MENA faces extreme climate change threat

MENA faces extreme climate change threat

MENA faces extreme climate change threat warns Greenpeace

In so many countries and communities across the globe, especially in the Global South, people feel the impacts of the climate crisis in their own flesh. Working with a team of researchers, this is what we’ve been documenting in the Middle East and North Africa, where lives are being lost, homes destroyed, crops are failing, livelihoods are jeopardised and cultural heritage is being wiped out.The Middle East and North Africa region is warming at twice the global average. Ecosystems, inhabitants and livelihoods in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are all suffering from the impact of rapid climate change.

Across North Africa, including the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, climate change-induced warming is already more pronounced in the summer, and wet seasons are becoming progressively dryer. Recent multi-year droughts have been unprecedented in the past 500–900 years. Despite the naturally higher temperatures and lower rainfall across the Arabian Peninsula, trends of further warming and drying are also evident and are expected to worsen over the coming decades.

Because of climate change, Africa is heating up and drying out, and this heat is set to increase to a possible range of 3°C to 6°C by the end of the 21st Century if Africa’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels continues. Global heating is leading to heavier and less predictable precipitation on some parts of the African continent, heightening the dangers of floods and landslides, while other areas are battling hotter, drier conditions, prolonged droughts, locust infestations, water shortages and crop failures. And coastal communities are on the front line of rising sea levels and more damaging storms.

MENA faces extreme climate change threat iddle East and North Africa climate change impacts - Red Sea corals bleaching
Some Red Sea corals are already at the limit of their heat tolerance and continued increase in sea surface temperature could lead to widespread bleaching. © Paul Langrock / Greenpeace

Life in the MENA region is challenging from the outset, with many countries naturally experiencing very warm and dry conditions relative to other parts of the world. However, what is happening now is anything but natural.

The Horn of Africa between droughts and groundwater supplies

The Horn of Africa between droughts and groundwater supplies

The Horn of Africa, between droughts and groundwater supplies that are increasing – why? 

Michael Singer, Cardiff University; Katerina Michaelides, University of Bristol and Markus Adloff, Université de Berne, detailed answers worth reading.


The Horn of Africa has had years of drought, yet groundwater supplies are increasing – why?



The Horn of Africa – which includes Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and some surrounding countries – has been hit by increasingly frequent and devastating droughts. Despite this, it seems the region has an increasing amount of groundwater. And this water could help support drought-stricken rural communities.

That’s the key finding from our new research, in which we discovered that while overall rainfall is decreasing, an increase in “high-intensity” rainfall has led to more water being stored deep underground. It’s a paradoxical finding, yet one that may help one of the world’s most vulnerable regions adapt to climate change.

In the Horn of Africa, rural communities live in a constant state of water scarcity punctuated by frequent periods of food insecurity. People there rely on the “long rains” between March and May and the “short rains” between October and December to support their lives and livelihoods.

As we write this, the region’s drylands are experiencing a fifth consecutive season of below-average rainfall. This has left 50 million people in acute food insecurity. The droughts have caused water shortages, livestock deaths, crop failures, conflict and even mental health challenges.

The drought is so severe that it is even affecting zebras, giraffes and other wildlife, as all surface waters are drying up and edible vegetation is becoming scarce. Worryingly, a sixth failed rainy season has already been predicted for March to May 2023.

Long rains down, short rains up

In a new paper we investigated changes in seasonal rainfall in the Horn of Africa over the past 30 years. We found the total rainfall within the “long rains” season is declining, perhaps related to the warming of a particular part of the Pacific Ocean. However, rainfall is increasing in the “short rains”. That’s largely due to a climate phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, when a warmer-than-usual Indian Ocean produces higher rainfall in east Africa, similar to El Niño in the Pacific.

We then investigated what these rainfall trends mean for water stored below ground. Has it decreased in line with declining “long rains”, or risen due to the increasing “short rains”?

The Horn of Africa between droughts and groundwater supplies  Map of East Africa
The Horn of Africa borders the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Peter Hermes Furian / shutterstock

To do this we made use of a pair of satellites which orbit repeatedly and detect small changes in the Earth’s gravitational field that can be interpreted as changes in the mass of water storage. If there’s a significant increase in water storage underground, then the satellite will record a stronger gravity field at that location compared to the previous measurement, and vice versa. From this, the mass of water added or lost in that location can be determined.

