ABU DHABI — The United Arab Emirates has successfully delivered its central objectives for the first UN-Habitat assembly in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on May 27-30 and convened all UN Member States, as the world’s highest-level decision-making body on sustainable urbanization.
A delegation headed by Mohamed Al Khadar, Executive Director Strategic Affairs of the Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities (DPM), outlined 12 priorities identified for sustainable urbanization in the MENA region to United Nations Member States. These priorities were crowdsourced from the recent Pan-Arab Urban Development Symposium (PAUDS) held in Abu Dhabi. Classified in three categories corresponding to each of the four pillars – Economy, Environment, Society and Culture, these will form the basis for the UAE program at the 10th World Urban Forum (WUF10), which will be conducted in Abu Dhabi in February 2020.
Al Khadar said “the UN-Habitat Assembly provided a unique opportunity for Abu Dhabi to advance the UAE’s agenda for the upcoming World Urban Forum. Through our work at this event, we aimed to underpin WUF10’s goal to be an open platform for partnerships and new initiatives in representation of our best minds. To advance to more sustainable urban models we are convinced that we need to identify new ways of working together, breaking down silo mindsets, and promoting transformative working methods. What better way to do that than to open up the conversation to fresh and creative thinking as we did at PAUDS, and we are happy to have continued this momentum with the brilliant collection of minds at UN-Habitat.”
Also carried out was a reception event which promoted WUF2020 within UN Family and Ambassadors. This included a gala dinner and outlined WUF10 in greater detail to interested delegates.
The UAE Ambassador to Kenya Khalid Khalifa Abdullah Rashid Al Mu’alla said “the UAE global leadership in international diplomacy finds its manifestation in the implementation of the 2030 agenda and our success in leading global implementation of SDGs and assisting others in doing so. WUF10 is an opportunity for the UAE to develop methodologies that can be shared and replicated in other countries in the region”.
The UN-Habitat Assembly carried the theme ‘Innovation for a Better Quality of Life in Cities and Communities – Accelerated Implementation of the New Urban Agenda towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals’. The event will bring together urban practitioners and experts, national, regional and local governments, academia, civil society and the private sector. All are brought together with a shared focus on innovative urbanization and to provide solutions for a better quality of life in cities and communities.
The UN-Habitat Assembly is the United Nations’ focal point for sustainable urbanization and human settlements development. This event will adopt global norms and policies that will guide how cities and communities are planned, managed and governed. It will also determine the strategic priorities for accelerating implementation of the New Urban Agenda to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for the next six years, through UN-Habitat’s Strategic Plan (2020-2025).
WUF10 will take place in Abu Dhabi in February 2020, convened by UN-Habitat and jointly organized with the Abu Dhabi Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities. The Forum will provide a platform to discuss 21st century city planning within a context of rapid development with specific cultural and demographic considerations. WUF10 will showcase the Abu Dhabi Plan, through which the city aims to realize its long-term sustainable development vision. This blueprint will advance concrete achievements that position the Emirate as a benchmark, in a region with one of the fastest urbanization rates on the globe.
Established in 2001, WUF is the world’s premier gathering on urban issues. The Forum examines the impact of rapid urbanization and its implications for social, economic and environmental policies in communities, cities and towns. — SG
The six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states have used their oil exports revenues of the past years not only to spend lavishly but to plan for a peaceful and serene future. So English football: a proxy battleground for feuding Gulf states?
Decades earlier, low oil prices meant economic disaster for a region that once controlled the world’s leading energy supplies impacting their sovereign wealth fund holdings. The ‘rentier’ states had to cope, some for the first time, with rising budget deficits. They had to conjure up policies to make good use of the classic rentier state economy involving a reduction in their dependence on oil revenues. A historical shift was handled quite artfully with notable policies of diversification of the respective economies and eventually getting hold of some ‘Soft Power’. Education, Sports and TV Entertainment or News channels amongst many other sectors of human activities were not precisely only bad earners in terms of Dollars. While there seems to be no question about the proceeds from the sector as mentioned earlier’s sales, these might have been central to the development of the Gulf States rivalries, eventually leading to the enduring present day blockade of Qatar.
