The human and economic cost of air pollution and degraded seas and coastlines is immense, estimated to be more than 3% of GDP in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to a new World Bank Report.
The report, Blue Skies, Blue Seas: Air Pollution, Marine Plastics and Coastal Erosion in the Middle East and North Africa, focuses on the degradation of “blue” natural assets in the MENA region (clean air, health seas and stable coastlines) and offers policy recommendations to reverse the threat to this natural capital.
“Polluted skies and seas are costly to the health, social and economic wellbeing of millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa region,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “As countries recover from COVID-19, there is an opportunity to change course and choose a greener, bluer and more sustainable growth path that has fewer emissions and less environmental degradation,” he added.
Air pollution levels in MENA’s largest cities are among the highest in the world, with the average urban resident breathing in air that exceeds by more than 10 times the level of pollutants considered safe by the WHO, the report said. Air pollution causes about 270,000 deaths a year (more than deaths from traffic accidents, diabetes, malaria TB, HIV/AIDS and acute hepatitis combined) and the average MENA resident is ill at least 60 days in his/her lifetime due to exposure to elevated air pollution levels. The economic costs of air pollution are immense – around $141 billion per year, or 2% of regional GDP.
MENA’s seas have also become more polluted, and the average resident contributes more than 6 kg of plastic waste into the region’s seas each year, the highest level globally. According to the report, the annual average cost of marine plastic pollution is around 0.8% of GDP. A major cause for this plastic waste is poor solid waste management, and an over-use of plastics, partly due to a lack of plastic alternatives. The Maghreb and Mashreq regions mismanage around 60% of their waste and open dumping is prevalent, including in higher-income Gulf countries. Total waste generation is expected to almost double by 2050 to 255 million tons (from 129 million tons in 2016), further exacerbating the issue.
Added to dirty seas, is a growing risk posed by coastal erosion, with MENA’s shorelines eroding at the second fastest rate globally. In the Maghreb alone, coasts have eroded at an average of around 15 centimetres per year, more than double the global average of 7 centimetres per year, the report said. The disappearance of MENA’s beaches threatens livelihoods, particularly among the poor. Shrinking coastlines impair fisheries, reduce coastal tourism and compromise related activities. The estimated direct cost of coastal erosion in terms of destroyed land and buildings (excluding indirect costs such as reduced tourism revenues) range from 0.2% of GDP in Algeria to 2.8% in Tunisia.
The deterioration of MENA’s blue assets is due to a range of deficiencies but common to all three challenges is a lack of reliable knowledge of both the sources and sectors responsible. Hence, it is key to improve source attribution studies for air and marine plastic pollution as well as more detailed studies of coastal dynamics for coastal erosion. Similarly, awareness programs for all three issues are vital to inform the public and boost demand for change.
More specifically for air pollution, the report suggests pricing the cost of air pollution and reforming fossil fuel subsidies and creating markets for emissions, along with offering cleaner transportation options. Effective enforcement of stricter emission standards for industry is crucial, as are improvements in solid waste management to reduce the open burning of agricultural and municipal waste.
To address marine plastic pollution, report recommendations include improving solid waste management, creating reliable market structures for recycling markets and increased collaboration with the private sector for plastic alternatives, while also reducing fossil fuel subsidies which artificially reduce the price of plastics versus alternatives
To tackle coastal erosion, governments must better understand the drivers of erosion and determine hotspots while also embarking on integrated coastal zone management schemes and adopting nature-based solutions that protect coastlines, including dune vegetation or artificial reefs. Moreover, practices that exacerbate coastal erosion should be controlled, including effective bans for illegal sand mining, and retrofitting dams that obstruct the flow of sediment from rivers to the coasts, the report said.
“Healthy blue assets are at the epicenter of trade, tourism and industry in MENA and while more needs to be done, many countries do now recognize the urgent need to protect this vital natural capital through reforms, regulations, partnerships and investments,” said Ayat Soliman, World Bank Director of Sustainable Development for the Middle East and North Africa.
