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Africa climate change report reveals heat rising

Africa climate change report reveals heat rising

Africa climate change report reveals heat rising north and south, the Sahel getting wetter per Willem Van Cotthem, University of Ghent, Belgium in today’s Desertification blog. 

Africa needs to prepare better for climate change by responding to a wide range of potential risks, a multi-agency report led by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday, the first in a series of continent-by-continent assessments.

“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event. The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. 

Filling the gap 

The report aims to fill a gap in reliable and timely climate information for Africa, which translates into a lack of climate-related development planning, said Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). 

Africa has been warming progressively since the start of the last century, and in the next five years, northern and southern Africa are set to get drier and hotter, while the Sahel region of Western Africa will get wetter, WMO’s Regional Strategic Office Director, Filipe Lucio, told a press conference.  

“Overall, Africa needs to take action. Action is needed today in terms of adaptation, but also is needed tomorrow in terms of mitigation”, Lucio said.  

The agricultural sector is key to building climate resistance, since it is the dominant employer and it relies on the use of water and energy – both heavily implicated in climate change, he said.  

Northern and southern areas under threat of aridity and desertification would benefit from reforestation, which helps to prevent water runoff and creates vegetation which supports the hydrological cycle. 

Africa climate change report reveals heat rising
WMO/Cornel Vermaak
Drought in Africa will adversely impact the productivity of major cereal crops, says a report launched by WMO today.

Policy recommendations 

Policy changes are also recommended in transport, energy, infrastructure and industry. Financing has improved with the establishment of a UN-backed Green Climate Fund but there are still limitations in terms of the continent’s ability to tap into such funds, he added.  

Climate change has contributed to a jump in food insecurity, mosquito-borne disease and mass displacement in the past decade, and the rise in sea levels has led to unusual weather patterns such as Tropical Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2019.  

It showed the need for communities to learn about the risks and for impact-based warnings about the appropriate actions to take. 

Cautionary tale 

A day after the cyclone made landfall, it appeared to have dissipated and people thought the worst was over. But then disaster struck when flooding followed, overwhelming Mozambique’s major port city of Beira, Lucio said.  

“People were asked to find refuge in appropriate places but the city of Beira was never built to withstand a category-5 tropical cyclone. So that means the building codes need to be changed, but the building codes cannot be changed using what tropical cyclones used to be like in the past.  

“They need to have forward-looking analysis to anticipate the trends into the future and start designing infrastructure and other systems taking into account the changing nature of these tropical cyclones.” 

Author, Willem Van Cotthem is Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development. 

How technology improves environmental impact of the built environment

How technology improves environmental impact of the built environment

pbctoday published How technology improves environmental impact of the built environment could be taken as a directional trend amongst many but from within the construction industry worldwide. So let us see what it is all about.

The feature piucture above is for illustrative purpose and is of Designing Pollution Out of Our Cities.

Richard Hyams, director at astudio, explores how technology can help to improve the social and environmental impact for our built environment.

January 25, 2021

How technology improves environmental impact of the built environment

When the UK Government announced a £3bn green investment package in its summer statement, it renewed a commitment to a more sustainable future. And with the building and construction industry accounting for over 40% of global carbon emissions, reducing the carbon footprint and waste generation in construction must therefore remain a priority.

Creating buildings that help the UK to meet a net-zero carbon goal by 2050 is a challenge – not least as Covid-19 introduces new and evolving challenges. But technology and new innovations in materials and construction methods across the sector can provide solutions to this. Indeed, innovations are already arising to improve process efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and establish spaces suitable for today’s communities now and well beyond Covid-19.

A human-centric approach

While many of us think of sustainability as a low-energy, low-waste initiative, it is often much more than that. Living sustainably also requires community thinking, where supporting a local area can improve social cohesion and community resilience. That’s why architects are beginning to bring communities into the design process in new ways.

At the public consultation stage, many architects and developers are using Augmented and Virtual Reality to walk local communities through their designs, allowing them to visualise a finished space and recognise additional benefits to the area – including green spaces, pathway design and local retail opportunities.

Not only does this improve the outcome of consultation stages, it also improves community understanding of their space, enhancing their connection to their local environment and improving their sense of citizenship and belonging – all valuable to long-term sustainability.

Genetic algorithms

Of course, at the centre of sustainable construction is the industry itself and positively, technology is providing new ways for the sector to commit to its green goals. With decades of building data already available, creating AI algorithms that can replicate a traditional process and enhance it is just one way technology is helping. By identifying the best parameters for success, these AI algorithms can significantly reduce project timelines and waste.

Going further still, AI algorithms can now also combine traditional construction data with environmental factors, ‘suggesting’ the best solutions for energy efficiency such as window alignment and rooftop positioning for renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power which are increasingly being adopted. This technology also has the added commercial benefit of allowing project managers to visualise the most effective building design to enhance value.

Thinking outside the box

But delivering truly sustainable buildings goes beyond ensuring that the basic fabric of a building meets new energy efficiency guidelines. In fact, architects and designers are increasingly looking to the outside “skin” of their buildings.

