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The MENA Region: A Key Scenario for the Energy Transition

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A Key Scenario for the Energy Transition in the MENA Region written by Roberto Vigotti could be a time-saver for all countries producing and nonproducing alike of hydrocarbon resources. Or as proposed by the IEA, it is a matter of Supporting the Middle East and North Africa countries to help them diversify their economies towards clean and low-carbon energy

The operations of the COP26 were closed just a couple of weeks ago, and it is now time to reflect upon relevant takeaways and how to translate them into action. Despite not being the theatre of the bold breakthrough we wished to see, Glasgow reiterated the importance of some key recommendations that, to this day, are our sharpest weapon in the fight against climate change: limiting the growth of the average temperature of the Earth below 1,5 °C, cutting by 45% the CO2 emissions before 2030, and pushing for a quick and worldwide deployment of renewable energy sources, acknowledging the importance of developing countries.

One of the clue scenarios of the recommended transformations is and will be the MENA region, for some self-explanatory reasons: MENA countries are endowed with an enormous renewable energy potential and a steady growth in their internal energy demand, making them illustrious candidates to lead the so yearned global energy transformation. This belief is reinforced by a positive trend of growth of some renewable energy sources in the Mediterranean countries: in the last decade, solar and wind power grew from less than 6% to 35% in the total amount of deployed renewables.

Nonetheless, the MENA’s contribution to the energy transition is still negligible: its share of renewable energy sources amounts to just 1% of the REs installed globally in the last 10 years with the lion’s share in the national energy mixes still being owned by fossil fuels. The data speak loud and clear: the majority of locally generated energy is based on gas and oil, which respectively amount to 72% and 20% of the total. In addition to the obvious environmental repercussions, the economy and internal welfare of many MENA countries is still tightly bound to fossil fuels, which provide more than a half of the national fiscal revenues in many countries (peaking In Kuwait, with approximately 90%), and are still largely financed by public institutions. Finally, the situation is worsened by the vulnerability to climate change: the local environmental features are a natural pre-condition for extreme weather phenomena, such as droughts, temperature raise, etc.

Hence, many trends of the MENA region appear to be in stark contrast with the recommendations outlined in the COP26, despite some isolated encouraging changes. It is urgent and overriding for local decision-makers to drastically re-shape the local approach to generation, transmission and distribution of energy, as well as related policy frameworks and market segments.

In this direction goes the last report produced by RES4Africa Foundation (“Connecting the Dots, 10 Years of Renewable Energy in MENA: What Has (not) Happened?”). In addition to portraying the current energy status quo of the MENA region, the analysis advocates for a fact-based shift towards renewable energy. The starting point would be the formulation and implementation of far-sighted energy policies, characterised by an adequate degree of boldness without losing touch with the reality: bright examples are Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. The regulatory framework should also be welcoming for private investments in REs, which are crucial to expand the energy access while simultaneously pushing for innovation, exchange of best practices, and a stimulation towards digitalisation and efficiency in MENA energy infrastructures. Complementary to these reforms should be safeguarding the transparency of local markets, thanks to new independent energy institutions and clear tender procedures.

The final step of such a virtuous process will be a progressive reduction of subsidies dedicated to fossil fuels: it is an ambitious and tricky target, especially considering the fact that a consistent part of oil and gas sources In MENA countries is still unexploited. However, we are confident that the renewable sector, if properly boosted and reformed, will provide incommensurably higher benefits, creating fertile soil for the energy transition and its related social and economic improvements.

This goal can be achieved just with a constant and structure cooperation with the MENA countries: let’s roll up our sleeves and work together for a sustainable tomorrow.

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, which gathers more than 30 stakeholders to accelerate the renewable energy transformation in Africa, with Africa and for Africa. In his 30+ year-long career he has covered various positions at Enel, University of Pisa, IEA and IRENA. When it was still considered an unlikely option, he was already convinced that deploying renewable energy in Africa would result in a positive socioeconomic impact for its population. In 2012, he therefore embarked on the RES4Africa adventure, to support a wider participation of private players in delivering investments in Africa. He also coordinates renewAfrica, an industry-backed Initiative that advocates the creation of a European comprehensive Programme for RE investments in Africa, to be promoted and owned by EU institutions

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CEO appointments in the UAE surpass pre-pandemic highs

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ZAWYA informs that 42% of UAE CEOs are non-nationals, and 5% are women, compared to global averages of 24% and 6%, therefore CEO appointments in the UAE surpass pre-pandemic highs per a recent report. Would this statement of fact have any meaning other than those consequent to the pandemic?

The image above is for illustration and is of the UAE appointing a new Governor.

