Economic growth vs. Environmental policies?

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This week we have a thought provoking discussion: environmental policy vs. economic growth. This has been at the heart of decisions in the last year with regards to the Paris Agreement, for sure the excuse of many developing nations to delay adoption of environmental policies. In fact, we are constantly debating about the apparent conflict between economic development and environmental protection policies.

The last 50 years have seen rapid urbanization process in many countries, with cities offering more economic opportunities and rural areas being left for the environmentalists and hard labour. Cities grow, innovation happens and with that pollution levels rise, car convenience increases emissions, electricity needs increased emissions and consumerism increases emissions even further. In this picture, cities as centers for growth and innovation should be discouraged if we want to control air pollution.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have just published a research on the link between economic development, urbanization and pollution.

Interestingly enough, the research found that urbanization is the result of a higher quality of life, and cities are more efficient at delivering services such as electricity. The study found that cities have more pollution but pollution per capita is lower in cities than out of them, and environmental policy does mitigate how emissions increase when the population of a city increases. The study in US counties showed that metropolitan GDP and personal income scaled with population size and this was regardless of environmental policies. So, environmental policies did not have a negative effect in economic development in cities, they in fact reduced drastically the environmental damage and pushed for cleaner production practices hence fueling green innovation.

Environmental protection can only make things better for all! Let’s take action and push innovation to cleaner ways of achieving economic growth!

Monitor air quality, Act to breathe cleaner, Enjoy the benefits!

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This week we have a thought provoking discussion: environmental policy vs. economic growth. This has been at the heart of decisions in the last year with regards to the Paris Agreement, for sure the excuse of many developing nations to delay adoption of environmental policies. In fact, we are constantly debating about the apparent conflict between economic development and environmental protection policies.

The last 50 years have seen rapid urbanization process in many countries, with cities offering more economic opportunities and rural areas being left for the environmentalists and hard labour. Cities grow, innovation happens and with that pollution levels rise, car convenience increases emissions, electricity needs increased emissions and consumerism increases emissions even further. In this picture, cities as centers for growth and innovation should be discouraged if we want to control air pollution.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have just published a research on the link between economic development, urbanization and pollution.

Interestingly enough, the research found that urbanization is the result of a higher quality of life, and cities are more efficient at delivering services such as electricity. The study found that cities have more pollution but pollution per capita is lower in cities than out of them, and environmental policy does mitigate how emissions increase when the population of a city increases. The study in US counties showed that metropolitan GDP and personal income scaled with population size and this was regardless of environmental policies. So, environmental policies did not have a negative effect in economic development in cities, they in fact reduced drastically the environmental damage and pushed for cleaner production practices hence fueling green innovation.

Environmental protection can only make things better for all! Let’s take action and push innovation to cleaner ways of achieving economic growth!

Monitor air quality, Act to breathe cleaner, Enjoy the benefits!

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When legal action meets air quality

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A few days ago, a French woman launched a law suit against the French government for failing to protect her from air pollution. More precisely, for ‘culpable incompetence’ by not having a heavy hand against polluters and not taking strong preventive measures. She is asthmatic, 56 years old and a yoga teacher that suffers gravely from every air pollution spike. She is the first plaintiff in France but her lawyer says there are about 30 more in Paris, Lille and Lyon who are planning legal action!

Are law suits the new way to push for better air quality?

In fact, we know of several examples in Europe where legal action is being used to push governments for better air quality. In April 2015, the UK legal NGO ClientEarth won a Supreme Court ruling against the UK government. The ministers were ordered to design a plan to ‘bring pollution down within legal limits as soon as possible’.  The new plan was presented in 2016 but the government was slammed once more by another legal battle won by ClientEarth at the High Court.

 

 

 

“The government’s new plans to tackle air pollution are woefully inadequate and won’t achieve legal limits for years to come,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews to The Guardian “The longer they are allowed to dither and delay, the more people will suffer from serious illness or an early death.”

 

“There is clear consensus that the government’s plans are wholly inadequate to address this public health crisis,” said Kerry McCarthy, Labour’s shadow environment secretary. “It should not take legal action to force the environment secretary to take urgent action and help save lives.”

