Currently, just over half the world’s population lives in cities, but that is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. As a consequence, world energy demand is set to increase by more than 50 percent by 2050, according to predictions by the US Energy Information Administration – resulting in even higher energy consumption.
Hence, rapid urbanisation and a rapidly growing population along with climate change are key challenges that cities and countries must urgently address.
Closer to home, energy efficiency is a rising challenge in the UAE, due to a growing population, rise in economic activity, and increased energy consumption at a pace that will be difficult to provide for over the long term.
In a growing economy, energy consumption will rise despite reductions in the energy intensity of developed economies.
Although more and more cities are boosting their commitment and progress to becoming net zero carbon, they still have a long way to go. With climate change worsening, more action is required on specific fronts. Everything from factories and homes to transport systems and consumer devices need to become more energy efficient.
One such solution lies in implementing Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS), i.e. automation systems that collect energy measurement data from the field and make it available to users through graphics, online monitoring tools, and energy quality analysers, thus enabling the management of energy resources.
The effectiveness of energy policies and regulations
Prior research indicates that buildings consume 80% of the overall energy demand in the UAE (UAE) and 40% across the globe. The UAE’s Federal Electricity & Water Authority (FEWA) estimates that around 60 to 70 percent of energy demand in the UAE currently stems from building HVAC requirements, with split air-conditioning units making up an estimated 60-70 percent of cooling systems in the market.
Therefore, the UAE as a whole, and Dubai in particular, have put in place different energy security and efficiency strategies such as UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 (aims to reduce Dubai’s total energy consumption by 30% by 2030), and Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 (gradually increase the employment of clean energy sources to 75 per cent by 2050).
Additionally, Dubai has established the ‘Green Building Regulations and Specifications’ (GBRS) which aims to improve the performance of buildings in Dubai by reducing the consumption of energy, water and materials; improving public health, safety and general welfare; and by enhancing the planning, design, construction and operation of buildings.
Although not mandatory, GBRS acts more as a guideline for developers and contractors and offers recommendations for constructing energy efficient buildings in Dubai. It is intended to support Dubai’s Strategic Plan, create a more sustainable urban environment and extend the ability of the Emirate’s infrastructure to meet the needs of future development.
Maximising hedonic efficiency (extent to which the delivered service meets the demand) will offer a route to providing optimal service with reduced consumption. However, it is challenging to draft policy initiatives to maximise hedonic efficiency. This needs to be explored and considered by the professional and regulatory bodies.
In addition to a more persuasive regulatory framework, marketing and awareness campaigns that encourage building owners, occupants, developers, and other stakeholders to lessen their energy consumption can have a positive impact on energy conservation. DEWA’s ‘Smart Living’ initiative is one such example that allows consumers monitor their electricity (and water) consumption easily and make smarter decisions to reduce consumption.
Additionally, the adoption of innovative technologies such as EMS are needed for a more cohesive approach to achieving energy-efficiency.
BEMS to the rescue
BEMS enables real-time remote monitoring and integrated control of a broad spectrum of connected systems – allowing modes of operation, energy usage, environmental conditions and so on to be observed and allowing hours of operation, set points and more to be adapted in order to improve energy performance and occupancy comfort.
According to Mordor Intelligence, the Middle East and African market for energy management systems is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.87% to reach USD 3.76 billion by 2021. This growth in demand comes from concerns over declining energy security, ambitious environmental goals, and the reduced cost of sensors, analytics software and data storage.
Currently, adoption levels across the GCC are lower due to a lack of codified regulation. Hence, a directive from the government to deploy energy management systems could play a critical role in helping country meet its sustainability targets.
There are two major aspects of constructing energy efficient buildings: using “green” design and building materials during the construction phase; and continuous monitoring and controlling energy consumption during the operation phase. While there has been enough emphasis on sustainable construction in some GCC states, there is very little attention on the installation of energy management systems. Focusing on energy management systems should be a key factor in the efforts towards creating a sustainable built environment in the region.
It is claimed that the magnitude of savings accomplished by BEMS can range from 10% to 25%. If used properly, BEMS should allow the optimisation of energy consumption without compromising on comfort or performance. But this requires an in-depth knowledge of how buildings are meant to perform, and how different systems within them communicate. In order to operate accurately, BEMS should be properly designed, installed and commissioned as well as have a user interface that is easy to use.
BEMS may have remote outposts that can be probed locally, or may be managed via mobile devices. However, some buildings could be susceptible to cyberattacks, especially when they are related to critical organisations. This can become an issue in the case of functions that run in the ‘cloud’, such as cloud-based analytics, and the ability to access and manage multiple sites remotely. The ability to retrieve live analytics, or receive alarm notifications from hand-held devices has enormous potential benefits, but may also bring additional risks.
