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Accelerated renewables-based electrification paves the way for a post-fossil future

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The hydrocarbon producing countries of the MENA region believe in their preeminent albeit shrinking source of revenues for decades. But, as shown by some counties of the Gulf net-zero recent pledge, they see economic and political opportunities in moving to the green energy transition. Accelerated renewables-based electrification paves the way for a post-fossil future by Nature Energy explains how the world and particularly the EU in order to achieve its climate and geopolitical goals, it will need to substantially increase its engagement with Gulf states.

The image above is for illustration and is about how Fossil Fuel Jobs Will Disappear, So Now What?

Accelerated renewables-based electrification paves the way for a post-fossil future

The research was published in Nature Energy.

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Cost-slashing innovations are underway in the electric power sector and could give electricity the lead over fossil-based combustion fuels in the world’s energy supply by mid-century. When combined with a global carbon price, these developments can catalyze emission reductions to reach the Paris climate targets, while reducing the need for controversial negative emissions, a new study finds.

“Today, 80 percent of all energy demands for industry, mobility or heating buildings is met by burning—mostly fossil—fuels directly, and only 20 percent by electricity. Our research finds that relation can be pretty much reversed by 2050, making the easy-to-decarbonise electricity the mainstay of global energy supply,” says Gunnar Luderer, author of the new study and researcher the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “For the longest time, fossil fuels were cheap and accessible, whilst electricity was the precious and pricier source of energy. Renewable electricity generation—especially from solar photovoltaics—has become cheaper at breath-taking speed, a pace that most climate models have so far underestimated. Over the last decade, alone prices for solar electricity fell by 80 percent, and further cost reductions are expected in the future. This development has the potential to fundamentally revolutionize energy systems. Our computer simulations show that together with global carbon pricing, green electricity can become the cheapest form of energy by 2050, and supply up to three quarters of all demand.”

The reasons lie mainly in the ground-breaking technological progress in solar and wind power generation, but also, in the end, uses of electric energy. Costs per kilowatt hour solar or wind power are steeply falling while battery technology e.g. in cars is improving at great speed. Heat pumps use less energy per unit of heat output than any type of boiler and are becoming increasingly competitive not only in buildings, but also in industrial applications. “You can electrify more end-uses than you think and for those cases actually reduce the energy consumption compared to current levels,” explains Silvia Madeddu, co-author and also researcher at the Potsdam Institute.

“Take steel production: Electrifying the melting of recycled steel, the so-called secondary steel, reduces the total process energy required and lowers the carbon intensity per ton of steel produced,” says Madeddu. “All in all, we find that more than half of all energy demand from industry can be electrified by 2050.” However, some bottlenecks to electrification do remain, the researchers point out. Slowest in the race to decarbonisation are long-haul aviation, shipping, and chemical feedstocks, i.e. fossil fuels used as raw materials in chemicals production.

Limiting the reliance on negative emissions

The scale of the technological progress holds great opportunities for countries to leapfrog and for investors alike. However, not every technology is a success story so far. “In this study, we constrained the reliance on technologies which aim at taking carbon out of the atmosphere, simply because they have proven to be more difficult to scale than previously anticipated: Carbon Capture and Storage has not seen the sharp fall in costs that, say, solar power has. Biomass, in turn, crucially competes with food production for land use,” Luderer lays out. “Interestingly, we found that the accelerated electrification of energy demands can more than compensate for a shortfall of biomass and CCS, still keeping the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal within reach while reducing land requirements for energy crops by two thirds.”

Era of electricity will come—but global climate policy must accelerate it to meet climate goals

“The era of electricity will come either way. But only sweeping regulation of fossil fuels across sectors and world regions—most importantly some form of carbon pricing—can ensure it happens in due time to reach 1.5 degrees,” Luderer says. Indeed, the simulations show that even if no climate policy at all is enacted, electricity will double in share over the course of the century. Yet in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to well below two degrees, decisive and global political coordination is crucial: pricing carbon, scrapping levies on electricity, expanding grid infrastructure, and redesigning electricity markets to reward storage and flexible demands. Here, hydrogen will be a crucial chain link, as it can flexibly convert renewable electricity into green fuels for sectors that cannot be electrified directly. “If these elements come together, the prospects of a renewables-based green energy future look truly electrifying,” says Luderer.

