Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Climate Change in Bangladesh – BBC Photos

7 December, 2008

Bangladesh is one of the countries that will be worst affected by climate change. Rising sea and coastal water levels and more frequent storms threaten this low-lying country. Adapting Bangladesh to climate change is urgent – especially to prevent the reversal of recent progress in poverty reduction there.

An excellent set of pictures on the theme of climate change in Bangladesh can be seen at the BBC here.

BWPI will be undertaking with BRAC a new research programme on climate change and its implications for poverty in Bangladesh. Watch this space over the coming months. In the meantime check out the BWPI and CPRC working paper series for more on Bangladesh.

So How Grim is it Up North?

11 November, 2008

In yesterday’s post on ‘Parks for the Poor’ we cited the impact of proximity to greenery – parks, woodland – on life expectancy in the UK. Seems that you are less likely to suffer stress-related illness, irrespective of your income class if you can chill in some nice green space.

Now comes the news that Manchester is near the bottom of the league in environmental sustainability in the index constructed by Forum for the Future – and green space is part of the index. Manchester is down there at No.15 out of 20 – top place goes to Bristol and bottom goes to unloved Hull.

(Here is the list in descending order: Bristol; Brighton and Hove; Plymouth; Newcastle; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Sheffield; Leicester; Nottingham; London; Bradford; Coventry; Sunderland; Leeds; Manchester; Wolverhampton; Glasgow; Birmingham; Liverpool; Hull).

So while Manchester is aiming to achieve low-carbon city status by 2020, according to Forum for the Future,  it seems to have a long way to go. Ditto Liverpool, which starts from behind Manchester. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph announced that “it’s still really grim up north”, with a north-south divide in the index. Yet that isn’t so evident: Newcastle and Sheffield are ahead of London (although the bottom of the index is decidedly northern). Daily Telegraph journalists might have difficulty finding Newcastle on a map.

However, Britain is far, far behind Europe – as a travel any Scandinavian city will demonstrate. Bristol is Britain’s lone entrant (in a field of 35) for the EU’s latest initiative – an annual European Green Capital. The green money is on Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Freiburg and Münster.

So a suggestion to the leaders of Manchester, Liverpool (and Hull): set a target to become European Green Capital in the next decade. Now that the British government is intent on reflating the economy by expanding infrastructure investment, put together an ambitious plan to redevelop your cities with – sustainability at the core.

Check out the research of Simon Guy and others in the School of Environment and Development at Manchester, in particular the Building Sustainable Cities Initiative. Greening cities is the BIG urban agenda. And it’s a poverty issue too – for greenery improves life expectancy, regenerates blighted urban areas, and encourages inward investment (and hence jobs). Win-Win.

And to cheer yourself up go to KLF (Jams) ‘its grim up north’ on YouTube – for some northern merriment in the ceaseless rain.

Parks for the Poor

11 November, 2008

Yes, having some greenery around you can improve your chances in life. A new study in the Lancet finds that living near parks or woodland improves life expectancy and health, regardless of income class. People living in poorer areas are more likely to die earlier and to suffer more ill-health than the UK average. This income-related inequality in health is less pronounced in populations with greater exposure to green space, according to the study by Richard Mitchell and Frank Popham from the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews (see this BBC report).

Victorian Britain saw great efforts to bring green space to the poor. The first children’s playground was created in a Manchester park in 1859. Many of Britain’s inner city parks went into decline from the mid-twentieth century, and their regeneration began in earnest in the late 1980s. Manchester’s St Michael’s Flags and Angel Meadow Park is an example. The area became notorious in the 19th century for the mass burial of the poor whose families could not afford a proper funeral.

The charity GreenSpace is now working to improve parks and green access in the UK. We also need more efforts in the mega cities of the developing world. On a recent trip to Dhaka I was struck by the lack of accessible greenery. Much appears to have been illegally built over – including one green space now occupied by a truly hideous ‘pleasure park’ which charges for admission.

Green space is also exceptionally important to managing the impact of climate change on urban areas, a theme in Manchester University’s research on sustainable cities (check out John Handley in the School of Environment and Development). So get planting.

Happiness is the Peruvian Amazon

29 September, 2008

This week’s Expat Lives in the FT features José “Pepe” Alvarez, a former Spanish friar who moved to the Amazon 25 years ago. He worked with poor people on the outskirts of Iquitos city and with remote Indian communities, and is now based at the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute, helping to protect the forest and its wildlife. He won the 2006 Parker/Gentry award for conservation biology.  There are some wonderful photos here.

His philosophy of life is summed up as follows:

People in the US and Europe generally have more possessions but also more worries and less peace and happiness than many people who live a simple life here in the jungle. I have learnt some of the most important lessons of my life. People here are some of the happiest I have ever met even though they have nothing but a small hut, a wooden canoe and a paddle. Although they have many, many problems, they are happier than most of the people I know from Europe and the US. The key is enjoying simple things and every moment as it comes, and not worrying too much about the past or future”.

Peru has deep poverty, and very high inequality. Over half of Peru’s population is poor and about 20% are extremely poor, according to the World Bank. People in the Amazon and the Andes are worst off. People born in Lima can expect 20 years more of life than those born in the southern highlands, on average (go here).