BEMS taken into consideration right from the start of a new construction project can help owners and facility managers gain better control over energy use. Given the large push for sustainability, especially within the built environment, BEMS can therefore become crucial in Dubai and the UAE as more and more green projects come to fruition.
The current generation of smart cities aiming to make buildings greener and smarter should invest more in BEMS and other technologies. Moving forward, BEMS will play a vital role in contributing towards the sustainability goals of energy-smart cities, as sensor-equipped, energy consuming devices such as HVAC, lighting, and refrigeration, become more integrated with BEMS.
A major intrusion of sand and dust from the Sahara transformed skies and the landscape over Europe on the weekend of 6-7 February, with far-reaching impacts for the environment and health. It once again highlighted the importance of accurate forecasts and warnings of this transboundary hazard.
The event was accurately predicted by the Barcelona Dust Forecast Centre, which acts as WMO’s Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System’s (SDS-WAS) regional centre for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe (NAMEE). The system seeks to provide operational forecasting and warning advisory services for various regions of the world in a globally coordinated manner in order to reduce the impacts on the environment, health and economies.
“We knew about the event in advance. The models were really good in predicting the event,” said Sara Basart, at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, which serves as the operational hub.
The sand and dust storm started on 5 February in northern Algeria, reducing visibility to 800 meters. The dust particles were transported through the atmosphere to southeast Spain and on to southern and central Europe, turning the sky yellow, coating buildings and cars with sand and dust and covering snow on the Pyrenees and Alps mountain ranges with sand.
On 8 February, the dust intrusion reached the eastern Mediterranean. There was also high dust surface concentration over Africa’s Sahel region, which is one of world’s worst affected regions.
“It is not just a case of having dirty windows or cars. Sand and dust storms cause much wider problems than that,” said Slobodan Nikovic, a member of the Global SDS-WAS Steering Committee and the chair of the regional steering group of the SDS-WAS NAMEE Node.
Over the last decade, scientists have come to realize the impacts on climate, human health, the environment and many socio-econimic sectors.
WMO Members are at the vanguard in evaluating these impacts and developing products to guide preparedness, adaptation and mitigation policies. The WMO Sand and Dust Storm Project was initiated in 2004 and its Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) was launched in 2007. WMO is also part of a UN coalition to combat sand and dust storms.
More than 20 organizations currently provide daily global or regional dust forecasts in different geographic regions, including 7 global models and more than 15 regional models contributing to SDS-WAS. It integrates research and user communities (e.g., from the health, energy, transport, aeronautical, and agricultural sectors).
“Reaching the last mile is extremely important. We need to pay more attention to the communication of this product,” says Alexander Baklanov, of WMO’s Atmospheric Environment Research division, Science and Innovation department.
WMO is therefore overseeing and monitoring the progress of the implementation of early warnings of sand and dust storms as part of WMO’s multi-hazard early warning system.
The other major challenge is to ensure that the warnings are available in countries most impacted, including in West Africa.
WMO is collaborating with the Spanish national meteorological agency AEMET and the Barcelona Sand and Dust Warning Advisory Center to improve warnings in Burkino Faso, one of the countries hardest hit. With funding from the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Initiative (CREWS), Burkina Faso has implemented a web page for Sand and Dust Warnings for the country, and will be extended for several other West African countries. AEMET is deploying a network of aerosol Particulate Matter (PM) instruments, which are important for health applications, given the correlation between sand and dust storms and respiratory problems, as well meningitis in the extended meningitis belt which spans 26 countries from Senegal to Ethiopia.
MEA construction activity flat; infrastructure on recovery path
DUBAI, Construction activity in the Middle East was broadly flat in the last quarter of 2020, but there are clear signs of growth in areas such as ICT and energy infrastructure, according to the latest RICS Global Construction Monitor.
The RICS Construction Activity Index for the Middle East and Africa was seen at -10% in Q4, up from -11% in Q3 and -40% in Q2.
This indicates that whilst activity broadly flat, this is an improvement on the negative trends reported back in Q2, stated the expert.
Moreover, looking at a sector level reveals some areas of strength in terms of infrastructure activity, it added.
A net balance of -34% of respondents in the Middle East and Africa said that their workloads in private residential fell in Q4, with -41% of respondents also reporting a fall in private non-residential.
