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“New Normal” brings Digital Transformation in the Built Environment

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Construction Week of September 8, 2021, shows us how the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environment in an article by Mina Vucic. It is no more than a step however small but lucrative and most importantly in the right direction. Here is how it is.

How the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environmentan article

Asite speaks on changing the ways in which cities operate by “using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing”.

Middle East cities have been leading the way in smart city development, acting as pioneers in implementing innovative, sustainable, and integrated solutions to become greener, more efficient, and better places to live. 

Disruption and innovation have changed the way specialists think and operate across sectors, particularly in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed most industries out of their comfort zone and into digitally-enabled environments.

Nathan Doughty, CEO of Asite Solutions, commented on the topic at the BIM Middle East 2021 Conference & Expo, held on 6 and 7 September at the Crowne Plaza Dubai hotel.

Doughty said that in order to effectively drive the digital transformation of cities, the industry should focus on enhancing the precision of structural data.

He added: “The number one method we should be prioritising in order to achieve our goals at corporate, governmental, and global levels is using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing.”

Some of the examples Doughty shared in the real world include COVID-19 track and trace systems, satellite-based navigation, social media in smart cities, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and most importantly off-site construction and BIM.

Placing his focus on the modern construction methods Doughty emphasised: “In order to retrofit and repurpose the assets we must focus on creating energy-efficient buildings, decarbonise the built environment, and improve digital infrastructure’s operational efficiency.”

According to Asite’s CEO, one of the key methods to achieve those goals is to drive the circular economy, designing out pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Doughty added: “We must emphasise the use of digital technologies on smart buildings, embedding sensors, gathering data, and analysing the information received to make informed decisions.”

Although the pandemic has challenged the traditional methods of construction, many organisations are now adopting BIM in the industry, providing a platform of know-how that can be built on for future technologies and more sustainable cities.

The Economic Cost of Climate Change

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The article on the Economic Cost of Climate Change being six times higher than previously thought, published by UCL though alarming cannot be closer to the drastic reality of today. Here it is.

Economic cost of climate change could be six times higher than previously thought

6 September 2021

​​​​​​​Economic models of climate change may have substantially underestimated the costs of continued warming, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.

Published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the international team of scientists found that the economic damage could be six times higher by the end of this century than previously estimated.

Projections like this help governments around the world calculate the relative costs and benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, prior analysis has shown that the models used may ignore important risks and therefore underestimate the costs.

Currently, most models focus on short-term damage, assuming that climate change has no lasting effect on economic growth, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Extreme events like droughts, fires, heatwaves and storms are likely to cause long-term economic harm because of their impact on health, savings and labour productivity.

The study authors first updated one of the three climate-economy models used to set the price of carbon for national policy decisions, then used it to explore the impact of year-to-year climate variations and the rates of economic recovery after climate events.

The study shows that by 2100, global GDP could be 37% lower than it would be without the impacts of warming, when taking the effects of climate change on economic growth into account. Without accounting for lasting damages – excluded from most estimates – GDP would be around 6% lower, meaning the impacts on growth may increase the economic costs of climate change by a factor of six.

Yet, there is still considerable uncertainty about how much climate damages continue to affect long-term growth and how far societies can adapt to reduce these damages; depending on how much growth is affected, the economic costs of warming this century could be up to 51% of global GDP.

Study co-author Dr Chris Brierley (UCL Geography) said: “We don’t yet know exactly how much effect climate change will have on long-term economic growth – but it’s unlikely to be zero, as most economic models have assumed.

“Climate change makes detrimental events like the recent heatwave in North America and the floods in Europe much more likely. If we stop assuming that economies recover from such events within months, the costs of warming look much higher than usually stated. We still need a better understanding of how climate alters economic growth, but even in the presence of small long-term effects, cutting emissions becomes much more urgent.”

The researchers also updated the model to take advances in climate science over the past decade into account, as well as the effect of climate change on the variability of annual average temperatures – both of which increased the projected cost of climate change.

The authors calculated the effect of these changes on the ‘social cost of carbon’ (SCCO2), a crucial indicator of the level of urgency for taking climate action that calculates the economic cost of greenhouse gas emissions to society. Expressed in US dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide, estimates currently vary greatly between $10 to $1,000. However, when taking more robust climate science and updated models into account, this new study suggests that the economic damage could in fact be over $3,000 per tonne of CO2.  

“Burning CO2 has a cost to society, even if it is not directly to our wallets. Each person’s emissions could quite well result in a cost to humanity of over $1,300 per year, rising to over $15,000 once the impacts of climate change on economic growth are included,” Dr Brierley said.

