Renewable Energy in GCC: Need for a Holistic Approach

The importance of renewable energy sources in the energy portfolio of any country is well known, especially in the context of energy security and impacts on climate change. The growing quest for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has been seen by many as both – a compulsion to complement the rising energy demand, and as an economic strength that helps them in carrying forward the clean energy initiatives from technology development to large scale deployment of projects from Abu Dhabi to Riyadh.

Current Scenario

The promotion of renewable energy (RE) is becoming an integral part in the policy statements of governments in GCC countries. Particular attention is being paid to the development and deployment of solar energy for various applications. Masdar is a shining example of a government’s commitment towards addressing sustainability issues through education, R&D, investment, and commercialization of RE technologies. It not only has emerged as the hub of renewable energy development and innovation but is also acting as a catalyst for many others to take up this challenge.

With the ongoing developments in the clean energy sphere in the region, the growing appetite for establishing clean energy market and addressing domestic sustainability issues arising out of the spiralling energy demand and subsidized hydrocarbon fuels is clearly visible. Saudi Arabia is also contemplating huge investments to develop its solar industry, which can meet one-third of its electricity demand by the year 2032. Other countries are also trying to reciprocate similar moves. While rationalizing subsidies quickly may be a daunting task for the governments (as for any other country, for that matter, including India as well), efforts are being made by UAE to push RE in the supply mix and create the market.

Accelerating Renewable Energy Growth

However, renewable energy initiatives are almost exclusively government-led projects. There is nothing wrong in capitalizing hydrocarbon revenue for a noble cause but unless strong policies and regulatory frameworks are put in place, the sector may not see viable actions from private players and investors. The present set of such instruments are either still weak or absent, and, therefore, are unable to provide greater comfort to market players. This situation may, in turn, limit the capacity/flexibility to reduce carbon footprints in times to come as government on its own cannot set up projects everywhere, it can only demonstrate and facilitate.

In this backdrop, it is time to soon bring in reforms that would pave way for successful RE deployment in all spheres. Some of the initiatives that need to be introduced or strengthened include:

  • Enabling policies for grid connected RE that should cover interconnection issues between RE power and utilities, incentives, facilitation and clearances for land, water, and environment (wherever relevant); and
  • Regulatory provisions relating to – setting of minimum Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) to be met, principles of tariff determination for different technologies, provisions for trading in RE, plant operation including scheduling (wherever relevant), and evacuation of power.
  • Creation of ancillary market for effectively meeting the grid management challenges arising from intermittent power like that from solar and wind, metering and energy accounting, protection, connectivity code, safety, etc.

For creating demand and establishing a thriving market, concerted efforts are required by all the stakeholders to address various kinds of issues pertaining to policy, technical, regulatory, and institutional mechanisms in the larger perspective. In the absence of a strong framework, even the world’s most visionary and ambitious project Desertec which  envision channeling of solar and wind power to parts of Europe by linking of renewable energy generation sites in MENA region may also face hurdles as one has to deal with pricing, interconnection, grid stability and access issues first. This also necessitates the need for harmonization in approach among all participating countries to the extent possible.

Conclusions

It is difficult to ignore the benefits of renewable energy be it social, economic, environmental, local or global. Policy statements are essential starting steps for accelerating adoption of clean energy sources including smaller size capacity, where there lies a significant potential. In GCC countries with affluent society, the biggest challenge would be to create energy consciousness and encourage smarter use of energy among common people like anywhere else, and the same calls for wider application of behavioural science in addressing a wide range of sustainability issues.

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Green Building Rating Systems in MENA

Green buildings not only contribute towards a sustainable construction and environment but also bring lots of benefits and advantages to building owners and users. Lower development costs, lower operating costs, increased comforts, healthier indoor environment quality, and enhanced durability and less maintenance costs are hallmarks of a typical green building.

A wide range of green building rating and assessment systems are used around the world, including LEED and BREEAM. Sustainability is now a top priority in MENA region and countries like Qatar and UAE have come up with their own green building rating system to incorporate socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern architecture.

