Recently, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) decided to auction 30 oil and gas drilling blocks in the Congo Basin forest, including areas that venture into the Virunga National Park. This decision comes just eight months after the government signed a $500 million deal to protect the basin, resulting in protests from local inhabitants and international communities. The President claims that the Congo’s oil auction is necessary for alleviating the DRC’s extreme poverty, but activists argue that the environmental impact of drilling far outweighs the benefits.

How Drilling is Harmful

Environmental experts warn that drilling will have severe environmental repercussions. Firstly, the Congo Basin forest includes the Cuvette Centrale Peatlands, the largest tropical peatland in the world that stores the equivalent of 15 years worth of carbon emissions from the United States.  If Congo’s oil auction proceeds, huge amounts of carbon will be released and could become the “tipping point” for the world’s climate.  Furthermore, the Virunga National Park is a UNESCO heritage site that is one of the most biologically diverse areas in Africa, home to the last mountain gorillas on earth.  Experts have actually dubbed the Congo basin as “the worst place in the world to explore for fossil fuels.”

Drivers to Break the Deal

Eight months ago, the DRC signed a 10-year deal to protect its forests in exchange for $500 million in international pledges. However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent boycotts, oil prices have skyrocketed. It follows that those high prices bring even more value to the Congo’s oil blocks. That’s why eight months later, the government breached the deal. And that is why Irene Wabiwa Betoko, overseer of the Congo Basin forest for Greenpeace Africa insists that the DRC is “declaring war against our planet with oil and gas.”

African Critics Decry Western Hypocrisy

Although stopping Congo’s oil auction has clear benefits for the world at large, critics have also picked up on the hypocrisy of the West on this issue. The New York Times comments that many politicians from African countries have called out Western countries for their double standard: “How can Western countries, which built their prosperity on fossil fuels that emit poisonous, planet-warming fumes, demand that Africa forgo their reserves of coal, oil and gas in order to protect everyone else?”

Goal for the DRC Oil Auctions:  Eradicate Poverty

According to the World Bank, the DRC is in the top five most impoverished nations in the world. In 2018, around 73% of the population lived below the poverty line. Didier Budimbu, the hydrocarbons minister of the DRC, claims that breaking the deal was necessary to generate revenue for the people. “The president, Felix Tshisekedi, has a vision and he wants to get his population out of poverty,” Budimbu said. He further claims that although it currently only produces 25,000 barrels a day, the Congo has the potential to produce up to a million barrels of oil daily. Production at that level could generate more than half of the Congo’s GDP.

But Where Does the Money Go?

Despite promises of poverty relief, there is no guarantee that the money resulting from the Congo’s oil auction will go to the people. The majority of the DRC’s income already comes from mining. According to Reuters, the Congo produces large amounts of copper, diamonds, gold and cobalt, yet the nation remains impoverished due to corruption and political ineptitude. That parallel situation raises questions about how much the oil drills will actually do for the economy.

Possible Compromise

Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, the DRC’s representative on climate issues, claims that the drilling could be done diagonally to avoid disturbing the peat. He further claims that all drilling will abide by global commitments to the climate. Mpanu promises to complete thorough reviews to measure the drilling’s impacts on the environment and local communities. Other land could be set aside to offset the land that will be used for drilling, he argues.  Finally, Mpanu suggests that by allowing the mining of minerals such as cobalt and lithium used to develop green energy, the DRC has “paid its climate change dues.”

There are also indications that participation in the oil auction may be waning. Ève Bazaiba, the DRC’s minister of environment, has expressed a willingness to forego the auction if international support provides an alternative source of revenue. The French oil giant TotalEnergies has also expressed that it does not intend to bid in Congo’s auction.

So, as the auction proceeds, there may be ways to simultaneously lessen the negative environmental impact and fight the Congo’s high poverty.  At any rate, the DRC oil auction underlines the complexity of protecting the land and the people living on it.