In September 2016 in Prague, the Vlasta Coalition NGO lodged a law suit against the local ministry’s plan to tackle air pollution. Three individuals have joined the law suit from various parts of the country with their claims. Similarly, The European Commission threatened legal action against France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK for failing to protect their citizens from air pollution. ClientEarth is in fact partnering with local NGOs to launch cases across Europe against local and national governments. The first one to appear is legal action against Lombardy – a region in the north of Italy with Milan in the Centre of it.

 

 

More data on air pollution and more knowledge about its ill health effects will provide the basis for citizens to demand their rights and for governments to better understand how to manage policies to improve air quality.

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Asia’s latest eclectic response to carbon emissions

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Asia is at a crossroads between economic development and environmental protection on many fronts. Today we would like to highlight the two extreme positions that coexist in Asia, from a new South Korean president that has ensured the closure of coal fired plants to a plan to open 10 new such plants in Myanmar, already one of the most polluted countries in the world!

The Asian continent accounts for approximately 41% of carbon emissions, even if a per capita basis, carbon emissions are still low due to its large population size. What is evident from this is the potential for the current percentage of carbon emissions to increase dramatically with the expected economic development in the Region.

While some actions are being taken to clean the air…

Only in the last month we’ve seen news showing the disparity in carbon policies in the region. On one hand, China is rolling out the largest investment in solar and wind power in order to reduce coal powered electricity and has vowed to reduce the steel production capacity (a highly polluting industry) by 50 million tonnes. Furthermore, in March, China announced the closure of 103 coal power plants. This will have a major impact on improving regional air quality.

In this same line, Moon Jae-in – South Korea’s new president, started on the front foot fighting air pollution and ordered the shutdown of ten old coal power plants to address public protests. They will be temporarily shut down and by the end of his term, they are expected to be permanently shut down.


…other actions are being taken to increase power generation

On the other side, there are countries like Myanmar which have made public their plans to open 10 new coal-fired plants. The air quality in Myanmar is among the dirtiest in the world with six cities with higher counts of PM10 than Beijing! It is true that the country is currently only providing energy to less than 30% of the population and increased power is required to attract foreign investment, but it is also true that there are plans to build a hydroelectric dam to harness Irrawady’s river power, power which will be sold almost entirely to China (90%).

Another example of this situation is Bangladesh, which is constructing a power plant on the edge of the world’s largest mangrove: the Sundarbans. This project threatens the UNESCO-protected mangroves that are a barrier against storms and cyclones and has the potential to severely affect human health from air pollution, water pollution and storm emergencies. Campaigners have protested heavily to halt the construction.

 

Regional solutions?

Participants in the recent Belt&Road initiative have called on the need to implement in full the Paris Agreement. However, Asia faces enormous challenges and opportunities that would most benefit from increased regional co-operation in this initiative.

Increased knowledge about air pollution and its health consequences have sparked actions in the region to reduce the number of existing coal-fired plants. The more we talk about this, the more we can put pressure on governments to improve air quality in Asia.

 

Sources:
http://nation.com.pk/snippets/05-May-2017/myanmar-coal-plant-growth-could-kill-280-000
http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074011/meta
http://citizen.co.za/news/news-world/1504649/bangladesh-coal-plant-could-cause-6000-early-deaths/

Carbon Governance in Asia: Bridging Scales and Disciplines

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/china-air-pollution-solutions-environment-tangshan/
https://www.ft.com/content/c8a5da0a-3935-11e7-821a-6027b8a20f23
http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/releases/climate-energy/2017/Belt-and-Road-participants-call-for-full-implementation-of-Paris-Agreement/

 

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Air’volution: cities improving air quality!

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We know for sure that city dwellers are highly affected by worsening air quality across the world and the majority of deaths caused by air pollution occur in cities. In the past ten years, cities have been working together as part of the group C40Cities to find solutions to protect their citizens. The Mayors of the cities that are part of this group have come up with some innovative proposals to push an Air’Volution that stems pollution in the cities. The end of March saw the announcement of bold plans to address locally created air pollution.

