Heriot-Watt University: Hosting COP27 and COP28 will accelerate MENA’s clean energy ambitions

The selection of Egypt and the UAE to host the COP27 and COP28 conferences in the next two years is expected to kickstart clean energy initiatives and drive international investment into the Arab World’s renewable energy ambitions.

“The Middle East remains a very important provider of fossil fuel energy to the world and will also engage [globally] on any energy transition efforts which support sustainability and a better future for the next generations,” says Ahmad Nada, President of the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA).

Nada notes that the region has played a key role in driving down the cost of utility-scale renewable energy production, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt having all set global records for the lowest production of wind and solar energy.

As the technology continues to evolve in the clean energy space and a growing focus on green hydrogen as the potential next generation fuel of the world, hosting the COP27 and COP28 events is a massive opportunity for the region to benefit from increased investment from across the globe.

“If we can just imagine more solar projects in North Africa for example, a huge transformation to the African energy landscape can be achieved and bring African economies to a new level of internal growth and more competitive energy to Europe,” Nada says.

Economic opportunities
Others spoke of the events as platforms to boost economic development through accelerated climate action. “The opportunity to drive economic growth and job creation through climate policy is enormous and could bring several benefits to the Arab world,” says Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Deputy Principal (Global Sustainability) and Director of the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS) at Heriot-Watt University Dubai. “The Middle East is already in the process of transitioning to the use of sustainable energies.”

Maroto-Valer, who is also Director of the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC), mentioned Egypt’s hosting as a significant milestone that will help feature innovative solutions to drive environmental sustainability in Africa, one of the most vulnerable regions to the consequences of climate change. As for the UAE, already a pioneer and a regional model for climate action, it was the first in the Gulf to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement and the first Arab country to set voluntary clean energy targets. “Hosting COP28 will lay the groundwork for the country’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ strategic initiative,” she adds.

According to Maroto-Valer, the climate summits will have a positive effect on the prospects for sustainable energy and reducing CO2 emissions, with the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050 aiming to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix from 25 to 50 percent by 2050. Saudi Arabia also plans to generate 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030 and plant 10 billion trees in the coming decades in a bid to fight the climate crisis that is causing desertification, dust storms and air pollution.

“We expect that COP27 and COP28 will result in various decisions and agreements that will further accelerate the transition to clean energy,” she said. “For example – a landmark deal was announced at COP26 to end international public financing for fossil fuels, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with a 1.5°C warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement,” notes Maroto-Valer.

Although Egypt currently does not have a target for reaching net-zero emissions, it plans to increase its supply of electricity generated from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2022 and 42 percent by 2035. And there are other ambitious goals: the Egyptian Solar Plan aims to add 3.5GW of solar energy by 2027, while the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy has signed various memoranda of understanding worth $500 million for solar and wind projects, and large spaces have been reserved for wind energy projects.

“With an abundance of land, sunny weather and high wind speeds, Egypt is a prime location for renewable energy projects,” Maroto-Valer said. “All these efforts, in conjunction with the expectation that the next location of the COP should be in Africa, have resulted in Egypt earning the right as host for COP27.”

The UAE has also done its homework. As a part of its policy to use alternative energy sources, Dubai has developed the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 to drive energy decarbonisation and ensure efficient use of energy. The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 aims to produce 75 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2050 while Norther Emirate Ras Al Khaimah has launched its Energy Efficiency and Renewables Strategy 2040 targeting 30 percent of energy savings and 20 percent of generation from renewable energy sources by 2040.

“Overall, the UAE government aims to invest AED600 billion by 2050 to meet the growing energy demand and ensure a sustainable growth for the country’s economy,” Maroto-Valer adds. “With these very tangible steps taken, the UAE has also clearly earned the right to host COP28.”

As climate change continues to threaten the Middle East and North Africa more than any other region on the planet, ranking one of the most vulnerable places on earth to rising sea levels and temperatures, such a representation on the global stage is crucial. “To truly transition towards sustainable energy and emission reduction, governments in the region must continue to expedite investments in renewables, including solar and waste-to-energy,” Maroto-Valer explains. “A good example of a project that uses energy for environment protection is Al Reyadah, a joint venture between ADNOC and Masdar. As the world’s first fully commercial carbon dioxide facility, it captures CO2, compresses and dehydrates it, and injects it into oil fields to boost oil recovery.”

Yet whilst the region is home to several sustainable development opportunities, she spoke of an estimated annual financing gap of more than $100 billion in the Middle East. “Investors and banks therefore need to provide capital to promote sustainable development and green financing should grow,” she added.

For Deepa Sud, Executive Director, Dubai, of SunMoney Solar Group, a member of the United Nations Global Compact, the challenge in the region will remain to deliver energy at an affordable cost whilst decreasing carbon and emission footprint. And although she believes the UAE has always been fast in adopting significant changes in technological innovation and the need to create a more sustainable living and economic future, she said Egypt’s decision to host COP27 is significant, as Africa strives to become environmentally sustainable, particularly given its abundance of sun, wind, hydropower, and geothermal resources.

“As the population increases, the UAE and United States are leading the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate together with more than 30 other nations, further strengthening the UAE’s commitment to accelerate innovation for climate-smart agriculture,” she notes.

Ultimately, the Middle East is viewed as being on the right track of sustainability, with almost all regional countries having developed clean energy policies and law. According to Nada, free energy trade will be the next step in such a transition. “Currently, almost all MENA countries’ generation is predominantly state-owned and state owned-utilities remain the only offtake and can mostly impact major decisions,” he concludes.

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