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Europe should switch to LED to meet CO2 targets

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Signify calls for tough action from EU states to meet emission reduction targets by making the switch to smart LED lighting.

The company says that the environmental and economic benefits of making the switch to smart LED lighting is a “no-brainer” for EU member states. It is advocating measures to be taken for a massive switch to energy efficient LED lighting and saying that the key to this transition is more than doubling the annual pace of building renovation to 3 percent per year.

Signify is calling for both commercial and residential properties to be renovated by the retrofitting of older consumptive systems with more efficient LED installations by 2030.

“We have spent way too long making the transition to these technologies and while we have seen positive developments, faster change is needed,” said Harry Verhaar, Signify’s head of global public & government affairs, adding that “making the switch now is one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to help the EU to deliver on its commitment to reduce emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050.”

The renewed call to action comes after a landmark 224-page report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), titled ‘Net-zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector,’ which seeks to explain what is needed to decouple carbon emissions from the global economy.

In the report’s foreword, Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, describes the proposed necessary action as “a total transformation of the energy systems that underpin our economies.” The following chapters go on to comprehensively cover all aspects of energy and climate policy, from phasing out fossil fuels to decarbonising economies.

The report considers the future of lighting within its net zero emissions scenario, recommending that sales of LED bulbs “should reach 100 percent by 2025 in all regions” of the world and that minimum energy performance standards should be complemented by the smart control of appliances.

Connecting lighting to a network and introducing sensors and controls further enhance the efficiency of individual luminaries above and beyond them being replaced by non-connected LED technology.

Interact Industry, a software Signify designed to increase lighting control and connectivity in large-scale industrial facilities, is one way this may be realised. Recently, the system was installed in a warehouse used by Pilkington Automotive in Germany and since then the company has seen a variety of benefits.

“Compared to sites where conventional lighting is used, the new system achieves up to 50% energy savings by adapting the lighting to demand, and using daylight harvesting and presence sensors,” said Marcel Devereaux, energy projects manager at parent company NSG.

“This is on top of the significant savings already achieved by changing to LED lighting. Also, the carbon footprint at Pilkington Automotive can be reduced by 290 tonnes of CO2 each year,” he added.

According to findings from Signify, upgrading professional lighting across the EU, which includes the lighting in offices, industrial complexes, roads and parks, shops and hotels, would reduce CO2 emissions by 42 million tonnes.

An additional 8.9 million tonnes’ CO2-reduction could be realised from converting homes to LED. Such a combined reduction across the EU is equivalent to the amount of CO2 that 2.3 billion trees – a forest larger than the United Kingdom – would sequester in a year.

However, a switch to smart LED-based systems brings additional benefits that go beyond electricity savings and emission reduction.

“When you connect lighting to other devices you unlock benefits beyond illumination – from sensors in a luminaire that can tell a room booking system when a room is free, to light levels in an office that workers can adjust via their smart phone,” said Verhaar, adding: “And in the home, lights that can sync with your TV, music or games console and talk to your doorbell and smoke alarms.”

This prominence of lighting in the Internet of Things ticks another of the EU Green Deal’s boxes. One of the initiative’s central aims is to stimulate Europe’s digital capabilities so that it can compete with the digital powerhouses of the US and China.

Check out more on Signify Green Switch here.

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Lives lost at Europe’s borders and Afghan MPs in exile: human rights this fortnight – in pictures

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A roundup of the struggle for human rights and freedoms, from Mexico to Manila

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Belgium tightens Covid rules as health system ‘is cracking’

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Belgium has introduced new measures to curb the surge of Covid-19 infections in the country, following the third emergency meeting of federal and regional governments in three weeks.

“The autumn wave is much heavier than was estimated,” Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday (3 December).

“The infection rates are among the highest in Europe and the pressure in healthcare has become unsustainable,” he also said, arguing that new measures are necessary because “the system is cracking”.

One item on the agenda that proved to be divisive was the closure of schools – a move supported by experts and the federal government but opposed by regional governments.

Belgium’s so-called concertation committee of federal and regional governments finally decided to keep schools open, but it impose a longer, three-week, Christmas holiday for primary and pre-primary education. The holiday will now run from 20 December to 10 January.

According to Flemish prime minister Jan Jambon, this extra week will be used to administer the booster shot to the teachers.

And until the school holiday, a class will go until quarantine after two cases of Covid-19 are detected (previously three cases). Additionally, all extracurricular activities will be barred.

Children from the age of six upwards will also have to wear a face mask at school and all other places where its use is compulsory. And parents have been advised to test their children regularly.

For this coming weekend, indoor events with more than 4,000 attendees will be cancelled. From Monday, this will apply to all with more than 200 attendees.

Events with fewer than 200 people inside will still be allowed under the current criteria – that everyone needs to have a corona pass, be seated and wear a face mask.

Museums and cinemas would remain open, but with a capacity limit of 200 people per room.

The committee also decided that restaurants and bars can continue to remain open until 11PM, as it is currently the case – although experts had asked to close them at 8PM.

