Information and stories about environment.

SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector
India’s alignment with the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) is something to be applauded. It has facilitated affordable, reliable and modern energy for all through investing in green hydrogen, sustainable energy transitions and a bio-economy. As a pioneer of sustainable economic models for developing economies, India has been taking steps to fight against climate change. With ambitions to achieve net zero emissions by 2070 while meeting 50% of its electricity needs through renewable energy sources by 2030, SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector.

SDG 7 provides a reliable framework for sustainability, encouraging the expansion of infrastructure and technology improvements. By incorporating renewable energy sources that mitigate global climate change, policymakers have showcased how SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector.

India’s Current Situation

As the third largest electricity producer, India’s energy sector has always faced scrutiny, with high carbon emissions demanding attention. Its reliance on coal as a primary source and imported oil as a secondary source of electricity create formidable sustainability hurdles. Additionally, with the impact of the pandemic weighing heavily on India, interventions and government policies to align with the SDG 7 have been necessary.

In response, the Indian government has initiated programs facilitating sustainable energy transitions. Economic opportunities incentivizing projects have helped India make transitions to clean energy. In August 2022, the Indian cabinet approved a national plan to increase its commitment to reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45%. Numerous stakeholders have applauded this move, especially given its adoption of industry-standard recommendations to achieve net zero emissions. Also, the Indian government has mandated a better and more efficient transport system with plans to support its operations with renewable energy.

According to recommendations from General Electric, “The government should ensure that power producers comply with new emission standards by 2022 for India to meet its emission targets.” Such sentiments stem from the opportunities and challenges identified in the Indian energy sector, particularly with the scale of investments in renewable energy. Additionally, national policies within the energy sector are shifting to accommodate the development of an efficient electricity market, creating extensive progress in achieving clean energy.

Focus on the Bio-economy

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that India is achieving significant growth in its bio-economy, as it has grown eight times what it was eight years ago. Because of this, achieving net zero emissions by 2070 is a real possibility. Notably, the government’s continued support of its biotech sector has ushered in a new culture of doing business. Modi stated that “the number of biotech incubators has increased from six in 2014 to 75 now.” Identifying the contributions of diverse sectors in these achievements, he underlined Indian professionals’ growing momentum and reputation in the global market as it tracks sustainability principles.

The focus on the bio-economy has also spurred growth in the transport sector as modernizing this public resource demands strategic alignment. Mobility remains a crucial factor in India’s economy, and responses to sustainable and cheap transport have sought long-term energy solutions. According to Economic Times, “Market forces are acting upon balancing the energy mix in the short run and shifting fossil fuel load to clean energy in the long run.” Thus, such energy transitions forecast a sustainable future for India’s energy sector.

Focus on Green Hydrogen

In February 2022, India established a framework for producing and exporting green hydrogen. In its ventures, India has even sought help from global funders to facilitate low-rate loans for green hydrogen projects. The focus on green hydrogen reflects the country’s efforts in diversifying energy sources. According to the Minister for Power and New and Renewable Energy, R K Singh, “We achieved universal access to electricity by electrifying more than 18,000 villages in under 1,000 days and more than 28 million households in just 18 months in what was the largest expansion of access in such a short time anywhere in the world.”

Overall, these decisions affect billions of Indians reliant on electricity and forge a better framework to reduce their reliance on coal and oil. In this context, the contribution of the public and private sectors sustains the growing prominence of India’s clean energy. They contribute to its vision to facilitate 50% of its electricity needs through renewable energy sources by 2030, indicating that SDG 7 fosters hope for India’s energy sector.

– Hanying Wang
Photo: Unsplash

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

Planting Trees Can Alleviate Poverty
Scotland announced plans to “plant millions of trees” along national rivers to preserve salmon populations. Salmon prefer cold waters and trees help provide shade during hot summer months. Planting trees alongside rivers also improves water quality, stabilizes riverbanks and protects wildlife habitats. Countries can use tree-planting campaigns to attain healthy rivers, which bring social, economic and environmental benefits that can uplift low-income communities. In these ways, planting trees can alleviate poverty.