Using these satellite-derived estimates, we found that water storage has been increasing in recent decades. The increase correlates with the increasing “short rains”, and has happened despite the “long rains” getting drier.

Given that the long rains deliver more seasonal rain than the short rains, we wanted to understand the paradoxical finding that underground water is increasing. A clue is given by examining how rainfall is converted into groundwater in drylands.

When rain is light and drizzly, much of the water that reaches the ground dampens the soil surface and soon evaporates back into the warm, dry atmosphere. To become groundwater, rainfall instead needs to be intense enough so that water will quickly infiltrate deep into the soil. This mostly happens when lots of rain falls at once and causes dry riverbeds to fill with water which can then leak into underground aquifers.

The Horn of Africa between droughts and groundwater supplies People stand in river, rainy sky.
Heavy rains fill a dry river bed in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Stanley Dullea / shutterstock

These most intense rainfall events are increasing in the “short rains”, in line with the overall increase in total rain in that season. And despite a decrease in overall rainfall in the “long rains”, intense rainfall has remained consistently high over time. This means that both rainy seasons have enough intense rainfall to increase the amount of water stored underground.

Finally, we demonstrated that the increasing water storage in this region is not connected to any rise in soil moisture near the surface. It therefore represents “banked” water that resides deep below ground and likely contributes to a growing regional groundwater aquifer in this region.

Groundwater can help people adapt to climate change

While early warning networks and humanitarian organisations focus on the urgent impacts of drought, our new research points to a silver lining that may support long-term climate adaptation. Those rising groundwater supplies we have identified may potentially be exploited to support people in rural areas whose food and water are increasingly insecure.

But there are some caveats. First, we have not assessed the depth of the available groundwater across the region, but we suggest that the water table is shallow enough to be affected by seasonal rainfall. This means it may also be shallow enough to support new bore holes to extract it. Second, we do not know anything about the quality of the stored groundwater and whether it can be deemed suitable for drinking. Finally, we do not know exactly what will happen if the most extreme droughts of the past few seasons continue and both long and short rains fail, causing intense rainfall to decrease too.

Nevertheless, our findings point to the need for extensive groundwater surveys across the Horn of Africa drylands to ascertain whether this increasing water resource may be viable enough to offset the devastating droughts. Groundwater could potentially irrigate fields and provide drinking water for humans and livestock, as part of a strategy to help this vulnerable region adapt to the effects of climate change.The Conversation

Michael Singer, Professor in Physical Geography (Hydrology and Geomorphology), Cardiff University; Katerina Michaelides, Associate Professor, School of Geographical Sciences , University of Bristol, and Markus Adloff, PostDoctoral Researcher, Earth System Modelling, Université de Berne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



COP27 is a Golden Moment for MENA

COP27 is a Golden Moment for MENA

COP27 is a Golden Moment for the MENA region as it is held in its Red Sea’s Sharm el-Sheikh at the edge of the desert of the Sinai Peninsula.

COP27 is a Golden Moment for Middle East and North Africa to Confront Climate Crisis

November 6-18, Egypt will host the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. As an African and Middle Eastern country, Egypt has such a unique opportunity to be able to influence the agenda items and bring more focus not only to Africa’s climate adaptation needs but for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as a whole. EARTHDAY.ORG will be discussing regional focused topics ranging from mitigation, adaptation, and finance to collaboration at the Climate Education Hub. COP27 sets the main items to discuss global climate disruption.

The world is on track to be 1.8 – 2.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century. Following the mixed outcomes of COP26 in Glasgow, global environmentalists are heavily relying on this year’s COP to produce tangible emissions-cutting and real game-changing measures that climate risks desperately demand.

MENA Focused

With COP27 in Egypt and COP28 planned for the United Arab Emirates in 2023, this is a golden moment for the countries of the MENA region to connect climate action to broader economic and security priorities. Policy makers must take full advantage of the first of two consecutive COPs in the region to discuss with international alliances all possibilities of cooperation. Given the facts that MENA is one of most vulnerable regions affected by heat waves, rising sea levels, and sand storms, there is no time left to leave off solutions on the shelf.


