apofeed with “What Lies Beneath the Slow Economic Growth in the MENA?” attempts to elaborate on the current situation that is prevailing in certain MENA countries.
What Lies Beneath the Slow Economic Growth in the Middle East and North Africa?
A dynamic private sector is key for the economies of the region to grow out of their currently high debt levels; Unlocking sustainable growth in the region’s private sector requires reforms that facilitate innovation, the adoption of digital technologies and investments in human capital; Reforms to support these objectives must take account of sustainability and the global agenda to limit climate change
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank have published a joint report, Unlocking Sustainable Private Sector Growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (https://bit.ly/3H73CdA). The report analyses constraints on productivity growth and limited accumulation of factors or production in the MENA private sector.
The report is based on the MENA Enterprise Survey conducted between late 2018 and 2020 on over 5 800 formal businesses across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, the West Bank and Gaza. Historically, economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa has been weak since the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the Arab Spring of the early 2010s. Since then, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has grown by only 0.3% a year in the MENA region. That compares unfavourably with rates of 1.7% on average in middle-income countries and 2.4% in the developing economies of Europe and Central Asia.
Achieving higher and sustainable growth is particularly important in view of other economic challenges facing the region. Public debt has increased considerably over the last decade, accompanied by declining investment. More recently, the coronavirus pandemic has battered the region, further straining public finances. In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine affects the MENA economies through higher hydrocarbon prices, risks to food security and declining tourism.
Against this background, it is important that policymakers exploit the potential of the private sector to propel the region towards greater prosperity.
“The spillovers from the war in Ukraine add to structural vulnerabilities in the region. The prospects for global financial tightening, persistently high energy and food prices and concerns for food security come on top of concerns related to weak economic growth and rising debt levels,” said EIB Chief Economist Debora Revoltella (https://bit.ly/2UYJi4s). “When responding to the new shock, MENA countries need to tackle the main structural bottlenecks affecting the region. Reforms that lower regulatory barriers, tackle informal business practices, promote competition, and facilitate innovation and digitalisation are crucial for achieving sustainable economic growth and improving resilience to future shocks.”
The business environment in the MENA region as reported in the survey has been held back by various factors. Political connection and informality are undermining fair competition, bringing economic benefits to a limited number of companies. Management practices lag behind benchmark countries, with a decline in average scores in all MENA countries since 2013.
Customs and trade regulations appear to be more severe barriers for firms in the MENA region than in other countries. Firms need more time to clear customs to import or export than in other countries. The MENA economies depend on high levels of imports compared to low export activities.
Although firms trading in the international market are more willing to develop and innovate processes, only 20% invest in innovation, which can affect the long-term economic prospects for the region.
The region needs to make better use of its human capital. Predominantly, only a few foreign-owned companies invest in training their human capital, and they tend to be digitally connected exporting firms. Additionally, a significant share of companies are not engaging in financial activities with other economic players, opting to self-finance voluntarily.
Incentives for companies to decarbonise are weak, and MENA firms are less likely than their counterparts in Europe and Central Asia to adopt measures that reduce their environmental footprint.
Unlocking sustainable growth in the region’s private sector, the report calls for MENA economies to lower regulatory barriers for businesses, promote competition and reduce disincentives emerging from political influence and informal business practices.
The region is also in need of reforms to facilitate innovation, the adoption of digital technologies and investments in human capital, while being in line with the global agenda to limit climate change, enhance sustainability and protect the natural environment.
Improving management practices can be instrumental to that. “Good management practices can account for as much as 30% of differences in efficiency across countries,” said Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank. “Management practices are lacklustre in firms in the region, particularly in those with some state ownership. Improving these practices can have substantial benefits, is not costly, but is not easy. It will require — among others — a change in mindsets.”
Companies should also be given incentives to exploit the benefits of participating in cross-border trade and global value chains more broadly, accompanied by better management practices.
At the same time, the state has a duty to ensure that this transition process is just, through measures that help workers to take advantage of opportunities to obtain new, higher-quality jobs linked to the green economy, while also protecting those at risk of losing their jobs. Such measures include labour market policies, skills training, social safety nets and action to support regional economic development.
