Global Briefs Jan-Feb 2010

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Hong Kong’s declining birth rate: What the media doesn’t see…

A story in The Standard today on Hong Kong’s declining birth rate should be compulsory reading for all companies in the Territory. Here’s the killer stat: In the next five years, the number of students promoted to secondary school in Hong Kong will decrease by 33 percent.

Last year, 63,000 students were promoted to the first year of secondary school. In 2014, the Education Bureau estimates that will drop to 42,000. The Standard focuses on school closures and the loss of teaching jobs (fair enough), but the other story is surely the 33 percent decline in those attending university or receiving other types of training, the 33 percent decline in numbers of young people moving into the workforce, and ultimately a 33 percent decline in the number of potential employees. Companies are going to feel this in five short years…

Velo-City Global 2010

Cyclists too have conferences. The European Cyclists’ Federation, the City of Frederiksberg, and the City of Copenhagen are inviting us to Velo-City Global 2010 (a wordplay on the French word for bike, “vélo”, and “velocity”) in Copenhagen on June 22-25, 2010. The conference will take place in the heart of Copenhagen and will bring together “cycling experts, city planners, decision makers, NGOs and researchers from all over the world to discuss the potential and challenges of cycling.” Velo-city began in 1980 in Bremen with around 300 participants and was heavily involved in the founding of the European Cyclists’ Federation three years later. In its almost 30 years of existence, the conference has been hosted by major European cities such as London (1984), Barcelona (1997) and Paris (2003) and smaller forerunner cycling cities alike, such as Groningen (1987) and Basel (1995).

Velo-city conferences attract not just one type of profession, but bring together all those who are involved in the policy, promotion and provision for cyclists. Answering the growing demand for expertise in cycling from cities, ECF will hold an annual Velo-city conference as of 2010.
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Climate Change Refugees

Bangladesh, which is expecting its 165m population to increase by another 100m in the next 60 years, is the most vulnerable large country in the world, with 60 percent of its land less than 5m above sea level. And that is set to create a mass migration of environmental refugees. Even before then though we are now seeing people being forced off their land as a result of floods and severe storms. In neighbouring India dozens of islands in the Sunderban region are being regularly flooded, threatening thousands.

Unexpectedly fast sea level rises and storms are forcing the Indian government to consider evacuating nearly 70,000 people in the next five years. It is the poor who are going to be hit first and worst. Such people have never contributed to climate change but are set to be its first casualties. Worldwide, nearly 10m people are thought to have migrated or been displaced by environmental degradation, weather-related disasters and desertification in the last 20 years. The UN expects a further 150m people will have to move in the next 50 years.

Child Labour in Asia

A new report suggests that child labour continues to be a major problem in Asia. Five Asian countries, notably, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, China and the Philip-pines have been placed in the ‘top six countries’ linked to individual products that use child or forced labour. (The sixth is Brazil.) The US department of labour has released a list of goods produced by child or forced labourers in foreign countries after the US Congress asked for its compilation. India was linked to the highest number of products made with child labour or forced labour including soccer balls and clothing. Myanmar was noted the most often for forced labour in products like rice, sugarcane and rubber. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found that 69 percent of child labour worldwide is in agriculture. The most common agricultural goods produced by child or forced labour are cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice and cocoa. Both forms of labour for cotton production were found in countries including China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
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New C02-Capturing Crystals Mimic DNA, are 400 percent More Effective

Two scientists at UCLA, Yaghi and Deng, have made an exciting leap in carbon capturing techno-logy – they’ve developed synthetic crystals that code information the same way DNA does. According to CleanTechnica, the result “is a sponge-like ability to trap gasses, along with a high degree of selectivity that in turn leads to highly efficient carbon capture.” The scientists claim they were able to achieve 400 percent improvement from current CO2 capture rates.

Carbon capture is often conflated with so called clean coal technology for power plants, but UCLA’s “designer crystal” approach opens the door for more low cost, scalable applications, such as trapping carbon dioxide from factories or vehicle exhaust pipes.

Cleantechnica points out that such advancements in carbon capturing are usually associated with clean coal technology, but not so with the DNA mimicking crystals. This tech could potentially be used to cheaply capture carbon from smaller sources of carbon emissions as well, like vehicle exhaust pipes or small factories. The scientists hope that it will also aide in more effectively converting the trapped CO2 into a fuel:

“Potentially, we could create a material that can convert carbon dioxide into a fuel, or a material that can separate carbon dioxide with greater efficiency,” said Yaghi. The “designer crystals” that Yaghi and Deng have developed could do exactly that – and they could pave the way towards lower-cost much more flexibly scalable applications.

It could indeed be the case that we could see DNA-mimicking, synthetic crystals capturing carbon all over the place.

