The MENA region has $100 billion worth of clean energy projects currently in the pipeline, according to a report by Energy & Utilities.
The report estimates total investment in clean energy to exceed $300 bn by 2050 if the region’s utilities are to meet their ambitious targets.
Middle East Energy said that the sharp drop in the cost of solar and wind power technologies is driving clean energy, with the cost of installing photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind having fallen by 73 percent and 80 per cent respectively since 2010.
The commissioning of the world’s largest single-site photovoltaic (PV) solar plant in 2019, the 1.17GW Sweihan independent power project (IPP) in Abu Dhabi, is one of the milestones reached this year in the push for clean energy, the report noted.
Dubai also reached financial close for a $4.3 billion concentrated solar power (CSP) project, Noor Energy 1, which is the largest single-site power investment project in the world.
The report estimates that installed power generation capacity will be required to increase 35 percent by 2025 just to meet rising demand in the Middle East. Rapid population growth combined with ambitious industrial and economic expansion programmes is resulting in the growing need for power, as demand for electricity is expected to triple by 2050.
“Driven by well-designed auctions, favourable financing conditions and declining technology costs, renewables are being brought into the mainstream. Based on the renewables targets already in place, the region, led by the UAE, could save 354 million barrels of oil which is equivalent to a 23 per cent reduction, cut the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 22 percent, and slash water withdrawal in the power sector by 17 percent by 2030,” Gareth Rapley, Group Director, Industrial, at Informa Markets said.
The report was published as a preview to an event in Dubai, The Middle East Energy 2020, which will be organised by Informa Markets in March 2020.
The central problem which the world faces in its attempts to avoid catastrophic climate change is a contrast of time scales. In order to save human civilization and the biosphere from the most catastrophic effects of climate change we need to act immediately. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Forests must be saved from destruction by beef or palm oil production.
These vitally necessary actions are opposed by powerful economic interests, by powerful fossil fuel corporations desperate to monetize their underground “assets”, and by corrupt politicians receiving money from the beef or palm oil industries.
However, although some disastrous effects of climate change are already visible, the worst of these calamities lie in the distant future. Therefore it is difficult to mobilize the political will for quick action. We need to act immediately, because of the danger of passing tipping points beyond which climate change will become irreversible despite human efforts to control it.
Tipping points are associated with feedback loops, such as the albedo effect and the methane hydrate feedback loop. The albedo effect is important in connection with whether the sunlight falling on polar seas is reflected or absorbed. While ice remains, most of the sunlight is reflected, but as areas of sea surface become ice-free, more sunlight is absorbed, leading to rising temperatures and further melting of sea ice, and so on, in a loop.
The methane hydrate feedback loop involves vast quantities of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, frozen in a crystalline form surrounded by water molecules. 10,000 gigatons of methane hydrates are at present locked in Arctic tundra or the continental shelves of the world’s oceans. Although oceans warm very slowly because of thermal inertia, the long-term dangers from the initiation of a methane-hydrate feedback loop are very great. There is a danger that a very large-scale anthropogenic extinction event could be initiated unless immediate steps are taken to drastically reduce the release of greenhouse cases.
The World Is on Fire!
“The world is on fire!” says Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. She is right. California is burning. The Amazon is burning. Indonesia is burning. Alaska is burning. Siberia is burning. These fires have been produced partly by the degree of climate warming that has already occurred, and partly by human greed for profits, for example from beef production or palm oil.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the UN climate conference COP24, the universally loved and respected naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, said:
“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world are on the horizon.”
Sir David’s two-part program, “Climate Change: The Facts” is currently being broadcast by BBC Earth. Hopefully, this important documentary film, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s excellent film “Before the Flood”, can do much to mobilize public opinion behind the immediate action that is needed to save the long-term future of human civilization and the biosphere.
Recently more than 7 million young people in 150 countries took part in strikes aimed at focusing public opinion on the need for rapid climate action. The Extinction Rebellion movement, which started in the UK, has now spread to many countries, and is also doing important work. In the United States, popular political figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are doing much to mobilize public opinion behind the Green New Deal and much to counteract Donald Trump’s climate change denial.
The Remarkable Properties of Exponential Growth
Positive feedback loops occur when the presence of something leads to the generation of more of the same thing. For example in the presence of an unlimited food supply, the growth of a population will lead to more individuals reaching reproductive age, and hence an accelerated growth of the population. This type of relationship leads to the mathematical relationship known as exponential growth.
Exponential growth of any quantity with time has some remarkable characteristics, which we ought to try to understand better, since this understanding will help us to predict the future. The knowledge will also show us the tasks which history has given to our generation. We must perform these tasks with urgency in order to create a future in which our descendants will be able to survive.
