2022—The year to redefine cities as the first tiers of urban governance is by SAYLI UDAS⎯MANKIKAR, published in Observer Research Foundation might hold some inspiring words for the MENA region’s own particular and diverse built environment. Seriously would 2022 be the year to redefine cities as first tiers of urban governance anywhere else than India? Does it really; let us find out.
A holistic restructuring of federal, systemic, and financial governance is required to empower our city governments
Nations debate over issues of climate change and pandemic response amongst others, but it is finally the cities that have the unenviable task of executing the ambitious agendas set up by the national elites. Cities find themselves burdened and crippled to deliver on these promises due to the following factors. First, the lack of adequate authority, federally, to run a city. Second, the funds allocated to cities do not quite match the duties they have to perform. And third, is the lack of capacities to plan, monitor, and execute tasks adequately.
It is time that the first responders to crisis, our cities, are no longer treated as mere urban local bodies that ensure water flows through our taps, garbage is picked up, and roads are tarred, but are actually treated as the custodians of urban governance in India.
In 2022, we must make serious federal and systemic amends to enable and strengthen cities to play out this role, and not only criticise these pale urban structures when they fail to respond to our large requirements. With the Glasgow Pact endorsing ‘the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ at the local level, it was for the first time that the role of cities was officially appreciated and recognised in a COP summit. The new pact has also highlighted the need for climate adaptation through planning at the local government level. This is a cue that, globally, the way cities are being perceived is changing. Decentralisation and devolution of power should be the axis around which federal reforms should be implemented and reimagined in cities. While we constantly invoke the 74th Amendment of the Indian Constitution, which brought in the concept of devolution, the three tiers of government which placed urban local bodies at the lowest level, must be redefined 25 years after its conception. We have to assess the reasons why most cities were not able to implement many of these reforms.
With the Glasgow Pact endorsing ‘the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ at the local level, it was for the first time that the role of cities was officially appreciated and recognised in a COP summit.
During the pandemic, even within the cities, a strong and successful model that emerged in high density population areas was ward-level management. Formation of ward committees, and the involvement of citizen voices and a local say at the hyper local level was a part of the 74th Amendment, which haven’t found resonance with many city authorities. There is reluctance, even within city governments, in passing over power to the lowest level and empowering citizens and their direct representatives.
The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 recommended that cities adopt a bottom-up approach of functioning on the principle of subsidiarity, which puts wards as the first level of governance that has people closest to it. The tasks are then pushed upwards to higher authorities when the local units are not enabled to perform them. The delegation of work is bottom-up. Such citizen involvement has been tried in Mumbai through its Advanced Locality Management (ALM) groups, and in Delhi through the Bhagidari scheme, where Resident Welfare Groups are set up to work on local civic issues. However, these were never empowered in their participation, through funds or functions. Recently, cities like Vishakapatnam have made requests to the government that the devolution should not be restricted to power but to development, where authorities of the region are able to administer all development work of that region and not be dependent on centrally-allocated funds for an infrastructure push.
The delegation of work is bottom-up. Such citizen involvement has been tried in Mumbai through its Advanced Locality Management (ALM) groups, and in Delhi through the Bhagidari scheme, where Resident Welfare Groups are set up to work on local civic issues.
The 15th Finance Commission report tabled in the Budget Session in 2021 was a ray of hope for urban governance. The issue of devolution of taxes to cities after local taxes like Octroi and VAT were subsumed into Goods and Services Taxes (GST) had attracted a lot of clamour and there was demand that a separate City GST must be constituted. But while the consideration of this demand still seems a long time away, the 15th Finance Commission has made an absolute allocation of 4.15 percent of the divisible pool—approximately INR 3,464 billion from the divisible pool of taxes—to local governments. After it is distributed, this will constitute almost 25 percent of the total municipal budgets of most cities. The Commission has also given a fiscal thrust to metropolitan governance by introducing outcome funding to 50 million metropolitan regions with population of over 150 million. Here, an outlay of INR 380 billion has been laid out for 100-percent funding for indicators related to water and sanitation, air quality, and other services.
But this is again a double whammy, considering it is still going to flow top-down from the centre to state governments, which then devolve the money to cities. There has always been a question mark on whether the amounts allocated to a city get used completely, since this will depend on the absorption capacities of cities and their ability to spend municipal funds.