Global Warming Could Lead to More Lightning Deaths

In the last ten years, Brazil has been the target of an estimated 57 million lightning strikes – the most in the world. This astonishing natural record is not without a human toll, however. During that same period, 1,321 people have been fallen victim to lightning in Brazil alone, and scientists fear that incidents will only increase in the coming years.

As if the long term threats of climate change were not enough to arouse concern, new reasearch reveals rising temps may increase the frequency of the sometimes fatal lightning strikes.

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), global warming may dramatically increase the occurrence of lightning. A recently released hypothesis postulates that each degree of increase in global mean temperature will result in a 10 to 20 percent increase in the amount of lightning.

Casualties as a result of lightning were not the primary focus of research, but rather the fires that often result from the strikes.

While the climate change phenomena is of primary focus to researchers participating this study, the behavior of the sun will also be analyzed as a possible culprit for the increase in lightning strikes.

According to Pinto, sun-spots may play a role in the creation of thunderstorms that not yet well understood. [Sun spots] can facilitate the formation of ice in the clouds and the rays only occur when there is ice inside the clouds.

Scientists intend to closely follow the next increase of sun-spots in 2012.

While it is still unclear exactly what may be leading to the increase in the number of lightning strikes, researchers plan on continuing to try to better understand the phenomena which may be symptomatic of a greater shift in climate behavior. After all, even with an increase in strikes, the chances of being hit by lightning may be slim, but the consequences of climate change, yet to be fully understood, may effect us all.
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Poverty Increases in Asia

The global economic crisis could have trapped an additional 21 million Asians below the poverty line, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank and UN. The problem is very much based on job losses and the transmission mechanisms that were affected by the crisis, such as exports, tourism and external trade. Nevertheless, the report noted that Asia had been able to make impressive gains on a number of goals: reducing gender disparities in primary and tertiary education, stopping the spread of HIV and tuberculosis, and reducing the number of people without access to safe drinking water. Overall, the region made progress, largely attributed to MDG gains made in China. The report also argues that a bigger investment in human capital is needed to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs, clearly something that the private sector could help with.

High Efficiency Solar Cells Can Be Made At a Much Lower Cost

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have developed a new type of solar cell that comprise of arrays of thin silicon wires embedded in polymer substrate. These new cells are much cheaper to produce on account of the very low amounts of silicon needed to build them. The superior structural flexibility possessed by the silicon wire array solar cells is expected to further reduce their production cost since they can be produced using a lower-cost process.

Caltech solar arrays also show improved performance in converting the absorbed sunlight into electrical power. According to reports, between 90 and 100 percent of the photons absorbed by the silicon wires are converted into electrons – in technical terms, near-perfect internal quantum efficiency. It is this combination of high absorption and good conversion that makes the new solar cells high-quality.

The Caltech team is now working to increase the operating voltage and the overall size of their creation in order to scale them up to the size of conventional solar cells.
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Climate Change and Hunger

Hunger amongst people in the Philippines has risen to a fresh high with one in four households claiming in a new poll that they experienced having nothing to eat. A fourth quarter survey put the hunger measure at 24 percent as of December 2009, equivalent to 4.4 million families. It surpassed the previous record high of 23.7 percent hit in December 2008. So hunger is on the increase. Government officials blamed the problem on exceptionally bad weather (particularly typhoons). Moderate hunger, referring to those who experienced it “only once” and “a few times”, rose to 19.3 percent (3.6 million families) from 15 percent (2.8 million families). Severe hunger (covering responses of “often” or “always”) rose to 4.7 percent or 870,000 families from 3.8 percent or 700,000 families a year earlier. The impact of climate change is going to impact the poor first and worst and unless we begin to take action now, expect these sorts of trends to continue.

Indonesian Logging: How Corruption Hurts the Poor and the Environment

Corruption in Indonesia’s lucrative forestry industry costs the government US$2 billion annually, Human Rights Watch said in a new report: Wild Money: The Human Rights Consequences of Illegal Logging and Corruption in Indonesia’s Forestry Sector. It found that more than half of all Indonesian timber from 2003 through 2006 was logged illegally. Recent challenges to the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission, including an alleged conspiracy by police and prosecutors to discredit the commission as it began looking into possible police corruption, exemplify the harmful effects of corruption on the country’s governance, Human Rights Watch said. But until the lack of oversight and conflicts of interest are taken seriously, pouring more money into the leaky system from carbon trading is likely to make the problem worse, not better. The domestic impacts of corruption and revenue loss, especially on the nation’s rural poor, are also significant.
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    Author Information

    Rutaba Ahmed is Managing Editor of tbl. She holds a Bachelors in Business Management from University of Georgia, USA and a Masters in Communications Studies from University of Leeds, UK.

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