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Human activity the common link between disasters around the world



The dilemma of Environmental Politics
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This year, Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, will begin deploying the first of 1,485 electric buses to replace the diesel vehicles that now dominate its public transit system. The move is expected to prevent the release of 16,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or its equivalents, every year.

The switch to electric buses is part of a larger push by Colombia to reduce air pollution, which is linked to thousands of deaths annually and takes a heavy toll on the environment.

But the lack of a robust air quality monitoring system is hampering more aggressive, evidence-based efforts to tackle air pollution.

To address that problem, the country launched the Biodivercities Alliance for a Better Air, in July this year. The programme will help 11 urban settlements identify sources of air pollution. It will also foster the development of nature-based solutions for improving air quality, with the aim of protecting human and ecosystem health.

“Decisions must be made based on data,” said Carlos Correa Escaf, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. “With the Biodivercities initiative, we are highlighting the importance of improving availability of information on air quality and emissions to strengthen actions for preventing and reducing air pollution.”

Pollution takes a heavy toll

Some 8 per cent of deaths in Colombia are connected to water and air pollution, and the environmental costs linked to atmospheric pollution nearly doubled between 2009 and 2015, according to the national Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies.

The $2.5 million dollar Biodivercities project, which is a play on the words ‘biodiversity’ and ‘cities’, is funded by a national carbon tax that came into force in 2017.

One of the urban enclaves that joined this alliance is Montería, which lies on the banks of the Sinú River and is known for its forests brimming with monkeys and sloths.

As part of the Biodivercities alliance, the city of 500,000 will deploy two new air quality monitoring units to its current system, which is struggling to gather the data required to inform more effective policies. One of these will allow officials for the first time to monitor emissions produced by vehicles. In Montería, an estimated 28 per cent of emissions come from the transport sector.                     

“These new additions will strengthen the existing air quality monitoring network in our city. That will allow us to take corrective, preventive, and mitigation measures,” said Mayor Carlos Ordosgoitia.

The city has already built 42 kilometers of bike lanes and has a public bike rental network with 11,000 users. It is also building the first public river transportation system in Colombia, which will connect the city north to south, link to the public bus system and be powered partly by solar energy.

Also part of the clean air alliance are Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast, Leticia, deep in the Amazon Forest, Armenia, one of the biggest cities in Colombia’s coffee belt, and Barrancabermeja, Manizales, Villavicencio, Yopal, Quibdó, Pasto and the Caribbean Island of San Andrés. Nearly 12 per cent of Colombia’s population live in these cities.

Greener cities, cleaner cities

These cities are closely linked to nature geographically, economically and culturally. They are aiming to sustainably capitalize on the forests, mangroves, or wetlands that surround them while reducing their environmental footprint.

“Urban biodiversity cannot be taken apart from urban development,” said Correa Escaf. “With the expansion of air monitoring networks, we will also identify areas to intervene with nature-based solutions, incorporating biodiversity in the urban landscape.”

In Montería, the municipality is preparing a 375-hectare restoration project that will include planting 416,000 indigenous trees.

The environment ministry expects that the Biodivercities alliance will contribute to the national goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 51 per cent by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Tracking regional progress

A new assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), launched on the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, shows that at least 17 of 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have implemented air quality monitoring networks. But additional investment and regulations are required to produce more accurate data that will help improving air quality.

The report calls for more action in the transport sector and in the waste management industry, wherein the open burning of rubbish is common. Just over 50 per cent of regional countries don’t have vehicle emissions standards and 40 per cent don’t regulate or control open burning of waste.

“The links between a healthy air and a healthy planet are now clearer than ever,” said Piedad Martin, UNEP Deputy Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean. “In Latin America and the Caribbean, with over 100 million people living in areas susceptible to air pollution, countries need to keep up with innovative efforts to take care of human health while preserving and restoring the rich ecosystems they harbour.”

UNEP works with the Panamerican Health Organization to combat air pollution. It also hosts the Intergovernmental Network on Atmospheric Pollution, which promotes regional cooperation and helps build the capacity of governments. The network emerged from the Forum of Ministers of Environment of the region and is currently crafting an action plan scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

UN Environment



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Inquiry on General Babangida’s Involvement in Conventional Banking despite Introduction of Islamic Finance in Nigeria




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Dear Editor,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to express my curiosity and seek clarification on a matter that has caught my attention, specifically pertaining to General Babangida’s involvement in the conventional banking industry despite his role in introducing Islamic finance during the financial reforms of his military government in Nigeria. Vide your special article commemorating his 81st Birthday published in your esteemed news website:

It is indeed noteworthy that General Ibrahim Babangida played a pivotal role in shaping the economic landscape of Nigeria by introducing Islamic finance principles. It is fascinating to witness the implementation of Islamic finance in Nigeria, as it promotes principles that align with religious and ethical values. General Babangida’s efforts to introduce this form of finance were undoubtedly commendable, reflecting his commitment to establishing an alternative financial system that adheres to Islamic principles.