For example, at astudio we have been developing algae façade technology that uses the efficient photosynthesis of algae and turns it into biofuel, allowing a building to act as its own energy fuel cell. This technology would benefit cities the most, where algae placed on a building’s façade can absorb CO2 to improve air pollution and, owing to its bioluminescent properties, even act as a source of light.

Design for Manufacture and offsite manufacturing’s role in improving the impact of construction

How technology improves environmental impact of the built environment

Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) using offsite manufacturing techniques is a further innovation within the industry that can unite sustainability with social responsibility to develop a more efficient, less wasteful method of construction. And as offsite manufacturing and modular construction occurs under factory conditions, the margin for error is minimised, reducing construction waste and improving project efficiency.

By drawing on technology-powered tools such as 3D BIM models, the pace of delivery for these projects can be accelerated even further as if the designs are properly prepared, they can be linked directly to factory production. This significantly reduces the time spent translating the architect’s design into a manufactured set of drawings, creating a more seamless process for a more rapid build.

It is a method has proven incredibly valuable during the coronavirus crisis as it has allowed temporary structures to be erected and dissembled as and when they are needed, supporting communities and helping lessen the economic and social impact of Covid-19. Meanwhile, offsite manufacturing is also helping local councils tackle other societal ills, such as homelessness. Indeed, astudio has been working with High Wycombe Council to deliver 58 temporary modular homes for rough sleepers as well as helping Barking council deliver much needed affordable homes directly.

The future of construction is green

Achieving net-zero carbon emissions in a post-Covid world is not going to be an easy journey. However, there are exciting innovations out there, and indeed existing methods, that can be embraced so that we can deliver the future we need.

From technology at the design stages to changing a building’s facade to generate energy, and rolling out offsite construction, we have the tools and the ideas for a greener future in the years to come.

How technology improves environmental impact of the built environment

Richard Hyams, Director, astudio

Twitter: @AstudioArch

LinkedIn: astudio

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The brave new world of 2021

The brave new world of 2021

BROOKINGS’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT published ‘The brave new world of 2021’ per Homi Kharas reproduced here for reasons of trying and spread as wide as practicable these wise words. These, by the way, might as well apply to the MENA region. In any case here is:

The brave new world of 2021

21 January 2021

Editor’s Note: To kick off the Future Development blog in 2021, we present the second piece in a four-part series on how 2021 will be different from 2020. See the first installment.

In the novel “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley writes: “Their world didn’t allow them … to be sane, virtuous, happy. … They were not conditioned to obey … what with all the diseases … uncertainties and poverty … they were forced to feel strongly … [so] how could they be stable?” He goes on to describe a world where peace and stability are achieved only through building a system in which human beings all behave the same, organized by an all-powerful nanny state.

Enter 2021. We will have our fill of diseases, uncertainties, and poverty in every country. We almost certainly need collaborative action to avoid traps on the path to sustainable development, but thankfully, we do not have to make all humans behave in the same way to achieve them.

DISEASE

Emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) are entering 2021 with a high level and steep rise in new COVID-19 cases per week. In summer 2020, EMDEs had appeared to reach a plateau of around 200,000 new cases per week, a level that was stable for about 4 months until November. Since then, the number of new cases per week has started to accelerate, has already roughly doubled, and shows no signs of stabilizing at a new plateau yet. COVAX, the international consortium making donor-funded vaccines available to developing countries, hopes to start its first shipments in the first quarter of 2021, and has set itself a target of delivering 2 billion doses during 2021, but it is still far short of being financially and technically able to meet this goal. On the disease front, 2021 may be more hopeful for many people in EMDEs who can start to see the endgame but will almost certainly be far worse in terms of outcomes—deaths, hospitalizations, and number of total cases—compared to 2020.

UNCERTAINTIES

Looking into the future is particularly difficult for 2021. For EMDEs, there is a range of commodity price uncertainties that are of first-order import for some countries and regions. The slowest rebounds in economic growth in 2021 are projected right now to be in commodity-exporting regions like Latin America, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa, but these countries could surprise if commodity prices were to strengthen.

A second major uncertainty is over debt and flows of capital. The worst fears of widespread debt defaults in 2020 did not come to pass. A combination of a moratorium for some countries, a drawdown of reserves for others, and the ability of still others to access capital markets, albeit paying higher risk premia, helped stave off the worst effects. But matters could deteriorate in 2021. There is over $100 billion in external debt service due from 61 countries who are likely to face serious financing difficulties. As we have shown in an earlier paper, at least half of this is owed by countries that need significant debt relief. Yet despite the lessons of history (negotiate haircuts, act with speed, treat all creditors fairly), there is nothing on the table to implement serious programs. Everyone seems to be against the current process of waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, and then entering into protracted negotiations on a case-by-case basis where power and connections dictate what each creditor can extract. But bad as it is, this outcome seems preferable to the idea of a collective international effort to minimize the development damage.