EARTHDAY.ORG has continued to step up as a leader in the global collaboration to alleviate the climate crisis. Along with leading the global Earth Day, EARTHDAY.ORG  realizes that one of the key solutions in advancing the environmental movement is Climate education and Environmental Literacy. “International solidarity to facilitate the development of environmental curricula in all schools is a must,” said Saadia F. Hassoon, President of Together to Protect Human & the Environment Association (Together), and partner of EARTHDAY.ORG in the Middle East.

Since 1970, EDO has supported dozens of partners including NGOs, universities, teachers and governments through technical resources and curriculums. To speed accelerating solutions to climate change, EARTHDAY.ORG will host the first ever Climate Education Hub at COP27. The hub aims to create a platform for educators, students, NGOs, and stakeholders to negotiate and share ideas leading to practical resolutions of the global climate crisis.

Read original.



Can Climate Change Pledges Result in Action?

Can Climate Change Pledges Result in Action?

Can Climate Change pledges to result in action? Wonders Achref Chibani in the Arab Center Washington DC, ahead of the forthcoming COP27. 

It must be said that there is little time left to rein in climate-wrecking emissions by notably limiting global warming to 1.5C.  It is fast closing, per a recent UN report.


COP27 and the MENA Region: Can Climate Change Pledges Result in Action?


In November of this year, Egypt will host the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). While this is not the first time a COP has been held in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as previous meetings have been held in Morocco in 2001 and 2016, and in Qatar in 2012, Egypt’s presidency over this year’s conference comes at a critical juncture. If the 2015 Paris Agreement commitment to limiting global warming to just 1.5℃ above preindustrial levels is to be met, it is of paramount importance that this year’s summit lead to global action. The COP27 meeting, which is to be followed next year by COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, also presents an opportunity for the MENA region to become a central player in global climate change diplomacy and a leader in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

But while climate change appears to be the new hot topic in the region, it is simultaneously being turned into an object of diplomatic and geopolitical competition. Although this is leading to striking climate change pledges and significant investment in climate mitigation projects, there has been little consideration for how climate change and its mitigation strategies impact ordinary Arab citizens. COP27 is bringing into focus a new climate change mitigation and adaptation regime in the region that is defined by top-down, elite-led projects that seek to capture and monopolize the benefits of climate change finance.

The Failures of COP26

COP26, which was held in Glasgow in 2021, was widely viewed as having failed to achieve its two chief aims: required commitments to limit global warming to 1.5℃ by 2030, and the end of the use of coal. While the Glasgow Climate Pact was not quite the death knell for the 2015 Paris Agreement, it failed to implement the sort of robust and binding commitments to fossil fuel reduction from developed nations that are necessary to ensure that temperatures are kept within the 1.5C threshold. Of particular note in this regard was the watering down of language around coal use from “phasing out” to “phasing down.”

COP26, which was held in Glasgow in 2021, was widely viewed as having failed to achieve its two chief aims: required commitments to limit global warming to 1.5℃ by 2030, and the end of the use of coal.

COP26 also produced little headway on climate finance. The Adaptation Fund—established in 2001 to help developing countries adapt to climate change—again failed to reach its target of channeling $100 billion in funds per year to developing countries. On top of this, while a concerted effort by island nations led to the recognition of their having suffered “loss and damage” from climate change, wealthier nations continue to block attempts to commit financial resources to pay for the impact of climate change. In short, while COP26 was heavy on pledges across a range of climate change issues, such pledges were rarely binding and revealed the difficulties in moving from pledges to commitments, and finally to actions.

The COP27 Agenda: An African COP?

Returning to the failures of COP26 makes plain the importance of COP27 and the necessity of turning the pledges that were made at previous summits into tangible climate change action. There are encouraging signs that an action-oriented summit is on the table, with a desire to make COP27 an “implementation COP,” with particular emphasis on climate finance, the “loss and damage” debate, adaptation, and the need for greater ambition. This has been backed up by Egypt’s presidency, which has made much of the need for implementation and action. For example, Ambassador Mohamed Nasr, Director of Environment and Sustainable Development at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted at a press briefing that: “Current commitments are a floor and not a ceiling. More is needed if we are to deliver an effective response to protect people from climate change.” Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has expressed his desire to advocate for the interests of African and other developing nations during climate negotiations, and has also stressed the need for climate finance directed toward the Global South.

