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Democracy vital for prosperity and sustainable development

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In so far as the MENA region countries are concerned, Democracy being vital for prosperity and sustainable development or the lack of it, has been demonstrated over and over the millennia. Let us see what it means in today’s world for the rest of the world with Androulla Kaminara.

The above image is for illustration and is of the FDSD.

Democracy vital for prosperity and sustainable development

Transparency and reliability of how elections are carried out are key to ensuring that the winners enjoy legitimacy.

On 15 September, we are marking International Day of Democracy. Since the pillars of democracy around the world are threatened as new challenges emerge, this day is perhaps more pertinent than ever. Democracy is a dynamic concept that has evolved over time, as have the challenges facing it. To those challenges, new challenges have been added of late, including by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic deepening existing inequalities, spreading disinformation and distrust, and undermining women’s rights. In addition, the fast evolution of new technologies and their impact on all walks of life has also had a profound impact on democratic processes around the world.

As the world took emergency measures to address the Covid-19 crisis, concerns began to emerge that these actions could infringe on civil and human rights of citizens. Covid-19 also highlighted and aggravated inequalities within societies, including in social protection, increased discrimination and violence against women as well as disinformation. The pandemic was accompanied by a global infodemic that poses a direct threat to one of the pillars of democracy: the right to access to information.

The answer is — ‘to build back better’ — to build a society that works for all and that represents the will of the people is the objective. Democracy is built on inclusion, equal treatment and participation — is a fundamental building block of a progressive, stable and peaceful society that enables sustainable development, human rights and economic justice for all.

Democracy is one of the core values of the European Union, together with human rights and the rule of law. The EU is taking steps to safeguard and strengthen democracy inside our Union since no democratic system is perfect and continuous efforts are need for improvement. In the EU, we practise our rights, also through regular elections both at individual Member State level — local, regional and national elections — as well as at the European Union level. The elections to the European Parliament are one of the largest democratic exercises in the world, with over 400 million citizens being represented.

The European Union also takes a leading role in promoting democracy around the world through the implementation of relevant projects and through Electoral Observation Missions (EOM).

In 2019, cooperation projects in support of democracy amounted to €147 million in 37 countries. Over the last 7 years, the EU has implemented projects of €618 million in Pakistan and currently, the EU supports the National Assembly, Senate and four provincial assemblies by strengthening their functioning in terms of capacity, transparency and accessibility as well as accountability towards Pakistani citizens with a project of €9 million.

Since 2019, the EU deployed over 20 observation missions globally as part of its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law across the world and these offer a comprehensive and impartial assessment of electoral processes. In addition, EOMs publish recommendations aiming to improve future elections and strengthen democratic institutions.

In Pakistan, the EU so far has deployed four observation missions since 2002 upon the invitation of the respective governments. The EOM of 2018 put forward a set of thirty recommendations for electoral processes and framework reforms. It is encouraging to note that several of these recommendations are reflected in the 3rd Strategic Plan of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

However, other recommendations are still pending. Among those is the need to ensure a full level playing field for women: registration of women voters and women representatives in parliaments as well as in the media. In Pakistan, there are 63 million registered male voters and 50 million female voters, clearly indicating that about 13 million women voters are missing. The report argues that stronger involvement of women in political decision-making leads to more accountability, better use of public resources, as well as stability and peace. The fact that a large number of women are not eligible to vote leads to alienation of a significant part of the population. Ensuring their inclusion in the electoral process as well as adequate representation for marginalised groups is key to a more inclusive and fair democratic system.

We recognise the difficulties in implementation of some of the EOM’s 2018 recommendations which are public. Nonetheless, as Pakistan is approaching its next general elections, it is paramount to keep the reform momentum and maintain efforts to further strengthen the electoral system and practice. In this context, the role of a fully functioning Election Commission of Pakistan supported by all is crucial.

The experience within the European Union and elsewhere shows that for democracy to work, trust in the democratic process, including the electoral mechanism, is vital. Transparency and reliability of how elections are carried out are key to ensuring that the winners enjoy legitimacy and support from the electorate. Without democracy, peace and stability, sustainable development and prosperity cannot exist.

The EU continues to be committed to safeguarding and strengthening democracy within its borders and across the world, and we work with all our partner countries including Pakistan in this endeavour.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2021.