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The MENA Region: A Key Scenario for the Energy Transition

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A Key Scenario for the Energy Transition in the MENA Region written by Roberto Vigotti could be a time-saver for all countries producing and nonproducing alike of hydrocarbon resources. Or as proposed by the IEA, it is a matter of Supporting the Middle East and North Africa countries to help them diversify their economies towards clean and low-carbon energy

The operations of the COP26 were closed just a couple of weeks ago, and it is now time to reflect upon relevant takeaways and how to translate them into action. Despite not being the theatre of the bold breakthrough we wished to see, Glasgow reiterated the importance of some key recommendations that, to this day, are our sharpest weapon in the fight against climate change: limiting the growth of the average temperature of the Earth below 1,5 °C, cutting by 45% the CO2 emissions before 2030, and pushing for a quick and worldwide deployment of renewable energy sources, acknowledging the importance of developing countries.

One of the clue scenarios of the recommended transformations is and will be the MENA region, for some self-explanatory reasons: MENA countries are endowed with an enormous renewable energy potential and a steady growth in their internal energy demand, making them illustrious candidates to lead the so yearned global energy transformation. This belief is reinforced by a positive trend of growth of some renewable energy sources in the Mediterranean countries: in the last decade, solar and wind power grew from less than 6% to 35% in the total amount of deployed renewables.

Nonetheless, the MENA’s contribution to the energy transition is still negligible: its share of renewable energy sources amounts to just 1% of the REs installed globally in the last 10 years with the lion’s share in the national energy mixes still being owned by fossil fuels. The data speak loud and clear: the majority of locally generated energy is based on gas and oil, which respectively amount to 72% and 20% of the total. In addition to the obvious environmental repercussions, the economy and internal welfare of many MENA countries is still tightly bound to fossil fuels, which provide more than a half of the national fiscal revenues in many countries (peaking In Kuwait, with approximately 90%), and are still largely financed by public institutions. Finally, the situation is worsened by the vulnerability to climate change: the local environmental features are a natural pre-condition for extreme weather phenomena, such as droughts, temperature raise, etc.

Hence, many trends of the MENA region appear to be in stark contrast with the recommendations outlined in the COP26, despite some isolated encouraging changes. It is urgent and overriding for local decision-makers to drastically re-shape the local approach to generation, transmission and distribution of energy, as well as related policy frameworks and market segments.

In this direction goes the last report produced by RES4Africa Foundation (“Connecting the Dots, 10 Years of Renewable Energy in MENA: What Has (not) Happened?”). In addition to portraying the current energy status quo of the MENA region, the analysis advocates for a fact-based shift towards renewable energy. The starting point would be the formulation and implementation of far-sighted energy policies, characterised by an adequate degree of boldness without losing touch with the reality: bright examples are Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. The regulatory framework should also be welcoming for private investments in REs, which are crucial to expand the energy access while simultaneously pushing for innovation, exchange of best practices, and a stimulation towards digitalisation and efficiency in MENA energy infrastructures. Complementary to these reforms should be safeguarding the transparency of local markets, thanks to new independent energy institutions and clear tender procedures.

The final step of such a virtuous process will be a progressive reduction of subsidies dedicated to fossil fuels: it is an ambitious and tricky target, especially considering the fact that a consistent part of oil and gas sources In MENA countries is still unexploited. However, we are confident that the renewable sector, if properly boosted and reformed, will provide incommensurably higher benefits, creating fertile soil for the energy transition and its related social and economic improvements.

This goal can be achieved just with a constant and structure cooperation with the MENA countries: let’s roll up our sleeves and work together for a sustainable tomorrow.

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, which gathers more than 30 stakeholders to accelerate the renewable energy transformation in Africa, with Africa and for Africa. In his 30+ year-long career he has covered various positions at Enel, University of Pisa, IEA and IRENA. When it was still considered an unlikely option, he was already convinced that deploying renewable energy in Africa would result in a positive socioeconomic impact for its population. In 2012, he therefore embarked on the RES4Africa adventure, to support a wider participation of private players in delivering investments in Africa. He also coordinates renewAfrica, an industry-backed Initiative that advocates the creation of a European comprehensive Programme for RE investments in Africa, to be promoted and owned by EU institutions

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How to Repair the World’s Broken Carbon Offset Markets

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How to Repair the World’s Broken Carbon Offset Markets by Robert Mendelsohn, Robert Litan and John Fleming, in Yale Environment 360 is a story all about how to mitigate and/or slow down Climate Change as seen from the US. The above-featured image of the publication is obviously of a street scene in Asia. Here it is.