While the findings show large uncertainties, the central values were found to be much higher than policymakers currently assume; the US government, for example, currently uses a social cost of carbon of around $51 per tonne to judge the costs and benefits of projects linked with greenhouse gas emissions, whilst the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which covers power, manufacturing and aviation, recently exceeded €61 for the first time.

Study co-author Paul Waidelich (ETH Zürich) said: “The findings confirm that it is cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than it is to deal with climate change impacts, and the economic damages from continued warming would greatly outweigh most costs that could be involved in preventing emissions now. The risk of costs being even higher than previously assumed reaffirms the urgency for fast and strong mitigation. It shows that choosing to not reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an extremely risky economic strategy.”

Former UCL MSc student and study lead author, Jarmo Kikstra (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Imperial College London), said: “It is very difficult to calculate the overall costs of climate change, but increased scientific evidence has improved economic estimates. Climate science on this has improved a lot over the past decade, and the improvements we made with the science do not change the order of magnitude of cost-benefit estimates.

“However, we are much more uncertain when it comes to how the economy will respond to future climate impacts. We reveal that if we look more closely at the lasting impact the climate can have on economies, we find that the costs might increase many times, depending on how much climate action we take.”

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How humanity has reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency

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Arabian Business‘ post on the GCC of all countries of the MENA region are taking action for a sustainable future because of how humanity having reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency. Here it is.

How humanity has reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency

The good news is that there is still a sliver of hope to help communities respond to this threat through well-informed, solid and sustained actions.

The recently published report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes unprecedented environmental changes as “irreversible for centuries to millennia”.

However, the good news is that there is still a sliver of hope to help communities respond to this threat through well-informed, solid and sustained actions.

Like the rest of the world, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have started experiencing climate change first-hand with sparse rainfall, arid terrain, and high temperatures. Thus, its governments moved to adapt their climate change policies.

For example, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green Initiative which aims to increase the kingdom’s reliance on clean energy, and combat climate change. Bloomberg Green reported earlier this year that Saudi Arabia is building a $5 billion solar and wind-powered plant to be among the world’s biggest green hydrogen makers when it opens in the planned megacity of Neom in 2025.

Meanwhile, the UAE has been undertaking many steps to control the effects of climate since the late 2000s with the establishment of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, which is currently hosting the International Renewable Energy Agency headquarters. Dubai also inaugurated the third phase of its largest solar park in the world last year, which targets a capacity of 5GW by 2030 to supply homes with clean energy and offset CO2 emissions.

Global funders of science – including philanthropy, the private sector and government agencies – have a vital role in delivering climate pledges. As we have seen with the fight against Covid-19, by focusing investments on supporting much-needed research and technology development, we can improve climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, and influence policy and identify behavioural interventions that support them. This prompts us to examine the role of privately-led science funding in the GCC in supporting climate change combat.

Research indicates that climate change directly impacts nutrition and public health. In the GCC, for example, MIT professor Elfatih Eltahir published a paper in Nature Climate Change, alongside Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University, demonstrating that waves of heat and humidity in the region are likely to lead to temperature levels that are intolerable to humans. This research sounds a warning for the impact of increased urbanisation rates on livability in the GCC in the face of climate change.

The GCC can respond positively to climate change’s direct and indirect effects on communities, whether air pollution, nutrition, disease or even habitability.

With exceptions like Professor Eltahir’s study, there is little research and empirical evidence on the effects of adverse climate events on human health in the GCC region. Such research is urgently needed: Only by examining the most up-to-date and robust scientific evidence and analysis, can we understand how to tackle these challenges most effectively.

To this end, Community Jameel has partnered with AEON Collective, a leading Saudi-based sustainable development research and advocacy group, to bring together a consortium of world-leading international and local researchers in the areas of climate, food and water, and public health to inform policy recommendations in climate and health in the GCC.

This includes scientists from two research centres Community Jameel has founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): the Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), which catalyses research and innovation at MIT to find solutions to urgent global water and food systems challenges; and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), whose co-founders – Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee – received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for their experimental approach to tackling global poverty, and where the J-PAL King Climate Action Initiative is generating evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of technological and policy innovations at the intersection of climate and poverty.

In order to bridge the gap between academia, policymakers and the private sector in the GCC, the consortium will draw on the expertise of researchers at J-WAFS and J-PAL, as well as local and other international institutions, to identify solutions, provide technical guidance, and improve our understanding of the complexity behind the policy changes required to implement science-based solutions in the region.

