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Bringing light to these dark times

Bringing light to these dark times

Paul Trace from Stella Rooflight discusses the importance of well-lit spaces while the nation works from home. It is about Bringing light to these dark times. Environmental Impact of the Global Built Environment are revisited here but at a specific scale, that of home.


Chances are that over the last few months you’ve found yourself trying to adapt to a new working environment as the nation gets to grips with home working and/or schooling. As few people are fortunate enough to have a dedicated home office space, many will no doubt have found themselves sprawled out on the sofa, taking over a kitchen worktop or even working from their beds (we’ve all done it!).

Wherever you have managed to find space, you have most likely been drawn to the brightest spot in the house. It’s no great surprise that people are attracted to natural light and that most of us feel better when the sun comes out. However, beyond the “feel good” factor there are many tangible benefits to increasing the amount of natural daylight entering a building, none more so than improved productivity levels.

Daylight is a vital natural resource that will significantly improve the environment within any building. Evidence from the numerous physical and psychological studies undertaken on the subject, suggests that buildings enjoying high levels of natural light are literally more successful than those more reliant on artificial light. In all environments our brains respond better to natural light, which means people perform better.

If your home has all of a sudden also become your workplace, the presence of natural daylight has never been so important. Daylight is proven to increase concentration levels in working environments, with numerous studies showing that well-lit spaces often achieve improved productivity, over those that are not.

Health

Many scientific studies conducted in the healthcare sector also support the conclusion that natural daylight has proven health benefits. Daylight helps to shorten patient recovery times, improves their mood and generally promotes well-being. So it’s no surprise that architects involved with hospitals, housing for the elderly and other healthcare buildings are constantly adjusting and updating their designs to reflect the importance of introducing daylight and, more specifically, natural sunlight.

But it’s not just the elderly or unwell that can reap the health benefits of natural light. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of the UK population suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of winter depression. These individuals are known to respond to the hormone serotonin, whose production is triggered by natural daylight.

The environmental and financial benefits

Natural light also offers an environmentally friendly means of saving money on energy costs. It stands to reason that the more natural light entering a building, the less energy for lights and heating is required. If home working is to become the new norm for you or those in your household, then the longer-term cost savings of natural daylight are not to be dismissed, especially as the increase in lighting and power consumption is likely to be required at peak-demand prices. Effective use of day lighting may save up to about 50 percent of your energy cost requirements, depending upon how natural light is used.

Even in our rather dull climate, passive solar gain provides significant potential to reduce energy usage. Buildings that enjoy high levels of natural light evenly spread throughout will be heated naturally for a considerable percentage of the year.

Education

Natural daylight is not only beneficial to those working from home. If you are among the millions of households that have been home schooling your children over the lockdown period you may be interested to know that natural daylight also has a significant impact on education.

Much of the research on the benefits of natural daylight has focused on the learning environment. Enhanced student performance and motivation, increased teacher and student attendance, reduced energy costs, as well as a positive effect on the environment are some of the improvements seen in school buildings that use well-planned day lighting concepts.

One study by Sacramento California, ‘Light Helps Pupils Learn’, is one of the largest ever undertaken on natural light in schools. It suggests that children learn faster and perform better in exams in classrooms with more daylight. It identified that exam results were up to 26 percent higher for schoolchildren in classrooms with plentiful natural light than for those in classrooms with little or no daylight. These findings are reinforced by Alberta Education’s, ‘A Study into the Effects of Light on Children of Elementary School Age’, which showed that natural light also has a positive effect on the health of children, as well as on rates of attendance and achievement.

These are all benefits that can be transferred from school buildings to the home learning environment.

The role of the rooflight

Rooflights let in light from the brightest part of the sky and are not generally affected by external obstructions, such as trees or other buildings. They also provide a more even pattern of light than vertical windows.

Rooflights can form part of an effective technical lighting scheme, particularly in conjunction with efficiently controlled artificial lighting, to produce specified illumination levels for particular tasks. According to leading consultants, horizontal rooflights provide three times more light than vertical windows (the equivalent of 10,000 candles on a sunny day), which is more than 200 times the light needed for most educational or work related tasks.

In addition, rooflights can also add to the more subjective qualities of spaces as an integral part of the building’s architecture. They can provide views of the sky and promote a sense of well-being and connection with the outside without the distractions encountered with views through vertical glass windows.

These facts are well understood by most people involved in building design. However the huge potential of rooflights to provide exactly the amount, type and distribution of natural light required to meet any given specification is not always appreciated by the homeowner. So, whether home working and home schooling is a short-term solution, or something that we all must get used to, the role of natural daylight in the home and the physical and psychological benefits that it brings, cannot be underestimated.

