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Africa Debt Soared Last Decade, Says World Bank

Source: International Debt Statistics, 2020, World Bank

The 2010s will go down as the decade that saw debt in low- and middle-income countries reach unsustainable levels. Sub-saharan Africa is driving the trend, designated as the region with the fastest growing debt levels in the World Bank’s International Debt Statistics 2020 report.

Several countries in the region have seen their external debt stocks more than double since the beginning of the decade, according to the report: “The average debt-to-GNI and debt-to-export ratios of countries in the region, excluding South Africa, [were] 32% and 127%, respectively; the comparable ratios for 2009 were 24% and 87%, respectively.”

Borrowing is essential for low- and middle-income nations in pursuit of poverty eradication and stable economic growth. But rising debt to unsustainable levels poses serious risks to internal economic and political stability, should governments find it increasingly difficult to meet creditor obligations. A current case in point is Lebanon, which has seen its financial crisis, spurred by unsustainable debt, spiral into political turmoil — Lebanon’s debt-to-GNI and debt-to-export ratios are 145% and 34%, respectively.

NOAA Forecast Shows Dire Situation for Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia could face a mass bleaching event at the end of January according to reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Water temperatures are currently above average throughout the reef, with some areas 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) higher. 

“When water is too warm,” says NOAA, “corals will expel the algae … living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.” Bleaching does not kill the coral, but if exposed to warmer-than-average water temperatures for too long, coral will eventually die out, putting the biodiversity of the ocean at risk. 

Although 2021 was a year of recovery for global reefs due to relatively lower ocean temperatures and lack of cyclones, this warning by NOAA comes just two years after a mass bleaching event occurred in 2020. According to a recently released report, 98% of the Great Barrier Reef has experienced bleaching since 1998. To anticipate the inevitable effects of climate change, scientists are working on breeding resilient types of coral, with the intent of introducing them to affected areas.

 

ESG Stocks Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Popular ESG stocks often contribute toward greenhouse emissions, according to an analysis by Jordan Waldrep, chief investment officer of Illinois-based TrueMark Investments. Although ESG stocks exclude most oil and gas companies, emissions data from companies paint a different picture.

According to Waldrep, many exchange traded funds include companies that emit more greenhouse gases than a hypothetical fund that excludes the five dirtiest companies per sector. The problem, according to Waldrep, is that the funds weigh other ESG priorities higher than environmental impact.

Further complicating the scenario is the lack of visibility in supply chain emissions. An analysis of popular ESG stock Amazon, for instance, showed that its ocean shipments and third-party sellers cannot be tracked.

Ethereum Emissions Are Equal to 2-3 Coal Power Plants

As more attention is paid to decentralized finance, the emissions made by some of its networks are reaching an all-time high. Analysis of the energy consumption and emissions of Ethereum, for instance, estimates that processes behind the digital currency amount to 7.28 megatons of carbon dioxide emitted per year. This is comparable to the same yearly emissions of two to three coal power plants, according to Kyle McDonald, a digital media artist.

The currency, unlike its more popular cousin Bitcoin, relies mostly on a distributed network to validate its transactions. This network is largely composed of individuals running computations on everyday computer hardware called GPUs, which McDonald accounts for in his calculations. This inefficiency is significant when making comparisons to similar tech platforms. Facebook, for instance, handles approximately two billion daily active users on just a third of the electricity (Ethereum uses an estimated 24.7 terawatt hours of electricity per year compared to Facebook’s 7.17 terawatt hours).

In the coming year, Ethereum will begin to phase out its current way of transaction validation and replace it with a more energy-efficient method that’s less reliant on a distributed, inefficient network.

Investors Poured a Record Amount of Money Into Health Care This Year

$93 billion dollars were invested in health care in 2021 as of Q3

Funding in health care companies reached a record $97.1 billion dollars as of Q3 2021 — more than any other industry and 22% of total dollars raised, according to CBInsight’s State of Venture report. One-in-5 dollars funded went into health care companies as public health continues to be a point of focus societally.

Among the top companies to receive funding in 2021 were drug development companies like Abogen. Located in China, the company has invested in its mRNA vaccine production to bolster China’s COVID-19 response. Its vaccine, unlike others from Moderna and Pfizer, purportedly does not require cold storage for seven days. Companies have also been investigating using the mRNA vaccine to treat other diseases such as shingles and, potentially, cancer.

Other health care companies are looking to artificial intelligence. Olive, a Texas-based company, raised $400 million in 2021 and aims to automate tedious tasks as health care workers deal with a second year of burnout. The cross-section of AI and health care has positive potential, such as detecting anomalies in X-rays or MRI/CAT scans, but also worrying aspects such as reinforcing gender bias.

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