By strengthening the region’s climate resilience, the GCC can respond positively to climate change’s direct and indirect effects on communities, whether air pollution, nutrition, disease or even habitability. There is also an opportunity to capitalise on the strategic opportunities presented by the shift to a lower-carbon and resource-constrained economy.

We hope that this collaborative effort will galvanise further funding of research in – and for – the GCC and the specific challenges posed by climate change to the health of all of us living in this region.

Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires

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Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires but faces big challenges in addressing them by António Bento-Gonçalves, University of Minho shed the light on the central area of North Africa whereas, wildfires sweep every summer, the Atlas of its millennium forestry ground cover. Life despite that carries on regardless.

In effect, there are many localities in rural areas, that were waiting for their share of development projects, which have been promised in the wake of the policy of aid and support for grey areas. “We are a grey area, and yet we are forgotten!”, exclaims a local resident.

All this was prior to the sudden fires wreaking havoc. “It is a great disaster, people have suffered great damage to their property, some have lost everything,” continues our interlocutor, who insists on the fact that despite the exodus that had experienced the rural areas, the inhabitants have remained faithful to their tradition in this land. “Some have certainly left, but others, and there are many, have returned,” said the native of this locality, an official of the local authority.

Read more on a BBC‘s Viewpoint: Algerian blame games expose deep political crisis.

Anyway, let us read the ‘Conversation’.

Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires, but faces big challenges in addressing them

Smoke rises from a wildfire in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, on August 10, 2021. RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of forest fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria. So far at least 90 people have reportedly died as a consequence. Natural hazard expert, António Bento-Gonçalves, provides insights into wildfires in Algeria and what must be done to manage them better.

How often do wildfire incidents take place in Algeria and which areas are most affected?

In recent years major fires, with devastating consequences, have occurred in various parts of the world. This year the Mediterranean region was affected by heatwaves between July and August which caused major fire incidents in several countries including Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

I’ve carried out research on wildfires in Algeria and looked into what causes them.

In Algeria, forests and scrubland occupy a total area of around 4 million hectares. This makes a huge part of the country susceptible to fire. For instance, between 1876 and 2005 (the longest complete data series) it’s estimated that almost 40,000 hectares burned each year, representing approximately 1% of all existing woodlands of the country.

Over a period of 25 years, from 1985 to 2010, Algeria recorded 42,555 fires that burned a total area of 910,640 hectares.

The municipalities (known as “wilayas”) most affected are in the North – the most forested parts of the country – and in the West. These areas are more populated, hilly (with steep slopes) and a pronounced Mediterranean climate – a very dry and hot season in summer, but sufficiently wet in winter to allow for rapid vegetation growth.

What causes them?

Wild fires spread the fastest in places that are hard to reach and in the right conditions. Large parts of Algeria tick these boxes. With very limited access and steep slopes, detection and effective first intervention by firefighters is very difficult. In addition there’s usually very dry undergrowth and forests are composed of flammable species.

Added to this, Algeria’s forested areas are subject to multiple human pressures which create conditions that are favourable to the spread of fires. These include the the use of fast-growing but more flammable forest species or the frequent use of fire for pasture regeneration. In addition, having long periods of hot and dry weather increase fire risk.

Forest fires in Algeria were historically caused by people. However, recent official information on the causes of fires is characterised by high rate of fires of “unknown origin”, representing between 40% to 70% of all fires. Essentially, we know they’ll be caused by people, but there’s no specific data on what activity that caused them or motivations behind them.

Why do we not know? This is related to difficulties in monitoring by the General Directorate of Forests. Between 1980 and 2000, when the causes of fires of unknown origin were higher, this was due to instability. Algeria had a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and prevented government agencies, including the Directorate of Forests, from working properly. This made it difficult to have a good understanding of what caused the fires.

How are they managed and are there prevention measures in place?

Generally, policies put in place to combat forest fires are organised around several points: information and education of the population, development and maintenance of rural and forest areas, surveillance of wooded areas, and improvement of the means of fire fighting.

However, not knowing exactly what type of human activity causes the fires limits what can be done to prevent them. Instead, policies tend to be more reactionary – they focus on dealing with fires when they break out.

In recent years, public authorities strengthened the resources of the General Directorate of Forests for the prevention and fight against forest fires. In particular, by acquiring first intervention equipment, such as forest fire trucks, preparing more aircraft for firefighting, and a radio network for rapid communication in the event of fire outbreak.

In addition, more collaborative work is being done in the region to improve intervention and surveillance.

What else can be done to better prepare and manage wildfires in Algeria?