The Commission has also suggested that other avenues such as city incubation grants should be used to develop smaller towns and regions in the country. This has gained significance in areas with strong political leadership or cities supported by the Smart Cities Mission, which encourages, handholds, and sets up guarantee mechanisms for private investment into the urban sector.
City governments must make their own efforts to ensure that the taxes which are within their ambit—like property tax—are paid by citizens, for which unique mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring collections are made.
Along with devolution of financial or other powers comes transparency and accountability in its systems, the onus for which lies on the city governments. The first step to transparency will be to ensure that city budgets are put in the public domain and follow a simple format that is both easy to understand and comprehensible. City governments must make their own efforts to ensure that the taxes which are within their ambit—like property tax—are paid by citizens, for which unique mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring collections are made. As issues like climate change gain ground, city governments must introduce tax rebates for green infrastructure to achieve their targets.
In conclusion, a three-pronged holistic approach of reimagining federal governance, reworking financial governance, and restructuring systemic governance in urban agglomerations might be the magic pill for creating strong cities. If we want our first responders and drivers of our quality of life to succeed, our political leaders and administrators will need to lend their muscle to put cities first.
ReutersWorld came up with an Exclusive: Qatar to act as U.S. diplomatic representative in Afghanistan – official . It is by Humeyra Pamuk
The image above is for illustration and is of Reuters.
WASHINGTON, Nov 12 (Reuters) – The United States and Qatar have agreed that Qatar will represent the diplomatic interests of the United States in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told Reuters, an important signal of potential direct engagement between Washington and Kabul in the future after two decades of war.
Qatar will sign an arrangement with the United States on Friday to assume the role of “protecting power” for U.S. interests to help facilitate any formal communication between Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognize.Report ad
The move comes at a time when the United States and other Western countries are grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after the hardline group took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as U.S.-led forces were withdrawing after two decades of war.
Many countries including the United States and European states are reluctant to formally recognize the Taliban as critics say they are backtracking on pledges of political and ethnic inclusivity and not to sideline women and minorities.Report ad
But with winter approaching, many countries realize they need to engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the deal with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani at a news conference after their meeting on Friday.
According to the arrangement, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a U.S. Interests Section and will coordinate closely with U.S. State Department and with U.S. mission in Doha.
The U.S. official said the United States would also continue its engagement with the Taliban through the Qatari capital, Doha, where the Taliban have maintained a political office for years.
“As our protecting power, Qatar will assist the United States in providing limited consular services to our citizens and in protecting U.S. interests in Afghanistan,” said the senior State Department official, who spoke about the sensitive matter on the condition of anonymity.
Consular assistance may include accepting passport applications, offering notarial services for documentation, providing information, and helping in emergencies, the U.S. official said.
The U.S. Interests Section will operate out of certain facilities on the compound in Kabul used by the U.S. Embassy prior to the suspension of operations, the State Department official said, adding that Qatar would monitor the properties on the compound and conduct security patrols.
Millions of Afghans face growing hunger amid soaring food prices, a drought and an economy in freefall, fueled by a hard cash shortage, sanctions on Taliban leaders and the suspension of much financial aid.
The Taliban victory in August saw the billions of dollars in foreign aid that had kept the economy afloat abruptly switched off, with more than $9 billion in central bank reserves frozen outside the country.
In a separate agreement, Qatar will continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 at-risk Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIV) and their eligible family members, the U.S. official said.
“SIV applicants will be housed at Camp As Sayliyah and al-Udeid Air Base,” the official said.
The two decades-long U.S. occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organized airlift in August in which more than 124,000 civilians, including Americans, Afghans and others, were evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of U.S.-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Editing by Robert Birsel
COP26 aims to secure tougher measures to cut CO2 emissions
Conference set to begin with afternoon speeches
Weekend G20 summit failed to set positive tone for COP26
Thunberg urges leaders: ‘Face up to climate emergency now’
GLASGOW, Nov 1 (Reuters) – World leaders began arriving on Monday at a U.N. conference critical to averting the most disastrous effects of climate change, their challenge made even more daunting by the failure of major industrial nations to agree ambitious new commitments.
The COP26 conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow opens a day after the G20 economies failed to commit to a 2050 target to halt net carbon emissions – a deadline widely cited as necessary to prevent the most extreme global warming.
Instead, their talks in Rome only recognised “the key relevance” of halting net emissions “by or around mid-century”, set no timetable for phasing out coal at home and watered down promises to cut emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg asked her millions of supporters to sign an open letter accusing leaders of betrayal.Report ad
“As citizens across the planet, we urge you to face up to the climate emergency,” she tweeted. “Not next year. Not next month. Now.”