Peru’s development has been highly unequal. The mining boom of recent years is not distributing enough of its benefits to the poor (if at all). However, Peru’s social movements are trying to rectify this.  In the recent BWPI working paper, Mining and Social Movements, Tony Bebbington and co-authors discuss the fight-back by Peru’s communities.

Carbon Taxes Will Need to be Higher to Pay for Development

25 September, 2008

Jeff Sachs and Bono are blogging on the FT web site during this week’s MDG summit in New York (go here). Today, Jeff reports that some bold and creative proposals are coming from the EU, Mexico and Norway, among others. Carbon taxation is to the fore, in particular.

“According to the Swiss Government’s proposal, a $2 per ton levy on carbon dioxide would raise around $48bn per year, money that could play a critical role in helping impoverished countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals and to adapt to climate change. I believe that we’ll be hearing a lot more about carbon levies in the months ahead, as a practical approach to climate change control and development finance”.

Back in 2003, we took a thorough look at innovative sources of finance in a UNU-WIDER project led by Tony Atkinson of Nuffied College, Oxford (go here). The study concluded that many of the proposals were feasible, including carbon taxes. I chipped in with a proposal for a global premium bond to fund chronic poverty reduction – based on the successful UK premium bond scheme (Addison and Chowdhury paper here).

Amongst all the innovative finance proposals, carbon taxes get the most support among economists (more than the popular Tobin  tax: although that may be boosted by the present financial malaise). They not only reduce carbon emissions (a global bad) but also, as Jeff Sachs says, they generate a flow of revenues to finance a step-up in official development assistance (both multilateral and bilateral) as well as global funds to deal with the urgent challenges of climate change, conflict, and HIV/AIDs (to name but three).

All of these problems just get worse without early action: notably climate change, since a stock of carbon is already in the atmosphere, warming the earth — which we will have to adapt to — even as we attempt to reduce the flow of carbon from new emissions. But this is true of conflict and viruses too: war generates more war (notably in the Congo where violence is still endemic after the supposed ‘peace deal’) and viruses mutate to become deadlier (notably unchecked TB).

Given the high returns to taking action now on these global bads, it would be worth accepting a much higher levy on carbon than the Swiss proposal. This would send a clear signal to the market, encouraging a faster rate of invention and adoption of clean technologies. And the additional funds could be spent on peace-keeping and more research for the diseases of the poor world.

But I worry that the US is way behind Europe in all of this, California perhaps excepted. Dealing with the present financial crisis is vital, but it is also a huge distraction from the larger issues such as climate change. And the present administration has been adamant in its opposition to global taxes. Does anybody detect much of a shift in the US position, the occasional piece of rhetoric aside?

The author is executive director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1

20 January, 2008

The late, great, Ian Dury, had a hit with his song ‘Reasons to be Cheerful‘ back in the 1970s. So, with the start of the new year, and in the spirit of the song, lets list some reasons to be cheerful in the first month of 2008:

1. The One Laptop Per Child is now shipping — over a quarter of a million to Peru alone; it sells at $188, and a new commercial venture aims to get these computers down to $50 (see our recent post).

2. The World Bank’s soft-loan arm (the International Development Association) got replenished late last year — after worries that the Wolfowitz debacle would sink the Bank’s funding, the donors rallied round, and Britain became IDA’s biggest contributor (giving the Americans pause for thought: see ‘Bested by the Brits’ in the NYT here).

3. More Americans started to treat climate change seriously. And the Europeans got their act together, and pressed the US hard at the Bali meeting in December (see a summing-up on the CDG blog here). The Republicans ended their state of denial about climate change, finally catching up with the big shift in public opinion (see The Economist here).

4. Economic growth in the developing world keeps motoring, despite the US buckling under the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The South — or at least the Asian part of it — might be decoupling from the North, for the first time.

5. Remittances from North to South continue to rise. Africans living in the UK send home some $400 million a year to relatives (but African governments need to do more to help these transactions, and the resulting investments).

6. The Micro-finance game just keeps getting bigger. What used to be a minority sport has now gone main stream. Lots of product innovation going on, with micro-insurance now starting to catch up. ASA of Bangladesh comes top in a recent Forbes ranking of Microfinance institutions.

7. The Ghanains are punching above their weight in the world of diplomacy. Ghana’s President John Kufuor (also chairman of the African Union) and Kofi Annan are trying to bang heads together in Nairobi to resolve the elections crisis — in the pleasant but firm way only Ghanains can.

8. Iain Duncan Smith, ex leader of the Conservatives, gave a barnstorming performance at the Blackpool party conference on the theme of Britain’s ‘broken society’. And he’s highlighted the Manchester of poverty alongside wealth.

9. More young people than ever want to get involved with development. Why? Maybe its all the travelling during those gap years or older siblings burnt out by the corporate world. Check out the BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development) site here. If you are a young economist take a look at the ODI Fellowship scheme.

10. The Web makes it possible to find almost any piece of poverty research you want. For those of us who started out in the days of type-written manuscripts this is still amazing.

er, that’s it…. but I’ll try and think of more, and return with Part 2 soon

Incidentally, Ian Dury was one of UNICEF’s childrens ambassadors in his last days. There’s a great pic of him here with a Zambian boy on one of his Africa trips. He campaigned tirelessly to eradicate polio having been disabled by the disease when a child (relatively common in Britain of the late 194os when he got it).


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