However, recent observations suggest his active participation in the conventional banking sector in Nigeria. Certainly, it is intriguing to see General Babangida’s continued involvement in the conventional banking industry, which operates under different principles. While some may argue that his involvement in both sectors is simply a matter of personal choice, it raises questions about the compatibility of his actions with the ideals and principles of Islamic finance. While the former is interest driven, the latter prohibits interest related transactions completely.

I wonder if General Babangida has ever publicly addressed this matter or explained his reasoning behind being active in both sectors. It would be enlightening to hear his perspective on how he reconciles his involvement in conventional banking with his efforts towards promoting Islamic finance. This has raised questions in my mind and perhaps in the minds of others as well.

I am keen to understand the rationale behind General Babangida’s dual engagement in both Islamic finance and conventional banking. Does this reflect a strategic approach to diversify Nigeria’s financial sector, or are there specific reasons behind his involvement in conventional banking despite advocating for Islamic finance principles?

Additionally, it would be interesting to explore the potential impact of his dual involvement on the perception and growth of Islamic finance in Nigeria. Does his presence in the conventional banking industry hinder the progress of Islamic finance, or does it have the potential to bridge the gap between the two sectors?

I believe that delving into these questions could provide valuable insights and generate constructive discussions within the Islamic finance community in Nigeria. By shedding light on General Babangida’s dual involvement and the potential implications, we can further enhance our understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by the Islamic economy in our country.

Thank you for considering my questions, and I look forward to reading more about this topic in your esteemed Focus on Islamic Economy.



Abba Musa Mamman Lagos


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10 Megatrends Shaping the World in 2024




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The report, “Navigating Megatrends Shaping Our Future in 2024”, was launched during the first day of the World Governments Summit (WGS) 2024, being held under the theme “Shaping Future Governments” from 12th-14th February in Dubai. The report examines the indicators that shape these megatrends, supported by evidence from today as well as future expectations. These trends inform decision-makers and foresight experts about various sectors and the potential opportunities in each.

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, said, “This report has been launched in line with DFF’s efforts to identify and communicate those trends with the most potential to shape opportunities and strengthen local and international partnerships to overcome current and future challenges.”

“The challenges that face us on our journey to the future require that we are agile enough to be able to adapt to rapid change. It is vital we pay attention to the signals we detect – only then can we be prepared to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. The World Governments Summit provides a platform for discussing these challenges and exploring the opportunities.”

Materials revolution

New types of materials will create a shift in the industry, with solutions based on artificial intelligence (AI) such as biopolymers, biorefineries, and chemical recycling paving the way. These solutions will facilitate the development of new biological and novel materials that could rival plastics.

Boundless Multidimensional Data

Enabled by developments such as 5G and 6G in addition to advanced connectivity, the availability of raw data will vastly increase. The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue being deployed in healthcare, agriculture, and smart cities, especially in the Middle East.

Technological Vulnerabilities

The cybersecurity sector will boom amid a sharp rise in smart home devices and wearable tech. According to a report by Allianz, the annual cost of ransomware is projected to reach around $265 billion by 2031. Meanwhile, the debate on the future of decentralised finance will continue.

Energy Boundaries

Advances in tech and the growing demand for energy will drive the pursuit of alternative sources of energy. Novel materials and machine intelligence will enhance current sources of energy, including their distribution around the world – and in space.

Saving Ecosystems

Approaches to conservation will be more interdisciplinary and future-focused, taking into account both societal and environmental factors. Driven by resource scarcity, climate change, and shifts in social values, environmental impact management will become increasingly holistic.

Borderless World – Fluid Economies

The world is witnessing a rise in unmediated transactions in finance, health, education, trade, services, and even space, which are blurring boundaries and creating more cross-border communities. Advances in communications, computing, and advanced machine intelligence will accelerate the creation of a borderless world that will change the way we work, live, and connect.

Digital Realities

The spread of 5G and 6G networks will enhance the applications of autonomous technologies and IoT. As quantum technologies become scalable and reliable, immersive experiences will become even more realistic.

