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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.


Global Sand and Gravel Extraction Conflicts with the UN’s SDGs

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Global Sand and Gravel Extraction Conflicts with Half of UN Sustainable Development Goals by Eurasia Review of , is an eye-opener at this conjecture of these ingredients that we take for granted in all our developments.
Sand and aggregates together with water form the backbone of the modern world but increasing urbanisation due to a growing global population has led to a spiralling rise in their extraction, with serious environmental, political and social consequences.

The above image is for illustrative purposes and is of EcoWatch.

A view of ‘The World Island’ development seen from the air in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

Global Sand And Gravel Extraction Conflicts With Half Of UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sand and gravel are the most mined materials in the world, with between 32 and 50 billion tonnes extracted globally each year. They are being extracted faster than they can be replaced. But according to a new study led by researchers at McGill University and the University of Copenhagen, the human and environmental costs of this extraction on lower and middle-income countries have been largely overlooked.

“With this work we’re able to show that in low- and middle-income countries, sand industry is in direct conflict with almost half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mette Bendixen an assistant professor in the department of Geography at McGill University and one of the lead authors of the work, which was published recently in One Earth. “The impact that sand and gravel mining have on the environment, conflicts with goals linked to the natural dynamics of ecosystems. Furthermore, pollution, health-related issues and the informal nature of many mining activities creates societal inequalities negatively affecting small scale miners and their families.”

Increasing demand and market prices are leading to unsustainable exploitation, planning and trade. Removal of sand from rivers and beaches has far-reaching impacts on ecology, infrastructure, national economies, and the livelihoods of the 3 billion people who live along the worlds’ river corridors. Unregulated sand mining has been documented in 70 countries across the globe, with associated conflicts related to ecological destruction, livelihood disruption and labour rights violations. Battles over sand have reportedly killed hundreds in recent years, including local citizens, police officers and government officials.

Opportunity as well as destruction

But the researchers also suggest that, if it is well managed, the mining of these resources also potentially offers certain opportunities to meet some of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also point out that these resources have the potential to help drive socio-economic development to advance some of the UN’s SDGs, such as eliminating poverty. For example, sand and gravel provide labour for millions of people, they supply material for the renewable energy sector and for roads and infrastructure in general.

“Sand resources, when managed appropriately, can create jobs, develop skills usable in other sectors of the economy and spur innovation and investment, whilst continuing to underpin the infrastructure upon which modern society is founded.” argues Lars L. Iversen, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate research who was a lead author in the study. “Therefore, the solution is not to simply ban all mining activities. Finding the balance between the pros and cons of sand and gravel extraction is becoming one of the great resource challenges of our century.”

We need to build effective management plans and policies for sand resources that support the global sustainable development goals,” says Mette Bendixen “In order to do so a more complete understanding of the impact of sand and gravel mining is required. This need is especially acute for many countries in low- and middle- income regions that currently possess no overview of the extent of local mining activities, or how such activities are impacting ecosystems and local communities.”

Quick facts

  • A large proportion of the increase in aggregate (a collective term for sand, gravel, and crushed stone) consumption has occurred in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries.
     
  • For cement alone, a proxy for aggregate usage, China’s demand has increased exponentially by 438% over the past 20 years, compared with an increase of 60% in the rest of the world.
     
  • While current global aggregate consumption of 32-50 billion tonnes per year is dominated by consumption from high (per capita) production sources in North America and China, the greatest relative increase in production is projected to occur in LMICs (lower and middle-income countries).
     
  • Aggregate mining in LMICs is often executed informally by artisanal small-scale miners providing an essential source of livelihood for many people worldwide.
     
  • Violence can also increase alongside mining. In India, the mining of sand, in particular, has been associated with local conflict linked to water access and pollution.

Sustainable living space in a world of limits: a need for dialogue

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EURACTIV Media network post by Doris FuchsNils BlosseyPia Mamut and Sylvia Lorek on the need for dialogue about agreeing to a Sustainable living space in a world of limits, should not come as a surprise. Let us go through it and then see if it were as realistic as it should be.

Challenges to ecological and social sustainability require us to integrate limits to resource consumption into all areas, including residential space, write Doris Fuchs, Sylvia Lorek, Pia Mamut and Nils Blossey.

Doris Fuchs is a German political scientist and professor of international relations and sustainable development at the University of Münster, Chair of International Relations and Sustainable Development. She authored this opinion piece together with researchers Sylvia Lorek, Pia Mamut, and Nils Blossey.

Multiple socio-ecological crises challenge our societies to reconfigure patterns of resource consumption. As we are increasingly approaching the exhaustion of planetary boundaries, sustainability and a societal dialogue about how to achieve it need to be introduced to all spheres of human life.

Next to nutrition and mobility, housing is the major driver of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to switching to renewable energies and energy-saving refurbishment measures, recent studies suggest that also limits to residential space might be required to sufficiently reduce energy consumption.

Importantly, the introduction of such measures does not pursue an introduction of lower standards of living, but rather careful planning and inclusive political processes to ascertain what sustainable living spaces that take account of social minima and ecological maxima can look like.