COP27 has been framed as an “African COP,” although it remains unclear what this will look like in practice. There remain concerns that activists from across Africa will be prevented from attending the summit.

To this end, the summit has been framed as an “African COP,” although it remains unclear what this will look like in practice. There remain concerns that activists from across Africa will be prevented from attending the summit, and there is also a danger that talks will be dominated by a few regional climate change leaders such as Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nigeria—countries that also happen to account for the majority of the continent’s fossil fuel emissions—and will most likely marginalize more vulnerable states sitting at the COP table.

Climate Change in the MENA Region: Competition and Diplomacy

Historically, the MENA region has been a relatively small player at the global climate change diplomacy table, with its politicians and governments often downplaying the effects of climate change. However, many governments in the region have recently pivoted towards climate change as a central area of policy implementation and the region’s elites are increasingly interested in the investment opportunities represented by green finance. A number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, have now committed to reaching net zero emissions within the next 25 to 40 years. And Qatar, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan have all strengthened their 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges.

It is important to stress that the region does not represent a united bloc when it comes to climate change, and that there are important intra-region differences in climate change strategy and interests that have become more substantial in recent years. In broad terms, the region can be split between “high-ambition, high-emission” countries (the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council) and “low-ambition, low-emission” countries (North Africa and the Levant). Further nuancing this picture, in recent years—and especially since the start of the war in Ukraine—the ambitions of “low ambition” countries have notably increased, even though there remain clear distinctions between high and low emission states.

The MENA region can be split between “high-ambition, high-emission” countries (the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council) and “low-ambition, low-emission” countries (North Africa and the Levant).

For example, Egypt has developed international electricity connections, with both a 2-GW Euro-Africa interconnector transporting electricity to Europe and a recent connection with Sudan. This has worked to strengthen Egypt’s position as the key transit hub for pipelines, electricity grids, and shipping in the Eastern Mediterranean, and has helped the country attract further investment in both renewable and non-renewable power generation.

Egypt represents a broader trend of European states looking to the MENA region to bolster Europe’s energy security. MoroccoAlgeria, and Tunisia have all been touted as alternatives to Russian energy, with the Sahara potentially offering a source of clean, reliable solar energy on Europe’s doorstep. The COP27 summit thus comes at a time of intense intra-regional competition, as states seek to capture a market share of the green economy and to develop economic, diplomatic, and security partnerships with Europe and the West.

Egypt’s Green Transition: A Top-down Approach

Regarding Egypt’s own green transition, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has stressed a “green growth” approach to transition, relying on the private sector as the motor for the country’s transition, and emphasizing the transfer of financial and technological assistance to developing countries. For example, Egypt was the first government in the region to issue sovereign green bonds, raising $750 million for clean public transport and sustainable water management. Moreover, Egypt aims to turn the Suez Canal Economic Zone into a global hub for the production of green hydrogen and ammonia, with the Egyptian government hoping to sign around $25 billion in green energy deals during the COP27 summit.

Egypt also has ambitious plans to intervene in the country’s ecosystems, with plans to “regreen” the Sinai Peninsula, restoring the biosphere and thus changing hydrological cycles in the region. According to Dutch firm the Weather Makers, which is managing the project, restoring vegetation to the Sinai will reduce the amount of moisture lost at this junction between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, and will thus increase rainfall across the MENA region.

It is worth noting that the Egyptian military has being fighting an insurgency in the Sinai since 2011, and any project there would likely require the close involvement of the military, and could be used as a pretext for further evictions of local communities. Both the regreening of the Sinai and the development of the Suez Canal Economic Zone reveal Egypt’s preference for large-scale projects that bring together the various coalitions of the Egyptian bureaucracy, business leaders, the military, and global capital that have historically dominated the country’s development projects.

Egypt’s climate record remains poor, and it consistently avoids making binding carbon reduction commitments and providing long-term decarbonization plans.

Despite such dramatic megaprojects, Egypt’s climate record remains poor, and it consistently avoids making binding carbon reduction commitments and providing long-term decarbonization plans. Climate Action Tracker, for example, rates Egypt’s climate change policies as “highly insufficient.” Moreover, there are signs that Egypt wishes to pursue a gas-fueled energy transition. Egypt is Africa’s second largest gas producer, and following the recent discovery of offshore natural gas reserves it has become a net energy exporter in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Although LNG is greener than coal and oil, it still causes dangerous methane emissions and hinders the transition toward a zero-emission future. All of these projects display a preference for top-down climate change adaptation and suggest a trend toward the monopolization of climate change finance by a political and military elite who have little regard for how such projects will impact ordinary Egyptians.

