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D(air) to dream of a cleaner future for your city

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In 2019, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) made recommendations for Kazakhstan to improve how it raises awareness on air pollution and alerts the public of high pollution levels, including by involving citizen science. Since, 49 LED screens have lit up across Almaty, displaying air quality data drawing from citizens.

In early 2017, Pavel Plotitsyn, an IT expert from Kazakhstan, stepped onto the balcony of his new apartment in Almaty, to enjoy a panoramic view of the ancient city. Instead, he saw a sky thick with smog.

“When I wanted to bring fresh air into my flat, it smelt like someone was burning rubber,” he recalls.

Plotitsyn decided to take matters into his own hands. He ordered affordable air quality monitoring devices online and installed one on his balcony. He published his readings of PM2.5 particulate matter — tiny particles that can reach people’s lungs and lead to premature death — on social media.

“The numbers were really shocking,” he says. “In parts of the city, levels of PM2.5 could easily top 300μg/m3 for several consecutive days in winter”. The maximum safe limit recommended by the World Health Organisation is 25μg/m3.

Soon, friends and neighbours asked Plotitsyn for help in installing devices for their homes, with readings published on the website. When pollution levels passed safe thresholds, sensors were marked in red.Today, 25 sensors are in place across Almaty, with more covering five other cities in the country, and thousands of people check Airkaz.org daily.

“Pavel’s story shows how citizen science can spark a nationwide conversation on air quality. By shining a torchlight on air pollution types and where it is found, we can identify solutions. Through our office in Almaty, UNEP stands ready to support the city on its transition to clean air,” said Bruno Pozzi, UNEP Europe Office Director.

Raising awareness

After having certified 10 of the devices for Almaty, Kazakhstan’s national hydrometeorological body, Kazhydromet, now uses the readings along with the official data it collects through the national air quality monitoring network. The service even launched an app for the public, which includes findings from the citizen-led network and displays information on the effects of air pollution on human health. 

Together with Kazhydromet data sourced from its 16 state-owned monitoring stations across the city, data collected from the citizens’ devices now feeds into 49 LED screens set up across Almaty by the mayor, Bakytzhan Sagintayev, in June. The screens display real-time levels of PM 2.5, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and phenol.

“Air quality monitoring data is being shown on LED screens across Almaty. Data from sensors located in different parts of the city is updated and processed by Kazhydromet. This project will increase Almaty residents’ awareness of the quality of their urban environment,” says Mr Sagintayev.

Plans to clear the air

The main sources of air pollution in Almaty are emissions from a coal power plant, intense traffic and an ageing fleet of cars, made worse by mountains and buildings blocking wind flows. In response, Almaty is now looking at modernizing its thermal power plant; and 250,000 trees are being planted this year  — to reach a total of one million new trees by 2022. The city is also putting 400 gas buses, and 10 electric ones, on the road, and has expanded its bicycle lane network to reach 110km in length, with plans to reach 300km.

Upon the mayor’s initiative, parts of the city will be closed off to cars on weekends. The impact of this was demonstrated during the city’s COVID-19 lockdown this spring – reduction in road traffic led to a 21 per cent drop in PM2.5 levels, bringing pollution levels below WHO limits on some days, research suggests.

Power of citizen science

In 2019, UNEP’s Europe Office led the environmental monitoring chapter of Kazakhstan’s 3rd Environmental Performance Review, put together by the UN Environment Commission for Europe. It was recommended that the country alert citizens of high pollution levels, including by involving citizen science and billboards.

Today, not only is citizen-led data making its way onto screens across Almaty – it is also feeding into some of the world’s largest air quality data houses, such as the AirVisual and Urban Air Action platforms.

“Every family in Almaty seems to include someone suffering from an allergy linked to air pollution,” Pavel laments. “I started doing this as a weekend hobby. But it isn’t just a fun project anymore. Hopefully, it can help change the situation here one day”.

7 September marks the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. Nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe air deemed to be unsafe by the World Health Organisation.

UN Environment

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Environment

Muscovites Apply for 700 Trees to be Planted in Honor of Their Newborn Children

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moscow plant trees

The Our Tree project launched two years ago by Moscow’s Department of Information Technology and Department of Nature Management and Environmental Protection has quickly become very popular among Muscovites. Thanks to this annual campaign, city residents can now celebrate the happiest event in their family life – the birth of a child – by giving their baby a unique gift – their own personal tree.

Any parent who is permanently resident in Moscow can apply for a tree within three years of the birth of their child. To do so, they need only have an account on the mos.ru website. On average, 700 Muscovites apply for a tree to be planted in honor of their newborn child each month.

In two months, young parents have submitted more than 1,500 online applications to participate in the Our Tree project and plant seedlings in honor of their newborn kids in the autumn. That’s twice as many as during the same period in spring. Acceptance of applications began on January 16 and will continue until June 15.

Last autumn, more than 5,000 trees were planted as part of the project, with linden, Norway maple, pine, white willow and rowan trees being the most popular choices. Spring planting of personal saplings will soon begin.