If any quantity, for example population, industrial production or indebtedness, is growing at the rate of 3% per year, it will double in 23.1 years; if it is growing at the rate of 4$\%$ per year, the doubling time is 17.3 years. For a 5% growth rate, the doubling time is 13.9 years, if the growth rate is 7% (the rate of economic growth that China’s leaders hope to maintain), the doubling time is only 9.9 years. If you want to find out the doubling time for any exponentially growing quantity, just divide 69.3 years by the growth rate in percent.
Looking at the long-term future, we can calculate that any quantity increasing at the modest rate of 3% per year will grow by a factor of 20.1 in a century. This implies that in four centuries, whatever is growing at 3% will have increased by a factor of 163,000. These facts make it completely clear that long-continued economic growth on a finite planet is a logical absurdity. Yet economists and governments have an almost religious belief in perpetual economic growth. They can only maintain this belief by refusing to look more than a short distance into the future.
Exponential decay of any quantity follows similar but inverse rules. For example, if the chance of a thermonuclear war will be initiated by accident or miscalculation or malice is 3% in any given year, the chance that the human race will survive for more than four centuries under these conditions is only1 in 163,000, i.e. 0.000625 percent. Clearly, in the long run, if we do not completely rid ourselves of nuclear weapons, our species will have no hope of survival.
Besides nuclear war, the other great threat to the survival of the human species and the biosphere is catastrophic climate change. The transition to 100% renewable energy must take place within about a century because fossil fuels will become too rare and expensive to burn. But scientists warn that if the transition does not happen much faster than that, there is a danger that we may reach a tipping point beyond which feedback loops, such as the albedo effect and the methane hydrate feedback loop, could take over and produce an out-of-control and fatal increase in global temperature.
In 2012, the World Bank issued a report warning that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to reach 4 degrees C during the 21st century. This is dangerously close to the temperature which initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction event: 6 degrees C above normal. During the Permian-Triassic extinction event, this occurred 252 million years ago. In this event, 96 percent of all marine species were wiped out, as well as 70 percent of all terrestrial vertebrates.
Is a quick transition to 100% renewable energy technically possible? The technology is available, remarkable characteristics of exponential growth can give us hope that it can indeed be done, provided that we make the necessary effort. Governments currently give enormous subsidies to fossil fuel industries. These must be stopped, or better yet, shifted to subsidize renewable energy. If this is done, economic forces alone will drive the shift to renewable energy. The remarkable properties of exponential growth can give us hope that the transition will take place rapidly enough to save the future of our planet from the worst effects of climate change.
Feedback Loops and Ethics
All of the major religions of the world contain some version of the Golden Rule,
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
In Christianity, there is a striking passage from the Sermon on the Mount:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
This seemingly impractical advice, that we should love our enemies and do good to them, is in fact extremely practical. It prevents the feedback loops of revenge and counter-revenge that we see so often in today’s conflicts. In fact, if nations that claim to be Christian really followed this commandment, their participation in war would be impossible. Conflicts can be prevented by unilateral acts of kindness.
Feedback Loops and the Information Explosion
In 1965, the computer scientist Gordon E. Moore predicted that the number of components per integrated circuit would increase exponentially for the next ten years. In 1975, he revised his growth rate to correspond to a doubling time of every two years. Astonishingly, Moore’s Law, as this relationship has come to be called, has proved to be valid for much longer than he or anyone else believed would be possible.
Moore’s Law is an example of the fact that the growth of knowledge feeds on itself. The number of scientific papers published each year is also increasing exponentially. This would be all to the good, if our social and political institutions matched our technology, but because of institutional and cultural inertia, the exponentially accelerating rate of technical innovation is threatening to shake human society to pieces. We need new global institutions of governance and new global ethics to match our new technology.
John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy andreceived his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).
Stephen Peake, Senior Lecturer, The Open Universityin Climate crisis: six steps to making fossil fuels history, gives us a pretty realistic image of the prevailing situation of unsustainability throughout the world.
But the who, what, when, where and how of systems change can seem overwhelming. How do we transform a society whose fossil fuel habits have been entrenched for decades?
The next step is to get smarter in telling governments precisely what we want. System change doesn’t need to be daunting, or politically difficult. We just need to focus on the pinch points that will allow us to rapidly replace fossil fuel technologies. Here are six steps to decarbonising the system for good.
1. Stop wasting energy
We could power the planet two times over with the energy we waste burning fossil fuels each and every day. Even our most modern gas-fired power stations still waste around 40% of the gas they burn. The poor design of our transport systems, buildings, and appliances also waste vast amounts of energy.