EBRD Chief Economist Beata Javorcik said: “Climate change creates an opportunity the MENA region to build up its green credentials and use them as a source of competitive advantage. This will create the much-needed high-quality jobs linked to the green economy.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of European Investment Bank (EIB).
The above-featured image is about the ocean producing 50% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming, and is the main source of protein for a billion people around the world. Credit: IPS
What if a patient unplugged the Oxygen Tube that Keeps them Alive
By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 7 2022 (IPS) – Imagine a patient connected to a vital oxygen device to keep him or her breathing, thus alive. Then, imagine what would happen if this patient unplugged it. This is exactly what humans have been doing with the source of at least 50% of the whole Planet’s oxygen: the oceans.
But oceans do not only provide half of all the oxygen needed. They also absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming while alleviating its consequences on human health and that of all natural resources.
The carbon — and heat– sink
The world’s oceans capture 90% of the additional heat generated from those emissions.
In short, they are not just ‘the lungs of the planet’ but also its largest carbon sink.
The ocean is the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.
And over three billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, the vast majority in developing countries.
Oceans also serve as the foundation for much of the world’s economy, supporting sectors from tourism to fisheries to international shipping.
Despite being the life source that supports humanity’s sustenance and that of every other organism on Earth, oceans are facing unprecedented real threats as a result of human activity.
While providing the above facts, this year’s World Oceans Day (8 June) warns about some of the major damages caused by human activities, which devastate this source of life and livelihood.
This report is also based on data from several specialised organisations, such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), among others, as well as a number of global conservation bodies, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Too many causes. And a major one
Oceans as dumping sites: There are several major threats leading to suffocating the world’s lungs.
Such is the case –for example, of overfishing, illegal fishing and ghost fishing–, human activities have been transforming world’s oceans into a giant dumping site: untreated wastewater; poisonous chemicals; electronic waste; oil spills, petrol leaks, oil refineries near rivers and coastal areas, ballast waters, invasive species, and a very long etcetera.
Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS
Of all these, plastic appears as one of the major sources of harm to oceans. See the following data:
Unless the world changes the way how to produce, use and dispose of plastic, the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple from 9-14 million tonnes per year in 2016 to a projected 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040.
How does it get there? A lot of it comes from the world’s rivers, which serve as direct conduits of trash into lakes and the ocean.
In fact, around 1.000 rivers are accountable for nearly 80% of global annual riverine plastic emissions into the ocean, which range between 0.8 and 2.7 million tons per year, with small urban rivers amongst the most polluting.
Plastic everywhere: Wherever you look and whatever you see, buy and use, there is plastic: food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, plastic straws, stirrers, cosmetics, lunch boxes, ballpoints, and thousands of other products.
Cigarette butts: Then you have the case of cigarette butts, whose filters contain tiny plastic fibres, being the most common type of plastic waste found in the environment.
Today, the world produces about 400 million tons of plastic waste … every year.
Plastic addiction: Such human dependence on plastic has been steadily increasing. Since the 1970s, the rate of plastic production has grown faster than that of any other material. If historic growth trends continue, global production of primary plastic is forecasted to reach 1.100 million tonnes by 2050.
“Our seas are choking with plastic waste, which can be found from the remotest atolls to the deepest ocean trenches,” reminds the United Nations chief António Guterres.
Fossil fuel: As importantly, some 98% of single-use plastic products are produced from fossil fuel, or “virgin” feedstock. The level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow to 19% of the global carbon budget by 2040.
In fact, the annual plastic leakage is estimated at 229.000 tons, 94% of which consist of macroplastics. Plastics constitute around 95% of waste in the open sea, both on the seabed and on beaches across the Mediterranean.
COVID-19: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) February 2022 publication: Global Plastics Outlook reports that the increase in the use of protective personal equipment and single-use plastics has exacerbated plastic littering on land and in marine environments, with negative environmental consequences.
Rivers: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that, flowing through America’s heartland, the Mississippi River drains 40% of the continental United States – creating a conduit for litter to reach the Gulf of Mexico, and ultimately, the ocean.
