The livelihoods of over half a billion people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are under threat, as current projections indicate a 4C increase by 2050. A new World Economic Forum report, Closing the Climate Action Gap: Accelerating Decarbonization and the Energy Transition in MENA, highlights the key sustainability challenges in the region and provides a blueprint for bold decarbonization actions that could fuel new economic opportunities.
The report’s findings indicate how local leaders could simultaneously counter these projections while fostering greater economic diversification and high-quality jobs. This would spur on the regional momentum for holistic climate action, as illustrated by the back-to-back hosting of COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the UAE, and position MENA as a global leader in sustainable technologies for years.
The report was developed in collaboration with Bain & Company, with contributions from more than 40 policy-makers, climate actors, business leaders, banks and industry experts from the private and public sectors who form the Forum’s Leaders for Sustainable MENA.
‘The MENA region has been one of the fastest growing regions over the past decade and there is a pathway for the region to position itself at the forefront of sustainability efforts while maintaining its upward economic trajectory,” said Børge Brende, President, of World Economic Forum. “As global markets continue to shift, and energy demands rise, the region requires bold and coordinated action from policy-makers and businesses to lead a just energy transition and meet both climate- and development-related goals.”
According to the report research, temperatures in the region are rising at twice the global average rate, presenting an array of challenges in the coming decades that could threaten the livelihoods of the 575 million people who live there, 70% of them in low-income countries. Climate shocks, such as rising temperatures and prolonged droughts, could have serious effects on agriculture and liveability, as well as a compound effect on MENA’s systemic issues.
The report finds that MENA countries trail behind comparable regions in terms of their sustainability progress. While local governments have pledged in the past 24 months to bring 60% of MENA’s emissions under the net zero ambition, businesses overall have yet to follow suit and bridge the gap with comparable global markets –12% have set up a net zero target and 6% have established a roadmap to reach net zero.
“Successfully transitioning to a sustainable future will hinge on bold measures from policymakers and companies, raising awareness and multi-stakeholder partnerships”, said Tom De Waele, Managing Partner of Bain & Company Middle East. “But while this sustainability action for Middle East requires significant investment of time and resources, it also represents a significant economic opportunity, which could well position the MENA region at the heart of global energy transition and unlock doors to economic diversification, high-quality job creation, and global leadership in low-carbon technologies.”
With abundant natural resources like solar and wind energy, and significant land availability, the region could become a global leader in scaling new energy pathways, such as renewables and clean hydrogen. Coupled with capital availability and decisive governance in the largest economies, these characteristics could facilitate MENA’s transition to a decarbonized economy while helping it meet the growing international demand for clean energy.
“Today, we find ourselves at a clean-energy tipping point and the good news is that there has never been so much momentum, so much convergence in market demand, technology, regulation and public sentiment.” said Henadi Al-Saleh, Chairperson, Agility. “As a result, climate-related activity by companies and investors has already shifted from risk mitigation to opportunity capture. The MENA region has abundant resources, talent, ambition – and renewable resources in the form solar and wind – to lead the way and make significant contributions to the global decarbonisation drive.”
The report offers a tailored roadmap for regional policy-makers and businesses to advance sustainability action and facilitate economic diversification through the energy transition, considering the characteristics and needs of both the Gulf and non-Gulf countries alike.
To safeguard economic growth and global energy influence, Gulf nations should focus on technology-based solutions that reduce emissions in challenging sectors, optimize consumption, transition to renewables and implement carbon capture at scale. Meanwhile, non-Gulf countries should prioritize affordable energy, particularly in low-income areas, by increasing renewable energy usage, phasing out regressive fossil fuel subsidies and supporting carbon credit projects.
Upskilling in green jobs through skill development programmes and industry partnerships will be crucial across the region.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for action from public and private sectors to deliver $500 billion a year in affordable, long-term financing to developing countries.
The ongoing eighth World Investment Forum, organised by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Abu Dhabi, focuses on the investment challenges faced by the world’s developing countries amid today’s global crises.
Guterres, in a statement, urged heads of state, ministers, business leaders, sovereign wealth fund managers, private sector executives, stock exchanges and experts to put the Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus Package into effect and work towards delivering $500 billion annual investment for developing countries.
He also called on governments to establish a fair price on carbon and companies to implement credible net-zero plans, aligning with the high-level expert group’s recommendations on non-state entities’ net-zero emissions commitments.