So: English football: a proxy battleground for feuding Gulf states?
There’s nothing like a Saturday night scoop to get social media buzzing. Revelations that a Qatari investor wants to acquire a stake in Leeds United certainly did. If the story is correct, then it seems Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), which already owns French club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), is interested in buying shares in the Yorkshire based English Championship football club.
That a Qatari group is showing interest should be no surprise either; after all, the Yorkshire outfit already has a partnership with the small Gulf nation’s Aspire Academy. Over the last two years, rumours have been recurrent that big money from Doha will, sooner or later, be invested.
Hence, it was the timing of the latest rumour’s emergence that was actually more revealing than the rumour itself. It came after a tumultuous week in football (and sport more generally) which was stitched together by a narrative stretching from Manchester, through Paris, to Doha and Abu Dhabi.
A big week for Qatar
The previous weekend, Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City won the English FA Cup, which ensured the club secured an unprecedented domestic treble of trophies (alongside the club’s Premier League title and Carabao Cup win). City’s success, however, was very quickly tempered by stories that UEFA may ban the club from the Champions League for what are alleged to be serious breaches of the European football governing body’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
Later in the week, news came through that two PSG board members – Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Yousef Al-Obaidly – are being investigated on suspicion of corruption in connection with Qatar’s bid to host the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championship in Doha. Significantly, Al-Khelaifi is president of PSG but also chairman of QSI (the Qatari investment group behind the alleged Leeds bid) and a member of UEFA’s executive committee. Al-Obaidly is chief executive of the Qatari media group beIN.
It was quite a week for the Qataris, as news also broke that FIFA will concede during its forthcoming council meeting that the 2022 World Cup will be contested by 32 teams. FIFA had been pressing for an increase in tournament size to 48 teams, though this would have necessitated Qatar sharing the tournament with at least one other country. Qatar, though, is currently engaged in an acrimonious feud with its near neighbours, notably the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, so FIFA’s capitulation was effectively a victory for Qatar over its rivals.
The Gulf feud is ongoing, having broken out two years ago following a visit to Riyadh by a bellicose Donald Trump. Since then, all manner of tactics have been used by the countries involved, ranging from heavy political lobbying in Washington DC through to an online war in which misinformation has been spread.
Qatar hasn’t stood idly by in the face of such provocation, often spending lavishly both to demonstrate its oil and gas fuelled economic strength and to project its soft power. The world record breaking transfer of Brazilian international Neymar, from FC Barcelona to PSG, is the most potent symbol of this, as the government in Doha set out to shift attention away from its rivals while simultaneously making a statement about the aspirations of Qatar.
As such, the news that QSI may be circling Leeds United doesn’t seem to be about a Qatari penchant for Yorkshire puddings, nor is it merely a nice opportunity to generate some Saturday night clickbait. Rather, it suggests the opening of another front in a feud which, instead of resolving itself, appears to be intensifying. Rather than being the dawn of a new era for Leeds United, the club may consequently be on the cusp of being drawn into a bitter battle of competing geopolitical interests.
The dense network of connections and conflicts between the likes of Qatar Sports Investments, Saudi Arabia, UEFA and Abu Dhabi may therefore be about to span the English Pennines, sparking a new War of the Roses between Yorkshire and Lancashire. Given the on-off speculation about Saudi Arabia’s purchase of Manchester United, and Abu Dhabi’s continued lavishing of its wealth upon Manchester City (as well as its rumoured acquisition of Newcaste United), these Gulf states are strengthening their hold over Lancashire, the western side of the Pennines, and possibly further north too.
In buying Leeds United, their rival, Qatar, would be shoring up its own defences in neighbouring Yorkshire, meaning that the Gulf region’s proxy war could spill over into English football. Thus, as fans on both sides of a historic English divide anticipate the prospect of their clubs’ battle for supremacy, they should remain mindful that Elland Road and the Etihad Stadium could become modern day proxy battlefields in a new stand-off between the houses of York and Lancaster.