Businessman wearing a mask in the office for safety during the pandemic. Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images

The appointment of new CEOs has surpassed pre-pandemic highs as companies demonstrate confidence about their prospects and their ability to find the right leader, according to a new report.

The Route to the Top 2021 by Heidrick & Struggles showed that the number of CEOs appointed across 14 countries was up 22.6 percent in the first half of 2021 when compared with the first half of 2018, and up 181 percent compared with the second half of 2020.

The report showed that 42 percent of CEOs in the UAE are non-nationals, compared with a global average of 24 percent, and five percent are women, compared with a global average of six percent. Of the 14 countries surveyed, Ireland had the highest proportion of female CEOs at 14 percent, while Hong Kong had the highest proportion of non-national CEOs at 76 percent.

More than a third of UAE CEOs (35 percent) had previous CEO experience in their last two roles.

Globally, newly appointed CEOs are more likely to be women (11 percent) and to be from countries other than where the company is headquartered (30 percent) and to have cross-border experience 46 percent.

In the UAE, 42 percent of new CEOs have advanced degrees, 16 percent have cross-border experience, and 23 percent have less than one year of experience as CEOs.

Other findings are that 42 percent of UAE CEOs were appointed before the age of 45 but the average age is 55, 30 percent were formerly heads of divisions but only two percent had previous COO experience, compared to 14 percent globally.

“Looking ahead, COVID 19 has raised expectations on the role of businesses in addressing concerns such as climate, equality, cybersecurity and other external realities; boards are rethinking the process of the CEO succession to cope with these changes, said Alain Deniau, head of CEO and board of directors practice, Heidrick & Struggles, MENA.

“This means that companies will open up to new perspectives and ideas. In addition, we expect more attention to shift towards leadership skills rather than specific skills.”

(Writing by Imogen Lillywhite; Editing by Seban Scaria)

Imogen.lillywhite@refinitiv.com 

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Sustainable Development Through Quality Education

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To achieve sustainable development goals, it is essential to adapt learning methodologies for the future of work and education.

So here is how to address the Sustainable Development Through Quality Education or how to Walk The Talk by Chaitali Moitra.

23 November, 2021


A sense of ‘purpose’ is the driving force behind our interactions with the world. As we rebuild from a global health crisis, the importance of individual purpose and the expression of our combined societal values, is under the spotlight. We are becoming more aware of our interdependence with nature, and the impact of our actions on the urgent challenges of the planet. Hence, the need to incorporate ‘sustainability’ is a necessity rather than a trending fad.

Resonating with sustainable development

Sustainability is crucial to meeting our needs today, without hampering the capacity of future generations to meet theirs. Only by truly understanding the meaning and relevance of sustainability in our lives and for the planet we live on, can we implement positive change. Today, the world is facing several critical challenges and global leaders are seeking solutions through sustainable development.

The UN has outlined 17 sustainable development goals for 2030, with education high on the priority list after ‘No Poverty’, ‘Zero Hunger’ and ‘Good Health and Well Being’. In fact, education is a widely acknowledged solution to achieving these core goals. As such, access to quality higher education is rendered a basic right for young individuals to grow into responsible, ethical and knowledgeable citizens.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 

The UNESCO roadmap, ESD for 2030, sheds more light on the role of education for sustainable development and urges people to consider if what they are learning is truly relevant to their lives, and will contribute to Earth’s survival. In India, the NEP 2020 has highlighted the need to reconfigure the entire education system to foster learning methodologies, in line with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. When held to high standards, education can encourage the development of conscious, ethical leaders and mitigate future misconduct.

ESD incorporates critical environmental issues such as climate change and geographical changes into core subjects such as math, science, and art, and prompts institutions to revise learning cycles and applications. The aim of this initiative is for students to relate what they learn in the classroom to their real-life actions, meaning they are better equipped to change behaviours early in life and embrace sustainable lifestyles.

The Role of Quality Education in ESD

There is a continuous and massive exchange of knowledge today, thanks to dynamic social media and content tools. However, this is not a substitute for a quality education, which not everyone has access to. Quality education goes beyond conducting and attending classes traditionally, to encompass a purposeful learning plan intended to prepare learners’ participation in a global society. It should equip them with the technical and interpersonal skills needed to make informed decisions, and take responsible actions for their own long-term development as well as the communities at large. 

If quality education is the answer to global sustainability problems, how do we unlock its potential?

The toolbox to get there

There is significant responsibility on educators as they apply best-in-class pedagogical practices with sustainable learning goals in mind. Education for Sustainable Development is indeed a tough challenge to address within a fixed number of classes and assessments, but thankfully, there are tools at hand to help tackle it.