POVERTY

Global poverty numbers have become a headline, rather than a driver of change. The extraordinary turnaround from a world that was seeing annual reductions in poverty of 100 million people per year in 2013 to an increase in poverty of 100 million in 2020 has been almost totally disregarded. No new global programs have been put on the table, aid is at best holding steady, and conflict, climate change, political repression, and economic depressions are taking their toll.

Entering 2021, more autocratic states in East Asia are doing far better in protecting economic livelihoods than more individualistic and democratic states elsewhere. The shadow of 1984 is long.

Yet there are grounds for optimism.

The first is that agreement on the correct way forward has never been stronger. Deniers of the merits of sustainable development—in its full meaning of economic, social, and governance sustainability—are in retreat. Everyone, from governments at G-20, IMF, and U.N. meetings, to corporations at the World Economic Forum summit, to civil society advocates, agrees that sustainable development is the only path. It’s no coincidence that the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 was awarded to the World Food Program, and that the Nobel Prize for economics went to Robert Wilson and Paul Milgrom for their work on auction theory that is the bedrock for the design of programs to allocate rights to emit greenhouse gases.

2021 could well go down as the year when the business community finally commits to sustainable development.

A second reason for optimism is technology. Bringing a vaccine to the market in under a year was an extraordinary feat only made possible by advances in science, artificial intelligence, and digitization. Government social assistance programs in response to COVID-19 may have benefited 1.8 billion people in 2020, with 1.1 billion new recipients being registered. Along with colleagues at Brookings and the Japan International Cooperation Agency Ogata Research Institute, I am co-editing a collection of wonderful expert contributions on new breakthroughs to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, a topic which has gone from anecdotal to extensive in just a few years. The range and ambition of these breakthroughs, the science as well as the applications, is immense.

2021 could be the year when we see major technological breakthroughs either happening or likely to happen in the not-too-far-distant future.

My friend Paul O’Brien has a new book in which he quotes Thomas Friedman as saying “pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong, but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.” Let’s all be optimists in 2021.

Qatar hugs and makes up with its warring neighbours

Qatar hugs and makes up with its warring neighbours

Gulf blockade: Qatar hugs and makes up with its warring neighbours – but will it last? wonders Mustafa Menshawy, Lancaster University, elaborating on a situation at one end of the MENA that lasted hardly more than three years, whereas the similar one at the other end of the region continues unabated for the last forty years. It is that of the ongoing North African situation, but that is another story. In the meantime, let us read Mustafa’s.


Shortly after four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – imposed an embargo on Qatar in 2017, I flew into the country’s capital Doha. Hamad airport – usually buzzing with visitors from the Gulf countries (one of every four visitors to Qatar in 2015 came from Saudi Arabia) – was eerily quiet.

The four countries severed ties with Qatar in June 2017 after they accused Doha of supporting terrorism. They demanded the shutdown of Qatari news network Al Jazeera as well as calling on the country to downgrade its relations with Iran. Doha defiantly rejected the accusations and agreed to mediation from Kuwait and the US to end the standoff.

Qatar has estimated its losses from the blockade in the billions of dollars – citing factors such as “industrial-scale theft of content from its sports broadcaster BeIN by rival Saudi network BeoutQ and the manipulation of its currency by the four countries. So, when they agreed on January 5 to lift the embargo and restore diplomatic relations with Qatar, all sides were keenly anticipating any economic benefits the restored detente might bring.

Qatar may be the smallest of the Gulf states – but it’s the richest. So when, hours after the agreement, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani talked about the possibility of the country’s sovereign wealth fund investing in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, his hint would have been well received in Riyadh.

Dangling the carrot of investment is a good way of appeasing Saudi Arabia, which is keen to attract foreign investment to back Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grandiose modernisation projects as well as respond to the country’s long-term need to secure new export markets and diversify its oil-dependent economy.

Fraternal relations

But the biggest sign of the new detente has so far been in the tone of Qatar’s news media. Top of the list of the 13 demands placed on Qatar by the four countries was shutting down Al Jazeera.

Qatar didn’t shut the network down – but watching the network in the days after the blockade ended, one could feel the difference. Bulletins no longer include regular news on “violations” by the Saudi regime. The channel even rebranded the Saudi Crown Prince, who it had vociferously attacked just a few weeks ago for “tarnishing the image of the Saudi state”. Now Bin Salman is represented as a rising peacemaker engaged in relations of “fraternity”. This was symbolically reflected in the way he hugged Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani when the Qatari emir arrived in Riyadh for their meeting on the sidelines of the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Saudi Arabia on January 5.

Coverage of Qatar by Saudi network Al Arabiya has also softened considerably, something picked up on by the BBC, which even hosted analysts to comment of the repeatedly screened scene of the hugging between the two leaders. “It was a hot hugging”, commented one analyst, of the enthusiastic way the two leaders embraced when meeting at the airport in Riyadh.

The reconciliation has brought a sense of relief in all four countries. Ordinary people paid a deep humanitarian price – many are linked by close tribal ties and there are thousands of cases of cross-border intermarriage (to give you an idea of how close the Saudi Arabia and Qatar are, consider that it takes just an hour to drive from Doha to Saudi territory).

