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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.

QF stemming the brain drain

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A Qatar based media The Peninsula dwelt on how a local institution Qatar Foundation aka QF is stemming the brain drain meaning of earlier times. Qatar representing 0.10% of the total MENA region land area could perhaps be only doing that to the same proportion. Is it still worth it? Another hiccup would be that of the increasingly divested from and diminishing fossil fuels export-related revenues; could these be that helpful at the same rate in the future, be it near or far? In any case, let us see what it is all about.

The image above is for illustration only and is of the Qatar Foundation headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

QF stemming the brain drain

The Peninsula

Doha: In the past decades, many of the MENA region’s best Arab scientists, inventors, engineers, designers, and innovators left their home countries for better opportunities in the West.

While the reasons for the “brain drain” in this part of the world have been varied, many of these talented youth cite a lack of support and resources as their reason for leaving. However, the situation is evolving – for the better.

For more than a decade, Qatar has become a confluence for science and innovation in the MENA region. It is home to Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment show Stars of Science, and it hosts Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). 

Qatar’s Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis developed a unique smart educational prayer rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray, and more.

The show falls under QSTP’s umbrella of programmes that support incubation and start-ups, enhancing capacity to further develop the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) ecosystem. The area is fast becoming recognised as the epicentre for technological, engineering, and scientific innovation.

This ecosystem supports and nurtures home-grown innovations from some of the region’s brightest young Arab minds with a view to stemming the tide of MENA innovators seeking resources, support, and mentorship elsewhere. It provides inventors with a nurturing environment where they can refine their inventions, gain guidance, confidence, and mentorship, with the aim to retain promising talent. And with numerous alumni creating innovations that are being used globally, the program also helps to showcase Arab talent to the wider world. 

While Stars of Science helps shape the region’s future through revealing the potential of innovators, QSTP promotes one of QF’s key objectives; empowering the innovator behind the idea. 

Contestants are automatically enrolled into the flagship accelerator programme, XLR8, where they can continue working on their projects with QF’s support. This unique innovation hub assists inventive entrepreneurs with successful startups, helping them bring their creations to the market within the region, but also internationally.

One such innovator is Dr. Nour Majbour, former researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), who took her fascination with the human brain and created a laboratory kit designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages through antibodies. After the show, Dr. Majbour went on to further develop her Stars of Science project, named QABY, within Qatar’s supportive technological ecosystem and officially registered it as a trademark with QF.

Another alumnus from the show is veterinarian Dr. Mohammed Doumir from Algeria – his  ingenious project addresses the issue of limping in racing camels. Post Stars of Science, Qatar’s unique collaborative ecosystem appealed to Dr. Doumir, and he stayed in the country pushing for technological advancement and promoting innovation. With the support of the QSTP Product Development Fund – which incubated and funded his idea – he opened his own company named Vetosis, and is now the director for veterinary research and innovation at QSTP. He is currently adding new applications to his device for camel training and fitness promotion. 

In Stars of Science Season 11, Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis, from Qatar, took inspiration from his Islamic faith to develop Sajdah, the unique Smart Educational Prayer Rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray — and more. 

After Stars of Science, he started his own company, Thakaa Technologies currently incubated at QSTP where he received funding through the QSTP Product Development Fund. He also successfully completed a pre-order crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood, a platform co-founded by another Stars of Science alumnus, Omar Hamid.

These projects serve as prime examples of incredible collaborations with Qatar’s technological ecosystem, and are a testament to successfully promoting Arab innovators. They highlight Qatar’s unique atmosphere of innovation and support, to the benefit of the Arab region – and beyond – transforming ideas into inventions that positively impact local and international communities. 

Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires

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Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires but faces big challenges in addressing them by António Bento-Gonçalves, University of Minho shed the light on the central area of North Africa whereas, wildfires sweep every summer, the Atlas of its millennium forestry ground cover. Life despite that carries on regardless.

In effect, there are many localities in rural areas, that were waiting for their share of development projects, which have been promised in the wake of the policy of aid and support for grey areas. “We are a grey area, and yet we are forgotten!”, exclaims a local resident.