This new package of measures has already been criticised by representatives of the cultural sector, who argued that the restrictions do not target the source of the problem.

“Instead of fighting the virus, we are fighting culture. Bars open, but culture [events] only 200 people. Who are we fooling?,” said Michael De Cock, director of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg [Royal Flemish Theatre].

There is also no restrictions for private social life in the so-called “contact bubbles” – despite this also being recommended it by experts. Nevertheless, there is a recommendation to limit contacts as much as possible.

At work, there are no new measures, as the committee previously announced that teleworking is mandatory at least four days a week.

Intensive-care cases expected to peak next week

An average of 318 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised each day in Belgium this week – which represents an increase of four percent compared with the previous week.

There are currently 3,707 people hospitalised in the country, of which 821 are in intensive care.

“Although the number of infections is very high, the number of deaths in our country is lower than in comparable countries, and that is due to the high vaccination coverage,” said de Croo.

“Getting vaccinated is an act of solidarity,” he added.

More than 75 percent of the Belgian population is fully-vaccinated, and over a million people have received a booster shot.

For his part, Belgian virologist Steven Van Gucht said on Friday that the number of Covid-19 patients on the intensive care units of the country’s hospitals are expected to peak next week.

“It is unclear whether we can then expect a rapid fall or whether the figures will remain at that high level,” he also said, according to VRT news.

The highest number of new Covid-19 infections (25,574) during this fourth wave was recorded on Monday 22 November.

But new measures will make coronavirus figures fall more quickly, relieving the pressure on the health care sector, Van Gucht said.

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India’s ‘pencil village’ counts the cost of Covid school closures | Global development

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School closures in India during the pandemic have left their mark on more than the children who have seen delays to their learning. In one Kashmiri village the impact has been catastrophic on employment.

Pick up a pencil anywhere across India and it is likely to come from the poplar trees of Ukhoo.

This village, with an abundance of trees, about 10 miles south of Srinagar city in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, supplies more than 90% of the wood used by India’s pencil manufacturers, which export to more than 150 countries.

Before Covid, more than 2,500 people worked in the village’s 17 pencil factories and the industry supported about 250 families.

But, after nearly two years of school closures and a dramatic drop in demand for the village’s products, factory owners reduced their workforce by more than half.

Workers were dismissed without pay, while many of those who kept their jobs had migrated from other parts of India, and were cheaper to employ. Now the village and its workforce are waiting eagerly for the market to revive.

Rajesh Kumar, 26, from Bihar, has worked in Ukhoo for seven years. Like other migrant workers, he lives in a room on the factory premises and works 10- to 12-hour shifts. During lockdown last year, the factory owner provided food and accommodation when production shutdown for about three months. He is one of the luckier ones to be back working now.

“I hope the pencil demand increases and these factories are full of workers again, as many of our friends and people from our villages find work [here] and are able to make a living,” says Kumar.

Poplar logs outside a pencil slate factory, Ukhoo
Factory owners have had to lay off half of their workers during the pandemic. Photograph: Adil Abbas

Farooq Ahmed Wani, 27, from the city of Jammu, has worked as a machine operator in Ukhoo for the past five years.

“We are hoping that schools reopen throughout the country so that there is more demand for pencils in the market,” he says in an optimistic tone. “Then these factories can employ more young people and more migrants can also get some work here.”

Pencil wala Gaon, or “pencil village”, attracted the attention of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. In his monthly radio programme, Mann Ki Baat, last year he said the district was an example of how to reduce the country’s dependency on imports. “Once upon a time we used to import wood for pencils from abroad but now our Pulwama is making the country self-sufficient in the field of pencil making,” Modi said.

90% of the wood used in pencils manufactured in India comes from Ukhoo.
Ukhoo supplies 90% of the wood used in pencils manufactured in India. Photograph: Vincent Lecomte/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

A recent ministry of home affairs report said that the village would be developed as a “special zone” for manufacturing. “Now the whole country would be supplied finished pencils, manufactured completely in Pulwama,” the report noted. But the pandemic has shown how overreliance on one product in a region brings its own problems.

A migrant worker trims a plank of poplar wood at a pencil slate factory
A migrant worker trims timber at a pencil factory. The factories attract workers from several states. Photograph: Adil Abbas

Abrar Ahmed, a unit supervisor at one of Ukhoo’s factories, says everyone has suffered. “Even the sawdust from woodcutting machines is usually taken by the local villagers who then sell it to poultry farms and for other purposes in the village.”

Manzoor Ahmad Allaie owns one of the biggest factories in Ukhoo.

“We are only doing about 30% to 40% [of normal levels of] business now because of the Covid lockdown impact from last year, which means we produce about only 80 bags of pencil slats a day,” says Allaie. “Earlier we could produce about 300 pencil slat bags [a day] in the factory, which were transported out of Kashmir.”

He is eagerly looking forward to India’s schools fully reopening. It has been a hard two years for the pencil villagers, he says.

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