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Markets that connect businesses hoping to offset their carbon emissions with climate change mitigation projects have been plagued by problems. But an economist and his co-authors argue that carbon markets can be reformed and play a significant role in slowing global warming

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In the wake of the Glasgow climate summit, governments must now return to the daunting challenge of making good on their emissions-reductions pledges, which at this point remain insufficient to hold warming below 2 or even 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Recognizing there are many political constraints that will make it difficult for countries to adopt policies that cut greenhouse gas emissions across the board, the agreement allows each nation to design its own individual national commitment. The United States is grappling with this very issue as it seeks passage of the Build Back Better initiative, with its ambitious goals to slow climate change.

Ideally, governments should reduce emissions with carbon taxes and efficient regulations. But most governments are reluctant to regulate or tax all emitters, such as power plants, electric companies, or forest managers. That means some low-cost mitigation opportunities — such as replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas facilities, funding transmission lines to renewable energy sites, or letting trees grow for longer periods before cutting in managed forests — will invariably be missed by government rules and regulations.

One potential solution is to pay for these missed opportunities through voluntary and offset carbon markets. The Glasgow agreement encouraged voluntary carbon markets to operate in developing countries so that private entities could immediately support emissions reductions there, but it remains to be seen whether these markets will in fact help reduce emissions or whether the markets will turn out to be just greenwashing.

Voluntary markets collect payments from private donors, companies, foundations, and potentially even countries, and then pay emitters to reduce their CO2 emissions.The Chicago Board of Trade established a carbon market from 2003 to 2010, and the Task Force on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, a private sector initiative, hopes to establish a large future voluntary carbon credit market.

Although carbon markets have great potential, they have often failed to show that they lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Offset markets, in contrast, allow companies that must reduce emissions under a regulation to pay other firms to do the mitigation instead. A prominent example of a carbon offset market is the timber offset program of the California Air Resources Board, which was created in 2006 as part of the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions in California. Companies that find it too expensive to make all of their required emissions reductions under the cap-and-trade program can buy carbon credits instead. The carbon credits pay selected conservation groups across the country and Alaskan Native Americans to conserve their forests. A large fraction of the carbon stored in these forests can be used as carbon credits.

The potential beauty of voluntary carbon markets is that they can identify and fund low-cost mitigation actions that government regulation and taxes will miss. For example, regulations may overlook some technologies, such as more energy-efficient combustion engines or more energy-efficient air cooling and heating equipment, that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The voluntary market could fund these technologies. The government may exempt some sectors, such as agriculture, from the regulations even though farms account for 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The voluntary market could pay farmers to adopt practices that sequester more carbon or otherwise reduce CO2 or methane emissions.

Likewise, governments might choose not to regulate small companies. The voluntary carbon market could include those firms and pay them to mitigate. Finally — and maybe most important of all — voluntary markets could support mitigation in jurisdictions with governments that are unable or unwilling to mitigate. The Glasgow agreement specifically recognized that voluntary markets could lead to private funding of mitigation in developing countries, such as forest conservation projects.

Although voluntary and offset markets have great potential, both have consistently failed to show that they lead to a net reduction in carbon emissions — what is known as additionality. For example, the voluntary and offset markets have funded many conservation forests, and those forests store carbon. The problem is that these forests would have stored carbon whether or not they were in the carbon market program. The market did not lead to additional carbon being stored, but merely paid entities that were already committed to storing the carbon. So the funding did not result in any change in the status quo. There was little additional emissions reduction caused by this forest offset market —an example of well-intentioned greenwashing.

The Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil. Past carbon markets involving forests have been criticized as greenwashing. CIFOR VIA FLICKR

A similar problem can occur with credits for investments in mitigation or energy conservation. Did the carbon payment cause the investment to occur, or is it just rewarding a company that would have made the investment in any case? If the carbon market simply rewards actors for doing what they were going to do anyway, the market is having no additional effect and is not leading to any emissions reductions. Past voluntary and offset markets have failed this “additionality” test. Some projects may have led to additional mitigation, but many did not.

If these markets are to make a measurable change in emissions and a meaningful contribution to mitigation, they must be organized differently, so that carbon market payments incentivize emitters to make verifiable — and additional — cuts in emissions.

The Task Force on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets argues that additionality can be readily handled by having an expert committee review each project. If the experts can see that the funds paid by the market led to the project being financially viable, then it passes the additionality test. However, to determine the answer for every small project and investment requires an enormous amount of research into local conditions and circumstances. It is simply too difficult and expensive to measure this on a project-by-project basis.

