The Dayton Accords reached 22 years ago heralded an era of peace for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Yet the country is now estimated to be the second deadliest in the world for another killer, responsible for more lives lost worldwide than any war – air pollution.
Electricity produced from coal can appear cheap in the short-term. It has been seen by many to be a development opportunity. The electricity is even exported to neighbouring countries.
Yet what price does cheap and dirty energy place on people’s health, the environment and development?
Tuzla is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest coal power station. Lignite, the dirtiest form of coal, is heated to several hundred degrees Celsius as it roars into action. The heat and steam produced turns a generator to produce electricity. At the same time, the plant releases 51,000 tonnes of toxic sulphur dioxide and other pollutants into the air each year, just across the road from a primary school in the town of Divkovići.
Air pollution such as from this coal power plant is contributing to respiratory diseases and heart problems, cancer and asthma. In Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, 44,000 years of life are lost each year due to particulate matter or nitrogen dioxide – such as that produced in Tuzla – or ozone pollution. More broadly, air pollution eats over 21.5 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s GDP through lost work and school days, healthcare and fuel costs for example.
Filters are used on Tuzla coal plant’s towers. Yet once expired, these are disposed of at the disposal site together with the putrid pollution they collect. Winds can therefore pick up and scatter ash pollution onto nearby homes in Divkovići – whose centre is just 1.5 kilometres away.
Meanwhile, near the coal plant, waste ash and coal slag from the plant are pumped into vast landfill sites that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Vast amounts of water must be added to pump the waste to these sites. As a result, what was once farmland nearby now resembles a swamp. A house that a family once called home is also partially slumped into the ground, out of bounds due to a landslide. Heavy metals from the waste are seeping into nearby rivers, while even more chemicals are added to stop pipes from being clogged, causing the flooded space to gleam a dystopian, almost fluorescent blue. “It looks even brighter in the summer,” reveals Denis Zisko, Energy and Climate Change Coordinator at Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Centre of Ecology and Energy, as he guides us through the safest path to take a look.
Construction material reveals that the coal plant is set for expansion. “We pay for this with our health,” Denis says.
Near to coal plants such as Tuzla, locals are presented with the dilemma of whether to stay close to the polluted environment or pack their bags.
“People have left this town – for the graveyard… soon no one will live here” a local told international media reporting on pollution here. Reports suggest that the local population has been decimated from 500 to around 30 residents.
“This town was once the largest producer of roses in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Blaško Iveljić, who lives a short walk away from the toxic landfill, tells us with some pride. Yet after once caring for adjacent land and even raising sheep and cattle here, he since saved money to ensure his family could move out and buy a flat away from the pollution.
A thin layer of ash coats some of the courgettes stretching across Iveljic’s garden, while the air increasingly rakes at our throats and stings our eyes. Pollution has made Tuzla’s toxic surroundings feel uninhabitable.
School term cut short
In the Bosnia Herzegovian capital of Sarajevo, safe limits of particulate matter are often exceeded for 60-90 days a year, sometimes reaching up to 200 days.
Rather than industry, heavy traffic, poor spatial planning, solid-fuel based heating and natural factors are to blame for the poor air quality.
Soaring pollution levels in winter mean that school term is sometimes ended early – as has been the case at the city’s Environment Studies and Woodwork high school.
“I found out that school would be closed by watching the news. I was sort of happy not to go, but sad that this was due to air pollution,” says Amar, who studies horticulture there. “In winter, I don’t exercise outside. Sometimes it’s hard to even breathe,” he insists.
“My family leaves the city when the air gets too bad – normally for at least five or six days a year,” adds his classmate Samir, in what is a common escape for those that can afford it.
Powering a response
UN Environment’s Pollution report, issued ahead of the third Environment Assembly that took place under the same theme, recommends data sharing as part of the solution. In order to issue warnings for citizens to evade pollution or measure the effectiveness of actions to counter it, robust data is needed that can be easily shared.
Air quality monitoring stations being installed or refurbished by UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility, with data accessible in real-time online, can therefore make a real difference.
“Five to seven years ago, people were not even talking about air pollution here,” notes Enis Omerčić, air quality specialist at a hydro meteorological institute, at the Ivan Sedlo station outside Sarajevo.
Now, awareness and desire for change is growing.
Air pollution is increasingly on the lips of politicians and news reporters. Fresh efforts to raise awareness on the impacts of air pollution in Bosnia and Herzegovina and stimulate solutions will also take place under the UN Air Quality Initiative and Response.
