Coffee Grounds into Fuel for RefugeesDozens of student teams at the University of Toronto (UoT) recently participated in the Clinton Global Initiative’s 2017 Hult Prize competition. Given today’s global context, the theme of this year’s competition was “Refugees – Reawakening Human Potential and Restoring the Dignity of 10 Million People by 2022.” Several students from UoT impressed the judges with their initiative to turn coffee grounds into fuel that can be easily implemented in refugee camps across the world.

The Hult Prize is one of the largest and most competitive student contests in the world. The competition focuses on improving social good, specifically reinstating the rights and dignity of communities affected by social injustice, politics, economic, climate change and war. The winners of the contest receive $1 million in start-up funds and mentorship from international business and humanitarian leaders.

The competition is run by the Hult Prize Foundation. The foundation has stated that it believes the number of refugees worldwide far exceeds the number estimated by the United Nations, which is partially what inspired this year’s theme. “Rather than focus on aid and charitable approaches to refugee migration, we focus this challenge on the reawakening of human aid,” says the foundation’s website.

In Canada, the government resettled more than 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and February 2016, so the theme of the competition is relevant for UoT students. Canada’s private sponsorship program continues to facilitate the relocation of even more refugee families from Syria.

Five students from UoT, Lucy Yang, Matthew Frehlich, Gotham Rakmachandran, Sam Bennett and Lucas Siow, have advanced to the regional semi-finals of the competition. They have designed a substitute for firewood, called Moto, made from coffee grounds, sugar and paraffin wax. The mixture is put into a loaf pan and baked. The product is easily produced and gets rid of waste from used coffee grounds.

A 2014 survey from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that 90 percent of refugees in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda rely on firewood to cook and keep themselves warm. Moto will prevent the dangers that come along with searching for firewood outside of the camps.

The creators of Moto have used the log substitute to boil water and cook lentils, successfully turning the coffee grounds into fuel. The log can burn for up to 90 minutes.

The goal for Moto is to connect the idea with businesses in Africa and refugees living in Toronto in order to tweak the design to best meet the needs of refugees living in camps across the world.

The design is simple so that people living in developing countries can eventually learn to utilize the technique themselves. The idea of turning coffee grounds into fuel is a revolutionary one that has the potential to make lives easier for refugees all over the world.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

committee on forestry
Forests are one of the world’s most crucial ecosystems, providing a large portion of the world’s population with energy, shelter and aspects of primary health care. However, despite the importance of forests to the development agenda, they are routinely ignored in national policies.

The vast socioeconomic benefits of forests and the need to protect them were discussed at the 22nd Session of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Committee on Forestry (COFO) this month.

The United Nations agency report The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) credits forests with the preservation of biodiversity and acknowledges their key role as carbon sinks. Forests are indispensable to environmental preservation, performing erosion control, pollution, natural pest and disease control and climate-change alleviation.

According to this report, the formal forest sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and at least another 41 million in the informal sector.

Forests are especially important in less-developed regions, where roughly 840 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, collect wood fuel and charcoal for their own use. Wood fuel is oftentimes the sole source of energy for impoverished people. The SOFO report estimates that about 40 percent of the population of less developed countries cooks with wood fuel.

Additionally, the report reveals, “at least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the worlds population, live in houses built of wood.” Wood homes are key for developing countries, because they are oftentimes the most affordable building option.

Although these figures give us a sense of the world’s use of forests, it does not begin to capture the significance of trees to the poor.

As the SOFO report insists, “Evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development – not only with respect to the environment but for their contribution social issues as well.”

FAO Assistance Director-General for Forests, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, suggests “countries should shift their focus, both in data collection and policymaking, from production to benefits, in other words, from trees to people.”

Rojas-Briales hopes that when more data is collected to confirm the importance of wood to the poor, policy makers, donors and investors will be more willing to protect forests.

In order to strengthen forest and farm producer organizations, FAO signed a four-year agreement with AgriCord to collaborate with the Forest and Farm Facility, and these forest protection issues will be discussed further at the joint World Health Organization global intergovernmental conference on nutrition, to be held in Rome in November 2014.

– Grace Flaherty

Sources: UN News CentreFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: World Wild Life

indoor air pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people lose their lives every year due to indoor air pollution. A report from the U.N. Climate Panel has further stated that the “worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors” – between 30 and 150 times more people die from indoor air pollution than from global warming.

Around the world, 3 billion people still cook food and heat their homes using solid fuels – such as wood, charcoal, coal, dung and crop wastes – on open fires or traditional stoves. These inefficient cooking and heating practices contribute to a dangerously high level of indoor air pollution, including fine particles and carbon monoxide. In poorly ventilated homes, the amount of smoke produced can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles by 100-fold.