The result is that many of the carbon credits given out in both the voluntary and offset markets in the past have not led to a change in emissions. For example, as much as 80 percent of the California forest offset credits failed an additionality test because most of the alleged additional carbon being stored was going to be stored with or without credits. The Chicago Board of Trade’s carbon market eventually folded because a ton of carbon was selling for less than a dollar — far too low a price to have actually led to mitigation. This was mitigation in name only, not in reality. If this poor performance continues, offset and voluntary markets will remain ineffective. If the money being spent on offsets and voluntary credits would otherwise have been spent on actual mitigation, the markets would actually be reducing mitigation, not increasing it.

Markets must move away from funding small projects and toward paying entire companies to reduce emissions.

If markets are going to become serious about helping address climate change, they must move away from funding small, individual projects and toward paying entire companies to reduce emissions. When markets pay companies to change their emissions levels, it becomes much easier to measure additionality. First, it is relatively inexpensive to calculate company-wide emissions over time. Second, it is relatively simple to determine what a firm would have done in the absence of the carbon market. The market could rely on widely accepted models that predict the future emissions of industries as a baseline to judge what would happen without carbon markets. Companies would then get credit to the extent that they reduce their emissions more than the industry baseline.

For example, one might predict that the livestock industry would increase its emissions proportionally as it grows. If a livestock operation can reduce its emissions per head of cattle, it would get a credit for each ton of methane or CO2 reduced. The steel industry might be predicted to reduce its emissions by 0.3 percent per ton of steel each year just from energy savings. Any steel operation that can reduce its emissions by more than this industry prediction would get a credit. The baseline for each industry — and possibly for each industry in each part of the world — would be predicted for the coming decade. Companies could readily compare their performance against their industry baseline. Markets could reward companies that exceed industry predictions.

How difficult is it to predict industry-level emissions for a ten-year period? This task was readily accomplished by several teams for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 mitigation report. Using existing energy-economic models, the teams made predictions of decadal carbon emissions by industry for different regions of the world. Based on predicted prices and economic growth, the models forecast the level of emissions by industry if there was no mitigation. Preparing such industry-emissions predictions is relatively straightforward.

Given an industry-predicted baseline, all the market has to do in order to prove additionality and verify credits is to measure company emissions. Although companies are not yet required to publish their annual emissions, this will eventually be necessary for government programs to implement carbon taxes or mandatory mitigation. Stockholders may also want to know company emissions in order to understand the mitigation liabilities of each firm. Measuring carbon emissions at the company level is becoming reasonably inexpensive, so mandating businesses to measure and report these emissions is a reasonable requirement.

A cow at a farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Agriculture currently accounts for 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. LANCE CHEUNG / USDA VIA FLICKR

Verification of emission reductions and proof of additionality will go hand in hand. Markets that adopt this company-level analysis will encourage efficient mitigation. All companies with mitigation costs that are below the voluntary market price of carbon will effectively get paid to do whatever greenhouse gas reductions remain.

Of course, if future regulations are imposed on an industry, the market will have to change the predicted industry emissions accordingly. Fortunately, there is an answer to this problem as well. The energy models that predict industry emissions with no regulations can also predict industry emission with regulations. The regulations would change the baseline. The firm would only get credit for reducing emissions more than the new industry baseline based on the new regulation.

Utilities could also seek credits for reductions in emissions that might incentivize their customers to cut energy use and therefore reduce emissions. Given that utilities have monopolies over their customers, it could make sense to measure not only a utility’s own emissions but also the emissions of its customers. Utilities could encourage their customers to conserve energy. Companies could also create incentives for businesses in their supply chain to reduce emissions, or those firms could enter the carbon market themselves and earn credits. However, sometimes it might be more effective to have a large company create an incentive program for all of its suppliers to reduce emissions. The large company would organize the emission reductions among suppliers and the company would earn the credits.

Finally, companies in countries that have weak mitigation programs, or no mitigation, could apply directly to the voluntary market for funds. As suggested by Glasgow, this might be an excellent mechanism to obtain private funding for mitigation in developing countries, with the money coming largely from private entities in rich nations. In addition, companies in nations with little mitigation could participate in the offset markets and become compliant with international standards on CO2 reductions. This might be particularly advantageous for firms that export their product to the world at large, thus exempting them from any future border taxes on carbon.