AirQ software will provide data linking air pollution types with specific health effects, helping drive policy responses. New air quality monitoring stations are also planned for urban areas and the country considering joining the Breathe Life campaign.
UN Environment’s Pollution report also points to inadequate administrative capacity and a lack of political will as gaps seen in the fight to beat pollution.
Until now, “the costs of health, economic and ecosystem losses have not been given due attention in policy creation,” one Entity’s Environment Minister Edita Ɖapo admitted at the ‘Clean air for all’ conference convened by UN Environment in October.
Path for action
The air quality resolution agreed on agreed by countries at the UN Environment Assembly aims to improve data quality and create the conditions for clean energy and transport, unleashing sustainable development.
UN Environment is called on to help countries put in place affordable air quality networks and raise awareness, and to support countries in identifying, prioritizing and addressing key sources of air pollution.
While much remains to be done, this has already started on the ground in in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Heating for homes and businesses is one of the biggest energy guzzlers in the country.
UN Environment is therefore helping the country’s second-largest city – Banja Luka – to switch their heating system from heavy oil to renewables, as part of a project under the District Heating in Cities Initiative.
The transition will see ten biomass boilers installed, slashing harmful sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions by over 90 per cent while saving almost €1 million in fuel costs each year.
History shows that catastrophes involving enormous environmental damage can lead to their prevention and even significant improvements in air quality, noted Christer Johansson, a special advisor to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, at the Clean Air for All event.
“Many people suffer from air pollution here,” recognizes Harun, who has nearly completed his studies at Sarajevo’s environment and woodwork high school. “We need to bring change”.
Dire Consequences in Failing the Climate Change Goals
It is not as if they have closely missed their goals; it is as if they have not even been trying. The new Oxfam report on climate change places the blame squarely on the rich countries , the US being the worst offender.
The goal has been to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45 percent before 2030. Instead, they are headed for an increase of 10.6 percent. As might be expected, these world’s largest economies, the G20, produce the most pollution.
On average, they emit between 7.4 and 7.7 tons of CO2 per person per year. To keep global mean temperature rise below 1.5 C above preindustrial levels as has been the goal, they need to come down to 2.9 to 3.8 tons.
The G20 and other countries will be submitting their nationally determined contributions or NDC’s at the UN Climate Summit in Dubai this November. These assessments there will reveal whether or not they are on track for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, namely to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.
Researchers accessing G20 plans using three different methodologies found these will reduce emissions only to 6.7 to 6.9 tons per person per year on average. That is nearly double what is required.
Oxfam’s work on emissions produced by the rich and the poor find them influenced by wealth and inequality — the 125 billionaires themselves produce through their investments and activities a colossal 393 million tons each year at a 3 million ton per person average — a half million times higher than the average G20 person and a million times higher than the bottom 90 percent by global wealth.
The US leads the high income countries with the largest deficit in not meeting the goals planned emissions reduction. Its shortfall is up to 24.6 tons of CO2 equivalent per person per year. Middle income countries are led by Russia at 10. China has a high of 3.4 and India merely 0.7.
If the world is serious about global warming, it has to persuade rich countries, particularly G7 the richest, and the rest of the G20 to ramp up spending to move to low-carbon alternatives, and also increase climate finance for the poorer countries. It is the only way as these countries simply do not possess the resources otherwise.
What happens if the rich countries ignore the possibilities? Well, we have seen the news within the last year — the latest being the catastrophic floods in Libya killing at least 5,300 while an estimated 10,000 remain missing. What is unusual will become the norm as the air heats up absorbing more moisture from the oceans.
Extreme weather like hurricanes and typhoons will increase with extended seasons. Recent examples are the wildfires in Australia and Canada and the Atlantic hurricane season. The latter runs from June 1 to November 30. Closely before or after would not be exceptional but this year we experienced a named storm in January.
So if no one is doing much about climate change except talk, batten down the hatches or move away from the coast, nice as it usually is.
Nairobi’s Climate Summit Seeks External Funding Amid Geopolitical Challenges
The historic gathering on Climate Change inside Africa, clearly portrays efforts at spearheading towards finding sustainable solutions to existing challenges. But African leaders are still standing at a crossroads as they try hard to balance their geopolitical positions, this time with raising the needed funds for controlling the effects of climate change in Africa.
Majority of these African leaders consistently barked at Western and Europeans for the their excessive control, frequent interference in their internal affairs and shout over aspects of democracy, human rights and hegemony, and yet look forward for their invaluable investment in the economy.
