Ditching fossil fuels will have immediate health benefits for millions

Ditching fossil fuels will have immediate health benefits for millions


Ditching fossil fuels will have immediate health benefits for millions – world leaders must seize the chance for a better and cleaner future.

By Eloise Marais, UCL and Karn Vohra, UCL

Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emitted by burning fossil fuels for energy today will only be removed from the atmosphere by natural sinks – like forests and the ocean – in the next 300 to 1,000 years. That means the climate benefits of transitioning to clean energy become apparent on far longer timescales than political term limits and election cycles. A US study, for example, found that deep cuts to emissions from the energy sector will not result in climate cooling until after 2100.

The costs of mitigating climate change outweigh the immediate benefits to the climate. Politicians seeking recognition for their actions at climate change conferences like COP26 in Glasgow have little motive to deliver policies which slash emissions quickly. But there is a large, short-term benefit to eradicating fossil fuels for global health.

The same fossil fuels producing the greenhouse gases warming the Earth’s atmosphere also form large quantities of air pollutants. The pollutants most hazardous to health are small particles which can penetrate deep into the lungs. These particles have diameters of no more than 2.5 micrometers, so are called PM2.5. At least 800 of these particles could fit end-to-end on the head of a pin. These fall out of the air when it rains, so they persist in the atmosphere for a much shorter time (just a few days) than CO₂.

In a study we published earlier in 2021 in collaboration with researchers at Harvard University, we estimated that exposure to air pollution from using fossil fuels globally accounts for one in five premature deaths. Our results suggest that at least 8.7 million early adult deaths could have been avoided in a single year if countries had already abandoned fossil fuels. This is equivalent to the population of Greater London.

The health benefits of decarbonisation

Our estimate of premature deaths far exceeds that of other researchers, as we used a model that simulates the sources and fate of air pollution to calculate its abundance on a much finer scale. This gives a more accurate picture of the concentrations of air pollution breathed in by people in urban areas. We then used this to estimate excess deaths using the most up-to-date health studies, which have found that air pollution is deadlier than previously assumed.

The most common causes of premature death from air pollution exposure are heart disease and lung cancer, but researchers routinely report additional illnesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published much stricter health guidelines for air quality than it last recommended in 2005 based on substantial evidence that exposure to air pollution is even worse for public health than scientists had imagined.

Read more: Air pollution: most national limits are unsafe for human health – new WHO guidelines

Our study is probably an underestimate of the possible public health benefits of abandoning fossil fuels. We only accounted for one type of pollution, PM2.5, which arises from burning fossil fuels. A range of air pollutants form as byproducts in all other steps of the fossil fuel supply chain: from finding, extracting and processing fossil fuels, to storing and transporting them.

The fossil fuel industry is an enormous source of air pollution. Mark Agnor/Shutterstock

One example is formaldehyde gas, which is emitted during petroleum refining and flaring of natural gas. Formaldehyde reacts to form ozone in the lower atmosphere, where it is toxic and can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

We also only focused on adults. The relationship between air pollution and poor health in children isn’t completely understood, but studies so far have shown that exposure to air pollution stunts growth and impedes brain and lung development in children. In a landmark case in 2020, air pollution was directly attributed to the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl in London.

The health benefits of transitioning to clean energy are substantial and can emerge quickly. They offer a tantalising opportunity for politicians to deliver immediate improvements in the lives of their voters.


This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
Amid a rising tide of climate news and stories, The Conversation is here to clear the air and make sure you get information you can trust. More.

Eloise Marais, Associate Professor in Physical Geography, UCL and Karn Vohra, Research assistant, UCL

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

Oil-rich UAE to burn waste to make power


Oil-rich UAE to burn waste to make power using electricity generated for more than 90 percent from gas-powered plants. A story that does not take us far from good old internal combustion of materials.

Oil-rich UAE to burn waste to make power

By Carolyn Lamboley

Engineer Nouf Wazir is pictured in front of a waste management facility under construction in the Gulf emirate of Sharjah.

With rubbish piling up in the desert, the United Arab Emirates has found a new way to get rid of its trash—incinerators that will turn it into electricity.

The UAE, one of the world’s top oil exporters, is building the Gulf region’s first waste-to-power plants to ease its chronic trash problem and, at the same time, its reliance on gas-fuelled electricity stations.