The C40Cities, launched in 2005, is a group created and led by cities that connects 90+ cities across 50+countries, representing 650+ million people and one quarter of the global economy. The group recognizes that cities generate most of the world’s carbon emissions and house almost 60% of the global population, hence the importance of their stance in transforming the systems that create the most carbon emissions: transport, building and waste.

What is the Air’volution?

It’s the collection of actions taken by cities to address air pollution and control vehicle emissions. Remember what started as a VW (Volkswagen) scandal? There is now a list of car manufacturers that have been found to manipulate the tests of car emissions. Not to mention that we now know the real polluting nature of diesel cars, even the EURO 6 diesel engines releases more fine particulate matter than heavy duty trucks. Such as:

  • Emissions on the road have been proven to be 15 times greater than emissions in laboratory conditions. Paris and London are working on creating a scheme to score new cars based on their real-world emissions and air quality impact, rather than a laboratory measure. All data is expected to be released by end 2017 so that consumers will be able to know the score for each car model. Seoul, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Moscow, Oslo and Tokyo and other cities have committed to work in the development of a global scoring system.

“For too long, some vehicle manufacturers have been able to hide behind inconsistent regulation and consumer uncertainty about the damage their cars are causing,” said Mayor of Paris and C40 Chair, Anne Hidalgo. “This announcement is a wake-up call to car companies that they need to act now. Citizens of Paris and cities around the world demand clean air to breathe and this new scoring scheme will be key to helping achieve that.  I am pleased that Paris, the city of the Climate Agreement, is working with London and Seoul to support this project.”

“This scheme is also a fantastic example of how big cities around the world can pool their expertise and their influence to encourage big industry to clean up its act. The toxicity of the air in London and many other big cities is an outrage, and schemes of the type we are introducing in London and Paris have the potential to make a massive difference to the quality of the air we all breathe.”

 

Other measures include:

  • Cities implementing low-emission zones: London has proposed to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London, where cars will have to meet the minimum emission requirements or pay a daily fine (£10). In Paris, vehicles are restricted access for the most polluting vehicles, through the use of Crit’Air stickers. And Seoul has recently designated a Green Transport Promotion Zone that restricts old diesel vehicles and construction equipment, the objective is to cut carbon emissions from vehicles by 40% and vehicle demand by 30%.

A number of Asian cities are part of the C40Cities: Auckland, Bangaluru, Bangkok, Beijing, Chengdu, Chennai, Delhi, Dalian, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Jaipur, Jakarta, Kolkata, Mumbi, Nanjing, Singapore, Shenzen, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Yokohama, Chennai, Mumbai, Tokyo and Wuhan.  Most of these cities need to learn from experiences from other cities in reducing vehicles emissions.

We need to better understand air pollution patterns in our cities to make the most of these policies. Deployment of air quality monitors across the cities is the first step!

Sources:
http://www.c40.org/events/air-volutionhttp://www.c40.org/press_releases/press-release-mayors-of-paris-and-london-announce-car-scoring-system-to-slash-air-pollution-on-city-streetshttp://theicct.org/blogs/staff/first-look-results-german-transport-ministrys-post-vw-vehicle-testing

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Air Quality Policy in HK

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Beyond the constant air pollution news and our daily experience with pollution, how much do we know about air quality in our Asian cities? And do we know what the local governments are doing to improve air quality?

Today we will take a look at the situation in Hong Kong. Pollution in HK comes from local street-level pollution caused by vehicles and regional smog caused by motor vehicles, marine vessels, industry and power plants both in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region.

What is the Government doing?

The Government has an Air Pollution Control Ordinance and a Clean Air Plan where the objective is to achieve reasonable and practicable air quality to safeguard the health of the population’. Strategies include controlling emissions from motor vehicles, marine vessels, power plants and industry and coordination with the Guangdong Provincial Authorities to implement a joint plan. Strategies are based on the Air Quality Objectives (AQO) set in 2014 and are a combination of WHO’s ultimate Air Quality Guideline (AQG)  and interim targets. In the table below we can see a comparison between WHO AQG and HK AQO with regards to PM10 and PM2.5.