Clearly, humans need to be endowed with a minimum amount of material resources and space to be capable of attaining physical and psychological wellbeing – for many people especially in the Global South this would correspond to more, rather than less space and resources.

Thus, scholars and practitioners have outlined a range of minimum space standards for basic needs satisfaction regarding housing, which are partially based on context-specific parameters in terms of location and building.

Rao and Min, for instance, define a household space of 30m2 for up to three inhabitants and an additional minimum of 10m2 per each further person as a minimum threshold to provide decent living conditions.

The NYC Building Code, in turn, identifies as a standard that at least one room in a dwelling unit must have a size of 13,9 to 20m2, for example. Societal minima for living space may also vary depending on cultural and regional contexts.

Finally, discussions of minimum housing requirements are also driven by rising real estate prices and rents as well as shrinking space in metropolitan areas.

On the other end of the spectrum, the average size of residential homes in advanced economies has generally increased despite declining household size. As home size increases, so does the associated consumption of energy and other resources.

From a perspective of planetary boundaries, therefore, it becomes clear that we also need to engage in a societal dialogue about consumption maxima with respect to residential space.

In this vein, recent studies have calculated how much space an individual could use from a one-planet-perspective and assuming intra- and intergenerational justice. In such calculations, Lettenmeier arrives at an estimated target of 20m2 of residential space per capita.

Grubler et al. attribute more potential to improvements in energy efficiency and arrive at an estimate of 30m2 per capita (in 2050), which equals the present average in the Global North. For a family of four, then, estimates of residential space beyond which ecological boundaries are endangered range between 80-120m2.

Thinking about both social minima and ecological maxima is important for the future wellbeing of humans on this planet. Indeed, they belong together, as the concept of consumption corridors delineates.

However, whereas social minimum standards for housing easily evoke broad approval, thinking about upper limits to residential space is considerably more challenging. Maxima to residential space inevitably lead to conflicts of interest between members of society, which need to be balanced out in democratic processes.

Importantly, such upper (and even lower) limits should therefore not be envisioned as being based solely on scientific estimates and top-down enforcement. On the contrary, broad societal dialogue is necessary to generate an improved understanding of social and ecological conditions and needs, conflicts between them, and options for their joint pursuit.

Moreover, policies supporting the availability of adequate and affordable housing and addressing rising structural inequalities in the housing market need to be implemented alongside any focus on consumption minima and maxima with respect to residential space.

In addition, appropriate infrastructural measures need to ensure that potential contributions to one-planet lifestyles, which may result from current trends towards co-living, smaller home sizes, and cooperative house ownership can be realised.

Challenges to ecological and social sustainability require us to make complex decisions and to integrate limits to resource consumption into our practices and policies across consumption fields. We need to openly discuss social minima and ecological maxima with respect to residential space – just as in any other consumption field.

Cutting Emissions Through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation

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Cutting Emissions through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation published on 4 July 2021, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is, for all intents and purposes, worth re-visiting. Here it is.

Cutting Emissions Through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation

By Jonas KuehlAndrea BassiPhilip GassGeorg Pallaske 

The above image is for illustration and is of the IISD‘s

This report models the climate change mitigation potential of fossil fuel subsidy reform across 32 countries. The results show how much greenhouse gas emissions—both in per cent as well as in absolute terms—countries can save by 2030. In addition, the model also calculates the subsidy savings countries can gain from fossil fuel subsidy reform. Countries can further increase their emission reductions by adding fossil energy taxation as well as the investments of subsidy savings and tax revenue into energy efficiency and renewable energy to the scenario.

Using the Global Subsidies Initiative – Integrated Fiscal Model (GSI-IF model), this report models the impact of fossil fuel subsidy reform (FFSR) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for the following 32 countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the United States, Venezuela, Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Zambia. In total, these 32 countries accounted for 77% of global carbon dioxide emissions, 72% of global GDP, and 72% of the global population in 2019.

The GSI-IF model uses semi-continuous simulations to forecast energy demand and corresponding GHG emissions. It considers the gradual removal of all fossil fuel subsidies to consumers until 2030, a gradual introduction of a 10% fossil energy tax until 2030, and the investment of 30% of both subsidy savings and tax revenues to energy efficiency and renewable energy from 2021, respectively 2026, onwards.

The research finds a simple country average in GHG emission reductions of about 6% by 2030 compared to business as usual, while the data shows that FFSR can reduce as much as 35% of emissions in the countries modelled. Adding emission reductions from the fossil energy tax as well as the investments of parts of the subsidy savings and tax revenues into sustainable energy would almost double the average GHG emission reductions to 11.8% by 2030. Cumulative fiscal savings from FFSR alone by 2030 total close to USD 3 trillion across the countries analyzed, with total cumulative GHG emissions abated from FFSR of 5.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2030—equivalent to the annual emissions of about 1,000 coal-fired power plants or 3.8 billion cars. For every tonne of CO2e removed through FFSR alone, governments save about USD 546.47 on average. When considering the resources reallocated via the subsidy swap, governments can increase their emission reductions and still save USD 164 for every tonne of CO2e removed.

Read original: Download publication PDF

Related: Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Could Reduce CO2 Emissions Equivalent to Those of 1,000 Coal-Fired Power Plants While Saving USD 3 Trillion—New ReportPRESS RELEASEJuly 5, 2021

Key combination for corporates targeting successful sustainability

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Arabian Business posted DeBacker’s thoughts on how the Key combination for corporates targeting successful sustainability breakthroughs are the one and only remaining way out of today’s traumatic times. Here they are.

Key combination for corporates targeting successful sustainability breakthroughs

Through the convergence of technology, capital, and scale-up capabilities, industry incumbents can translate their sustainability visions to reality – ushering in a new chapter of green finance practicality

Philippe DeBacker, managing partner, global practice leader Financial Services, at Arthur D. Little.

As corporates navigate persisting economic difficulties, unlocking growth and creating strategic advantages represents an entirely different sustainability challenge.

While transformational change has traditionally been hindered due to funding restrictions and expensive innovation projects, a new approach can now be pursued with the post-pandemic era approaching.

Through the convergence of technology, capital, and scale-up capabilities, industry incumbents can translate their sustainability visions to reality – ushering in a new chapter of green finance practicality.

Although this scenario may have seemed improbable not long ago, several trends have simultaneously transpired to lay the foundations for green financing breakthroughs.

Governments are engaging in heightened regulatory activity to build resilient economies and investors are prepared to pursue higher-risk green initiatives. Industrial companies are also introducing corporates to potential green technologies, while collaboration activities are broadening ecosystems via new players, partners, and opportunities.

Crucially, this applies to the Middle East, where the required framework and levers for green finance can benefit the wider corporate community and region exponentially. Green financing for sustainability projects increased by 38 percent to reach $6.4 billion in H1 2021 alone, while green finance is projected to create $2 trillion in economic growth and over one million new jobs by 2030.

These statistics certainly highlight the potential accompanying the green finance segment – and there are various innovative green asset and technology financing options available for interested parties to explore. Besides investment funds, project financing, and debt or equity investments, experts and commercial banks can facilitate technology deployments and green project acceleration through several green funding areas.

As corporates strive to achieve transformational change by acquiring capital, harnessing technology, and successful scaling their capabilities, they can do so backed by the following:

  • Sustainable bonds: Climate bonds are viable for mature investors seeking to introduce climate change solutions and projects, increasing available funding for green initiatives while providing positive sustainability benefits. Blue loans can also raise finance for projects within the blue economy, while ESG-linked finance is available and not linked to specific use cases.
  • Asset recycling platforms: As demonstrated courses of action from capital-intensive clean infrastructure, there are multiple asset recycling platform choices for corporates. Capital recycling designates funds toward greener projects, ‘farm down’ entails equity stakes being sold progressively, yield companies produce cash flow and returns through long-term contracts, and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) raise funding for capital-intensive startups – including $80bn in 2020.
  • Technology financing: Corporates exploring development expenditure (DEVEX) financing can utilise several sources depending on project technology readiness levels (TRLs). These include public funds for early investment and support, government-backed venture funds to complement private venture capital, and SPACs for sizeable technology funding.
  • Asset management: As Shariah investing emerged a decade ago as a desirable asset class, green financing is increasingly attractive capital with promising returns due the the profound change in economic make up, such as electric vehicles promising to overtake carbon fueled cars.

Admittedly, green financing options are bound by demands, aspirations, and conditions per each individual corporate, with eventualities dependent on specific factors. That being said, every corporate seeking sustainability finance can do so having taken note of similar instances in other sectors. In line with this, there are four actions one can take to help drive success:

Create a sustainable ecosystem

With an array of green technology ecosystems continuously welcoming partners specialising in different industries and technologies, corporates should prioritise developing and forming a sustainable ecosystem. This ecosystem should comprise technology, scale, and capital, which will be central to investment objectives coming to fruition.

While large companies already tend to be involved in multiple ecosystems, realising aspirations and achieving maximum value for many others hinges on proactive action in this direction.

Establish a comprehensive business model

No matter their readiness level, all corporates should pursue projects knowing that their assets or technologies becoming commodities starts and ends with a robust business model. Particularly during early development phases, models often have discrepancies in terms of clarity and direction. Therefore, corporates should define the value they are striving to build, identify the most prudent way to create cash flow, and decide where ownership and control will rest.

Deliver on priorities and objectives strategically

For businesses, executing every element of their business model requires a strategic approach. Whether this is done internally, via an external collaborator, or combining the two, successfully meeting targets and progressing requires a strategic roadmap that includes stakeholder alignment and ambition-timeframe balance.

Adapt the corporate governance model

From board to ethical investing, the corporate world is rethinking the way it creates value and governs itself. New oversight committees are formed in global complex companies to ensure consistency across multiple business lines and geographies – and this is something corporates should also pursue.

Backed by the most suitable innovative financing option, corporates have an opportunity to embrace the support available to them and make continuous strides towards sustainable growth breakthroughs.

The above steps will guide companies on their innovation journeys, with technology, capital, and scale-up capabilities simultaneously driving project success and green growth.

Philippe DeBacker, managing partner, global practice leader Financial Services, at Arthur D. Little.