Green groups are unconvinced. They say advanced recycling, composting and changing habits amid grossly wasteful rates of consumption would be better for the environment, warning of pollution risks from the greenhouse gas-intensive incinerators too.

But engineer Nouf Wazir, from waste management company Bee’ah, argues they are a way to make use of refuse that cannot be recycled.

“Not everyone knows that waste has value,” said Wazir, a senior engineer on the project. The Sharjah facility is expected to launch this year, burning more than 300,000 tonnes of waste per year to power up to 28,000 homes.

In the neighbouring emirate of Dubai, another plant is being developed at a cost of $1.2 billion, according to Hitachi Zosen Inova, one of the partner companies.

When it is completed in 2024, the Dubai plant will be one of the largest in the world, capable of gobbling up 1.9 million tonnes of waste per year—about 45 percent of the household waste currently produced in the emirate.

‘People consume a lot’

As the UAE has mushroomed from a desert outpost to a thriving business hub, waste has multiplied.

So has power use, which has soared 750 percent since 1990 according to the International Energy Agency.

Now with about 10 million people, five times the population of 30 years ago, the wealthy UAE uses more electricity and creates more waste per head than almost any other country.

Authorities put waste production at 1.8 kilos (four pounds) per person per day.

In the UAE, “people consume a lot, and they throw away a lot”, said Riad Bestani, founder of ECOsquare, a Dubai-based consultancy specialising in eco-friendly waste management.

Landfills are strewn across the country. In Dubai alone, six cover an area of about 1.6 million square meters (395 acres), according to the municipality.

The wealthy UAE uses more electricity and creates more waste per head than almost any other country.

In the absence of other solutions, it estimates that landfills will occupy 5.8 million square meters of the emirate by 2041, an area the size of more than 800 football pitches.

Fees for landfills are “pretty much nonexistent, so it’s quite cheap and easy to dump all materials into the desert”, said Emma Barber, director of Dubai-based DGrade, which designs clothes and accessories from recycled plastic bottles.

The UAE has set about diversifying its electricity generation, more than 90 percent of which comes from gas-powered plants.

Last year, the UAE inaugurated the Arab world’s first nuclear plant and, making use of its location in one of the world’s hottest regions, it has significant solar power resources.

In the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which started on Sunday, the UAE said it was targeting carbon neutrality by 2050.

‘Separate, sort, recycle’

While supporters of the plants say the incinerators carry minimal pollution risks, activists say other approaches would be better for the environment.

Workers at the Bee’ah waste management company, which seeks to tackle growing landfills strewn across the country.

According to Janek Vahk of Zero Waste Europe, incinerating rubbish may be “easier” than having space-consuming landfills, but it is far from green.

“The most beneficial for the climate (and) the environment would be recoverage” and composting, Vahk told AFP.

“But this is not really happening because… it’s easier to simply burn it than to separate, sort and recycle.”

The Brussels-based NGO has called for a moratorium on new waste incinerators and the phasing-out of old ones by 2040, warning the electricity they produce is greenhouse-gas intensive—even compared to fossil fuels.

Vahk argues that incineration is “more efficient” in colder Nordic countries when the heat produced is also harnessed, but not in hot deserts.

“If you only produce electricity, the greenhouse gases’ intensity of this energy is very high,” Vahk said, adding that incinerators are also “very expensive to build—and they need to have continuous input to run.”

Rami Shaar, co-founder of Washmen, a Dubai-based start-up that collects customers’ laundry and recycling at the same time, said waste-to-electricity is not “necessarily green energy“.

“It’s a bit of a solution towards not extracting more oil… but it doesn’t solve the full problem,” he said.

Read original on Phys.org


Op-ed: Solving the climate crisis


Op-ed: Solving the climate crisis requires more than switching to renewables—everyone needs equal access as suggested in the Environmental Health News of 2 November 2021 is literally nowadays a must if any agreements at the COP26 were to go through and above all last.

Environmental justice policy is the best path to energy equity.

Carolyn E. Ramirez

In 2020, the International Energy Agency named solar the “cheapest electricity in history,” marking a significant victory for solar energy over fossil fuels in affordability.