The Actions

What is the current situation like?

The Clean Air Network HK has recently released a report based on 2016 data where they found that HK AQO haven’t been met in the past 3 years and in fact is usually twice the WHO recommended level. Moreover, on a daily basis there is a variation of readings in which peak times air quality is 2.6 times worse than off-peak times, suggesting vehicles are having a higher role in damaging local air quality.

 “The growth of vehicles number has gone uncontrollable and offset some of the effort made by the government, especially to reduce NO2.” The CEO of Clean Air Network, Patrick Fung, said.  “The next term of government should look at this imminent issue as top of the agenda. Traffic has been a daily headache to all Hong Kong people, and is an impediment to the improvement of air quality, public health and other living qualities.”

According to the Hedley Environmental Index of HKU School of Public Health, the air pollution in 2016 caused 1,686 premature deaths, 21.6 billion direct economic loss and 2.65 million additional doctor visits.

Overall, we need to have more information on air quality and a broader coverage of monitoring stations in order to better understand the situation in the city and have targeted local policies!

 

Sources:
http://www.hongkongcan.org/hk/resources/public-education/
http://www.enb.gov.hk/en/files/New_Air_Plan_en.pdf
http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/air/air_quality_objectives/air_quality_objectives.html
http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/sites/default/files/epd/english/environmentinhk/air/air_quality_objectives/files/compliance_eng.pdf

 

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Policies: the debated carbon tax

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Following COP21 and the Paris Agreement governments representing 96% of global greenhouse emissions (GHG) and 98% of the world’s population committed to reduce their emissions. They now need to ensure businesses and individuals use energy with less GHG emissions.  

Currently there are two market-based options to encourage lower emissions based on higher costs for polluting industries: the carbon tax and cap-and-trade schemes (ETS). The carbon tax is a levy on the production, distribution and use of fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon emitted in that specific process, which is then translated into a tax on electricity, natural gas or oil. This system is built to encourage businesses and individuals to consume less energy or do it more efficiently, the more electricity they use the higher its cost. Therefore, the carbon tax policy encourages the use of less electricity by improving efficiency and at the same time it also makes green energy more price-competitive.

How do governments price carbon?

They put together all the costs caused by carbon emissions, such as healthcare costs, agricultural costs and others; and they tie them to the carbon used per year. It makes those responsible for the emission, responsible for the external costs of that emission too, and signals the need to reduce emissions or pay for it.

Technically, we have advanced considerably in carbon tax policies. The Paris Agreement has been a stepping stone to increase carbon pricing initiatives across the globe, in its Article 6 the Agreement provides a basis to facilitate carbon pricing. And according to the World Bank, 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces use carbon pricing –they account for 13% of annual global greenhouse emissions. Now 100 countries additional –accounting for 58% of global GHG- are planning or considering carbon pricing policies. Many of these initiatives are at a very early stage, but nonetheless they have taken that positive step which can then be the beginning of a more aggressive pricing strategy. The most promising advance for this coming year is that China is expected to implement its ETS. This would be the largest increase of GHG covered by carbon pricing.

Summary map of existing, emerging and potential regional, national and subnational carbon pricing initiatives (ETS and tax) from World Bank. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 (October)

However, the reality of many regions of the world and notably of Asia shows just how challenging this can be and why these policy efforts are sometimes not felt in the actual air we breathe.

In Asia, change could translate to significantly lower global carbon emissions. Because Asia is the largest emitter – 33% of the global emissions are generated in Asia where China alone uses more coal than the rest of the world combined, any successful implementation of policies can have a huge impact globally. However, the challenge is big. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Asian countries have a growing demand for electricity to meet their developmental needs -expected to double by 2030- and plans for this expansion rely heavily on coal fueled electricity. Nonetheless, China has a great interest to change their carbon emission trends and has set the target to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and increasing the non-fossil fuel to 20% by 2030. Similarly, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh are actively working to increase the use of renewables in the energy mix. The question is how can the solar energy or wind energy projects in all these countries be scaled-up to represent a larger portion of the national energy mix.

