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The most polluted capital in Europe, you didn’t even know about

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“Mama, why do I have to wear this again? It hurts my mouth,” says Norik, 5, to his mother, Igballe, before she puts a small, child-size air pollution mask over his face.

Igballe Ferati, a finance specialist, makes the usual walk to a local kindergarten every weekday with Norik along the streets of central Skopje, a city which often experiences dangerous levels of air pollution.

“I am really scared about the health of my child and I always check the pollution levels on my phone via the MojVozduh [MyAir] app before going outside. Especially in winter when the air pollution gets worse, I can’t let Norik go out, and I know some parents who don’t even allow their children to go to school on certain days, so they are not exposed to the air pollution. We are locked in our houses with air purifiers hoping that this will not affect the health of our children in the years to come,” says Igballe.

“We are forced to tell the children that they are superheroes to put on the masks. It is too difficult and sad to explain this situation to a child.”

Skopje, a city of more than half a million people, located in the centre of the Balkan peninsula in southern Europe has been listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) amongst the cities in Europe with the highest concentration of harmful fine particulate matter (PM) 2.5 in the air.

Particulate matter 2.5 includes a variety of components such as nitrates, sulphates, organic chemicals, metals, dust and black carbon, which pose a risk to human health. Due to their small size, they penetrate the lungs and are known to cause heart, lung and other diseases.

The latest data released by the World Health Organization in 2018 shows a PM 2.5 annual mean level of 40 micrograms per cubic metre in Skopje—four times the recommended levels of 10µg/m³.

In terms of mean concentrations of both PM 10 and PM 2.5, the World Health Organization Ambient Pollution Database for 2018 ranks Skopje as Europe’s most polluted capital city.

Moreover, Skopje suffers spikes in air pollution. To take one day as an example, on 13 November 2018, the European Environment Agency rated the Skopje municipality of Karpos as having “very poor” air quality. It registered 104.6µg/m3 of PM 2.5 – more than 10 times the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

The organization estimates that 2,574 people die prematurely in the country annually because of air pollution.

Causes of the Skopje air pollution

The city’s pollution has been blamed on a mix of coal burning, fuel oil and wood burning stoves in households, open waste burning, emissions from aging industry and old, highly-polluting vehicles.

In particular, the city has been reliant on lignite coal for heat during winters – a leftover from the Yugoslav era.

Many Skopje residents cannot afford to move to cleaner, more sustainable forms of heating and thus rely on cheaper, more polluting ones, such as wood.

The geography of Skopje, surrounded by mountains, means that the polluted air is effectively trapped. Skopje is particularly affected by pollution in the winter season which has contributed several times to the closure of the city’s airport.

“You can feel a sour, metallic taste in your mouth when the air pollution levels get high,” says Hristijan Gjorgievski, a Skopje office worker.

The unanswered call for solutions

Numerous public protests have taken place in Skopje and in a city in the north of the country, Tetovo, calling for state action against air pollution in those areas.

“While there has been much talk of the damage that climate change is doing in the long term, we need to look at the damage that air pollution is doing now, to Skopje and to the people who live there,” says Ana Čolović Lesoska, from Eko-svest (Eco-sense), a non-profit organization that advocates for environmental protection. “A lot of people have had enough of inaction on air pollution and civil society across the country is rising up to force change.”

On days with high air pollution in the city, Skopje authorities deploy emergency measures such as days off from work for pregnant women, those over 60 years of age, and people suffering from chronic asthma and related conditions. The city has previously offered free public transport and cancelled sporting events.

However, the root causes of pollution still need to be addressed. The city encourages people to move away from polluting heating systems such as wood-burning stoves to pellets and is considering car scrappage schemes for older, more polluting cars. If households burned cured wood instead of young, wet wood, that would also reduce smoky emissions.

“An integrated approach is really necessary and there is not going to be a ‘silver bullet’ for cities like Skopje,” says Rob de Jong, Head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit. “UN Environment’s Share the Road Programme is centered around designing cities for pedestrians, to make it easier for those who walk and cycle while trying to reduce people’s reliance on polluting vehicles.”

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development approved a US$13.5 million project to upgrade Skopje’s older diesel buses to low-emission, compressed natural gas buses. The government itself approved a US$1.8 million programme in November 2018 to tackle air pollution.

Given that household heating accounts for 32 per cent of the city’s air pollution, the United Nations Development Programme’s office in Skopje works with national partners to design cost-effective solutions to reduce air pollution caused by polluting heating systems.