How humanity has reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency

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Arabian Business‘ post on the GCC of all countries of the MENA region are taking action for a sustainable future because of how humanity having reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency. Here it is.

How humanity has reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency

The good news is that there is still a sliver of hope to help communities respond to this threat through well-informed, solid and sustained actions.

The recently published report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes unprecedented environmental changes as “irreversible for centuries to millennia”.

However, the good news is that there is still a sliver of hope to help communities respond to this threat through well-informed, solid and sustained actions.

Like the rest of the world, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have started experiencing climate change first-hand with sparse rainfall, arid terrain, and high temperatures. Thus, its governments moved to adapt their climate change policies.

For example, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green Initiative which aims to increase the kingdom’s reliance on clean energy, and combat climate change. Bloomberg Green reported earlier this year that Saudi Arabia is building a $5 billion solar and wind-powered plant to be among the world’s biggest green hydrogen makers when it opens in the planned megacity of Neom in 2025.

Meanwhile, the UAE has been undertaking many steps to control the effects of climate since the late 2000s with the establishment of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, which is currently hosting the International Renewable Energy Agency headquarters. Dubai also inaugurated the third phase of its largest solar park in the world last year, which targets a capacity of 5GW by 2030 to supply homes with clean energy and offset CO2 emissions.

Global funders of science – including philanthropy, the private sector and government agencies – have a vital role in delivering climate pledges. As we have seen with the fight against Covid-19, by focusing investments on supporting much-needed research and technology development, we can improve climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, and influence policy and identify behavioural interventions that support them. This prompts us to examine the role of privately-led science funding in the GCC in supporting climate change combat.

Research indicates that climate change directly impacts nutrition and public health. In the GCC, for example, MIT professor Elfatih Eltahir published a paper in Nature Climate Change, alongside Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University, demonstrating that waves of heat and humidity in the region are likely to lead to temperature levels that are intolerable to humans. This research sounds a warning for the impact of increased urbanisation rates on livability in the GCC in the face of climate change.

The GCC can respond positively to climate change’s direct and indirect effects on communities, whether air pollution, nutrition, disease or even habitability.

With exceptions like Professor Eltahir’s study, there is little research and empirical evidence on the effects of adverse climate events on human health in the GCC region. Such research is urgently needed: Only by examining the most up-to-date and robust scientific evidence and analysis, can we understand how to tackle these challenges most effectively.

To this end, Community Jameel has partnered with AEON Collective, a leading Saudi-based sustainable development research and advocacy group, to bring together a consortium of world-leading international and local researchers in the areas of climate, food and water, and public health to inform policy recommendations in climate and health in the GCC.

This includes scientists from two research centres Community Jameel has founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): the Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), which catalyses research and innovation at MIT to find solutions to urgent global water and food systems challenges; and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), whose co-founders – Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee – received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for their experimental approach to tackling global poverty, and where the J-PAL King Climate Action Initiative is generating evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of technological and policy innovations at the intersection of climate and poverty.

In order to bridge the gap between academia, policymakers and the private sector in the GCC, the consortium will draw on the expertise of researchers at J-WAFS and J-PAL, as well as local and other international institutions, to identify solutions, provide technical guidance, and improve our understanding of the complexity behind the policy changes required to implement science-based solutions in the region.

By strengthening the region’s climate resilience, the GCC can respond positively to climate change’s direct and indirect effects on communities, whether air pollution, nutrition, disease or even habitability. There is also an opportunity to capitalise on the strategic opportunities presented by the shift to a lower-carbon and resource-constrained economy.

We hope that this collaborative effort will galvanise further funding of research in – and for – the GCC and the specific challenges posed by climate change to the health of all of us living in this region.

How can activists best advance environmental reforms in MENA?

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This paper written by Rory Quick is the winning submission of Arab Reform Initiative 2021 Student Essay Contest. It is about how can activists best advance environmental reforms in MENA.

The above picture is for illustration and is of the BBC.

How can activists best advance environmental reforms in MENA?