Every now and then, the idea of powering Europe using the vast solar resources of the Sahara Desert comes up. Were this to actually happen, we may witness the rise of new energy superpowers in Northern Africa. But a look at the economic and political energy system suggests what’s more likely is the oil-rich countries of the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf will continue to dominate energy trade even in the post-fossil era.
Renewable energy, of course, is very location dependent – the sunnier a place is, the more energy you get out of photovoltaic panels. Over the course of a year, southern Algeria, for example, gets more than twice as much solar energy as southern England. The graph below, which I put together as part of my PhD, shows that some of the best solar resources in the world are indeed found in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Niger, Chad and Sudan.
So, one could build large Saharan solar farms and then transmit the power back to densely populated areas of Europe. Such a project would need to overcome various technical challenges, but we can say that in theory it is possible, even if not practical.
Yet plans to actually set up mass Saharan solar have floundered. The most notable project, Desertec, was fairly active until the mid 2010s, when a collapse in the price of oil and natural gas made its business case more difficult. At that time, the major technology considered was concentrated solar power, where you use the heat from the sun to run a steam turbine. Energy can be stored as heat overnight, therefore enabling uninterrupted energy supply and making it preferred to then expensive batteries.
Since then, however, the cost of both solar panels and battery storage have dropped drastically. But, while conditions might look favourable for Saharan solar, it is unlikely that new solar energy kingpins will arise in North Africa. Instead, we should look one desert further to the East – the Rub al Khali on the Arabian peninsula, the home of the reigning energy powers.
Sun shines on the Gulf
The economies of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf nations are built around energy exports. And as climate change imposes pressure on the extraction of fossil fuels, these countries will have to look for alternative energy (and income) sources in order to keep their economies afloat. The International Renewable Energy Agency set up its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, and the region has no shortage of ambitious solar projects promising extremely cheap electricity. However only a small amount of capacity has actually been deployed so far. Low oil revenues have not helped with the megaprojects.
Countries in the Sahara also have little history of trading fossil fuels, outside of Libya and Algeria, while things are rather different for the petro-states of the Gulf. And this matters because, in the energy business, worries over longer-term security of supply mean countries tend to trade with the same partners.
This would be the Achilles’ heel of a Northern African energy project: the connections to Europe would likely be the continent’s single most important critical infrastructure and, considering the stability of the region, it is unlikely that European countries would take on such a risk.
Which brings us to an alternative way to transmit energy: hydrogen. A process called electrolysis can use renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the resulting hydrogen can store lots of energy. Soon it will become feasible to move energy around the world in this form, using shipping infrastructure similar to that already in use today for liquefied natural gas.
Sure, there are disadvantages compared to batteries. It would mean introducing two more conversion stages and thus reduced efficiency (30% roundtrip efficiency compared to 80% for batteries), but it would overcome the distance barrier. And perhaps just as importantly: shipping energy by hydrogen would mean no significant change to the existing maritime trade infrastructure, which will hand an advantage to established energy exporters.
If this means the Sahara is unlikely to develop renewable energy superpowers, then perhaps this is for the better. With the booming populations of Sub-Saharan Africa in dire need of electrification, clean solar power might be better used to alleviate the energy crisis in somewhere like Nigeria rather than sent to Europe. While these countries may eventually be able to shake off any solar resource curse, in the short term, exports like these could just look like yet another European attempt to extract natural resources from Africans.
A MEConstructionNewsANALYSIS by Andrew Skudder, CEO. CCS, Guest Author, warning construction firms of the risks of not digitising operations, posted on April 25, 2019, is republished here for its obvious benefits to the MENA’s development.
With the Middle East construction sector under growing pressure as a result of a tightening economy, construction companies should be looking at ways to streamline their business processes, improve cash flow management and tighten risk management. Those that sharpen internal processes and systems today will be best positioned for an upswing in government and private sector investment in the years to come.