The Value of Rivers in Low-Income Communities

Around the world, about 2 billion people rely on rivers as direct sources of drinking water, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In areas without electricity or water filtration systems, rivers can provide a quick and accessible supply of drinking water. Globally, “25% of the world’s food production depends on irrigation from rivers.” Rivers indirectly and directly supply billions of people with food and water. Therefore, it is vital to keep rivers and their surroundings clean and healthy. Dam development, rising temperatures and increasing demands for water to use on farms and in hydropower plants put rivers under more pressure than ever before. Protecting and conserving rivers especially benefits low-income communities by sustaining natural resources, like fish, that millions of people rely on to support themselves and their families.

How Trees Lead to Healthy Rivers

Planting trees alongside rivers can improve water quality by limiting pollution and runoff from nearby land. Trees stabilize riverbanks by binding the soil, which reduces the risk of riverbank collapse. Trees also absorb water and intercept heavy rain, which prevents flooding and excessive runoff. Entire ecosystems may arise from planting trees by riverbanks. Land animals form habitats in trees and surrounding wooded areas and species, such as salmon, that live in rivers benefit from the shade that trees provide. Planting trees protect and promote biodiversity in a time when many human factors threaten it. People, plants and animals alike benefit from rivers and rivers benefit from nearby trees. Planting trees can alleviate poverty by improving river health and the ecosystems that millions of people rely on to survive.

Scotland: A Plan in Action

Scotland recognizes the benefits of planting trees along rivers and aims to plant a million trees by 2035. Scotland’s plan involves planting several native tree species, which will preserve the country’s history and improve biodiversity. Fisheries in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, have already “planted 250,000 saplings” alongside the River Dee, which is a salmon fishing hotspot. Scientists found that rivers in the Scottish Highlands and uplands are too warm for wild Atlantic salmon in summer months when the fish swim “upstream to spawn.” Planting trees alongside rivers protects salmon populations and benefits Scottish people who rely on fish for food and income. With socioeconomic and environmental benefits, planting trees can alleviate poverty in places where people rely on rivers for their livelihoods and national success.

Healthy rivers are essential to ecosystems around the world and trees play an essential role in maintaining these environmental networks. As seen in Scotland, tree-planting campaigns can have great influences on preserving local and national wildlife. Planting trees can alleviate poverty by protecting rivers that support life and provide resources to millions of people worldwide.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Green Efforts
Global poverty is an increasingly pressing issue that obstructs the development of various nations around the world. In 2019, Nowcast estimated the extreme poverty rate at 8.2%. The number continued to increase as it reached 9.5% in 2020. However, global poverty remains the focus of many non-governmental organizations as United Nations-led programs return to the forefront of the battle against it. However, as various factors continue to intersect with the already dire situation, the diversification of poverty initiatives became an important requirement. Thus, the United Nations launched the Poverty-Environment Initiative to highlight the importance of sustainability and green efforts when it comes to tackling poverty within developing nations.

What is the Poverty-Environment Initiative?

The Poverty-Environment Initiative is an effort that several United Nations factions and departments launched to tackle the impacts of poverty through environmental development. U.N. Environment, UNDP, UNCDF and U.N. Women have backed the initiative. Currently, the initiative is operating in various countries within Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe. The collaborative effort explores the various ways poverty-alleviating policies can intersect with environmental goals to guarantee a more sustainable and healthy future in developing nations.

What are the Poverty-Environment Initiative’s Main Goals?

The Poverty-Environment Initiative’s main aim is to reduce the potentially damaging repercussions of economic growth on the environment. The initiative recognizes that many developing nations often exploit their natural resources and damage various ecosystems to pry themselves out of poverty. Various phenomena such as rising per capita consumption, industrialization and the rapid and uncontrolled increase of agriculture occur when a struggling nation attempts to diversify income resources.

Governments’ fixations on increasing economic development often make environmental degradation a negligible repercussion. As countries grow more industrialized, alleviating poverty comes at a devastating cost: an increase in air pollution. For example, the Chinese government could have pulled its people out of severe poverty. However, as the living standards increased, the quality of air worsened significantly. The decrease in the quality of air had detrimental impacts on the overall population’s health as well as China’s local ecosystems and wildlife.