All this was prior to the sudden fires wreaking havoc. “It is a great disaster, people have suffered great damage to their property, some have lost everything,” continues our interlocutor, who insists on the fact that despite the exodus that had experienced the rural areas, the inhabitants have remained faithful to their tradition in this land. “Some have certainly left, but others, and there are many, have returned,” said the native of this locality, an official of the local authority.

Read more on a BBC‘s Viewpoint: Algerian blame games expose deep political crisis.

Anyway, let us read the ‘Conversation’.

Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires, but faces big challenges in addressing them

Smoke rises from a wildfire in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, on August 10, 2021. RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of forest fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria. So far at least 90 people have reportedly died as a consequence. Natural hazard expert, António Bento-Gonçalves, provides insights into wildfires in Algeria and what must be done to manage them better.

How often do wildfire incidents take place in Algeria and which areas are most affected?

In recent years major fires, with devastating consequences, have occurred in various parts of the world. This year the Mediterranean region was affected by heatwaves between July and August which caused major fire incidents in several countries including Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

I’ve carried out research on wildfires in Algeria and looked into what causes them.

In Algeria, forests and scrubland occupy a total area of around 4 million hectares. This makes a huge part of the country susceptible to fire. For instance, between 1876 and 2005 (the longest complete data series) it’s estimated that almost 40,000 hectares burned each year, representing approximately 1% of all existing woodlands of the country.

Over a period of 25 years, from 1985 to 2010, Algeria recorded 42,555 fires that burned a total area of 910,640 hectares.

The municipalities (known as “wilayas”) most affected are in the North – the most forested parts of the country – and in the West. These areas are more populated, hilly (with steep slopes) and a pronounced Mediterranean climate – a very dry and hot season in summer, but sufficiently wet in winter to allow for rapid vegetation growth.

What causes them?

Wild fires spread the fastest in places that are hard to reach and in the right conditions. Large parts of Algeria tick these boxes. With very limited access and steep slopes, detection and effective first intervention by firefighters is very difficult. In addition there’s usually very dry undergrowth and forests are composed of flammable species.

Added to this, Algeria’s forested areas are subject to multiple human pressures which create conditions that are favourable to the spread of fires. These include the the use of fast-growing but more flammable forest species or the frequent use of fire for pasture regeneration. In addition, having long periods of hot and dry weather increase fire risk.

Forest fires in Algeria were historically caused by people. However, recent official information on the causes of fires is characterised by high rate of fires of “unknown origin”, representing between 40% to 70% of all fires. Essentially, we know they’ll be caused by people, but there’s no specific data on what activity that caused them or motivations behind them.

Why do we not know? This is related to difficulties in monitoring by the General Directorate of Forests. Between 1980 and 2000, when the causes of fires of unknown origin were higher, this was due to instability. Algeria had a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and prevented government agencies, including the Directorate of Forests, from working properly. This made it difficult to have a good understanding of what caused the fires.

How are they managed and are there prevention measures in place?

Generally, policies put in place to combat forest fires are organised around several points: information and education of the population, development and maintenance of rural and forest areas, surveillance of wooded areas, and improvement of the means of fire fighting.

However, not knowing exactly what type of human activity causes the fires limits what can be done to prevent them. Instead, policies tend to be more reactionary – they focus on dealing with fires when they break out.

In recent years, public authorities strengthened the resources of the General Directorate of Forests for the prevention and fight against forest fires. In particular, by acquiring first intervention equipment, such as forest fire trucks, preparing more aircraft for firefighting, and a radio network for rapid communication in the event of fire outbreak.

In addition, more collaborative work is being done in the region to improve intervention and surveillance.

What else can be done to better prepare and manage wildfires in Algeria?

Policies to prevent and protect against forest fires have been implemented gradually since the 1980s, but the country faces many challenges in effectively rolling them out.

Algeria is a huge country – with a size exceeding 2.38 million km2, it’s the biggest country in Africa. With a massive territory to manage, all actions – to prevent, to detect and to fire fight – aren’t enough. Operations are also very complex due to the very uneven, hard to access, terrain.