Electronic waste: should all this not be enough, please also know that the world produces 50 million tons of e-waste, a portion of it ends up in the ocean.
According to an October 2020 report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and authored by Alexander Nicolas, more than 12 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s seas every year.
Fishing gear accounts for roughly 10% of that debris: between 500.000 to 1 million tons of fishing gear are discarded or lost in the ocean every year. Discarded nets, lines, and ropes now make up about 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Alexander Nicolas explains.
This marine plastic has a name: ghost fishing gear.
“Ghost fishing gear includes any abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear, much of which often goes unseen.
“Ghost fishing gear is the deadliest form of marine plastic as it un-selectively catches wildlife, entangling marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, and sharks, subjecting them to a slow and painful death through exhaustion and suffocation. Ghost fishing gear also damages critical marine habitats such as coral reefs.”
Overfishing is yet another major damage caused to the world’s oceans threatening the stability of fish stocks; nutrient pollution is contributing to the creation of “dead zones.”
Currently, 90% of big fish populations have been depleted, as humans are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: A fugitive activity that further adds to the abusive overfishing, causing the depletion of 11–26 million tons of fish… each year.
IPS article The Big Theft of the Fish provides extensive information about these two major activities that deplete the oceans vital natural resources.
Untreated wastewater is another example of the damage made by humans to the oceans.
It has been reported that around 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged without treatment, a big portion of it ends up in the oceans.
The oceans in a conference
All the above facts –and many more– are on the agenda of the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022 (27 June- 1 July), organised in Lisbon and co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal.
According to its organisers, the Conference seeks to propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action. Cross your fingers!
The Gulf Arab states’ first oil exports in the mid-20th century triggered migration to cities. Neighborhoods built around individual car-based mobility were built, primarily inspired by the United States’ 1950s suburban dream.
“Cities in the Gulf were designed on low-density planning, and that does not make public transportation financially feasible because ridership is very low, just like in many American cities,” noted Karim Elgendy, an urban sustainability consultant and founder of Carboun, an initiative promoting sustainability in cities of the Middle East and North Africa.
He said population density in major Gulf urban centers is “very low.” In Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, the rate is three times lower than what UN-Habitat recommended for sustainable neighborhood planning — at least 15,000 people per square kilometer. Worse, density is declining. Mecca’s halved between 1983 and 2010.
Oil discoveries “undermined, with unparalleled suddenness, the roots of an ecosystem which reflected a perfect adaptation to an environment many generations old,” Mohamed Riad, then professor of geography at Qatar University, wrote in a 1981 research paper on petro-urbanism.
‘Great interest in improving’
Decades later, the car culture’s pitfalls, including impacts on public health, are coming back to haunt Gulf states, now some of the world’s most urbanized countries. Kuwait has the world’s highest rates of childhood asthma linked to traffic pollution, followed by the UAE.
The climate crisis tops the international agenda and nudges policymakers to explore alternatives. Elgendy told Al-Monitor he was consulted by the government of Dubai a few weeks ago. “There was great interest in improving and redefining mobility,” he said, before the UAE, of which Dubai is one of the seven sheikhdoms, hosts the COP28 climate conference in 2023.
The Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan emphasizes quality of life to help attract talent as a hub for the global economy. UAE’s government portal says the plan aims to “encourage mass transit use, walking, cycling and flexible means of transportation.”
“The approach evolved with the realization that the question of climate change could no longer be avoided,” said Camille Ammoun, a policy advisor in sustainable urban development to Dubai from 2007 to 2018.
Dubai successfully weaved into the city the Gulf’s first metro network in 2009 (Doha followed suit in 2019), primarily along the main artery of the city, the Sheikh Zayed Road. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority estimated that the metro eliminated about one billion car journeys from 2009 to 2020. Throughout 2021, Dubai Metro carried 151 million riders.
Besides expanding metro networks, analysts interviewed for this report called for higher population density around transportation nodes. In Doha, the regeneration of the downtown Musheireb district has translated into higher density around Doha Metro’s central station hub.
There are disparities, though. “I do not think there is much interest in public transportation at the moment in Kuwait, and there is very little action on the ground. Oman likewise,” Elgendy said.