In Qatar, I heard many stories of families split apart when Qatari nationals were ordered to leave their three Gulf neighbours within 14 days. More than 12,000 residents in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE were also ordered to leave Qatar. Social media is now full of videos of families jubilantly crossing “Abu Samra”, the land border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar within hours of the agreement.

Happy talk

This may all sound like a return to normality, but sceptics pointed to the fact that, while the two feuding leaders talked of “brotherly unity” and desires for “Gulf unity”, neither mentioned an agreement on any of the issues that caused the crisis. On the one hand, everyone’s a winner – but, on the other, we don’t know how or why. The situation has been described as a “detente borne more of exhaustion than compromise”.

The 13 demands made by the other Gulf states of Qatar remain unmet. For example, the Qatari foreign minister has already scotched a demand for Qatar to reduce its ties with Iran by shutting down diplomatic posts in Iran or expelling members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, saying a couple of days after the agreement that his country would not alter relations with Tehran.

So this dispute is far from ended and there is a lot of tension brewing under the surface. Saudi Arabia, for its part, sees Iran as an “existential threat” and is unlikely to take no change as a negative answer.

Others believe that for Bin Salman, temporarily easing the tension with Qatar is “low-hanging fruit” – something achieved with relative ease ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US president. Biden is known for his critical attitude towards Riyadh’s approach to human rights.

There is no sign that Qatar is also heeding the other demands, including closing Turkey’s military base outside Doha. Turkey is popular among Qataris. You’ll see cars with number plate stickers featuring the Turkish flag – or even with the image of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

With so few issues apparently actually resolved, it’s little wonder that it took just days for new signs of tension to reappear after the agreement. The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said following the GCC summit that Doha still has questions to answer, including: “How is Qatar going to deal vis-à-vis interfering in our affairs through support of political Islam? Is Turkey’s presence in the Gulf going to be permanent?”

These are the same questions asked of Qatar long before the four countries issued their ultimatum in 2017. It’s tension that is likely to outlive the warmth engendered by those televised hugs.

Mustafa Menshawy, Postdoctoral Researcher in Middle East Politics, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Ground-breaking Work To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Ground-breaking Work To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Young UAEU Scientist Publishes Ground-breaking Work To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions to perhaps try and alleviate all fossil fuel production and commerce’s vigorous pursuit as currently undertaken in the Gulf countries.

Ground-breaking Work To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The picture above for illustration purposes is of Greenhouse Gas Inventory by Enviroment Agency – Abu Dhabi

With global methane emissions reaching a record high of almost 600 million tonnes a year and expected to continue rising in the coming years, researchers at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have taken action. Eyas Mahmoud, Assistant Professor in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the university, is leading an attempt to design adsorbents that capture methane from the atmosphere to reduce the emissions. But the task at hand is not as straight-forward as one may think. There are many different adsorbents, each with its own unique combination of characteristics that determine its ability to reduce methane emissions. Prof. Mahmoud, therefore, set out to discover which adsorbents perform best for enhanced methane capture. Some of the adsorbents he is currently looking at are metal-organic frameworks – also known as MOFs. MOFs, which are compounds comprised of metal nodes coordinated to organic ligands, are a promising platform because their porosity can be adjusted and their chemistry can be tailored. “They can be designed in a variety of different ways to form three-dimensional structures tailored to methane adsorption,” Mahmoud says.

To date, he has demonstrated the best methane uptakes at 1 bar and 298 K, based on experiments that compared MOFs to carbonaceous materials, polymers and zeolites. The idea came about when Mahmoud’s original interest was triggered in methane storage for natural gas vehicles. He describes the pressures for such vehicles as extremely high – around 100 bar or more. But once the news hit that methane emissions were skyrocketing; he shifted his attention towards lower pressure applications. Although he initially focused on natural gas vehicles, this year, Prof. Mahmoud has redirected his attention towards global methane emissions. Mahmoud explains that MOFs hold more promise than other materials thanks to their higher adsorption capacity.

“It has never been done before,” he mentions. “The focus now is mostly on carbon dioxide, and you now see a lot of focus and a lot of developments being made on CO2 capture.” Methane is also a greenhouse gas, indeed it is considered 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Although the methane concentration used to be lower, it is currently rising at an alarming rate, which could pose a global threat in the future. This is especially important as methane was recently reported as starting to leak from the sea-bed. And with sea levels rising, the concern must be addressed imminently.

According to Mahmoud, who was recognised by the London Press as a Rosalind member, methane originates from a variety of sources, including the oil and natural gas industry, agriculture and farming. In the past year, it was reported that 300 tonnes of methane were released in Florida in the United States. An active leak of sea-bed methane was also discovered in Antarctica for the first time in 2020. “It’s mostly industrial sources, but there are other sources as well,” he explains.

Such events are a concern because if global warming continues, other parts of the seafloor may also begin to leak methane and microbes may not quickly move in to prevent methane from rising to the atmosphere.