What can businesses and individuals do?

A quote by an American Author seems relevant at this point.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” 
― Edward Everett Hale

Strive for energy efficiency because you can!

 

Sources:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/carbon-tax.htmhttp://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/pricing-carbonhttp://www.worldbank.org/en/news/opinion/2016/05/03/asia-help-lead-way-change-course-climate-changeWorld Bank, Ecofys and Vivid Economics. 2016. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 (October), by World Bank, Washington, DC. Doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-1001-5 License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO accessed through: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/25160/9781464810015.pdf?sequence=7&isAllowed=y
http://www.mfe.govt.nz/news-events/ministerial-declaration-carbon-marketshttp://www.climatecentral.org/news/wests-largest-coal-plant-may-close-21117
http://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/pricing-carbon

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The hard work of tackling air quality. Is Asia up for the challenge?

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At the beginning of November 2016 air pollution in New Delhi sky-rocketed due to a combination of weather conditions, crop burning and extensive firecracker use during the Diwali celebrations, adding to the already bad air quality in the city. The peak was so dramatic that schools where closed for several days and the Government has been asked to take decisive measures to tackle this lingering menace.

 A task force outlined 10 steps that need to be taken to reduce air pollution in India, which are accessible, available and possible, but that require commitment from a range of institutions. It includes prevention of crop burning, provision of clean fuel, switch to low sulphur fuel, shift freight transport from road to rail and implementing Euro VI emission standards.

“Tackling air pollution requires a concerted whole of society approach backed by strong political in order to make a difference to our present and future.” Said Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India

However, envisaging solutions and making them happen require strong political determination and more. The latest European air quality report released on November 23rd, is a clear example of the challenges of tackling air quality.

The report highlights that emissions across the EU have slightly decreased but air pollution continues to be the greatest environmental health risk for Europeans, causing approximately 467,000 premature deaths per year in addition to the economic impact of cutting lives short, increasing medical costs and decreasing productivity.

The key pollutants that are harming Europeans health are particulate matter (PM), NO2 and 03. Regulations have ensured a reduction of PM, NO2 and 03 but large parts of Europe are still exposed to concentrations exceeding the limits set by WHO and even the less strict limits set by the EU. A further reduction of emissions is expected but trends suggest that excess readings will persist into 2020. The report highlights the need to further reduce agricultural emissions, the sector where emissions have decreased the least.

“Emission reductions have led to improvements in air quality in Europe, but not enough to avoid unacceptable damage to human health and the environment. We need to tackle the root causes of air pollution, which calls for a fundamental and innovative transformation of our mobility, energy and food systems.”   Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

This report on Europe’s air quality highlights the need for all countries to start moving in the environmental direction because progress is slow. China has been under the international scrutiny on air quality for many years now and has only recently acknowledged the problem and the need to tackle it. The latest five-year plan is a commitment to a cleaner and greener economy. The plan has put emphasis on improving the quality of the environment based on caps on coal consumption, bans on new coal-fired power plants and greater scrutiny of emissions. More recently, the Chinese Government has launched a system of ‘pollution permits’ which are issued by the local environmental bureaus and clearly state the permitted levels of pollution allowed per factory. The first industry to be affected will be the coal-fired power plants and paper-making facilities. This will be expanded in 2017 to the 15 industries that are the greatest hazard to air and water quality and it is expected that by 2020 all highly polluting industries will be covered.

Today the most polluted region of the world is Asia –both North and South. More and bolders commitment to reduce air pollution and improve air quality across Asia is required with no delay.

Know more about the air quality you breathe, strive to protect yourself!

 

Sources:
http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2016http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/stronger-measures-neededhttp://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2016/11/16/india-needs-implement-new-plan-tackle-air-pollution/?utm_content=buffereb551&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=bufferhttp://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1920423/chinas-environment-ministry-unveils-restructuring-planhttps://www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/environment/how-chinas-13th-five-year-plan-addresses-energy-and-environment
https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/health-sapping.html

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