Consequently, centering profit and sidelining environmental repercussions within government policies greatly affected the environment in developing countries. Therefore, the Poverty-Environment Initiative’s green efforts extend to improving the quality of life for those in developing nations without allowing environmental degradation to be a consequence. Moreover, it is important to note that the initiative uses the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to set a clear roadmap toward reaching its objectives.

The Poverty-Environment Initiative’s Success Story in Thailand

The Poverty-Environment Initiative’s work in Asia yielded promising results, especially within Thailand’s most vulnerable provinces, according to a UNDP-UNEP report. Thailand’s Ministry of Interior led the operations and several partners such as Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the National Economic and Social Development Board provided assistance. The initiative’s efforts started within three major provinces: Samut Songkram, Nan and Khon Kaen.

To aid development, the initiative implemented various methods in the three provinces. For example, the U.N. programs studied the ecosystems within the three provinces using integrated ecosystem assessments to supply clear and concise data to lawmakers and governmental departments. The data could be a helpful planning and budgeting asset while keeping green policies and environment-friendly practices in mind, as UNEP reports.

In addition, the Poverty-Environment Initiative’s green efforts extended to a policy tool known as the “green growth indicators,” which allows government officials and ministries to track the environmentally friendly growth achieved.

The Poverty-Environment Initiative managed to build a clear roadmap to a green and sustainable economy by supplying developing countries with the tools necessary to make informed decisions.

– Nohad Awada
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in PortugalThe last remaining coal plant in Portugal closed in November 2021, making Portugal the fourth country in the EU to end coal-sourced energy. This move marks progress in environmental protection, sustainability and poverty reduction. As coal use declines and awareness of renewable energy increases, experts hope to help those in poverty obtain better energy sources. The development of renewable energy in Portugal and the country’s movement away from coal holds many benefits for the nation.

Portugal’s Coal Plants

The Pego plant’s shutdown came nine years earlier than planned since Portugal’s target year to eliminate coal use is 2030. Countries around the world are agreeing to implement renewable energy sources, with Portugal doing exactly that. While Portugal was not the first to go coal-free, it is inspiring other nations to do the same. Austria, Belgium and Sweden all ditched coal-sourced energy with more European countries following their examples. However, the nations prefer different plans and estimates for their energy trajectory. For example, Germany plans to end coal energy by 2038 and France by 2022.

The Pego coal plant was the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter in Portugal. Environmental groups applaud the elimination of coal energy as a large step toward improving the quality of life in the nation. However, while the Pego closure resulted in an obviously positive impact on energy, coal’s impact on poverty constitutes a very different relationship.

Poverty and Coal

It is a worldwide goal to implement renewable energy sources. However, some areas feel the loss of coal energy more than others. It is not always easy to replace coal, especially for those who have no other option. The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) explains that “As much of the world lacks access to modern, clean energy, coal is still essential to alleviating worldwide energy poverty.” For example, rural communities that lack access to electricity often depend on coal for cooking, heating and lighting. Coal fuels more of the world’s electricity than any other energy source. However, impoverished and rural populations that depend on coal for energy also risk the negative impacts of coal-sourced energy.

The issue with coal-dependent energy is not with its usefulness but with its aftermath and effects. Coal energy impacts air and water supplies, making it a less than ideal method of energy production. Coal plants compete for water with local farmers, which ultimately leads to tension and societal backlash. With these consequences of coal energy, people in poverty struggle to better their lives. The chances of escaping poverty decrease when people’s health becomes deficient and water and food supplies diminish.

Reasons to Transition to Renewable Energy

Mining displacement affects many communities around the world due to coal consumption. In the 40 years between 1950 and 1990, 2.55 million people suffered displacement in India alone as a result of coal mining. Mining threatens to displace hundreds of thousands more people, with the brunt of difficulty falling on citizens of developing nations that lack strong laws regarding involuntary displacement.

