Construction to date stands as one of the largest industries in the world and the MENA region is no exception. Many governments especially of its most affluent petrol-exporting countries struggled and still are due to a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth, and waste. Construction sites of the future ‘will be people-free’ were already thought about back in 2014, when experts in construction processes were advancing ideas on developments being foreseeable soon through BIM-based Automated Construction. But unlike what happened in manufacturing in the developed world with all their adopted automated processes, the construction world has witnessed little progress, standing as one of the least digitized industries worldwide despite the recently proven potential of robots, drones, and printed buildings.
The construction sector is on the cusp of a technological transformation which will drive sustainability considerations to the forefront of decision-making, according to experts who will be debating key challenges associated with construction megatrends at an event this month. Robots are predicted to replace humans as the sector becomes increasingly automated over the next 30 years, supporting the drive for carbon-neutral development while radically improving health and safety on building sites. Dr Will Cavendish, global leader digital services, Arup; Aref Boualwan, senior manager digital transformation & strategy, CCC; Peter Jones, technical & operational efficiency director, Skanska; and Sherief Elabd, director of industry strategy, Oracle Construction and Engineering, will be among speakers at the Construction Technology Forum 2019, on September 24 and 25 September at Address, Dubai Marina, Dubai. According to Arup’s Cavendish, firms wishing to stay at the forefront of the construction sector must make both technology and sustainability considerations a priority or they risk being left behind. He says: “With the world becoming more polluted and fossil fuel use needing to fall, the transformation to carbon-neutral infrastructure, buildings, transportation and grid will become paramount to being able to live and operate in the Middle East.” Skanska’s Jones shares this vision for the future of the construction sector, adding: “Sites will deliver net-zero carbon through the use of electric vehicles, and plant and machinery powered from renewable resources.” By 2050, Jones predicts construction sites will look more like assembly plants dominated by robots. He says: “There will be very little build completed on site, except for foundations and earthworks. It will be more like an outside factory, with various sub-assembled components being delivered to site to be assembled by robots or automated vehicles. Ninety per cent will be manufactured off-site and only brought to site for final assembly.” CCC’s Boualwan also foresees connected systems and robots permeating future construction sites, creating a major shift in the required workforce skills. He believes a big advantage of this will be improved health and safety: “One of the main reasons why robots are increasingly deployed is their ability to replace workers in dangerous and hazardous construction zones, thus helping to improve safety measures.” Boualwan envisages significant opportunities in the construction sector for start-ups to help drive digitalisation. He believes this could help eradicate the days of construction delays and spiralling budgets: “The sector has lagged when it comes to technological advancements. Partnering with construction technology start-ups could help put an end to the expansion of construction schedules, and the continuous increase in labour and material costs. I believe the GCC construction scene is on the cusp of a new, ever-evolving era of engaging construction technology start-ups.” Middle East construction firms need to respond to advances in the sector in order to maintain their competitive advantage, and Arup’s Cavendish recommends they do this by prioritising considerations such as: sourcing sustainable materials; integrating with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; considering the “circular economy” to understand what happens at the end of a building’s lifecycle; and integrating smart technologies into buildings from design and through the lifecycle to deliver carbon-neutral operations. Oracle’s Elabd also endorses the need for prompt action in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change associated with tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Building Information Modelling (BIM) and drones. He adds: “Companies need to be taking technology trends seriously now by investing their resources in quality research and development, and most importantly by focusing on process re-engineering and integration within their business culture and markets. Without a clear process which supports collaboration and adoption, there is no pathway to successful digital transformation.” “AI is the big game-changer in construction as everything is now revolved around improving productivity, especially labour, in a market that is more competitive than ever.” “Sustainability will become inherited and integral to any new construction, with constant improvements in performance driven by AI and automation, as well as the use of sustainable materials which promote less energy and water consumption.” With governments in the region laying the foundations for data-driven economies, the Construction Technology Forum is designed to provide insights into how adopting technology can reduce operational costs, boost productivity and enhance overall quality across all elements of the industry supply-chain. The Construction Technology Forum is organised by Ventures Connect, a partnership between b2b Connect and Ventures Middle East; two businesses committed to empowering companies across the Middle East and Africa Region while enabling critical connections with key stakeholders and decision-makers across various industries.