Such taxes, combined with the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, could raise trillions of dollars for governments to put to great use. We could spend this money on accelerating climate action – improving energy efficiency, scaling renewable energy, and restoring natural habitats.
Much of the stuff we buy isn’t fit for purpose. Many clothes are made with fabric so thin that they only last a few months, while electronics are often designed to fail after a few years.
We also don’t need half the things we’re encouraged to buy in the first place. While its governments that are responsible for implementing system change, and corporations that pollute the most, people still have power – even beyond voting or marching. As well as governments strongly regulating advertising, we can choose to stop contributing to a consumer culture.
To redress this balance and cut emissions, we can shift to a diet rich in vegetables and grains, where sustainable meat is an occasional treat. Carbon taxes could also cover meat and dairy production, with funds used to help farmers transition as the global grazing stock falls.
We need to give our political leaders the courage to make bold decisions. Above all we must ask for specific things of our political leaders – and direct our energies towards those that will make the biggest difference. We must be clear in our demands for a new low-carbon political economy that makes fossil fuels history and renewable energy the future.
More than 40 years after the International Energy Agency (IEA) published the first edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the report’s overarching aim remains the same – to deepen our understanding of the future of energy. It does so by examining the opportunities and risks that lie ahead, and the consequences of different courses of action or inaction. The WEO analyses the choices that will shape our energy use, our environment and our wellbeing. It is not, and has never been, a forecast of where the energy world will end up.
This year brings many changes. I would like to highlight two in particular. First, we have renamed the ‘new policies scenario’ as the ‘stated policies scenario’, making more explicit our intention to hold up a mirror to the plans and ambitions announced by policy-makers without trying to anticipate how those plans might change in future.
Second, the sustainable development scenario – which provides a strategic pathway to meet global climate, air quality and energy access goals in full – has been extended to 2050 and set out in greater detail. This delivers sharper insights into what is required for the world to move in this direction.
What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s Outlook is that there are no simple solutions to transform the world of energy. Multiple technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy-makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.
It is also clear to me that the world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change. The sustainable development scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.
The IEA is already acting on the insights contained in the Outlook. For instance, our analysis shows that the pace of energy-efficiency improvements is slowing, but the potential for efficiency improvements to help the world meet its sustainable energy goals is massive. This has led us to set up a high-level Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency to recommend how progress can be rapidly accelerated through new and stronger policy action. (We are seeking your input on this subject in our online survey.)
We are also acutely aware that while the ongoing transformation of the electricity sector is full of promise, it also has implications for the stability and reliability of power grids around the world. In response, we have introduced new initiatives, including co-organising with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy the first Global Ministerial Conference on System Integration of Renewables in Berlin in October 2019 and undertaking a major new report on electricity security.
Another important issue is that global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are rising alongside CO2. This is why we recently launched a new online methane tracker to monitor the problem and identify ways to tackle it.
These are just four examples of how the World Energy Outlook provides strategic guidance to the energy community and results in real-world initiatives and solutions. The goal of this year’s Outlook, once again, is to provide energy decision-makers with the data and objective analysis that they need to pursue a more secure and sustainable future.
The World Bank in its “Adaptation to Climate Change in the MENA Region” predicted that this region being particularly vulnerable to climate change, it should do more to adapt to water scarcity and heat and adjust all institutional mechanisms to deal with these environmental constraints. Environmental awareness in the Arab world posted on The Arab Weekly of 17 Novembre 2019 is a good illustration of this latest trend.
Lebanon was the country with the strongest concerns about climate change in general, followed by Tunisia and Egypt.
Climate change is a global emergency that respects no borders but results from a recent survey revealed that, when it comes to convincing MENA populations to come to grips with the crisis, substantial barriers remain.
Recent data gathered by Arab Barometer, a nonpartisan research network that has conducted opinion surveys across the region since 2006, indicated that a strong majority of respondents said they were “very concerned” about water and trash pollution (70% and 66%, respectively). Both issues are immediate problems that MENA residents must often deal with directly and can see with their own eyes daily.
However, when it came to more abstract or long-term environmental issues, such as climate change and air quality, fewer survey respondents said they were very worried (35% and 44%, respectively).
Opinions showed no significant variations across age and gender groups. However, more educated and affluent respondents expressed slightly stronger concerns about climate change in general.
The survey uncovered dividing lines geographically: Residents in rural areas were more likely to view climate change as a “very serious” problem than those living in urban environments.
Lebanon was the country with the strongest concerns about climate change in general, followed by Tunisia and Egypt, but national differences on specific issues were the starkest. Air quality was considered a “very serious” problem for 57% of respondents in Libya but only for 25% of those surveyed in Kuwait.
