live in the nation, which has a landmass smaller than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. As a member of the United Nations, Luxembourg is subject to an annual Sustainable Development Report. The report encompasses goals ranging from zero hunger to gender equality. Sustainable Cities and Communities is number 11 on the list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 11 is an attempt to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Rent overburden in Luxembourg contributes to the significant challenges the nation faces, but progress toward achieving SDG 11 is moderately improving. Here are four updates on SDG 11 in Luxembourg.

4 Updates on SDG 11 in Luxembourg

  1. Air Quality: Luxembourg’s annual mean concentration of particulate matter is fewer than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). This is a measurement of the level of air pollution that can afflict humans with “severe health damage” and respiratory issues. Luxembourg’s level of PM2.5 is declining at a much better rate than in previous years but is still a fair distance from the UN’s long-term goal. While Luxembourg has better air quality than Belgium, France and Germany, it is still behind other European nations like Ireland, Portugal, Spain and most of Scandinavia.
  2. Improved Water Source Access: Between 99-100% of the urban population of Luxembourg has access to improved drinking water in their homes. This is the standard for industrialized nations, although some E.U. members like Italy, Serbia and Ireland have lower SDG ratings than Luxembourg.
  3. Satisfaction with Public Transport: A remarkably high percentage of Luxembourgers have satisfaction with their local public transportation systems. The SDG goal is to have 82.6% of the population satisfied, and Luxembourg is extremely close with nearly 79% of the population reporting satisfaction. In Europe, only Switzerland eclipses Luxembourg in this category. As of March 1, 2020, Luxembourg offers entirely free public transportation across the country. The government can absorb costs related to free public transportation due to the exponential economic growth the country continues to enjoy (although COVID-19 may put a damper on this growth). No-cost public transport in Luxembourg is a major reason why its citizens have the seventh-highest level of satisfaction with public transportation in the world.
  4. Population with Rent Overburden: Significant challenges remain for alleviating rent overburden in Luxembourg. Almost 17% of the population lives “in households where the total housing costs represent more than 40% of disposable income.” The UN goal is 4.6% of the population. Luxembourg is not close to achieving this SDG and unfortunately, the percentage is rising. The Luxembourg Times attributes this to high demand for housing coupled with a low supply. The newspaper also cites “the astronomical price of land.” Another prominent newspaper laments that “buying a home is out of the question for many [Luxembourgers]” and says young people often must live abroad or with their parents if they want to avoid ridiculously high rent prices. Some residents even resort to scouring legal code in the hopes of finding obscure laws that will reduce their rent. Rent overburden in Luxembourg is the most significant challenge to creating sustainable cities and communities.

Looking Forward

While rent overburden in Luxembourg is a significant roadblock for achieving SDG 11 in Luxembourg, free public transportation is a critical building block for sustainable cities and communities. Workers commuting to Luxembourg from abroad (it is just a 30-minute drive from Luxembourg City to Germany, France or Belgium) contribute to air pollution, but air quality is improving, albeit slowly. One can partially link this to more Luxembourgers opting for public transportation as opposed to their personal vehicles.

NGOs like the Luxembourg Anti-Poverty Network are working to reduce rent overburden, although a more concerted effort in conjunction with the government is necessary. Though challenges remain for Luxembourg to develop sustainable cities and communities, steps like providing country-wide free public transportation are positive signs that Luxembourgers have committed themselves to the achievement of SDG 11.

– Spencer Jacobs
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

pollution in developing countriesIt is common knowledge that countries, businesses and individuals would benefit the environment by reducing their own emissions. Reducing pollution will slow the rapid rate of climate change and could also significantly aid the health of the global population. In fact, on average, air pollution limits each person’s life expectancy by two years. Experts estimate that air pollution is the “greatest risk to human health,” and that the effects are even worse in less-developed areas. Here are five facts about the negative effects of pollution in developing countries.

5 Facts About the Negative Effects of Pollution in Developing Countries

  1. In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, air pollution cuts an average of five years off the lives of citizens. The number of people residing in these countries constitute about one-quarter of the global population. Pollution is 44% higher in these four countries today compared to 20 years ago. In some areas, air pollution can account for up to eight years cut from the average life expectancy. Bangladesh leads the way of these countries, with the worst pollution output in the world.
  2. Air pollution in cities is much worse than air pollution in other areas. Although this may seem obvious, the extent of the pollution level disparity between a city in a developed country and a city in a developing country is drastic. In developing nations, 98% of those in cities live in areas where pollution exceeds the WHO guidelines, while in developed nations, this number drops to 56%. Both of these numbers are too high, as experts estimate that these levels of pollution cause over three million deaths per year, but developing countries clearly have a much larger problem.
  3. Indoor air pollution causes 6% of all deaths in developing countries. This type of pollution is caused by the indoor burning of solid fuel for cooking and heating. Most of the reliance on solid fuels is for cooking, as many developing countries do not have the same clean cooking technology as more developed countries. Only 60% of the world has access to these clean fuels and technology. Although this number is slowly growing, 1.6 million deaths are still attributed to indoor pollution in developing countries each year.
  4. Air pollution negatively affects people throughout their life, beginning in their mother’s womb and stretching into old age. As stated above, air pollution accounts for the loss of years at the end of life, but it also slows the development of children’s lungs and could cause premature births. A study in California has connected higher particle pollution levels with increased early births. Even a short spike in air pollution can result in more preterm birth, which carries several health risks with it. Additionally, children’s lungs are not completely grown until they reach adulthood, and air pollution slows this growth. Studies have shown that when lung growth is slowed, children’s lungs may never grow to their full capacity.
  5. Studies show that poor air quality can increase the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Furthermore, once the virus is caught, the lungs of those living in polluted areas are less able to adequately fight off the infection, causing higher death rates in countries with higher pollution percentages. A study found that a one microgram per cubic meter increase of fine particulate matter concentrations can cause an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

To combat the adverse effects of air pollution in developing countries, the world needs more government involvement and partnership regarding the issue. In order for developing countries to adequately reduce emissions, developed nations need to cooperate and enforce standards of air quality to promote health. These efforts will require intense dedication but are necessary to help protect the lives of nearly everyone on Earth.