There’s also a high population density around and inside the forest massifs. This means its hard to control the actions that people take which are a fire hazard.

Added to this, forestry officials lack authority and resources to perform their duties.

To effectively combat fires, there must be political, social and economic stability in the country. And the causes of the fires must be clearly known. Without this, it’s impossible to win the battle against forest fires.

There is, however, hope. New technologies, such as Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems, could improve data acquisition and thus the prevention of fires.

Other actions that must be taken include; the strengthening of education and awareness-raising and improvements in the equipment used to monitor, detect and fight forest fires.

Finally, policymakers must focus on strengthening cooperation and mutual assistance between all the Mediterranean countries. Fire knows no borders and no single country is capable of having all the necessary resources.

António Bento-Gonçalves, Associated Professor, Department of Geography, University of Minho

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Green Neighbourhoods as a Service

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Green Neighbourhoods as a Service

A Bankers without Boundaries made a proposed mechanism to address the challenge of scaling energy efficiency measures in the urban built environment. It is suggested in this article as a Green Neighbourhoods as a Service for all concerned a welcome step in the right direction.

The above image is for illustration and is of Climate-KIC.

Reducing net energy consumption in the built environment is one of the most significant and hardest problems for cities to solve to meet net zero carbon timelines. In our experience, typically, these emissions contribute 30-40% to a city’s total CO2 emissions. In this article we look at why it is so challenging and propose a mechanism to kickstart retrofit at scale.

A Challenging Problem

Reducing emissions in the built environment is an extremely complex problem with multiple components. Many of these complexities arise from an underlying assumption, in nearly all jurisdictions, that solving the problem is the responsibility of individual property owners. Multiple individual actors must make independent decisions leading to a fragmented response to the challenge.

Even ignoring this fragmentation, targeting individual property owners with economic incentives alone is failing anyway due to two interlinked problems

  1. The value of returns (energy savings) is not connected to the capital spend. Returns occur over many decades and a building owner must be confident that they will enjoy those benefits for at least 30 years to have a hope of creating a positive economic case. Most building owners cannot commit to owning the property over that period; therefore, the net present value of energy savings is undervalued by the capital spender relative to its true worth.
  2. Even assuming the building owner can commit to 30 years of ownership, the economics of delivering deep decarbonisation in a way that is attractive to citizens (Deep, Community Retrofit) has poor economic returns (negative IRR) even assuming a 30-year investment period.

Figure 1: Not all retrofit is created equal

If economic rationale alone is not enough, decision making and financing must balance competing goals – economics, decarbonisation, community benefits and social & health impact, which requires a broader viewpoint than an individual building owner.

As a result, current solutions, which are frequently designed to be adopted by property owners, are failing. This has led to the paralysis we see in the market with negligible levels of building level improvements which improve energy efficiency (“retrofit”) occurring, despite various subsidy schemes being offered and financing costs being at historically low levels for some time.

Most existing solutions start with a premise that since it is down to individual property owners to commission work on their own properties, it is also therefore assumed that the energy and maintenance savings benefit accrues to them too and that this should form the economic rationale to carry out the project.

Even after discounting other barriers to entry (complexity of deciding what work to commission, project managing multiple trades, applying for subsidies, the misalignment of landlord and tenant incentives in the rental sector) the economic returns are not high for ambitious retrofit and require the property owner to remain in the property for decades to realise them. Therefore, the net present value of these savings is not being leveraged to solve the problem in the most effective way.

The sheer scale of retrofit that is required to improve inefficient buildings is also often touted as a problem. The costs of an ambitious retrofit programme are huge and go well beyond the public purse. To compound the problem the energy savings that can be achieved are not high enough for traditional financing on its own. To achieve this scale public finance will need to be blended with private capital in some way to provide the level of finance needed to achieve the scale required. In addition, retail investment and citizen engagement need to play their part in the equation to increase visibility and feasibility.