To achieve sustainable development goals, it is essential to adapt learning methodologies for the future of work and education. Global universities are realising the importance of curating a responsive curriculum that seeks to instil essential attributes that empower students to grow, emerging skill sets required to secure a job, and an appreciation of how their actions impact the environment and humanity.

Quality education is supported by accurate and meaningful assessment practices that lead to higher-order thinking and a deep understanding of concepts. Academic integrity tools, including online platforms, empower educators and students to uphold this fundamental vision by curbing behaviours that undermine learning. For example, students involved in contract cheating or academic plagiarism rob themselves of true learning and widen future knowledge gaps. Using academic integrity tools to check the originality of student work pre and post submission, helps to identify this intentional cheating and address skills gaps, towards better learning outcomes. 

Time-saving, technology-assisted grading solutions help educators improve grading efficiency and consistency, to spend more time on teaching. They facilitate transparent feedback while identifying knowledge gaps early on, to scaffold student learning. That way, both students and teachers are aligned on expectations and the progress of learning objectives. Furthermore, educators can harness these tools to identify patterns in students’ assessment performance to adjust their own instruction and help shape the future curriculum.      

Quality education paves the way for a more sustainable future, while simultaneously elevating student success and development across the board. Designing a responsive education strategy is key to achieving this. One that is transparent includes sufficient training and decision support, and is centred on applied learning in the classroom, will deliver the key sustainability outcomes the world needs. 

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What is the smart city, and why is cloud storage key?

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David Friend, a specialist in cloud storage elaborates on What is the smart city, and why is cloud storage key?

Smart cities will demand a new paradigm for storage

(The image above is of Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

Today, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) have become big business. Throughout the 2020s, Harvard Business Review[1] estimates that these technologies will add $13 trillion to the global economy, impacting virtually every sector in the process.

One of the biggest drivers of the value-add provided by AI/ML will come from smart cities: cities that leverage enhancements in such technologies to deliver improved services for citizens. Smart cities promise to provide data-driven decisions for essential public services like sanitation, transportation, and communications. In this way, they can help improve the quality of life for both the general public and public sector employees, while also reducing environmental footprints and providing more efficient and more cost-effective public services.

Whether it be improved traffic flow, better waste collection practices, video surveillance, or maintenance schedules for infrastructure – the smart city represents a cleaner, safer, and more affordable future for our urban centers. But realizing these benefits will require us to redefine our approach towards networking, data storage, and the systems underpinning and connecting both. To capitalize on the smart city paradigm, we’ll need to adopt a new and dynamic approach to computing and storage.

Providing bottomless storage for the urban environment

In practice, the smart city will require the use of vast arrays of interconnected devices, whether it be sensors, networked vehicles, and machinery for service delivery. These will all generate an ever-growing quantity and variety of data that must be processed and stored, and made accessible to the rest of the smart city’s network for both ongoing tasks and city-wide analytics. While a smart city may not need access to all the relevant data at once, there’s always the possibility of historic data needing to be accessed on recall to help train and calibrate ML models or perform detailed analytics.

All of this means that a more traditional system architecture that processes data through a central enterprise data center – whether it be on-premise or cloud – can’t meet the scaling or performance requirements of the smart city.

This is because, given its geographic removal from the places where data is generated and used, a centralized store can’t be counted on to provide the rapid and reliable service that’s needed for smart city analytics or delivery. Ultimately, the smart city will demand a decentralized approach to data storage. Such a decentralized approach will enable data from devices, sensors, and applications that serve the smart city to be analyzed and processed locally before being transferred to an enterprise data center or the cloud, reducing latency and response times.

To achieve the cost-effectiveness needed when operating at the scale of data variety and volume expected of a smart city, they’ll need access to “bottomless clouds”: storage arrangements where prices per terabyte are so low that development and IT teams won’t need to worry about the costs of provisioning for smart city infrastructure. This gives teams the ability to store all the data they need without the stress of draining their budget, or having to arbitrarily reduce the data pool they’ll be able to draw from for smart city applications or analytics.

Freeing up resources for the smart city with IaaS

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is based around a simple principle: users should only pay for the resources they actually use. When it comes to computing and storage resources, this is going to be essential to economically deliver on the vision of the smart city, given the ever-expanding need for provisioning while also keeping down costs within the public sector.

For the smart city in particular, IaaS offers managed, on-demand, and secure edge computing and storage services. IaaS will furnish cities with the components needed to deliver on their vision – whether it be storage, virtualization environments, or network structures. Through being able to scale up provisioning based on current demand while also removing the procurement and administrative burden of handling the actual hardware to a specialist third party, smart cities can benefit from economies of scale that have underpinned much of the cloud computing revolution over the past decade.