Eyas Mahmoud, Assistant Professor in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, UAEU

Methane release is considered extremely problematic because it is a major greenhouse gas and a cause of global warming. As such, effective strategies to curb methane emissions are needed. As well as a global issue, the problem is considered to be a regional problem in the Gulf due to a number of natural gas reserves, including the UAE. But there is hope, as Mahmoud’s work has generated initial promising results that could have a positive environmental impact on the world.

His latest research was published in October in Applied Sciences, an open access journal with a rapidly growing impact factor.

Going forward, Mahmoud will attempt to tailor the MOFs’ structures – of which there are thousands. His aim is to understand which structures are considered optimal at such conditions. “We will develop what we term our quantitative SPRs that relate the structure of the MOF to the adsorption capacity and the adsorption kinetics that are important for good performance for this process,” he adds.

The work is timely, as there is currently a strong push to mitigate greenhouse gases and commercialise them to capture carbon dioxide. With technology for CO2 capture developing rapidly, and climate change impacting the environment at a rapidly increasing pace, Mahmoud’s advice is to make sure we become wary of other greenhouse gases such as methane to ensure successful atmospheric restoration.

Little Knowledge of Energy Transition

Little Knowledge of Energy Transition

Posted on  by elizabethperry493 is this essay on a Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition. Here it is.

The picture above that is for illustrative purpose is of The impact of the global energy transition on MENA oil and gas producers written by Jade on 08/09/2019.

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industrial examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industrial and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf

Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) article advises the world about Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation

By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.

As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.

Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.

“Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world?” #DevMattersTweet

Then came March, and a worldwide upheaval as the COVID-19 pandemic struck nations indiscriminately. The official response across the board ranged from well-meaning but knee-jerk, to discriminatory and short-sighted. Some of the strictest lockdowns were implemented in the most congested areas of Gulf cities, where migrants live. However, their labour was considered essential, as the process of nation-building could not be paused. Attempts to decongest were hopeful at best, but the majority continued to live in cramped quarters, were bussed into construction sites, and remained vulnerable to this new infection, as they had been to other infections and health perils.

The women, hundreds of thousands employed as domestic workers, have been invisible at the best of times because their ability to leave home and enjoy an off day or free time has always been at the discretion of their employers. The pandemic guidelines prevented even this thin leeway, with some countries explicitly prohibiting domestic workers from socialising, even when their employers were allowed to. Domestic workers, like a lot of other poorly-paid and badly-treated workers, were considered essential workers. With entire families working and studying from home, their workload increased exponentially. They were also exposed to strong chemical cleaning agents without proper protective gear. While their services were essential, even critical, the individual was considered dispensable and replaceable.

Force majeure rules allowed companies to reduce pay, terminate workers, or put them on leave without pay. Measures were introduced to ensure business continuity even if these measures infringed on workers’ rights. The lack of civil society and trade unions and inability to negotiate collectively –– all disempowering conditions that preceded the pandemic –– meant workers’ voices and representation were limited and muted. No mechanisms were established to challenge the unfair implementation of the measures. Access to justice was riddled with even more problems than before, as wage theft and other labour abuses from the pre-COVID era were yet to be resolved. This post is not even attempting to explore the vulnerabilities and exclusion of undocumented workers –– many of whom are forced into irregularity by the sponsorship or Kafala system.

“When a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.” #DevMattersTweet

In the plethora of webinars that consumed the early months of the pandemic, human rights advocates and activists repeatedly spoke of the lessons being learnt, the new normal that awaited us at the end of the dark tunnel, with ‘building back better’ punctuating every discourse. What they failed to recognise is that when a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.

In fact, we saw the opposite, with migrant workers being blamed for spreading infections, because of their living conditions over which they had no control over. Ten months into the pandemic, it is almost back to business as usual, with malls, offices, schools and even tourism, opening up in stages. Vaccination drives have begun, with a promise to include migrants in all of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries. But the most marginalised are still housed in deplorable conditions, their temporariness being reinforced. And the first sector that re-opened for recruitment was domestic work bringing in more women from impoverished countries reeling from the impact of the pandemic.  

If there is one takeaway for human rights advocates it is that a socio-economic environment devastated by the pandemic is not fertile ground for righteous policies. If anything, origin and destination countries may go lax on due diligence over corporations in the name of business continuity and impose tighter controls over migrants under the pretext of protection.

“The last year has seen an increase in wage theft, and there is an urgent need for transnational mechanisms to deal with this.”#DevMattersTweet

There are key questions we need to ask ourselves and the governments:

  • Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world? What combination of policies and prejudices leads to this situation?
  • With so little public investment made in social welfare, the dependence on live-in domestic workers is only likely to increase. How do we ensure recognition of domestic work as work, and domestic workers as workers, formalising their status in the labour market?
  • How do we then break the monopoly of live-in domestic work that is inherently exploitative?
  • The ghettoisation of migrant labour is both the root cause and the result of discrimination. In many Gulf Co-operation Council states, migrants constitute the majority of the population and their needs are deliberately neglected in urban planning.
  • The last year has seen an increase in wage theft, and there is an urgent need for transnational mechanisms to deal with this.  

