How GCC countries can meet the carbon-reduction challenge

How GCC countries can meet the carbon-reduction challenge
A Saudi man speaks to a journalist at a solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 28 July 2020

How GCC countries can meet the carbon-reduction challenge

How GCC countries can meet the carbon-reduction challenge
  • Experts say transition to eco-friendly tech will be in the long-term interest of GCC oil producers
  • R & D spending in the regional energy sector is said to be nowhere near where it needs to be

DUBAI: For some time now, energy experts have been calling attention to the urgent need for oil-producing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to enable a circular carbon economy and move to a cleaner, technology-driven future.

In a sign of the shifting strategic priorities of the bloc’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia was the host this year of the international Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) conference.

Speakers at the Riyadh conference laid out the case for a step-by-step transition to less carbon-intensive and more environmentally friendly technologies in the Kingdom’s long-term national interest.

“Global climate objectives are dictating much of the technological shifts in the energy sector, and the momentum behind sectors like solar, wind or battery storage is immense,” said Dario Traum, head of EMEA Energy Transition at BloombergNEF.

“To be modern, diversified and competitive, Saudi Arabia’s economy needs to adopt these new technologies wholeheartedly.

“Saudi Arabia has set extremely ambitious (goals) for the transformation of the country, and these will be best served if it fully acknowledges the shifting economics and technology of the energy sector.”

FASTFACTS

Circular Carbon Economy

* Circular economy is a system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.

* Inspired by how nature works, circular carbon economy is a closed-loop system where carbon emissions are reduced, reused, recycled and removed.

* Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) can capture up to 90% of CO2 emissions from electricity generation and industrial processes.

* CCUS process involves capturing, transporting and securely storing CO2 emissions underground in depleted oil and gas fields or deep, saline aquifer formations.

* Use of CCUS with renewable biomass is one of the few carbon-abatement technologies successful in taking CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The speakers said a transformation of the energy sector is bound to generate new growth opportunities while delivering a cleaner environment for the population to live in.

“Saudi Arabia, as a society and an economy, is going through a rapid transition,” said Antoine Vagneur-Jones, MENA lead analyst at BloombergNEF.

“A lot of the focus has been put on diversification to reduce the weight of the oil sector and attract more international investors into the country,” he added.

“Accelerating clean energy investments will have to be matched by measures similar to those needed in the other sectors the Saudi government is looking to grow.”

Vagneur-Jones said for a start, the electricity-generation sector has to be opened fully for independent power producers.

According to him, there are few, if any, examples of rapidly growing clean energy markets without this condition being met.

“Auctions are a great way to attract international investors,” he told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia’s tenders have been slow to deliver results and have focused on contracting very large projects. This approach fails to provide the frequency and transparency needed to support the development of a vibrant clean energy industry.”

Some other routes through which the Kingdom could nurture a clean energy boom, according to Vagneur-Jones, are energy price reforms to facilitate the adoption of rooftop solar panels, and regulatory changes to create a demand for clean energy power-purchase agreements.

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Speaking in the same vein, Traum said: “The main way in which the world is currently reducing emissions is through energy efficiency, and through the substitution of the most polluting forms of energy with some that emit less or no emissions, for example through the switch from coal to gas, gas to renewables, and combustion engines to electric ones in cars.”

He added: “These changes will deliver the vast majority of the emissions reductions needed to meet global climate objectives.”

Nevertheless, there will remain a number of “hard to abate” sectors in which switching to clean electricity may prove difficult, Traum cautioned.

Citing heavy industries such as steel manufacturing and cement production as examples, he said new solutions such as clean hydrogen and the capturing and storing of carbon may become necessary for decarbonization.

Balancing the costs and benefits will prove equally daunting. Developing CCUS will require substantial investments from the industries concerned and governments to scale up solutions so they become economically viable.

While there are signs of activity resuming in some markets, research and development spending in the energy sector is said to be nowhere near where it needs to be for CCUS to play a central role in the near to medium term.

Experts say sweeping reforms and transitions are difficult for every country, especially when the sectors most in need of overhaul are central to the economic DNA of a country, as is the case with oil in Saudi Arabia.

“Clean energy today is a global success story that is increasingly driven by the competitiveness of the sector,” Traum said.

“Solar and wind are the cheapest forms of new clean energy generation in virtually all of the world.”