Decarbonising the current energy system does not secure a sustainable future if challenges beyond carbon emission are ignored and the economic model which continues to exacerbate the challenges we face is not rectified. Genuine environmental reform requires an intersectional approach, one which does not just patch over problems but instigates reform. The socio-political and environmental crises we face are symptoms of the same problem and must be treated as such. In order to reach a sustainable future, policies should resolve current issues without creating or exacerbating existing challenges. If there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is to challenge dominant values as flexible and changeable and to offer alternative ways to live. Across the MENA region, there are growing calls – from experts and activists – for reform in the region to simultaneously deal with wider socio-political issues whilst decarbonizing energy systems.

In the MENA region, states are preoccupied with developing renewable energy (RE) at large scale. Examples include Morocco’s Ouarzazate Noor Solar Plant and Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. This is an extension of the existing energy model. Megaprojects are political as much as economic projects. They support exclusionary political regimes and enable states to strengthen existing socio-political systems, and thus further reduce the political autonomy of the individual. Energy megaprojects are projections of state centralization, as they require no input from the localities in which they are placed. They therefore actively reduce political freedom. An alternative model – the decentralised RE model – allows for ownership and operation of RE to remain in the communities where it operates. Solar and wind technology is scalable, whereas previous technology was not. This allows for the creation of an energy system that is not only sustainable but also democratically owned and designed, and socially just. A decentralised system, whereby individuals have a direct say in how their energy systems operate, is vital in ensuring energy justice is achieved alongside climate justice.

The structure of energy systems has wide-reaching cultural, socio-political, and economic impacts. MENA activists must understand energy as a critical tool for advancing environmental, political, and social justice causes. Since the energy technology installed today will operate for years to come, we face a once-in-a-century opportunity to build a fairer and greener system. Efforts should be focused on:

  • Increasing awareness and education on the improvements a decentralised energy system would bring to communities across MENA
  • Encouraging the introduction of regulation allowing for/encouraging the installation of RE at the community level.
  • Growth of locally led organisations supporting community ownership of RE assets, developing frameworks which can be implemented across the region.

The barriers to consumer ownership of RE are political, legal, administrative, economic, managerial, and cultural. Activists must recognise that developments are needed on a number of fronts simultaneously.

Centralised model of REDecentralised model of RE
Understanding of energyA commodity, the enabler of capital accumulation and economic expansion.A resource to be democratized and harnessed according to societies needs.
ObjectiveDe-carbonise the existing economy. Separate the climate crisis from the economy, implying that it can be resolved without addressing socio-economic problems, and vice versa.Transition to a de-carbonised representative economy which better serves the needs of all. Socio-political and climate issues are linked, highlighting the incompatibility of globalised capitalism with the Earth’s ecological limits.
SolutionSubstitute fossil fuels with RE to allow for de-carbonised capitalism.Reduce greenhouse gas emissions using market mechanisms and new technology, within the current structure of corporate economic and political power.Replace the globalised capitalist system with sustainable economic development to meet the needs of humanity rather than the needs of capital accumulation.  Create an alternative socio-economic order based on principles of individual/community autonomy, with an energy platform that displaces the corporate energy establishment.
 A table comparing the two prevailing views in RE transition theory. 

Jordan’s energy transition thus far is a strong example of a socially just energy transition. Regional activists should seek to replicate aspects of its regulatory and policy framework into other regional energy systems. In 2015, Jordan financed the installation of 400 household solar PV systems. Each system ranges from 1 to 4 KW in size. The government grants loans to homeowners in rural communities, who pay back the loan with the money they otherwise would have spent on their energy bill.  Once the loans are repaid, the ministry re-invests the money into other homes. This shows how decentralised RE systems are possible in the MENA as long as sound regulation, created in a supportive political environment, is in place.

However, most examples of MENA RE uptake instead show a reliance on highly-technologically developed systems without the development of any policies which allow for decentralisation. Attempts to deal with climate change independent of ethical, moral and political entailments, relying solely on technical adjustments, obfuscate the simple realization that not only the fuels used but also the very system in place are not sustainable. This mindset remains prevalent across MENA.

Decentralised RE would enable individuals to have a greater say in how their energy systems operate, bolstering socio-political autonomy which is currently lacking. Interacting with energy systems in this way will also teach the importance of individual/community responsibility for reducing energy consumption, a related environmental problem across MENA states. Greater awareness of how decentralised energy can support decentralised politics need to be established. Activists have a crucial role to play in educating and building a broad-based inclusive movement.