The survey adds credence to the argument that a region-wide effort must be made to build awareness about climate change.
New research by AESG outlines key Urban Resilience design principles and best-practices and provides insight to enable cities to better mitigate the impact of climate change.
68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050
There is a proven correlation between increases in urbanization and climate change
Therefore, it is imperative for governments, city planners and developers to future-proof their cities by investing in urban resilience programs
With 68% of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050 and a proven correlation between increases in urbanization and climate change, it is imperative for governments, city planners and developers to future-proof their cities by investing in urban resilience programs. AESG, an international Specialist Consulting, Engineering and Advisory firm, has released a new research article which presents clear guidance on urban resilience concepts and best practices. The company intends for this report, titled ‘Urban resilience: A look into global climate change impacts and possible design mitigation’, to aid governments, city planners, engineers, architects and developers in building resilient cities that can better tackle the urban challenges resulting from climate change.
Saeed Al Abbar, Managing Director at AESG advocates the need for a concerted effort by these stakeholders to mitigate the climate change impact on cities through better urban planning. “While the effects of climate change can be detrimental, a large majority of these can be alleviated by strengthening interdependent infrastructure systems and ensuring resilience on infrastructure, policy and economic basis,” he said.
“Building resilience in cities is essential to not only make populations and infrastructure less susceptible to damage and loss but to also make them more agile to the unpredictable nature of climate change impacts. We are at a pivotal moment in human history, and the actions we take today will bear a profound impact on the security and quality of life, of us, and our future generations,” he added.
The report, developed by AESG’s qualified team of sustainability, environmental and planning experts, stresses that achieving urban resilience necessitates planning a city at a macro-level, understanding interdependencies of its systems and implementing solutions to mitigate the anticipated risks. In addition to reporting the key climate-related threats that cities today face, the article expertly analyses the innovative locational, structural and regulatory approaches being implemented globally to address a myriad of urban challenges.
Briefly summarizing the insight and guidance detailed in these best practices, Al Abbar said. “For city and municipal governments, resilience implies planning development, providing safe and affordable infrastructure and services, regulating building design and construction, regulating hazardous activities, influencing land availability and construction requirements, encouraging and supporting household and community actions to reduce risk, and finally, putting in place effective disaster early warning, preparedness, and response systems.”
Greater Cairo (GC) is the largest urban area in the Middle East and one of the most populated cities in the world. The urban growth patterns of the metropolitan area reveal a fragmented city of heterogeneous parts that developed unplanned over the years. GC public transport network offers a large variety of means of transportation throughout three governorates but its lack of efficiency is forcing more and more people to use private cars. The extreme density of the urban fabric and the widespread congestion on the road network end up making the city’s livability very difficult.
Pamella de Leon, Startup Section Editor, on October 29, 2019, wrote in Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media the following.
Aside from private cars, taxis, and other four-wheeled vehicles, a ubiquitous sight on the streets of Cairo (and in other parts of the MENA, as well as the world at large) are the three-wheeled tuktuks and two-wheeled motorcycles to navigate daily traffic- and taking a bite out of the opportunity in the alternative transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan. The ride-sharing app for tuktuks, motorcycles, and tricycles -a first in the region- was launched in November 2017 in underserved communities in Cairo where roads tend to be too narrow for cars, and provided a cheaper alternative to cars and buses.
It grew across Giza, Alexandria, Minya, Luxor and Qalyubia governorates, and expanded to Sudan in 2018. It also offers on-demand logistics solutions to support large organizations and small businesses alike in their distribution and supply chain. Founded by Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen, the former had the lightbulb moment when the idea was proposed to him by one of Gojek’s seed investors.
After meeting Nadiem Makarim, the CEO of Gojek, a startup that has been dubbed Indonesia’s first unicorn venture and has grown as an on-demand tech company for the transport, payment, and food sector, Nakhla was inspired from its success, and saw potential for a similar impact in Egypt. With Egypt’s population of more than 100 million, internet penetration, fast-growing sales of smartphone devices and a growing use of mobile apps, all the elements were positive, he notes.
“Transportation is one of the fastest ways of acquiring customers by solving a real need, and we wanted to be the app of choice for the underserved,” he says. “Egypt has north of 700,000 tuktuks already operating as taxis, and just over 1.5 million two-wheeler vehicles, used for both personal transportation and for delivery services, and this is where Halan comes in.”
As part of the startup’s efforts to organize the market and ensure safety, Nakhla says they also have a meticulous screening process when recruiting drivers. Besides offering convenience to customers, Nakhla says they also provide incremental business for their drivers, and thus increase their incomes.