This economic turning point is the next step in our global energy journey from wood to coal to oil to gas to renewables. Transitioning to 80% renewable electricity generation in the United States would alleviate an estimated 81% of the industry’s emissions. As a chemical engineer researching solar cell materials, the long-sought economic viability of solar energy is exciting to me—and long-awaited. But it only solves one of a laundry list of problems with the U.S. energy infrastructure, and it will not actually protect those most vulnerable to climate change.Stay in the know: sign up for the Agents of Change newsletter

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Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income communities bear the brunt of climate change’s negative impacts, as discussed in-depth by the NAACPUnion of Concerned ScientistsNature Conservancy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many more. However, renewable energy technologies like solar cells primarily benefit wealthy and predominantly white communities rather than the aforementioned environmental justice communities. Mandates, like the 2020 law in California, which requires all new homes built in the state to have solar panels, price low-income communities out of such housing due to high upfront costs of renewable technologies.

The pivot in U.S. energy infrastructure must be more than just adopting a few new technologies—we must completely change the system by centering environmental justice. Why? Because for centuries that system has disenfranchised and discriminated against BIPOC and low-income communities.

Racial wealth disparities require more than new tech to bridge gaps

Our capitalistic society exploits energy resources rather than equitably utilizing them. Environmental justice is intrinsically anti-capitalist in the sense that for everyone to have equal and just access to clean air, water, food, and energy, there must be some level of government regulation and oversight of these commodities due to unreliable resource access throughout different parts of the U.S.

Racial and ethnic inequality in energy access largely originates from housing inequality, which remains a paramount issue today. In 1934, the U.S. government established the Federal Housing Administration to administer loans to families looking to buy homes. Approximately 98% of the loans granted between 1934 and 1968 were given to white people, and this practice was known as (legally allowed) redlining, a form of segregation that still plagues cities around the country. White families purchased homes and accrued generational wealth while Black families mainly rented homes. This contributed to the racial wealth gap that today also affects all other BIPOC communities and results in stratification of energy and utility access.

Related: How financial institutions engineered climate injustice and the clean energy colorline

Coupled with this were the discrimination and violence against Black people in the work force. Specifically, Jim Crow era segregation in the early- and mid-1900s made workplace discrimination in the government not only legal but encouraged, making it more difficult for Black people to hold well-paying civil service jobs. The effects of Jim Crow still resound today. The segregation and gap in generational wealth between white and BIPOC families determined what commodities and luxuries families could afford.

Because of this immense inequality, BIPOC households are more likely to suffer from energy poverty, whereby they pay a larger proportion of their income than average on utilities. This disparity stems from a lack of energy efficiency in homes accessible to BIPOC and low-income families. Additionally, BIPOC families have less reliable access to utilities, facing more frequent blackouts and utility shutoffs than white families.

None of these problems are intrinsically connected to the source of energy producing that electricity or heat. They are instead products of a racist, capitalist society that allows white wealth to prosper at the expense of racial equity and justice.

Corporate greed won’t change with a different energy product for sale

A march against climate injustice. (Credit: Friends of the Earth International/flickr)

Oil companies have a history of concentrating their industry and environmental impact in BIPOC and low-income communities. ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies spent decades convincing the public and the government of doubt surrounding anthropogenic climate change to ensure their pockets would stay full. While renewable energy sources like solar and wind could alleviate the harmful emissions and pollution that plague fence-line communities, many other environmental justice issues would remain unless other changes are made.

As a glimpse into this future, one renewable energy giant called NextEra Energy emerged in the last few years rather quietly, gaining significant ground economically and beginning to rival the market capitalization of oil behemoths like ExxonMobil. NextEra began as a utility company in Florida and has since expanded nationwide providing solar and wind to cities and states all over the country. While the growing popularity of a renewable energy company is exciting, their path to success feels eerily familiar.

They grew profits by slowly and quietly using federal tax credits to fund new solar and wind projects and growing in market valuation until they could significantly undercut other renewable energy companies’ prices, becoming the largest renewable energy company in the country. Their board is composed of mostly white and male leadership, and while they support environmental stewardship, none of their company objectives available on their website mention environmental justice.

So, while the country is finally excited about transitioning to renewable energy, rebranding our capitalistic energy industry with shiny solar cells instead of oily black gold will still leave BIPOC and low-income communities with most of the same problems they face today.