Global Sustainability Assessment System (Qatar)

The Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), formerly known as the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), was developed in 2010 by Gulf Organization for Research and Development (GORD) in collaboration with T.C. Chan Center at the University of Pennsylvania. GSAS aims at creating a sustainable urban environment to reduce environmental impacts of buildings while satisfying local community needs. 

GSAS is billed as the world’s most comprehensive green building assessment system developed after rigorous analysis of 40 green building codes from all over the world. The most important feature of GSAS is that it takes into account the region’s social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects, which are different from other parts of the world. Several countries in the MENA region, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Sudan, have shown keen interest in the adoption of GSAS as unified green building code for the region.

Qatar has incorporated QSAS into Qatar Construction Standards 2010 and it is now mandatory for all private and public sector projects to get GSAS certification. GSAS combines 140 building sustainability assessment mechanisms and is divided into eight categories including urban connectivity, site, energy, water, materials, indoor environment, cultural and economic value and management and operations. Each category of the system will measure a different aspect of a project’s environmental impact. Each category is broken down into specific criteria that measure and define individual issues. A score is then awarded for each category on the basis of the degree of compliance.

Pearl Rating System (Abu Dhabi)

The Pearl Rating System (PRS) is the green building rating system for the emirate of Abu Dhabi designed to support sustainable development from design to construction to operational accountability of communities, buildings and villas. It provides guidance and requirements to rate potential performance of a project with respect to Estidama (or sustainability).

The Pearl Rating System is an initiative of the part of the government to improve the life of people living in Abu Dhabi, by focusing on cultural traditions and social values. The rating system is specifically tailored to the hot and arid climate of Abu Dhabi which is characterized by high energy requirements for air-conditioning, high evaporation rates, infrequent rainfall and potable water scarcity.

The Pearl Rating System has various levels of certification. ranging from one to five pearls. A minimum certification of one pearl is required for all new development projects within Abu Dhabi. The Pearl Rating System is organized into seven categories where there are both mandatory and optional credits. To achieve a 1 Pearl rating, all the mandatory credit requirements must be met. 

ARZ Building Rating System (Lebanon)

The relatively unknown ARZ Building Rating System is the first Lebanese green building initiative of international standard with its certification process being administered by the Lebanon Green Building Council (LGBC).  It has been established to support the growth and adoption of sustainable building practices in Lebanon, with a specific focus on the environmental assessment and rating system for commercial buildings.

The ARZ Green Building Rating System was developed by Lebanese expertise of LGBC in partnership with the International Finance Corp. Its aim is to maximize the operational efficiency and minimize environmental impacts. The ARZ rating system is evidence-based approach to assessing how green a building is. The system includes a list of technologies, techniques, procedures and energy consumption levels that LGBC expects to see in green buildings.

An assessor accredited by LGBC will take an inventory of the energy and water consumption, technologies, techniques and procedures that are used in the building and then LGBC will score the building according to how well the inventory matches the list of technologies, techniques and procedures that make up the ARZ rating system requirements. 

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The Paper Bag Boy of Abu Dhabi

Abdul Muqeet, also known as the Paper Bag Boy, has risen from being just another ordinary student to an extra-ordinary environmentalist. At just ten years old, Abdul Muqeet has demonstrated his commitment to saving the environment in United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. 

Inspired by the 2010 campaign “UAE Free of Plastic Bags”, Abdul Muqeet, a student of Standard V at Abu Dhabi Indian School, applied his own initiative and imagination to create 100% recycled carry bags using discarded newspapers. He then set out to distribute these bags in Abu Dhabi, replacing plastic bags that take hundreds of years to degrade biologically. The bags were lovingly named ‘Mukku bags' and Abdul Muqeet became famous as the Paper Bag Boy.