“I am really scared of what the long-term health effects on children growing up in Skopje might be,” says Igballe. “My family and I have to get away from the city on the weekends in search of clean air. This affects our lives and budgets heavily.”

“What is clear is that if the authorities don’t react timely with a structured and serious approach towards the reduction of air pollution in the city, then the consequences for families living in cities such as Skopje are going to be severe.”

UN Environment

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Green Planet

Blessing In Disguise: The Lockdown-Effect On Environment

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Authors: Deepanjali Jain and Prateek Khandelwal* 

From one Wuhanese to over 4 million humans, the coronavirus has shackled pillars and institutions of our civilisation. The pandemic has socially distanced humans and spread fear which could be gauged from any nook and corner of the world. Though it seems, nature can finally breathe after decades, the signatures of which were visible from space.

As the factories and vehicle closed, dirty brown pollution belts shrunk over industrial centres in the country within days after lockdown. After decades of relentless exploitation, the human footprint on the earth has lightened. The persistent denial by the industrialist got an answer that climate change is real and that it is a reflection of human ‘exploitation’. The overexploitation of nature is fuelled by human greed, where consumption increases production and vice-versa. This vicious cycle depletes the natural ability of environment, which can be sensed in the lockdown months, to balance itself and so disrupts ecology.   

COVID-19 is not only a pandemic; it reflects a broader trend that more planetary crisis is scheduled for upcoming years. While we muddle through each new crisis, with the current economic model, then the repercussions will eventually exceed the capacity of financial institutions to respond. Indeed, the “corona crisis” has already done so. For just climate transition, new economic reforms should have a blueprint for “planned degrowth” that emphasizes on the wellbeing of people over profit margins.

The initial move towards this is assuring the incentives that governments are announcing across the globe are not exhausted on bailing out corporations. Instead, the funds should be allocated to decentralised renewable energy production to implement the ‘Green’ New Deal and create meaningful jobs for ‘the Great Depression’ post-COVID-19. Along with this, the state should enact on the provision of social welfare such as universal healthcare and free education for all vulnerable populations.        

Though set for 2025, by G7 and many European countries, elimination of perverse fossil-fuel subsidies can be done amid the recent oil-price plunge. It is the appropriate moment to deploy renewable energy technologies, which are now globally accessible without any economic barrier and phase out age-old fossil fuel.

A shift from exploitative industry setup to regenerative industries is immediately feasible. Also, it would allow us to sequester carbon emission spread by the current economic framework at a rate that is ample to reverse the ongoing climate crisis. This will have a positive impact on the environment and improve global wellbeing; also, it would turn to be an economically profit-enhancing model.

Though defined with differences and demarcated with boundaries, the planet with various species, nations, and geopolitical issues are ultimately interconnected. COVID-19 narrated that crisis does not observe national or even physical borders; the same is the case with climate change, biodiversity loss, and other environmental problem. Collective actions to curb these from becoming a full-blown crisis can only help in managing these issues. The current rescue plan for battling COVID-19 could usher these changes, as we are getting accustomed to the lifestyle and economic pattern that minimise consuming.

With the idea of sticking with this development structure, Governments can succeed in curbing the Corona epidemic. But we should move a step ahead to do a greater good for society and nature. The use of science can be moulded to construct an economy that will not mitigate the threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics and other challenges. A green economy should be laid down that has a preamble of nature-based solutions and is geared toward the public good.

Obviously, the circumstances are not ideal, but the rapid reflex actions and response to the virus of mutual aid also illustrates that human society is capable of controlling and working collectively in the face of a grave pandemic. The phase of development which humans are at, they are entrepreneurial and capable to begin again perfectly. If we learn from our failures and embrace this moment of upheaval as an opportunity to invest in shared prosperity, planetary health, and green economy, we can build a brighter future than the one we are heading towards. We have long since exceeded our natural limits; it is time to try something new.

*Prateek Khandelwal is a 2nd Year student pursuing B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna. 

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How video games are joining the fight to save the planet

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As bush fires were raging across Australia in December 2019, players of Space Ape video games reached out to the company and asked what they could do to help. The London-based firm quickly put an in-game purchase into several of its mobile titles, with all proceeds going to either a wildlife or humanitarian charity working in the area.

In just four days the company raised $120,000.

“That just speaks to how much people want to do good,” said Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, former Head of Content at Space Ape Games, who now runs her own consultancy focused on using games for social impact. 