The founder and CEO is no stranger to working with Egypt’s mobility scene and underserved communities- he co-founded Mashroey, an Egypt-based light transport financing business, and Tasaheel, an Egypt-based micro-financing venture, which Nakhla says, has served more than 1 million customers combined. And the rest of the founding team are veterans in the transport field too: co-founder and CTO Ahmed Mohsen has published several papers in IEEE on AI, was part of the founding team and a shareholder in SecureMisr, a security consultancy company in Egypt, and founded MusicQ and CircleTie.
Plus Mohamed Aboulnaga, Careem’s former Regional Director and Fawry’s Business Development Manager, joined as co-founder and COO. They also have key members who have worked previously with Uber and Ghabbour Auto, which has resulted in a team that is comprised of “technically very competent, passionate, creative, results-driven individuals with a high work ethic. Each one with a unique strength, that when brought together make for an unrivalled team.”
After launching in 2017, Nakhla says that the company was doing around 50,000 rides by March 2018, and they closed their Series A round in the same year in a round co-led by Battery Road Ventures Holdings (BRVH) and Algebra Ventures. As for their funding, Nakhla put in 20% of the seed capital and raised the rest from Raouf Ghabbour, founder of GB Auto, as well as BRVH.
According to Nakhla, Halan has so far raised single-digit millions in total, and are currently in the process of their Series B funding round. The company’s business model involves taking a percentage of the ride fare as commission. Currently serving more than 100,000 customers, Halan has exceeded 10 million rides and operates in around 20-25 cities in Egypt and Sudan. As for its on-demand logistics offering, Halan is currently partnering with prominent names in the fast-food industry, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardees, and many more. The startup has also been recently awarded Fastest-Growing Mobility Solution in the Market during the second edition of the E-Commerce Summit in September this year.
What happened in Geneva this Wednesday, in terms of finally bringing peace to Syria, could not be more significant: the first session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
The Syrian Constitutional Committee sprang out of a resolution passed in January 2018 in Sochi, Russia, by a body called the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.
The 150-strong committee breaks down as 50 members of the Syrian opposition, 50 representing the government in Damascus and 50 representatives of civil society. Each group named 15 experts for the meetings in Geneva, held behind closed doors.
This development is a direct consequence of the laborious Astana process – articulated by Russia, Iran and Turkey. Essential initial input came from former UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Now UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is working as a sort of mediator.
The committee started its deliberations in Geneva in early 2019.
Crucially, there are no senior members of the administration in Damascus nor from the opposition – apart from Ahmed Farouk Arnus, who is a low-ranking diplomat with the Syrian Foreign Ministry.
Among the opposition, predictably, there are no former leaders of weaponized factions. And no “moderate rebels.” The delegates include several former and current parliament members, university rectors and journalists.
After this first round, significantly, the committee’s co-chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, said: “We hope that our next meeting could take place in our native land, in our beloved Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited capital in history.”
Even the opposition, which is part of the committee, hopes that a political deal will be clinched next year. According to co-chair Hadi al-Bahra: “I hope that the 75th anniversary of the United Nations next year will be an opportunity to celebrate another achievement by the universal organization, namely the success of efforts under the auspices of a special envoy for political process, who will bring peace and justice to all Syrians.”
Join the patrol
The committee’s work in Geneva proceeds in parallel to ever-changing facts on the ground. These will certainly force more face-to-face negotiations between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, as Erdogan himself confirmed: “A conversation with Putin can take place any time. Everything depends on the course of events.”
“Events” seem not to be that incandescent, so far, even as Erdogan, predictably, releases the whiff of a threat in the air: “We reserve the right to resume military operation in Syria if terrorists approach at the distance of 30km to Turkey’s borders or continue attacks from any other Syrian area.”
Erdogan also said the de facto safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border could be “expanded,” something that he would have to clear in minute detail with Moscow.
Those threats have already manifested on the ground. On Wednesday, Turkey and allied Islamist factions launched an attack against Tal Tamr, a historic Assyrian Christian enclave 50km deep inside Syrian territory – far beyond the scope of the 10km patrol zone or the 30km “safe” zone.
Poorly-armed Syrian troops pulled out under fierce attack, and with no apparent Russian cover. The Syrian military on the same day issued a public statement calling on the Syrian Democratic Forces to reintegrate under its command. The SDF has said a compromise must be reached first over semi-autonomy for the northeastern region. Thousands of residents in the meantime fled farther south to the more protected city of Hasakeh.