Coal energy and mining directly impact impoverished communities while wealthier communities do not fully see the effects. Debates arise concerning the use of coal energy versus renewable energy, particularly since those in poverty require cheap and effective energy sources. While a switch from coal energy to renewable energy seems far-fetched, this change contains major benefits. In a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), experts foresaw significant positive benefits to doubling worldwide renewable energy use by 2030. The benefits include a 1.1% increase in global GDP, a 3.7% increase in welfare and the creation of more than 24 million jobs. With the possible environmental and economic benefits that renewable energy provides, coal seems to be an unfavorable option.

An Optimistic Future for Renewable Energy in Portugal

New forms of energy production are not always available in developing countries. In these regions, coal use is vital to the lives of citizens. Yet, coal energy has a short future ahead of it. Major nations are pledging to stop coal energy use completely and utilize new forms of renewable energy. Replacing inefficient energy sources and production methods will greatly improve clean energy and reduce poverty. As Greenpeace explains, “The rapid expansion of clean and sustainable energy offers a win-win for the [impoverished] and the environment. For the [impoverished], particularly the rural [impoverished], without basic energy services, renewable energy is often the cheapest option.” Energy is instrumental in improving the lives of those in poverty. The European Union sets a remarkable example in the sustainable energy movement and developing countries will soon follow suit.

– Anna Montgomery
Photo: Flickr

Bumblebee Retirement Home
The Bumblebee Retirement Home is a retirement home for bumblebees. Flying Flowers, a flower store in the United Kingdom, created a sanctuary to shed light on declining bee populations and provide bees with a resting area. Along with Flying Flowers’ efforts to raise awareness about the declining bee population, other organizations and bee activists are attempting to aid the bee population while simultaneously fighting poverty.

Bee Retirement for Efficient Pollinators

The Bumblebee Retirement Home looks like a dollhouse and features miniature walking canes, bloom-filled rooms and a sugar-water fountain. “Retired” bees can “watch” tiny televisions and rest on comfy beds after pollinating 5,000 plants a day.

In addition to bumblebees, Flying Flowers also creates “hotels” for solitary bees, the most efficient pollinators. Solitary bees do not live in colonies; some live in snail shells and travel to find food or nests. However, with a decline in wildflowers, it is often difficult for them to find habitats. In fact, compared to honeybees and bumblebees, these solitary bees pollinate 120 times more flora.

Bee retirement homes create a safe environment for bees to live and pollinate. Flying Flowers provides detailed information on bees, their importance and how to help save bee species. Honoring bees and their dedication to pollination is the goal of Flying Flowers and many bee advocating organizations.

The Decline in Bee Species

Although about 20,000 species of bees exist globally, detailed international data indicates that there have been no sightings of around 5,000 species — a full 25% of all species — since 1990.  This is significant because about 35% of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. In fact, scientists believe that bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators are responsible for one-third of the food people eat.

The Connection Between Bees and Poverty Elimination

Bees are vital to global food security, which makes their disappearance a significant issue for poverty elimination. Various circumstances including pesticides, habitat loss and disease cause the decline of pollinator species. Without pollinators, food sources will decline and bring massive consequences.

Bee deprivation is especially detrimental to developing countries because these nations “are more reliant on pollinators than [others], standing to lose [vital] income, livelihoods, nutrition and cultural traditions if pollinators decline.” Low-income areas use agriculture as their main income source. This puts people at risk of poverty when crops do not yield high-quality plants in large quantities. Not only does bee deprivation impact incomes but the lack of food crops robs millions of people of micronutrients like vitamin A and iron. For this reason, scientists say that crop loss results in “millions of years of healthy life lost.”

Bee Activists Working to Combat Poverty

Fortunately, there are organizations throughout the world promoting beekeeping, and in doing so, are fighting global poverty. For example, Bees for Development, founded in the United Kingdom, is a global charity that promotes beekeeping and biodiversity to combat poverty. It gives people in the most impoverished communities in the world a consistent income by training them into beekeepers who raise bees and sell honey. Bees for Development sends resource boxes that donors sponsor to these beekeepers. Bees for Development is only one of many organizations aiding those in poverty and bee populations.