In the coming years, climate change, population imbalances and economic distress will increase migrants’ vulnerabilities, and solutions cannot be rooted in the current environment of inequity and discrimination.

Read more OECD’s articles :

If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society

If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society

China Daily Global in an article titled ‘If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society’, perhaps domestically, but says it all about what to expect in the future relationship of China with say countries of the MENA region.

If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society

By Liu Xiaochun | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-18

The Central Economic Work Conference held in December outlined certain key tasks in eight major aspects for this year. These include strengthening efforts in antitrust and preventing the disorderly expansion of capital.

It was clearly pointed out in the meeting statement that the collection, usage and management of data shall be improved.

With robust growth of the “new infrastructure” sector, particularly the application of 5G and the internet of things, digital technology will find applications in all walks of society and will bring significant change to people’s way of living.

While appreciating the positive effect that digital society may bring, it is important to fully acknowledge and evaluate the risks that interconnectivity of data may bring and pay attention to data governance.

As digital technology is highly penetrative and spreads widely, the risk of digital technology can be widely disruptive and can go beyond personal privacy. It thus requires precautionary regulatory measures to manage or pre-empt such risks.

There are key issues and risks in data connectivity, and it is important to strike a proper balance between breaking the information silo and data security.

On the one hand, it is important to clarify which part of the society will guide the connectivity of data, be it the government, technology firms or other institutions. For example, the building of smart cities will require data collection from a great number of sectors and departments. It is crucial to make clear who will be responsible for collecting and managing them.

On the other hand, how data can be categorized and managed is another emerging issue. In governing smart cities, new data of all kinds emerge every second. The idea of smart city construction, building industrial internet and digital China cannot be realized without data from all departments and organizations going online.

Yet, with all these key data openly accessible online, inadequate or improper management of these data may pose a possible threat to public security, the police, or even to social and national security.

Both governance and the internet of things across all industries should take the management of public data into account. At the same time, the arithmetic model, a key technology in artificial intelligence, may amplify potential risks in information spreading with no targeted audiences.

There is also the risk of giant internet and technology companies adopting a winner-takes-all approach in data collection. Conventional monopoly usually means taking monopoly of one particular type of products or at most, a certain industry. The new winner-takes-all approach would mean exclusive owning of all data on one particular platform by a certain enterprise.

Online platforms in fields such as e-commerce, digital payments, and delivery services may even gain access to huge amount of social data in the name of innovation or breaking up information silo. Such data may be related to personal, business or even government information.

Should such platforms or online behemoths land in major trouble, or face some unforeseen risks, massive systemic disruptions could unsettle or destabilize society. And with the growth of 5G, the number of such businesses is expected to grow.

A number of steps will likely be taken to strengthen data governance. Control of data risks should be raised as part of State governance efforts. Any arbitrary collection of personal information and data should be prohibited.

The issue of data categorization needs to be resolved through legislative efforts in this field. A number of suggestions have been made in legislation regarding personal information protection, which is very necessary.

Categorization should be made for data under digital economy.

First, special attention should be given to managing data regarding public security, finance and people’s livelihood, and how they can be made accessible on internet platforms and how such data can be used.

Second, the responsibility of data management should be specified, and ownership and usage rights to data clarified.

Third, legal liability in data use and transaction must be made clear.

Fourth, as data management is a new and emerging sector yet closely related to national security, social stability and a steady running of economic activities, a special regulatory department or mechanism should be set up with powers of oversight.

At the same time, a category-specific, more proper oversight on artificial intelligence is also needed, particularly a more targeted regulatory model for algorithms developed by various businesses.

An overhaul of personal data already collected once all the aforementioned systems are in place would be in order.

Mechanism for the oversight and management of super-giant data platforms should be set up. On the one hand, objective views are needed about the monopolies taken by super-giant digital platforms.

These platforms also bear public service functions, differentiating them from industrial or commercial monopolies. Concentration of platforms may also help add on commercial competitiveness and social efficiency.

Take third-party payments as an example. To ensure unimpeded payments, various market participants tend to gather on one payment platform. If communications across different telecom companies cannot be realized, only one telecom platform will eventually survive.

Such logic also applies to third-party transactions, which explains why even though the regulators concerned issued a number of licenses, only a few survived. And there are reasons behind why only those few did manage to survive.

First, the survivors are those that are supported by the banks’ unified payment services. Second, the companies specialized in integrated payment services has become a solution for third-party payment platforms banning one another.

Super-giant platforms will likely continue to increase as digital society grows. Concentration of multiple services in a single platform may make business sense for market share-minded companies. But it is debatable if this is the right path to digital transformation of society.

So, proper regulatory measures and oversights are needed in helping such platforms to grow with society in a responsible manner. This is why, oversight mechanisms are needed, as platform enterprises can’t achieve this on their own through self-regulation.

Meanwhile, all data collected by platform businesses are related to society’s various publics and therefore should not be treated as commercial assets.

