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

Geothermal Energy in AfricaAfrica leads the world in annual population growth, but unfortunately produces the least amount of electricity of any continent. To mitigate this issue while being mindful of the continent’s vulnerability to climate change, African leaders are working to exploit natural energy sources. Recent efforts have begun to focus on establishing plants for geothermal energy in Africa. This involves harnessing energy from the Earth’s heat by digging underground. The east coast of Africa, home of the East African Rift System (EARS), presents a viable location for achieving this endeavor due to its geographical properties: this 6,500-kilometer stretch of progressive breakage in the Earth has constantly shifting plate tectonics that generate a large, renewable source of energy. Nations worldwide are coming together to help develop strong geothermal energy systems in Africa, with Iceland leading the way.

The Need for Electricity Access in Africa

Electricity access plays a significant role in lowering poverty in Africa. A study conducted by The World Bank found that affordable electrification can raise average household income by increasing farming and manufacturing production during off-seasons, as well as helping businesses create efficient services for production and expansion. Expanding electrification encourages economic investment, increases GDP per capita and creates jobs. For instance, when South Africa enacted an electric grid roll-out to poorer communities, the country experienced a 40%-53% boost in business activities due to heightened electricity access. Overall, generating electricity in impoverished areas will enhance economic capabilities and increase sustainability.

Potential for Geothermal Energy in Africa

The EARS is located in northern Syria and runs south to Mozambique. Countries along this rift include Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Eritrea and Uganda. These countries would benefit immensely from the rift’s geothermal energy since, depending on the country, only 35%-75% of the population had reliable electricity in 2018. In fact, initiatives like the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility project were designed to address this exact disparity using geothermal energy. The project’s goal is to gain access to untapped geothermal energy for these countries along the rift. The United Nations Environment Programme pledged $4.75 million for this official start-up in 2015. The project has had success so far in networking with other countries and attracting investors for financial support.

Geothermal energy in Africa is necessary to supplement the general lack of electricity. It is also essential to shift away from the other, less sustainable power sources currently in use. Coal is one of the most environmentally detrimental types of fuel, for example. Despite this fact, South Africa relies on coal-burning as its primary energy source; only 8.8% of the country’s electric needs are fulfilled by renewable energy. Coal-burning and other non-renewable techniques endanger Africa’s people and climate by polluting the air with various heavy metals.

Iceland Empowering Africa

Iceland, however, is a pioneer in geothermal energy: the country’s electricity obtains its power almost entirely by renewable resources. The country is currently advocating the creation of geothermal energy in Africa through several projects.

  1. Geothermal Training Programme (GTP): In collaboration with the United Nations, this six-month annual postgraduate training program teaches individuals from developing countries about geothermal construction and exploration. Between 1976 and 2016, about 39% of graduates originated from African countries. This demonstrates the impact of the GTP in fostering geothermal potential through the next generation of innovators.
  2. African Women Energy Entrepreneurs Framework: With a focus on addressing the barriers that hinder women as entrepreneurs in business, this project was launched in 2017 to support innovative environmental solutions in Africa and promote gender equality within the energy sector. Women are trained in sustainable energy technologies and management in order to create renewable energy policies and partnerships.
  3. Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence (AGCE): Currently in the preliminary stages with help from Iceland and other partner countries, the AGCE aims to expand geothermal research and training. Its goal is to produce geothermal scientists, engineers and technicians to ensure geothermal expansion in Africa for years to come. Governments of multiple African countries are committed to creating this center in order to achieve their climate change and sustainability goals.

Iceland is also a member of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The country is commended for its work in Africa. The UNEP Energy Programme Manager Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun stated, “Iceland has been a steadfast and important partner to UNEP in bringing geothermal expertise to East Africa.” Beyond fostering geothermal energy in Africa, Iceland’s financial contributions help support the UNEP’s other projects and overall mission. Iceland continues to be a world leader in demonstrating the significance of renewable energy. The country accomplishes this goal by addressing Africa’s present and building for its future.

– Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr

Environmentally-Sustainable Development
On July 14, 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a new report addressing global initiatives towards environmentally sustainable development. The Green Finance Progress Report assesses the progress made by the G20 and other countries in creating policies and financial reforms that are sustainable. Despite many countries falling short in the amounts of capital they invest in sustainable development, the UNEP highlighted many promising institutional changes that have taken place in recent years.

In 2015, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development found that developing countries lacked investments by approximately $2.5 trillion in implementing environmentally sustainable development initiatives. While this financial goal is still largely unmet, the report noted that the majority of G20 countries have undertaken significant projects and proposals that suggest positive steps towards green finance. Thus, financial shortcomings aside, environmentally sustainable development is becoming a profitable and high-priority investment for many countries.

According to the report, both public and private sectors have shown great improvements in laying the groundwork for green finance plans. With global initiatives in place such as the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, climate change has become of major importance in terms of global cooperation. This has greatly accelerated recently, with more developments in green finance taking place in the last year than any one-year period in history. Most notably, the number of green bonds, or money issued towards environmental projects, increased by 100 percent in 2016.

The plans underway are primarily large-scale, ambitious overhauls that will require careful and swift mobilization in upcoming years. According to the UNEP report, the majority of changes in the financial market have included developments to “reallocate capital, improve risk management, enhance transparency and clarify responsibilities of financial institutions.” The challenge is now to set these plans in motion and continue incentivizing projects towards environmentally sustainable development.

Achieving these goals requires global leaders to continue diverting funds toward sustainable development. This presents a huge opportunity for private market innovation, as the report emphasizes the need for businesses that, “support our sustainable development objectives and create commercially viable green businesses for decades to come.”

