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Millions of People Live in Energy Poverty — and COVID-19 Isn’t Helping

Source: OurWorldInData

Vertical axis shows the per capita carbon dioxide emissions; horizontal axis shows the average income in that country.

Millions of people around the world lack access to sufficient energy, especially in Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed at least 30 million people back into “energy poverty” in sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to increasing energy demand from stay-at-home orders coupled with people’s inability to pay these larger bills

Countries experiencing energy poverty, predominantly lower-income countries, lack access to modern energy and technology. Energy poverty can lead to indoor air pollution, which the WHO calls “the world’s largest single environmental health risk” — accounting for 1.6 million deaths each year. Those living in poverty tend to rely more on solid fuel sources, like firewood, which cause indoor air pollution. 

Without access to energy, people are more likely to live in poverty, making access to this resource a key stepping stone out of poverty. Expanding access to affordable electricity and increasing governmental funding on technological innovation can create an inclusive economic recovery post-coronavirus.

Employee Experience Rises to the Top of HR’s Plans

Source: Mercer. Global Talent Trends, 2020-2021

Nearly half of HR teams across the United States plan to improve their analytics on workforce modeling, reskilling and pay equity. The new Mercer Global Talent Trends report — based on a survey of 163 HR leaders — identifies areas of focus for HR teams: environmental and social concerns, reskilling, using data to ensure accountability and inspiring the workforce.

Fifty-three percent of HR leaders say they are “tying ESG goals to [their] purpose and keeping the purpose visible to employees.” Some teams are increasing their spend on reskilling and rewarding employees for new skill acquisition. “The next step on the maturity curve after understanding different employee group needs,” the report says, is using “AI to offer inclusive benefits.” Forty-five percent of employers are adding benefits that address mental health issues, and nearly a quarter are training managers to spot mental health issues.

These areas of focus reveal how significantly the employee experience has come to the fore and is driving HR’s transformation. The report notes that leading with empathy and cultivating trust with employees will be the keys to success in long-term reinvention strategies.

The World Has Lost Millions of Acres of Forest. Is There Hope for Change?

Source: OurWorldInData

Horizontal axis shows the year, spanning from 1700 to 2020 and the vertical axis shows the decadal change in forest cover.

Humans have destroyed an estimated one-third of the world’s forests over the past 10,000 years. But the pace of deforestation has increased in modern times — over the past three centuries, the world lost 3.7 million acres of forest, as the global deforestation rate peaked in the 1980s. 

Three-quarters of deforestation is caused by agriculture; beef production accounts for 41% of deforestation, followed by palm oil, soybeans, paper and wood. Afforestation efforts can help to offset these losses — such efforts in temperate regions resulted in a gain of 14.8 million acres of forest during the past decade.

The global deforestation rate has recently been on a steady decline from its 1980s peak, as countries start to expand resources and time into afforestation. But there is still a high demand for forest-related fuel use and agricultural land, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. To continue curbing the deforestation rate, countries can increase crop yields, improve livestock productivity and use technological innovations to shift away from land-intensive food products.

Health and Affordability Drive Meat Consumption in US

changes in meat consumption chart

Source: Kansas State University

Consumption of chicken in the United States increased by 160% over the course of 50 years, compared to consumption of beef and pork, which decreased by 31% and 6%, respectively, according to a study from Kansas State University. 

Chicken is the preferred option in the American diet because of its affordability, a reputation as a healthier meat and because chicken farming produces fewer greenhouse gases. While one-half of survey respondents say they incorporate beef into their daily meals, one-in-six eats plant-based protein. Plant-based meat production — popular among younger generations — is likely to increase if producers can achieve prices closer to the cost of chicken. 

The cost of some plant-based options have already improved, and plant-based food companies can leverage their health and environmental benefits to attract consumers. Plant-based proteins scored the highest on animal welfare and health and environmental concerns in the study.

More Households Turn to Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa During COVID-19

Source: World Bank

Agriculture was the main source of livelihood for smaller households in sub-Saharan Africa last year. More households entered the industry than exited, and more urban households joined the industry compared to rural households, perhaps due to food insecurity and loss of employment. In Nigeria alone, the percentage of households involved in agriculture increased from 76% to 84% since the start of COVID-19. 

Despite agriculture acting as a “buffer” against COVID-related disruptions, farmers are struggling to access resources, such as feed, animal health services and markets. In Nigeria, 89% of livestock households said they had limited access to feed, for instance, and 82% of households said they had limited access to markets.

Similar to the 2008 global economic crisis, the agricultural sector absorbed some of the shock from COVID-19 for low-income households in 2020. But moving forward, key stakeholders in the industry will have to address the supply chain disruptions from COVID-19, along with new climate risks.

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