Setting up a business is exciting, but it requires level-headed planning. To be successful you need to consider the logistics performance of the country in question, along with its reputation, ease of company setup process, simplicity of doing business, and opportunities for future growth. So, when you’re looking at where to locate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of the different regions. If you’re considering this part of the world, here are four tips to improve your chances of finding the right place for your MENA business:
1. The best location for logistics A quick look at the World Bank Logistics Performance Index (LPI) helps define all the logistical considerations in six points: customs, infrastructure, ease of shipping, tracking and tracing, timeliness, as well as logistic services. These factors are important for all businesses and vital if you will be importing and/or exporting. Why the UAE has got logistics covered: In that World Bank Logistics Performance Index, the one MENA country that stands head and shoulders above all the rest is the UAE. It ranks 1st in the GCC and MENA. Globally it’s listed 11th, ahead of the United States and Switzerland. In terms of specifics, the UAE is placed 5th in the world for international shipments and 4th for timeliness. Meaning you can expect to have your deliveries reach their destinations by the deadline.
And it’s important not just to stop at Dubai when it comes to thinking about locations for your new MENA business. Investigate the other emirates that boast excellent logistical networks as well as ample warehousing space at a lower cost. Setting up in Ras al Khaimah, for example, is the perfect jumping-off point to do business across the UAE, the Gulf and entire MENA region, and it’s less than an hour’s drive to Dubai.
2. Finding an easy setup process Here we have to consider procedures, time, cost and minimum capital required to start a company. Different countries in the MENA region take different approaches to helping new businesses achieve this. There are a huge number of options, so it’s important to locate your company in a top-level business hub that can offer you a tailor-made solution. The UAE is always going to score highly when it comes to easy setup. Look for a hub within the UAE that gives you flexibility, allowing you to choose whether you want to set up on the mainland or in a free zone.
Why the UAE has the easiest setup process: In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report, the UAE was ranked 25th in the world for starting a business, with a score of 94.06 out of 100. The MENA average was 82, with only one other regional country, Bahrain (89.57), breaching the top 100. Why? Well, the UAE was deemed to have hugely streamlined procedures and greatly reduced setup times. It’s worth looking outside of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well– Ras al Khaimah has put in place a highly-simplified and fast-tracked business setup process. So, look for a hub that offers this level of service, and get your company off to a strong start. It’s about costs as well: Choosing the right location can mean halving your setup costs.
3. The importance of a good reputation The MENA country you set up in will be a reflection of your business. Set up in one that is well respected for business equality and fairness and this rubs off on the organization itself. It also affects how you are perceived by companies in the MENA (and wider) region with which you do business.
Why the UAE’s reputation speaks well for your business: The UAE has a great reputation for business for a number of reasons. It’s politically stable, has a strong economy, and offers state-of-the-art infrastructure. Its laws prohibit monopoly and encourage competition, while maintaining intellectual property rights and trademarks. No surprise then that it’s probably the major international business hub of the Middle East. Even if you do business outside of the UAE, being based there puts you in great standing with the MENA region.
4. Having the room to expand Whatever the size of your business right now, you’re probably aiming to grow. This means you need to keep options open because what might be the best choice now, especially in terms of location and suppliers, may change in the future. You need a location that offers flexibility. One that has good access to other markets and one that lets you expand your offering. For example, you could be attracted by the easy setup process and zero taxation offered by many UAE free zones, but perhaps one day you will want to do business directly with the mainland. Finding the right hub that allows that type of flexibility will be a vital part of your decision-making. So, it’s important to think about your immediate requirements, and how those requirements might change down the road.
Why the UAE helps your company grow: On top the strong economy and great transport links, choosing the right business hub in the UAE brings peace of mind that you are set up for years to come. You haven’t just taken an ‘off the shelf’ solution but got one that truly reflects the kind of business you want to run today, and tomorrow.
Question your way to success
When setting up in the MENA region, you need to make an informed decision rather than a leap of faith. You can improve your chances of success by asking the right questions about your business needs and the locations on offer. The UAE ticks the right boxes– the question, then, is making sure you pick the right economic zone and the right location within it.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Conducted biennially, the survey found that Oman is MENA’s safest country and overall third in the world. Oman ranks third in safety and security due to lower homicides rates (19th in the world), a reliable police force (5th), and low costs of terrorism (7th) and crime (3rd).