By establishing reliable, verifiable benchmarks for greenhouse gas reductions — both for individual companies and industries as a whole — voluntary and offset markets could take their place alongside government programs to move the world toward a low-carbon future.

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Robert Mendelsohn is the Weyerhaeuser Davis Professor of Forest Economics at the Yale School of the Environment. Robert Litan is a non-resident senior fellow in the economic studies program at the Brookings Institution, a program he formerly directed. John Fleming is a business consultant and entrepreneur who works at the nexus of finance and climate change.

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UAE must learn from UK’s COP26 when it takes climate leadership

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It should not be any surprise to witness first-hand that the good destiny of the planet appears to be postponed from COP to COP because of the obvious preponderance of petrodollars over any agreement, even at the now well-proven cost of jeopardising the planet’s Climate. The UAE must learn from UK’s COP26 when it takes climate leadership by Jonathan Gornall who rightfully forehears “voices will be raised protesting that handing control of COP28 to the UAE is akin to asking a fox to beef up the security of a chicken coop”.

One of the world’s biggest producers of fossil fuels will be in charge of negotiations to wean the world from its addiction to fossil fuels

With hindsight, it seems incredible that, until now, ever since COP1 in 1995 the words “coal” and “fossil fuel” have failed to make the cut in the final reports of any of the Conferences of the Parties to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.

That would be like a report by the World Health Organization on the global response to Covid-19 failing to mention the SARS-CoV-2 virus – unthinkable.

As every schoolchild in the world surely knows, the climate-change catastrophe looming over the planet has been generated by the unfettered burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – since the dawn of the coal-powered Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

The annual failure of COP delegates to acknowledge the fossilized elephant in the room has, of course, been the product not of ignorance, but of the myriad social and economic pressures, experienced by multiple countries at different stages of development.

Forget elephants, the animal present at every COP for the past quarter of a century has been a giant ostrich, with its head buried deep in the ground. At Glasgow, the ostrich was finally allowed to raise its head, albeit only for a brief peak at reality. Even then, attempts to overthrow King Coal were watered down by last-minute interventions from its loyal subjects, China and India.

What the world needs now, more than anything else, is compelling leadership.

One announcement to come out of Glasgow was that COP28 in 2023 would be staged in the United Arab Emirates, home to the UN-created International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). This isn’t the first time the COP roadshow has traveled to the Middle East – in 2012 COP18 was held in Doha – but a decade on the climate-change landscape has changed utterly.

Doha was not insignificant. It was one of a series of dull but necessary COPs that paved the way toward the Paris Agreement in 2015, and it was the first time that developing countries signed up to a legal obligation to reduce their emissions.

The Paris Agreement was to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To achieve that, the world needs to cut global greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 26 billion metric tons every year between now and 2030. To say that the total emission-reduction pledges scraped together in Glasgow of just over 6 billion tons fell short is to understate the huge gap between ambition and commitment.

It highlights the monumental scale of the challenge for the country presiding over these conferences. That the UK’s COP26 president Alok Sharma was almost in tears as he announced the watered-down deal goes some way to illustrate the personal and institutional commitments required by the host.

The kind of leadership needed to rally the world’s nations and their disparate interests to commit to an agreement often appears beyond possibility. Then there is the task of making sure the outcomes and expectations of any COP event are stuck to.

The UK had to draw deep on its resources and global leadership experience just to make Glasgow happen. With more than 25,000 delegates descending on the city, the policing bill alone was estimated at the equivalent of more than US$300 million.

The pandemic brought big challenges to hosting the event, but it also gave Sharma’s team an extra year to prepare after COP26 was pushed back from 2020. The UK won the bid to host the event in September 2019, but Sharma was only appointed president in January 2020 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson fired his predecessor Claire Perry O’Neill.

The jostling showed the escalating importance placed on the herculean task of cajoling global powers into alignment on saving the planet.

While many have called the COP26 outcomes a failure, Sharma won praise for his balanced leadership that involved building relations with small island states most at risk from rising sea levels while handling tricky meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing.

It is some of these skillsets that the UAE will have to draw upon as it prepares to take the reins in 2023. The Emirates has been entrusted to host the event based on its existing commitments toward the environment and renewable energy, including investing heavily in the new sciences of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), and nuclear energy.

Yet the UAE has more to lose than many countries from the inevitable transition to sustainable fuels, but much more to gain than most in shaping the elements of tomorrow’s energy market – and, thanks to its oil and gas revenues, it has the necessary funds to invest in the future today.

