Greening deserts in which India powers renewable energy ambitions with solar push could be a good inspiring move for all those countries of the MENA region. An initiative commensurate with this country’s Prime Minister’s words at the COP26.
Greening deserts: India powers renewable energy ambitions with solar push.
The image above is of The arid state of Rajasthan, where Bhadla Park takes up an area almost the size of San Marino, sees 325 sunny days each year, making it perfectly placed for the solar power revolution, officials say. Image by Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images
The arid state of Rajasthan sees 325 sunny days each year, making it perfectly placed for the solar power revolution
As camels munch on the fringes of Thar desert, an oasis of blue solar panels stretches further than the eye can see at Bhadla Park—a cornerstone of India’s bid to become a clean energy powerhouse. Currently, coal powers 70 percent of the nation’s electricity generation, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged that by 2030, India will produce more energy through solar and other renewables than its entire grid now.
“First, India will increase its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts… Second, by 2030, 50 percent of our energy requirements will come from renewable resources,” Modi told the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The arid state of Rajasthan, where Bhadla Park takes up an area almost the size of San Marino, sees 325 sunny days each year, making it perfectly placed for the solar power revolution, officials say.
Once an expanse of desert, authorities have capitalised on the sparsely populated area, claiming minimal displacement of local communities. Today robots clean dust and sand off an estimated 10 million solar panels, while a few hundred humans monitor.
This pursuit of a greener future is fuelled by necessity.
India, home to 1.3 billion people and poised to overtake China as the most populous country, has a growing and voracious appetite for energy—but it is also on the frontline of climate change.
In the next two decades, it has to add a power system the size of Europe’s to meet demand for its swelling population, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), but it also has to tackle toxic air quality in its big cities.
“India is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world for climate change and that is why it has this big push on renewables to decarbonise the power sector, but also reduce air pollution,” Arunabha Ghosh, climate policy expert from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, told AFP.
But experts say the country—the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter—is some way from reaching its green targets, with coal set to remain a key part of the energy mix in the coming years.
Although India’s green energy has increased five-fold in just over a decade to 100GW this year, the sector now needs to grow by the same proportion again to meet its 2030 goals.
“I believe this is more of an aspirational target… to show to the world that we are moving in the right direction,” Vinay Rustagi from renewable energy consultancy Bridge to India, told AFP.
“But it would be a big stretch and seems highly unrealistic, in view of various demand and supply challenges,” Rustagi said.
Proponents point to Bhadla Solar Park, one of the largest in the world, as an example of how innovation, technology, and public and private finance can drive swift change.
“We’ve huge chunks of land where there’s not a blade of grass. Now you don’t see the ground anymore. You just see solar panels. It’s such a huge transformation,” Subodh Agarwal, Rajasthan’s additional chief secretary for energy, told AFP.
Authorities are incentivising renewables firms to set up in the region, known as the “desert state”. Agarwal says demand has “accelerated” since 2019.
“It will be a different Rajasthan. It will be the solar state,” he said of the next decade.
If this surge is sustained then coal-fired power for electricity generation could peak by 2024, according to Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) projections.
Currently, solar power accounts for four percent of electricity generation. Before Modi’s announcement the IEA estimated solar and coal will converge at around 30 percent each by 2040 based on current policies.
India’s billionaires, including Asia’s two richest men Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, are pledging huge investments, while Modi is setting up a renewables park the size of Singapore in his home state of Gujarat.
Show me the money
But reshaping an entire power network takes time and money, analysts warn.
“India expects developed countries to provide climate finance of $1 trillion at the earliest. Today it is necessary that as we track the progress made in climate mitigation, we should also track climate finance,” he told more than 120 leaders at the critical talks.
Farmer and doctor Amit Singh’s three-acre family farmland in Rajasthan’s Bhaloji village was running out of water and hit by frequent power outages.
“I always saw the sun and its rays and wondered… why not harness it to generate electricity?,” he said.
Singh first installed rooftop panels at his small hospital which generated half of its energy needs.
He then invested family savings into a government-linked project on his land.