An interlinking issue for many countries is that of regional inequalities. Governments, such as the UK, have made levelling up regional differences a key policy initiative. Existing retrofit plans stand to exacerbate this issue. In the UK for example average house prices in London are £661k, but only £200k in the North East and North West. Average loan to value ratio is 82%. Retrofit costs are broadly uniform across the country, so a deep retrofit at £40k would equate to 6% of property value or one third of average equity in London, but 20% of property value or 110% of equity in the North. Clearly a policy led strategy that forces retrofit debt onto house owners would be deeply regressive for the North.

Any scalable solution must address the fragmentation of the problem which arises from individual decision making, allowing more systemic decision making to happen, economies of scale to materialise and progress to finally be made. This requires a fundamentally different approach.

Significant Opportunity

There is also real opportunity in this space.

Figure 2: Opportunities

Green Neighbourhoods as a Service – A Proposed Solution

To address the mismatch between ownership of the capital spend and of the value of benefits, tackle the fragmentation issue, overcome barriers to entry, allow aggregation of projects and matching of different types of finance that will be needed, we propose a new more centralised model which we call Green Neighbourhoods as a Service (GNaaS).

GNaaS envisages the establishment of a central entity in a city or region which designs, commissions, manages and funds deep energy retrofit on a street-by-street scale with incremental community investments at no cost to the property owners, regardless of ownership and usage typology.

  • By centralising the design process, more systemic energy decisions are made, for example around local energy systems and integration with district heating.
  • By centralising procurement, greater economies of scale are realised, improving economics and providing a lead market to the supply chain creating an environment for investment.
  • By operating at a community scale, additional projects such as resilience building, co-working spaces and green infrastructure in the shared spaces can be implemented at lower marginal cost. This drives greater impact and citizen engagement, changing the process from a “retrofit programme” to a “neighbourhood greening and investment programme”.
  • By centralising funding, projects can be aggregated on a neighbourhood scale allowing access to completely different types of funding and crucially removing the requirement of indebtedness for individual property owners, which is a key barrier.

To fund the work, a mechanism is needed to attach the long-term energy and maintenance savings to the centralised funding source. The proposal is that this takes the form of a long term (30 year+) comfort and maintenance contract with the resident. The contract would be embedded into the property deeds so that it automatically novates to whoever lives in the property and does not follow the individual when they move away. Alternatively, the resident would be offered the option to contribute the funding for their property directly in which case they would receive the full benefits of reduced energy requirement going forward without any need to engage in the design, procurement and delivery process.

Figure 3: Operating Mechanism

This is not an ESCO model (1). The resident would retain their relationship with existing utility providers for any grid power that they require post retrofit. The significant reduction of energy use achieved through demand mitigation measures and maximising localised heat and electricity generation would create the financial space for the payment of the comfort and maintenance fee at no aggregate increase in cost to the resident.

Contracting all the energy and maintenance savings to the GNaaS organisation would maximise the potential for return-based finance in the funding model. Implementing governance structures that align the decision-making processes with the overall goals of the city could create a mechanism for social outcome goals to be included in contractual terms.

This mechanism could provide a theoretical lever to the public authority to leave part of the savings with the resident enabling the mechanism to become a powerful tool in tackling fuel poverty.

Figure 4: Funding Flow Through the OpCo / FinCo model

The Capital Stack That Will Be Needed

From the modelling work we have done with several cities, the internal rate of return (IRR) provided by the energy savings from this blended set of neighbourhood interventions is consistently negative, even assuming a 30-year payback period. But by considering a large enough layer of various non-repayable funding sources, or impact finance, we can move the IRR for the remaining funding requirement into positive territory. Furthermore, adding returns from other sources, e.g. health improvement, can further improve the pay-out profile.

The resulting model creates a potentially multi-billion, stable and low returning financial investment opportunity for sources of patient capital that also value a robust set of impact metrics such as decarbonisation, healthcare improvement, fuel poverty abatement, educational outcomes, air quality improvements or biodiversity gains. We would argue this could be a good fit for sources of capital such as pension funds and insurance companies, which are increasingly demanding products which offer impact related benefits in addition to a financial return, under pressure from underlying asset owners and regulators.

Further, it is a structure that can take in repayable, but zero or ultra-low coupon, finance from multilateral or development finance institutions seeking climate change impact and/or post-COVID recovery funding.