Eduard Lysenko, Minister of the Moscow Government and Head of the Department of Information Technology, noted that interest in the Our Tree project among young parents is growing every year: in 2019, more than 2,300 trees were applied for and planted, while in 2020 the number increased to 5,000. More than 4,500 saplings will appear in Moscow’s parks this spring thanks to the project participants.

“A set of online services has been created for families with children on the mos.ru portal. The Our Tree project is another opportunity for young parents to celebrate the important milestone of the birth of their child and to contribute to the city’s ecology. Taking part in the project is very simple – just submit an online application on the portal. Some information is filled in automatically from users’ personal accounts, which makes everything even more convenient. On average, Muscovites order more than 700 seedlings to plant as family trees in their favorite park each month,” said Lysenko.

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Norwegian scientists finally find good news from Norilsk Nickel

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The state of the environment in the border areas is the main topic of the «Pasvikseminaret 2021», organized by the public administrator in Troms county and Finnmark in cooperation with the municipality of Sør-Varanger municipality.

The purpose of the annual Pasvik seminar is to provide the local population and local politicians all information about the environmental situation in the border area Norway – Russia. Program focused on pollution from the Nickel Plant and monitoring of the environment in the border area.

The activities of Norilsk Nickel have been the main focus of the workshop for many years.

For the first time in many years, Norwegian scientists have found only positive news from Russia.

Tore Flatlandsmo Berglen, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Atmospheric Research (NILU), noted a significant improvement in air quality in the border area. Berglen remembered the 70-80s of the last century, when one of the divisions of Norilsk Nickel “Pechenganikel” annually emitted 400 thousand tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, in the 90s this figure dropped to 100 thousand tons. After the closure plant in Nikel in December 2020, the content of sulfur dioxide and heavy metals in the atmosphere at the border between Norway and the Murmansk region meets all international requirements.

“And I know that these emissions from the Kola MMC will continue to decline. Compared to 2015, this figure will be 85 percent. This is very positive news. Air quality issues are being addressed in the right direction. We have been talking about this for many years and finally the problem has been resolved, emissions significantly reduced. This is the most excellent presentation I have ever make! ” – said Tore Berglen.

Earlier it was reported that Russia’s Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium, closed its smelter in the city of Nickel in northern Russia at the end of 2020. Kola is a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel on the Kola Peninsula with mines, processing plants and pellets in Zapolyarny, as well as metallurgical plants in Monchegorsk and a plant in Nikel, which closed at the end of December 2020.

The Norwegian environmentalists who participated in the workshop also noticed positive changes.

“The smelter is closed and Norilsk Nickel is working hard to become a ‘green’ metallurgical company – it reduces emissions, uses advanced technology and cooperates with Pasvik nature reserve which is our good partner in Russia. Today, a lot of interesting things are happening in the border areas. We have many common interests and there is a certain key to ensuring that everything works out for us – this is good coordination, cooperation, a large knowledge base,” said the representative of the environmental center NIBIO Svanhovd.

Other studies examining water resources, fish, berries, also prove that nature in the border area is recovering. All this testifies to the work of ecologists who care about the environment.

“We see examples of what has already been done. And this allows us to plan with confidence our future joint work, projects,” says senior adviser representative Anne Fløgstad Smeland at the county governor in Finnmark.

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New project to help 30 developing countries tackle marine litter scourge

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Litter is removed from a beach in Watamu in Kenya. UNEP/Duncan Moore

A UN-backed initiative aims to turn the tide on marine litter, in line with the global development goal on conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources. 

The GloLitter Partnerships Project will support  30 developing countries in preventing and reducing marine litter from the maritime transport and fisheries sectors, which includes plastic litter such as lost or discarded fishing gear. 

The project was launched on Thursday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), with initial funding from Norway. 

Protecting oceans and livelihoods 

“Plastic litter has a devastating impact on marine life and human health”, said Manuel Barange, FAO’s Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture.  “This initiative is an important step in tackling the issue and will help protect the ocean ecosystem as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on it.” 

Protecting the marine environment is the objective of Sustainable Development Goal 14, part of the 2030 Agenda to create a more just and equitable future for all people and the planet. 

The GloLitter project will help countries apply best practices for the prevention and reduction of marine plastic litter, in an effort to safeguard the world’s coastal and marine resources. 

Actions will include encouraging fishing gear to be marked so that it can be traced if lost or discarded at sea. Another focus will be on the availability and adequacy of port reception facilities and their connection to national waste management systems.  

“Marine litter is a scourge on the oceans and on the planet”, said Jose Matheickal, Head of the IMO’s Department for Partnerships and Projects. “I am delighted that we have more than 30 countries committed to this initiative and working with IMO and FAO to address this issue.” 

Five regions represented 

The nations taking part in the GloLitter project are in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. 

They will also receive technical assistance and training, as well as guidance documents and other tools to help enforce existing regulations. 

The project will promote compliance with relevant international instruments, including the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which contains regulations against discharging plastics into the sea.

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