-Emilie Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Climate Migration in Central Asia
About 1% of the world lives in a climate hot zone, causing a concerning rise of climate migration in Central Asia. According to the World Bank, an increase in natural disasters could force 216 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050. The increased probability of extreme climate patterns and climate migration leads to a bevy of other problems, including poverty. Severe weather events disproportionally disrupt already impoverished areas. Rural communities typically depend on agriculture and suffer the most devastation when extreme weather ravages their industry, income and assets. These people groups decide to move due to the increase in extreme weather patterns, creating a phenomenon called climate migration.

Natural Disasters in Central Asia

Within Central Asia, the majority of the population lives in rural areas. Agriculture accounts for about 10% to 45% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and roughly 20% to 50% of the labor force. With the government failing to respond to the natural disasters in these areas, many have resorted to migrating for less volatile work. All Central Asian countries are experiencing similar impacts from inclement weather and an increase in natural disasters. Land degradation, water stress and desertification could continue worsening. In turn, this will lead many people in affected areas to migrate and lead to an increase in poverty. Luckily, Uzbekistan may be paving a way to mitigate the factors leading to climate migration and poverty.

Uzbekistan: Taking the Lead

Experts consider Uzbekistan one of the most water-stressed countries due to its position near the Gobi Desert. Droughts and other extreme weather are leading to limited water resources and land degradation. This impacts the agriculture industry significantly, particularly in impoverished communities. As of 2019, 11% of the population in Uzbekistan lived below the national poverty line. Similar to other Central Asian countries, rural citizens are migrating to urban areas to avoid agriculturally-devastating weather disasters and to better themselves economically. As a result, new figures are estimated to reach 200,000 displaced migrants and climate refugees, more than triple the amount in 2018. However, a recent policy dialogue in Uzbekistan seeks to combat severe weather consequences by accelerating the transition to a green economy.

Uzbekistan may be the first Central Asian country to strive for solutions. As such, it could become a leader in the region to fix the climate migration and poverty issues. In August 2021, the Uzbekistan government launched a series called Green Growth and Climate Change that will continue to accelerate the country’s transition to a green economy. The group includes government representatives, policymakers, environmental experts and civil society members seeking to mitigate the area’s vulnerability to weather events. The Uzbekistan government also outlined its goals and priorities in the Climate Change Strategy 2021-2023. A large portion of this strategy is to mitigate and adapt to the increase in severe weather patterns. Additionally, it underlines the importance of assisting those considering climate migration to make good decisions about whether to stay or move to where they would be less vulnerable.

Latest Suggestions from the World Bank

A Lead Environmental Research team from the World Bank evaluated climate migration and its consequences. Specifically, it used a multi-dimensional modeling approach, looking at three potential severe weather and development scenarios. The results showed that “Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks.” These new risks include scarce resources, such as food and housing depending on the area.

The study recommends the following actions to assist climate migration in Central Asia:

  • Lessen climate pressure on individuals and livelihoods, leading to a reduction in overall climate migration.
  • Consider the entire cycle of climate migration (before, during and after migration) to prevent risks that may arise.
  • Invest in studies to improve each country’s understanding of its climate migration trends.

Paving the Way

Uzbekistan is definitely on the right course in drawing attention to severe weather patterns impacting poverty and climate migration in Central Asia. Its government is just beginning to dive into solving these serious problems, but the measures it is taking are encouraging.

– Alex Mauthe
Photo: Flickr

Fight Against Heat
The summer of 2021 has followed recent trends for heat and has topped the chart as the hottest summer on record, leading to the question of how to fight heat in a cheap, environmentally friendly way. Companies have discussed how to encourage innovation in the fight against heat, one such event being the Cooling Prize.

The Issue

Recently, hot weather across the globe became a hot issue as it impacts many areas. It can cause health issues, decrease food production, cause more extreme weather patterns, spoil food, reduce production and even exacerbate violent crime. Air conditioning can provide life-saving relief for homes and companies. However, fighting against heat with air conditioners can be environmentally harmful as well as expensive.

