In the past few weeks, our environment witnessed an immense reduction in the amount of pollution across the globe. The average levels of nitrogen dioxide in air were significantly declined in this period. The water quality in the rivers and canals has improved. The carbon emission has dropped in many regions after following a lesser use of fossil fuels. Instances of wildlife coming out on streets were recorded from multiple cities. Despite these positive impacts, the fight against COVID-19 has also brought several challenges before the environment. One such threat is the rise in the number of plastic and plastic waste.
While countries managed to achieve social distancing and to conduct tests in large volumes; nevertheless, they neglected ecological considerations in their efforts to eliminate COVID-19. There is a tremendous increase in the use of plastic and other products packed in plastic containers during this pandemic. The personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes gloves, masks, coats, eyewear, and other medical equipment are made up of single-use plastic. Consumers are buying items in disposable plastics from shops and home delivery services. Careless practices related to the disposal of plastic bags, personal protective equipment, and other products are raising concerns for the public health and the environment.
Problems associated with plastic
Many countries across the world were regulating single-use plastic through some form of policies before the emergence of COVID-19. Some jurisdictions also provided punishment for using single-use plastic bags. However, with the rise of COVID-19, there came a massive demand for PPE to be utilized by doctors, nurses, health workers, staff, authorities, and citizens. PPE helps in avoiding the transmission of the virus from the affected person to the others. Due to the shortage of PPE, health workers are even bound to use plastic sheets, laundry, and garbage bags for their security. Similarly, under the apprehension of contacting viruses from others, consumers tend to prefer single-use plastics bags instead of reusable cloth bags for their shopping purposes. These instances ultimately relaxed the regulation of single-use plastic in many countries and permitted a large-scale production of required plastic products. Eventually, this pandemic has led to the revival of the plastic industry that was shut long before. Unfortunately, all efforts and hard work to ban the use of single-use plastic will go in vain by the end of this pandemic.
Today, countries are also witnessing a vast number of biomedical wastes arising out of hospitals and specialized care centers. It draws our attention to the capabilities of all nations to recycle plastic waste, especially contaminated with coronavirus. Considering the ongoing lockdown in many countries, recycling and waste services are not working in their full capacity. Consequently, the plastic waste is not getting treated sufficiently. With this limitation, untreated wastes are piling up more frequently in landfills. The present problem also poses a danger for the cleaning workers who are working with those wastes. Any contact with contaminated plastic wastes will also affect them and their surroundings. Another problem persists of mixed wastes at the household level that is not separated adequately. These wastes might consist of infected items that can affect other articles. Moreover, plastic trash that is left over streets or not disposed of correctly will cause clogging of the sewage system and also hamper the water resources. In coastal areas, such unattended plastic wastes can contaminate the water bodies and oceans.
Today, plastic is frequently used by everyone to prevent contamination from others. There is no alternative material available for producing medical equipment to address COVID-19 cases with similar utility and cost. However, researchers said that coronavirus could stay for a significantly longer duration on plastic. Further, there exists no conclusive proof to claim that single-use plastic bags are safe over reusable bags. A similar level of protection is required while using both plastic and reusable cloth bags. Notably, large scale production of single-use plastics will have a lasting effect much beyond this pandemic. Therefore, though plastic is promoted as a life savior during COVID-19, it is not a viable solution for our future.
A way forward
Products made out of single-use plastic could be considered as an emergency response against the COVID-19, along with certain restrictions. Manufacturers should be encouraged to come out with an alternative of the single-use plastic at the earliest opportunity. Infection from discarded plastics could be more frequent once the lockdown is lifted. Governments must urgently frame policies to address the adequate management of plastics wastes and also ensure their effective implementation. Such measures should emphasize the separation of wastes before disposal and use of paper bags instead of plastic bags for consumer purposes. Genuine efforts should be made to guarantee the appropriate disposal of infected protective gear to avoid further contamination. Waste workers should be trained in light of the present pandemic to treat wastes safely. They should be provided with essential safety gear while performing their job. People should not throw their plastic waste in the open and, if possible, try to reuse or store those products for some time. Indeed, plastic is a threat to our environment. It should not be allowed to revive as an excuse for the current pandemic. If COVID-19 is an immediate danger, then plastic is a slow poison. Both of them should be regulated and checked simultaneously. Thus, it is our responsibility to take care of our environment along with our fight against COVID-19.
When Sea Levels Rise And Coastal Waters Darken…
Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust
The coastal waters by Wilmington, Delaware, the president’s home base, have risen a record 3 mm in the past year. Worse, the rate of increase is itself increasing portending a foot or more in the next century. It means a rebuilding of docks plus barriers to prevent serious tidal flooding.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), affiliated with the College of William and Mary, has been collecting data on sea levels for the past 52 years. It released its latest annual report recently, noting sea level rising by historic amounts — as in the case of Wilmington — as well as the accelerating rate of increase.
There are 32 tide gauges placed along the US coasts all the way to Alaska. Maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), these measure levels every six minutes. Researchers at VIMS take a monthly average to avoid a skewed analysis due to unusual weather patterns like storms.