But forging its own path is very different to consensus-building between nations with conflicting interests. What lessons can be learned from previous COP hosts and how the UAE can build on their efforts yet bring its own style of leadership is yet to be seen.

Doubtless many voices will be raised protesting that handing control of COP28 to the UAE is akin to asking a fox to beef up the security of a chicken coop. Fingers will also be pointed at comments this week from the group chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) that “the oil and gas industry will have to invest over $600 billion every year … until 2030 … just to keep up with expected demand.”

But to express alarm at this is to misunderstand the nature of a global energy system undergoing dramatic change.

None of the world’s countries can “simply unplug” abruptly from fossil fuels. The world is recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and demand for oil and gas is rocketing – in the process creating the essential wealth in the Persian Gulf region necessary to fund and drive the transition to renewables.

For the UAE and countries such as Saudi Arabia, much of the profit being drawn out of the earth now is being plowed directly into the type of research and development that ultimately will save the planet.

The UAE is working hard to curb its own domestic consumption of fossil fuels. Last month, it announced it was aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – an ambitious target on a par with those of the UK, the US and the European Union.

How? Well, it turns out that oil was not the only economic blessing bestowed on the fossil-fuel-producing countries of the Middle East.

Sunlight is the resource that gives on giving and, in the Gulf, is available for the greatest part of the year. The UAE is already leading the way with domestic solar power plants and investing in solar technology. 

COP28 in 2023 will put one of the world’s biggest producers of fossil fuels in charge of negotiations to wean the world from its addiction to fossil fuels. It will put the UAE under a global spotlight that will require an exemplary level of leadership and diplomacy if the climate negotiations will continue to move forward.

And as the outcome of the UK meeting demonstrated, progress is incremental. 

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Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.

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Challenges Facing the Cement Industry in the MENA Region

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The full version of this article titled ‘Musings on MENA’ could be found in the November issue of World Cement.  It is published by David Bizley, Editor of World Cement and is about all those Challenges facing the Cement Industry in the MENA Region.

Here it is:


Musings on MENA

Ahmad Al-Rousan, Secretary-General of the Arab Union for Cement and Building Materials (AUCBM), provides an overview of the challenges facing the cement industry in the MENA region.

It is a fact that the cement industry of the MENA region has, for the most part, fairly recent origins, with some exceptions being small scale and limited productivity operations in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Syria.

Since the mid-1970s, the cement industry across the Arab world began to expand as demand for construction and infrastructure in these countries grew. At present, the number of companies and factories in operation has reached 171, with 32 additional cement mills. Design capacity for the region has thus reached 355 million tpy.

In recent years, prior to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for cement fell in several Arab countries as a result of difficult economic conditions and war; a number of factories were shut down or destroyed, and some projects were suspended or postponed. Currently, Egypt and Saudi Arabia lead the region in terms of factory numbers and production capacity. Cement consumption also declined during 2018 and 2019 in the GCC countries, across North Africa, Jordan, and Lebanon at rates ranging from 1.5% to 17%.

With the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, measures such as factory closures and the halting of operations were seen across the world, including the MENA region, which lead to significant declines in both production and demand, with the decrease in demand exceeding 39%.

With a view to ensuring that factories continue to operate at an acceptable rate while maintaining preventive measures, AUCBM has circulated a roadmap that details the health measures to be taken in order to maintain the continuity of production. Many factories managed to endure this epidemic and have resumed their operations. Some countries recorded growth in consumption during the second half of 2020, such as Saudi Arabia, where sales increased by more than 20%.

In addition to the above, the challenges facing the cement industry of the Arab world can, at this stage, be summarised as follows:

  • Some of the measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic still constitute an obstacle to factories, especially those involving reductions in the number of workers on site.
  • The tough economic conditions faced by many Arab countries and the suspension or postponement of numerous planned projects (especially in the GCC countries), though the execution phase of some of these projects has already started this year.
  • Decreased market demand for cement, occurring naturally as a result of the difficult economic conditions and ongoing conflict in the region.
  • Security problems and ongoing conflicts in some countries.
  • Recent expansions of cement factories in some countries created large production surpluses, which were compounded by the fact that some countries already export cement (Algeria and Saudi Arabia, for example).

The increase of cement consumption in the MENA region, primarily requires the existence of construction and infrastructure projects, which the Arab world still needs. It is true that modest consumption growth has been recorded in some countries since mid-2020, but these rates continue to fluctuate due to the absence of constant and continuous projects.

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