Just transition plans have been implemented in several localities and at the State level across the world. Support is growing for legislation which supports decentralised transitions in many countries. Activists should campaign for the inclusion of energy democracy theory into university curriculums, as well as featuring in the work of global RE institutions based in MENA countries such as the IRENA.

Given the existential threat we now face, largely due to burning fossil fuels, our relationship with energy systems must be reevaluated. Across the globe, community owned RE revolutions are underway and are possible where robust political and legal regulation is in place, combined with public support and the existence of local organisations committed to the development of such systems. The development of such frameworks is where not only environmental but social justice and political activists should focus their efforts, once awareness of the role that energy systems could have in empowering change has been established. Policy makers must be informed that publicly financed and owned RE are a win-win for individuals and for the climate. Concerned citizens must push for policy changes that allow for such a system to be developed.

Activists should also recognise the favourable conditions the region’s urban environments offer for building a publicly owned and managed decentralised energy system. Promoting energy democracy at the municipal level will create a base to drive change on a national scale.  Decentralised urban systems will also reduce the requirement for further energy megaprojects.

As in political activism, proponents of energy democracy must remember the importance of broadening the scope of democratisation rather than implementing democracy outright. Examples of structures conducive to greater participation in energy policy include individuals deciding on wind turbine locations or consumers deciding the prices of their municipal energy supplier. Reformation of energy systems takes time.

Activists must develop organisations which support community ownership of RE assets. These organisations should offer managerial and financial advice to individuals/communities based on sound understandings of regional and national regulations. Such organisations have a major role in catalysing a decentralised energy transition and will prove instrumental in determining the form of transition that takes place. With decentralised energy systems, each locality’s requirements will be unique. However, regional dialogue is imperative in terms of facilitating learning and development opportunities, as well as providing a support base and showcasing successes as they arise. Again, activist efforts are needed not only to set up such organisations but also to sustain and develop them as the transition progresses.

The transition away from fossil-fuels is an important component of the fight against climate change. Yet what is often overlooked is the centralised ownership and control of energy by corporate and state actors. This overwhelmingly favours electricity generation for the sake of profit, instead of human and ecological realities. Those who are most directly impacted are excluded from ownership and circles of decision-making. In order to create a more sustainable society, this needs to change.

The view of ‘energy as commodity’ is prevalent today even as the energy industry transitions to RE sources. Transition is inevitable, justice is not. Meaningful environmental reforms must recognise the intersectionality of the problems we face. A decentralised energy system will not only establish a sustainable energy system quickly and efficiently but will simultaneously alleviate socio-political grievances, symptoms of the same system causing the environmental degradation activists seek to solve. Proponents of decentralised energy must recognise the widespread benefits these systems offer and thus lobby the support of a wide network of individuals, activists, and communities across the MENA region.

Rory Quick is a Masters student, Economics and Policy of Energy and Environment, University College London

Rory is a recent graduate from the University of Exeter, where he read Arabic and Islamic Studies, and is currently studying for a masters in Economics and Policy of Energy and Environment at University College London. He enjoys all things MENA and seeks to combine this with a passion for renewable energy and sustainability.


Cutting Emissions Through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation

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Cutting Emissions through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation published on 4 July 2021, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is, for all intents and purposes, worth re-visiting. Here it is.

Cutting Emissions Through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation

By Jonas KuehlAndrea BassiPhilip GassGeorg Pallaske 

The above image is for illustration and is of the IISD‘s

This report models the climate change mitigation potential of fossil fuel subsidy reform across 32 countries. The results show how much greenhouse gas emissions—both in per cent as well as in absolute terms—countries can save by 2030. In addition, the model also calculates the subsidy savings countries can gain from fossil fuel subsidy reform. Countries can further increase their emission reductions by adding fossil energy taxation as well as the investments of subsidy savings and tax revenue into energy efficiency and renewable energy to the scenario.

Using the Global Subsidies Initiative – Integrated Fiscal Model (GSI-IF model), this report models the impact of fossil fuel subsidy reform (FFSR) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for the following 32 countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the United States, Venezuela, Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Zambia. In total, these 32 countries accounted for 77% of global carbon dioxide emissions, 72% of global GDP, and 72% of the global population in 2019.