Kuwait’s last major transportation plan was in 1978. “I remember an elder from a very affluent background telling me that he used to go to the market with his grandmother by bus,” said Jassim Al-Awadhi, founder of Kuwait Commute, an initiative established in 2018 to raise awareness about public transport. But since 1980, bus ridership in the emirate dropped by 86% to only 2.2% of the total population boarding a bus daily.
As ridership plunged, bus operators focused on fewer routes, mainly to high-density areas where low-income workers live, strengthening a perception among Kuwaiti citizens who account for only about 30% of the population that bus networks only cater to blue-collar workers.
In the meantime, the number of cars in Kuwait jumped by 65% between 2006 and 2016. “Automobiles have taken control of our lives,” Al-Awadhi told Al-Monitor. The long-discussed Kuwait Metro, still in draft form, is “like a dark joke because nothing happens on the ground.”
Publicity stunt or genuine move
Also, the Gulf’s hot and humid climate — temperatures climb above 50°C (122°F) during summer — discourages walking or cycling for half of the year, including for first-mile-last-mile distances. Cities like Montreal and Hong Kong prove that extreme climates are not a deterrent to public transportation, but it requires protective infrastructure to provide comfortable conditions.
Urban planning analysts believe the solution in the Gulf lies in air-conditioned multimodal transportation nodes where passengers can switch from a metro train to bus, tram or even micro-mobility.
“Over the last couple of years, e-scooters have emerged as a popular mobility solution to tackle the first-mile-last-mile issue, especially in Dubai,” said Syed Munawer, a senior urban planning specialist at Qatar National Master Plan.
He told Al-Monitor that setting up dedicated walkways and lanes for scooters would increase public transportation adoption and offer a cost-effective door-to-door alternative to individual cars.
Autonomous electric vehicles are also viewed as a solution to tackle first-mile-last-mile issues — Dubai plans to roll out the Gulf’s first driverless taxis in 2023 — but air transport is met with skepticism. “There is always a fascination with new things, such as air mobility, but I do not see their advantage from a sustainability point of view. Air transportation is very demanding in terms of energy use,” Elgendy said.
Building new cities and transportation modes from scratch could be a solution, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman believes. The Line, a linear futuristic town planned along a 170-km strip of land, is billed as a series of neighborhoods without any roads, streets or cars, connected by an ultra-high speed transit network.
“In my opinion, the main question is do we invest in urban mobility as a publicity stunt, or to genuinely reinvent the way we move around Gulf modern cities,” a source within Gulf urban planning circles told Al-Monitor. “There is a staggering mismatch between ambitions and actual policy frameworks.”
‘Incredibly hard to retrofit cities’
Another problem is that the interests of several influential family-owned business conglomerates, such as car importers and construction companies, remain closely tied up with car-based mobility.
Putting the genie of car culture back into the bottle also implies rethinking the consumer culture. “Cars are attractive articles of consumption; that is something people aspire to,” Elgendy said. Ammoun noted, “The individual car is still king … Dubai was built for cars even more than some American cities, such as Los Angeles,”
Analysts think mobility in the region will likely primarily revolve around electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, which uses already existing car-based infrastructures.
Elgendy concluded: “It is incredibly hard to retrofit cities. It requires huge investments.”
Removing cars from the equation has never been considered, Munawer said. EV manufacturing plants are in the pipeline in Saudi Arabia to make 300,000 cars a year by 2030, half of those built by Public Investment Fund-majority owned EV startup Lucid.
So far, the electrification push does not extend to fleets of gasoline-powered buses that shuttle armies of migrant workers from their labor camps on the outskirts into Gulf cities every day. The segregated clusters also shed light on the Gulf’s long-favored planning strategy of housing in one area, shops in another, etc.
“I shiver when I see some of the planning regulations still in practice here that exclude retail or mixed use in residential areas,” the urban planning source said. “To develop sustainable mobility we should provide mixed use communities that offer live-work-play options.”
The source added: “We have to change the way we plan Gulf cities.”
How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on could not be a better story to illustrate the current goings-on amongst all and above all the doers in this world of today. It is by the World Economic Forum. Here it is.