There are 1.6 billion units of air conditioning as of now, which expectations have determined could grow to 5.6 billion over the next 10 years. These units are as harmful as fuel-powered machines such as cars. They also take energy to run — roughly 4,000 watts for every hour people use them. Since air conditioning uses power, it frequently costs too much for many people to fight against heat. The air conditioning unit cost of $500-$2,000 makes it inaccessible to many living worldwide. The Cooling Prize is focussing on lowering the price across the board.

The Cooling Prize

The Cooling Prize dedicates itself to reducing the global impact of heat and ensuring people’s safety from the heat. In the fight against heat, the use of innovation reduces emissions and makes the world a safer place. The winner receives money to improve their products. The goal is to offer affordable access to cooling technology worldwide, mitigate global warming, avoid extreme electricity demand and have five times less impact overall.

What the Winning Team Receives

The winning team divides the $1 million prize for fighting heat equally. The Cooling Prize distributes its winners and finalists, providing them with a platform to demonstrate their innovations and ideas. The criteria for winners and finalists is that their products produce five times fewer emissions than a standard unit, less than two times the installation cost of a standard unit, no more than 700 watts, zero carbon emissions and no ozone-depleting agents. Disqualification occurs if a team fails to follow these rules. Donors such as the Lemelson Foundation sponsor the event to increase outreach.

How to Help

The Cooling Prize and educating others about the issue help raise awareness. It is essential for one to consider the consequences of their air conditioner. Measures that one can take are to try opening windows or fans before turning on the air conditioner or closing windows while using an air conditioner to save energy and money. However, hopefully, the winners of the Cooling Prize will result in air condition units that are safer for the environment and more affordable for people to install across the globe.

– Audrey Burran
Photo: Flickr

Ban of Leaded Gasoline
Recently, the entire world has banned leaded gasoline. Not only had leaded gasoline caused deaths, but also had raised greenhouse gas emissions. The ban on leaded gasoline is a giant win for society and one can see it as a foundation of other life-threatening fossil fuels, like sulfur in diesel.

Leaded Gasoline in a Nutshell

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Thomas Midgely Jr. created leaded gasoline in the 1920s by adding “tetraethyl lead” to gasoline to reduce the “knocking” sound in cars. People were already aware that tetraethyl lead was poisonous, even before it became a part of gasoline.

Leaded gasoline leads to an abundance of greenhouse gas emissions and is detrimental to the environment. Additionally, both children and adults have seen negative health side effects when exposed to leaded gasoline. Children exposed to lead can experience anemia, cancer, low IQ, learning disability, anemia and nerve damage. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute showed that gasoline exposure in adults has led to cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension and more. Both children and adults have either entered hospitals and/or died due to leaded gasoline.

Countries Ban Leaded Gasoline

In August 2021, Algeria was officially the last country to ban leaded gasoline. There has been a long-lasting humanitarian struggle to ban leaded gasoline throughout different countries. The first country to ban leaded gasoline was Japan in the 1980s. Then, other developed countries had followed, including Austria, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the United States. During the 2000s until the 2020s, 117 more countries, developed and developing, pushed to ban leaded gasoline.

Bribes, Finance and the Holdouts for Ban on Leaded Gasoline

Some countries, such as Indonesia, were guilty of receiving bribes from leaded gasoline oil industries. However, Indonesia finally banned leaded gasoline.

“By 2016 only Algeria, Yemen, and Iraq were holdouts,” said National Geographic. Yemen is the poorest country in the world, Iraq is under development and Algeria’s citizens are destitute. Leaded gasoline is more inexpensive than unleaded gasoline. Additionally, leaded gasoline companies were reportedly sending bribes to countries to encourage them to continue using leaded gasoline. It is clear to see why some countries took much longer to ban leaded gasoline than other countries.