This summit held under the theme, “Africa Climate Summit 2023: Driving Green Growth & Climate Finance Solutions for Africa and the World” attracted a host of African and external guests, and including representatives of civil society and non-state organizations. The governmental leaders met for three days while the entire week was dedicated to the current situation and potential solutions.
With high optimism, the first summit held in Nairobi, Kenya, early September was primarily to review and systematize possible options African nations have to finance climate change, and on the other way, nature and its inherent resources in the continent. Kenyan President William Ruto made the summit’s aim very clear his speech – to discuss how to fund the challenges posed by climate change.
Ruto further envisioned a “future where Africa finally steps into the stage as an economic and industrial power, an effective and positive actor on a global arena” and unreservedly boasted the availability of the young population, to take advantage of the vast renewable potential and natural resources.
Ruto’s narratives at the conference dealt with the fact that Africa is acutely vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change, and consequently made a strategic call for accelerating funding in Africa. At the end of the summit, the narratives appealing to the international community to help achieve that goal by easing the continent’s crushing debt burden and reforming the global financial system to unblock investment was finally incorporated into the final declaration.
Prior to the declaration, it was broadly noted that Africa has an “unparalleled opportunity” to benefit from the fight against global warming but needed massive investment to unlock its potential as Nairobi hosts a landmark climate summit focusing on the continent. “The overarching theme… is the unparalleled opportunity that climate action represents for Africa,” Ruto said in his opening address, while further stressing for trillions of dollars from the international community to unblock financing for Africa.
It is always puzzling, Africa has all the resources. Africa needs external funds. African leaders have savings in foreign banks. Yet, Africa is poor to the bone-marrow, complaints of dearth of finance, and despite the abundance of natural resources in the continent. In order to rebuild confidence, African Union Commission head, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was straight to the point in his demand – wielding his French tongue and some tiredness or frustration – on behalf of the 54-member states, that the international investment must be “massively scaled up to enable commitments to be turned into actions across the continent of Africa.”
While demanding sweeping changes to the global financial system, Moussa Mahamat also announced that the summit would become a regular event and be held every two years.
Among most of the speakers, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s remarks seemingly carried different weighty significance. “Climate change poses, by all accounts, one of the most pressing challenges of our times. Its impact in Africa will be immensely aggravated; compounded as it is by a host of other major hurdles,” he said.
“The policies we articulate, and implementation mechanisms we map out, at the individual national level will not provide the primary panacea to this global challenge,” noted Afwerki, but added that, in this context, Africa can tap and incorporate the numerous scientific measures undertaken by global players in the field to bolster its purposeful mitigation measures.
While concluding his talk at the gathering, he reminded the necessity for Africa to mobilize its own resources rather than extend hands for handouts that may aggravate the existing situation by inviting interference and corrupt practices, mobilizing inside resources will be enabling and motivating creativity at the level of the continent.
Isaias Afwerki urged everyone to not be attracted by the billions that are being promised by so called donors. Rather, better to mobilize resources and get away from this dependency that will definitely compromise everything at the level of the continent.
Despite potential internal and external hurdles to scaling up funds, one report co-authored by Executive Secretary at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, concluded that multilateral development banks’ climate finance must triple within five years, from US$60 bln to US$180 bln, to help developing economies globally cope with global warming. Annual climate finance flows in Africa stand at only US$30 billion at the moment, however.
In another report released by Oxfam, for instance, said the devastating drought has gripped Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia — which scientists say has been made more severe by climate change — as well as floods in South Sudan, have caused losses of between US$15 billion and US$30 billion in the two years to 2022, or around two to four percent of the region’s GDP.
It estimated that between 2021 and 2023, the four countries lost about US$7.4 billion in livestock alone. “Millions of already struggling people saw their animals die and lost their ability to grow, sell or eat nutritious food, plunging them into even greater poverty and hunger,” the report said.
There so many reports detailing various aspects of the climate change, specifically with regards to Africa. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also estimates that 34 of 59 developing economies most vulnerable to climate change, many or which are in Africa, are also at a high risk of fiscal crises.
The summit has raised approximately US$23 billion in funding pledges. There are daunting challenges for the continent where hundreds of millions lack access to electricity. The oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE), in complete recognition of the Africa’s potential offered the financial pledge of US$4.5 billion as it competes to get hold of Africa. United States’ climate envoy John Kerry also announced US$30 million in new funding to accelerate climate-resilient food security across the continent.