Two facts are absolutely crucial. The Syrian Kurds have completed their pull out ahead of schedule, as confirmed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. And, this Friday, Russia and Turkey start their joint military patrols to the depth of 7km away from the border, part of the de facto safe zone in northeast Syria.
The devil in the immense details is how Ankara is going to manage the territories that it now actually controls, and to which it plans to relocate as many as 2 million Syrian refugees.
Your oil? Mine
Then there’s the nagging issue that simply won’t go away: the American drive to “secure the oil” (Trump) and “protect” Syrian oilfields (the Pentagon), for all practical purposes from Syria.
In Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – alongside Iran’s Javad Zarif and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu – could not have been more scathing. Lavrov said Washington’s plan is “arrogant,” and violates international law. The very American presence on Syrian soil is “illegal,” he said.
All across the Global South, especially among countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, this is being interpreted, stripped to the bone, for what it is: the United States government illegally taking possession of natural resources of a third country via a military occupation.
And the Pentagon is warning that anyone attempting to contest it will be shot on sight. It remains to be seen whether the US Deep State would be willing to engage in a hot war with Russia over a few Syrian oilfields.
Under international law, the whole “securing the oil” scam is a euphemism for pillaging, pure and simple. Every single takfiri or jihadi outfit operating across the “Greater Middle East” will converge, perversely, to the same conclusion: US “efforts” across the lands of Islam are all about the oil.
Now compare that with Russia-Iran-Turkey’s active involvement in a political solution and normalization of Syria – not to mention, behind the scenes, China, which quietly donates rice and aims for widespread investment in a pacified Syria positioned as a key Eastern Mediterranean node of the New Silk Roads.
Lebanon pushed to the brink, faces reckoning over graft after allies, investors, protesters press for change in the country as per Jonathan Spicer, Tom Perry and Samia Nakhoul, Reuters News in this ECONOMY‘s article dated 21 October 2019.
BEIRUT – Lebanon is closer to a financial crisis than at any time since at least the war-torn 1980s as allies, investors and this week nationwide protests pile pressure on the government to tackle a corrupt system and enact long-promised reforms.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri‘s government on Thursday hastily reversed a plan, announced hours earlier, to tax WhatsApp voice calls in the face of the biggest public protests in years, with people burning tyres and blocking roads.
The country – among the world’s most indebted and quickly running out of dollar reserves – urgently needs to convince regional allies and Western donors it is finally serious about tackling entrenched problems such as its unreliable and wasteful electricity sector.
Without a foreign funding boost, Lebanon risks a currency devaluation or even defaulting on debts within months, according to interviews with nearly 20 government officials, politicians, bankers and investors.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said in a televised speech on Friday that he gave a paper at an economic crisis meeting in September saying Lebanon needed “an electric shock”.
“I also said that what little remains of the financial balance might not last us longer than the end of the year if we do not adopt the necessary policies,” he said, without describing what he meant by financial balance.
Beirut has repeatedly vowed to maintain the value of the dollar-pegged Lebanese pound and honour its debts on time.
But countries that in the past reliably financed bailouts have run out of patience with its mismanagement and graft, and they are using the deepening economic and social crisis to press for change, the sources told Reuters.
These include Arab Gulf states whose enthusiasm to help Lebanon has been undermined by the growing clout in Beirut of Tehran-backed Hezbollah, and what they see as a need to check Iran’s growing influence across the Middle East.
Western countries have also provided funds that allowed Lebanon to defy gravity for years. But for the first time, they have said no new money would flow until the government takes clear steps toward reforms it has long only promised.
Their hope is to see it move towards fixing a system that sectarian politicians have used to deploy state resources to their own advantage through patronage networks instead of building a functional state.
A crisis could stoke further unrest in a country hosting some 1 million refugees from neighbouring Syria, where a Turkish incursion in the northeast this month has opened a new front in an eight-year war.
“If the situation remains, and there are no radical reforms, a devaluation of the currency is inevitable,” said Toufic Gaspard, a former adviser to Lebanon’s finance ministry and former economist at its central bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“Since September a new era has begun,” he added. “The red flags are large and everywhere, especially with the central bank paying up to 13% to borrow dollars.”
The first reform on Beirut’s agenda is one of the most intractable: fixing chronic power outages that make private generators a costly necessity, a problem many see as the main symbol of corruption that has left services unreliable and infrastructure crumbling.
Hariri, in a televised speech to the nation, said he had been struggling to reform the electricity sector ever since taking office. After “meeting after meeting, committee after committee, proposal after proposal, I got at last to the final step and someone came and said ‘it doesn’t work’,” he said.
Presenting the difficulties of implementing reform more widely, Hariri said every committee required a minimum of nine ministers to keep everyone happy.