Plant-based foods improve health and environment, says top EU scientific advisor
A shift in diets is central to tackling obesity and climate change, according to Eric Lambin, a member of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.
By HORIZON STAFF
Human health is inextricably linked to food and the environment. The world, including Europe, faces emergencies on all three fronts.
The current food system is damaging people’s health by contributing to obesity and destroying the environment by, among other things, causing greenhouse-gas emissions and biodiversity loss.
Given the high stakes and challenges, Horizon Magazine plans a five-part series of articles over the remainder of 2023 on “sustainable food”. The aim is to highlight the promises of bringing about fundamental improvements in this area including with the help of research and innovation.
Today’s start of the series sets the stage by featuring an interview with Eric Lambin, a professor of geography and sustainability science at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
Lambin is also a member of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA), which produced a June 2023 Scientific Opinion entitled “Towards Sustainable Food Consumption”. The opinion was requested by European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides.
The ensuing articles in the series will focus on dietary shifts, urban food systems, the microbiome and the role of legislation.
1. Food, health and sustainability have been linked for thousands of years. Why should people today pay any particular attention to this area?
We are now facing a public health crisis – with widespread overweight, obesity and malnutrition issues – and a global environmental crisis.
Today, livestock accounts for more than 14% of human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions, which is more than the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks. Production of meat – especially beef – drives climate change directly by emitting methane and indirectly by converting tropical forests for pastures and animal-feed production. Forest conversion not only adds to emissions but also causes biodiversity loss. We imagine most of the green fields we drive past are crops for humans to eat, whereas in fact two-thirds of the world’s agricultural lands are grazing lands and 40% of the world’s cropland is for animal feed.
Our Scientific Opinion calls for system-wide changes to correct this.
2. What would a more sustainable food system mean concretely?
For most Europeans, diets should be more plant-based as they are often too high in meat and dairy products, which have much higher environmental footprints than plant-based foods.
To shift towards a healthier and more sustainable diet, it is recommended to consume more legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and less meat – especially red and processed meat – fewer foods rich in saturated fat, salt and sugar, fewer snacks with poor nutritional qualities and fewer ultra-processed foods, sugary drinks and alcoholic drinks.
For animal-based foods, we should prioritise the consumption of sustainably sourced fish and seafood.
We also need to reduce food waste to minimise the unnecessary use of resources for growing, harvesting, transporting and packaging food that ends up in landfills.
3. What role can the EU play to ensure that food is healthier and greener?
The Scientific Opinion recommends that policy measures aiming to change consumer behaviour should focus on the whole “food environment”. That is anywhere where people obtain, eat and discuss their food.
So policy measures should address not only consumers but also food providers, producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The competences needed to accelerate a transition towards more sustainable and healthy diets are distributed at all levels of governance, from the EU to Member States, regions and municipalities.
The EU can provide guidelines, adjust subsidies, develop labels, expand its current carbon-pricing scheme, among other things, and encourage Member States to act at their level.
4. What is the GCSA recommending in terms of EU action in this field?
The EU should adopt a mix of complementary policies based on pricing, information and regulation.
Healthy and sustainable diets should be the easiest and most affordable choice. EU Member States should consider new incentives including lower value-added tax on fruits and vegetables as well as disincentives such as meat and sugar taxes.
The provision of trusted information about the environmental and health impacts of different foods facilitates healthy and sustainable decision-making by consumers. This is about such things as food literacy, national dietary guidelines and front-of-pack labels.
New policy measures should also make healthy and sustainable diets more available and accessible. This means, for example, the prominent placement of healthy products in retail outlets.
5. What role does scientific advice, including from the GCSA, play in policymaking?
Scientific advice supports evidence-based policymaking by analysing scientific findings on a given topic, based on high-quality science.