For further information or to discuss your bespoke rooflight requirement contact the Stella Rooflight team on 01794 745445 or email info@stellarooflight.co.uk

www.stellarooflight.co.uk

About Stella Rooflight

Stella Rooflight designs and manufactures high quality stainless steel bespoke rooflights. From design and production through to customer service, Stella has a single vision of doing things better than the industry standard.

Stella produces exceptional rooflights that combine a flush fitting profile, while utilising the very best of materials and has become the first choice for discerning clients looking to bring natural daylight into their living spaces through premium quality rooflights.

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Reviving MENA Regional Integration in the Post-COVID Era

Reviving MENA Regional Integration in the Post-COVID Era

The World Bank gives us the comprehensive Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Economic Update: It is about Trading Together — Reviving MENA Regional Integration in the Post-COVID Era.


The combination of a COVID-19 pandemic and a collapse in oil prices has affected all aspects of the economies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The region’s economies are projected to contract by 5.2% in 2020, which is 4.1 percentage points below the forecast in April 2020, and 7.8 percentage points worse than that of October 2019, reflecting an increasingly pessimistic outlook for the regional economy. The region is expected to recover only partially in 2021.

The outlook for MENA’s current account and fiscal balances also deteriorated sharply. Driven largely by lower oil export revenue, a drop in fiscal revenue, and the large increase in fiscal expenditure required to respond to the health crisis, the region’s current account and fiscal balances in 2020 are forecast at -4.8% and -10.1% of GDP respectively, much worse than the forecasts in October 2019. Public debt is projected to rise significantly in the next few years, from about 45% of GDP in 2019 to 58% in 2022.

In dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the top priority is responding to the health crisis while aiming to preserve consumption and production capabilities. If financially feasible, countries should postpone fiscal consolidation until recovery is well underway. Reallocating spending to deal with the immediate impacts of the crisis and making such spending more efficient, for example, by proactively reducing leakages to ensure relief measures reach the intended beneficiaries can help create fiscal space. In the medium run, there is a strong need to boost productivity to restore growth and stabilize the debt. A powerful way to do that would be to pursue profound institutional reforms that would reshape the role of the state, promote fair competition, accelerate the adoption digital technology, and pursue regional integration, which is the focus of this report.

CHAPTER I: Coping with a Dual Shock in the Middle East and North Africa

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) face both a COVID-19 pandemic and a collapse in oil prices. Trade volumes are estimated to have fallen sharply. Preliminary data for April from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development suggests a roughly 40% decline in trade for the region. The downturn is expected to accelerate in sectors with strong value chains, particularly in electronics and automotive products.

CHAPTER II: Reviving Middle East and North Africa Regional Trade Integration in the Post-COVID-19 Era

Trade openness can be significant in achieving inclusiveness. However, to promote growth that benefits all segments of society, trade reforms must move in parallel with other policy reforms. The benefits of trade openness might otherwise be canceled by other economic and social measures. The contributions of trade openness to inclusive growth can be uneven and cannot be understood without considering how it affects all factors of production, benefiting some and hurting others.



Download the report in : English  عربي  français
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Cooperate on climate or ‘we will be doomed’

Cooperate on climate or ‘we will be doomed’

The virus has upended plans for a flurry of climate diplomacy this year. Kelly MacNamara reported the UN chief as saying: Cooperate on climate or ‘we will be doomed’.

World powers must pull together and retool their economies for a green future or humanity is “doomed”, UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned, telling AFP that failure to control the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the danger of disunity.

Before the virus struck, 2020 was billed as a pivotal year for the plan to dodge the bullet of catastrophic global warming, with high profile summits planned to catch a wave of public alarm over the future of the planet.

The coronavirus crisis may have shunted climate into the sidelines as nations launched unprecedented shutdowns to try to slow its spread, but Guterres said the need for climate action was more urgent than ever.

In a searing assessment of the international response, Guterres said the pandemic should sharpen governments’ focus on cutting emissions, urging them to use the crisis as a springboard to launch “transformational” policies aimed at weaning societies off fossil fuels.

“I think the failure that was shown in the capacity to contain the spread of the virus—by the fact that there was not enough international coordination in the way the virus was fought—that failure must make countries understand that they need to change course,” he told AFP.

“They need to act together in relation to the climate threat that is a much bigger threat than the threat of the pandemic in itself—it’s an existential threat for our planet and for our lives.”

There are fears the pandemic's economic toll could see governments relax their climate targets
There are fears the pandemic’s economic toll could see governments relax their climate targets

The UN chief said “pollution and not people” should be taxed and called for nations to end fossil fuel subsidies, launch massive investments in renewables and commit to “carbon neutrality”—net zero emissions—by 2050.