How Individuals Can Help

Creating bumblebee retirement homes may not be realistic for many, but there are other ways to support bees, and thus, support people and the planet. People can buy or build a simple bee hotel for solitary bees using a hollow wooden tube. Helping bees can be as easy as putting a bowl of water in one’s yard, such as a bee bath. Individuals can also plant flowers with open petals because these make pollination easier for bees. Possibly the most important way to help bees is to stop the use of pesticides — the mass decline of bees partly stems from agricultural pesticide overuse. It is vital that the world acts now to protect pollinators before it is too late.

Whether it is a bumblebee retirement home or beekeeping, aiding this cause is crucial. Communities living in poverty and the environment depend on innovative ideas for improvement. Bees can be part of the solution for both poverty and a sustainable environment. To learn ways that individuals can help, visit the websites for Flying Flowers or Bees for Development.

– Anna Montgomery
Photo: With Permission from Flying Flowers

Air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa 
Air pollution is the release of pollutants into the air that are harmful to human health and the environment. Such pollutants could be gases, particles or biological molecules. The slightest increase or decrease in the structure of gases could lower the survival chances of any living thing. Air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa is a particular challenge that requires attention.

Why Air Pollution is Prevalent in Low-Income Nations

“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low-and middle-income countries the hardest,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a September 2021 news release.

The relationship between poverty and air pollution in sub-Saharan African countries is evident because impoverished people are more likely to have greater exposure to higher concentrations of air pollutants. In contrast, high-income countries seem to have a lower rate of exposure to air pollution.

Environmental experts Paul Mohai and Robin Saha conducted a study in 2015. The study examined U.S. communities before and after hazardous waste facilities were present. The study found that facilities between 1966 and 1995 chose to locate in areas with low-income family populations.

Mohai and Saha believe that facilities move into low-income areas because of the cheap land cost, low cost of labor and minimum community resistance. The presence of these facilities and the air pollution that comes with their activities leave low-income countries facing detrimental health consequences.

The Health Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution holds the largest environmental impact on human health. It can cause a reduction in lung growth and function and lead to respiratory infections and aggravated asthma in any child exposed. More specifically, cardiovascular disease is an ailment that plagues sub-Saharan Africa due to household air pollution. Solid fuels for cooking, heating and lighting are the main perpetrators of this disease.

According to the WHO, household air pollution (HAP) was responsible for 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Research proves that the level of HAP surpasses the recommended WHO guidelines and the number of people exposed to pollutants has increased from 333 million to 646 million.

Respiratory ailments are very common among children in cities with high concentrations of pollutants. According to the Open Knowledge Repository, this impairs their learning and development capabilities. Unfortunately, as adults, they end up with minimum qualifications and skills. With little education and experience, they struggle economically and live life in poverty.

Treatments are available for many of the ill-health issues that occur with air pollution. However, living in low-income countries makes access to affordable health care scarce. The relationship between ill-health and poverty seems inevitable because of this fact.

Disadvantaged people are unable to afford health care, making poverty an obstacle to overcome before receiving adequate care. As a result, families have to deal with the loss of income from out-of-pocket health care fees. To care for relatives, some family members may have to quit school or their jobs. These circumstances only exacerbate situations of poverty.

Air Pollution Monitoring

Air pollution stands as a significant global issue. However, the exact extent of the issue is unknown and immeasurable due to the lack of monitoring. Aware of this situation, in 2019, Dan Westervelt, an associate researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory received funding to install an air-pollution monitoring network in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. Westervelt believes that the issue of air pollution cannot reach a resolution without quantifiable data.

Monitoring provided data in Kinshasa in the DRC, depicting the average fine particulate matter level to be five times greater than the normal level. Like Kinshasa, the monitoring will provide similar data on the other two megacities for analysis in order to address the air pollution epidemic.

Updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines

Fortunately, the World Health Organization provides guidelines to ensure good health. After 15 years, WHO updated its guidelines to improve air quality. The new guidelines detail the damage that air pollution causes the human body. The WHO’s solution to revitalize human health is to reduce levels of key air pollutants and emissions.

Six pollutants could have major impacts on health upon exposure. These pollutants are “particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.” Fossil fuels, wildfires and agriculture produce particulate matter.