The mini-solar farm cost 35 million rupees ($450,000) and Singh sells electricity to the grid for 400,000 rupees a month.
“It’s the ultimate source of energy, which is otherwise going to waste… I feel I’m contributing to the developmental needs of my village,” he added.
Ghosh said it was vital to bring down costs.
“When a farmer is able to generate power from their solar plant near their farm and pump out water—we are then able to bring the energy transition closer to the people,” he added.
Pratibha Pai, the founder-director of Chirag Rural Development Foundation which has brought solar to more than 100,000 villagers, believes in clean energy’s transformative role.
She said: “We start with solar power… we end with safe drinking water, power for dark village roads, power for little rural schools which will hopefully script the story of a ‘big’ India.”
A write up that is concerned not only about the Middle East but the whole of the MENA region was authored by Kelly Boyd Anderson in the Arab News. It is about those Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future. Are these as realistic as they should be?
Are those Factors that can help the Middle East shape its own future
The Middle East and North Africa region has long thwarted efforts to predict its future. However, while there will always be unpredictable events, identifying the trends and other factors most likely to shape the region’s outlook is a helpful place to start. There are multiple regional analyses and foresight projects from think tanks, educational institutions and other experts, including the EU Institute for Security Studies, the Middle East Scholar Barometer, and the Middle East Institute. Drawing on these and other studies, there are several factors that many experts believe will be key in shaping the MENA region over the next five to 10 years. Global factors will affect the region; in turn, MENA will have an impact on the world. One major shift with global consequences is the rise of regional powers with the resources to pursue their own interests and exert influence abroad. Regional powers will increasingly shape the region’s future and how it interacts with global actors. The regional countries will have to manage changes in America’s role, along with China’s growing power. Climate change is another trend with global and regional effects. MENA will experience some of the most severe consequences of climate change. The region’s resilience will depend on how successfully its governments improve infrastructure, pursue sustainable development and implement adaptation strategies over the next decade. At the same time, as a major source of hydrocarbons, the region contributes to climate change and must be part of global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There is significant potential for the region to become a leader in renewable energy and in technologies to limit emissions, but governments need to increase investments in these areas. The pandemic will have long-term impacts on global business, economics and health, and these will affect MENA. The pandemic accelerated or shifted global developments in business, economics and technology that will have consequences in the region, including advances and changes in artificial intelligence, supply chains, travel and more. These global shifts will create opportunities and risks for governments and businesses. In particular, developing high-quality, accessible digital infrastructure is key to ensuring the region can compete globally. Other factors that will shape the future are specific to the region. Demographic change will continue to play a major role in MENA’s economic and social context. The region’s population growth has started to slow, but its famous “youth bulge” will remain important over the next decade. The region still has an opportunity to benefit from a “demographic dividend,” but this will require urgent job creation, including educational reforms to better prepare young people for the workforce. Migration within and out of MENA will be another key demographic factor, with impacts beyond the region. Unfortunately, war and its aftermath will also play a crucial role. The conflict in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands, caused widespread displacement inside the country and historic refugee flows to other countries and left 90 percent of the population living in poverty. Libya, too, has experienced civil war. Ending and recovering from these conflicts will require enormous resources over the coming years, with long-lasting social, economic and political consequences. There is also a risk that areas of instability could descend into war. Iraq and Lebanon are experiencing violence and widespread dysfunction, with the potential to again become conflict hotspots. Many countries across the region face governance crises, being unable or unwilling to respond to the public’s needs and concerns. While the initial political changes that stemmed from the 2011 Arab Spring protests have been rolled back, the uprisings demonstrated that popular movements are important players in the region. Many countries have continued to experience significant protests. In a Middle East Scholar Barometer survey earlier this year, 30 percent of experts said that the “uprisings are likely to return within the next 10 years,” while 46 percent said that the “uprisings never stopped and are still ongoing in different forms.” Global and regional economic factors will also drive change. Youth unemployment is one of the region’s greatest challenges, making job creation and educational reform essential. Aging infrastructure, uneven access to the internet, food insecurity, and large fiscal deficits are other key issues.