In fact, IaaS may be the only way to go, when it comes to ensuring that the data of the smart city is stored and delivered in a reliable way. While handling infrastructure in-house may be tempting from a security perspective, market competition between IaaS providers incentivizes better service provision from all angles, whether customer experience, reliability and redundancy, or the latest standards in security.

Delivering the smart city is a 21st century necessity

The world’s top cities are already transforming to keep up with ever-expanding populations and in turn their ever-expanding needs. Before we know it, various sectors of urban life will have to be connected through intelligent technology to optimize the use of shared resources – not because we want to, but because we need to.

Whether it be a question of social justice, fiscal prudence, or environmental conscience, intelligently allocating and using the resources of the city is the big question facing our urban centers in this century. But the smart city can only be delivered through a smart approach to data handling and storage. Optimizing a city’s cloud infrastructure and guaranteeing cost-effective and quality provisioning through IaaS will be essential to delivering on the promise of the smart city, and thus meet some of our time’ most pressing challenges.

David Friend is the co-founder and CEO of Wasabi Technologies, a revolutionary cloud storage company. David’s first company, ARP Instruments developed synthesizers used by Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and even helped Steven Spielberg communicate with aliens providing that legendary five-note communication in Close Encounters of the ThirdKind. Friend founded or co-founded five other companies: Computer Pictures Corporation – an early player in computer graphics, Pilot Software – a company that pioneered multidimensional databases for crunching large amounts of customer data, Faxnet – which became the world’s largest provider of fax-to-email services, Sonexis – a VoIP conferencing company, and immediately prior to Wasabi, what is now one of the world’s leading cloud backup companies, Carbonite. David is a respected philanthropist and is on the board of Berklee College of Music, where there is a concert hall named in his honor, serves as president of the board of Boston Baroque, an orchestra and chorus that has received 7 Grammy nominations. An avid mineral and gem collector he donated Friend Gem and Mineral Hall at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. David graduated from Yale and attended the Princeton University Graduate School of Engineering where he was a David Sarnoff Fellow.

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Challenges Facing the Cement Industry in the MENA Region

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The full version of this article titled ‘Musings on MENA’ could be found in the November issue of World Cement.  It is published by David Bizley, Editor of World Cement and is about all those Challenges facing the Cement Industry in the MENA Region.

Here it is:


Musings on MENA

Ahmad Al-Rousan, Secretary-General of the Arab Union for Cement and Building Materials (AUCBM), provides an overview of the challenges facing the cement industry in the MENA region.

It is a fact that the cement industry of the MENA region has, for the most part, fairly recent origins, with some exceptions being small scale and limited productivity operations in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Syria.

Since the mid-1970s, the cement industry across the Arab world began to expand as demand for construction and infrastructure in these countries grew. At present, the number of companies and factories in operation has reached 171, with 32 additional cement mills. Design capacity for the region has thus reached 355 million tpy.

In recent years, prior to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for cement fell in several Arab countries as a result of difficult economic conditions and war; a number of factories were shut down or destroyed, and some projects were suspended or postponed. Currently, Egypt and Saudi Arabia lead the region in terms of factory numbers and production capacity. Cement consumption also declined during 2018 and 2019 in the GCC countries, across North Africa, Jordan, and Lebanon at rates ranging from 1.5% to 17%.

With the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, measures such as factory closures and the halting of operations were seen across the world, including the MENA region, which lead to significant declines in both production and demand, with the decrease in demand exceeding 39%.

With a view to ensuring that factories continue to operate at an acceptable rate while maintaining preventive measures, AUCBM has circulated a roadmap that details the health measures to be taken in order to maintain the continuity of production. Many factories managed to endure this epidemic and have resumed their operations. Some countries recorded growth in consumption during the second half of 2020, such as Saudi Arabia, where sales increased by more than 20%.

In addition to the above, the challenges facing the cement industry of the Arab world can, at this stage, be summarised as follows:

  • Some of the measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic still constitute an obstacle to factories, especially those involving reductions in the number of workers on site.
  • The tough economic conditions faced by many Arab countries and the suspension or postponement of numerous planned projects (especially in the GCC countries), though the execution phase of some of these projects has already started this year.
  • Decreased market demand for cement, occurring naturally as a result of the difficult economic conditions and ongoing conflict in the region.
  • Security problems and ongoing conflicts in some countries.
  • Recent expansions of cement factories in some countries created large production surpluses, which were compounded by the fact that some countries already export cement (Algeria and Saudi Arabia, for example).

The increase of cement consumption in the MENA region, primarily requires the existence of construction and infrastructure projects, which the Arab world still needs. It is true that modest consumption growth has been recorded in some countries since mid-2020, but these rates continue to fluctuate due to the absence of constant and continuous projects.

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