Now, the video game industry is poised to roll up its sleeves and do even more for the planet. In August 2020, some of the biggest names in mobile gaming unveiled a series of environmentally themed missions and messages that will be integrated into popular titles, such as Angry Birds 2, Golf Clash and Subway Surfers. The additions will encourage players to do things like combat climate change or protect endangered wolves. The initiative is part of a push by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to work with game developers to raise awareness about pressing environmental issues.

“Video gaming is one of the biggest communication mediums on the planet,” says Sam Barratt, Chief of Education and Advocacy with UNEP. “We aim to support the industry to encourage gamers to be educated, inspired and activated around the wider environmental agenda, and so far it seems to be working.”

Globally, 2.6 billion people play video games and a growing number are taking an interest in the environment and conservation. A 2019 UNEP report, Playing for the Planet, found that video games could engage billions to contribute to solutions to social and environmental challenges.

The video game industry has yearly revenues of $140 billion—more than Hollywood, Bollywood and recorded music sales combined. In 2017, 666 million people watched other people play games on YouTube and Twitch – more than the combined audience of HBO, ESPN and Netflix. According to the UNEP report, channelling even a small portion of that attention and the industry’s revenues towards the planet would create tremendous impact in the real world.

Playing for the Planet

Space Ape is one of 25 members of UNEP’s Playing for the Planet Alliance, an initiative that aims to harness the power of gaming to encourage action on climate change. The project, which launched in 2019, has reached more than 970 million players. In joining the alliance, game companies make commitments, ranging from integrating green activations into games to reducing their emissions to supporting the global environmental agenda. 

The alliance held a Green Game Jam earlier this year which saw 11 mobile game companies compete to add a sustainability element to one of their existing games, a so-called “green nudge.” The objectives included asking players to make personal commitments, like skipping meat on Mondays or biking to work, or designing green environments, solar panels or electric cars into games.

Space Ape, whose game Transformers: Earth Wars contains environmental themes in the original storyline, picked renewable energy. For the updated release, it brought both good and evil Transformers together to find a new technology to harvest Earth’s energy resources more sustainably.

Mensah-Bonsu says that the company also wanted to give players a call to action, so it asked them to take a pledge to switch their lightbulbs from incandescents to LEDs.

California-based Pixelberry Studios focused on climate change in its title “Choices.” The game centres on a young woman who returns to her coastal hometown where there has been a large fish die-off. The girl’s younger sister is convinced the die-off is connected to climate change, despite skepticism from local politicians and business owners. The player’s role is to help their young sister rally others and raise awareness about climate change.

Saran Walker, one of the writers at Pixelberry, said the team had read dozens of articles about younger generations experiencing anxiety around climate change. (A recent survey of millennials — 30,000 individuals under the age of 30 from 186 countries confirmed this — finding that climate change and destruction of nature were the most critical issues for them.)

“We were all really inspired by Greta Thunberg’s story,” Walker said, referring to the young Swedish environmental activist. “Anyone at the company who has kids is thinking about what kind of world are they going to leave to their children. We wanted to show people that they can actually do a lot as an individual.”

A shift in the industry

The gaming industry is also considering how it can become carbon neutral, or in some cases carbon positive – a welcome move for a sector that has been scrutinized for its environmental footprint. Currently,  50 million tons of electronic waste is generated annually, with that number projected to reach 120 million tons by 2050.

Supercell, which makes mobile titles, recently committed to going entirely carbon neutral and offsetting the carbon dioxide used by players when playing their games. Rovio and Space Ape aim to take similar action.

The Playing for the Planet Alliance will share guidance with its members on how to decarbonize, with Sony leading a working group that includes other console makers. The alliance will help devise a new carbon calculator for the industry, develop fresh guidance on offsetting and forge new collective commitments around the restoration of forest landscapes, which help absorb carbon emissions.

“When we set out on this journey we wanted to help others in the industry too,” said Mensah-Bonsu. “If we all do our part, we can make a change in the world.”

UN Environment

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Green Planet

Green Politics: The hope for a better tomorrow

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Authors: Anurag Mishra and Aaditya Vikram Sharma

Green Political Parties in India

To pick from the last instalment, the culture of Indian environmentalism is indeed ancient and quite veritably primitive. For the record, India has various Green parties. The prominent one is of course is the India Greens Party which runs as an offshoot of the Global Greens and is a full member of the Asia Pacific Greens Federation. To take a measure of how green politics fares in the Indian context would only require us to take a quick visit to the Indian Green Party’s website. The events calendar for the IGP is blank for the month of July as well as the previous month. The last press release made by the IGP was in the month of March. A google search doesn’t even yield a Wikipedia page for the IGP because there isn’t one.