“A national unity government OK, we understand that. But committees of national unity The result is that nothing works.”
Underscoring the pressure from abroad, Pierre Duquesne, a French ambassador handling so-called CEDRE funding, is traveling to Lebanon next week to press the government on the use of offshore power barges, a banker familiar with the plan said.
Duquesne wants the barges included in the electricity overhaul plan, the person said, requesting anonymity.
Duquesne could not immediately be reached for comment.
The contents of the 2020 budget will be key to helping unlock some $11 billion conditionally pledged by international donors under last year’s CEDRE conference. But a cabinet meeting on the budget set for Friday was cancelled amid the protests.
Hariri’s government, which includes nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, had proposed a tax of 20 cents per day on calls via voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) used by applications including WhatsApp, Facebook FB.O and FaceTime.
In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the protests’ unusually wide geographic reach may be a sign of deepening anger with politicians who have jointly led Lebanon into crisis.
Fires were smoldering in central Beirut, where streets were scattered with glass of several smashed shop-fronts. Tear gas was fired on some demonstrators.
The newspaper an-Nahar described it as “a tax intifada”, or uprising. Another daily, al-Akhbar, declared it “the WhatsApp revolution”.
“With this corrupt authority, our kids have no future,” said protestor Fadi Issa, 51. “We don’t just want a resignation, we want accountability. They should return all the money they stole. We want change.”
As confidence has faded and dollars have grown scarce, new cracks have emerged between Lebanon’s government and its private lenders, according to several of the bankers, investors and officials who spoke to Reuters.
After years of funding the government with the promise of ever higher rates of return, the banks – sensing the country is approaching collapse – are pressing for it to finally deliver reforms to win over donors.
Most said Lebanon would likely feel more economic and financial strain in the months ahead but avoid haircuts on deposits or a worst-case sovereign default.
Yet Beirut’s years of failure to deliver reforms and the new determination among its traditional donors to press for them has left even top officials, bankers and investors divided over whether a devaluation is in store for the Lebanese pound.
“You need a positive shock. But unfortunately the government thinks reforms can happen without touching the structure that benefits them,” said Nassib Ghobril, head of economic research and analysis at Byblos Bank.
Lebanon must promote reforms to increase capital inflows, he said.
“We can’t keep going to the Emirates and Saudis. We need to help ourselves in order for others to help us.”
This month, Moody’s put Lebanon’s Caa1 credit rating under review for a downgrade and estimated the central bank, which has stepped in to cover government debt payments, had only $6 billion-$10 billion in useable dollars left to maintain stability.
That compares with some $6.5 billion in debt maturing by the end of next year.
The central bank says its foreign assets stood at $38.1 billion as of Oct. 15.
An official told Reuters Lebanon has only $10 billion in real reserves. “It is a very dire situation that has five months to correct itself or there will be a collapse, around February,” he said.
Hariri’s government may have only a few months to deliver fiscal reforms to convince France, the World Bank and other parties to the CEDRE agreement to unlock $11 billion in conditional funding.
The head of regional investments for a large U.S. asset manager said Lebanese officials are privately saying a plan that addresses short- and long-term electricity shortages will be announced before year-end, after which the government will raise tariffs.
But critics say no concrete steps have been taken despite energy ministry statements that the plan is on track.
Hariri left Paris last month with no immediate cash commitment after visiting French President Emmanuel Macron. Likewise this month he left Abu Dhabi empty-handed after meeting Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Lawmakers in Beirut struggled to explain what happened in Abu Dhabi after Hariri claimed the United Arab Emirates had promised investments following “positive” talks.
EYES ON HEZBOLLAH
Investors, bankers and economists say at least $10 billion is needed to renew confidence among the Lebanese diaspora whom for decades have underpinned the economy by maintaining accounts back home.
But so far this year, deposits have shrunk by about 0.4%.
The government has sought a smaller cushion from Sunni Muslim allies to buy some time. But to secure funding from the UAE or Saudi Arabia, Beirut would likely have to meet conditions meant to weaken Shi’ite Hezbollah’s hand in Lebanon’s government, said several sources.
Hezbollah, which faces U.S. sanctions, is seen to be gaining more control over state resources by naming the health minister in January after last year’s elections brought more of its allies into the legislature.
Some say Saudi Arabia, UAE and the United States are motivated to hold out on Beirut as part of their wider policy seeking to weaken Iran and its allies which have been fighting proxy wars with Gulf Arab states on several fronts.
“Their tolerance of Iran and Hezbollah has lowered significantly. The ‘Lebanese exception’ is gone,” said Sami Nader, Beirut-based director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.
“The balance has tilted and we are now at odds with our former friends because Hezbollah now has the upper hand politically.”