“We need to have a number of transformational measures in relation to energy, in relation to transportation, in relation to agriculture, in relation to industry, in relation to our own way of life, without which we would be doomed,” he said.

His comments come as the landmark Paris climate deal goes into effect this year in a bid to cap the rise in temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The accord was already on a knife-edge before the pandemic, with doubts over commitments from major polluting nations and concerns that it is still far short of what science says is needed to avert disastrous climate change.

US President Donald Trump shocked the world in 2017 when he said the United States—history’s largest emitter—was withdrawing from the Paris deal. It is due to leave on November 4, just after the country’s presidential election.

Investing in green energy makes evironmental and economic sense, the UN chief said
Investing in green energy makes evironmental and economic sense, the UN chief said

The pandemic has further dented hopes that diplomatic pressure could sweep foot-dragging nations into announcing bold climate action plans, as major summits were postponed and nations focused inwards.

Guterres said there was currently no clear sign that a United States government recovery policy would align with Paris goals, but he expressed hope that states, businesses and individuals “will compensate for the lack of political commitment that exists at the present moment“.

He said much now rests on the actions of major emitters, China, the US, Europe, Russia, India and Japan, in interviews with AFP and other members of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets committed to increased climate coverage.

“We have never been as fragile as we are, we never needed as much humility, unity and solidarity as now,” he said, blasting “irrational demonstrations of xenophobia” and the rise of nationalism.

“Either we are united, or we will be doomed,” he added, ahead of a largely virtual UN General Assembly this month.

The pandemic hit as a  global youth climate movement was gaining increasing attention
The pandemic hit as a global youth climate movement was gaining increasing attention

‘Wake up’

Climate change warnings are no longer predictions of a distant future.

Earth’s average surface temperature has gone up by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, enough to increase the intensity of droughts, heat waves and tropical cyclones.

Burning fossil fuels has been by far the main driver of rising temperatures, with concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere now at their highest levels in around three million years.

The last five years were the five hottest on record, while ice sheets are melting at a rate that tracks scientists’ worst-case scenarios, prefiguring devastating sea level rises.

“The expectations that we have in relation to the next five years about storms, about drought and about other dramatic impacts in the living conditions of many people around the world are absolutely terrible,” Guterres said, ahead of a multi-agency climate report on Wednesday.

The UN's climate science advisory panel has warned that time is running out if a rise in global temperatures is to be capped at
The UN’s climate science advisory panel has warned that time is running out if a rise in global temperatures is to be capped at 1.5C

The United Nations says it is still possible to reach a safer goal of a 1.5C cap in temperature rise, but to get there global emissions must fall 7.6 percent annually this decade.

While the shutdowns implemented during the pandemic could reduce global emissions by up to eight percent in 2020, scientists have warned that without systemic change in how the world powers and feeds itself, the drop would be essentially meaningless.

Fourth hottest August ever recorded
World map showing the difference between the temperature in August 2020 and the average for that month from 1981 to 2010.

‘A different world’

There are also concerns that massive Covid-19 stimulus packages being devised by governments could provide a crutch to polluting industries.

Guterres has urged Japan, India and China to drop their continued reliance on coal.

China—the world’s biggest polluter—has invested heavily in renewable energy, but it has also reportedly stepped up coal production.

Guterres said the determination of young activists gives him hope
Guterres said the determination of young activists gives him hope

The UN head said he was hopeful the EU would make good on its green commitments, after it announced its 750-billion-euro ($885 billion) stimulus plan that aims in part to reach carbon neutrality targets.

He said the pandemic had demonstrated society’s capacity to adapt to transformation.

“I don’t want to go back to a world where biodiversity is being put into question, to a world where fossil fuels receive more subsidies than renewables, or to a world in which we see inequalities making societies with less and less cohesion and creating instability, creating anger, creating frustration,” he added.

“I think we need to have a different world, a different normal and we have an opportunity to do so.”


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Gulf states use coronavirus threat to tighten

Gulf states use coronavirus threat to tighten

. . . their authoritarian controls and surveillance as per Matthew Hedges, Durham University who elaborates on how the Gulf states use coronavirus threat to tighten authoritarian controls and surveillance. To help put things in their context and, before going into the author’s, here are in a few words, some details of recent happenings.


The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) treated the North African region as made of states accustomed to a lower ranking in its yearly World Press Freedom Index. Thus, in terms of press freedom, Saudi Arabia which still drags the story of Khashoggi, Iran, Egypt or Iraq did not reach their expected levels. Algeria’s ranking, which registers the largest decline in the North African region, responds to not only a conflicting political and social context but also to the recent prevailing lock-down. That situation has been characterised, through a yearlong peoples’ movement, by a campaign of intimidation and pressure on journalists, some of whom have been arrested for their coverage of popular demonstrations.
These attacks on press freedom have also recently targeted online media that have been censored in disguise through a proper blockade by the authorities. This is the case of Maghreb Emergent made inaccessible for a few days to the Algerian public.
These are “liberticide” procedures.
In this regional picture, which is representative of the rest, Tunisia, which retains its 72nd position, is first in the MENA region.


