By Alison Reiszadeh

Despite the thick grey sky and cold winter winds, the view remains stunning and spectacular. However, this could also be my bias coming through, as I had to climb over 95m to reach the top. Pecherska Lavra, also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery which gave its name to one of the city districts here in Kyiv. Founded in 1015, the monastery is hundreds of years old and remains a key attraction for the city. For me, this was the perfect place for a moment of reflection. Finding my way from Canada to the top of a bell on the other side of the world is something I could have never imagined for myself a year ago. In this moment I felt a sense of affirmation in my choice to take a chance, a risk on the unknown, because what awaited for me has been something truly remarkable.

During my time thus far, I have been able to learn more about the UNDP’s Accelerator Lab initiative. The Accelerator Labs are UNDP’s new way of working in development. There are 60 labs serving 78 countries working to find radically new approaches that fit the complexity of current development challenges and “accelerate” the progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I have been lucky enough to join the UNDP Ukraine’s Accelerator Lab team.

The team has created three principles that guide the Accelerator Lab’s work in Ukraine: People, Policies, and the Planet – or the Three “P”s for short. These principles recognize people are the drivers of development and should be supported by good governance.

The Lab is tackling issues such as the livability of cities and digital literacy gaps for Ukrainians over 60 years of age. One project in particular that I am very passionate about is solving air pollution in Ukraine. Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are complex problems with serious public health and environmental consequences. All people on Earth are adversely impacted despite their income or place of residence. In Ukraine, the agricultural practice of burning of crop residue such as straw and biomass, the rural household practice of burning organic waste such as leaves and dead plants, and the burning of drying peatlands causes an air quality crisis in Ukraine that peaks in April and October each year.

In late October of this year, Kyiv and other parts of central Ukraine were covered in a dense mix of smog and fog caused by an anticyclone and the lingering effects of the burning on farmland and rural areas around the country. Open burning may seem small and localized, but it has global consequences. In Ukraine, when farmers burn their crop residue, black carbon is released into the atmosphere. The smoke of black carbon reaches the cryosphere, travels thousands of miles and covers the icy regions of the planet accelerating their melting.

Citizens express their concerns about the poor air quality on social media and in public debates. The Accelerator Lab at UNDP Ukraine has recognized the severity of this issue and quickly reached out to colleagues in the office, NGOs and other Accelerator Labs worldwide that are experiencing similar air quality challenges. This has allowed us to assess the importance of the problem and dive into it deeper.

We are now asking: how can we change human behavior? Are we able to make current business practices more environmentally friendly? Which strategic partners can we align with to solve this problem? Overall, it has been exciting to be on the “pulse” of an issue while hopefully moving it forward in the policy cycle.

  • Picture of Alison Blay-Palmer

    Dr. Blay-Palmer is the founding Director for the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Director of the Viessmann European Research Centre…