Ground-level ozone comes from the emissions of cars, factories, plants and even some solvents. Burning fossil fuel produces nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollutants. Incomplete combustion containing fuel creates carbon monoxide pollutants.

If countries stay below suggested air quality guideline levels, significant health risks could decrease. Although this may have a small impact on communities with low rates of air pollution, it would immensely impact those suffering from higher rates. Air pollution dominates areas with people who are unable to afford higher quality living, exacerbating their poverty further with health issues. With lower rates of air pollution, disadvantaged communities could have a higher survival rate and fewer health challenges.

WHO’s updated air quality guidelines strive to eliminate future problems of air pollution and save millions of lives. With these guidelines, air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa should reduce and sub-Saharan African countries could inevitably see improvement in their quality of life.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

EU Energy Poverty
Rising prices for gas and electricity have prompted the EU to appeal to its member countries to subsidize customers and businesses as it deals with the negative impact of its decisions regarding climate. Seeking to deter energy poverty, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simon spoke of measures that target select customers at most significant risk of energy poverty with direct payments, cutting energy taxes and shifting energy taxes to general taxation. Simon said to the EU lawmakers that mitigating the social consequences and protecting households most at risk is of 
“immediate priority.” He also suggested that businesses engage in longer-term power purchase agreements while not ruling out the possibility for relief through state aid. Here is some information about energy poverty in Europe as well as programs to alleviate energy poverty.

Energy Poverty in Europe

Energy poverty is prevalent across Europe, where anywhere between 50 and 125 million people cannot afford proper indoor heat, according to a 2009 publication by the EU. Member states have acknowledged the gravity of the issue and its ramifications in health issues and social isolation. Energy poverty marks low household income, high energy costs and inefficient energy houses, where an increase in revenue, management of energy costs and more energy-efficient infrastructure are solutions. Energy poverty affects Sub-Saharan Africa significantly, particularly in the medical sector, with limited time for health care activities and thus increasing risk for patients. Europe is not immune to these issues and should not overlook them, even if the potential scale is not as significant.

EU Plans Backfire and Exacerbates

According to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, behind the rising energy prices afflicting Europe today are the EU’s “Green Deal” policies. President Vladimir Putin of Russia shares the same opinion. The Green Deal initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to levels seen in 1990, on the way of eliminating emissions by 2050. One of its strategies involved discouraging the usage of long-term purchase agreements for gas, coal and nuclear energy in favor of short-term pricing to deter its use. LTPAs are not sensitive to market prices and are therefore a more cost-effective option than purchasing gas if one is doing it for the long run. This discouragement has left EU member countries scrambling for alternative gas options amid the energy shortage, exacerbating the already low levels of energy poverty.

Programs to Alleviate Energy Poverty

Various projects have developed across Europe with the common aim of ending energy poverty. Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency voiced themselves in 2018 and granted around 6 million euros to three projects responding to energy poverty: STEP (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty), EmpowerMed and Social Watt. STEP, for example, has created a model that includes a call to organizations and consumer groups that specialize in issues affecting those who are energy-poor. It wants to educate energy-poor consumers in nine European countries they have identified as the most energy-poor and share their methods and policies with other EU countries.

STEP

In Lithuania, for example, the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations partnered with STEP following inquiries by ALCO into organizations that revealed concerns by consumers regarding energy poverty issues. The Association of Social Workers, an amalgamation of social workers across many organizations, which also happens to be ALCO’s principal partner, received an introduction to the STEP project. This led to several social workers’ interest in receiving the required training to become efficient energy advisors.

EmpowerMed

EmpowerMed, a slightly more nuanced project than STEP, is also addressing energy poverty in Mediterranean coastal areas with a focus on women, gender and health. Its name has an association with numerous publications on energy poverty training, policy and reports. This is part of a constitution of other efforts such as energy workshops, advocacy campaigns that gender-neutral stress policies and energy visits to select households.

