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Air Pollution Is Still the World’s Biggest Killer

Source: European Society of Cardiology, March 2020

Air pollution remains the greatest killer of human beings on the planet, according to a new study by the European Society of Cardiology. Air pollution reduces global life expectancy by an average of 2.9 years — almost four times more than parasitic and vector-borne diseases. In fact, ambient air pollution kills more people on the planet than tobacco smoking and violence.

Poor air quality kills more people on average in East Asia (196 deaths/100,000 people per year), Europe (133 deaths/100,000 people per year) and South Asia (119 deaths/100,000 people per year) than anywhere else in the world.

The shortening of life expectancy can be reversed with a cut in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, removing fossil fuel emissions would result in an increased life expectancy of 1.1 years, according to the study. Nowhere would that improvement be more felt than in East Asia, which could see a three-year increase in life expectancy should action be pursued to reduce air pollution.

Central Banks Buy Gold in Record Amounts


Source: World Gold Council/Bloomberg

Central banks around the world are buying gold in record quantities, in a bid to weather economic uncertainty and rising inflation. Demand was up 28% year-over-year in the third quarter, and central banks purchased more gold this year than they have since 1967. 

The desire for gold is being driven by investors looking for safer assets amid rapid inflation and sanctions against Russia. “Gold is often called the ultimate fear asset,” said Travis Simon, alternatives investment specialist at Mercer, in a recent interview.

Countries with emerging economies were the most likely to stock up on gold as an inflation hedge. Turkey was the top reported buyer this year, as the country’s inflation rate rose to 85% in October, while the lira fell by 29% this year (and 44% in 2021). Turkey also purchased the most gold in the third quarter of 2022, followed by Uzbekistan, which has been hurt by sanctions against its largest trading partner. 

Venezuela has the highest percentage (82%) of gold holdings as a share of its reserves, a result of inflation rising above 300% and hyperinflation rates in previous years that rendered the bolívar almost worthless. Uzbekistan has the second-highest share of gold (65%), followed by Kazakhstan (63%).

Economic Risks Front of Mind for G20 Executives

After more than two years of navigating different dimensions and phases of the COVID-19 crisis, concerns over the economy are the top priority for business leaders in G20 nations, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Executive Opinion Survey (EOS).

Executives were asked to identify the risks they considered the biggest threats to their country over the next two years. As growth in many large economies stalls and households struggle to pay bills, economic risks clearly worry executives across G20 member countries. Risks such as “rapid and/or sustained inflation” appear in the top-five rankings for executives in almost all G20 countries, while “cost of living” is a similarly high-ranked concern for multiple members of the bloc. With more than 80% of the world’s GDP and 75% of international trade represented in the G20, the prioritization of economic risks in this year’s survey reflects a vulnerable outlook for the global economy.

Despite the overwhelming consensus on economic risks, business risk perception varies on other critical risks. For instance, responses from the emerging market bloc of the forum — for example, Indonesia and India — reflect strong concern over digital inequality, while geopolitical risks such as “interstate conflict” and “geo-economic confrontation” feature prominently in the top risks of advanced economies, particularly for leaders in the European Union. The upcoming Bali summit presents an important opportunity for the bloc to discuss a way forward on these varying priorities as well as common pressing economic challenges

Developing Countries Fight For Climate Compensation

Note: The rich, developed countries group is based on the United Nations’ Annex II definition. International transport is not counted as part of either group’s total emissions. The data reflects territory-based carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement, but does not include land-use and forestry. The graphic shows emissions from countries and territories.

Source: The New York Times/Global Carbon Project

Countries on the front lines of climate change are fighting for a “loss and damage” recovery fund at this week’s COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which would compensate them for natural disasters. Leaders from developing countries that have been the worst impacted by global warming, while contributing the least emissions — including Pakistan, Egypt, and Barbados — are asking developed, high-emissions countries to pay for their climate damages. In response, leaders from Austria, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Belgium, and Denmark pledged millions of dollars in funding

The debate over who will pay the skyrocketing bill for climate damages isn’t new — the idea was first proposed in 1991, by Pacific island nation Vanuatu. But this is the first year the issue has been put on the official COP agenda. That may be because of the rising amount of research quantifying who is responsible for climate change. That includes data showing that 23 rich countries are responsible for 50% of all carbon dioxide emissions since 1850 (vs. the 150 countries responsible for the other half). Studies also model how climate-related deaths will increase more rapidly in poorer countries than wealthier ones.

The issue has become a matter of urgency: on the first day of the summit, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the last eight years are on track to be the hottest ever recorded.

How Brazil’s Election Affects the Amazon Rainforest

The gap from 2011 to 2019 in the above graph represents former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer's terms.

Source: Vox

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory over incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential runoff election may have a huge impact on saving the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon, the largest rainforest on Earth and an important carbon sink, has lost 17% of its area to deforestation since the 1970s. More than half of the Amazon (60%) is in Brazil, causing some environmental advocates to say Brazil’s election marks a turning point for the rainforest.

Under Jair Bolsonaro’s presidential term, environmental protections were weakened while activities like illegal mining and man-made fires increased. Between 2019 and 2021, the Amazon lost more than 34,000 square km (8.4 million acres) — an area larger than Belgium. The loss was a 52% increase over the amount of deforestation three years prior.

Conversely, Lula pledged during his campaign to fight for zero deforestation. If he keeps his campaign promise, some analysts predict he could curb rainforest loss by 89% by 2030. During his previous terms, deforestation fell by about 70%. But whether Lula can reduce rainforest loss to zero also depends on Congress, which is now dominated by Bolsonaro’s party.

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