Living with Autonomous Robots and Automation

Robotics and automation will increasingly be deployed across industries beyond automotive, manufacturing and supply chain logistics. This will provide opportunities for efficiency and innovation, although there will also be ethical challenges to address.

Future Humanity

New workplace norms will emerge, with people needing to adapt to non-traditional skill sets in areas such as digital literacy, communications, culture and sustainability.

Advanced Health and Nutrition

Accelerated progress in advanced machine intelligence, nano- and biotechnology, additive manufacturing, and IoT will transform health and nutrition, improving health and wellbeing for people of all ages. Technology will reduce, if not eradicate, some communicable and non-communicable diseases and enhance the sustainable use of and access to water and food.

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Africa’s New Online Foreign Exchange System will Enable Cross-border Payments in Local Currencies – what you need to know




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The high cost of making cross border payments on the African continent has driven governments on the continent to seek options of settling trade and other transactions in local currencies. This has given birth to the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System which was formally launched in Accra, Ghana, in January 2022.  Development economist Christopher Adam, who has studied the exchange rate policies of African countries, answers some key questions.

Why are African countries exposed in the international currency market?

Three main reasons. First, African economies are small and as such are highly dependent on trade with the rest of the world. Their exports are dominated by primary commodities including oil and gas, minerals and cash crop agriculture. On the import side, they purchase a whole range of goods – from essential commodities not produced at home such as fooddrugs and medicines, to capital goods and energy. A large proportion of these are sourced from China and other major economies of the global north. But because African countries are small relative to their trading partners they rarely have the power to determine the prices of imports and exports. They are “price takers” in world markets. And with world prices being set in the major reserve currencies of the world (the US dollar, euro, yen and renminbi), African countries are exposed to movements in these world prices. Second, “intra-African” trade is still a relatively small proportion of the total trade of African countries.

Finally, since African countries’ currencies mostly can’t be directly exchanged in international transactions, the dollar remains the most widely used currency in trade, even between African countries.

What’s required for the system to get off the ground?

The basic idea of the system is to be able to settle trade between African countries without having to use the US dollar.  There are two major challenges with that. First, intra-African trade accounts for less than 15% of Africa’s exports at present (although supporters of the African Continental Free Trade Area expect this to grow significantly over the coming decades). The African payment system therefore does not eliminate the role of the dollar (or other foreign currencies) in trade settlement entirely.

The second issue is that trade is not balanced between African countries. For example, Kenya exports goods of higher total value to Ethiopia than it imports from Ethiopia. If Ethiopia paid in its own currency, Kenya would end up with Ethiopian currency that it didn’t need. Some form of settlement currency that is acceptable to all is required – most likely the US dollar.

What are the challenges and potential risks?

Since trade rarely occurs instantaneously, some institution in the trade financing chain carries the exchange rate risk. Because of the gap between placing an order for imports and receiving them to sell in the local economy, there is a risk that the value of local currency will change relative to the currency in which the import is denominated.

In the “old” system, this risk is borne by the trader because everything is priced in dollars. The local currency value of the income from exports or the local currency cost of imports will change with movements between the local currency and the dollar, but the banks and those counterparts pricing in the dollar are protected.

Under the new system the same allocation of risk will remain in “external trade”. This currency risk is also present for intra-African trade.

An important question for the new African payment system is: who bears the exchange risk if one African currency depreciates relative to another? Should the importer carry the risk, or the exporter? Can and should the African payment system bear this risk of exchange rate movements itself? Where both currencies are volatile, traders might still prefer the relative stability of settlement through the US dollar.

The success of this system also depends on scale. The more trade settlement is routed through it, the easier it will be to settle in local currencies. Large currency imbalances will be less common. But until the system achieves this scale, the African payment system will need a strong balance sheet so that traders and participants can have confidence that settlement will be swift and risk free. It is unclear at the moment how this is to be achieved.

What is the best case scenario?

If the system can address the trade imbalance problem, provide clarity on risk management and reach scale, it could be very successful. But this is all going to be driven by underlying economic performance. Improved settlement will help but what is really driving this is the structure of trade. The more the economies of Africa can develop intra-African trade and the less dependent they are on extra-African trade, the less will be dollar dependence in trade. This growth in trade depends to some degree on trade settlement and trade financing but much more on production, consumption, trade policy and fiscal policy.

Christopher Adam is a Professor of Development Economics, University of Oxford

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