Since indoor air pollution is mostly attributed to activities in the kitchen, women and young children who “spend the most time near the domestic hearth” are especially exposed to the health dangers – acute and chronic respiratory conditions (like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,) lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Other risks include adverse pregnancy complications, tuberculosis, low birthweight, perinatal mortality, asthma, middle ear infections and cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract and cervix. These negative health effects are only exacerbated in developing countries.

The cooking and heating practices that are responsible for indoor air pollution are indirectly linked to other health hazards as well. Poorly lit homes and kitchens may contribute to deaths, lifelong disabilities and disfigurement from fire-related burns (which are common when using solid fuel and kerosene stoves.) In low and middle-income countries, kerosene is widely used and stored in soft drink or milk bottles, causing many young children to be poisoned from unintentional ingestion.

Indoor air pollution has adverse environmental effects as well. The reliance on wood fuel can heighten deforestation and put “considerable pressure on forests,” leading to forest degradation and a loss of habitat and biodiversity. Additionally, using biomass and coal stoves is inefficient, and a large percentage of energy is lost as products of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion produces pollutants like black carbon and methane, both of which have a significant impact on climate change.

In addition to creating indoor air pollution, traditional biomass fuels and appliances limit the time available for families to concentrate on generating income and educating their children, contributing to a “vicious cycle of poverty and reliance on polluting.” For instance, those who rely on inefficient fuels may spend a large portion of the day on fuel collection, and homes with limited access to a clean and reliable source of lighting would not be able to pursue economic and educational opportunities outside of daylight hours.

To reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, solid fuels should be replaced by cleaner and more efficient fuels: liquid petroleum gas, biogas, producer gas, electricity and solar power. However, biomass is still the most realistic fuel source for poor communities due to the scarcity of alternative fuels. In those areas, indoor air pollution could be downsized through improved stoves and ventilation.

— Kristy Liao

Sources: Eco-Business, Forbes, WHO
Photo: WordPress

Hidden Cost of Energy Fuel Subsidies
Nobody wants to pay more for gas.

Fossil fuels account for the vast majority of energy production, and, as non-renewable resources, the price has steadily increased for energy as supply dwindles and demand has surged.  Throughout most of the world, especially the richest nations, the true cost of energy is not seen due to a wide array of fuel subsidies and energy “support.”

There is not much agreement on what exactly constitutes a fuel subsidy but, all seem to agree that a lot of money is being spent on supporting various energy industries by artificially reducing the direct cost of production and consumption. So, while many tactics are employed in reducing energy costs, very few countries accurately report what they spend. Further, assessing the fiscal damage to the environment as well as the lack of funds generated by not imposing taxes (such as those on carbon emissions) become even trickier to estimate.

The International Monetary Fund estimates global fuel subsidies at 1.9 trillion USD, or 8 percent of all governments’ revenue. These estimates are extremely conservative, though, considering the dollar amount they use for the social cost of carbon, $25 per ton, is less than a third of what the UK and independent analysts have found. Also, the estimate does not include the vast majority of energy producer subsidies, only looking at consumer subsidies for oil and coal.

The impact of fuel subsidies is far-ranging. Pre-tax subsidies, or those that are direct cost reductions from the government to consumers, come at a global cost of 480 billion USD according to IMF’s report on 2011’s data. These are funds that are being deprived from social programs for urgencies such as roads, water distribution and poverty alleviation.

Subsidies are often unequally distributed. In developing countries, the IMF found the top fifth of societies in household income reap six times the subsidies of anyone else. The cost of these subsidies is offset by increased prices of other goods and services –resulting in a 6 percent decrease in income for every $0.25 cost decrease per liter.

Artificially increasing demand and consumption for fossil fuels reduces investment and growth in alternative fuel sources as much as the growth of many other markets — especially, exports.

Though developing countries appear to receive the most negative impact, developed nations such as the US and Russia spend the most through post-tax subsidies. Estimates on US subsidies range from $10 billion to $52 billion and do not include any of the associated health or environmental costs.

So, what can be done?

Various countries have successfully phased out tax reduction programs in the coal industry such as Poland, Germany and most developed nations do not offer pre-tax subsidies.  Unfortunately, little progress has been made on oil subsidies, which account for over 2/3 of the total. Developed countries will have to continue to lead the charge in reforming these harmful economic policies.  Transparency to the accurate amounts of what is actually being spent and to whom the money is going to may very well be the first step toward achieving more effective means of viable economic stability and sustainable progress in the use of depleting resources.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: IMFIEA, Oil Change International, Grist, BBC News, Climate Progress

Omar Al Bashir Denied US Visa UN General Assembly War Crimes ICC The Hague Genocide
As police cracked down on protests against the slashing of fuel subsidies in Sudan, which have resulted in at least 50 deaths, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Ahmed Karti used the nation’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly to protest the U.S. decision to deny a visa to the country’s president, who faces international war crimes and genocide charges.

Despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest from the International Criminal Court, linked to the conflict in the Darfur region in which around 300,000 people have died since 2003, Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir planned to attend the U.N. General Assembly this past week and had already booked a hotel in New York.

Ali Ahmed Karti called the alleged visa denial an “unjustified and unacceptable action,” while the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, had called Bashir’s intention to travel to New York “deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate.”

The U.S. has never denied a visiting head of state who wants to speak at the United Nations entrance into the country. Under a treaty between the U.S. and the U.N., Washington is obligated to issue the visa as the world body’s host country. Despite this, the country had made it clear that it did not want al-Bashir to arrive in New York. Had he been granted entrance, al-Bashir would have been the first head of state to address the world body while facing international war crimes and genocide charges.

Meanwhile, in Sudan, protests broke out in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities over high fuel prices, while the country’s internet was cut off on the third day of protest. In an effort to turn a wave of popular anger into a full-fledged uprising against the 24-year rule of al-Bashir, 5,000 protesters demonstrated in some of the biggest protests in many years in the Khartoum area.

The country’s economy has worsened in the past few years, especially after southern Sudan seceded and took the country’s main oil-producing territory. Still, al-Bashir has managed to keep a grip on the regime, surviving armed rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, an economic crisis, and an attempted coup last year. He also continues to enjoy support from the army, his ruling party, and wealthy Sudanese with wide-ranging business interests.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: AP, Reuters, ABC News
Photo: The London Evening Post

Beyond the Bugs: How Forests Contribute to Food Security
When the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization released two reports on food security in mid-May, insects captured all the headlines. The first report garnered the majority of media attention. It discussed the potential for insects as an untapped highly efficient protein source that could help fight food insecurity. The second report provided valuable new information on how forests could contribute to food security worldwide.

The FAO released its report “Forests for Improved Nutrition and Food Security” at the international conference May 13-15 of this year highlighted the direct and indirect ways in which forests, trees and woodlands support food and nutritional security, and provided policy recommendations on how those contributions could be enhanced and maintained.

According to the conference website, 870 million people go hungry every day. To meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population in the future, which is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, global agricultural output will have to increase by an estimated 60 percent.

Escalating food, fiber, and fuel demands have triggered deforestation in many places that threaten ecosystems, diminishes the availability of water, and limits access to wood used as fuel. These shortages threaten food security, particularly for the poorest members of society.

There are additional, often overlooked, ways in which forests and trees contribute to fighting global poverty and hunger efforts. Uninhabited forests and forests bordering agricultural areas play an important role in food security. Many indigenous people rely on forest ecosystems for their survival because of protected catchments, which help deliver clean water to agricultural areas, and available foodstuffs, namely nuts, leaves, shoots, fruit, fungi and animals. Herders in semi-arid and arid regions also depend on trees to provide fodder for livestock.

The World Bank estimates that 60 million people are wholly dependent on forests for their survival and 350 million people living within or near dense forests depend on them for income or subsistence.

Forests, trees, and agroforestry systems provide vital contributions to nutrition and food security, the FAO says, but those benefits are often ignored in development and food security strategies. As a result, forests are left out of many food security and nutrition decisions. Farmers can improve food security by planting trees and forest plants, retaining trees on agricultural land and encouraging natural regeneration.

Eva Muller, director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division told The Interdependent that, “The big challenge is raising awareness… The link between forests and food security has not been clear for many people in the past.”

– Liza Casabona

Sources: FAO The Interdependent The World Bank
Photo: United Nations

Wonderbag: An Energy-Saving Cooking Method
The Wonderbag is an invention that reduces energy use and cooking time, and can thereby save money and free time for activities other than cooking for its users. It is designed primarily to benefit poor women who spend much of their time preparing food. The Wonderbag was developed by Sarah Collins, who has worked in Africa in environmental conservation and eco-tourism. She released the Wonderbag in South Africa in 2008 and plans to extend its availability to 15 other countries including Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya, by 2015.

The Wonderbag is very simple to use. You simply prepare a meal such as stew or curry, bring it to a boil on the stovetop, then seal the pot or pan in the Wonderbag for a few hours. The bag insulates the food, allowing it to continue cooking unattended. This not only saves carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, but also saves families money on fuel. In South Africa, where half the population lives in poverty, even a small reduction in fuel usage results in substantial monetary savings. The Wonderbag can reduce an average South African family’s fuel need by up to 30 percent.

The Wonderbag is not a charity. The business sells the bags for around $45 but some are subsidized for those unable to pay the full amount. Carbon credits earned from greenhouse gas reductions, as well as a deal with sustainability-focused global manufacturer Unilever, account for the subsidies.

While the Wonderbag certainly saves time, money, and fuel over the long run, it remains to be seen whether the invention will empower women to become active in other ways. If women are able to enjoy more freedom, leisure time, and pursue self-empowering activities outside of the home as a result of using the Wonderbag, then the bag will truly succeed at reducing poverty.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: The Guardian