UNEP: bridging technologies in the region
Article by: Iyad Abumoghli,
Director and Regional Representative for West Asia,
UN Environment Programme
Since its establishment in 1972, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been sounding the alarm regarding environmental issues of concern such as climate change, freshwater scarcity, biodiversity, croplands and forests loss, collapsing fisheries and soil erosion, among many others as part of our obligation to keep the environment under review.
Climate change represents one of the most critical environmental challenges as its impact far exceeds environmental damage to include social, economic and geopolitical consequences at the global, regional and local levels. Environmental changes such as crop failures, diseases spreading into new areas, droughts, heat waves, rise in sea-levels and changes in ecosystems drastically affect human well-being and poverty alleviation.
We live on one planet, but in an increasingly politically, economically, socially as well as environmentally fragmented world. Scientists estimate that, if we continue the way we live today, at least in major cities, four Earths will be needed in 2100 to provide the necessary resources and to absorb pollution. This will be a global challenge unless new patterns and green innovations of production and consumption mark the transition from obsolete technologies that endanger human health and the environment to clean technologies that guarantee social, economical and green growth.
The Arab States region is one of the most vulnerable areas of the world to climatic changes due to the already stressed water resources, vast areas of drylands and concentration of its rapidly increasing population in coastal areas. Urbanization in the region is far more rapid than any other region which adds to already existing environmental, social and economical challenges.
However, today, more countries and business companies in the Arab region are committed to undertaking initiatives to promote greater environment responsibility. In order to achieve sustainability, many business corporations have changed or are about to change their modus operandi (method of operation), shifting from traditional methods of production to more responsible approaches that enhance eco-efficiency in production.
Although the use of oil, coal and gas still dominate as sources of energy, as their industrial uses increased in recent years, renewable energy technologies are gaining much attention at the global and regional levels. Indeed, the amount of energy produced with renewable sources including the use of sun, wind, water and wood, ranged between 8 and 12 per cent in 2010 with a projected increase to 20 per cent by 2030.
UNEP, in partnership with other UN agencies, environmental convention secretariats, governments, NGOs and the private sector, works to enhance the use of green technologies. It has recently conducted technology needs assessments to help over 45 developing countries develop Green Technology Action Plans.
Despite that the West Asia region, part of the wider Arab Region, experiences long sunny periods, countries’ economies rely mainly on fossil fuel-based energy production. West Asia is among the major players in the global energy market, having 52.2 per cent of world oil reserves and 24.6 per cent of world gas resources.
The region is also rich in renewable energy sources and able to ensure a sustainable future by generating power from wind, solar and hydro energy. Most of the decision-makers and stakeholders believe that green technology could be “the sustainable design” that helps reduce both, the impact on human activity as well as the 30 per cent unemployment rate of the Arab youth, by offering new job opportunities.
The future of the new energy technologies in the Arab countries clusters around two main areas: energy efficiency in the building sector and clean energy production. Both require governmental commitment and advanced legislation.
For instance, to accommodate the growing needs of power and reduce the impact of pollution in Qatar, experts suggest methods to enhance new technologies
knowledge. The country is taking the first step to develop Renewable energy resources and consider other alternatives to fossil fuels, while Saudi Arabia is considering full conversion to renewables as a strategy
On May 2012, Qatar Electricity and Water Corp (Kahramaa) organized, with technical support from UNEP, a workshop in which, it affirmed its commitment to use advanced technologies that reduce pollution levels.
Among the success stories in the region is the Methane Capture and Utilization Demonstration Project in Jordan, an efficient green technology biogas plant that successfully treats the organic fraction of wastes and reduces pollution. This project contributes to the production of electricity and organic fertilizer without releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The United Arab Emirates’ “Masdar City” initiative is considered one of the key proponents of renewable energy at the global level. A UNEP report on resource efficient cities launched at the United Nations Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20), highlighted this initiative as a model for the development of skills, innovation and realization of the eco-city concept at a large scale.
UNEP has identified many valuable reasons explaining why companies should consider improving their environmental performance. UNEP developed and implemented an environmentally friendly approach that help companies reduce their energy costs, waste disposal, transportation costs, noise and air pollution, as well as improve their corporate image, employee retention, productivity and innovation.
More and more corporate decision-makers are today aware of the economic, social, legal and political benefits stemming from a strong environmental performance. More than a dozen of forward-looking companies in Qatar are members of the UN Global Compact initiative and have expressed their intent to advance principles relating notably to the protection of the environment within their sphere of influence on a day-to-day basis.
The new green technologies endorse the global efforts to slow the growth of the total level of CO2 emissions and raise the hope to meet the target of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees by 2100.
There are companies, but also individuals, worldwide who unveil innovative ideas and designs that could even rival each other, such as the concept of solar arrays against the offshore wind farms. It only requires commitment and changing mindsets towards sensible and sustainable use of natural resources for improving people's socio-economic development, eradicate poverty and provide better opportunities for generations to come.