The Institute’s report presents sea level changes, assesses future trends, and tries to explain the increases or even decreases at particular localities. Sea level changes are relative to the adjoining land. For example, the rates are actually falling in Alaska but that is caused by shifting tectonic plates raising land and off-setting the sea level rise.
Researchers describe the persistent sea level rise as a “slow emergency” — not a storm that will be hitting tomorrow but trouble ahead and the report cards can help local authorities plan for the future.
Wetlands Watch works to preserve wetlands in Virginia’s coastal areas. Rising sea level is a particular concern because it is expected to affect most of the state’s coastal wetlands. Therefore in addition to policy advocacy, Wetlands Watch has developed Sea Rising Solutions, which helps in mapping out where flooding is likely.
Spreading the word about sea level rise and its consequences engages the whole community and motivates legislators and developers to adapt to the new norm and prepare ahead for a changing environment.
There is another problem with coastal areas: a gradual darkening of the sea water. It is serious for such a change in color and clarity poses a significant threat to marine life. The Coastal Ocean Darkening Project at the University of Oldenburg in Germany simulated the effects by filling huge metal vats with water and phytoplankton and hanging lamps above them to simulate sunlight. They then darkened the water using low, medium and high concentrations of a brown liquid extracted from peat to simulate decaying organic matter. The phytoplankton were all negatively affected but particularly in the vats with medium and high concentrations which blocked off more light. Also some phytoplankton were affected more than others.
The adverse consequences to the elemental base of the ocean’s food threatens marine species up the chain, and especially those relying on the phytoplankton types most affected. Moreover, reduced vision hinders those species, like fish, relying on vision to hunt, while not affecting those that do not, like jellyfish.
Why is the water darkening? One hint might be that environmental regulation of fertilizer use goes along with improvements in the Mediterranean, the North Sea and parts of the North American coast. And of course reducing global warming would decrease ice melt and subsequent sea level rise.
Promoting Green Finance in Qatar: Post-Pandemic Opportunities and Challenges
The recent COVID-19 pandemic had significant implications for both national economies and the global financial system, in addition to hindering the achievement of the sustainable development goals agenda. The UNDP estimates global human development—a combination of education, health, and living standards—could fall this year for the first time since 1990, which highlights how the effects of the pandemic present both an enormous challenge and tremendous opportunities for reaching the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With the additional challenges arising from climate change, governments have committed to several policy measures which promote a green recovery to rebuild their economies, while benefiting the people and the planet. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that the public resources committed by governments to support a green recovery amount to at least USD 312 billion. These measures present tremendous opportunities for green finance in general, and Islamic green finance in particular, in the context of Muslim-majority countries.
The State of Qatar, in light of its National Vision 2030 and in order to enhance the diversification of its economy away from hydrocarbon, has taken several measures to mitigate climate change. These include increasing the use of solar energy to more than 20% of its energy mix by 2030, the optimal use of water, improving air quality, waste recycling, increasing green spaces, in addition to the country’s commitment to organizing the first “carbon neutral” tournament featuring the use of solar-powered stadiums and water and energy-saving cooling and lighting technology. The State is also a signatory of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and supports a number of global initiatives in relation to climate change mitigation.
All these initiatives could be funded via green finance. In this regard, there are four global trends in the financial industry that the State of Qatar can leverage to promote green finance for green recovery:
Growth of SRI and ESG awareness:
Socially responsible investing (SRI) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing are two of the fastest growing investing areas globally. Both are driven by the increasing awareness of social and environmental responsibility. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, global sustainable investment reached $30.7 trillion in the five major markets at the start of 2018, a 34 percent increase in two years. These include Europe, United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Developing green finance instruments and products can attract a growing SRI investor base that seeks to align social and environmental values with its investment portfolios.
Upward trend of Islamic Finance:
According to the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), the total worth of the Islamic Financial Services Industry across its three main segments (banking, capital markets, and takaful) is estimated at $2.44 trillion in 2019, marking a year-on-year 11.4% growth in assets in US dollar terms. According to Thomson Reuters, the industry is projected to reach $3.8 trillion by 2022. Qatar is one of the global Islamic finance hubs with Islamic finance assets representing more than 20% of the local financial system’s assets. With the recent development of Islamic green finance, Qatar has the opportunity to position itself as a sustainable finance leader in the region by promoting synergies between Islamic and green finance growing markets.
Financial innovation for sustainability:
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) highlights that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will take between $5 and $7 trillion, with an investment gap in developing countries of about $2.5 trillion and the additional net investment required to implement renewable energy solutions standing at $ 1.4 trillion, or about $100 billion per year on average between 2016 and 2030, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Mitigating this funding gap requires an engaged private sector to make green investments. That is why several green instruments and products were developed across the various segments of the financial industry. These include green retail banking products, including green loans and green mortgages, green corporate and investment products, green project finance, and green venture capital and private equity, as well as green capital market instruments, like green investment funds, green bonds, and sukuk.