The article is a translation of a comment from the Bund Summit by Liu Xiaochun, the deputy dean of the Shanghai Finance Institute.

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs by Jennifer Sensiba could be considered some sort of warning to all MENA’s oil exporting countries‘ students as to which future awaits for them. So let us see how the story is developed.

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs


15 January 2021

“Did you ever hear of a solar panel?”

That’s the question Sabrina Burns, a petroleum engineering student got from an Uber driver in 2018. She and some fellow students were headed to a petroleum industry banquet, and at the time it seemed a little silly. While many younger people questioned the wisdom of going into the oil industry, conventional wisdom held that the oil industry is a great career.

While students in other majors and other people she knew questioned the wisdom of being an oil major, her parents persuaded her to stick with the oil industry. Her father, who worked as a helicopter pilot, met a lot of successful women working as engineers on offshore oil rigs. On top of that, older generations probably have a harder time imagining a world in which the oil industry isn’t stable, lucrative, and essential to everyone’s lives.

2020 threw these older generations and any younger believers a curveball, though. “We got a slap in the face, an entirely unforeseen situation that rocked our entire mind-set,” said Ms. Burns when asked about her prospects by Clifford Krauss at The New York Times. “I have applied for every oil and gas position I’ve seen, like all my classmates, and nothing really has turned up. I’m discouraged.”

What was once seemingly invincible was now stumbling and couldn’t be counted on.

The biggest blow to graduating oil students was the sudden drop in oil demand due to the pandemic. Oil products like gasoline and jet fuel weren’t needed nearly as much because people worked from home, many businesses were closed, and travel was avoided. With all of this lost demand despite ample supplies, prices tanked.

With such low demand and low prices, the industry took a big hit. Over 100,000 people were laid off. Workers weren’t needed in the field to pump oil that wasn’t needed, and refineries were closed. Some oil companies even declared bankruptcy.

This stands in stark contrast to the better years, when these students started their college careers. The oil industry and the faculties of colleges felt they could promise great careers, with lots of job security and a good income. Under Donald Trump, shale drilling and “fracking” took off, and the United States became the world’s largest producer of oil. There had been booms and busts in the industry in the past, but those seemed to affect less educated field workers, and not people with engineering or geology degrees.

With these prospects gone, and future climate change issues seeming likely to hurt the industry even after the pandemic is over, oil students are looking at other options going forward. Sabrina Burns told The New York Times that she’s looking to intern in a related but different field, and that she may need to go back to school for a graduate degree in Environmental Science to have a better career. She is even considering moving in with family to make ends meet while recharting a new course for her career.

In the same article, Krauss goes on to interview a number of other students in the industry. Their stories are all pretty similar. Some expect the industry to bounce back, and are biding their time. Others are looking to take on a graduate degree while waiting, but are hedging their bets by majoring in something else for their master’s degrees.

One student actually landed a job, but the company is looking at diversifying to avoid future exposure to what could be a failing industry in future years. He is glad to have found a job, but worries that his education and skills he’s building won’t transfer well to other parts of the energy economy.

Some Things We Can Learn Here

Readers of CleanTechnica are probably having an “I told you so” moment reading this. People following the energy industry could see that renewables, battery storage, and other technologies aren’t competing with oil just yet, but have a much brighter future than oil, which isn’t growing. Oil is still big, though, and has a lot of inertia, so it’s not going away now or even in the next four years under Biden and then likely Harris.

What many (even among us) didn’t foresee was how oil’s newfound weakness would leave it more vulnerable to crises, like the one we currently face with COVID-19. Oil is weakening and growth has less potential than ever, but at the same time it wasn’t shrinking. A sudden jolt in demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel hit them hard, though.

Diversity=Resilience

Few people fully avoided the impacts of the tsunami of COVID, but electricity is a lot more diversified. In my home, we use electricity for heating, cooling, and most of our driving. We use it for lighting, entertainment, cooking, and security. The cats and dog even have toys powered by electricity. When we turn on the tap, electric pumps somewhere else in town provide the pressure. LED street lamps light the street in front of our home.

Sure, I drive a lot less now not taking the kids to school, but our overall power bill didn’t take a huge drop.

On the other hand, our use of gasoline took a HUGE hit. In the last nine months, we’ve spent far less than $200 on the stuff. The occasional trip to the next town makes our Nissan LEAF struggle for range, and we’ve driven there on gasoline power only twice. The prior year, we probably did this dozens of times. Trips to see family, where we need to pile the whole family into the family SUV, are also a lot more rare. A tank of gas used to last one to two months in those vehicles, but now last three to four, if not more.

We don’t use gasoline for anything else, so oil companies are taking a much bigger hit than companies involved in electricity generation, whether they’re renewable or fossil fuel-powered. Even when fossil fuels are used to generate, very few power stations run on oil. Natural gas is far more common, and comes from a related but different industry than oil.

Another important lesson we can find here is that it’s wise to question the prevailing narrative. Yes, oil has been very strong in the past, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be strong in the future. No industry is a sure bet, but this was an area where generational bias caused parents to mislead their children into a bad career move.