Oman also recorded the region’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th) and is among the most improved in international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd).
The top 10 countries this year are Spain, France, Germany, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Canada and Switzerland. India (40th to 34th) had the greatest improvement over 2017 among the top 25 per cent of all countries ranked in the report.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. ‘With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions,’ stated the report.
Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritisation and policy and natural and cultural resources.
This year, eight out of the Middle East’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st).
Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service infrastructure (22nd).
Each country receives a score in categories from business environment, safety and security, health and hygiene, human resources and labour market and ICT readiness.
A globalised solar-powered future is wholly unrealistic – and our economy is the reason why is elaborated on by Alf Hornborg, Professor of Human Ecology at Lund University.
Over the past two centuries, millions of dedicated people – revolutionaries, activists, politicians, and theorists – have been unable to curb the disastrous and increasingly globalised trajectory of economic polarisation and ecological degradation. This is perhaps because we are utterly trapped in flawed ways of thinking about technology and economy – as the current discourse on climate change shows.
Rising greenhouse gas emissions are not just generating climate change. They are giving more and more of us climate anxiety. Doomsday scenarios are capturing the headlines at an accelerating rate. Scientists from all over the world tell us that emissions in ten years must be half of what they were ten years ago, or we face apocalypse. Schoolchildren like Greta Thunberg and activist movements like Extinction Rebellion are demanding that we panic. And rightly so. But what should we do to avoid disaster?
Most scientists, politicians, and business leaders tend to put their hope in technological progress. Regardless of ideology, there is a widespread expectation that new technologies will replace fossil fuels by harnessing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Many also trust that there will be technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for “geoengineering” the Earth’s climate. The common denominator in these visions is the faith that we can save modern civilisation if we shift to new technologies. But “technology” is not a magic wand. It requires a lot of money, which means claims on labour and resources from other areas. We tend to forget this crucial fact.
I would argue that the way we take conventional “all-purpose” money for granted is the main reason why we have not understood how advanced technologies are dependent on the appropriation of labour and resources from elsewhere. In making it possible to exchange almost anything – human time, gadgets, ecosystems, whatever – for anything else on the market, people are constantly looking for the best deals, which ultimately means promoting the lowest wages and the cheapest resources in the global South.
It is the logic of money that has created the utterly unsustainable and growth-hungry global society that exists today. To get our globalised economy to respect natural limits, we must set limits to what can be exchanged. Unfortunately, it seems increasingly probable that we shall have to experience something closer to disaster – such as a semi-global harvest failure – before we are prepared to seriously question how money and markets are currently designed.
This article is part of Conversation Insights The Insights team generates long-form journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. The team is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects aimed at tackling societal and scientific challenges.
Take the ultimate issue we are facing: whether our modern, global, and growing economy can be powered by renewable energy. Among most champions of sustainability, such as advocates of a Green New Deal, there is an unshakeable conviction that the problem of climate change can be solved by engineers.
What generally divides ideological positions is not the faith in technology as such, but which technical solutions to choose, and whether they will require major political change. Those who remain sceptical to the promises of technology – such as advocates of radical downshifting or degrowth – tend to be marginalised from politics and the media. So far, any politician who seriously advocates degrowth is not likely to have a future in politics.
Mainstream optimism about technology is often referred to as ecomodernism. The Ecomodernist Manifesto, a concise statement of this approach published in 2015, asks us to embrace technological progress, which will give us “a good, or even great, Anthropocene”. It argues that the progress of technology has “decoupled” us from the natural world and should be allowed to continue to do so in order to allow the “rewilding” of nature. The growth of cities, industrial agriculture, and nuclear power, it claims, illustrate such decoupling. As if these phenomena did not have ecological footprints beyond their own boundaries.
Meanwhile, calls for a Green New Deal have been voiced for more than a decade, but in February 2019 it took the form of a resolution to the American House of Representatives. Central to its vision is a large-scale shift to renewable energy sources and massive investments in new infrastructure. This would enable further growth of the economy, it is argued.
So the general consensus seems to be that the problem of climate change is just a question of replacing one energy technology with another. But a historical view reveals that the very idea of technology is inextricably intertwined with capital accumulation, unequal exchange and the idea of all-purpose money. And as such, it is not as easy to redesign as we like to think. Shifting the main energy technology is not just a matter of replacing infrastructure – it means transforming the economic world order.
In the 19th century, the industrial revolution gave us the notion that technological progress is simply human ingenuity applied to nature, and that it has nothing to do with the structure of world society. This is the mirror image of the economists’ illusion, that growth has nothing to do with nature and so does not need to reckon with natural limits. Rather than seeing that both technology and economy span the nature-society divide, engineering is thought of as dealing only with nature and economics as dealing only with society.
The steam engine, for instance, is simply considered an ingenious invention for harnessing the chemical energy of coal. I am not denying that this is the case, but steam technology in early industrial Britain was also contingent on capital accumulated on global markets. The steam-driven factories in Manchester would never have been built without the triangular Atlantic trade in slaves, raw cotton, and cotton textiles. Steam technology was not just a matter of ingenious engineering applied to nature – like all complex technology, it was also crucially dependent on global relations of exchange.
This dependence of technology on global social relations is not just a matter of money. In quite a physical sense, the viability of the steam engine relied on the flows of human labour energy and other resources that had been invested in cotton fibre from South Carolina, in the US, coal from Wales and iron from Sweden. Modern technology, then, is a product of the metabolism of world society, not simply the result of uncovering “facts” of nature.
The illusion that we have suffered from since the industrial revolution is that technological change is simply a matter of engineering knowledge, regardless of the patterns of global material flows. This is particularly problematic in that it makes us blind to how such flows tend to be highly uneven.
This is not just true of the days of the British Empire. To this day, technologically advanced areas of the world are net importers of the resources that have been used as inputs in producing their technologies and other commodities, such as land, labour, materials, and energy. Technological progress and capital accumulation are two sides of the same coin. But the material asymmetries in world trade are invisible to mainstream economists, who focus exclusively on flows of money.
Ironically, this understanding of technology is not even recognised in Marxist theory, although it claims to be both materialist and committed to social justice. Marxist theory and politics tend toward what opponents refer to as a Promethean faith in technological progress. Its concern with justice focuses on the emancipation of the industrial worker, rather than on the global flows of resources that are embodied in the industrial machine.
This Marxist faith in the magic of technology occasionally takes extreme forms, as in the case of the biologist David Schwartzman, who does not hesitate to predict future human colonisation of the galaxy and Aaron Bastani, who anticipates mining asteroids. In his remarkable book Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto, Bastani repeats a widespread claim about the cheapness of solar power that shows how deluded most of us are by the idea of technology.
Nature, he writes, “provides us with virtually free, limitless energy”. This was a frequently voiced conviction already in 1964, when the chemist Farrington Daniels proclaimed that the “most plentiful and cheapest energy is ours for the taking”. More than 50 years later, the dream persists.
Electricity globally represents about 19% of total energy use – the other major energy drains being transports and industry. In 2017, only 0.7% of global energy use derived from solar power and 1.9% from wind, while 85% relied on fossil fuels. As much as 90% of world energy use derives from fossil sources, and this share is actually increasing. So why is the long-anticipated transition to renewable energy not materialising?
One highly contested issue is the land requirements for harnessing renewable energy. Energy experts like David MacKay and Vaclav Smil have estimated that the “power density” – the watts of energy that can be harnessed per unit of land area – of renewable energy sources is so much lower than that of fossil fuels that to replace fossil with renewable energy would require vastly greater land areas for capturing energy.
In part because of this issue, visions of large-scale solar power projects have long referred to the good use to which they could put unproductive areas like the Sahara desert. But doubts about profitability have discouraged investments. A decade ago, for example, there was much talk about Desertec, a €400 billion project that crumbled as the major investors pulled out, one by one.
Today the world’s largest solar energy project is Ouarzazate Solar Power Station in Morocco. It covers about 25 square kilometres and has cost around US$9 billion to build. It is designed to provide around a million people with electricity, which means that another 35 such projects – that is, US$315 billion of investments – would be required merely to cater to the population of Morocco. We tend not to see that the enormous investments of capital needed for such massive infrastructural projects represent claims on resources elsewhere – they have huge footprints beyond our field of vision.
Also, we must consider whether solar is really carbon free. As Smil has shown for wind turbines and Storm van Leeuwen for nuclear power, the production, installation, and maintenance of any technological infrastructure remains critically dependent on fossil energy. Of course, it is easy to retort that until the transition has been made, solar panels are going to have to be produced by burning fossil fuels. But even if 100% of our electricity were renewable, it would not be able to propel global transports or cover the production of steel and cement for urban-industrial infrastructure.
And given the fact that the cheapening of solar panels in recent years to a significant extent is the result of shifting manufacture to Asia, we must ask ourselves whether European and American efforts to become sustainable should really be based on the global exploitation of low-wage labour, scarce resources and abused landscapes elsewhere.
Solar power is not displacing fossil energy, only adding to it. And the pace of expansion of renewable energy capacity has stalled – it was about the same in 2018 as in 2017. Meanwhile, our global combustion of fossil fuels continues to rise, as do our carbon emissions. Because this trend seems unstoppable, many hope to see extensive use of technologies for capturing and removing the carbon from the emissions of power plants and factories.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) remains an essential component of the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change. But to envisage such technologies as economically accessible at a global scale is clearly unrealistic.
To collect the atoms of carbon dispersed by the global combustion of fossil fuels would be as energy-demanding and economically unfeasible as it would be to try to collect the molecules of rubber from car tires that are continuously being dispersed in the atmosphere by road friction.
The late economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen used this example to show that economic processes inevitably lead to entropy – that is, an increase in physical disorder and loss of productive potential. In not grasping the implications of this fact, we continue to imagine some miraculous new technology that will reverse the Law of Entropy.
Economic “value” is a cultural idea. An implication of the Law of Entropy is that productive potential in nature – the force of energy or the quality of materials – is systematically lost as value is being produced. This perspective turns our economic worldview upside down. Value is measured in money, and money shapes the way we think about value. Economists are right in that value should be defined in terms of human preferences, rather than inputs of labour or resources, but the result is that the more value we produce, the more inexpensive labour, energy and other resources are required. To curb the relentless growth of value – at the expense of the biosphere and the global poor – we must create an economy that can restrain itself.
The evils of capitalism
Much of the discussion on climate change suggests that we are on a battlefield, confronting evil people who want to obstruct our path to an ecological civilisation. But the concept of capitalism tends to mystify how we are all caught in a game defined by the logic of our own constructions – as if there was an abstract “system” and its morally despicable proponents to blame. Rather than see the very design of the money game as the real antagonist, our call to arms tends to be directed at the players who have had best luck with the dice.
I would instead argue that the ultimate obstruction is not a question of human morality but of our common faith in what Marx called “money fetishism”. We collectively delegate responsibility for our future to a mindless human invention – what Karl Polanyi called all-purpose money, the peculiar idea that anything can be exchanged for anything else. The aggregate logic of this relatively recent idea is precisely what is usually called “capitalism”. It defines the strategies of corporations, politicians, and citizens alike.
All want their money assets to grow. The logic of the global money game obviously does not provide enough incentives to invest in renewables. It generates greed, obscene and rising inequalities, violence, and environmental degradation, including climate change. But mainstream economics appears to have more faith in setting this logic free than ever. Given the way the economy is now organised, it does not see an alternative to obeying the logic of the globalised market.
The only way to change the game is to redesign its most basic rules. To attribute climate change to an abstract system called capitalism – but without challenging the idea of all-purpose money – is to deny our own agency. The “system” is perpetuated every time we buy our groceries, regardless of whether we are radical activists or climate change deniers. It is difficult to identify culprits if we are all players in the same game. In agreeing to the rules, we have limited our potential collective agency. We have become the tools and servants of our own creation – all-purpose money.
Despite good intentions, it is not clear what Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the rest of the climate movement are demanding should be done. Like most of us, they want to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases, but seem to believe that such an energy transition is compatible with money, globalised markets, and modern civilisation.
Is our goal to overthrow “the capitalist mode of production”? If so, how do we go about doing that? Should we blame the politicians for not confronting capitalism and the inertia of all-purpose money? Or – which should follow automatically – should we blame the voters? Should we blame ourselves for not electing politicians that are sincere enough to advocate reducing our mobility and levels of consumption?
Many believe that with the right technologies we would not have to reduce our mobility or energy consumption – and that the global economy could still grow. But to me, that is an illusion. It suggests that we have not yet grasped what “technology” is. Electric cars and many other “green” devices may seem reassuring but are often revealed to be insidious strategies for displacing work and environmental loads beyond our horizon – to unhealthy, low-wage labour in mines in Congo and Inner Mongolia. They look sustainable and fair to their affluent users but perpetuate a myopic worldview that goes back to the invention of the steam engine. I have called this delusion machine fetishism.
Redesigning the global money game
So the first thing we should redesign are the economic ideas that brought fossil-fueled technology into existence and continue to perpetuate it. “Capitalism” ultimately refers to the artefact or idea of all-purpose money, which most of us take for granted as being something about which we do not have a choice. But we do, and this must be recognised.
Since the 19th century, all-purpose money has obscured the unequal resource flows of colonialism by making them seem reciprocal: money has served as a veil that mystifies exploitation by representing it as fair exchange. Economists today reproduce this 19th-century mystification, using a vocabulary that has proven useless in challenging global problems of justice and sustainability. The policies designed to protect the environment and promote global justice have not curbed the insidious logic of all-purpose money – which is to increase environmental degradation as well as economic inequalities.
In order to see that all-purpose money is indeed the fundamental problem, we need to see that there are alternative ways of designing money and markets. Like the rules in a board game, they are human constructions and can, in principle, be redesigned. In order to accomplish economic “degrowth” and curb the treadmill of capital accumulation, we must transform the systemic logic of money itself.
National authorities might establish a complementary currency, alongside regular money, that is distributed as a universal basic income but that can only be used to buy goods and services that are produced within a given radius from the point of purchase. This is not “local money” in the sense of LETS or the Bristol Pound – which in effect do nothing to impede the expansion of the global market – but a genuine spanner in the wheel of globalisation. With local money you can buy goods produced on the other side of the planet, as long as you buy it in a local store. What I am suggesting is special money that can only be used to buy goods produced locally.
This would help decrease demand for global transports – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions – while increasing local diversity and resilience and encouraging community integration. It would no longer make low wages and lax environmental legislation competitive advantages in world trade, as is currently the case.
Immunising local communities and ecosystems from the logic of globalised capital flows may be the only feasible way of creating a truly “post-capitalist” society that respects planetary boundaries and does not generate deepening global injustices.
Re-localising the bulk of the economy in this way does not mean that communities won’t need electricity, for example, to run hospitals, computers and households. But it would dismantle most of the global, fossil-fuelled infrastructure for transporting people, groceries and other commodities around the planet.
This means decoupling human subsistence from fossil energy and re-embedding humans in their landscapes and communities. In completely changing market structures of demand, such a shift would not require anyone – corporations, politicians, or citizens – to choose between fossil and solar energy, as two comparable options with different profit margins.
To return to the example of Morocco, solar power will obviously have an important role to play in generating indispensable electricity, but to imagine that it will be able to provide anything near current levels of per capita energy use in the global North is wholly unrealistic. A transition to solar energy should not simply be about replacing fossil fuels, but about reorganising the global economy.
Solar power will no doubt be a vital component of humanity’s future, but not as long as we allow the logic of the world market to make it profitable to transport essential goods halfway around the world. The current blind faith in technology will not save us. For the planet to stand any chance, the global economy must be redesigned. The problem is more fundamental than capitalism or the emphasis on growth: it is money itself, and how money is related to technology.
Climate change and the other horrors of the Anthropocene don’t just tell us to stop using fossil fuels – they tell us that globalisation itself is unsustainable.
The MENA’s Gulf area is home, though temporarily to numerous people from around the world, with nationals being a minority for decades now. All the neighbouring countries to Bahrain rely heavily on this imported manpower to not only get things done but mainly to keep the respective economies going. Life and above all its quality aspect, therefore of the various expat communities in the different countries does, unlike in the recent past, account for much in the socio-political stratosphere of the various work environments. And, Bahrain tops region for expat living.
However, while the populations in the area are recently noticed to be somewhat slowing, especially if compared to the boom years that started around the early 2000s, there are varying differences in the communities’ growths. But that’s a different story.
Bahrain remains the best place for expatriates to work and live in the Middle East, even as it dropped to the seventh place globally from being on top of the list last year in the InterNations Expat Insider survey.
With more than 20,000 respondents, it is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, sharing insights into expat life in 64 destinations. The survey offers in-depth information about expats’ satisfaction with the quality of life, ease of settling in, working life, personal finance, cost of living, and family life in their respective country of residence.
Despite Bahrain losing ground in terms of working abroad and family life, expats are still generally happy with both aspects of life abroad. They also keep finding it easy to settle in this country, the survey said.
Taiwan, Vietnam, and Portugal are the best expat destinations: all of them attract expats with their ease of settling in and good personal finances. While expats in Taiwan and Portugal are also extremely satisfied with the quality of life, those in Vietnam appreciate their great work life.
At the other bottom of the ranking, Kuwait (64th out of 64), Italy, and Nigeria are the worst destinations for expats in 2019. While Kuwait is the country where expats find it hardest to settle in, Italy offers the worst work-life, and Nigeria the worst quality of life in the world, the study found, it said.
After a first place in the Expat Insider survey in 2018 and 2017, Bahrain loses six places in 2019 (7thout of 64). These results may be affected by its sudden drop of 17 places in the Working Abroad Index(from 1st to 18th). While Bahrain is still in the top 10 countries for career prospects and job satisfaction (10th), expats seem to be less satisfied with their working hours (3rd in 2018 to 27th in 2019) and their job security (5th to 19th). In fact, 62% are happy with the state of the economy, which is just about the global average (63%). Expat parents are also slightly less happy, ranking Bahrain 13th out of 36 countries in the Family LifeIndex (vs. 7th out of 50 countries in 2018). Still, more than nine in ten parents (93%) rate the friendly attitude towards families with children positively (vs. 81% globally), and expats keep having no issues with settling in in their new country (2nd): more than four in five respondents (82%) say it is easy to settle down in Bahrain (vs. 59% globally). They find it easy to make friends (68% vs. 54% globally) and to live in the country without speaking the local language (94% vs. 45% globally).
Taiwan: Coming first out of 64 countries and territories in the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Taiwan stands out for its great quality of life (3rd place). Taiwan is rated best in the world for the affordability of healthcare, with almost nine in ten respondents (89%) satisfied with this factor (vs. 55% globally). Expats in Taiwan are also happy with the quality of medical care (92% vs. 65% globally) and their personal safety (96%vs. 81% globally). In addition to that, 78% agree that it easy to settle down there (vs. 59% globally), and88% find the locals generally friendly (vs. 68% globally).
Vietnam: After ranking 14th out of 68 destinations in 2018, Vietnam is voted the second-best country for expats in 2019. Expats there are particularly happy with their career prospects (68% satisfied vs. 55% globally)and their jobs in general (74% satisfied vs. 64% globally). However, Vietnam is not only the highest ranking country when it comes to working abroad, it is also the best destination for personal finance(1st out of 64). In fact, 81% of expats are happy with their financial situation (vs. 64% worldwide), and75% state that their disposable household income is more than they need to cover daily costs (vs. 49%globally).
Portugal: According to the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Portugal offers an excellent quality of life (1st worldwide) and a “relaxed lifestyle”, as a British expat highlights. It is one of the world’s best countries for leisure options (2nd): more than four in five expats (83%) are happy with the socializing and leisure activities available to them (vs. 65% globally), and almost every expat (95%) rates the climate and weather positively (vs. 61% globally). Moreover, Portugal ranks among the top 5 expat destinations where it is easy to settle in for the third year in a row (4th in 2019).
Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold. Little suggests that fabulously wealthy Gulf states and their Middle Eastern and North African beneficiaries have recognized what is perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan and the 2011 Arab revolts: All that glitters is not gold.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Kuwait have in the last decade invested billions of dollars in either reversing or hollowing out the revolts’ achievements in a bid to ensure that political change elsewhere in the region does not come to haunt them.
Qatar, in a counterintuitive strategy that has earned it the ire of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has sought to achieve the same goal by attempting to be on the right side of the region’s forces of change.
The irony is that both approaches, despite also involving huge investments at home in economic diversification, education, and healthcare, could produce the very result Gulf states seek to avoid: a region that has many of the trappings of 21st century knowledge states but that is incapable of catering to the aspirations of a youth bulge expected to annually increase the work force by a million people over the next 12 years.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, concluded earlier this year, that the region’s youth bulge was a double-edged sword. It could either pose a threat to regional stability or be an asset for development.
Turning the youth bulge into an asset “requires urgent and significant investment to create opportunities for meaningful learning, social engagement and work, all of which are currently limited, particularly for young women and the most vulnerable,” the UN agency said in a report entitled MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Generation 2030.
UNICEF arrived at its conclusion even though Gulf states have adopted grandiose plans that envision them becoming within a matter of a decade or two diversified, knowledge-driven economies that enact the social reforms needed to create opportunity for all segments of society.
The group’s conclusion applies as much to the wealthy Gulf states as it does to the Arab beneficiaries of their politically motivated financial largesse.
The problems with the flexing of the Gulf states’ financial muscle as well as the implementation of reform plans are multi-fold.
They relate as much to quality of the upgrading of services such as education as they are about how political intent shapes development efforts and how high domestic debt in countries like Egypt, where 27 percent of government expenditure goes to interest payments, and Lebanon, which spends 38 percent of its budget on debt servicing, benefits Gulf banks and stymies social and economic development.
Credit rating agency Fitch recently downgraded Lebanon’s credit rating to CCC from B- because of “intensifying pressure on Lebanon’s financing model and increasing risks to the government’s debt servicing capacity.”
“In Lebanon, just over 50 percent of the country’s bank assets are held by GCC-related banks, in Palestine this figure is 63 per cent, and in Jordan it is as high as 86 percent,” Mr. Advani wrote in a review of political economist Adam Hanieh’s study of Gulf finance, Money, Markets, and Monarchies.
Mr Hanieh argues that the bulk of the debt payments are to financial establishments whose major shareholders include Gulf institutions in a process in which “the Arab state…increasingly mediates the transfer of national wealth to large Gulf-related banks.”
Mr Advani warned that “indebted governments are compelled to intensify a politics of austerity, further trapping these societies in cycles of debt. Investments in social programs or infrastructural developments are often stalled. Popular movements are unable to realize their demands at the state level due to the requirements of foreign creditors and domestic capitalists. The ensuing scenario is one where alternative politics are asphyxiated and increasingly circumscribed by an atrophied status quo.”
That may well be the purpose of the exercise with economic diversification efforts in the Gulf being driven more by the need of autocracies to upgrade their autocratic style and create opportunity for a restive youth in a bid to ensure regime survival rather than by the acknowledgement of a government’s responsibility to serve the people.
The result is a flawed approach to all aspects of reform.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan that calls for greater private sector involvement has turned into a top down effort that emphasizes state control with the government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) as the key player.
A combination of depressed oil prices and the recent replacement of energy minister Khalid al-Falih as chairman of the board of Aramco by PIF head Yasir al-Rumayyan, a close associate of Prince Mohammed, raises questions about the state oil company’s positioning in advance of a much-touted initial public offering.
Ellen Wald, an energy analyst and author of a history of Aramco, the kingdom’s main source of revenue, noted that at PIF Mr. Al-Rumayyan had overseen investments more geared towards speculative gains than the sustainable growth of Saudi wealth.
Nonetheless, Ms Wald cautions that Mr Al-Rumayyan’s appointment “doesn’t necessarily bode well for Aramco, which is a different kind of company. It has to make stable decisions for the long term,” she said.
By the same token, UNICEF warned that poverty, violent conflict, restrictive social norms, patriarchy, rights violations and lack of safe spaces for expression and recreation were limiting opportunities as well as civic adolescent and youth engagement.
Gulf emphasis on geopolitical dominance, regime survival and return on financial investment produces short term solutions that often exacerbate conflict, produce little trickle-down effect and few prospects for long-term stability.
“As a result, adolescents and youth in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) feel disillusioned, with girls and young women, refugees, those with disabilities and the poor being particularly marginalised and underrepresented,” the UNICEF report said.
“Youth unemployment in the region is currently the highest in the world. Education systems are failing to prepare adolescents and youth for the workplace, and markets are not generating urgently needed jobs,” the report warned.
Gulf wealth glitters but if the UNICEF report is anything to go by, it has yet to demonstrate that it can produce the gold of a development that is sustainable and benefits not only all segments of Gulf societies but also of those across the region that have become dependent on it.
Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.