Policies to prevent and protect against forest fires have been implemented gradually since the 1980s, but the country faces many challenges in effectively rolling them out.

Algeria is a huge country – with a size exceeding 2.38 million km2, it’s the biggest country in Africa. With a massive territory to manage, all actions – to prevent, to detect and to fire fight – aren’t enough. Operations are also very complex due to the very uneven, hard to access, terrain.

There’s also a high population density around and inside the forest massifs. This means its hard to control the actions that people take which are a fire hazard.

Added to this, forestry officials lack authority and resources to perform their duties.

To effectively combat fires, there must be political, social and economic stability in the country. And the causes of the fires must be clearly known. Without this, it’s impossible to win the battle against forest fires.

There is, however, hope. New technologies, such as Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems, could improve data acquisition and thus the prevention of fires.

Other actions that must be taken include; the strengthening of education and awareness-raising and improvements in the equipment used to monitor, detect and fight forest fires.

Finally, policymakers must focus on strengthening cooperation and mutual assistance between all the Mediterranean countries. Fire knows no borders and no single country is capable of having all the necessary resources.

António Bento-Gonçalves, Associated Professor, Department of Geography, University of Minho

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

How can activists best advance environmental reforms in MENA?

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This paper written by Rory Quick is the winning submission of Arab Reform Initiative 2021 Student Essay Contest. It is about how can activists best advance environmental reforms in MENA.

The above picture is for illustration and is of the BBC.

How can activists best advance environmental reforms in MENA?

Decarbonising the current energy system does not secure a sustainable future if challenges beyond carbon emission are ignored and the economic model which continues to exacerbate the challenges we face is not rectified. Genuine environmental reform requires an intersectional approach, one which does not just patch over problems but instigates reform. The socio-political and environmental crises we face are symptoms of the same problem and must be treated as such. In order to reach a sustainable future, policies should resolve current issues without creating or exacerbating existing challenges. If there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is to challenge dominant values as flexible and changeable and to offer alternative ways to live. Across the MENA region, there are growing calls – from experts and activists – for reform in the region to simultaneously deal with wider socio-political issues whilst decarbonizing energy systems.

In the MENA region, states are preoccupied with developing renewable energy (RE) at large scale. Examples include Morocco’s Ouarzazate Noor Solar Plant and Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. This is an extension of the existing energy model. Megaprojects are political as much as economic projects. They support exclusionary political regimes and enable states to strengthen existing socio-political systems, and thus further reduce the political autonomy of the individual. Energy megaprojects are projections of state centralization, as they require no input from the localities in which they are placed. They therefore actively reduce political freedom. An alternative model – the decentralised RE model – allows for ownership and operation of RE to remain in the communities where it operates. Solar and wind technology is scalable, whereas previous technology was not. This allows for the creation of an energy system that is not only sustainable but also democratically owned and designed, and socially just. A decentralised system, whereby individuals have a direct say in how their energy systems operate, is vital in ensuring energy justice is achieved alongside climate justice.

The structure of energy systems has wide-reaching cultural, socio-political, and economic impacts. MENA activists must understand energy as a critical tool for advancing environmental, political, and social justice causes. Since the energy technology installed today will operate for years to come, we face a once-in-a-century opportunity to build a fairer and greener system. Efforts should be focused on:

  • Increasing awareness and education on the improvements a decentralised energy system would bring to communities across MENA
  • Encouraging the introduction of regulation allowing for/encouraging the installation of RE at the community level.
  • Growth of locally led organisations supporting community ownership of RE assets, developing frameworks which can be implemented across the region.

The barriers to consumer ownership of RE are political, legal, administrative, economic, managerial, and cultural. Activists must recognise that developments are needed on a number of fronts simultaneously.

Centralised model of REDecentralised model of RE
Understanding of energyA commodity, the enabler of capital accumulation and economic expansion.A resource to be democratized and harnessed according to societies needs.
ObjectiveDe-carbonise the existing economy. Separate the climate crisis from the economy, implying that it can be resolved without addressing socio-economic problems, and vice versa.Transition to a de-carbonised representative economy which better serves the needs of all. Socio-political and climate issues are linked, highlighting the incompatibility of globalised capitalism with the Earth’s ecological limits.
SolutionSubstitute fossil fuels with RE to allow for de-carbonised capitalism.Reduce greenhouse gas emissions using market mechanisms and new technology, within the current structure of corporate economic and political power.Replace the globalised capitalist system with sustainable economic development to meet the needs of humanity rather than the needs of capital accumulation.  Create an alternative socio-economic order based on principles of individual/community autonomy, with an energy platform that displaces the corporate energy establishment.
 A table comparing the two prevailing views in RE transition theory. 