According to the UNEP, there are many ways businesses can meet investors’ increasing preference for sustainable projects. Primarily, the report suggests that providing investors with clear, accessible data on environmental impact is extremely important. Negative environmental impact is no longer a risk that can be overlooked, and a shift towards green finance is imperative in addressing climate change.

Julia Morrison

Photo: Flickr

Drinking Water
Despite having the largest freshwater resources in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has long faced significant challenges in maintaining and furnishing potable drinking water to its citizens. More than 50 million Congolese face the daily trial of acquiring clean water, due to issues ranging from inadequate infrastructure to poor sanitation.

According to a 2015 UNICEF and World Health Organization study, almost 700 million people worldwide did not have access to clean drinking water — most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Much of this water quality problem falls within the spectrum of sanitation. The DRC’s rate of urban expanse far outstrips its ability to furnish infrastructure that would deliver clean drinking water to those living in developing areas. In more rural communities, however, the opposite is true — water-furnishing infrastructure is almost non-existent, which puts these Congolese at a higher risk of consuming contaminated drinking water.

Many living in these areas use water from local streams and rivers, unaware that the same water source has been contaminated upstream with chemicals, bacteria and parasites. The people of the DRC share the experience of 2.4 billion people worldwide who do not have access to sanitary toilets.

However, many communities have addressed the water quality problem head-on, developing resourceful solutions to provide this necessity. Hand-drilled wells, for instance, are a much cheaper (although laborious) method of accessing fresh water in rural Congolese villages. UNICEF, via its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (WASH), has been working tirelessly with the Congolese government to spread these solutions. They aspire to provide clean water to 4 million people by the end of 2017.

Large-scale efforts have positively impacted the water quality in the DRC. The U.N.’s Environment Program (UNEP) helped to complete a community-led catchment management project on the Lukaya River basin in 2016. These projects work with the natural processes of the local ecosystem, providing drinking water to 400,000 people living in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

Despite a history of instability and conflict, the people of the DRC have made great strides in improving their water quality. Organizations such as UNICEF and UNEP bring great support to this cause, and if global interest continues, general health and welfare in these areas will drastically improve as well.

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr

pollution in nigeria
Amnesty International has recently released a report claiming that United Nations Environmental Programme’s 2011 recommendations for pollution cleanup in the Ogoniland region of Nigeria have been ignored.

In 2011, UNEP found that pollution in Nigeria was caused by government negligence and, specifically, by the oil company Shell. UNEP was commissioned by Shell to review the area in an attempt to convince the locals to allow for their return.

Shell left the Ogoniland in 1993 amid a wave of protests. The company has been trying to reconcile with the locals ever since.

However, the UNEP report did not produce findings favorable to Shell, as it stated that people in Ogoniland have “been living with chronic pollution all their lives.”

For example, drinking water was found to have high levels of the known carcinogen benzene, and the amount was 900 hundred times higher than what the World Health Organization considers safe.

The UNEP concluded that it would take 25-30 years to clean up the oil pollution left behind by Shell.

Three years later, yet another watchdog organization is saying that pollution is still a serious problem in Ogoniland.

Amnesty international led a joint report with Friends of The Earth Europe, Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Environmental Rights Action and Platform to say that “in the three years since UNEP’s study was published, the government of Nigeria and Shell have taken almost no meaningful action to implement its recommendations.”

Recommended measures like emergency water supplies were said to be “erratic” by the locals. Water was infrequent and often smelled bad.

Shell has been slow to decommission much of the equipment they left behind in 1993. This equipment is subject to corrosions, which contributes to further pollution.

There are also continuing oil spills, but Shell blames the government. Shell believes the spills occur because gangs break the pipelines to steal the crude oil, and it is the governments responsibility to deal with this.

Amnesty International and other groups involved in the joint report call for Shell to stop making excuses and take responsibility for the devastation they have brought upon Ogoniland and its people. This situation is far worse than what a brief summary can explain. To see the full report, click here.

Eleni Marino

Sources: Amnesty International, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

On September 30, the Barbados Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Maxine Pamela Ometa McClean, made a statement at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly highlighting the small Caribbean nation’s quest for a green economy. She told the Assembly that adopting a policy of sustainable development will be a means of survival for Barbados.

A partner with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Barbados has created a National Strategic Plan (NSP), in which one of the goals is “building a green economy, strengthening the physical infrastructure and preserving the environment.”

Set to end in 2025, the plan has already led to progress – by 2012, the Barbados government committed to generating 30 percent of the island’s electricity supply from renewable energy. The NSP also seeks to correct Barbados’s reliance on imported fossil fuels. By 2025, the government hopes to increase Barbados’s renewable energy supply by doubling the use of solar water heaters.

According to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, “The green economy debate recognizes our structural vulnerabilities, offers a model to assist us in further realizing our sustainable development aspirations and creates the institutional platform that would enable us to participate in innovative partnerships in the fight to save our planet, against mounting unsustainable consumption and production patterns.”

However, at the Generaly Assembly, McClean made it clear that there is still work that needs to be done. As a “small island developing state” (SIDS),  debt sustainability and poverty are also important issues that Barbados must address before sustainable development can be achieved. SIDS nations have all made less progress than any other group on the UN Millenium Development Goals. Additionally, the high price of imported fossil fuels affects Barbados’s and other island nations’ financial stability.

To remedy these problems, McClean called for more recognition of and attention to the SIDS in the international community. She advocated for a special meeting specifically concentrated on these island states to discuss debt sustainability, before the Third International Conference in September 2014.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: UNEP, UNEP, UN News Centre
Photo: Loop Barbados