Governments across the Middle East have moved to upgrade their surveillance capabilities under the banner of combatting COVID-19, the disease linked to the new coronavirus.

Overtly repressive policies have been commonplace across the Middle East for years, notably in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, where violent measures have been taken to control populations.

As a result of technological advances, an increase in political engagement and changes of leadership, the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – have also upgraded their form of authoritarianism in recent years. This has seen policies of partial economic liberalisation and market-based reforms used to obscure an increase in repression and surveillance, for example by containing the work of civil society groups.

Following the pattern in which authoritarian states tend to exploit common threats, some of the GCC states are now manipulating the current pandemic to enhance their social power and control – as I’ve explored in a recent article as part of a contribution for the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University.

New controls

In Dubai, nationwide curfews have been put in place and enforced by the security services and surveillance. Authorities in the UAE have also introduced criminal penalties for the dissemination of information about the virus deemed to be false. Meanwhile, Bahrain introduced electronic tags for patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. In Saudi Arabia, people have been arrested for violating strict curfew laws.

Beijing’s recent admission that more people had died than originally reported in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the pandemic, shows the fragile nature of information and truth within authoritarian states. Likewise, it’s difficult to assess the scale of who has been affected so far across the GCC. According to official government statistics as of April 21, there were 10,484 reported cases in Saudi Arabia and 103 deaths from COVID-19. The UAE had reported 7,265 cases and 43 deaths, Qatar 6,105 ases and nine deaths and Kuwait 2,080 cases and 11 deaths.

China’s handling of its own early COVID-19 whistleblowers showed how authoritarian states often react promptly to the dissemination of news which could undermine their authority. Of course, the curtailing of “fake news” during this time is important to prevent hysteria and panic.

But from my own experience of being forcibly detained for six months and falsely accused of spying charges in the UAE, I know full well how these laws can be abused and twisted for ulterior purposes. The real test will be to see if all of these preventative laws are relaxed once the pandemic is under control.

Gulf states use coronavirus threat to tighten
A market in Salmiya, Kuwait, is disinfected in early April. Noufal Ibrahim/EPA

The inherent weaknesses of GCC states are also being further exposed through this pandemic. GCC citizens only inadvertently hold the power of accountability over their monarchies, due to the lack of formal political mechanisms that generate and provide legitimacy in democracies. In essence, the monarchs hold power until they don’t.

In response, Middle Eastern states have introduced programmes in recent years that emphasise cultural traditions in an attempt to further centralise power using key figures within their regime. A recent anti-corruption drive in Saudi Arabia, which climaxed with the Ritz-Carlton incident in which more than 30 elite figures were detained in a luxury hotel, highlighted the ascendancy of Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince.

In the UAE, the security state has been intensified through the creation of conscription programmes which emphasise national identity under the patronage of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Biopolitics

Central to the current messaging around COVID-19 is the heightened value of “purity” within the nation. This notion has been promoted through the prism of the family, with the region’s rulers extending the meaning to include the nation in an attempt to retain cohesiveness. In the current context, for example, only one member of a family is allowed to pick up food during the lockdown in some Gulf states, and there have been greater protections imposed for nationals than non-nationals, many of whom have been deported.

But this comes at a moment when the so-called purity of the family unit is under threat as dowry costs, marriages to foreigners and divorce rates are all increasing across the GCC. This has helped maintain a heightened significance of the family within GCC politics. As a result, issues such as homosexuality, marriage to foreigners and now even COVID-19 are seen as a threat which has the potential to dilute the national gene pool.

The GCC states are also capitalising on a new vein of conservative nationalism across the region that is highly personalised and driven by security concerns. An era of assertive foreign policy from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha is now playing out as a matter of principle and survival. As a result, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have fortified their political and military engagements. Their closer ties with regional players such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar and pro-government Yemeni forces have helped keep these conflicts alive within a reduced footprint.

Back home, the GCC states have exploited the underlying threats of the virus to bolster their own survival strategies. In the past, authoritarian states such as the former Soviet Union often relied on crude illustrations of force alongside state propaganda. But the modern authoritarians in the GCC take a more co-optive route to manage their populations. They have been able to enact policies which undermine civil liberties, perpetuating their current political designs and generating no protest from their populations. So it’s crucial to understand how these practices are maintained, why they have the population’s consent, and upon what basis they will continue to be applied.

Matthew Hedges, Doctoral Research Candidate in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

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

The Conversation