Separately, the ‘Global Leaders Investment Summit 2023’ addressed the $4 trillion SDG investment gap, as only 15 per cent of the SDGs are on target to be met by 2030, with the investment gap in the developing world growing from $2.5 trillion per year in 2015 to $4 trillion now. The summit revealed a staggering $6 trillion valuation for the sustainable finance market.
“Not enough funds are going into new renewable energy plants, water and sanitation installations, agricultural projects, hospitals. And only 5 per cent of all sustainable funds are located in developing countries,” Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, said.
“Funding exists, but allocation has been misguided.”
Leaders, including Germany’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, discussed ways to close the SDG investment gap, mobilise sustainable finance in global capital markets, ensure sustainability standards in sustainable finance and channel more funds to where they are needed most.
The discussion emphasised the key need for international coordination given the scale of the investment needs and blended finance involving both public and private sectors, including new actors such as sovereign wealth funds.
The forum spotlighted critical sectors, such as the just energy transition and perspectives from countries like Indonesia, South Africa and Vietnam.
The forum held under the theme ‘Investing in Sustainable Development’ strategically aligns with the upcoming global climate change talks at COP28. A dedicated track within the forum will focus on advancing climate finance and investment, providing a crucial platform for policymakers to find solutions and support global climate negotiations.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is of YouTube
IMF ‘Call for Action’ for inclusive growth in MENA
A ‘Call for Action’ to close the gap between the growth models of the past and the growth engines of the future and inclusive growth in MENA was issued by Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Sunday.
Following her meeting with ministers of finance and central bank governors of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Pakistan during the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings held in Marrakech, she outlined action on five points: Fostering a vibrant private sector, overhauling social protection systems, providing opportunities for the youth, easing barriers to female participation in economic life, and making green investment an engine of growth and job creation.
“The IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings have returned to the Arab World after 20 years when we were gathered in Dubai. Much has changed over the last two decades, but perhaps one of the most promising changes is that inclusive growth has become a household word and a unifying call across the region. Reflecting its importance, last year the IMF published a book highlighting the priority reforms that would allow MENA to achieve an inclusive and job-rich growth.
“For these Annual Meetings, we have built on this work and collaborated with policymakers, thinktanks, the youth, and partner institutions to bring the focus for the region back to the priorities of more and better jobs, shared prosperity, and enhanced voice for youth and underrepresented groups. Many countries in the region are still struggling to ensure greater and fairer opportunities for all. A large share of youth is inactive, wide rural/urban disparities continue, and economic opportunities for women remain scarce. Social protection systems are weak and job creation feeble. Recent shocks like the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as global trends like climate change and automation have compounded these vulnerabilities. The result is rising inequalities and opportunity gaps and a narrower policy space to tackle them.
“We at the IMF are a long-standing partner to countries in the MENA region in the quest for more inclusive and resilient growth. In the Amman (2014) and Marrakech (2018) regional conferences, we called on MENA policymakers, the private sector, and civil society to build a new social contract to ensure that the benefits of economic development accrue more broadly to all citizens. While progress has been slow, preserving reform momentum is essential,” she said.
‘Call of Action’
Fostering a vibrant private sector: Developing the region’s private sector will require eliminating the many barriers preventing new firms from entering markets and existing small businesses and startups from growing in scale. In this context, leveling the playing field between public and private firms is a key priority for the region. Reforming burdensome government regulations, enhancing financial inclusion, and, more broadly, promoting good governance can significantly improve economic growth in MENA. Accelerating digitalization and investing in new technologies will help achieve many of these goals.
Overhaul of social protection systems: Guaranteeing citizens more equal access to basic services—such as health, education, and social insurance—through more efficient, cost-effective, and targeted social assistance will ensure that those most in need could experience a visible improvement in their livelihoods.
Providing opportunities for the youth: This will require revamping education and training systems to address skills mismatches and ensure that the 100 million youth reaching working age in the next 10 years will have the skills sought by 21st-century employers. Better access to finance will foster entrepreneurship and support innovation and creation.
Easing barriers to female participation in economic life: Many MENA economies have in common a relatively large pool of highly educated young women who do not find their way into effective participation in formal labor markets. The region cannot afford to continue underutilizing this human capital. Doubling the female labor force participation rate over the next 15 years can improve potential output in a country like Morocco by about 3 percent.