In addition, there is an opportunity to offer participation for local communities to invest through a community bond type structure allowing direct participation in the returns.

For the non-repayable layer of finance, various components will need to be combined.

  • Funnelling existing municipal budgets earmarked for improving energy efficiency of public owned properties into the mechanism
  • Repurposing existing subsidy schemes into the mechanism
  • Additional national/supranational grant funding schemes aimed at decarbonisation and/or post-covid recovery; the work is labour-intensive and community wealth building activities relating to asset maintenance and green infrastructure can be incorporated.
  • The potential to incorporate other outcome seeking pools of funding, for example allocation of healthcare budgets into what would become a preventative programme reducing future burden on the health care system, biodiversity improvement funding etc.
  • An option for building owners to fund the work themselves and have the occupant benefit from the energy savings. They still benefit from the centralised orchestration, better economics and broader impact.
  • Exploration of the potential to accredit such centralised and scaled retrofit programmes as sources of carbon credits for voluntary carbon offset schemes allowing corporates to achieve their own net zero targets by buying credits that directly improve the communities they operate in and their employees live in.

Figure 5: The proposed Capital Stack with illustrative figures

There are significant governance issues to solve in designing how this entity would operate and to align its actions with those of the public sector. We propose it would be a not-for-profit organisation using a standard return-based fund management fee structure to cover its own operating costs, with involvement from public sector officials in supervisory committees etc to ensure alignment.

We are not claiming that this proposal is yet a finalised solution; there are many complexities to work through (several which are being tackled in pilot projects planned in Milan and Zagreb). However, we are convinced that this concept has the potential to unlock the scaling of improved energy efficiency in the built environment in a meaningful way.

Next Steps

  • Integration with a mechanism to help scale beyond pilot phase, taking learnings from models like LABEEF in Latvia to enable an ecosystem of private sector contracting firms to take over the heavy lifting work of much of the OpCo envisaged above, thereby creating competition leaving the OpCo part of the retrofit company as a commissioning and refinancing engine for implementation firms.
  • Technical assistance funding is required to further develop this work, on the finance side, but also to develop the engagement process with citizens, scope out the legal challenges around contracting as well as integration with the supply chain
  • Pilots will need to be run in multiple cities to prove out the concept. We would envisage these covering 2-300 residential units at a total funding cost of €10-15m each. Pilots are in advanced stage of design in Milan and Zagreb) though engagement has begun in multiple cities across Europe including Copenhagen, Leuven, Vienna, Krakow and Edinburgh.
  • Funding providers, including private sector impact finance firms, development finance institutions and philanthropic outcome purchasers will need to engage who are willing to partner with cities to develop these structures so that they can grow to commercial scale.

1 ESCO – Energy Service Company – is a company that provides energy to customers and services to improve efficiency. An ESCO typically sits between the consumer and the utility providers.

Oil-rich Gulf faces prospect of unlivable heat as planet warms

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France24‘s story by Aziz El Massassi with AFP Correspondent in the Gulf on how Oil-rich Gulf faces prospect of unlivable heat as planet warms unabatedly up. The described scenario is no more open for debate and the likelyhood of what is advanced has great chances to happen. The reasons of climate change are not only rightly founded but insufficient as a justification amongst many others, all because of the extent of the over-built environment that was frenetically developed within the last fifty years.

The above image is for illustration and of The Arab Gulf is expected to be the epicentre of a severe heat wave
© Getty Images/iStockphoto Thinkstock Images.

Oil-rich Gulf faces prospect of unlivable heat as planet warms

Dubai residents often leave for cooler climates during the hottest months, while many who stay spend their time scurrying between air-conditioned locations—or rely on delivery drivers for a panoply of services.

Gulf cities such as Dubai are known for their scorching summers, but experts warn climate change could soon make parts of the fossil fuel-rich region unlivable for humans.

Daily temperatures in the coastal metropolis regularly top 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for several months of the year and are exacerbated by high humidity.

“I work from 9 am until 4 pm in this heat,” Pakistani scooter driver Sameer said, sweat dripping from his forehead.