Other Paths to Net Zero?

In both Egypt and the wider region, a picture is beginning to emerge of elite-led green growth. Projects such as the Suez Canal Economic Zone and the use of the COP as a means to attract foreign green investment together suggest a move toward capital-intensive green transitions in the region. COP27 and the language of national climate change commitments and technocratic interventions complement and reinforce this top-down approach to green transition. It remains to be seen whether such an approach will produce the kind of greenhouse gas reductions that are necessary if Paris Agreement targets are to be met.

The summit, however, also offers an opportunity for Arab activists and civil society actors to offer counternarratives that demonstrate other paths to reach net zero. But it is important that this opportunity is seized. COP27 presents an opportunity to change perceptions of climate change among Arab citizens and to enrich current debates on the environment within the region. The seventh round of the Arab Barometer public opinion poll revealed that while there is wide support for increased governmental action in response to climate change, perceptions regarding human effects on the environment are primarily viewed in terms of water and waste management.

COP27 offers an opportunity for Arab activists and civil society actors to offer counternarratives that demonstrate other paths to reach net zero. But it is important that this opportunity is seized.

This limited understanding of climate change among Arab citizens is a reflection of poor climate change education in the region, and of an understandable tendency to view climate change through the lens of immediate everyday experiences and needs. During the summit, Arab climate activists, journalists, civil society actors and politicians should work to paint a broader and more holistic picture of climate change, discussing how water shortages and waste management practices must be understood in terms of broader human-environment interactions. This should include public information campaigns around agricultural techniques and food security, air quality and pollution, and energy use.

Worrying Signs

At the global level, it is vital that COP27 become the conference where a robust agreement to limit warming to 1.5℃ is finally achieved. And any such agreement must include an awareness of the need for the green transition to first benefit the countries of the Global South. It is therefore promising that Egypt is calling for an “implementation COP” that prioritizes Africa during discussions. At the regional level, the summit offers an opportunity to foreground both the severe climate vulnerability of MENA countries and the fact that mitigation and adaptation must account for intra-region differences in technological advancements and oil wealth.

Finally, there are worrying signs that regional elites are directing the climate change narrative in the region, and using green transitions to their own benefit. Most notably, COP27 is being used by the Egyptian government to advocate for its private sector-led approach to green growth. It is of utmost importance that room be made for civil society actors to critique, question, and offer alternatives to this limited picture of green transition.

Can Climate Change Pledges Result in Action?
ACHREF CHIBANI, Tunisian journalist
Decarbonising hard-to-abate materials in the MENA region

Decarbonising hard-to-abate materials in the MENA region

Power Technology elaborates on how decarbonising hard-to-abate materials in the MENA region and beyond is not only a material problem but a lot more…

A material problem: decarbonising hard-to-abate materials in the MENA region and beyond

Lowering emissions is the first step in the energy transition, but reducing CO2 alone is not enough to achieve carbon neutrality, says Professor Emmanouil Kakaras of NEXT Energy Business at MHI and Dr Alexander Fleischanderl of Primetals Technologies.

As companies and governments across the world set their course on the path to net zero, the question of what to do about those hard-to-abate industries – namely heavy industry – often threatens to become a stumbling block on that pathway. For some, these big polluters – producing 30% of the world’s carbon emissions – sit uncomfortably within the narrative of transition to net zero. For others, their decarbonisation represents an opportunity.

According to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, carbon avoidance is a crucial step in the transition, replacing the use of fossil fuels with energy from renewable or other low-carbon sources. But reducing CO2 emissions alone is not enough to achieve carbon neutrality. There will remain some intractable emissions that can neither be reduced any further or absorbed naturally – and these will have to be dealt with by carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

A test case is the MENA region, home not just to many of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers, but also a number of its hard-to-abate materials manufacturers, the latter relying heavily on the former. This year, the region is host to the COP27 climate conference, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, but for many it still lags behind other regions in terms of policies that support the transition to green energy.