One major shift with global consequences is the rise of regional powers with the resources to pursue their own interests and exert influence abroad.
Kerry Boyd Anderson
However, the region has significant economic opportunities, including a young population that is interested in entrepreneurship and is familiar with digital tools, the potential to expand women’s participation in the workforce, and significant space to expand the private sector. The extent to which governments and businesses implement policies to utilize these opportunities and manage the challenges will determine much of the future. There are many other relevant factors, including the closing window on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the role of violent extremist groups such as Daesh, the challenges and opportunities of increasing urbanization, and the uneven distribution of assets and risks around the region. The future is impossible to predict. However, by identifying the trends and factors that are likely to shape the coming years, leaders can prepare to mitigate risks and build on opportunities. People can have conversations about what type of future they prefer and work toward it, rather than being carried along by the tides of history.
Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 18 years of experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica. Twitter: @KBAresearch
Energy transitions in the producer economies of the Middle East and North Africa
Supporting Middle East and North Africa countries to help them diversify their economies towards clean and low-carbon energy
Oil and gas producers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are particularly exposed not only to climate change, but also to global efforts to mitigate it. This water-stressed region faces severe climate impacts, from rising temperatures to extended droughts, so must take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, many MENA countries are economically dependent on oil and gas exports, which could come under growing pressure from global efforts to decarbonise the energy sector. MENA countries must therefore find a way to accelerate development of clean energy while diversifying their economies away from reliance on oil and gas revenues.
The International Energy Agency is working with countries across the region to leverage their existing capacities and competitive advantages in traditional energy forms towards clean and low-carbon energy technologies. The aim is to help countries chart a low-carbon pathway for their own growing energy demand, while also exploring export opportunities for emerging low-carbon energy sectors, such as hydrogen.
This is a broad-ranging programme that cuts across the work streams of the IEA. It includes supporting renewable and clean energy deployment through policy reform; navigating the pathways available to countries seeking to implement national hydrogen strategies; and bolstering economic resilience through the promotion of local value chains. The programme functions through high-level dialogue; tailored support for national policy development; and thematic workshops and training.
Board members from developing countries insisted that making a 2050 net zero goal a condition for accreditation to the fund breaches equity principles
The UN’s flagship climate fund has been gripped by fierce debate over what decarbonisation conditions should be imposed to developing nation organisations seeking to access funding.
It was close to 4am on Friday in the Green Climate Fund’s South Korean headquarters when board members brought the four-day virtual meeting to a close.
Besides the usual delays and procedural wrangling, discussions became heated when board members were asked to consider whether to renew the GCF’s partnership with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
At the heart of the issue was a disagreement between members from large emerging economies and richer nations over whether decarbonisation conditions should be imposed on organisations from developing nations seeking to access funding.
The GCF was created to help poor countries curb their emissions and cope with climate impacts. It depends on agencies like DBSA to deliver projects in poor nations.
Some board members from rich countries added as a condition for DBSA to be re-accredited that the bank adopts a 2050 net zero emission target across its portfolio, and an intermediate 2030 target, within one year of the accreditation being approved.
The bank, which currently has no fossil fuel exclusion policy, would have to demonstrate how it is shifting its loans and investments away from carbon-intensive activities.
But the move was strongly resisted by developing country members who accused developed nations of imposing a carbon-cutting pathway on poorer ones.
Wael Aboul-Magd, of Egypt, told the board the 2050 net zero goal was “a global aspiration, not a prescription to every country, and particularly not for developing countries”.
Board member Ayman Shasly, of Saudi Arabia, described the condition as “blackmail,” adding that the GCF was being “manipulated by [developed countries] pushing their own agenda onto the fund”.
Yan Ren, of China, agreed with Shasly that the condition did not respect the Paris Agreement’s equity principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that nations that became rich from burning fossil fuels should cut their emissions faster to allow poorer ones to develop.