However, -1% of respondents saw a fall in infrastructure workloads, which is more or less flat, and looking at the sub-sectors, there was a rise in workloads in ICT and energy infrastructure, said the RICS report.
Financial constraints continue to hold back activity in the last quarter, with 89% of respondents reporting this as an issue. Cost of materials and insufficient demand are also the main factors holding back activity, it added.
According to RICS, professionals believe infrastructure will be at the forefront of the wider recovery of the sector over the next twelve months.
Middle East experts also expect workloads in private residential and private non-residential to increase this year.
Looking at headcount and profit margins, whilst a net balance of +7% of respondents expects to see a rise in headcount over the course of 2021, -6% of respondents expect profit margins to fall.
Sean Ellison, Senior Economist, said: “The building blocks for recovery are being put into place, with construction activity growing once more on the back of concerted infrastructure investment and rising optimism.”
“Despite the early signs of recovery challenges remain. Whilst construction will play a vital role in wider global economic recovery, the sector’s recovery is not yet entrenched – nor is it universal across countries,” remarked Ellison.
“With infrastructure a key driver in leading this bounce back, greater government spending will be vital. Many governments have committed to substantial infrastructure spending, bringing forward shovel-ready projects and we can expect more fiscal stimulus. How effectively this capital is put to use will dictate the speed of our recovery,” he added.
Globally, infrastructure projects have been central to the construction sector’s return to growth.
The RICS Global Construction Activity Index returned to positive territory in Q4. It rose to +3, signifying the market’s return growth, and up from -9 in Q3 and -24 in Q2.
The trend of modest growth was not uniform across all regions, however. The strongest results were seen in the Americas (+5) and APAC (+8), with respondents noting an increase in aggregate workloads.
However, there is a more mixed picture in Europe (-1) and MEA (-10), where sentiment in Spain, Turkey and South Africa was notably weaker.
Alan Muse, Sector Lead Building & Construction Standards, RICS: “Using effective and timely infrastructure stimulus measures to rejuvenate the economy is never straightforward. New build infrastructure schemes are invariably complex with long gestation periods.”
“Concentrating on quick wins in the repair and maintenance of infrastructure may have a more immediate impact on the market and a quicker multiplier effect. In addition, fiscally constrained governments need to attract more private sector investment into this sector and de-risking projects through the application of standards to improve reporting, data collection and predictability is crucial,” observed Muse.
“Transparent and prioritised pipelines of implementable design and construction work are key to attracting private sector investment from pension funds: comparing pipelines of projects on a common datum basis using ICMS and RICS standards will ensure a consistent and more meaningful approach,” he added.
Paradox lost: wetlands can form in deserts, but we need to find and protect them
Once dismissed as dank and bug-infested backwaters – good only for draining and destroying to make farmland – the world’s wetlands may finally be having their moment in the sun. In the UK, the government is expected to nominate a vast expanse of blanket bogs in the far north of Scotland as a world heritage site. They might not sound attractive to some people, but these bogs are among the world’s biggest stores of carbon, they provide abundant freshwater and they harbour a miraculous array of wildlife.
This recognition that wetlands are worth protecting has its roots in an agreement signed 50 years ago, on February 2 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. The Ramsar Convention is the only international convention that’s dedicated to protecting a specific ecosystem, though in reality, the “wetlands” that the convention refers to can mean anything from swamps and peat bogs to shallow lakes and estuaries.
So far, 171 countries have signed up to the convention and more than 2,400 sites are protected under it, representing between 10% and 20% of the world’s remaining wetlands and collectively covering an area larger than Mexico. Under the convention, governments are committed to the “wise use” and upkeep of wetlands in their borders, but this doesn’t necessarily keep them safe. Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1700, and those which remain are being lost at a rate that’s three times faster than forests.
From agricultural expansion and river diversion to invasive species and climate change, wetlands face numerous threats. But one of the gravest may be ignorance. We still don’t know enough about these habitats, and they can still surprise even seasoned scientists like us. Perhaps most surprising of all are those wetlands that seem to confound all logic by thriving amid some of the driest places on Earth.
Boom and bust amid the dust
Drylands are regions of the world where more water evaporates than falls from the sky. Warm drylands cover about 40% of the Earth’s surface, but about 28% of this area overlaps with inland rivers and wetlands. The result is marshes, swamps, floodplains, and oases in a landscape where water is otherwise scarce.
Wetlands are especially important in dry landscapes, as they can be the only supply of freshwater and food for people and wildlife for miles around. Some wetlands in drylands are famous. Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes (largely believed to be the inspiration for the Garden of Eden) and the Nile River floodplain are both largely surrounded by desert, but it’s here in these Middle Eastern wetlands where modern human civilisation emerged.
