St Helena opens up to world trade

The remote island is due to open its airport, and is looking for a statistician to deal with the con

A fascinating job advert on the Guardian's board:

Statistician, St. Helena Government

A self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom, St Helena is an island of 47 square miles and around 4,000 people in the South Atlantic. With Cape Town in South Africa some 1,700 miles distant, the Islanders enjoy a unique lifestyle in truly unspoilt, friendly and peaceful surroundings.

St Helena is poised for the biggest transformation in the island’s history, with the imminent construction of an airport. It will grow from a centralised economy with 1,000 visitors per year to a market economy with up to 30,000 visitors per year. In order to prepare for air access Saint Helena Government is introducing a package of reforms aimed at stimulating economic growth and social development. During this period of significant change the importance of assessing the impact of policy decisions is heightened. Similarly, increased funding from donors increases the demand for reliable and timely economic, social and environmental analysis.

The island is one of the most isolated in the world. At the moment, the only access to it is a two day trip by boat from "neighbouring" (810 miles away) Ascension Island, which itself has two RAF flights a week. It is most famous as the site of Napoleon's second, more successful, exile, and much of its tourism is based around that. However, due to the difficulty of access, the three hotels on the island are around 10 per cent occupied over the year.

The creation of the airport began in 2005, and was originally planned to be ready in 2010. Inevitably, of course, the £40m building project overran, but when it does open it will radically alter the islands economy. Currently, the majority of its exports are to the UK and South Africa, and consist almost entirely of canned fish, coffee, honey, and a spirit made from prickly pear called "tungi spirit", and according to the Guardian in 2005 were worth just £200,000. The island also sold £60,000 worth of stamps alone, to collectors enthused by its right to print its own postage.

Assuming the Government's predictions of tourism numbers are correct, the proportion of the economy contributed by tourism will rise from around 3 per cent to around 50 per cent. This will be an enourmous change for the island, not just equivalent to switching economic focus, but more like, as the advert suggests, a change from a centrally planned economy to a free-market. As it stands, over half the island's population work for the government, which renders them relatively immune from economic shocks. It will be interesting to see the new dynamic play out, but whether or not it works depends on more than just the skill of the statistician they hire. Still, if you are a level 3 statistician or equivalent and fancy spending 11 months of the year on a 127 km2 lump of volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic, consider applying. They'll even pay for your flights, once they exist.

Jamestown, the capital of Saint Helena. Photograph: Andrew Neaum, CC-BY-SA

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.