In the context of the Kingdom, Traum, said: “The authorities have historically let the population benefit from the energy riches of the country through a variety of fiscal transfers, including heavily subsidized retail energy prices.”

While this has delivered historic socioeconomic benefits, today it distorts the economics of energy technologies, and thus is a barrier to the rapid adoption of renewables and the government’s plan to diversify the economy, he added.

Traum said the historical importance of the oil sector does not mean Saudi Arabia cannot reinvent itself as one of the largest clean energy markets globally within a year or two from now.

“Scheduling regular auctions, with a pre-agreed volume, and transparency in the bidding process has shown to create rapid investment booms in dozens of countries around the world, with Kazakhstan, Mexico and India being notable examples,” he added.

“There is no reason that an economy the size of Saudi Arabia’s, with its remarkable solar resources, (cannot) join these frontrunner markets.”

Elsewhere in the GCC region, there is tangible evidence that energy transition is happening, especially in Dubai, according to Faisal Rashid, director of demand-side management at the emirate’s Supreme Council of Energy.

“There are disruptive technologies that enable us to make our energy infrastructure more smart,” he said, citing a slew of examples: Energy storage, net-zero-energy buildings, vehicle electrification, smart grid and metering, digitalization of energy systems, and integrated water-optimization strategies.

Elaborating on the topic, Rashid added: “If we speak about both supply and demand, energy efficiency and solar adaptation in our region, there is good potential for drastic improvement, (especially) due to the very high per capita energy intensity. Renewable energy storage and more efficient cooling are also key opportunities.”

Over the past decade, renewables are said to have lived up to their potential, with capacity growth worldwide having exceeded fossil fuel volumes.

“We can save up to 30 percent on average by using proven technologies and known measures,” Rashid told Arab News.

“Green mobility by increasing electric vehicles and hybrids are also viable and being pursued in Dubai, aiming to reduce fossil fuel usage with 2030 as the horizon and improve air quality.”

Dr. Najib Dandachi, CEO of UAE-based consultancy Al-Usul, said transportation and electricity production are responsible for a little more than 50 percent of emissions, and the GCC is no exception.

“In fact, the situation may be exacerbated by water desalination and the limited existence of public transport in most of the countries of the region,” he told Arab News.

“However, most GCC countries have embarked on truly aggressive clean energy programs that will rapidly displace fossil-fuel, thermal-power generation.”

Dandachi considers Saudi Arabia the most ambitious country in this regard, pointing out that it recently upgraded its plans with the aim to generate about 27 gigawatts of clean energy by 2024.

“All agencies must cooperate and coordinate to maximize the chances of achieving those targets in a relatively very short time,” he said.

“Additionally, there are serious efforts spearheaded by the UAE to develop renewables-based water-desalination plants, the objective being to reduce its carbon footprint as much as technically feasible.”

Under the circumstances, increased cooperation and alliances with experienced consultants, suppliers and advisors, who understand the particular nature of the business environment, will be of the essence, Dandachi said.

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@CalineMalek

Decoder

Circular Carbon Economy

Circular economy is a system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Inspired by how nature works, it is a closed-loop system where carbon emissions are reduced, reused, recycled and removed.


Free and fair Palestinians elections must include East Jerusalem: UN experts

Palestinian and Israeli activists demonstrate against the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes, in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (AFP/File Photo)
Palestinian and Israeli activists demonstrate against the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes, in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 57 min 17 sec ago

Free and fair Palestinians elections must include East Jerusalem: UN experts

Palestinian and Israeli activists demonstrate against the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes, in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Israel as occupying force must clearly state it will allow elections in East Jerusalem and refrain from interfering in the rights and daily lives of Palestinians
  • Experts also called on Palestinian leadership to remove “unjustified” legal barriers that inhibit the democratic process and reschedule elections very soon

NEW YORK: UN human rights experts have urged both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to reschedule the presidential, legislative and municipal elections “in the very near future” and ensure that they are “peaceful and credible.”

In April, Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas issued a presidential decree postponing the elections — originally planned for May and July — “until the participation of our people in Jerusalem is guaranteed.”

He blamed Israel for uncertainty about whether it would allow Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem.