Social Watt

Social Watt tasks itself with providing parties exhorted under Article 7 of the Energy Efficiency Directive in Europe to engage with strategies to alleviate energy poverty. Integral and endemic to the function of Social Watts are its features. The Analyzer feature of Social Watts is a downloadable tool that facilitates consumer data observation to identify risk houses. The Plan function identifies optimal solutions that accommodate any nuances in the energy conservation dynamic. The Check tool serves as a verification function to ensure the endeavors of Social Watts are without errors or negative ramifications. 

The ramifications of energy poverty constitute adverse health effects, educational delay, medical impedance and economic disruption. While COVID-19’s economic consequences have exacerbated Europe’s energy poverty, programs to alleviate energy poverty have been able to offer hope to the most vulnerable and, at a minimum, prevent social unrest.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

the-implementation-of-revised-lacey-act-provisions
The Lacey Act, which received amendments in 2008, makes it “unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase either in interstate or foreign commerce any plants.” There have been amendments to provisions under the Lacey Act that went into effect on October 1, 2021, under Phase VI that requires plant import declarations pertaining to wood imported into the United States.

When a company or an individual is in violation of the Lacey Act, they will be subjected to penalties, fines and possible prison time. There are penalties that government penalties determine. Those in violation of the Lacey Act may face additional penalties or fines, with civil penalties costing $10,000 per violation and criminal penalties amounting to $20,000, as well as a possibility of up to 5 years in prison.

How Does the Lacey Act Help End Global Poverty?

The Lacey Act protects against illegal plant exports, including illegally sourced timber. The act can alleviate the negative impacts of illegal logging, which can “cause environmental damage, costs governments billions of dollars in lost revenue, promotes corruption, undermines the rule of law and good governance and funds armed conflict in timber-producing countries,” such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Benefits of the Lacey Act

One advantage of the Lacey Act is that it addresses two long-term development goals. The first is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15, which aims to protect terrestrial ecosystems while also providing sustainable forest management. The second goal is SDG 12, which is about sustainable production and consumption. Through enforcement of the Lacey Act, the legislation can protect jobs, protect the environment and help countries establish a rule of law and eliminate corruption.

The Lacey Act Can Protect Jobs

The Lacey Act protects foreign markets from illegal logging by preventing illegally sourced foreign wood and wood products from entering the U.S. The World Bank Group published a 2019 paper that found “illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade have a combined estimated value of USD 1 trillion or more per year.” Due to illegally sourced plant products, developing countries “forego an estimated USD 7-12 billion each year in potential revenues.”

The Lacey Act Helps Protect the Environment

As a result of the loss of biodiversity and other environmental damages, deforestation is a major contributor to global warming. With “40% of all logging coming from illegal logging,” deforestation is only going to get worse. The Lacey Act requires developing countries and companies exporting to the U.S. to combat deforestation. They must also ensure they legally and environmentally carry out logging.

The Lacey Act gives countries the incentive to establish a rule of law and eliminate corruption. Illegal logging undermines basic rule of law in developing countries because loggers must rely on police, prosecutors and judges to keep them from being punished. Illegal logging and corruption have been linked in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries. By preventing illegal logging through the Lacey Act, corruption can reduce or disappear entirely.

The Lacey Act and Global Poverty

As previously mentioned, the Lacey Act helps countries establish a rule of law and crackdown on corruption. Corruption is one of the leading causes of poverty, since it can “lower economic growth, as well as reduce foreign and domestic investment and increase income inequalities.” The Lacey Act has already seen an increase in due diligence assessments and demand for certified wood products as a result of reducing illegal logging.

Illegal logging costs developing countries $10 billion annually. By eliminating illegal logging, money can help provide vulnerable communities with programs and services that help alleviate global poverty.

– Grace Watson
Photo: Flickr

forest-bathing
For the first time in human history, humans are increasingly turning away from wild spaces. By the year 2050, expectations have determined that nearly 7 billion people or two-thirds of the human population will live in urban areas. Meanwhile, half of the world’s poor already live in Earth’s most populous areas where access to natural space is dwindling. Re-imagining the value of nature is alleviating symptoms of urbanization that disproportionately impact the world’s poor. In Japan, the practice of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) serves as a functional detox from the unnatural environment. The practice presents a fresh perspective on humanity’s relationship with nature and provides insight into the importance of nature in sustainable development.