Jordan’s energy transition thus far is a strong example of a socially just energy transition. Regional activists should seek to replicate aspects of its regulatory and policy framework into other regional energy systems. In 2015, Jordan financed the installation of 400 household solar PV systems. Each system ranges from 1 to 4 KW in size. The government grants loans to homeowners in rural communities, who pay back the loan with the money they otherwise would have spent on their energy bill.  Once the loans are repaid, the ministry re-invests the money into other homes. This shows how decentralised RE systems are possible in the MENA as long as sound regulation, created in a supportive political environment, is in place.

However, most examples of MENA RE uptake instead show a reliance on highly-technologically developed systems without the development of any policies which allow for decentralisation. Attempts to deal with climate change independent of ethical, moral and political entailments, relying solely on technical adjustments, obfuscate the simple realization that not only the fuels used but also the very system in place are not sustainable. This mindset remains prevalent across MENA.

Decentralised RE would enable individuals to have a greater say in how their energy systems operate, bolstering socio-political autonomy which is currently lacking. Interacting with energy systems in this way will also teach the importance of individual/community responsibility for reducing energy consumption, a related environmental problem across MENA states. Greater awareness of how decentralised energy can support decentralised politics need to be established. Activists have a crucial role to play in educating and building a broad-based inclusive movement.

Just transition plans have been implemented in several localities and at the State level across the world. Support is growing for legislation which supports decentralised transitions in many countries. Activists should campaign for the inclusion of energy democracy theory into university curriculums, as well as featuring in the work of global RE institutions based in MENA countries such as the IRENA.

Given the existential threat we now face, largely due to burning fossil fuels, our relationship with energy systems must be reevaluated. Across the globe, community owned RE revolutions are underway and are possible where robust political and legal regulation is in place, combined with public support and the existence of local organisations committed to the development of such systems. The development of such frameworks is where not only environmental but social justice and political activists should focus their efforts, once awareness of the role that energy systems could have in empowering change has been established. Policy makers must be informed that publicly financed and owned RE are a win-win for individuals and for the climate. Concerned citizens must push for policy changes that allow for such a system to be developed.

Activists should also recognise the favourable conditions the region’s urban environments offer for building a publicly owned and managed decentralised energy system. Promoting energy democracy at the municipal level will create a base to drive change on a national scale.  Decentralised urban systems will also reduce the requirement for further energy megaprojects.

As in political activism, proponents of energy democracy must remember the importance of broadening the scope of democratisation rather than implementing democracy outright. Examples of structures conducive to greater participation in energy policy include individuals deciding on wind turbine locations or consumers deciding the prices of their municipal energy supplier. Reformation of energy systems takes time.

Activists must develop organisations which support community ownership of RE assets. These organisations should offer managerial and financial advice to individuals/communities based on sound understandings of regional and national regulations. Such organisations have a major role in catalysing a decentralised energy transition and will prove instrumental in determining the form of transition that takes place. With decentralised energy systems, each locality’s requirements will be unique. However, regional dialogue is imperative in terms of facilitating learning and development opportunities, as well as providing a support base and showcasing successes as they arise. Again, activist efforts are needed not only to set up such organisations but also to sustain and develop them as the transition progresses.

The transition away from fossil-fuels is an important component of the fight against climate change. Yet what is often overlooked is the centralised ownership and control of energy by corporate and state actors. This overwhelmingly favours electricity generation for the sake of profit, instead of human and ecological realities. Those who are most directly impacted are excluded from ownership and circles of decision-making. In order to create a more sustainable society, this needs to change.

The view of ‘energy as commodity’ is prevalent today even as the energy industry transitions to RE sources. Transition is inevitable, justice is not. Meaningful environmental reforms must recognise the intersectionality of the problems we face. A decentralised energy system will not only establish a sustainable energy system quickly and efficiently but will simultaneously alleviate socio-political grievances, symptoms of the same system causing the environmental degradation activists seek to solve. Proponents of decentralised energy must recognise the widespread benefits these systems offer and thus lobby the support of a wide network of individuals, activists, and communities across the MENA region.

Rory Quick is a Masters student, Economics and Policy of Energy and Environment, University College London

Rory is a recent graduate from the University of Exeter, where he read Arabic and Islamic Studies, and is currently studying for a masters in Economics and Policy of Energy and Environment at University College London. He enjoys all things MENA and seeks to combine this with a passion for renewable energy and sustainability.