The former regional head at a major Western bank put it bluntly: “People have lost patience with the corruption in which a frozen Parliament with no authority is simply divvying up the pie among politicians.”
“But at the end of the day the Lebanese political class usually succeeds in convincing allies that they should not let the system collapse and bring civil war again,” he added.
Lebanon, straddling the Middle East’s main sectarian lines, was historically the region’s foreign-exchange hub into which deposits flowed, especially since 1997 when its currency was pegged to the dollar at 1,507.5 pounds.
But after a reckoning in August and September in which the cost of insuring Lebanon’s sovereign debt surged https://tmsnrt.rs/2MORZfM to a record high, things have changed.
Depositors, including the diaspora drawn by rates much higher than in Europe or the United States, are pulling funds in the face of Lebanon’s swelling twin deficits, inability to secure foreign funding, and unorthodox central bank efforts to attract dollar inflows.
Among Lebanon’s 6 million citizens, trust has worn thin.
Depositors can no longer easily withdraw dollars, and most ATMs no longer provide them, forcing people to turn to so-called parallel FX markets where $1 is worth more than the official peg.
“I am with the protesters,” said Walid al-Badawi, 43. “I have three children, I am a taxi driver, I work all day to get food for my kids and I can’t get it.”
Gaspard, the central bank’s former research head, said foreign exchange was easy even through Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. There was also always a balance of payments surplus – until 2011 when deficits began to grow, reaching $12 billion last year.
LOST RESOLVE AT BANKS
Three events precipitated the crisis of confidence that for years seemed inevitable: a series of central bank efforts since 2016 to keep growing deposits with rates of more than 11% on large deposits; a public sector pay hike last year that raised the budget deficit to more than 11% of GDP; low oil prices in recent years that have weakened Gulf allies.
In a report on Thursday, the IMF described Lebanon’s position as “very difficult,” adding “substantial new measures” are needed to protect it and reduce large deficits.
As dollars have dried up, banks have effectively stopped lending and can no longer make basic foreign-exchange transactions for clients, one banker said.
“The whole role of banks is to pour money into the central bank to finance the government and protect the currency,” he said. “Nothing is being done on the fiscal deficit because doing something will disrupt the systems of corruption.”
The resistance from banks has been subtle but telling given their central role in financing the government.
When Beirut proposed a $660 million reduction in debt service costs in its 2019 budget, banks never signed up to the idea. They have also been less enthusiastic about subscribing to Eurobonds including a planned $2-billion issuance later this month, officials said.
Without reform, “banks agree we can no longer support the public sector,” said Byblos Bank’s Ghobril.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer, Tom Perry and Samia Nakhoul; Additional reporting by Yara Abi Nader and Ellen Francis in Beirut and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com @jonathanspicer))
Arab Council for Housing and Construction endorsed the preparation of an Arab Strategy for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, whereas the League of Arab States (LAS) General Secretariat gives special attention to developing strategies and programs of actions to achieve sustainable development in the Arab States, with the technical support of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat). More recently this 36th Ministerial Council for Housing and Construction in UAE proceeded along and part of the above strategy as reported by Emirates News Agency.
DUBAI, October 6, 2019 (WAM) — The UAE today hosted the 36th session of the Arab Ministerial Council for Housing and Construction.
The meeting was attended by Arab ministers of housing and construction, as well as Victor Kisob, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Kamal Hassan Ali, Assistant Secretary-General Head of Economic Affairs, League of Arab States, and representatives of Arab, regional and international organisations.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the third round of the Arab Ministerial Forum on Housing and Urban Development held on 7th and 8th October.
The session began with the announcement of the UAE taking over the council’s presidency from Bahrain for its next session in 2019-2020. Its participants then discussed the main challenges facing the housing and urban development sectors in the Arab region, and other topics related to housing, most notably the Arab Housing Conference, Arab Housing Day, and the Award of the Council of Arab Ministers of Housing and Construction.
The meeting also discussed the cooperation between UN-Habitat, the forum, and relevant regional groups and foreign countries.
Bassem bin Yaqoub Al Hamar, Minister of Housing of Bahrain, thanked the UAE, represented by the Ministry of Infrastructure Development and the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme, for its hospitality and reception.
Dr Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development, welcomed the ministers and delegations participating in the session and forum, stating, “In 1975, the Arab ministers of housing and construction held their first meeting in the UAE. After 44 years, I am pleased to welcome you to your second country and wish you a pleasant stay.”
“I also hope that the meetings will yield outcomes that will help make positive changes to our housing and urban development sectors, which are the basis of overall development, happiness and quality of life,” he added.
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