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

Air Pollution in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a country that is largely dependent upon its production of oil. However, this oil and urban activities in Saudi Arabian cities are responsible for air pollution in Saudi Arabia. Air pollution impacts everyone, but it often hurts the poor the most since they tend to not have access to proper medical care when air pollution makes them sick. According to estimates, about 20 percent of people in Saudi Arabia live in poverty. Saudi Arabia should be able to improve the living conditions of both its impoverished and impoverished people by reducing its air pollution. Saudi Arabia has put forth a policy to improve air quality nationwide and has worked in one of its polluted cities in an attempt to improve air quality.

Ambient Air Standard

The type of air pollution that Saudi Arabia deals with is ambient air pollution. Ambient air pollution includes multiple types of pollutants, many of which are harmful. In 2012, Saudi Arabia put the Ambient Air Standard into place. The purpose of this standard is to reduce the number of harmful pollutants that contribute to air pollution in Saudi Arabia. The standard provides a basis for the maintenance and restoration of ambient air within Saudi Arabia. This action that the government of Saudi Arabia put into place should be beneficial to the people of the country because it will provide cleaner air due to the fact that it will restrict the amount of emissions companies emit.

Cleaning Up Dammam City

Regardless of how bad the air pollution in a country is, cities tend to always be hot spots for air pollution. The Saudi Arabian City of Dammam is one such city where air pollution is a severe problem. Urban activities such as running cars cause pollution in Dammam. Recognizing this, governmental authorities in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia developed plans to reduce the air pollution that these urban activities created. For example, the General Department of Traffic used periodic vehicle inspection stations in order to improve the mileage emissions that the cars created. The General Agency of Roads made plans to pave new roads, fix existing ones and construct tunnels and bridges to improve the flow of traffic.

These changes had positive effects on reducing air pollution in Saudi Arabia. There was a decline in volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and particulate matter among other forms of air pollution. For example, carbon monoxide in industrial areas fell from above 16 parts per matter to almost two parts per matter. Volatile organic compounds in industrial areas fell from almost 0.8 parts per matter in 2010 to slightly above 0.2 in 2015. The data that the Journal of Taibah University provided shows that governmental officials’ action in Dammam has been working.

Air pollution in Saudi Arabia continues to be a problem for its people. However, the Saudi Arabian government has made some improvements to the quality of air, especially for the people living in Dammam.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Air Pollution in Vietnam
Air pollution in Vietnam causes major health issues that include respiratory disorders and heart diseases. There are also economic consequences that lower Gross Domestic Production (GDP) and slow down the entire growth of the country. People in Vietnam have heavily discussed the air pollution issue in recent years.

Effects of Air Pollution in Vietnam

  1. Air Pollution: Air pollution in Vietnam consists of fine particulates that can cause respiratory disorders, lung cancer, heart disease and stroke among many other conditions. Generally, exhaust from cars and motorbikes, factory emissions and coal plants cause air pollution in Vietnam.
  2. Causes of Air Pollution: According to the National Economics University (NEU) conference, the use of fossil fuels for 90 percent of power generation is the cause of Vietnam’s polluted air quality. The conference also mentioned that Vietnam is taking on manufacturing activities with high pollution emissions from more developed countries due to less industrial regulations and lower costs. Consequently, this causes an increase in smog and air pollution. Additionally, the United States Consulate and UNICEF Vietnam funded the Ho Chi Minh City governance to place 13 air monitors around the city. In the meantime, the city itself is replacing dated motorbikes.
  3. Air Pollution Lowers Vietnam’s GDP: According to Chairman Miura Nobufumi of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) in Vietnam, the air pollution crisis keeps foreign investors from investing in the country, which in turn diminishes the country’s economy. The country’s GDP in 2019 has decreased from 7.08 percent to 7.02, which translates to $10.82-$13.63 USD. The Vietnamese government is working to implement environmental rules, regulations and standards.
  4. Over 60,000 People Die in Vietnam Each Year: There were about 71,365 people in Vietnam who died of air pollution in 2017 which places Vietnam in fourth place within the region. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment reported that the Air Quality Index (AQI) was over 300, which means that pollution was at a very dangerous level. As a result, experts advised that people stay indoors. There were also fine air particles (less than 2.5 microns) that elevated three times above the acceptable threshold affecting people’s lungs and hearts. The Vietnam Minister of Natural Resources and Environment organized a system to address air pollution.
  5. Negligence Regarding Air Pollution: Amidst the dangerous air-quality readings with an average air-quality-index (AQI) of 202-240 in Hanoi, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment has only acknowledged the AQI of 256. It sent out an unintended announcement that the air quality would negatively affect human health. The Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) did not speak up at all. News reporters asked to contact the northern Center for Environmental Monitoring (CEM). In the meantime, CEM’s director said she would get in touch with VEA to make a public statement. In the end, the local authorities did not implement any coordinated effort, emergency or preventative measures.
  6. Easing Air Pollution: Dr. Hoang Tung Duong, who is the Vietnam Clean Air Partnership (VCAP), stated that there should be close monitoring of businesses that emit large amounts of smoke and dust through their manufacturing activities and practices. He also recommends a limit on the use of motorbikes during rush hours and that people should cut back on driving during certain hours of the day in order to reduce vehicle emissions.
  7. Addressing the Air Pollution Issue: There are organizations around Vietnam that are helping address the country’s air pollution issue. The Vietnam Association for Conservation of Natural Resources and Environment (VACNE) formed the Vietnam Clean Air Partnership (VCAP). This partnership gathers partners and individuals to raise awareness and carry out activities to address air pollution. Partners include the cities of Danang, Haiphong, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, along with organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (HEPA), the Southern Regional Hydrometeorological Center (SRHMC), the Vietnam Register, the Institute for Environment and Resources (CEFINEA) and the Vietnam National University. VACNE and its partners worked with Clean Air Asia and U.N. Environment to draft a policy for vehicles, such as motorbikes and cargo-loaders. The policy should ensure a standard for vehicle exhaustion, fuel emission and battery-use efficiency.