Expressing concern over the postponement, the UN experts recalled the importance of the elections as a means to “address the long-standing internal political divisions, to strengthen accountable institutions and to take an important step toward achieving the fundamental national and individual rights of the Palestinian people.”

The experts include Martin Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory; Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the protection of the right to freedom of expression; and Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, at the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.

They called on Israel as an occupying power to “clearly state” that it will allow the democratic process to take place unhindered, and to “interfere as little as possible with the rights and daily lives of the Palestinians.”

The 1994 Oslo Accords between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the state of Israel provided for the right of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in elections.

Article XI of the interim agreement explicitly stated that “the two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.”

It has been 15 years since Palestinians last cast ballots. In previous elections, Palestinians from East Jerusalem had been allowed to cast their ballots, although not without difficulty.

In the lead-up to the 2006 elections, Israel launched a campaign of arrests against members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, revoked their Jerusalem identity cards, banned candidates from holding election campaigns inside Jerusalem and prohibited public meetings and rallies.

Recalling the UN Security Council and General Assembly’s statements that any Israeli alterations to East Jerusalem and its political and legal status are “null and void,” the experts called the present moment “a golden opportunity for the world to affirm these commitments in the name of democracy and international law.”

They called on the Palestinian Authority to reschedule the elections “in the very near future,” and demanded that “the democratic rights of voters, candidates, political parties and participants (be) fully respected by all, including the occupying power. 

“Arrests and detentions and the disruption of political meetings and campaigning by any governing authority are utterly incompatible with international human rights protections.”

The human rights experts said that they were “disturbed” by the eligibility rules established by the Palestinian authority for the upcoming elections, including a requirement that each political list pay a $20,000 registration fee and that candidates working in civil society resign from their current jobs in order to run.

The experts said these rules “appear to create unjustified obstacles (and) inhibit the full and free participation of Palestinians in the democratic process.” They called on the Palestinian leadership to remove these legal barriers.

The human rights experts concluded: “We do not underestimate the challenges of holding free and fair democratic elections while under an entrenched and harsh occupation.

“We welcome the assistance offered by the international community, particularly the European Union and the United Nations, to facilitate these elections. But the elections will only achieve credibility and open the door to political renewal, particularly among younger Palestinians, if all sides respect the values of democracy and human rights.”


New Houthi demand to agreement before granting access to decaying oil tanker ‘disappointing’: UN

New Houthi demand to agreement before granting access to decaying oil tanker ‘disappointing’: UN
Updated 28 min 14 sec ago

New Houthi demand to agreement before granting access to decaying oil tanker ‘disappointing’: UN

New Houthi demand to agreement before granting access to decaying oil tanker ‘disappointing’: UN
  • If it is safe, we are definitely willing to do light maintenance activities: UN
  • “The big point of dispute really is that they (the Houthis) want an agreement in advance to perform light maintenance”: Haq

LONDON: The UN on Monday called a new Houthi demand for an agreement before allowing access to decaying oil tanker Safer for light maintenance “disappointing.”

FSO Safer has been moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, near the Ras Isa oil terminal, for more than five years.

“The big point of dispute really is that they (the Houthis) want an agreement in advance to perform light maintenance. And they want the light maintenance activities to be mentioned in the (November 2020) mission plan,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Arab News.

“We’re continuing to negotiate…We can’t provide those advanced guarantees (because of) the lack of safety onboard the ship….If it is safe, we are definitely willing to do light maintenance activities. First, we need to make sure it is safe,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

Haq told reporters in New York that the “The Safer is a very dangerous site and advanced guarantees before verifying conditions on board are not possible.”

“That is why the November 2020 agreement (between the UN and the Houthis) explicitly conditions the light maintenance activities on the safety environment we find on board,” he explained.

The UN remains eager to help but a safety assessment is necessary to carrying out “some light maintenance that we hope will buy more time for a longer term solution,” Haq added.

“We also remain open-minded regarding any other safe and quick solutions to the problem,” he said.

The tanker’s structure, equipment and operating systems are deteriorating, leaving the tanker at risk of springing a leak, exploding or catching fire.

With 48 million gallons of oil on board, the UN warns a potential leak would be four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, considered the world’s worst oil spill in terms of environmental damage.


Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
Updated 26 July 2021

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
  • Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines
  • More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq has recorded 12,180 Covid infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Monday, the highest number detected in a single day so far in the pandemic.
More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq, where the health infrastructure is dilapidated.
Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines, with only 1.3 million having been inoculated, the health ministry says.
It is not clear how many of those have received two jabs.
Monday’s record “unfortunately, does not surprise us because of a lack of respect for mandatory hygiene measures such as a ban on gatherings and mask wearing,” ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr said.
“This increase is probably due to the large number of gatherings during the Eid” Al-Adha festival marking the end of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, he said.
The authorities have struggled to persuade people to get vaccinated and to abide by measures such as wearing face masks in public.
Earlier this month, Sarmad Al-Qarlousi, who heads Baghdad’s Al-Kindi Hospital, warned that unless more people get jabbed, Iraq will spiral toward “an epidemiological catastrophe.”
The ministry spokesman has blamed a reluctance to get inoculated on a “misinformation campaign which preceded the arrival of the vaccine.”
On Monday Badr renewed his appeal to Iraqis to get vaccinated, saying the spike in infections is putting pressure on the country’s fragile health infrastructure.
Two huge fires at Covid-19 hospital wards in April and in mid-July killed more than 120 people, sparking anger and defiance among Iraqis who blame corruption for the failing health system.


UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 26 July 2021

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
  • 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683

DUBAI: The UAE on Monday reported 1,549 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths overnight, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 673,185 with 1,927 fatalities related to the highly contagious disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention also said that 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683.

An 232,389 additional COVID-19 tests were also over the past 24 hours, the ministry added in a statement published by state news agency WAM.

The UAE’s aggressive vaccination drive has resulted into a 77.85 percent of the population receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 68.75 percent have been fully vaccinated.

The total number of doses provided stands at 16,495,917 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 166.79 doses per 100 people, the ministry reported.


Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
Updated 26 July 2021

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
  • Plan to shift the American military mission will be spelled out in a broader
  • The Daesh is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are expected to announce on Monday that they’ve come to an agreement to end the US military’s combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The plan to shift the American military mission, whose stated purpose is to help Iraq defeat the Daesh group, to a strictly advisory and training role by year’s end — with no US troops in a combat role — will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following their White House meeting on Monday afternoon, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan.
The official said the Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, the Biden administration recognizes that Daesh remains a considerable threat, the official said.
Indeed, the Daesh terror organization is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can still carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a busy suburban Baghdad market.
The US and Iraq agreed in April that the US transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the US combat role would end, but they didn’t settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The announcement comes less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.
Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against US forces in recent months, and a series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the nation.
For Al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of the US combat presence could be a feather in his cap ahead of the election.
Biden administration officials say Al-Kadhimi also deserves credit for improving Iraq’s standing in the Mideast.
Last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited Baghdad for joint meetings — the first time an Egyptian president has made an official visit since the 1990s, when ties were severed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
In March, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq, praying among ruined churches in Mosul, a former IS stronghold, and meeting with the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
The US and Iraq have been widely expected to use the face-to-face meeting to announce plans for the end of the combat mission, and Al-Kadhimi before his trip to Washington made clear that he believes it’s time for the US to wind down the combat mission.
“There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” Al-Kadhimi said.
The US troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.
The announcement to end the US combat mission in Iraq comes as the US is in the final stages of ending its war in Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush launched the war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The US mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in former President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to send troops back to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Daesh group’s takeover of large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama had fully withdrawn US forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion.
The distinction between combat troops and those involved in training and advising can be blurry, given that the US troops are under threat of attack. But it is clear that US ground forces have not been on the offensive in Iraq in years, other than largely unpublicized special operations missions aimed at Daesh group militants.
Pentagon officials for years have tried to balance what they see as a necessary military presence to support the Iraqi government’s fight against IS with domestic political sensitivities in Iraq to a foreign troop presence. A major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing US and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.
The vulnerability of US troops was demonstrated most dramatically in January 2020 when Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in western Iraq. No Americans were killed, but dozens suffered traumatic brain injury from the blasts. That attack came shortly after a US drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.
The US military mission since 2014 has been largely focused on training and advising Iraqi forces. In April, in a joint statement following a US-Iraqi meeting in Washington, they declared, “the mission of US and coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq” at a time to be determined later.
Monday’s communique is also expected to detail US efforts to assist the Iraqi government’s COVID-19 response, education system and energy sector.