Posts tagged ‘energy’

Urban Air Pollution Is a Public Health Emergency

By , 22 January, 2016, No Comment

I’ve finally returned to Cambridge after spending the better part of 2015 conducting field research in India, South Africa and Kenya. With luck, I’ve now got all the data I need to finish my thesis, and I’m going to be chained to my desk from now until I finish writing it. Naturally, I am procrastinating by writing assorted other things instead, including my monthly blog at SciDev.net.

My most recent piece covers the air quality crisis affecting the developing world’s major cities. India, where I spent much of the summer, is home to many of the worst offenders, and Delhi is the most polluted city of all. I have been visiting Delhi regularly for the past decade, and the change is visible. Many a rickshaw journey consists of wondering exactly how the driver knows to break before crashing into a car in front of him, when neither he nor I can see the road in front of us. The situation in African cities is not as bad, but Nairobi, where I spent the fall, is getting there. Yet despite traveling regularly in the developing world, often in the company of asthma sufferers in my family and household, statistics saying pollution kills more people than HIV and malaria combined, still shock.

We are making progress, and huge credit is owed here to my mother, the incredible Shazia Z. Rafi, who campaigned successfully to get air quality targets included in the new Sustainable Development Goals. This should put pressure on governments, but it is not just a government problem. Urban air pollution in the developing world is a direct product of economic growth, of the fuel consumed both by industrial operations and the transport workers use to reach those new factories. Businesses who are driving this wave of industrialized urbanization bear some responsibility here. My piece, which you can read here, lays out some steps companies can take to clean up their act.

Back to the thesis now, I swear…

UN Week Blogging

By , 8 October, 2012, No Comment

Belatedly, taking note of two blog posts I’ve written for Forbes recently based on events I attended during UN Week.

1. The UN hosted an event on energy access and sustainability that was notable because it tried to bridge the gap between environmental activism and anti-poverty work.

Energy access is a critical prerequisite to poverty reduction, necessary for everything from heating homes to delivering public services to powering the businesses that create jobs.

Emerging powers sometimes paint these economic imperatives as incompatible with the fight against climate change. They see emissions caps as an unfair restriction on their economic advancement. But they’re wrong.

The IEA’s most recent World Energy Outlookconcluded (see p. 488) that achieving universal electricity access by 2030 would result in only a 2% increase in global emissions. That’s because the 1.3 billion people living without electricity today live in the world’s poorest countries. And poor countries that do have universal electricity today draw far less power, on a per-capita basis, than rich ones.

Of course, the ultimate aim of expanding energy access is to spur economic growth and allow poor countries to become richer. But even with dramatic economic growth, these countries won’t be approaching the kilowatt-hours consumed in the developed world until long after 2030. And by that time, we could and should have viable, affordable carbon-neutral energy systems in place.

Read the rest here.

2. The Concordia Summit held a panel discussion on women in Afghanistan that was notable because it highlighted the role the U.S. government has played in helping Afghan women achieve economic and political freedom, just days before U.S. government officials began telling the press that the U.S. won’t have much role in the postwar peace.

But the most important, and least frequently discussed danger (it gets no mention in the Timesstory) is the fate of Afghan women. One of the few goods to have come of the ISAF presence in Afghanistan is an Afghan constitution that gives women equal legal status to men (Article 22), the right to go to school (Articles 43 and 44), access jobs (Article 48) and hold political office (Article 84). Not only would a postwar government with Taliban members reverse such gains, but many woman who have made social, political and economic gains in the last decade would be in danger of suffering violent retribution and shaming from the men in their communities.

Read it all here.

I’ll be discussing what NATO withdrawal means for Afghan women on HuffPost Live today at 10:30AM Eastern. You can watch it here.

Sudan: What Do you Mean by Independence?

By , 13 January, 2011, No Comment

First of several posts up at Foreign Exchange today about the referendum for independence in Southern Sudan:

A rare bit of uplifting news in foreign policy land this week, as emerging returns from the independence referendum in Southern Sudan suggest minimal violence and 60% voter turnout, which is nothing short of remarkable given the distances people traveled to polling stations and the fact that any population figure for Southern Sudan includes a fair number of individuals who don’t actually live in Sudan anymore but in refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and further afield.

The positive headline aside, there are some very large unanswered questions about what independence means, substantively. The most important one, from the perspective of this blog, is that an independent South is going to be a landlocked, poor state with one valuable natural resource – oil – and no capacity to refine or export it.

Read the rest.

Thinking Long Term on India and Iran

By , 5 January, 2011, No Comment

New post at Foreign Exchange on the India-Iran oil deal and the challenges of securing funding for it amidst the US-led sanctions on Tehran. My take:

the U.S. position in recent years has been that India is most valuable as an ally when it is looking eastwards, and competing with China in the South China Sea or through trade relationships in South East Asia; that is the view favored too by a number of Indian policy wonks and popular in the Indian press.

But this banking move suggests that inside the halls of power, Indian leaders understand what I tried to argue in November: that India is most likely to challenge China, and thereby benefit other great powers, if it rectifies relations in South Asia and uses its relationship with Iran to build a trading zone to its west.

From Washington’s perspective, it’s a classic clash between short- and long- term policy objectives, between the nuclear issue and the need for an India that is strong in the region. There are no signs as yet that the U.S. government wants to shift its strategy towards the long-term and let this deal stand, but if it did, I for one would welcome it.

Read it all.

China’s New Pakistan Strategy

By , 21 December, 2010, No Comment

Post at Foreign Exchange today looks at the geostrategic significance of some new investment MOUs between China and Pakistan. The post is a follow-up to a story I wrote for Forbes in the spring about Chinese investment in Balochistan, where I highlighted a mining contract gone sour under Chinese pressure. That contract finally fell apart last week, and the lessons I learned reporting on it hang heavily over my analysis of the new deals:

Throughout my travels in South Asia, I’ve heard stories about what it means to do business with China. The running refrain has always been that Chinese investors are politically neutral, that they protect their own material interests while doing their best to appease local leaders with a cut of any deal, but with very little concern for the day-to-day running of local life. This is always subtly (or not so subtly) contrasted to an American approach of promoting foreign investment as a mechanism of societal makeover. In much of South Asia, Chinese investment has proven appealing to those who would rather not be re-made. That was very much the theme of my time in Balochistan. This weekend’s deals do not fit that mold…

Want to know why? Read it here.

Chat with Andris Piebalgs

By , 24 September, 2010, No Comment

My post at Foreign Exchange today is an interview with Andris Piebalgs, the European Commissioner for Development. An excerpt:

Some of your member states have expressed support for a financial transactions tax as a source of funding. What is the Commission’s view of that?

It’s very clear that official aid will need money beyond .7, and then on top of that aid we will need to raise funds for a climate change pledge. We need to start thinking as though at the end of the day somebody will count the money and if you haven’t delivered, you will be responsible for the misery in the world.

Yes, the tax is logical. Why? We tax everything else. All activities are suffering from taxation. Technically, though, it should be difficult to administer. It needs global governance, and in that, it is a test case for the G20. If they can’t do this, it is on them to propose an alternative. We could tax air tickets, say. Much simpler, but much less popular.”

I really enjoyed the whole chat, and encourage you to go read it.