Many of those leaders take to the stage in Glasgow on Monday to defend their records and in some cases make new pledges at the start of two weeks of negotiations that conference host Britain is billing as make-or-break.Report ad
“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell the opening ceremony, according to advance excerpts of his speech.
“If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.”
Discord among some of the world’s biggest emitters about how to cut back on coal, oil and gas, and help poorer countries to adapt to global warming, will not make the task easier.
At the G20, U.S. President Joe Biden singled out China and Russia, neither of which is sending its leader to Glasgow, for not bringing proposals to the table.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, on board Air Force One with Biden, said Glasgow could put pressure on those who had not yet stepped up, but that it would not end the global effort.
“It is also critical for us to recognise that the work is going to have to continue after everyone goes home,” he told reporters.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is by far the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and ahead of the United States, will address the conference on Monday in a written statement, according to an official schedule.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, one of the world’s top three oil producers along with the United States and Saudi Arabia, has dropped plans to participate in any talks live by video link, the Kremlin said. read more
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will also stay away. Two Turkish officials said Britain had failed to meet Ankara’s demands on security arrangements and protocol. read more
Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels – a level scientists say would avoid its most destructive consequences.
To do that, it needs to secure more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions, lock in billions in climate-related financing for developing countries, and finish the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries.
Existing pledges to cut emissions would allow the planet’s average surface temperature to rise 2.7C this century, which the United Nations says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing by intensifying storms, exposing more people to deadly heat and floods, raising sea levels and destroying natural habitats.
Developed countries confirmed last week that they would be three years late in meeting a promise made in 2009 to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries by 2020. read more
“Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions, but Africans are suffering the most violent consequences of the climate crisis,” Ugandan activist Evelyn Acham told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
“They are not responsible for the crisis, but they are still paying the price of colonialism, which exploited Africa’s wealth for centuries,” she said. “We have to share responsibilities fairly.”
Two days of speeches by world leaders starting Monday will be followed by technical negotiations. Any deal may not be struck until close to or even after the event’s Nov. 12 finish date.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Jeff Mason; writing by Mark John and Kevin Liffey; editing by Barbara Lewis
Al Jazeera in its Opinions on the current Climate Crisis published this article of Karim Elgendy, a Sustainability consultant based in London on how certain counties will be travelling on the bandwagon to Glasgow to relay what Climate action in the MENA region will consist of.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE not only jumped on the climate bandwagon, but they may also be attempting to control its steering wheel.
In the few weeks leading up to the upcoming UN climate change summit in Glasgow – known as COP26 – the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region witnessed an unprecedented shift in its climate policy.
The MENA region has often had a complicated relationship with climate change and the actions required to address it.
Regional greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow on every front. In fact, during the 40 years preceding the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the MENA region was the only one where total emissions, emissions per capita, and emissions per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) all increased. Many of the region’s countries also have rentier economies that are dependent on fossil fuel exports, and so are concerned about the loss of revenues. Yet the region is also disproportionately at risk from climate change impacts, not only relative to its small share of historic greenhouse gas emissions, but also relative to its share of the global population and global GDP.
In the annual UN climate summits known as Conference of Parties – or COP for short – countries of the MENA region have often played a role that reflected this complicated relationship. They often appeared hesitant to advocate for ambitious climate action and generally opposed rapid decarbonisation claiming it will damage their developing economies. Some countries demanded international funding especially when it comes to adapting to climate change, while others made claims for compensation for possible loss of fossil fuel revenues.
As a regular observer of the annual climate negotiations, I often felt that the region was trying to hold back the tide. While the scientific community reached a consensus on transitioning to a low-carbon economy fuelled by renewable energy, and as world leaders were busy working out the details of this transformation, the region looked like a straggler stuck in a puddle of oil.
Fuelling competition, eventually
The Paris Agreement, while restoring hope in averting the worst effects of climate change, did not alter these dynamics immediately. The accord’s bottom-up approach allowed each country to voluntarily determine how much it is willing to commit to the fight against climate change. Initially, this allowed countries to pledge as little as possible, which led to a collective global commitment that fell short of the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5C.
However, the genius of the agreement only transpired over the last couple of years, when it started driving competition between nations to revise their commitments upwards. As the global transformation to a low-carbon world appeared inevitable, many countries figured out that by committing to ambitious climate action sooner rather than later they will be better positioned to shape this new world rather than be shaped by it. Many nations also figured that as first-movers, they could establish themselves as global or regional leaders through climate diplomacy.