We need environmental justice now

The problems of inefficient energy infrastructure in homes, energy poverty, frequent blackouts, and loss of power in natural disasters will continue to disproportionately affect BIPOC and low-income communities regardless of the type of energy fueling their homes. True alleviation of climate change requires many policy initiatives including: household and utility plant weatherization funded at the federal and local levels; government regulation of energy companies to prevent price gouging and provide strong consumer protections; and involvement of stakeholders at all levels of local communities in the implementation of renewable energy.

I recently proposed a series of policies addressing these needs which fit into the Biden administration’s current budget and promise to provide significant financial support to environmental justice communities. We cannot wait any longer to support our most marginalized communities. We need policy action centering environmental, climate, and energy justice, now.

Carolyn E. Ramírez is a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate at Northwestern University researching new materials for organic solar cells. Follow them on Twitter @CRami77.

Banner photo credit: Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon


Why the MENA region is sorely lagging behind in RE growth


Zeenat Ganie wondering Why the MENA region is sorely lagging behind in RE growth in ESI Africa of today could not find better than “The MENA […] is home to geopolitical tensions, global interests and a wide variety of multifaceted contexts. […] Untapping MENA’s renewable energy potential will be crucial to equip the region with the right tools to face these challenges.”

In a new study, RES4Africa and Enel Green Power address the reason why only 1% of the global renewable energy (RE) growth occurred in the MENA region over the last decade.

The Middle East and Northern Africa region reached just 1% of global RE capacity addition in the last 10 years, despite remarkable potential in renewables generation. To examine the situation and propose targeted solutions, RES4Africa Foundation in collaboration with Enel Green Power launched its new study Connecting the Dots, 10 Years of Renewable Energy in MENA: What Has (not) Happened? The analysis was presented during the homonymous virtual event.

“Connecting the Dots” is a series of studies aimed at unveiling insights into the renewable energy sector in high-potential regions. The last analysis focused on the main features of MENA, examining them against three dimensions:

– what has happened in the last 10 years,
– what limited the growth of RE sources, and
– what would be needed to achieve a full energy transition.

The MENA region has seen major changes in the last 10 years, but not always for the best. Climate change is tangibly affecting the region (droughts, rise in the sea level, increasing migration) as well as worrying temperature rises. Moreover, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the outputs of the region shrank by 3.9% and the youth unemployment rate has seen a remarkable increase of up to 27%.

The worsening environmental and economic situation is not matched by a proper development of renewables. In the region, more than 90% of electricity still comes from fossil fuels, with per capita emissions among the highest in the world. Despite wind and solar having reached 36% of RE capacity in the last decade, further clues of unevenness can be traced: just five countries out of 19 (Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Jordan and Israel) accounted for more than 80% of the additional solar and wind capacity.

The study identifies the main obstacles to full development and growth of RE in the region.

The regulatory and policy framework, with a few exceptions, is still far from meeting its goals and from showing adequate standards of openness, attractiveness and readiness. Additionally, the power sector is still affected by a lack of sufficient cross-border trading as well as frequent outages and a quasi-fiscal deficit of utilities, the latter costing up to 4% of the GDP.

The key actions identified by the analysis highlight the need to diversify the energy mix and to formulate clear energy transition plans. According to the analysis, targeted reforms should also be implemented in order to move away from highly subsidised and distorted fossil fuel-based markets while reducing the inefficiencies of utilities, supporting the creation of independent regulatory authorities and the implementation of transparent tender procedures.

President of RES4Africa Foundation and CEO of Enel Green Power, Salvatore Bernabei said: “Unleashing MENA’s green capability can be a driving force for a sustainable socio-economic development. Joining efforts for a more sustainable and prosperous future for all can therefore promote dialogue and mitigate the already tangible effects of climate change”.

Secretary-General of RES4Africa Foundation, Roberto Vigotti added: “The MENA […] is home to geopolitical tensions, global interests and a wide variety of multifaceted contexts. […] Untapping MENA’s renewable energy potential will be crucial to equip the region with the right tools to face these challenges.”

Access the report: Connecting the Dots, 10 Years of Renewable Energy in MENA: What Has (not) Happened?