Scientific advisors are intermediaries between science and policy. They need to demonstrate their trustworthiness by following a transparent and an impartial process to analyse evidence. The GCSA works closely with the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies – or SAPEA – consortium. SAPEA assembles multi-disciplinary groups of the best European experts on the topics for which advice is requested by the College of Commissioners.
On matters such as food systems, for which strong vested interests exert influence on policymaking, it is essential to provide independent, science-based recommendations.
6. How can consumers help drive change?
Consumers can contribute through well-informed purchasing decisions that are consistent with their values.
But models of behavioural change recognise that motivation alone isn’t sufficient to modify diets. Consumers also need to have the capability and opportunity to adopt new behaviours.
Consumer behaviours are influenced both by personal factors – such as taste preferences, attitudes and knowledge – and by external factors, mainly price, information and social and cultural norms.
All factors must be addressed. Hence the need for a raft of diverse measures targeting the whole food environment that complement each other.
7. What should be the balance between international and local food trade?
Evidence shows that locally produced food isn’t always more sustainable than food imported from abroad. For example, some vegetables grown in Europe in greenhouses may use more energy input than vegetables grown in Africa.
Yet, to promote sustainable consumption, the EU could restrict imports of food commodities from places where food production causes major environmental damage – for example, foods from biodiversity-rich and carbon-dense ecosystems, water-demanding crops produced in water-scarce areas and seafood sourced from unsustainably managed stocks.
Some of these restrictions are already covered by new EU legislation on deforestation-free products.
8. How can the EU help ensure that small farmers get treated fairly?
Small farms may struggle to adapt to new regulations as they may lack the capacity to invest in new practices and production systems.
Yet they play a key role in some European regions for providing food, maintaining cultural landscapes and keeping rural areas socially attractive.
Small farmers aren’t always as well represented in multi-stakeholder policy dialogues as their large counterparts. Therefore, new policy measures should anticipate possible adverse effects on small farms and be monitored and periodically reviewed to ensure they don’t have unintended consequences.
9. What are the main social and political challenges to change?
As in every transformative process, there is resistance from vested interests who benefit from the status quo. It is critical to create an environment that allows all stakeholders to work towards the goal of healthy and sustainable food.
This approach may also help to overcome opposition from those who profit from the current system, including some large private-sector organisations with powerful voices. For example, food-industry representatives have much more resources to defend their case than, say, future generations, thereby creating an imbalance in the debate.
Civil-society organisations have an important role in representing the voiceless.
10. What role does animal well-being have in all this?
Animal welfare is a key ethical dimension of sustainability. It is also central to a “One Health” perspective that integrates the health of people, animals and the environment.
People shift to plant-based diets for health, environmental and/or animal-welfare motives. All three motivations are equally important and they point towards the same direction: decreasing the consumption of animal-sourced products and decreasing intensive animal farming.
This creates an opportunity for companies with a focus on quality products and high animal- welfare standards. For policy, a meat tax framed as an “animal-welfare levy” might be more socially acceptable than an environmental tax.
This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Global warming did the Unthinkable
French ski resort closes permanently because there’s not enough snow, CNN informs. Winter is coming. And for yet another ski resort in France, that means facing up to the reality that there isn’t enough snow to carry on.
La Sambuy, a town which runs a family skiing destination near Mont Blanc in the French Alps, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts because global warming has shrunk its ski season to just a few weeks, meaning it’s no longer profitable to keep them open.
“Before, we used to have snow practically from the first of December up until the 30th of March,” La Sambuy’s mayor, Jacques Dalex, told CNN.
Last winter, however, there was only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow,” he added. That meant “very quickly, stones and rocks appeared on the piste.”
Able to open for fewer than five weeks during January and February, Dalex said the resort was looking at an annual operating loss of roughly 500,000 euros ($530,000). Keeping the lifts going alone costs 80,000 euros per year.