Integration of sustainability objectives into national strategies:
Several governments around the world have integrated sustainability objectives and green finance roadmaps into their national strategies, either through a top-down approach, whereby green finance frameworks and taxonomies are harmonized at the country level (as with China), or via market-led collaborative actions. In addition, to overcome private sector investment barriers, such as high up-front costs, long investment timelines, and higher perceived risks, several countries have put in place incentives in the form of subsidies and tax exemptions. The State of Qatar can leverage these experiences through collaborations and partnerships to develop a unique green finance model in the region
Green Sukuk: A Fast Growing Market
Green sukuk is an innovative instrument for financing green infrastructure. It has the potential to become a new asset class targeting both Islamic and socially responsible investors.
Since the issuance of the first green sukuk in 2017 in Malaysia, the market has grown significantly, with twelve issuers in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates tapping the market, in addition to the Islamic Development Bank. About $7.6 billion in four currencies (EUR, IDR, MYR, and USD) was raised up to September 2020, with tenors ranging from two to 21 years. The amounts raised were allocated to green construction, energy efficiency, and clean transportation projects.
Promoting Green Finance in Qatar
Although the green finance market is still in an early stage of development in the country, the market has witnessed several initiatives by local institutions that might pave the way to the development of a more dynamic market. In September 2020, Qatar National Bank (QNB) issued the first ever green bond in Qatar, a $600 million tranche, under its MTN Program, with a maturity of five years under its established Green, Social, and Sustainability Bond Framework.
In addition, Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) introduced an ESG Guidance in 2017 to assist listed companies wishing to incorporate ESG reporting into their existing reporting processes.
While Bond and sukuk issuance in Qatar reached $28 billion in 2019, the market is largely driven by government issuance and commercial banks for corporate issuances, with the exception of Ezdan Sukuk in 2016 and 2017. The development of green sukuk in the country with the enabling ecosystem could facilitate corporate sukuk issuance, thus enhancing market liquidity.
In conclusion, promoting a green recovery in line with the country’s economic diversification objectives and climate mitigation strategies will require the development of an enabling ecosystem for the development of green finance in Qatar. Developing a pipeline of bankable green projects at the country level, market awareness, and promoting synergies between Islamic and green finance will provide the basis for further innovation and policy action, such as green labels, frameworks, and incentives.
2021 will be defined by the more long-term crisis facing humanity: Climate change
Rather than low-tech and often unworkable solutions (reduced or no travel, mass vegan diets) governments are increasingly embracing technology to help us understand and influence the climate – rather than merely respond to it. This should become the norm for public authorities across the world.
China’s weather modification programme, for example, could be a lifeline for workable solutions to climate change globally. The technique, known as cloud-seeding, uses silver iodide and liquid nitrogen to thicken water droplets in the cloud, leading to increased rain or snowfall.
The technology has been used to prevent droughts and regulate weather before major events, like in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The Chinese cabinet has announced that its weather modification programme will cover half the country by 2025, with the aim to revitalize rural regions, restore ecosystems, minimize losses from natural disasters and redistribute water throughout the country.
And China’s ambitious ‘Sky River’ programme could eventually divert 5 billion cubic meters of water annually across regions, which could protect millions of people from the effects of drought and water scarcity.
Although critics have, without evidence, described these projects as ‘weaponization of the weather’, the humanitarian and development potential is huge.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and this is truer than ever with regards to the climate. The world faces a climate-change induced water crisis, with 1.5 billion people affected globally.
The UN predicts that at the current water usage levels, water scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030.
Carbon emissions are unlikely to be eliminated in high growth economies in regions like Asia, meaning that the world must develop a way to manage emissions’ effects on the climate.
Whilst it is true that the basic solutions of eating less meat, cycling to work and cutting back on international flights can help to curb our carbon output in the long-run, it does nothing to help those who suffer from flooding or water scarcity today.
Ultimately, technology is an essential part of the solution.
Big Tech is leading the charge in tackling climate change through the use of Big Data and machine learning. In November 2019, a group of data scientists published a paper entitled ‘Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning’. The paper laid out 13 different applications of using machine learning to tackle the impacts of climate change. One such application was using machine-learning to predict extreme weather events.
Such an application is already being put into action. For example, Bangladesh is one of the most flood-prone countries in the world; approximately 5 million people were negatively affected by flooding last year alone. In order to help combat this, Google teamed up with the Bangladesh Water Development Board and the Access to Information (a2i) Programme to develop a flood notification app that is approximately 90% accurate.
The app, which is enabled by AI flooding simulation, provides the population with timely, updated, and critical information that can help users make informed decisions on the safety of their families and friends.
The same technology has been used in both India and South Africa, and has the potential to save thousands of lives and livelihoods. It is these sorts of innovations that we must rely on to help those who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
It is not only cloud-seeding and weather prediction technologies that will provide humanity with a route out of its biggest existential threat. Breakthrough battery technology, green hydrogen, 5G-based smart grids and carbon-negative factories are set to become commonplace in our fight against rising CO2 levels.
As a global society, we must set our political divisions and some critics’ technophobia aside, and step forward in a spirit of international collaboration.
Similarly to how the pandemic showed the need for united global action, climate change will do the same. And just as technology and science was a key part in how the pandemic was brought under control, climate change can only be addressed through tech-based solutions.
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