Making green investment an engine of growth and job creation: Adaptation strategies would not only boost growth but also improve inclusiveness, as it is the most vulnerable who benefit the most from reduced exposure to catastrophic events. The transition to renewable energy sources is not only necessary for sustainability reasons but could also be a powerful engine of growth and job creation.
“Macroeconomic stability will be an essential foundation for transformative change. High levels of public debt in a number of MENA economies leave them vulnerable to future shocks. Rebuilding fiscal buffers may require redesigning tax systems to widen tax bases, improve the progressivity of taxation, and reduce distortions that lead to informality,” said Georgieva.
“These principles will form the basis of the IMF’s engagement with MENA policymakers and other stakeholders for the years to come. Structural reforms take time. By working together, we can tackle old and new challenges and build a future for the region grounded in a more sustainable and inclusive model of development.”
Exchanging ideas on achieving sustainability and quality can be reached through three principles: – equipping graduates with knowledge, – fostering scientific research and – developing professional community collaborations. Let us see that but in detail.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Iraqi News
Exchanging ideas on achieving sustainability and quality
Almost exactly 10 years ago a colleague and I were invited to Iraqi Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq. Our work took us to Soran University in Soran, a mountainous region in the north of Kurdistan about 150 kilometres from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
During our time with the university, we conducted workshops with academic staff, carried out audits of various teaching-learning settings and presented to the wider university on research strategy and internationalisation.
We met a fascinating and diverse academic staff, each with their own interesting story. A substantial number had been recruited from countries in Europe. There were also several local academics who had completed their postgraduate studies overseas.
An especially memorable experience was sitting in on a class given by an Iraqi academic who had recently returned from Germany where he had completed a doctorate and had learnt to speak English. He taught his class at Soran University in English, but with a heavy German accent that had delightfully rubbed off on his students who similarly responded in English with a broad German accent.
In September this year, we were again invited to Iraq by Al-Noor University College located in Mosul, situated approximately 80 kilometres from Erbil. The university was established in 2013 and currently offers academic programmes across 12 departments.
The institution is committed to three principal goals. These are 1) equipping graduates with knowledge that prepares them for the profession they intend to enter; 2) fostering scientific research; and 3) developing professional community collaborations in the pursuit of addressing societal needs, including in the area of sustainable development.
The university was hosting its inaugural congress on the theme of sustainability and aviation. The congress brought together ministry officials, policy-makers, researchers, academics, students, scientists and engineers from a number of countries, including Australia and Malaysia, and from across Iraq.
The area of aviation was well-covered by other speakers who shared their expertise in and data about the most recent advancements and challenges in the fields of sustainability, renewable energies and the aviation industry.
My keynote address focused on how education at all levels can and must play a significant role in promoting sustainable development – specifically, how high-quality education is the means to achieving this goal because, without a highly educated population and highly skilled workforce, it is unlikely that the goals stipulated in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can and will be realised.
One of the targets for UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 is ensuring that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.
The message reinforced the significant part that Al-Noor University College and other higher education institutions could and should play in preparing the next generation of professionals, knowledge-makers and solution-finders to address today’s big global issues. Those include, for example, clean water and sanitation for all, sustainable cities and communities, affordable and clean energy, eradicating poverty and the conservation of our environment.
This message is highly relevant when we consider the society in which we live today, one characterised by increasing levels of risk and uncertainty. We need high-quality education to prepare graduates as best we can for those risks, to contribute positively with confidence to unexpected circumstances with needed innovations and-or advancements.
I left the audience with a series of questions, the responses to which will be very much affected by the unique geopolitical, cultural, social, economic and environmental context in which the education institution resides.
They included contemplating the current and future role of higher education in Iraq (and further afield) in addressing the challenges associated with sustainability and how universities can best integrate sustainability into their teaching, research and across the whole of their operations. The latter includes consideration of the types of academic programmes to be developed and the types of graduates the country expects and requires.
What was especially pleasing was the active participation and support of ministry officials and their willingness to listen to issues raised by the university academics. The issue that received the most robust discussion revolved around the need for a national qualifications framework to provide guidance to universities about the expected standard of student learning outcomes at different levels of education, from certificate through to doctorate level.
Such a framework would support standardising the level and quality of what is offered or delivered to students and improve international recognition of Iraqi qualifications to facilitate transferability of these qualifications for student educational mobility.
It was again a privilege to spend some time in a truly remarkable, culturally ancient, fascinating and complex part of the world where rapid development is occurring in so many fields, including in higher education.