Abdul Muqeet’s environmental initiative has catalyzed a much larger community campaign. During the first year, Abdul Muqeet created and donated more than 4,000 paper bags in Abu Dhabi. In addition, he has led workshops at schools, private companies and government entities, demonstrating how to create paper bags using old newspapers. His school along with a number of companies in Abu Dhabi adopted his idea by exchanging their plastic bags for paper bags.

Abdul Muqeet was one of the youngest recipients of Abu Dhabi Awards 2011, for his remarkable contribution to conserve environment. The awards were presented by General Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. In 2011, Abdul Muqeet was selected to attend the United Nation’s Tunza conference in Indonesia where he demonstrated his commitment for a cleaner environment through his paper bag initiative. He is actively involved in spreading environmental awareness worldwide, especially UAE, India, USA and Indonesia.

 

Abdul Muqeet continues to make headlines for his concerted efforts towards a plastic-free environment, and has been widely covered by leading newspapers in UAE and other countries. He tirelessly campaigned for the Rio+20 summit, urging world leaders to commit to the Green Economy. “Plant more trees; use less water; reuse and recycle; always remember that everything in this world can be recycled but not time,” offers Abdul.

He has been remarkably supported by his parents and siblings throughout his truly inspiring environmental sojourn. Abdul Muqeet’s monumental achievements at such a tender age make him a torch-bearer of the global environmental movement, and should also inspire the young generation to protect the environment by implementing the concept of ‘Zero Waste’.

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Food Waste, Ramadan and the Middle East

With the holy month of Ramadan only a few days away, huge food wastage in the Middle East is again hogging limelight. It is a widely acccepted fact that almost half of the municipal solid waste stream in the Middle East is comprised of food wastes and associated matter. The increasing amount of food waste in the Middle East urgently demands a strong food waste management strategy to ensure its minimization and eco-friendly disposal. 

Food Waste in Ramadan

Middle East nations are acknowleded as being the world’s top food wasters, and during Ramadan the situation takes a turn for the worse. In 2012, the Dubai Municipality estimated that in Ramadan, around 55% of household waste (or approximately 1,850 tons is thrown away every day. In Bahrain, food waste generation in Bahrain exceeds 400 tons per day during the holy month, according to Rehan Ahmad, Head of Waste Disposal Unit (Bahrain). As far as Qatar is concerned, it is expected that almost half of the food prepared during Ramadan will find its way into garbage bins.

The amount of food waste generated in Ramadan is significantly higher than other months. There is a chronic inclination of Muslims towards over-indulgence and lavishness in the holy month, even though the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), asked Muslims to adopt moderation in all walks of life. Socio-cultural attitudes and lavish lifestyles also play a major role in more food waste generation in Ramadan in almost all Muslim countries.

Economic Implications

The greater the economic prosperity and the higher percentage of urban population, the greater the amount of waste produced. A good example is the case of oil‐rich GCC which figures among the world’s most prolific per capita waste generators. High-income groups usually generate more food waste per capita when compared to less-affluent groups. Hotels, cafeterias, restaurants etc are also a big contributor of food wastes in the Middle East.

Food waste generation is expected to steadily with the rapid growth of regional economies boom. The per capita production of solid waste in Arab cities such as Riyadh, Doha and Abu Dhabi is more than 1.5 kg per day, placing them among the highest per capita waste producers in the world. These statistics point to loss of billions of dollars each year in the form of food waste throughout the Arab world.

Parting Shot

The foremost steps to reduce food wastage are behavioral change, increased public awareness, strong legislations, recycling facilities (composting and biogas plants) and community participation. Effective laws and mass sensitation campaigns are required to compel the people to adopt waste mimization practices and implement sustainable lifestyles. During Ramadan, religious scholars and prayer-leaders can play a vital role in motivating Muslims to follow Islamic principles of sustainability, as mentioned in the Holy Quran and Ahadith The best way to reduce food waste is to feel solidarity towards millions and millions of people around the world who face enormous hardships in having a single meal each day.