There are many negative consequences of air pollution. As a result, many organizations around the world are helping Vietnam with this issue. Additionally, Vietnam is developing policies and measures to reduce the amount of vehicle and industrial emissions as well as household energy usage. Positive prospects are on the horizon due collaborations between local governments in Vietnam and foreign organizations.

Hung Le
Photo: Flickr

Pollution in the Western Balkans
Pollution in the Western Balkans is among the most pressing global crises today. The antiquated industrial technology and inadequate environmental legislation in Western Balkan countries (WBC) results in substandard soil, air and water quality. According to the UN Environment Programme, Bosnia and Herzegovina is now the second deadliest nation in the world in terms of air pollution. The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo recorded the air quality index (AQI) of 383 in 2018 — nearly ten times the average and a level categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a threat to health. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that in 2018 two North Macedonian cities, Tetovo and Skopje, were identified by the European AQI as Europe’s most polluted cities. Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, topped the 2018 list of the world’s most polluted cities with an AQI of 415. Pristina is classified as having worse air quality than Beijing and New Delhi, and other towns throughout Kosovo are following suit.

The Cost of Coal

Pollution in the Western Balkans results from thermal power plants and open-cast lignite mines — lignite being the most toxic coal pollutant.

In Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina lies the country’s largest thermal power station. Burning lignite generates power, producing electricity. Tuzla’s plant, located across from a school, releases 51,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants annually. This cheap electricity (run by a state-owned company) is seen by officials as an economic opportunity and is exported to neighboring countries, but residents know that the price is not worth the cost.

Each year Bosnia and Herzegovina loses the equivalent of 44,000 years of life from particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide — like that produced in Tuzla — or ozone pollution. PM pollution in the Western Balkans causes respiratory and heart diseases, cancers, etc., and increases water acidity, soil depletion and crop damage.

Tuzla’s coal towers use filters that, when expired, are disposed of at designated sites. Winds blow the filters’ collected ash onto nearby homes. The power plant employs large amounts of water to pump waste ash and coal slag into huge landfill sites, resulting in swampy farmlands. Heavy metals from the waste discharge into nearby rivers, while anti-clogging chemicals added to pipes turn flooded areas a fluorescent blue color.

Tuzla, once Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest producer of roses, is now a toxic swamp coated in ash. Reports state that pollution has reduced Tuzla’s population from 500 to approximately 30 residents.

Kosovo’s story is no better. A 2016 environmental study stated that impacts of Kosovo A and B lignite power plants total €352 million in health costs annually, with Kosovo A ranking as the biggest emitter of PM2.5 in the Western Balkan region. PM2.5 is small enough to enter the bloodstream and pulmonary alveoli.

In Bitola, North Macedonia, the area surrounding its thermal power plant and ash deposit are significant generators of PM10 and PM2.5. The European Environmental Agency’s air quality report states that North Macedonia has the highest annual mean value of PM2.5 in all of Europe — approximately three times more than the WHO’s recommendations. The World Bank estimates 1,350 North Macedonians die yearly from air pollution.

According to the WHO, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s air pollution costs the country more than one fifth its annual GDP yearly in lost work and school days, fuel costs, etc. In WBCs, school terms are shortened and many residents flee their homes, especially during winter when dense smog blankets cities and towns impairing visibility and worsening breathing. The World Bank reports that North Macedonia loses around 3.2 percent of its annual GDP to pollution.

Denials and Foreign Investments

The latest report on European air quality cites a steady improvement throughout Europe, except in WBCs where air quality steadily declines.

North Macedonian authorities claim the country’s extreme pollution results from the use of old vehicles and wood-burning stoves. Pristina’s officials claim heavy traffic as the main cause of its pollution and have imposed traffic restrictions. The North Macedonian government also claims chemical analyses and pollution studies are underway, but no reports have been published.

WBCs’ disregard for the UN’s and WHO’s warnings and EU regulations is reaching new heights via Chinese-backed investments in new coal-fired power plants throughout the region. These expansion plans, along with the refusal to admit responsibility and lack of emergency planning, are outraging citizens who have taken to the streets in protest.

International Response to Pollution in the Western Balkans

UN agencies are installing and refurbishing air quality monitoring stations equipped with real-time data throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. A WHO initiative is using software to provide data pertaining to air pollution types and their related health effects, hoping to drive government response policies. This transition will slash emissions by more than 90 percent, saving nearly €1 million in fuel costs annually.

The North Macedonian government launched an initiative to fight its air pollution and allocated €1.6 million for the program in its 2019 budget — aiming to reduce Skopje’s air pollution by 50 percent within two years through tax incentives for central heating and stricter industrial emissions controls. Activists say the government’s response and funding is inadequate and insufficient.

A joint effort by affected governments could combat pollution in the Western Balkans and aid in enacting stricter emissions control legislation of the Energy Community Treaty. There is hope on the horizon as Energy Community Contracting Parties, North Macedonia and Kosovo, have signed a 2019 Memorandum of Understanding on the Energy Sector. Their intention is to share developments, revive electricity interconnection lines and construct a gas interconnection between Skopje and Kosovo.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Pixabay