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When Breathing Kills

Sameer Akbar's picture

 Curt Carnemark/World Bank

A good friend of mine recently returned from her mother’s funeral in Germany. She had died of lung cancer after spending the last eight years of her life in a slum in New Delhi where she taught orphaned children.

I can’t help but wonder if breathing the dirty indoor and outdoor pollution in New Delhi contributed to her cancer. My friend has the same question.

In new estimates released March 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, about 7 million people died - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution. Indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in households that cook over coal, wood and biomass stoves. Outdoor air pollution was linked to 3.7 million deaths from urban and rural sources worldwide. (As many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together.)

South and East Asia had the largest number of deaths linked to indoor air pollution.

The WHO finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s single largest environmental health risk. In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. In the case of both indoor and outdoor air pollution related deaths, 6 percent were attributed to cancer.

Thinking that my friend’s mother perished as result of pollution may not be so far-fetched.

Treading Water While Sea Levels Rise

Rachel Kyte's picture
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 UNFCCC/Flickr

At the UN climate talks that ended wearily on Saturday night in Warsaw, negotiators showed little appetite for making firm climate finance commitments or promising ambitious climate action. But they did succeed, again, in keeping hope alive for a 2015 agreement.

The final outcome was a broad framework agreement that outlines a system for pledging emissions cuts and a new mechanism to tackle loss and damage. There were new pledges and payments for reducing deforestation through REDD+ and for the Adaptation Fund, however the meeting did little more than avoid creating roadblocks on the road to a Paris agreement in 2015. In one of the few new financial commitments, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States together contributed $280 million to building sustainable landscapes through the BioCarbon Fund set up by the World Bank Group.

At the same time, COP19 was an increasingly emotional Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The overture to this round of climate drama was provided by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan added, sadly, more to the mounting evidence of the costs of failure in tackling climate change. The language is inexorably moving towards one of solidarity, of justice. But for the moment, this framing is insufficient to prevent emission reduction commitments from moving backwards.

And yet again, as was the case in the climate conferences in Cancun, Durban, Doha, and now Warsaw, outside the official negotiations, there is growing pragmatic climate action driven by climate leaders from every walk of life.

The sense of urgency and opportunity is building, it just fails to translate into textual agreement.

One Bloc Moving Climate Progress Forward at Warsaw

Rachel Kyte's picture

 CCAC

In the climate negotiations under the United Nations framework, we are used to seeing geographical blocs and other blocs at loggerheads. The tension draws attention, but it isn’t the only story of blocs at the climate conference.

In Warsaw Thursday, members of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – 75 countries and international organizations working together – met and talked about their progress so far and work for the future to slow climate change.

What do these countries – among them, Nigeria, Sweden, the United States, Ghana, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Chile, Morocco, and Canada – have in common?

Answer: The firm belief that we can work together and substantially reduce black carbon, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants.

Committed to Healthier Forests and Landscapes

Ellysar Baroudy's picture




Today, three countries – Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States – pledged $280 million to the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, kicking off a groundbreaking initiative for sustainable forest landscapes. 

Their significant commitment to land and forest preservation is important for two reasons.

The new Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes will manage landscapes in a holistic fashion by working across sectors, rather than in “silos.” It also brings in the private sector already in the design phase, recognizing that many private firms are committed to “greening” and securing their supply chains from the impact of climate change.

Soot is Soot, No Matter the Circumstance!

Sameer Akbar's picture

 Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Last week, the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that snow in the Himalayas was melting because of religious activity on the Indian subcontinent. The report, based on research by American and Indian scientists, found that burning of wood for cremations and incense sticks for religious ceremonies and marriages leads to emissions of black carbon and other compounds. This, in turn, accelerates the melting of ice and snow-covered surfaces.

There is a growing body of research looking at how black carbon is accelerating snow and glacial melting. A scientific paper published in India early this year associated forest fires and other biomass burning to the accelerated melting of one of the Himalayan glaciers. Scientists have even implicated black carbon emission from increased industrial activity in Europe for the retreat of glaciers in the Alps in the mid-19th century.