The GSI-IF model uses semi-continuous simulations to forecast energy demand and corresponding GHG emissions. It considers the gradual removal of all fossil fuel subsidies to consumers until 2030, a gradual introduction of a 10% fossil energy tax until 2030, and the investment of 30% of both subsidy savings and tax revenues to energy efficiency and renewable energy from 2021, respectively 2026, onwards.

The research finds a simple country average in GHG emission reductions of about 6% by 2030 compared to business as usual, while the data shows that FFSR can reduce as much as 35% of emissions in the countries modelled. Adding emission reductions from the fossil energy tax as well as the investments of parts of the subsidy savings and tax revenues into sustainable energy would almost double the average GHG emission reductions to 11.8% by 2030. Cumulative fiscal savings from FFSR alone by 2030 total close to USD 3 trillion across the countries analyzed, with total cumulative GHG emissions abated from FFSR of 5.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2030—equivalent to the annual emissions of about 1,000 coal-fired power plants or 3.8 billion cars. For every tonne of CO2e removed through FFSR alone, governments save about USD 546.47 on average. When considering the resources reallocated via the subsidy swap, governments can increase their emission reductions and still save USD 164 for every tonne of CO2e removed.

Read original: Download publication PDF

Related: Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Could Reduce CO2 Emissions Equivalent to Those of 1,000 Coal-Fired Power Plants While Saving USD 3 Trillion—New ReportPRESS RELEASEJuly 5, 2021

Labour Market Skills Gap In The MENA Region And Sub-Saharan Africa

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INJAZ Al-Arab And JA Africa partner with Oliver Wyman to explore Labour Market Skills Gap In The MENA Region and Sub-Saharan Africa

INJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa have partnered with global consulting firm Oliver Wyman to explore labour market skills gap in the MENA Region and Sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to tackle the unemployment challenge.

The “Youth Employment Perception” survey was conducted in response to the realization that these incremental unemployment figures cannot solely be attributed to lack of opportunities in the formal labor market.

The study took place across thirteen countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and the UAE in the MENA region, along with six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa i(Eswatini, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe).

The study looked at markets across four key areas to provide a dual-perspective from both youth and employers which included sectoral opportunities and challenges, qualifying the skills gap, bridging the gap, and the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. Interestingly around 60% of youth are unable to secure employment due to lack of relevant work experience, while 70% believe they need updated education and upskilling to find employment, showing just how much a problem the skills gap currently is.

The study surveyed more than 350 employers across the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, and over 2,000 youths across both regions. The employer respondents were selected from various industries to get a broad view, including education, public sector and nonprofit organizations, financial services, manufacturing, engineering, and professional services. The insights from the study will be used to influence the private sector and public policy in addressing these challenges.

AkefAqrabawi, President &CEO of INJAZ Al-Arab, said: “In keeping with our commitment to inspire and prepare a generation of Arab youth to become the leaders of tomorrow, we were pleased to collaborate with Oliver Wyman on a project that has the potential to support the MENA region and Sub-Saharan Africain tackling the unemployment challenge. The survey sheds awareness on the disparity between the skills that youth are currently being equipped with, and the requirements requested by today’s employers. We will continue our work at INJAZ-Al Arab by leveraging the insights garnered from this study to provide the necessary programs and mentorship opportunities to students to close this gap.”

Continuing to discuss the power of the partnership, Pierre Romagny, Partner at Oliver Wyman, said: “We were pleased to partner once again with INJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa on such a pivotal project to deepen our common understanding of the skills gaps and youth-employer disconnects on the labor market. These insights are critical to point the private and public sectors alike in the right direction to start addressing these challenges. We are proud to have collaborated withINJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa on this study: 13 program facilitators and 18 friends of the work-readiness programs (employers) across MENA and SSA have provided valuable insights on challenges and opportunities in their market. We look forward to leveraging this report to create awareness with employers and drive opportunities for youth across markets.”

JA Africa’s CEO, Simi Nwogugu, said,”Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, making it increasingly important that we develop solutions quickly as the region also has the largest and fastest growing youth population in the world. We are grateful for this partnership with Oliver Wyman which will inform the work we do at JA Africa over the next few years to equip youth with requisite skills for productive employment and entrepreneurship.” 

For further details on the survey findings and to download the report, visit https://owy.mn/3xS7IQP