The sector faces numerous challenges – challenging economic growth, shrinking margins, skills shortages, rising resource and labour costs – which means it’s under pressure to start innovating.
Investment in tech is behind the curve
The challenges the industry faces are compounded by the fact that many construction groups have not digitised operations such as cost-consulting. This means they lack visibility into – and control over – the many variables, changes, people and equipment involved in any construction project.
Middle Eastern construction companies should be looking for ways to use technology to drive higher productivity, achieve cost-savings and improve project management to weather a tumultuous time for the industry. However, the lean years of late, have seen IT spending in the construction industry stagnate, despite the accelerating pace of innovation around the world.
For example, adoption of wearables, 3D printing, driverless heavy vehicles, drones and building information modelling is rising in the global construction sector. To take full advantage of these advanced technologies, many local construction companies will first need to modernise their core back-office systems.
They should be looking towards tried and tested solutions for estimating, project control, enterprise accounting and operational costing. These solutions will enable them to drive down the costs of maintaining legacy applications, help them to become more agile and give them clearer real-time visibility into business performance.
Breaking down silos
Construction performance and progress cannot be monitored on financial data alone; engineering information is just as critical. Engineering control includes generating and managing allowable and actual quantities of resources, wastages, manhours of labour, production of equipment and time for construction activities.
Without digitisation, an organisation has no clear indication of the status of the contract because it doesn’t have real-time visibility into these factors. Today’s business solutions can break down the silos, enabling estimators and accountants to produce real time-reporting, and yet continue to work in the language that is meaningful to them.
Integrated back-office systems spanning procurement, project control, cost estimation, sub-contractor management and accounting give construction companies one source and view of the truth, enabling them to manage an entire project with real-time visibility into costs and performance.
Using this data can help construction firms make better strategic and operational decisions. Data-driven insights can enable them to better manage cashflow and project risks, so they can better predict and mitigate payment delays, rising costs and other challenges. It can also help companies to drive higher levels of profitability through better project planning.
Building a foundation for the future
Looking to the future, a robust business solution is also a foundation upon which construction companies can layer drones, robots, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced digital technologies. Such solutions enable construction companies to manage and analyse big data produced by sensors, devices and workers so they can drive productivity and innovation – AI, for example, can help them rapidly process the data to find key insights.
Construction companies should embrace digital transformation to drive higher productivity, improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage. Transforming their core business with a proven solution will help them prepare for the future, with a possibility that infrastructure spending will show signs of life again in the near future. Now is the time to lay the foundation for the next wave of growth.
“If I can generalise and group the buildings into three categories, the overwhelming majority aim to maximise area with very low construction cost and no allowance for design,” he added. “So the buildings end up bulky, repetitive and lacking character.
“Some attempt to give a local flavour and the successful ones are commendable. However, if the traditional elements are applied incorrectly, such as outside of their intended scale, function and context, then they tend to appear pastiche and ‘decorative’. Other buildings are contemporary, with a few good and forward-thinking examples, such as the Four Seasons in Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain National Theatre.”
Omari added that, particularly in Bahrain, traditional buildings demonstrate the country’s strong cultural routes and its rich history as a pearling harbour. Built from mud and coral and featuring distinct vernacular architecture, many of these examples are preserved in Muharraq, the country’s old capital, he said.
OAOA’s design for Big Box, a new office project to be constructed in Bahrain by 2021
The comments came as part of a larger conversation regarding OAOA’s new office project in Bahrain, Big Box, which is located within a wider masterplan designed for high density high-rises, while still underdeveloped and exposed to a busy main highway intersection. His client’s commercial desire to have a building that “stood out” from other buildings in the area presented a creative challenge for OAOA.
Big Box consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated by the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic fritted curtain wall.
“It all depends on the context,” Omari said. “Here, there were no existing buildings of historical importance that we would overshadow, and we weren’t disrespectful to any neighbours, so it felt suitable and, if the architecture is well thought-out and serves a purpose, good design adds value.”
Big Box is expected to be completed by 2021, and an in-depth review of the project will be featured in Middle East Architect’s May issue.
Governments in the Middle East are becoming more
receptive to growing private sector involvement in their economies because
public sector debt in many markets is ballooning, an official from the World
Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) has said.
Speaking on an investors’ panel debate at the
Global Financial Forum in Dubai on Monday, the IFC’s Middle East and North
Africa (MENA) director, Mouayed Makhlouf, said: “For the first time,
because of the massive rise in public debt across the region, we see a
difference. Our narrative with these governments has changed. Now, they are coming to us and they are saying
‘can you help us with the reforms?'”
Makhlouf said that the MENA region needs to create
300 million new jobs – “basically, double the population” by 2050 due
to the burgeoning youth population in the region, and that Egypt alone needs to
create around 700,000 jobs per year, although he said it is MENA’s fastest
growing economy currently, with GDP growth of 5.3 percent, compared with a
regional average of around 2-3 percent.
“The social contract in MENA is as such where
most of the services (are) provided by the public sector. But what you have ended up with… is a huge
public debt that has been rising for the past few years,” he said, adding
that debt-to-GDP ratios stand at around 96 percent in Egypt, 97-98 percent in
Jordan and 150 percent in Lebanon.
“For us, the main thing we need to find in
this region are… growth and jobs. And
I really believe both of these things can only come through a larger private
sector participation,” Makhlouf said.
In a separate panel on the outlook for the region’s
banking sector, JP Morgan‘s Asif Raza said that the decline in oil prices
that began in 2014 had created opportunities for
international banks to advise governments that are looking to
diversify on how to embark on “monetisation and privatisation” of
Kamal, MENA head of corporate banking at Citi, said that governments had run up deficits as oil
revenues fell, and had financed these through “various instruments where
banks have been involved”.
“And we expect to see that continue over the
next 2-3 years.”
Although total GCC fixed income issuance declined
by 16 percent year-on-year to $145.3 billion in 2018 as oil prices rallied,
according to Kamco Research, JP Morgan’s Raza said the current pipeline is
A faster flow
Raza said that at this stage last year, “over
$15.4 billion worth of issuance was done in the MENA region – this year, it’s
He added that in 2018, “the loan market
was (at an) all-time high in this region”. Figures published earlier this month from
Acuris showed that syndicated loan activity in the MENA region last year
outstripped bond issuance – with $133 billion of syndicated loans issued,
compared to $89.5 billion in bonds.
Raza said that at the top end of the corporate
banking market, “there’s lots of activity still happening”.
“There’s still quite a decent pipeline of
financing and refinancing,” he said.
However, Citi’s Kamal argued that the market has
been much tougher for SMEs in recent years.
“I believe that there is room for improvement
for all countries in the region as far as creating the right balance for SMEs
(is concerned),” he said.
He said that “time and again” in tougher
economic times large corporates, government-related entities and even government
departments have delayed payments to SMEs, which causes cashflow problems and
affects their ability to repay creditors.
“And some of the legal framework that
surrounds the corporate sector – we all know about bounced cheques and the
consequences of that. In summary, what
happens is SMEs can’t stay back in a number of cases (to) fight through these
cycles. So, we see skips, people leave
and that does not leave a very strong impact as far as consumer confidence is
Yet funding shortages for private sector firms can
also create opportunities – not least for the region’s private equity sector,
according to Karim El-Solh.
Speaking on the investment panel, El-Solh said that
his firm’s pipeline “has increased dramatically as a result of a lack of
availability of funding for businesses elsewhere.
“The IPO market is not open; the bank
liquidity has dried up so for us it’s an opportunity to come and be a provider
of growth capital. We are seeing more
companies, better quality companies, we’re acquiring controlling stakes at
lower valuations,” he said.
Makhlouf said more opportunities need to be created
for the private sector, stating that levels of private sector involvement in
the economy in the region lag behind other emerging markets.
“MENA region is only one-fifth in terms of
private sector participation compared to Latin America,” he said.