Key challenges

“The key challenge to decarbonising this hard-to-abate sector, particular to this region, is the lack of a consistent and well-thought-out, detailed plan for what will happen to the CO2,” says Professor Dr Emmanouil Kakaras, executive vice president, NEXT Energy Business at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries EMEA.

“As I have said on many occasions, decarbonising the hard-to-abate sectors is not a technological problem: we have in our portfolio the key technology to achieve that. However, because of the magnitude of the amount of CO2 emissions we are dealing with – maybe if we count everything in the region we are talking at least 100 million tonnes per year to be managed and permanently stored and so on – we need to have a coherent strategy to deal with [that]. And that has prerequisites, both for regulation and the infrastructure creation.”

Dr Alexander Fleischanderl, Head of Green Steel at Primetals Technologies, a joint venture of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and partners, agrees on the need for more policy action. Talking specifically about the development of green steel markets in the region, he says: “What it requires in the MENA region to set the right playing field to be competitive, and especially to accelerate renewable energy production, [is] more political support from the governments. So if we compare it to Europe or the US, where there’s been strong support from the government, like in Europe with the Emissions Trading System or the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, or the US with the 45Q programme [of tax credits for carbon sequestration], or now the Inflation Reduction Act, I believe strongly that the MENA region, especially the Middle East, should set up a similar taxonomy to accelerate the transition.”

But despite these supporting mechanisms, the energy crisis Europe is currently experiencing means it is unlikely to be able to offer green metallics at competitive prices on a global level, says Fleischanderl. “So going back again to MENA, the price of renewables will be on a very different level compared to Europe, at least over the next decade,” he says.

“In the MENA region today, green hydrogen can already be produced at a price level of $3 to $4 per kilogram, compared with the European price level, which is for sure above $7 or $8. It’s simply a great opportunity for the MENA region to invest and expand quickly into renewable energy, green hydrogen, and also in green metallics as soon as possible.”

Investment in renewables to replace the fossil fuels used in materials production is a key step towards the decarbonisation of these sectors. But they are, says Kakaras, energy-intensive sectors which, by definition, are difficult to abate. The energy requirements are massive, and will demand the realisation of the region’s huge untapped potential in renewables development.

Green hydrogen in the spotlight

“Green hydrogen – low-carbon hydrogen – is the most significant pathway to decarbonise the hard-to-abate industries,” says Fleischanderl. “If we talk about the steel sector, there are not many opportunities to leave carbon and fossil fuels behind. One pathway is replacing the fossil fuels with green hydrogen.

“The second one is electrification of the processes to run on electric power, and the third one is carbon capture, storage and utilisation. Everyone now is really hunting for the first option, replacing the fossil fuels with green hydrogen. So, what is still missing to decarbonise the hard-to-abate sector is the massive amount of green hydrogen that is required for that journey.”

This will require similarly large amounts of investment. Kakaras points to a couple of recent initiatives in Europe: the IPCEI Hy2Use project, only just approved by the European Commission, will provide up to €5.2bn in public funding to support the use of hydrogen in the industrial sector. This is expected to unlock an additional €7bn in private investment.

There is also the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), designed to avoid carbon leakage and to encourage partner countries to establish carbon pricing policies. This, says Kakaras, “in essence is a good idea, but it has to be implemented in a very transparent and objective way in order not to create any market distortion”.

European policymakers, he explains, need to “balance the effort to maintain some industrial activity in Europe and to maintain the competitiveness of such production [with] on the other hand measurable carbon reductions where it makes sense.” And striking this balance is not easy.

When it comes to nudging producers in the right direction, he prefers a carrot rather than a stick method. “I generally would like to see from the policymakers more of an active investment promotion in green technologies to increase the yield of green, carbon-free products, rather than penalising existing businesses, which will not bring the transformation needed to achieve carbon neutrality.”

Visionary approaches

Bringing the focus back to MENA, Kakaras cites the partnership with Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) as evidence of MHI’s decarbonisation work in the region. Earlier this year, MHI and Alba announced a feasibility study looking at applying carbon capture technology on Alba’s operation – the world’s largest aluminium smelter outside of China. The group’s power solutions brand, Mitsubishi Power and other partners, were contracted to design, engineer, procure, construct and commission a 680.9 megawatt (MW) combined cycle gas turbine power block, which will be able to run on clean hydrogen in the future.