For every famous example, there are thousands that remain unidentified and unmapped. That’s partly because these unique habitats change frequently, sometimes vanishing completely before eventually reappearing. Seasonal downpours can sustain these green patches for a while if the soil doesn’t drain well and is particularly good at holding onto the water. Other wetlands in drylands are more permanent thanks to a source of water below ground, with enough seeping to the surface to maintain damp conditions. But some wetlands can lie dormant until they’re reawakened by river flooding and suddenly erupt in vibrant shades of green.
Many wetlands in drylands are small and temporary, only hosting a thriving ecosystem for a few months following good rains that may occur years or even decades apart. Depending on the scale and their timing, scientific surveys may miss these hidden treasures. The boom-and-bust wetlands that are adapted to emerge following occasional pulses of water are so understudied that we’re in danger of losing them before we even realise their presence and understand their full value.
All wetlands are prone to change over time. Sometimes rivers change their course and switch where floodwaters, sediment and nutrients end up. Older wetlands dry up, while newer ones develop. These changes create a mosaic of different landforms with different grades of wetness and soil types, helping to create a wide range of habitats that support an equally vast range of wildlife. Understanding the processes that give rise to these wetlands can help us maintain them, but the first step must be debunking the idea that such habitats are static, unchanging features of the landscape.
Despite some limitations, the Ramsar Convention remains one of the best mechanisms for protecting and highlighting the value of wetlands, even if many still go under the radar. Though there are signs of change. India recently added a complex of shallow lakes high up in a dry mountain to the Ramsar list. Numerous threatened species may benefit from this habitat, including the vulnerable snow leopard. Hopefully, other countries will follow suit and recognise more of these rare and beautiful places before it’s too late.
Michael Young in an interview, with David Linfield who argues that international donors are benefiting existing power structures in the Middle East. It is all about Colluding With the Corrupters.
Corruption spread deep and for some time in the MENA region with social, political, and economic implications, but with differing penetrations rates. All because the area can divide into two types of governance. The autocratic monarchies live with side by side with the so-called republics. Few of these latter countries know a higher degree of corruption than the first-mentioned countries. In any case, all have made the fight against corruption a priority by passing laws and adopting strategies to combat crime. But in vain. Colluding with the Corrupters could quickly summarise a situation where such deviant behavioural attitudes originators can be traced back out of the region.
January 29, 2021
David Linfield is a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. He is on sabbatical from the U.S. Department of State, where he is a career foreign service officer. Linfield recently wrote a commentary for Carnegie, titled “International Donors Are Complicit in Middle Eastern Elites’ Game.” In mid-January, Diwan interviewed him to discuss his article, and more generally to examine the anti-elite feeling that has permeated protests throughout the Middle East in the past year, notably in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. The views expressed by Linfield are his own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government.
Michael Young (MY): You’ve just written a commentary for Carnegie, titled “International Donors Are Complicit in Middle Eastern Elites’ Game.” What is your argument in the piece?
David Linfield (DL): My argument is that the United States and other international donors have put significant clout and resources behind promoting economic liberalization in the Middle East, while they have been hesitant to put similar emphasis on political reforms. By political reforms I mean boosting transparency, combating corruption, and empowering elected officials. International actors have partly justified this approach by suggesting that economic reforms are a better way of promoting stability and less risky than political changes. But I contend that recent events in the region suggest that these policies are making violent, sudden change in the region more likely, not less so.
When adopted in the context of authoritarian political systems, economic reforms such as privatization have tended to benefit existing power structures, exacerbating economic inequality and citizen-state tensions. The World Inequality Database now ranks the Middle East as the most unequal region in the world. While economic inequality has decreased worldwide since the 1990s, it has remained constant in the Middle East.
By supporting policies that have inadvertently led to such entrenched inequality, while neglecting political reforms, international donors have contributed to citizens’ frustrations with their relative economic status while leaving them without peaceful institutional means of expressing their grievances. This is all a recipe for instability, which is the opposite of what donors want.
MY: You write that “[e]merging solidarity among previously competing groups, grounded in [economic inequality]” is a feature of the growing resentment of elites in the Middle East. Are you suggesting, to borrow from Marxist jargon, that we are seeing the emergence of a sort of class consciousness in certain countries that may have revolutionary potential?
DL: Most of the protests in the Middle East since 2018 have focused on economic inequality and corruption. Whereas previous demonstrations in the region tended to consist of a homogeneous ethnic group—whether from a particular religious sect, region, or group of tribes—these recent protests have been more diverse.