Ban of Leaded Gasoline Everywhere is a Huge Win

There are an estimated 1.2 million people who die from leaded gasoline each year. The hospital rates are even higher. Now that there is a ban on leaded fuel, “The fuel’s elimination will save $2.45 trillion a year, UNEP estimates, reflecting the economic side of lives and nature saved,” said Geneva SolutionsInger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. Andersen also described the ban as a huge milestone for the environment.

What the Ban means for Other Fossil Fuels

Now that the world has banned leaded gasoline, there have already been results of a cleaner earth, and better health. Yet, there are still hazardous fossil fuels. Companies are putting sulfur in diesel, burning coal and adding other additives to gasoline, all of which can cause greenhouse gas emissions and negative health effects. Additionally, some aviation still uses leaded gasoline.

However, now that results are showing the benefits of banning toxic fuels, the government and other organizations can give a better focus on banning other harmful fuels. Countries, especially developing countries, that are worried about the financial loss, can view the money they have saved from leaded gasoline as reassurance that banning fossil fuels is the right move. The ban on leaded gasoline is a huge win for the planet, but the fight for a better world is not over.

– Sydney Littlejohn
Photo: Flickr

SDG 6The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was established in 2015 and contains seventeen goals. These goals, known as SDGs, were developed to improve global health and well-being. Bhutan was one of the many nations to adopt this agenda. Although they have been specifically focusing on SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land), this South Asian country is also heavily focusing on SDG 6. SDG goal 6 primarily focuses on water sanitation and management being universally accessible. In fact, billions of people currently do not have access to safe drinking water or sanitation. As of 2017, only 58% of Central and South Asian countries had the ability to use soap and water to wash their hands at home. However, Bhutan has been making positive progress in their SDG goal 6.

Government Initiatives for SDG Goal 6

In 2018, Bhutan’s government launched its 12th National Five Year Plan. The agenda contains many SDGs in order to reduce poverty levels. Within the plan, the government has also developed National Key Result Areas (NKRA) to maintain accountability for its initiatives. There are three NKRAs that center on safe drinking water. NKRA 17 specifically targets sustainable water by focusing on maintaining proper irrigation and sanitation for quality water. The agenda plans to create at least six new programs dedicated to this goal, including a flagship program that will prioritize this issue.

While the Bhutan government has increased its focus on SDG 6, there is still room for improvement. According to the Annual Health Bulletin 2017, 4.1% of its citizens experience open defecation due to no access to hygienic toilets and proper water sanitation. Inequalities within this country also result in unequal access to clean water, especially in rural areas. However, more than 90% of rural homes in the country have improved water quality.

Global Partnerships

Bhutan works with many global organizations to improve clean water within their country. The organization Sanitation and Water for All is a multi-national partnership that focuses on achieving universal access to water sanitation by working to implement the SDGs. Bhutan joined this organization in 2017 and is currently upgrading older toilets and developing a map for accessible safe water.

Bhutan also partners with the SNV Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), a nonprofit organization that focuses on the SDGs and global poverty. SNV, Bhutan’s Public Health Engineering Division and Ministry of Health developed the Rural Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP). Their mission is to develop more water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) protocols in the Bhutan government. This program has increased sanitation to almost 99% in certain districts.

The Water for Women initiative is a program by the Australian government that works with Bhutan. The program also partners with SNV. Both organizations developed Beyond the Finish Line – Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All to improve rural water sanitation in Bhutan. This project focuses on the impact quality sanitation can have on many factors, including decreasing poverty levels and increasing gender equality.

Bhutan is making headway in its work to achieve the SDG 6. Although there is always room for improvement, Bhutan’s governmental policies, programs and its global partnerships will further aid their positive progress toward more accessible water sanitation. The drive can be heard in statements made by the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who said, “Where we live must be clean, safe, organized, and beautiful, for national integrity, national pride, and for our bright future. This too is nation-building.”

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Pixabay