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Decoupling of emissions from economic growth in MENA

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BROOKINGS’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT published this article on how the MENA countries should kick-start the decoupling of emissions from economic growth in their region. Here it is.

How to kick-start the decoupling of emissions from economic growth in MENA

By Martin Philipp Heger, Senior Environmental Economist – World Bank and Lukas Vashold, Ph.D. Student – Vienna University of Economics and Business

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 stationsDetailed 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.

2. MENA’s prices for fossil fuels and energy (predominantly from burning fossil fuels), are the lowest in a global comparisonFor example, pump prices in MENA for diesel ($0.69 per liter) and gasoline ($0.74 per liter) were about half the EU prices and less than two-thirds of the global average in 2018.

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.

3. Underdevelopment of public transportlow fuel quality, and low emissions standards drive high levels of emissions from the transport sector. In MENA, the modal share is often heavily skewed toward the use of private cars; when public transportation is available, it has a low utilization rate in international comparison.

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.

APICORP to allocate $1bn towards green energy

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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.’


The above image is for illustration and is of The National.

APICORP to allocate $1bn towards green energy

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.

Dr Aabed bin Abdulla Al-Saadoun

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.

TradeArabia News Service

QF stemming the brain drain

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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

The Peninsula

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). 

Qatar’s Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis developed a unique smart educational prayer rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray, and more.

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. 

“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.

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.