Common frustrations with inequality appear to have led people from lower-income communities to demonstrate in common cause—albeit sporadically and tentatively—against what they see as a corrupt and multisectarian elite that has failed them. We have seen this happen most explicitly in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Some of the slogans used in recent protests in these countries do indicate the emergence of class consciousness. When the Jordanian Teachers Union threatened to strike in summer 2020, they framed their plight as a class struggle against those who had “looted the country.” The 2019 Lebanese protests included slogans like “down with the rule of the thieves.” Iraqi protestors in 2019 and 2020 told media outlets that their struggle was about taking the country back from “thieves.”
MY: In light of your assessment, how have the traditional fault lines among Middle Eastern populations that regimes have manipulated to retain power—things such as sectarian, tribal, or regional divisions—fared in what you describe as a changing environment?
DL: The traditional fault lines in Middle Eastern societies are still very much present. Emerging class-based tensions have not fully supplanted preexisting divisions based on ethnicity, religion, and tribalism, but rather now coexist alongside them more than before. That said, the trendlines I described earlier suggest that class-based divisions will continue to grow in relative importance and have the potential to reshape existing political alliances and divisions.
In addition to the demonstrations I mentioned earlier, another indicator of the power of class solidarity is a 2019 experiment by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. The study, which assigned hundreds of Lebanese people into different conversation groups having varying compositions based on sect and class, found that when Lebanese people gathered with other members of the same class, they exhibited markedly less support for sectarian politics.
It’s too early to craft a comprehensive assessment of how emerging class-based tensions will interact with longer-standing societal divisions in the Middle East. One reason that we’ll have to observe for a longer period is that Covid-19 shifted the focus dramatically from political and economic challenges to the health crisis. But given that the pandemic exacerbated economic inequality, with lower-income communities bearing the brunt of related economic disruptions, we probably won’t have to wait long before class discussions reemerge.
MY: If the problem is that economic liberalization has reinforced elites, what are you recommending as an alternative approach by Western donors? And what makes you think that such an approach would have any chance of working?
DL: The alternative approach I’m recommending is for international donors to incorporate measures to promote transparency and combat corruption into existing economic liberalization efforts. These political reforms are also good for business and economic growth—as noted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank reports I cite in my article. The IMF’s recent insistence that Lebanon address corruption before receiving additional loans is a positive step to putting teeth behind their analysis.
Other helpful steps would include pushing to empower the many weak legislatures across the region beyond their current rubber-stamp roles, which would provide an alternative to protests for frustrated publics. If international donors put the same clout behind good governance that they have behind economic liberalization, they’ll make peaceful and durable progress more likely in the Middle East.
MY: Are you not reading too much into anti-elite solidarity? Ultimately, states in the region have shown that they will resort to violence in order to survive and societies have often gone back to being silent. Why will this change?
DL: Ruling elites in the region have demonstrated that they are willing to go to extreme measures to maintain their benefits. I am not suggesting that elites will somehow decide that they should altruistically begin to share resources with the rest of society. Rather, as your question implies, I am arguing that the elite behavior of concentrating power and resources is an unsustainable strategy that will ultimately foment violence and harm everyone’s interests, including those of the elite.
Autocratic regimes tend to resort to violence when they feel they have run out of other options, but rely more often on nonviolent coercion and intimidation to maintain daily control. By the time regimes turn to violence, it tends to be a prelude to their loss of control—or a stage where they are nearing that.
The strategy of international donors focusing their influence and resources on economic liberalization instead of good governance has not succeeded in bolstering stability and strengthening citizen-state relations. Instead, the policy has exacerbated class-based tensions and increased the prospects of unrest.
These trends are not linear: demonstrations in the region against economic inequality and corruption have ebbed and flowed. Ruling elites remain intent on doing everything they can to outmaneuver these latest challenges to their vested interests. Longer-standing societal tensions based on sect, region, and tribe also continue to simmer and remain exploitable by elites. But the overall direction of the region is still toward economic liberalization in the midst of authoritarian entrenchment. As long as that remains the case anti-elite solidarity is likely to build. International donors are inadvertently contributing to these increasing citizen-state tensions. Instead, they could be fostering more durable change that would make the region more stable and prosperous for everyone.
Originally posted on News: A study by French website Mediapart and Radio France Internationale (RFI) and two other French investigation sites in coordination with Dutch site Lighthouse Reports has revealed that French Rafael warplanes sold to Egypt had been used to support Khalifa Haftar’s forces in their military operations in Libya. The study said the…
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