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Military pollution
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It is accepted that a single B-52 bomber burns 12,000 litres of jet fuel an hour while an F-15 fighter goes through 7,000 litres, figures “comparable to the consumption of an average family car in a whole decade”.

Not surprisingly, one recent academic study described the US defence forces as “one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries”.

In 2017 alone, the US military bought an astonishing 269,230 barrels of oil a day, producing more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide through their use.

In periods of geopolitical tension, such dizzying figures climb higher, as rival power blocs invest in more equipment and deploy it more often. It is estimated that between 10 and 15% of American emissions during the cold war could be attributed to the military.

That’s because war – and the prospect of war – normalises environmentally destructive practices unthinkable in other contexts.

Think of Vietnam and how the US forces deliberately sprayed some 70m litres of herbicide on forests, in an effort to destroy the cover that the North Vietnamese relied upon.

Think of the first Gulf War and the use of depleted uranium in about 340 tonnes of missiles launched into Iraq.

Today, China possesses up to 350 nuclear weapons. The US has perhaps 5,800. The deployment of any of them would take the global environmental crisis into new realms of horror.

As we approach Cop26, we should remember that most of the carbon ever generated by humanity was released after the Kyoto summit, a conference at which the world’s politicians solemnly pledged that emissions would be cut.

Methane escapes from old installations
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While global climate efforts have tended to focus on the fight against carbon dioxide, many other threats that attract less attention are just as dangerous to our planet.

Hundreds of thousands of Oil and gas installations are leaking vast quantities of Methane many of which were abandoned years ago.

 Considered to be too expensive to correct or maintain they are left to discharge 24/7 into the already over stressed atmosphere. 

Negotiations over these more granular issues take place away from the limelight. But the policies and agreements that emerge are some of the most vital steps in the fight against climate change.

 Over the past few weeks, one of these issues  has been methane reduction.

Methane one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases, has accounted for nearly a third of global heating since the pre-industrial era. Yet efforts to combat it have been half-hearted.

Many countries became part of the 24 new signatories to the Global market pledge initiated by the US this year. The pledge, which is outside the traditional UN framework on climate change negotiations, committed its signatories to a 30% cut in methane emissions by the end of this decade.

The international community has a recent history of lagging behind on some of its most celebrated pledges. The $100bn annual target for climate finance for poor countries, for instance, from 10 Cops ago, has still not been reached. Progress on the Paris agreement’s key commitments is mostly lagging around the world.

The only way forward is for the developed world to take immediate action and lead by example. The developing world is more than willing to commit to action, but it is a significant challenge. In our country, as in many others, methane is the principal source of emissions. Cows, which produce methane, have enormous economic and cultural value to many of our nations. Furthermore, rapid urbanisation results in huge increases in waste production, which also releases methane.

The only way forward is for the developed world to take the lead, share technology, and provide financial assistance. Then we can decouple economic development from methane, and strive towards a cleaner future. While there are barriers to cutting emissions in the developing world, we are more than willing to work with our international partners to overcome them. The security of our people is at risk, after all.

While the past week has demonstrated the potential of international collaboration to produce positive outcomes, there is far more to be done. For one, only 33 countries have signed on to this pledge. Major emitters – including China, India and Russia, which are among the top methane emitters – cannot shy away. For another, not enough financial support has been pledged to achieve the targets.

The negotiations around the methane pledge have been similar to the overall negotiation process. The demands from the climate vulnerable ring out as clear as ever: urgent action, global collaboration, and increased financial support are the only routes to a stable future. As Cop26 looms, these demands must be heard, understood, and acted upon by the developed world

Making homes from plastic bottles
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A group of women drink tea under the shade of a tent and cast an eye over the construction of an odd, circular house. The half-built dwelling is the brainchild of Tateh Lehbib Braica, 27, an engineer who wanders among the workers.

On the ground lie hundreds of sand-filled, 1.5 litre plastic bottles that serve as bricks. With them, Tateh has found a way to fight back against the harshness of the Algerian desert that is home to 90,000 long-term refugees from western Sahara. It’s not yet that hot, but in summer, when the temperature rises above 50C, it will be impossible to venture out of doors.

“I was born in a sun-dried brick house,” he says. “The roof was made of sheets of zinc – one of the best heat conductors. Me and my family had to endure high temperatures, rain and sandstorms that would sometimes take the roof off.

The houses possess several qualities that equip them for the brutal ecosystem of the Algerian hamada, the so-called desert of all deserts. The walls are made of sand-filled plastic bottles, cement and a mixture of earth and straw that acts as thermal insulation. Compared with the traditional sun-dried bricks, which fall apart in the rains that batter the region from time to time, they are very tough.

Their circular shape serves a dual purpose: not only does it stop dunes forming during sandstorms as happens with square houses, it also – along with the white-painted exterior – reduces the impact of solar rays by up to 90%.

A double roof with a ventilation space and two windows set at different heights to encourage air flow mean that temperatures are 5C lower than in the other houses in the camps.

The floods of 2015 and 2016 destroyed 9,000 homes and 60% of the camps’ already scant infrastructure, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Tateh’s idea reached the UNHCR’s Geneva HQ and it was selected as a pilot project. The agency’s grant of about €55,000 (£43,000) has seen 25 more houses built in the five Sahrawi refugee camps in the Algerian province of Tindouf.

Tateh’s circular homes have sprung from the ground in the camps of El Aaiún, Auserd, Smara, Bojador and Dajla, all of which are named after the western Saharan cities from which thousands of people fled in 1975 after the so-called Green March and Moroccan occupation.

Much of the scheme’s success lies in its low-cost and ecological benefits. Each house needs about 6,000 bottles and takes a team of four people a week to build.

“We don’t have modern recycling like they do in other countries, but we can make use of all the tonnes of plastic,” says Tateh, who studied renewable energy at Algiers University followed by a masters in energy efficiency at the University of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria thanks to an Erasmus Mundus grant from the EU.

“The idea came to me in 2016 after the big flood,” he says. “I was using plastic bottles to make a mock-up of some roofs and it just hit me.”

According to Hamdi Bukhari, the UNHCR’s representative in Algeria, “the project is really innovative and beneficial, not just for the people who live in the houses but also when it comes to providing work and for the environment.”



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