This is no trivial thing. Most of the students will go on to find another career, and some will eventually succeed in oil as the pandemic ends. However, they’ll still have tens of thousands of dollars of debt that they wouldn’t have had, and a harder time servicing that debt than they would have had if their parents had been more forward looking.

Oil is Not Invincible

On the other hand, there’s a silver lining. Seeing oil stumble shows us that it’s not invincible. As Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 says, “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”

If you don’t remember the film, Iron Man (a character partially modeled after Elon Musk) is at the top of the world and the top of his game, giving global leaders security with his unique Iron Man suit. He seemed invincible until someone with his father’s arc reactor technology attacks him, only narrowly losing the fight. Once he didn’t seem invincible, a variety of enemies emerged, including business competitors and government officials who wanted to take him down when he seemed weak.

A similar moment is happening with oil. It seemed like a god, but now it’s a god that failed. Its blood is in the water, and the sharks are definitely circling. It might sound too dramatic to use the imagery of sharks here, but imagine being a student $50,000 in debt with no job prospects. The fear is quite real for some.

Don’t assume that oil is some Goliath that can’t be beat. All it took was a rock in just the right place (COVID-19) to bring him down. 

God Bleeds – Oil Graduates Aren’t Finding Jobs

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba 

Do you think I’ve been helpful in your understanding of Tesla, clean energy, etc? Feel free to use my Tesla referral code to get yourself (and me) some small perks and discounts on their cars and solar products. https://www.tesla.com/referral/jennifer90562


 

Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience

Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience

Posted on January 15, 2021 by Manila Standard is about how Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience and how this latter is visualised as from the Philippines.

Smart Cities are fast becoming one of the world’s most critical industries as more countries invest in technologies to improve the delivery of government service. 

Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience
Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience By 2025, smart city development worldwide is estimated to create business opportunities worth $2.46 trillion.

In its simplest essence, a smart city is all about providing people a better quality of life by using different types of electronic methods and sensors to collect data. The insights gained from that data are utilized to manage assets, resources, and even services efficiently, helping governments to improve their operations across the city. It also enables e-governance or the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in all the processes to enhance the government’s ability to address the needs of the public. 

By 2025, smart city development worldwide is estimated to create business opportunities worth $2.46 trillion, as revealed by a report released by tech research firm Frost and Sullivan. This trend is driven by the uncertainties of the post-pandemic work, which will compel cities to focus more on developing collaborative, data-driven infrastructure to provide healthcare and public security, as well as resilience to natural disasters.  

Laying the Groundwork 

In the Philippines, the national government has been pushing the adoption of smart city technologies. For instance, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), being the country’s primary agency promoting the adoption of eGovernment Services (ICT-ES), has developed the E-Government Masterplan (EGMP) 2022.  

This plan outlines DICT’s intent of developing the country’s e-government systems through the digital transformation of services, such as public health, education, and other programs that cut across the whole of government. By doing so, DICT aims to create a networked and collaborative environment for improved public service delivery. 

Additionally, as the ongoing pandemic accelerates innovation, some local governments have laid their plans for their smart city initiatives, especially on e-governance. Baguio City, for instance, has recently announced its investments to transform into e-government using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and other web-based telecommunication technologies, such as crowd density monitoring and real-time weather prediction, to improve the delivery of public service. 

Aside from Baguio, the New Clark City in Pampanga, Davao, Cebu, and Manila have also previously laid the groundwork to make their areas smarter through the adoption of e-governance technologies.  

The need for the adoption 

For Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions, the digital transformation and e-governance initiatives of all the cities in the country, just like the other smart cities across the globe, provide an opportunity to make the entire Philippines more resilient challenges like the current public health crisis or natural calamities.  

Last year, the country was identified as one of the most vulnerable to climate change by the Global Peace Index of the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) due to its high exposure to natural hazards, such as typhoons, landslides, floods, and droughts, as well as its heavy reliance to its climate-sensitive natural resources. 

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) also noted that more tropical cyclones are entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) than anywhere else in the world. Recently, the Philippines experienced five typhoons in a row—Quinta, Rolly, Siony, Tonyo, and Ulysses—which all made landfall in the country within at least a month. All these typhoons left trails of devastation, which include physical injuries, casualties, and damages to agriculture and other properties.  

“Following this devastation, preparedness for typhoons and other calamities has never been more important, for instance, in getting necessary data where they can draw insights to efficiently conduct pre-evacuation of residents in flood-prone and vulnerable areas. And as IT becomes integral, government agencies must have a ready infrastructure in place to ensure that services go on unhampered and citizens have access to services they need,” said Jason Lim, country manager of Vertiv Philippines. 

To help local governments in tackling these IT infrastructure challenges, Vertiv brings together cutting-edge E-Governance Solutions to ensure uninterrupted operations, optimal performance, and scalability of data centers, communication networks, and other critical IT facilities needed in creating smarter and more resilient cities.  

To learn more about how Vertiv supports the continuity of today’s vital business and government applications, visit Vertiv.com.