“We should not impose conditions on developing countries to force them to achieve certain targets. There is no one size fits all on fossil fuels,” she said.
DBSA is a development finance institution wholly owned by the South African government with 60% of its financing directed to the rest of the African continent.
Oil Change International data shared with Climate Home News shows that between 2018 and 2020, DBSA supported gas projects with $270m in financing, compared with nearly $320m for wind and solar.
Some of the DBSA-backed projects included a gas power plant in Ghana and LNG production in Mozambique.
However, campaigners warned that poor transparency in reporting at DBSA meant the true figures could be higher.
Campaigners have directly called on the South African government to commit to stop funding fossil fuels through DBSA by ensuring the bank adopts a fossil fuel finance exclusion policy and increases financing for accelerating the clean energy transition.
Members from rich nations pushed back against calls to re-accredit DBSA without any conditions and the issue was postponed to a future meeting.
Stéphane Cieniewski, of France, said the conditions were “not unreasonable or excessive” and aligned with the Paris accord.
Lars Roth, of Sweden, one of the board members who requested the net zero condition be applied to DBSA, told the meeting the bank was “already working on and intended to approve” a 2050 net zero goal across its portfolio and would be making a formal announcement in a couple of months.
Meanwhile, the fund agreed to re-accredit the UN Development Programme for another five years, amid ongoing corruption investigations into two of its projects in Albania and Samoa.
Overall, the board approved $1.2 billion for 13 new carbon-cutting and adaptation projects – a record amount for a single board meeting.
This included $125m for the GCF to become an anchor investor in the creation of a global fund to support and de-risk private investment designed to protect and restore coral reefs around the world.
The Global Fund for Coral Reef will support companies investing in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices, coral farming, plastic waste management and water treatment.
But it will also promote ecotourism and the development of “sustainably-managed hotel resorts” and tourists activities such as “surf, diving, snorkelling and cruises”.
The proposal was submitted by Pegasus Capital Advisors, a Delaware-incorporated private equity firm. The fund is due to be rolled out in 17 countries and aims to protect 29,000 hectare of reef globally and create nearly 13,000 jobs.
Board members overwhelmingly backed the design of the project despite strong opposition from civil society members acting as observers at the fund.
“We are very concerned that instead of helping communities in reef ecosystems adapt from climate change impacts, this adaptation project will profit out of harming the reefs,” Erika Lennon, of the Center for Environmental Law, told the board.
Lennon described the absence of connection between funding surf, diving or snorkelling enterprises with safeguarding reef ecosystems as “woefully inadequate” and urged for investments in hotel resorts, cruises and shrimp farming to be explicitly excluded from the scope of the project.
She warned that reef-damaging practices promoted by the project risked damaging the GCF’s reputation.
The following story is about how one country responded to disappointing Doing Business scores to reform its rules and regulations for its own benefit. Would discontinuation of this instrument mean its non-availability to others?
The above image is for illustration and is of iStock.
How one country responded to disappointing Doing Business scores
On September 16, 2021, the World Bank discontinued the Doing Business (DB) report, one of its flagship diagnostic products. This action follows what the World Bank called “a series of reviews and audits of the report and its methodology.”
The DB report, published each year since 2004, was one of the World Bank’s most influential reports in recent years. Every autumn, people around the world would wait eagerly and, in some cases, with some trepidation, for its release. Over time, the reports increasingly attracted the attention of heads of governments who wanted to see their countries do well in the rankings.
When the DB report came out in 2015, the Indian government was disappointed. Soon after taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Modi announced his government’s intention to bring India’s ranking into the top 50 within a few years. Several reforms were carried out in the following months, which the Indian government hoped would put India on a trajectory of rapid annual improvements in the ranking. The 2015 report (officially called “Doing Business in 2016”, since the World Bank always gave the report a forward-looking title) indicated only a modest improvement in India’s rank, from 142 to 130.