The Environment and Health

Throughout human history, the natural world guided people in their daily lives. However, urbanization is reducing human exposure to nature and increasingly introducing citizens to harmful pollution that exacerbates illnesses that disproportionately affect the poor.

In developing nations, illnesses are most associated with hazards of the urban environment carries. In Dharavi, India’s most densely populated and poorest community, a lack of clean water and sanitation or trash disposal systems are among the issues contributing to a lower quality of living. Despite this one square mile area housing close to 1 million people, there are no parks, trees or wildlife besides disease-carrying rodents and stray pets. In addition, summer temperatures soar and monsoonal rainstorms find just enough room for flooding to spawn mosquito-borne illnesses. Neighborhoods such as Dharavi depict a negative relationship between the urban environment and health.

Health and Forest-Bathing

Poverty often has links to mental illness. This means many of the symptoms of a polluted urban environment contribute to a higher likelihood of stress. Socio-environmental factors as a whole play a large role in determining the health of individuals. However, studies often overlook the tangible effect that the physical environment plays in development. Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for forest-bathing, provides insight into what humans are missing in an absence of nature.

Japanese health officials examined the relationship that exposure to natural places has on human health. While studying the practice of forest-bathing and bodily responses to nature, scientists discovered a direct correlation between health and exposure to nature. For example, studies determined that exposure to nature promotes health benefits, including “lower levels of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure,” more than urban exposure. Responses often lead to a lower likelihood of developing serious illnesses that are too expensive for poor nations to address. This begs the question: Do the environments citizens live in hold them back?

The Economics of the Wild

Nature adds a quantifiable impact on economies across the globe. This is especially important for poorer communities that experience direct impacts from the environments they exist in. Singapore, one of the most urbanized nations in the world and previously home to poor communities comparable to Dharavi, is integrating various forms of nature into urban design through the Singapore Green Plan. Sustainable developments feature the city’s main attractions and are helping to alleviate poverty. This means more revenue for the local economy and higher incomes, coupled with an improved quality of life. Comparably, a modern appreciation of nature is proving rewarding across the globe in alleviating symptoms of urbanization. In terms of health, Singapore’s increased greenery also improves the quality of living by negating the urban heat effect and air quality.

For similar reasons, outdoor recreation constitutes one of the most rapidly growing industries worldwide. Japan’s forest bathing is a cultural phenomenon in which citizens escape to natural space. For the United States, hiking and action sports such as mountain biking and skiing are becoming increasingly popular. A whole economy centers around this type of recreation. According to the Outdoor Recreation Association, recreation centered around the U.S. outdoors generates $887 billion annually. The wild is a source of wellbeing, economic development and cultural significance for millions. However, for the developing world, nature is still largely inaccessible, especially for impoverished citizens in urban areas.

Sustainable Development

Uncontrolled development is not the only cause of the environment in poor nations. Rather, the environment in poor urban areas is often responsible for the area’s poverty in the first place. Unsustainable development exacerbates symptoms of poverty. The absence of nature in urban areas holds poor communities down.

Singapore is not the only one incorporating sustainable development into its future planning. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes environmental aid as “necessary for improving economic, social and political conditions in developing countries.” Sustainable development and wellbeing increasingly look to nature as a fundamental aspect of development.

Increasing Access to Natural Spaces

Historically, access to nature by means of escape is recreational freedom for privileged, fully-developed nations. In developing nations, the environment is a determiner of the quality of life. Unfortunately, urban areas including Dharavi and Singapore do not have the same access to nature as Japan’s forests. This means that forest bathing is a distant dream for millions living in the most densely populated areas of the globe. Increasing accessible natural spaces and integrating nature into an urban design is fundamental to increasing the quality of life for developing nations.

Investing in poor communities is not separate from investing in the environment. The health, wealth and development of communities remain largely dependent on natural space. Regardless of status, forest-bathing in Japan presents an often overlooked benefit of nature that surrounds all of human life. Poverty and the environment are two heavily interconnected issues that can be and currently are receiving attention.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr