The burning of organic materials (such as fossil fuels, wood, and waste) for heating/cooling, electricity, mobility, cooking, disposal, and the production of materials and goods (such as cement, metals, plastics, and food) leads to emissions. This affects local air quality and the climate. In a recent blog, we showed that the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) lags behind all other regions in decoupling air pollutant emissions from economic growth.
Particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) is the air pollutant associated with the largest health effects. MENA’s cities are the second-most air-polluted following South Asia; virtually all of its population is exposed to levels deemed unsafe. In 2019, exposure to excessive PM2.5 levels was associated with almost 300,000 deaths in MENA and it caused the average resident to be sick for more than 70 days in his or her lifetime. It also carries large economic costs for the region, totaling more than $140 billion in 2013, around 2 percent of the region’s GDP.
A good understanding of the emission sources leading to air pollution is necessary to planning for how to best reduce them. Figure 1 shows that waste burning, road vehicles, and industrial processes accounted for around two-thirds of PM2.5 concentrations. Electricity production is also a significant contributor, most of which is used by manufacturing and households.
5 PRIORITY BARRIERS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR POLICY REFORMS TO KICK-START DECOUPLING
A forthcoming report titled “Blue Skies, Blue Seas” discusses these measures, alongside many others, in more detail.
1. Knowledge about air pollution and its sources is limited, with sparse ground monitoring stations. Detailed source apportionment studies have only been carried out for a few cities within the region, with results often not easily accessible for the public.
Extensive monitoring networks and regular studies on local sources of air and climate pollutants are foundational, as is making results easily accessible to the public (e.g., in form of a traffic light system as is done in Abu Dhabi). This will empower sensitive groups to take avoidance decisions, but also nurture the demand for abatement policies.
MENA’s heavy subsidization of fossil fuels, whether that is at the point of consumption or at the point of intermediary inputs in power generation and manufacturing, makes price reforms essential. Aside from incorporating negative externalities better, lifting subsidies also reduces pressure on fiscal budgets, with freed-up fiscal space being available to cushion the impact for low-income households. There have been encouraging steps by some countries such as Egypt, which reduced the fossil fuel subsidies gradually over the last couple of years, leading to significant increases in fuel prices, which in turn had positive effects on air quality.
To support a shift in the modal share toward cleaner mobility, it is imperative to invest in public transport systems, while making them cleaner and supporting nonmotorized options such as walking and biking. Cairo’s continued expansion of its metro system has been effective in reducing PM pollution and other MENA cities have also invested heavily in their public transport infrastructure, moving the needle on improving air quality. Furthermore, it is also important to raise environmental standards, both for fuel quality and car technology, together with regular mandatory inspections.
4. Lenient industrial emissions rules and their weak enforcement. The industrial sector is characterized by low energy efficiency standards, also due to the low, subsidized prices for energy mentioned above. MENA is currently the only region, where not a single country has introduced or is actively planning to introduce either a carbon tax or an emission trading scheme.
Mandating stricter emissions caps, or technology requirements, together with proper enforcement and monitoring is crucial. Incentivizing firms to adopt more resource-efficient, end-of-pipe cleaning, and fuel-switching technologies are additional crucial means to reduce air pollution stemming from the industrial sector. A trading system for emissions could either target CO2 emissions, or air pollutants, such as the PM cap-and-trade system recently introduced in Gujarat, India. Such a system should target both the manufacturing industry as well as the power sector.
5. Weak solid waste management (SWM) is a major issue in MENA. Although the collection of municipal waste has room for improvement in many countries, it is mainly the disposal stage of SWM where the leakage occurs. Too often waste ends up in open dumps or informal landfills, where it ignites. Furthermore, processing capabilities are often limited, and equipment outdated, at least for the lower- and middle-income countries of the region.
Hence, enhancing the efficiency of disposal sites is critical to reducing leakage and the risk of self-ignition. To start, replacing or upgrading open dumps and uncontrolled landfills with engineered or sanitary landfills is a viable option. Going forward, recycling capabilities should be improved and the circularity of resources enhanced. For agricultural waste, the establishment of markets for crop residues and comprehensive information campaigns in Egypt showed that such measures can supplement the introduction of stricter waste-burning bans.
Kick-starting decoupling and banking on green investments hold the promise for MENA not only to improve environmental quality and health locally, and to mitigate climate change globally, but also to reap higher economic returns (including jobs). Moreover, decoupling now will prepare MENA economies better for a future in which much of the world will have decarbonized its economies, including its trade networks.
By virtue, or by follow-up, the Oil Producing Countries of the Golf are trying to rush into the transition to green development. Here is a good example. Apicorp to allocate $1bn towards green energy as described here extends to also ‘introduce green and sustainability bonds in the coming period with the aim of accelerating the adoption of sustainable business models within the energy sector whilst providing incentives to pursue energy diversification and sustainability practices.’
DAMMAM, The Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (Apicorp), an energy-focused multilateral development bank, plans to allocate $1 billion towards green energy projects and sustainable energy companies over the next two years, particularly in the MENA region.
This is with a view to concomitantly measure the ESG footprint of all its assets by end of 2023 through active engagement with its stakeholders.
Unveiling its new ESG policy framework, Apicorp aims to support Energy Transition in its member countries and beyond.
Currently, green assets comprise more than 13% of the multilateral development bank’s overall portfolio – equal to around $550 million in loans and direct investments, a figure which has more than quadrupled over the past five years.
The new framework also includes a robust due diligence toolkit to measure the ESG impact when making financing and investment decisions, with a focus on supporting the proliferation of renewable energy sources and low-carbon technologies as well as forging more strategic partnerships to promote the sustainability agenda.
Additionally, Apicorp will look to introduce green and sustainability bonds in the coming period with the aim of accelerating the adoption of sustainable business models within the energy sector and providing industry players with incentives to pursue energy diversification and sustainability practices.
Commenting on the ESG policy framework, Dr Aabed bin Abdulla Al-Saadoun, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Apicorp, said: “As the world continues to experience unprecedented change, Apicorp recognises the importance of our role, our impact and our responsibility to tackle environmental and climate change challenges within our member countries, partners and wider stakeholders. We want to support a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy by mitigating risks across our operations, supply chain and client transactions by embedding sustainable principles in our business practices. We embark on this journey with the reassurance that all of our member countries are signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement and participants at COP26 to be held in Glasgow later this year.”
Dr Ahmed Ali Attiga, Chief Executive Officer of Apicorp, said: “At Apicorp, we want to lead by example when it comes to transitioning to more sustainable energy sources. Encouraging other partners in our ecosystem to be more mindful of their environmental, governance and societal footprint is therefore integral to our strategy moving forward. As a multilateral development bank with exposure to myriad industries within the energy space, we have the added advantage of being able to measure the overall impact more accurately across the regions in which we operate. Equally important, we will continue to drive the ESG agenda in our member countries through our research and knowledge sharing activities, as well as our unique position in advising key policymakers within government and regulatory circles.”
Underpinned by three core pillars – Responsible Banking and Investing, Social Inclusion and Partnerships, and Financial Resilience and Governance – the comprehensive framework is a key element of Apicorp’s strategy to formalise and institutionalise its commitment to environmental protection, social responsibility, and robust governance. It also guides how
Apicorp will go about identifying, measuring, managing, monitoring, and reporting ESG risks and opportunities, as well as outlining criteria related to its own infrastructure, ethics and values, diversity and inclusion, and employee empowerment.
Additionally, the institution will also undertake voluntary public reporting on an annual basis drawn from the leading international standards, including the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, The Principles for Responsible Investment, The Principles for Responsible Banking, and The Equator Principles.
A Qatar based media The Peninsula dwelt on how a local institution Qatar Foundation aka QF is stemming the brain drain meaning of earlier times. Qatar representing 0.10% of the total MENA region land area could perhaps be only doing that to the same proportion. Is it still worth it? Another hiccup would be that of the increasingly divested from and diminishing fossil fuels export-related revenues; could these be that helpful at the same rate in the future, be it near or far? In any case, let us see what it is all about.
The image above is for illustration only and is of the Qatar Foundation headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
QF stemming the brain drain
Doha: In the past decades, many of the MENA region’s best Arab scientists, inventors, engineers, designers, and innovators left their home countries for better opportunities in the West.
While the reasons for the “brain drain” in this part of the world have been varied, many of these talented youth cite a lack of support and resources as their reason for leaving. However, the situation is evolving – for the better.
For more than a decade, Qatar has become a confluence for science and innovation in the MENA region. It is home to Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment show Stars of Science, and it hosts Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP).
The show falls under QSTP’s umbrella of programmes that support incubation and start-ups, enhancing capacity to further develop the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) ecosystem. The area is fast becoming recognised as the epicentre for technological, engineering, and scientific innovation.
This ecosystem supports and nurtures home-grown innovations from some of the region’s brightest young Arab minds with a view to stemming the tide of MENA innovators seeking resources, support, and mentorship elsewhere. It provides inventors with a nurturing environment where they can refine their inventions, gain guidance, confidence, and mentorship, with the aim to retain promising talent. And with numerous alumni creating innovations that are being used globally, the program also helps to showcase Arab talent to the wider world.
While Stars of Science helps shape the region’s future through revealing the potential of innovators, QSTP promotes one of QF’s key objectives; empowering the innovator behind the idea.
Contestants are automatically enrolled into the flagship accelerator programme, XLR8, where they can continue working on their projects with QF’s support. This unique innovation hub assists inventive entrepreneurs with successful startups, helping them bring their creations to the market within the region, but also internationally.
One such innovator is Dr. Nour Majbour, former researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), who took her fascination with the human brain and created a laboratory kit designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages through antibodies. After the show, Dr. Majbour went on to further develop her Stars of Science project, named QABY, within Qatar’s supportive technological ecosystem and officially registered it as a trademark with QF.
Another alumnus from the show is veterinarian Dr. Mohammed Doumir from Algeria – his ingenious project addresses the issue of limping in racing camels. Post Stars of Science, Qatar’s unique collaborative ecosystem appealed to Dr. Doumir, and he stayed in the country pushing for technological advancement and promoting innovation. With the support of the QSTP Product Development Fund – which incubated and funded his idea – he opened his own company named Vetosis, and is now the director for veterinary research and innovation at QSTP. He is currently adding new applications to his device for camel training and fitness promotion.
In Stars of Science Season 11, Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis, from Qatar, took inspiration from his Islamic faith to develop Sajdah, the unique Smart Educational Prayer Rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray — and more.
After Stars of Science, he started his own company, Thakaa Technologies currently incubated at QSTP where he received funding through the QSTP Product Development Fund. He also successfully completed a pre-order crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood, a platform co-founded by another Stars of Science alumnus, Omar Hamid.
These projects serve as prime examples of incredible collaborations with Qatar’s technological ecosystem, and are a testament to successfully promoting Arab innovators. They highlight Qatar’s unique atmosphere of innovation and support, to the benefit of the Arab region – and beyond – transforming ideas into inventions that positively impact local and international communities.
This QUARTZ‘s article about Rethinking cities, could be yet another way of demonstrating that nothing could affect nor alter the development of a town’s built environment. It has, on the contrary, ended up in teaching us the hard lessons of Sept. 11 led to the boom in supertall skyscrapers. It is by Anne Quito, Design and architecture reporter. But despite that Is it Time to Stop Building Skyscrapers? Let us see in any case what it all boils down to.
The hard lessons of Sept. 11 led to the boom in supertall skyscrapers
After the Sept. 11 attacks, former New York’s mayor Rudy Giuliani encouraged developers to build low. Like many, he feared Manhattan’s tall buildings would become targets for terrorists, after seeing how swiftly the twin towers crumbled.
Twenty years later, quite the opposite has happened. For better or worse, New York City’s skyline is populated with ever taller and taller skyscrapers, with the highest among them in the heart of the original World Trade Center complex. Nearly all of the city’s supertalls—the term for a structure that rises above 300 meters (984 ft)—were built after 2001. Many of them are luxury condos clustered along 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park.
Outside New York City, supertalls built after 2001 include the Trump International Hotel and Tower and the St.Regis in Chicago, the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia, the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles, and Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Before Sept 11, there were 20 supertalls in the world. Today, there are more than 200 and several more are in various stages of construction.
How did Americans go from a mistrust of tall buildings to an unprecedented growth in skyscrapers in the US? In a word, science.
It stems from a steely belief in engineering innovation after the attacks, says Carl Galioto, president of the global design and architecture firm HOK. “I think it has to do with confidence,” he says.
Galioto would know. Prior to HOK, he was a partner at the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merril (SOM) and was an architect-of-record for two of the towers that were rebuilt at the World Trade Center complex. Galioto also worked with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology to translate its forensic reports to improving the international building code.
Changes in building safety regulations after 9/11
Innovations in building safety led to the current boom in supertall buildings, Galioto says. “There is a direct relationship between the developments in building science related to high-rise construction and the perception of improved safety that allowed supertall towers in New York to be commercially viable,” he says.
About 30 safety and security recommendations were added to the building code as a result of the twin tower collapse. They included widening staircases, using thicker glass on the lower levels, using reinforced concrete for a building’s core, installing back-up power systems, and reserving a dedicated elevator for firefighters. There was a greater understanding of “progressive collapse,” when a succession of structures falls like a stack of cards. There was also a renewed appreciation for bollards and the variety of creative forms they could take.
Some of that work included changing the fundamental understanding of safety. Before Sept. 11, building occupants were considered safe when they reached a fire-proof staircase. After learning that more than 200 people perished in the World Trade Center’s elevators, regulations were updated so people were only counted safe only when they reached the ground.
Galioto and his colleagues at SOM used the two towers they designed—One World Trade Center and 7 World Trade—as a kind of showcase for innovations in building safety. Galioto says he has immense trust in skyscrapers. “Not only do I feel confident about working at One World Trade Center, I felt confident enough that my daughters can work there,” he says. “I think it’s the safest building in New York.”
How much did Sept 11 change architecture?
Galioto remembers how the public came up with zany burning-tower escape plans during that time, such as giving parachutes to top floor occupants or designing chains and outriggers to trap wayward plans. “They were somewhere between Jules Verne and Rube Goldberg,” he says. Galioto recalls one proposal that involved installing escape chutes on the side of buildings. “As if people could just slide down 50 stories and pop out of the air like party favors,” he says. “We very quickly realized that people are safer if they don’t jump out of buildings.”
As to whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attack changed the building industry, Galioto says its impact is proportionate. He questions the notion that terrorism is the foremost fear in the mind of architects. “There’s only as much paranoia as there’s a concern for designing for earthquakes or hurricanes,” he says. “If you look at it objectively, it [anti-terrorism concerns] is just another set of design criteria.”
Santiago Calatrava, the widely admired Spanish architect says what happened in New York 20 years ago reverberates through his practice. “The tragic events of September 11th have undoubtedly made an impact on my practice as both an architect and engineer,” says Calatrava, who designed the Oculus transport hub and the soon-to-be-completed St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center, in an email to Quartz. “There became new elements to consider in our designs such as building reinforcements, the use of resistant materials, and simply reimagining the flow of a space.”
Calatrava explains that he had to modify his original scheme for the Oculus—the bird-shaped building adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial—after the sequence of terrorist events after Sept 11. “Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2007, the structural design of the Oculus was modified per instructions from the New York Police Department and other responsible authorities to suit newly established security requirements,” he says. “One key change included reinforcing the support structure for the Oculus’ planned ‘wings’ to improve blast resistance. The Oculus had to have twice the number of steel ribs and a column free space was recommended.”
A different line of defense
If engineers have figured out the structure, urban planners say that New York still needs to reckon with the spirit behind building so many gleaming skyscrapers. Vishaan Chakrabarti was the director of the Manhattan office for the New York planning department during the decisive years of the World Trade Center’s reconstruction. In an email, he says engineering sturdy buildings is just half the battle.
Investing in welcoming public spaces is a better plan than creating exclusive “bubbles of security,” as Chakrabarti puts it. He echoes urbanist Jane Jacobs’s theory that a vibrant streetscape is the best form of security. “I wrote back then that using architecture and urbanism as a last line of defense when our national security fails is a mistake, and it continues to be so,” argues Chakrabarti, now the dean of the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. “Security was obviously critical after the attacks, but unfortunately we are always fighting the last war.”
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.
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.
Originally posted on MENA Solidarity Network: By Anzar Atrar and David Karvala At 4 am on Saturday 21 August, Spanish authorities took Mohamed Abdellah —along with around 30 other Algerians— from the migrant custody centre in Barcelona and deported him. This was bad news for all of them, of course. But Abdellah, an Algerian anti-corruption…
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