“Sometimes, the company or people give us water to drink, and we get a break every three hours,” added Sameer, who works for a mobile delivery app and declined to provide his surname.

A new report this month by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed unequivocally that the climate is changing faster than previously feared, and because of human activity.

Even now, Dubai residents often leave for cooler climates during the hottest months, while many who stay spend their time scurrying between air-conditioned locations—or rely on delivery drivers for a panoply of services.

The UAE is also one of the world’s most arid countries, and for the past several years it has used aircraft for cloud seeding to artificially produce rain.

One expert has warned of the risks for the region as climate change progresses.

“In general, the level of heat stress will increase significantly,” said Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of hydrology and climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

With higher temperatures and humidity towards the end of this century, some parts of the Gulf will experience periods of “heat stress conditions that will be incompatible with human survival”, he warned.

Daily temperatures in Dubai regularly top 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for several months of the year, and are exacerbated by high humidity.

‘Wake-up call’

“That will not happen all the time, they will be episodes that would happen once or twice every seven years,” he added.

The combination of heat and relative humidity has the potential to be deadly if the human body is unable to cool off through sweating.

Scientists have calculated that a healthy human adult in the shade with unlimited drinking water will die if so-called “wet-bulb” temperatures (TW) exceed 35C for six hours.

It was long assumed this theoretical threshold would never be crossed, but US researchers reported last year on two locations—one in the United Arab Emirates, another in Pakistan—where the 35C TW barrier was breached more than once, if only fleetingly.

Calls to reduce carbon emissions pose major economic challenges for oil and gas-rich Gulf countries, from OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia to Oman and Qatar.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has said the IPCC report “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas, and warned that fossil fuels were destroying the planet.

But some Gulf states in recent years have taken up greener rhetoric as they try to improve their environmental credentials and diversify their economies away from oil.

Tanzeed Alam, managing director of Dubai-based Earth Matters Consulting, said there was increasing interest in the environment and the impact of climate change in the UAE.

Mechanics work in Isa Town, south of Bahrain’s capital Manama. Average summer temperatures in the country range between 35C and 40C.

“But we are yet to see the large, family-owned businesses really taking this issue to the core of their business models,” he told AFP.

“Businesses don’t often understand how they can cope with increased heatwaves, storms, flooding and other physical impacts,” Alam said.

He expressed hope that the UN report would act as a “wake-up call”.

‘Clear decisions’

The United Arab Emirates aims to increase its reliance on clean energy to 50 percent by 2050 and reduce its carbon footprint for power generation by 70 percent.

Abu Dhabi, one of seven emirates along with Dubai that make up the country, says it is building the world’s largest single-site solar plant.

Once fully operational, the Al Dhafra solar project will have the capacity to power some 160,000 households nationwide, according to the WAM state news agency. It is scheduled to commence operations in 2022.

In Bahrain, where average summer temperatures range between 35C and 40C, Mohammed Abdelaal’s company Silent Power uses solar technology to cool water tanks.

He said demand had increased in several Gulf countries this summer, noting that the region’s ample supply of sunlight facilitates the production of “clean, sustainable, low-cost energy”.

Mohammed Abdelaal’s company Silent Power uses solar technology to cool water tanks.

Bahrain aims for 10 percent renewable energy by 2035, according to state media, while neighbouring Saudi Arabia—with ambitious plans to diversify its oil-reliant economy—in March unveiled a campaign to generate half of its energy from renewables by 2030.

In Kuwait, Khaled Jamal al-Falih expressed concern at what runaway climate change could mean for his country.

“In Kuwait today, a person who needs to run an errand can’t do so until after six o’clock in the evening, and leaving the house means being in an air-conditioned car to go to an air-conditioned place,” he told AFP.

Almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels, the country has a 15 percent renewable energy target by 2030, according to state media.

Falih said his house ran solely on solar power, and urged the government to make “clear decisions” to combat climate change.

The idea of being able to escape the reality of global warming has “become impossible”, Falih said.

Explore further: Climate report must be ‘death knell’ for fossil fuels: UN chief