So despite the COVID-19 pandemic, more commitments for deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions were made by developed economies. Some nations also set long-term strategies to reach zero carbon by the middle of the century including the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Canada, and South Korea.
Leaving the puddle behind
Earlier this year, signals were already emerging in the MENA region that climate diplomacy is becoming central to the diplomatic arsenal of its powers as they competed for regional leadership and to fill a perceived power vacuum. Yet in the run-up to COP26 these powers have all picked up the pace by committing to long-term climate goals that were not on the cards less than a year ago.
Just in the last few weeks, we saw a flurry of regional announcements from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signalling their intention to become zero-carbon economies by the middle of the century. A few months earlier, Israel had also announced an “almost zero” carbon plan, by pledging to reduce its emissions by 85 percent in 30 years. Iran is now the only regional power that is yet to develop an ambitious climate target or even ratify the Paris Agreement.
The Turkish announcement of its plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2053 came first and was followed within days by the UAE’s 2050 Net-Zero Initiative which was hailed as the first such target by an oil exporter outside of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD. The Saudi announcement earlier this week outlined the kingdom’s vision to reach zero carbon by 2060 as part of the Saudi Green Initiative and its regional vision, known as the Middle East Green Initiative. Bahrain immediately followed with a similar pledge.
Unsurprisingly, there are many commonalities between these announcements. They all included plans to dramatically expand their renewable energy capacity and improve energy efficiency. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel also share plans to use tree planting as a carbon-capturing measure, while Turkey and Arabia both plan to develop an emissions trading scheme.
Yet climate policy always reflects national circumstances and priorities. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made it clear that despite their commitment to reducing emissions from their oil and gas industries, their plan is to maintain their role as big fossil fuel producers. In fact, the Saudi climate commitments are conditional on its ability to maintain its fossil fuel exports.
Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives are also unique in promoting the Circular Carbon Economy – a new approach that the kingdom is championing which proposes that fossil fuels are not immediately phased out, and advocates removing carbon from the atmosphere using trees in addition to carbon capture and storage technologies.
Financing these visions is also a differentiating factor; while Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel are all making unconditional commitments and do not seek climate funding, Turkey’s move is likely to have been influenced by its efforts to access the growing climate finance flows.
Such announcements are nothing short of transformative economic visions. By introducing these emission reduction targets, the regional powers are setting in motion a direction of travel for their economies for the next 30 to 40 years, shaping all future infrastructure spending, and signalling to their peoples and businesses to start moving towards products and services that have minimal effect on the environment.
Working alone and succeeding together
But long term visions need short-term plans, and regional powers have also increased their 2030 emission reduction pledges ahead of COP26, in line with their commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Saudi Arabia, for example, committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent by 2030 while the UAE committed to a 23.5 percent reduction, both compared with business-as-usual scenarios. Israel on the other hand committed to a 27 percent reduction in emissions compared with 2015. Other countries across the MENA region have also raised their 2030 targets including Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan. Most of these revised pledges remain relatively modest, indicating that the journey to zero carbon will be slow, to begin with, but they are certainly moving in the right direction.
The new climate focus may also be bringing the region together, as different countries attempt to lead regional climate efforts. Saudi Arabia has gone further than anyone else in fostering a sense of regional collaboration around its vision by launching the Middle East Green Initiative and by inviting 30 regional and international leaders as well as the Arab League to support it. It has also announced the establishment of a regional centre for carbon capture and storage, as well as an investment fund and a collaboration platform to support its Circular Carbon Economy approach.
This collaboration could not have come a moment too soon in a region so vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Regional countries can either succeed together or fail alone.
Next week, as the world’s eyes turn to Glasgow, many would be looking to see if these impressive developments in the MENA region’s climate policy would translate into a different negotiating position and more international collaboration.
The region’s countries might have individually arrived at a conclusion that being at the table could help them shape the new world being forged. And while the priorities of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and Israel vary significantly, a coalition around a regional climate plan might be in the offing, with a different approach than that of European countries currently driving climate action.
How this plays out remains uncertain, but one thing is indisputable; the region wants to become more engaged in shaping the future. The fact that Egypt has been selected to host COP27 next year, while the UAE is the frontrunner to host the following COP in 2023, is further proof of that.