The World Bank explained to the Indian government that while several reforms may have been enacted on paper, Indian businesses did not report feeling an impact on the ground. Some responded, “What reforms?”, while others heard about the reforms but had not seen improvement on the ground. The reforms could not be officially recognized until the private sector reported real improvements. The World Bank suggested that the government put in place feedback loops to provide real-time information from businesses on whether the reforms were being well implemented. The government, instead of whining further about the scores, started working on such feedback loops. For several regulatory reforms covered by the DB indicators, it started surveying businesses on whether they felt any reform impact on the ground.
From February 2016 to May 2017, the government carried out a series of business-to-government (B2G) feedback exercises and focus group discussions (FGDs) on how much the businesses were aware of the enacted reforms and their views on the quality of reform implementation. Nine B2G feedback exercises were carried out. Topics covered construction permits (three surveys each in Delhi and Mumbai), starting a business (two surveys), and trading across borders.
The exercises revealed several implementation gaps, some major and some minor. An example is construction permitting. A business survey carried out in Delhi in March 2016 revealed the following implementation issues: a) significant lack of agency coordination—architects still need to obtain approvals from up to 10 different agencies; b) some facilities for online payment were not properly implemented and certain fees were still paid manually; c) very low awareness of the online system among users; d) no way to track the status of an application; e) information lacking on documentary and other requirements. In other words, the reforms had not gone far enough to have impact on the ground.
This feedback exercise helped generate several recommendations to address the deficiencies. These were provided to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), and most were acted upon. Follow-up feedback exercises in October 2016 and February 2017 validated these actions while generating additional recommendations for further improvement. A similar effort was made in Mumbai.
The impact of these efforts can be seen in the trends in India’s performance on the “Dealing with Construction Permits” indicator. In the Doing Business in 2016 report, India’s ranked 183 on this indicator. Thirty-three procedures were involved taking 191 days according to the indicators. Two years later, the number of days had come down to 144 with a modest improvement in the rank to 180. The more substantial improvements came the following year when the DB report published in October 2018 indicated a reduction in the number of procedures and days required to 18 and 95 respectively. Still a long way to go but enough to propel India’s ranking on this indicator to 52. While all this improvement cannot be attributed to the feedback exercises alone, it is possible to trace a substantial part of this improvement to actions taken as a result of these exercises.
The Indian government also recognized that the DB indicators did not cover many regulatory interfaces that created problems for businesses and that the indicator measures were based on conditions in just two cities, i.e., New Delhi and Mumbai. Thus, in parallel to its efforts on the DB front, the Indian government embarked on an ambitious regulatory reform program at the state-level covering all states and union territories in the country. A long list of regulatory reforms was identified covering several regulatory areas, and state governments were instructed to carry out the reforms. Called the Business Reforms Action Plan, the program started in 2015.
Progress was monitored through annual indicators that ranked states according to their performance on implementing the reforms. The first such indicators, published in 2015, did not take into account business feedback. However, seeing the usefulness of the feedback exercises carried out as part of the DB program, the government changed the state-level reform indicators in 2018 by making a substantial part of the indicator scores dependent on business feedback.
The powerful demonstration effect of such feedback exercises had touched individual state governments too. In 2018, four state governments, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Rajasthan, expressed an interest in knowing why there was poor uptake of self-certification and third-party certification options provided in business inspection reforms carried out by these states. At their request, the World Bank carried out an independent feedback exercise that could help design corrective actions to improve uptake.
The Indian experience from 2016 onward is a good example of what the DB indicators can lead to if governments use them well. First, the government refocused its attention from reforms on paper to reforms on the ground. Second, it recognized the importance of consulting with the private sector, which knows best where the shoe pinched, and designed corrective actions based on the feedback. This iterative process helped improve reform implementation quality. Third, the government recognized that while the DB indicators were useful, they were not adequate to diagnose the myriad of regulatory issues that businesses all over India faced. Thus, the government embarked on a more comprehensive, state-level, reform program, and, inspired by the power of indicators, underpinned this program by a set of performance indicators. Finally, once the pioneering DB-related feedback exercises proved useful, they created a demonstration effect, first within the central government, which replicated such exercises for the state-level reform program, and then on individual state governments.
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