Dr Nita Temmerman has held senior university positions including pro vice-chancellor (academic quality and partnerships) and executive dean in Australia. She is an invited accreditation specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and international associate with the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions in Dubai. She is chair of two higher education academic boards, and invited professor and consultant to universities in Australia, the Pacific region, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
This article reviews the prospects and challenges facing the agricultural sector in the world as per the recently rooted Greening trend that is increasingly prevalent worldwide. It is believed The Green Revolution is a warning, not a blueprint for feeding a hungry planet.
But where does the MENA region’s food come from? In the Middle East and North Africa region, the dominant concern of those petro-economies is their high and growing dependence on international markets for key staple food products, as arable land and water are not there or most obviously growing scarcer.
Feeding a growing world population has been a serious concern for decades, but today there are new causes for alarm. Floods, heat waves and other weather extremes are making agriculture increasingly precarious, especially in the Global South.
Amid these challenges, some organizations are renewing calls for a second Green Revolution, echoing the introduction in the 1960s and 1970s of supposedly high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice into developing countries, along with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Those efforts centered on India and other Asian countries; today, advocates focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where the original Green Revolution regime never took hold.
But anyone concerned with food production should be careful what they wish for. In recent years, a wave of new analysis has spurred a critical rethinking of what Green Revolution-style farming really means for food supplies and self-sufficiency.
There was a consensus in the 1960s among development officials and the public that an overpopulated Earth was heading toward catastrophe. Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb,” famously predicted that nothing could stop “hundreds of millions” from starving in the 1970s.
India was the global poster child for this looming Malthusian disaster: Its population was booming, drought was ravaging its countryside and its imports of American wheat were climbing to levels that alarmed government officials in India and the U.S.
Then, in 1967, India began distributing new wheat varieties bred by Rockefeller Foundation plant biologist Norman Borlaug, along with high doses of chemical fertilizer. After famine failed to materialize, observers credited the new farming strategy with enabling India to feed itself.
The standard legend of India’s Green Revolution centers on two propositions. First, India faced a food crisis, with farms mired in tradition and unable to feed an exploding population; and second, Borlaug’s wheat seeds led to record harvests from 1968 on, replacing import dependence with food self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, the government urged Indian farmers to grow nonfood export crops to earn foreign currency. They switched millions of acres from rice to jute production, and by the mid-1960s India was exporting agricultural products.
Borlaug’s miracle seeds were not inherently more productive than many Indian wheat varieties. Rather, they just responded more effectively to high doses of chemical fertilizer. But while India had abundant manure from its cows, it produced almost no chemical fertilizer. It had to start spending heavily to import and subsidize fertilizer.
India did see a wheat boom after 1967, but there is evidence that this expensive new input-intensive approach was not the main cause. Rather, the Indian government established a new policy of paying higher prices for wheat. Unsurprisingly, Indian farmers planted more wheat and less of other crops.
Once India’s 1965-67 drought ended and the Green Revolution began, wheat production sped up, while production trends in other crops like rice, maize and pulses slowed down. Net food grain production, which was much more crucial than wheat production alone, actually resumed at the same growth rate as before.
According to data from Indian economic and agricultural organizations, on the eve of the Green Revolution in 1965, Indian farmers needed 17 pounds (8 kilograms) of fertilizer to grow an average ton of food. By 1980, it took 96 pounds (44 kilograms). So, India replaced imports of wheat, which were virtually free food aid, with imports of fossil fuel-based fertilizer, paid for with precious international currency.
Today, India remains the world’s second-highest fertilizer importer, spending US$17.3 billion in 2022. Perversely, Green Revolution boosters call this extreme and expensive dependence “self-sufficiency.”
The toll of ‘green’ pollution
Recent research shows that the environmental costs of the Green Revolution are as severe as its economic impacts. One reason is that fertilizer use is astonishingly wasteful. Globally, only 17% of what is applied is taken up by plants and ultimately consumed as food. Most of the rest washes into waterways, where it creates algae blooms and dead zones that smother aquatic life. Producing and using fertilizer also generates copious greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The Green Revolution still has many boosters today, especially among biotech companies that are eager to draw parallels between genetically engineered crops and Borlaug’s seeds. I agree that it offers important lessons about how to move forward with food production, but actual data tells a distinctly different story from the standard narrative. In my view, there are many ways to pursue less input-intensive agriculture that will be more sustainable in a world with an increasingly erratic climate.
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