On Black Smoke, Asthma and Those Rising Global Temperatures

Sameer Akbar's picture

 Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

I am an asthmatic. Walking or biking behind a black-smoke-belching truck makes me choke, I mean really choke. I am sure it sounds familiar to other asthmatics or to those who have friends with respiratory problems.

The World Health Organization last month classified outdoor air pollution as a leading carcinogen. It particularly singled out particulate matter – the stuff that makes up the black smoke from those diesel trucks – as a carcinogen for humans.

On the heels of that news came word from China that record-air pollution levels nearly shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities, Harbin, forcing schools to suspend classes, snarling traffic and closing the city airport. An index measuring particulate matter reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of the city, home to some 11 million people. A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the WHO recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Imagine the fate of my fellow sufferers, the asthmatics. Needless to say there was surge of hospital emergency room visits in Harbin on October 21.

Countries Push Forward with Greenhouse Gas Market Plans

Sarah Moyer's picture

 Shutterstock
On the outskirts of Marrakesh’s historic medina, amid bustling construction and new housing developments, the Partnership for Market Readiness’ governing group gathered this month for its final meeting of 2013.

After nearly three years of operation, this group of 30 countries has much to be proud of.

So far, nearly $30 million in grant funding has been allocated to 16 nations to support the design and development of market approaches to greenhouse gas emission reductions. A one-of-a-kind platform to exchange ideas and lessons on market approaches to mitigation has been created. And a technical work program has been launched to support country implementation of critical tools such as data management systems, offset standards, and policy mapping exercises.

Set the Right Price on Carbon and Investors Will Come

Karin Rives's picture

 Dana Smillie/World Bank

This was not the time to discuss the science of climate change, or ways to protect coastal cities against monster storms.

The development experts, journalists, policy wonks and investment professionals who gathered at the Center for Global Development in Washington this week were there to sort out a much thornier issue: How to mobilize and spend the $700 billion or so the world will need annually – above what’s already being spent – to slow and adapt to climate change.

Their consensus: Current levels of public and private finance won’t even begin to do the job.

Celebrating Success, Ongoing Challenges, and Opportunities that face the Montreal Protocol

Karin Shepardson's picture

New air conditioning units manufactured in a factory.

Today (September 16) is International Ozone Day. This day offers the international community the opportunity to laud the achievements of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Since 1987, the Protocol has worked to reduce the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), man-made industrial chemicals that damage the earth’s ozone layer.

Yet, as has become clear over the past few years, International Ozone Day is about more than just successful ozone layer protection. Given that many substances that deplete the ozone layer also have global warming potential (GWP), the transition to the use of substances with lower or no GWP has contributed important climate co-benefits over the years. As a result, the Protocol’s agenda has increasingly focused on cross-cutting themes linked with climate mitigation and energy efficiency. From both ozone and climate perspectives, the Protocol is widely recognized as a success.

The World Bank–China Montreal Protocol partnership is a testament to this success. Over the past two decades, it has phased-out more than 219,000 tons of ozone depleting substances from sectors as varied as refrigeration, air-conditioning, foam manufacturing, aerosol production, and fire extinguishing. Since these substances have GWP, the phase-out also avoided the equivalent of 885 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) or having the effect of taking 184 million cars off the roads.

What’s a Group of Indigenous Peoples Doing in a Baroque Castle in Germany?

Kennan Rapp's picture

 Shutterstock

It is not often that you find Indigenous Peoples from around the world meeting in one of the most important baroque castles of Germany. Perched on a cliff, with a natural moat created by the river Lahn, the castle of Weilburg allows a bird’s eye view of the surrounding forest landscape.

These forests were not always lush and thriving. Centuries before, the construction of the castle led to massive logging in the adjacent forests and finally the ruling aristocrat ordered restricted use of timber for construction and introduced a new building code. As a result, Weilburg became the national center of a novel construction technique using clay and straw, which is now seen in towns across Germany.

Coincidently, a new approach to tackling deforestation is also what 80 Indigenous Peoples’ leaders, government representatives, civil society practitioners and international experts from 24 countries discussed this week at a three day workshop in Weilburg’s castle.

The central challenge was to identify practical approaches to ensure the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+, a performance-based mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The meeting was jointly organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the UN-REDD Programme.

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