“This particular industry [aluminium] is electricity intensive and it features very high indirect and direct CO2 emissions,” Kakaras says. There are efforts to reduce the indirect carbon footprint through the use of high-efficiency combined cycle plants for power production, and post-combustion CO2 capture installation.

“What is more important, however – and it is really what we call hard to abate – is the direct emissions from the smelting process,” he continues, explaining that what makes it so difficult is that “the concentration of the CO2 in the flue gas from the smelter, what is at the end emitted into the atmosphere, is very low: something like 1%. And that’s the most, I would say, challenging exercise that we are jointly undertaking with Alba, where we, for the first time worldwide, are trying to capture CO2 at such a low concentration.”

He is confident that MHI and Alba can rise to the challenge, though, praising “the visionary approach” of Alba. “If we want to move to what we call green aluminium, we have to tackle the direct emissions. We are working together to develop customised technology based on scrubbing technology that could tackle this particular emission measure.”

But the region’s materials sector still has a long way to go in terms of applying CCUS technology, without which the transition to net zero won’t be possible, says Fleischanderl. “It’s forecasted for 2050 that one third of global steel production will be produced utilising coal. So the only way out for these assets is to apply CCS, or CCUS more particularly. And going back to the MENA region, there’s only one carbon-capturing plant in the steel sector today, and that’s with Emirates Steel, which has applied carbon capture on an industrial scale for one of its direct reduction plants [the Al Reyadah project in Abu Dhabi].”

The conversation has moved on from whether CCUS is necessary, or indeed possible, says Kakaras. “We cannot achieve decarbonisation without CCUS; that is now commonly accepted. Some 15 years ago, the issue of carbon capture was met with scepticism because, of course, it comes at an additional cost. Now, we have the technology and we can prove that with a foreseeable carbon pricing structure, we can deliver the technologies and practically capture CO2 at, I would say, a range that it is well below $100 per tonne.”

He adds that the region’s governments are launching initiatives for storing carbon not just offshore, as is the case in some parts of the world, but underground as well, “thus bringing the costs of CO2 capture and storage significantly down”.

Of course, climate change is a global issue, not a regional one, and both Kakaras and Fleischanderl acknowledge that greening the hard-to-abate materials sectors will require a global solution. Which has implications for the way in which energy is traded across the world.

“The trade of green energy will become the major game changer to the transition of the hard-to-abate industry,” says Fleischanderl. “It will likely be the transport of green ammonia that will support this transition in other regions of the world. So again, talking about Europe, Europe will strongly rely on the input of renewable energy, likely in the form of green ammonia or green hydrogen, for application to the hard-to-abate sector.

“The operational costs to produce green metallics are around 80% related to the energy cost, so it seems quite logical that there might be relocation of the upstream facilities in iron making to where the energy is cheap, and not transporting the iron ore into Europe any more but adding more value to this iron ore, producing direct reduced iron [DRI], HBI [hot briquetted iron], and shipping these metallics into Europe for further processing.”

The much-hailed but expensive ‘power-to-X’ solutions – converting surplus renewable electricity into heat, hydrogen or synthetic fuels – are also ripe for development, says Kakaras. “Especially in the [MENA] region, the challenge is to have carbon-free electricity which will be in such an oversupply, because of the geographical and conditions of population and so on, that will permit the so-called power-to-X technologies to be implemented in this region. In simple words, if power-to-X will not happen in this region, then where will it happen?”

The road to 2050

Are there any other questions over the future direction of travel? As regards the steel industry, Fleischanderl notes the ambition of national targets. “I would say first of all, the scene is set, so the transition is going to happen. And 90% of the global steel production nations have committed to carbon net zero by 2050 or 2060, so it’s going to happen.

“But what keeps me up at night, if we talk about the major roadblocks, is the fact that the amount of renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen required for the steel sector is so massive that it’s not about any roadblock of technologies or new pathways; it’s simply that I’m wondering if the timeline to provide this massive amount of renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen can meet the requirement of the net zero pledges by 2050.”

As the spotlight turns to MENA for COP27, the world will be looking for reassurances that these targets are indeed achievable, and that the region and its most hard-to-abate sectors are making progress towards them.



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