Aiden Farr
Photo: Flickr

air quality in Mexico CityThe Mexico City metropolitan area, home to more than 21 million people, experiences air pollution that can have negative long-term impacts for its residents. Indeed, some recent grim headlines bemoaning increased smog and ozone during the dry season, as well as premature deaths due to air pollution, are quite discouraging. However, CDMX, as the city is colloquially known, has a “comeback kid” success story to tell. In 1992, the U.N. and WHO declared the megalopolis the world’s most polluted city. Following this sobering declaration, the city government made sweeping changes to bring the city’s air quality under control. Here are five innovations that are continuing to help air quality in Mexico City move in the right direction.

5 Green Innovations Improving Air Quality in Mexico City

  1. Low-emission public transit: The city has expanded public transit options to include low- and zero-emissions options like the Metrobús and Ecobici bicycles. Early changes that revolutionized air quality in CDMX were part of a multiphase government program called ProAire. The program included closing fuel refineries, adding catalytic converters to cars and enacting weekly “Hoy No Circula” (“No-Drive Days”) for city cars. Later, in 2005, the low-emission Metrobús system made its debut as part of the third phase of the same program. Among many benefits, Metrobús is cheaper to run than the subway and far cleaner than regular buses. In recent years, the city has also worked to become less car-centric by designating bike lanes on roads. In 2010, Ecobici stations with public-use bicycles started popping up around the city. Anyone with an Ecobici card can now use a bicycle in 45-minute increments, picking it up at one station and dropping it off at another. Hybrid and electric taxis have also been introduced to improve air quality in Mexico City.
  2. Air quality forecasting: In 2017, Mexico City unveiled a new tool to forecast high levels of air pollution. The city’s location in a valley surrounded by mountains puts it at a disadvantage for ridding the air of dangerous pollutants. These come in the form of nanoparticles, which are released into the air mainly through vehicle emissions and industrial activity. Nanoparticles can become lodged in people’s lungs and hearts, where they can have long-term consequences. In a country that, in comparison to developed nations, has very limited availability of hospital beds and doctors, the need for prevention is urgent. The forecasting system for air quality in Mexico City can accurately predict high rates of pollution a full day in advance, allowing schools to cancel classes if necessary and giving people time to safely plan their activities and transport.
  3. Eco-friendly art: Young artists are using air-purifying paint to create murals for awareness about air quality in Mexico City. In 2019, the Absolut Street Trees project, run by Mexico City’s Anonimo Agency in partnership with French company Pernod Ricard, painted three murals on different buildings around the city center. The colorful murals portray positive environmental messages using Airlite paint, whose active ingredient, titanium dioxide, reacts to the presence of light. Undergoing a process comparable to photosynthesis, the paint can scrub the air of nearly 90% of harmful toxins and pollutants from cars. In a city where buildings abound, space is limited and private vehicle transport is a necessary evil for many, Airlite offers possibilities for redemption. In 2019, the U.N. hailed the innovation as one of the four most useful new technologies for solving air pollution problems in cities across the world.
  4. Solar panel integration: Ciudad Solar (Solar City) is an ambitious solar panel program that aims to harness 350 megawatts of solar energy by 2024. In 2019, the city government, led by mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, launched the nearly 8 billion peso ($414 million) plan using funding from the city budget, the Mexican federal bank Nacional Financiera (NAFIN), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. By installing renewable energy units like solar panels and solar heaters across the city in private and public buildings over five years, the city aims to slash carbon emissions by 2 million tons to improve air quality in Mexico City.
  5. Clean outdoor spaces: The city is expanding green acreage, using recycled materials to open a massive new park in an outlying zone. The centrally located Bosque de Chapultepec is a well-known gathering place for many residents, as it is the largest and oldest urban park in all of Latin America. However, green spaces are needed in other neighborhoods as well if air quality in Mexico City is to sustainably improve. In 2017, a large park called Parque La Mexicana opened in the Lomas de Santa Fe neighborhood on the city’s western edge. More recently, Parque Ecológico Cuitláhuac in Iztapalapa has been the biggest revitalization project to take place in the city. The 250 million peso ($11.4 million), 358-acre park, once a trash dump, has been cleaned, greened and transformed by a brigade of more than 200 scientists, engineers and other specialists. It has been built in large part using recycled materials and is opening three distinct sections in three phases. One debuted in 2020, and the last two are set to open in 2021 and 2022. Some have already dubbed it “the new Chapultepec.”

While geographical and ecological challenges occasionally cloud efforts to achieve better air quality in Mexico City, public and private organizations, including the government, have shown openness to innovative solutions. This is not for nothing: the changes have earned attention as models for other pollution-challenged countries like India. However, more consistency and dedication to green innovation is needed to make this vibrant and iconic “city of palaces” a palace not just for tourists, but for those who call it home.

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr