The answer to whether blue is the new green would be in all those opportunities for developing a climate-resilient blue economy. Let us see what in the Middle East Institute are the main insights . . .
Is blue the new green? Opportunities for developing a climate-resilient blue economy in the MENA region
By Zeina Moneer
The World Bank defines the blue economy as “the sustainable use of maritime resources for economic growth, jobs, and improved livelihoods while preserving the marine ecosystem’s health.” The aim is to strike a balance between conservation and resource extraction when developing marine-based economies. The blue economy can offer huge potential in the area of climate change mitigation and resilience, given the fact that marine habitats, such as mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows, provide significant protection from erratic climate events, including cyclones and floods.
These key coastal systems sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. In the case of mangroves and coastal wetlands, they can store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests, making them one of the world’s most important natural “carbon sinks.” Despite representing less than 5% of the global land area and less than 2% of the ocean, they sequester carbon at a rate 10 times greater than terrestrial forests, and thereby represent an important nature-based solution for mitigating the effects of climate change. In addition, marine ecosystems provide nursery and breeding grounds for commercial fish, habitat for endangered species such as turtles, staging points for migratory birds, and filter water flowing into seas and oceans. Thus, they also play a key role in ensuring food security and sustaining coastal communities, as well as diversifying livelihoods, including fishing and tourism.
The Middle East and North Africa region boasts vast coastal zones on the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Gulf, and the Atlantic Ocean. These extended coastal environments are rich in marine ecosystems and serve as vital routes for international trade, alongside other economic activities. There are four crucial areas where MENA countries would benefit from developing the blue economy that would aid in reversing natural resource degradation, sustaining inclusive economic development, and building resilience to climate change. These areas include developing renewable energy sources, investing in sustainable aquaculture, decarbonizing maritime transportation, and developing resilient and carbon-neutral tourism.
Developing renewable maritime energy sources
There is enormous untapped potential for blue renewable energy sources in MENA, including well-established sources like offshore wind, as well as nascent technologies such as wave, tidal, current, ocean thermal, and biomass production from algae. All of these renewable sources could contribute to meeting rising energy and electricity demand at a lower cost, achieving energy independence, and helping the region to meet its carbon reduction commitments in a way that aligns with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
For example, wind energy potential is especially high in North African countries, and it is estimated that wind power potential in this region is 34 times greater than that of northern European countries. Morocco, for example, is estimated to have an offshore wind potential of 200 GW, benefiting from average wind speeds of 7.5-9.5 meters per second (m/s) in the south and 9.5-11.0 m/s in the north. Algeria also has tremendous technical wind energy potential estimated at 7,700 GW. To put this in perspective, the total wind capacity in Europe at the end of 2020 was only 216 GW.
Other potential locations for offshore wind farms (where annual wind speeds are greater than 5m/s at 80 meters above sea level) include coasts along the Gulf of Suez and Aqaba in Egypt, Jordan, north-west Saudi Arabia, the south-east coast of Oman, northern Libya, and southern Tunisia. Egypt is something of a regional leader when it comes to building wind farms, with the largest wind farm in the country being a 545-MW facility in Zafarana. In addition, Cairo has plans to expand its wind energy capacity through two memoranda of understanding, one with the Saudi renewable energy developer ACWA to build a 10-GW wind farm and another with the UAE’s Masdar to build a second 10-GW onshore wind farm. These would be the second-largest wind farms in the world behind the Gansu project in China, which has a projected capacity of 20 GW. It is expected that the Masdar onshore wind farm will generate about 48,000 GWh of clean energy a year, offsetting some 23.8 million tons of CO2 emissions — about 9% of the country’s total carbon emissions. Egypt’s plans to add 25 GW of wind power capacity represents a seven-fold increase in its total renewable-energy capacity, which was 3.4 GW at the end of 2021.
Read more on MEI‘s article