La Sambuy isn’t a huge resort, with just three lifts and a handful of pistes reaching up to a top height of 1,850 meters (about 6,070 feet).
But with a range of slopes running from expert “black” to beginner “green” and relatively cheap ski passes, it was popular with families seeking more of a low-key Alps experience than offered by bigger, higher-altitude destinations.
UK snow report website On The Snow calls it “an idyllic place to visit, with exceptional panoramic views and everything you need in a friendly resort.”
La Sambuy is not the only French ski resort facing a meltdown. Last year, Saint-Firmin, another small Alpine ski destination, opted to remove its ski lift after seeing its winter season dwindle from months to weeks, a situation also blamed on climate change.
Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001, and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites in the country.
According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience “a very high snow supply risk” at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of global warming above pre-industrial levels, without use of artificial snow.
A report published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found a “substantial possibility” of global temperature rises crossing this 2-degree Celsius threshold by mid-century.
La Sambuy’s Dalex said that “all winter sports resorts in France are impacted by global warming,” particularly those at a medium mountain altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
G20 summit must formulate plan for Global South climate change threat
The G20 summit in India must have a “concrete plan” for “scaled-up” green financing for the Global South as a critical strategy to combat climate change, affirms the founder of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organizations.
The comments from deVere Group’s Nigel Green comes as leaders of the Group of 20 top industrialised and developing countries will gather this weekend in New Delhi for a summit that will celebrate the end of India’s 12-month G20 presidency.
He says: Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a present reality. Rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, melting ice caps, and sea-level rise are already affecting communities, ecosystems, and economies worldwide.
“The Global South, comprising developing nations with limited resources, bears a disproportionate burden in this climate crisis, despite contributing minimally to greenhouse gas emissions.
“As such, the leader of the G20 – the richest countries in the world – must use the summit starting in India this week to formulate a concrete plan for scaled-up green financing to help the Global South tackle the biggest issue of our time.
“A failure to do this could, ultimately, have catastrophic consequences for our planet and its communities.”
Green financing encompasses a range of mechanisms designed to support sustainable, environmentally friendly projects that mitigate climate change and enhance resilience.
These include investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate adaptation, sustainable agriculture, and conservation efforts.
“One of the major challenges faced by the Global South is access to financial resources needed for climate action. Developing nations often lack the financial capacity to invest in green projects without incurring significant debt,” says the deVere CEO.
“The G20 summit must play a pivotal role in bridging this financial gap by prioritising green financing and creating mechanisms to make it more accessible.”
G20 countries, being the largest economies in the world, must also “commit to increasing in a considerable way their financial contributions to international climate finance mechanisms. These funds are essential for providing support to developing nations in their efforts to mitigate emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” he notes.
Nigel Green goes on to add that the G20 summit should also serve as a platform for fostering collaboration between developed and developing nations.
This collaboration can take various forms, including knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and capacity building.
In addition, to scale up climate action, it is crucial to engage the private sector. G20 countries can promote public-private partnerships and initiatives that attract private sector investment in green projects.
“This can be achieved through incentives, guarantees, or risk-sharing mechanisms that make investments in sustainability more appealing to businesses.”
Innovation in financial instruments, such as green bonds and climate insurance, can unlock alternative funding sources for climate projects in developing nations.
The deVere CEO says: “The G20 summit must urgently encourage the development and adoption of such instruments to diversify funding options.”
The G20 summit in India presents a crucial opportunity to prioritize green financing for the Global South as a key strategy to combat climate change.
This summit can be a turning point in the global fight against climate change, demonstrating that unity, innovation, and commitment can drive transformative change toward a sustainable future for all.
“The urgency of climate action cannot be overstated, and the global community must act decisively.
“By committing to green financing, promoting collaboration, and bridging the financial gap, the G20 can lead the way in ensuring that all nations, particularly those in the Global South, have the resources and support they need to address the climate crisis effectively,” concludes Nigel Green.
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