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Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future


A write up that is concerned not only about the Middle East but the whole of the MENA region was authored by Kelly Boyd Anderson in the Arab News. It is about those Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future. Are these as realistic as they should be?

Are those Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future

The Middle East and North Africa region has long thwarted efforts to predict its future. However, while there will always be unpredictable events, identifying the trends and other factors most likely to shape the region’s outlook is a helpful place to start.
There are multiple regional analyses and foresight projects from think tanks, educational institutions and other experts, including the EU Institute for Security Studies, the Middle East Scholar Barometer, and the Middle East Institute. Drawing on these and other studies, there are several factors that many experts believe will be key in shaping the MENA region over the next five to 10 years.
Global factors will affect the region; in turn, MENA will have an impact on the world. One major shift with global consequences is the rise of regional powers with the resources to pursue their own interests and exert influence abroad. Regional powers will increasingly shape the region’s future and how it interacts with global actors. The regional countries will have to manage changes in America’s role, along with China’s growing power.
Climate change is another trend with global and regional effects. MENA will experience some of the most severe consequences of climate change. The region’s resilience will depend on how successfully its governments improve infrastructure, pursue sustainable development and implement adaptation strategies over the next decade.
At the same time, as a major source of hydrocarbons, the region contributes to climate change and must be part of global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There is significant potential for the region to become a leader in renewable energy and in technologies to limit emissions, but governments need to increase investments in these areas.
The pandemic will have long-term impacts on global business, economics and health, and these will affect MENA. The pandemic accelerated or shifted global developments in business, economics and technology that will have consequences in the region, including advances and changes in artificial intelligence, supply chains, travel and more. These global shifts will create opportunities and risks for governments and businesses. In particular, developing high-quality, accessible digital infrastructure is key to ensuring the region can compete globally.
Other factors that will shape the future are specific to the region. Demographic change will continue to play a major role in MENA’s economic and social context. The region’s population growth has started to slow, but its famous “youth bulge” will remain important over the next decade.
The region still has an opportunity to benefit from a “demographic dividend,” but this will require urgent job creation, including educational reforms to better prepare young people for the workforce. Migration within and out of MENA will be another key demographic factor, with impacts beyond the region.
Unfortunately, war and its aftermath will also play a crucial role. The conflict in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands, caused widespread displacement inside the country and historic refugee flows to other countries and left 90 percent of the population living in poverty.
Libya, too, has experienced civil war. Ending and recovering from these conflicts will require enormous resources over the coming years, with long-lasting social, economic and political consequences.
There is also a risk that areas of instability could descend into war. Iraq and Lebanon are experiencing violence and widespread dysfunction, with the potential to again become conflict hotspots. Many countries across the region face governance crises, being unable or unwilling to respond to the public’s needs and concerns.
While the initial political changes that stemmed from the 2011 Arab Spring protests have been rolled back, the uprisings demonstrated that popular movements are important players in the region. Many countries have continued to experience significant protests. In a Middle East Scholar Barometer survey earlier this year, 30 percent of experts said that the “uprisings are likely to return within the next 10 years,” while 46 percent said that the “uprisings never stopped and are still ongoing in different forms.”
Global and regional economic factors will also drive change. Youth unemployment is one of the region’s greatest challenges, making job creation and educational reform essential. Aging infrastructure, uneven access to the internet, food insecurity, and large fiscal deficits are other key issues.

One major shift with global consequences is the rise of regional powers with the resources to pursue their own interests and exert influence abroad.

Kerry Boyd Anderson

However, the region has significant economic opportunities, including a young population that is interested in entrepreneurship and is familiar with digital tools, the potential to expand women’s participation in the workforce, and significant space to expand the private sector. The extent to which governments and businesses implement policies to utilize these opportunities and manage the challenges will determine much of the future.
There are many other relevant factors, including the closing window on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the role of violent extremist groups such as Daesh, the challenges and opportunities of increasing urbanization, and the uneven distribution of assets and risks around the region.
The future is impossible to predict. However, by identifying the trends and factors that are likely to shape the coming years, leaders can prepare to mitigate risks and build on opportunities. People can have conversations about what type of future they prefer and work toward it, rather than being carried along by the tides of history.

Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 18 years of experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica. Twitter: @KBAresearch