The Coronavirus pandemic poses a grave danger to humanity but also throws open an opportunity for laying the path which the posterity will tread. It is however disheartening that the response to the pandemic has more or less remained limited to  desperate search for a vaccine. A vaccine nevertheless is the acute need of the hour but what is of no less importance is a future plan for humanity which is closer to nature and yet at a safe distance.

Global Green Political Parties

Here, we look at the contemporary Green parties around the world. We primarily focus on North America and the Asia Pacific. In North America, Canada got its first Green parties starting 1983. Being a federal country, Canada has such parties present on provincial as well as the national level. The provincial parties include the Green Party of Ontario, the Green Party of Prince Edward Island, the Green Party of British Columbia and the Green Party of New Brunswick. The parliamentarians who get elected are colloquially known as “Green MLAs.” In the United States of America, the Green Party of the United States happens to be the primary such entity. It should be noted that as of April 2018, 156 Greens held elective office across the US in 19 states. The states with the largest numbers of Green elected officials are California (68), Connecticut (15), and Pennsylvania (15). Titles of offices held include: Alderman, Auditor, Board of Appeals, Board of Finance, Board of Selectmen, Borough Council, Budget Committee, Circuit Court Judge, City Council and so on. The Green Party has contested six U.S.A. presidential elections: in 1996 and 2000 with Ralph Nader for president and Winona LaDuke as vice president, in 2004 with David Cobb for president and Pat LaMarche for vice president, and in 2008 with Cynthia McKinney for president and Rosa Clemente for vice president. In 2000, Nader received more votes for president than any Green Party candidate before or since. Jill Stein ran for president on the Green ticket in 2012 and 2016; the vice-presidential candidates were Cheri Honkala in 2012 and Ajamu Baraka in 2016. Stein, who received over one million votes in the 2016 race, led unsuccessful attempts toward 2016 election recounts in three states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

On the other side of the planet, the Asia Pacific Greens Federation is of prominence. It is a federation of national Green parties, social and environmental organizations in countries in the Pacific Ocean and Asia, and is one of the four federations that constitute the Global Greens. 32 Parties from 30 nations got together in February 2005 in Kyoto, Japan, to found the network. There they elected a Membership Panel, and delegates to the Global Greens Coordination (GGC). The federation has a presence in countries such as Australia, India, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Korea etc.

A Common Agenda?

The Agenda of these parties overall can be derived through their principles and policies- a list of such guidelines available on some websites of the Green parties. Overall these can be divided into the following headers- Ecological Wisdom, Social Justice, Participatory Democracy, Non-violence, Sustainability and Respect for Diversity. Overall, the idea seems to be in conformity with international treaties and upcoming practices for environmental governance. The agendas also seem to comply with global requirements for climate commitments, such as that of the Paris Agreement.

However, environmental policies are just one part of international relations. Thus, it is not clear what the other policies of green parties would be. Thus, their agenda needs to more well defined and encompassing.

Conclusion

Netflix released the second season of its popular school drama The Politician last month. Where the first season of the series had focused almost entirely upon the protagonist’s political ambition and his run to the office of school president, the second season centred around his political campaign based entirely upon environmentalism. A strong movement requires novel instruments of mass mobilization and symbols which people can relate to and take to. The Global Green Movement needs to make itself ‘catchy’ to generate mass participation without which it is bound to remain a fringe movement even after fifty years since the United Tasmania Group coming into being. What seems to be the only way forward is mainstreaming of the Green agenda and making it “cool” and part of the popular culture.

However, it is not just awareness that would suffice and thus the scientific developments in the areas of energy, agriculture and food among other things need unprecedented attention and investment. In the food industry, the way Veganism has caught people from diverse range of countries is an example how an idea can travel far and wide and can bring about even the most difficult and unimaginable lifestyle changes. The technology has tried keeping pace with companies like Impossible Foods and Green Meat Co. coming up with vegetable based meat etc. The growing popularity of EVs and renewable sources of energy have steadily moved in the direction of creating a global ecosystem based on the idea of sustainability and environmentalism. All we need is a huge push and unrelenting spirit.

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