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, at African Climate Summit, pointed to an injustice burns at the heart of the climate crisis. And its flame is scorching hopes and possibilities in Africa. This continent accounts for less than four per cent of global emissions. Yet it suffers some of the worst effects of rising global temperatures: Extreme heat, ferocious floods, and tens of thousands dead from devastating droughts. The blow inflicted on development is all around with growing hunger and displacement. Shattered infrastructure. Systems stretched to the limit.
All these above aggravated by climate chaos not of Africans’ making. It is still possible to avoid the worst effects of climate change. But only with a quantum leap in climate action. The people of Africa – and people everywhere – need action to respond to deadly climate extremes.
Notwithstanding all that he mentioned above, Antonio Guterres explained that reaching these targets requires climate justice. Developed countries must present a clear and credible roadmap to double adaptation finance by 2025 as a first step towards devoting, at least, half of all climate finance to adaptation.
Referring to multinational development banks and othe foreign financiers, Antonio Guterres added in his speech: “They must keep their promise to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries for climate support. Every person on earth must be covered by an early warning system by 2027 – by implementing the Action Plan we launched last year.”
“Six out of every 10 Africans currently lack access to these systems. The Early Warning for All Africa Action Plan launched yesterday under the leadership of the African Union will be critical to addressing this need. More broadly, we need a course correction in the global financial system so that it supports accelerated climate action in the context of sustainable development. We can’t achieve one without the other,” accroding to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
It, therefore, means re-capitalizing and changing the business model of Multilateral Development Banks. This could make it possible to leverage private finance at affordable rates to support developing nations to build sustainable economies. The global financial system must be reformed to be an ally of developing nations as they turbocharge a just and equitable green transition that leaves no one behind, especially those in Africa.
But then, and but the point here is that African leaders must get down to their tasks. Interestingly, Africa produces and trades in critical minerals. Africa must be sustainable, transparent and just across every link of the supply chain, with maximum added value produced across Africa. So we are saying is that African leadership must strive to generate innovative green economies anchored in renewable power.
Without hyperbolic geopolitical slogans, now is the time to bring together African states with developed world, financial institutions and technology companies to create a true African Renewable Energy Alliance. With adequate access to financial resources at a reasonable cost and technological support, renewables could dramatically boost economies, grow new industries, create jobs and drive development – including by reaching the over 600 million Africans living without access to power.
Nevertheless, African leaders and the attendees, demand from external nations to honour long-standing climate pledges for poorer nations. Analysts in their several news reports also acknowledged that the summit unity generated momentum for making this demand. But consensus is still challenging across the diverse continent of 1.4 billion people, the 54 African leaders and the African Union and within the context of geopolitical situation around the world.
Window to reach climate goals ‘rapidly closing’
The world is not on track to meet the long-term goals set out in the Paris Agreement for limiting global temperature rise, a major UN report warned on Friday, calling for a commitment to decisive action.Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which issued the report, called for “greater ambition and accelerating action”.
“I urge governments to carefully study the findings of the report and ultimately understand what it means for them and the ambitious action they must take next. It is the same for businesses, communities and other key stakeholders.”
The report summarizes 17 key findings from technical deliberations in 2022 and 2023 on the implementation status of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its long-term goals, based on the best scientific information.
The Agreement committed all countries to limit temperature rises as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
It found that in all areas, ranging from mitigating climate change impacts to addressing loss and damage, “much more needs to be done”.
“While there are well-known gaps, the technical findings highlighted existing and emerging opportunities and creative solutions to bridge these gaps,” UNFCCC said.
Good practices and proposals to accelerate implementation, action and support, are highlighted in all areas.
At the stocktake delegates will assess if they are collectively making progress towards meeting the climate goals – and where they are not.
Farhan Akhtar, one of the co-facilitators of the dialogue highlighted the “broad participation” of governments, experts and other key stakeholders.
“Across the discussions it was clear that the Paris Agreement has inspired widespread action that has significantly reduced forecasts of future warming. This global stocktake is taking place at a crucial moment to inspire further global action in responding to the climate crisis.”
Decisive action needed
Sultan Al Jaber, president-designate of COP28, emphasized the need to disrupt “business as usual” if the Paris Agreement is to be honoured.
For that emissions must be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030.
“That is why the COP28 Presidency has put forward an ambitious action agenda centred around fast tracking a just and well managed energy transition that leaves no one behind, fixing climate finance, focusing on people lives and livelihoods, and underpinning everything with full inclusivity,” he said.
“I believe we can deliver all of this while creating sustainable economic growth for our people, but we must urgently disrupt business as usual and unite like never before to move from ambition to action and from rhetoric to real results.”
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