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More Efficient Residential Heating in Kazakhstan Can Help with Cleaner Air and Improved Health

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Health impacts and premature deaths from air pollution in Kazakhstan’s cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan are primarily caused by fine particles emitted as a result of coal burning in households and coal-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plants, says a new World Bank report released today. The new study “Clean Air and Cool Planet – Volume II: Integrated Air Quality Management and Greenhouse Gas Reduction for Almaty and Nur-Sultan” proposes priority cost-effective measures that can simultaneously address air pollution and decarbonization in the country’s largest cities.

The new city-level study builds on a previous World Bank report, which provided the first national-level approximation of primary sources of air pollution in Kazakhstan. That report was based on research by the World Bank conducted in cooperation both with the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Akimats of Almaty and Nur-Sultan. The first national report offered recommendations for reduction of air pollution and maximizing synergies and managing trade-off challenges with climate mitigation. The new city-level report provides high-level roadmaps for cost-effective integrated air quality management (AQM) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. 

The report released today argues that coal burning in households with small boilers and stoves is the largest source of air pollution in Nur-Sultan and second largest in Almaty, contributing 10 and 15 µg/m³ (30% and 25%) to total annual PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 microns in size) exposure respectively. According to the World Health Organization’s updated air quality guidelines, annual average PM2.5 levels of 5 µg/m³ and above pose increased risks of illness and even premature death.

Coal-fired CHP plants also contribute significantly to PM2.5 exposure in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, but their relative contributions differ by city and by plant. In Nur-Sultan, about 7 µg/m³ (about 22 percent) of annual mean population exposure to PM2.5 originate from coal combustion in its CHP plants. In Almaty, contribution of large combustion sources dwarfs other sources and causes about 25 µg/m³ (about 40 percent) of annual mean population exposure to PM2.5. Most of this exposure comes from the old coal-fired CHP-2 plant without proper emission control equipment.

As Kazakhstan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, it will need to identify a cost-effective balance of measures to reduce both air pollution and GHG emissions. International experience shows that the least-cost decarbonization and air pollution reduction strategies may differ in prioritizing pollutants, emission sources, and interventions. Therefore, the study offers a roadmap of air pollution reduction measures until 2030 while facilitating a long-term phase out of fossil fuels and making the cities better prepared for a low-carbon future.

Priority low-cost measures include replacing residential coal boilers and stoves with more efficient and/or cleaner ones in detached houses, enforcing a ban on household combustion of garbage and plastics, implementing road traffic improvements, such as redirecting truck transit to a ring road, and upgrading the district heating distribution infrastructure.

The largest potential for reducing PM2.5 exposure comes from more efficient and cleaner residential heating, which need to be complemented by emission reductions from coal-fired CHP plants. Replacing decentralized coal use in single-family homes, apartment buildings, and commercial and public buildings, with district heat or natural gas should be considered a priority. Newly built single-family homes should be subject to tighter energy efficiency standards for buildings.

In Almaty, retrofitting of the existing highly polluting coal-fired CHP plants with enhanced particulate matter (PM) filters is the most cost-effective option. In Nur-Sultan, replacement of the more advanced coal-fired CHP-1 with combined cycle gas turbines, complemented by additional electricity imports from the national grid to compensate for periodic load imbalances are suggested as the most economic option.

“Kazakhstan’s path towards decarbonization is not just ambitious but also highly nuanced – it will require major investments and a careful balancing of the needs of its regions and population groups,” noted Jean-Francois Marteau, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan. “In this regard, making air pollution reduction and climate mitigation measures attractive to private enterprises and households including through fiscal policy reforms will be key.”

Fiscal policy reforms could bridge the incentive gap – the difference between what is efficient to society and what is attractive to firms and households under the current market conditions. The study modeling recommends the level of a carbon tax that will make cleaner fuels financially attractive in comparison to coal and thereby reduce the need for subsidies for switching to cleaner fuels. Annual revenues from the carbon tax could support the subsidies needed (contributing to just transition or supporting vulnerable households to use cleaner heating alternatives) and/or leverage private financing for both air quality improvement and GHG reduction.

“An integrated approach that aligns the country’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 with air pollution reduction targets will require air quality standards revised in line with global best practice, incentives, resources, and enhanced capacity for municipalities as well as robust collaboration at the national and local levels,” noted Kseniya Lvovsky, Practice Manager, Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice in Europe and Central Asia.

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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