How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on
From the climate crisis to the destruction of natural ecosystems, the world faces an unprecedented set of interconnected challenges.
Innovative entrepreneurs are building businesses that protect and restore the planet and everything that lives on it.
UpLink is helping over 260 entrepreneurs find the resources, experts and funding they need to take their promising solutions to the next level.
The impact driven by innovative entrepreneurs
From drones that detect illegal fishing and robots that sort plastic waste, to sustainable solutions for the world’s forests and remote learning tools for students struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic – these are just some ways entrepreneurs are using their creative energy to tackle issues within their communities and beyond.
The World Economic Forum created UpLink, an open innovation platform launched in partnership with Salesforce and Deloitte, to unlock an entrepreneur revolution and support positive systemic change for people and planet. Its mission is to create the necessary bridges to the expert help that entrepreneurs need to take their innovations to the next level.
Since its launch in January 2020, UpLink has identified over 260 individuals with highly promising solutions and is working to support their growth through visibility, access and introductions that allow them to scale their businesses. These entrepreneurs are already achieving tremendous impact and, in 2021-2022, they were able to collectively secure more than $942 million in funding to support their activities.
UpLink’s 2021-2022 Impact Report highlights how Top Innovators are addressing issues spanning the environment, economy and society, including protecting or actively managing some 10 million hectares of natural habitat and restoring over 812,000 hectares. They have provided 16.4 million people with access to essential health services and ensured 1.87 million people have gained access to basic sanitation. Additionally, they have successfully educated or trained 5.5 million people and ensured more than 25 million people benefited from greater market access.
“We must ignite an ecopreneur revolution, which is why I’m so excited about UpLink.”
— Marc Benioff, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce
Which challenges are entrepreneurs facing today?
The world faces an unprecedented set of global issues. From the climate crisis and the destruction of natural ecosystems to the COVID-19 pandemic and rampant income inequality, there is a critical need to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Yet, there are a number of entrepreneurial solutions that can already accelerate the SDGs. Indeed, as US Climate Envoy John Kerry recently said, almost half of the emissions cuts needed to achieve net-zero will come from early-stage solutions and future technologies.
But for many of these entrepreneurs, finding the mentorship, resources and – crucially – funding they need to scale their operations, expand their teams and widen their impact is often beyond their reach, especially for those operating in developing economies.
Unleashing the creative energy of the world’s brightest entrepreneurs is essential and it is crucial to build a collaborative framework around them that can support their innovations and help them thrive.
“Problems and issues that we face as a global community cannot be solved by individual entities or governments. We have to collectively address these issues.”
— Punit Renjen, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte
Our approach to collaborating with entrepreneurs.
UpLink Since its launch, UpLink has been dedicated to creating this collaborative environment for the world’s entrepreneurs.
The platform is building a digital space where investors, experts and other organizations can work together to elevate and support innovations.
This innovation ecosystem is enabled by:
An open digital platform, which sources entrepreneurs from all over the world through innovation challenges in a range of critical areas, including nature, the ocean, plastics, climate change, the circular economy, water, health and education – with many more to come. These are designed and run in collaboration with a diverse set of partners across the public and private sectors, including Accenture, HCL, IKEA Foundation, Friends of Ocean Action, Nestlé, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization.
The convening and amplification power of the Forum, which offers increased access to events, initiatives, multi-stakeholder communities and funding opportunities for innovators.
Over the last two years, 46,000 users have joined the UpLink platform and entrepreneurs have submitted 3,500 solutions via 34 innovation challenges. The community has recognized 265 Top Innovators in four categories who are now receiving support to grow their companies.
“Initiatives shouldn’t just come from enlightened business leaders or governments. We have to engage people. They have ideas. We have to give them the means to translate their ideas into action.”
— World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.
How can you get involved?
We invite visionary leaders, organizations, businesses, governments and philanthropists to join UpLink in driving the entrepreneur revolution. Through UpLink, we are accelerating progress on the SDGs by sourcing and scaling innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues, raising awareness for key sustainability issues and unlocking funding opportunities.
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