The MENA region not only jumped on the climate bandwagon, but it may also be attempting to control its steering wheel. Over the next months and years, we will find out if it succeeds and what direction it might steer it towards.
Karim ElgendySustainability consultant based in LondonKarim Elgendy is a sustainability consultant based in London. He is an Associate Fellow with Chatham House and the founder of Carboun, an advocacy initiative promoting sustainability in cities of the MENA region.
Some views expressed in this article are by David R Malpass, President of the World Bank Group and posted on Al Jazeera‘s blog tell us that the World Bank is concerned with the Regional Integration in the MENA region, hence a call for action.
MENA countries are on the cusp of important regional integration initiatives that will provide much needed efficiency gains, diversification, trust building and green growth.
Published On 28 Oct 2021
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region of abundant human and natural resources, shared culture and languages and a well-established heritage of skill in trade. With a total population close to that of the European Union, the MENA region is, however, the least economically integrated in the world. As they strive to create more jobs, attract more investment, boost growth and recover from the pandemic, countries of the MENA region today have a strong economic incentive to accelerate their efforts at regional integration.
The MENA region has been at the crossroads of regional trade throughout history. Countries have previously established a host of multilateral, regional, and bilateral trade agreements, with limited tangible outcomes. The benefits of regional integration include growth spillovers, larger markets, and production scale economies. These are well recognised by MENA economists, traders and farmers alike. What is lacking is not a rationale or capacity to integrate, but rather a sense of urgency to prioritise and move forward with integration.
Opportunities for regional integration include energy and water and certain geographic regions within MENA. These would benefit from advanced dialogue, foundational technical work, and the promise of strong and near-immediate positive economic impact.
With the exception of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the energy sector in MENA is interconnected but not integrated. This means only two percent of the electricity produced in the MENA region is traded between countries each year. Recognising the benefits, the Arab Ministerial Councils for Electricity (AMCE), under the League of Arab States (LAS), has prioritised the establishment of a Pan-Arab Electricity Market (PAEM). The World Bank is engaged in this initiative and has been offering technical assistance and advice. Indeed, the PAEM has the ambitious objective to increase cross-border electricity trade from the current two percent to 40 percent by 2035. This will equip the MENA region with one of the largest multi-country integrated systems in the world – producing a total generation capacity of more than 600 gigawatts by 2035.
In North Africa, scaling up existing regional energy with Europe’s Mediterranean countries should also be expanded. At my recent meeting with Arab Governors during the World Bank Group Annual Meetings, I emphasised the need to sustain and accelerate these critical regional energy initiatives and to prioritise actions that will help alleviate demand and supply imbalances across many countries of the MENA region.
The fact that most of the MENA region’s water is shared also presents an opportunity to accelerate regional integration efforts. In the MENA region, all major river basins, tributaries, and groundwater aquifers are considered shared waters. As pressure increases due to climate change, population growth and development it will become increasingly important to develop adequate frameworks for advancing regional cooperation. There is a broad range of global examples that showcase the power of water as a catalyser for cooperation. As a result, strengthening transboundary water cooperation can be a powerful tool not only for improving water security in the countries in the region, but also for promoting economic prosperity and greater cooperation.
Finally, and as described in the recent update of the World Bank Group’s approach to Regional Integration in Africa, it is critical to strengthen and enable the strong historical and socioeconomic linkages that exist between countries of the Maghreb and those of sub-Saharan Africa. In anticipation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), now is the time to expand and deepen existing platforms for regional cooperation, including in agriculture and digital sectors where progress is most needed, and to explore additional opportunities for regional integration between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
While the challenges of establishing – and sustaining – regional trade, infrastructure and institutions are significant, MENA countries are on the cusp of important regional integration initiatives that will provide much-needed efficiency gains, diversification, trust-building and green growth – all of which will play a catalytic role in economic growth and poverty reduction in MENA. The World Bank Group is ready to play a part in furthering this forward-looking agenda.
David R Malpass, President of the World Bank GroupDavid R Malpass was named President of the World Bank Group in April 2019. Malpass previously served for eleven years in US government roles at the US Treasury, State Department, Senate Budget Committee, and Congress’s Joint Economic Committee. In between government service, he worked for twenty-four years on Wall Street as a top-ranked economist, a columnist with Forbes magazine, and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal. Malpass earned a degree in physics at Colorado College as a Boettcher Scholar, an MBA from the University of Denver, and studied as a Mid-Career Fellow at Georgetown University.
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