 

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Sustainability Reporting in the Middle East

The concept of sustainability centers on a balance of society, economy and environment for current and future health. Responsible resource management in all three areas ensures that future generations will have the resources they need to survive and thrive. One way that companies can consider sustainability and social responsibility is by focusing on the triple bottom line, which is an expanded baseline for measuring financial, social and environmental performance. It is also referred to as “People, Planet and Profit.”

The advantages enjoyed by an organisation that implements sustainable management include higher efficiency and competitiveness, increased financial returns and reduced risk for shareholders, attraction and retention of employees, stronger community relations, enhanced brand value and reputation, and improved customer sales and loyalty by responding to market needs (e.g.: including environmentally conscious consumers in your target market by providing environmentally or socially superior products to your competitors).

One certain way to prove that business is serious about doing “what’s right” is to publish a sustainability report. It shows the global community that it is serious about keeping its commitments and holding itself to a higher standard. In a world increasingly dominated by rankings and ratings, writing these reports has never been so critical; reading them has never been so revealing. Reporting, transparency, and accountability are signature issues. They illustrate integrity and build trust. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has pioneered the development of the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting framework and is committed to its continuous improvement and application worldwide.

Sustainability Reporting in the Middle East

There are some encouraging signs that sustainability reporting is beginning to take root in Middle East business landscape. In Jordan, for example, Aramex was the first company to issue a GRI checked report covering everything from staff training and salaries to promoting road safety and reducing poverty. The Jordan River Foundation became the first NGO in the region to produce a GRI checked report, thus spearheading the movement for NGOs to issue sustainability reports. NGOs that can show they’re accountable and transparent are more attractive to donors, and are more viable partners for corporations and government.

The Arab Bank recently issued its annual sustainability report for the third consecutive year, which was evaluated at a level ‘A’ by the GRI, the highest evaluation level they grant, thereby exceeding the Bank’s previous reports. The report focuses in detail on the internal programs adopted by the Bank, such as the integration of certain environmental and social criteria in the project financing process, in addition to the implementation of a number of initiatives that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also increase internal awareness levels of the sustainability concept.

Also covered in the report are Arab Bank’s social contributions which exceed financial support to include services that allow customers to donate to a number of non-profit organizations, in addition to the participation of the Bank’s employees in volunteering activities and capacity building programs for non-profit organizations to help them maintain their operations.

Another notable example is that of Zain Group, the leading telecommunications provider in eight countries across the Middle East and Africa, which recently published its second sustainability report entitled "Dedicated to the Promise of a Wonderful World". The report was prepared utilizing the GRI G3.1 guidelines and the principles of materiality, inclusivity and responsiveness taken from the AA 1000 Accountability Principles Standard. Focus was given to workers’ rights, human rights, the environment, ethics and governance, community involvement, supplier relation and gender disparity.

The United Arab Emirates is also keeping abreast of the sustainability reporting trend. The Centre for Responsible Business, which was formed in 2004, is the longest standing center promoting corporate responsibility in the UAE. The Centre not only assists Dubai Chamber members to apply responsible business practices that enhance performance and competitiveness but also offers a variety of educational, professional training and consulting services that are designed to build individual companies’ capacity to implement broad CSR programmes including business ethics, sustainability reporting and corporate governance.

In 2008, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi set up the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group (ADSG), a membership-based organisation whose mission is to promote sustainability management in Abu Dhabi by providing policy support, learning and knowledge sharing opportunities for government, private companies and non profit organisations in a spirit of cooperation and open dialogue.

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Hazardous Wastes in UAE

The United Arab Emirates signed the Basel Convention* in November 1992 and established a legislation called ‘Regulation for Handling Hazardous Materials, Hazardous Wastes and Medical Waste (Law 24 of 1999)’. Article 12 of the law states ‘Transportation and disposal of locally produced hazardous waste through land borders, marine environment limit and air space shall be controlled in accordance with the rules, procedure and controls mentioned and specified in Basel Agreement and in coordination with Federal Environmental Agency’.

UAE is not yet a signatory to Basel BAN amendments of Sep 1995 thus there is no mention of the Basel BAN amendments in the current federal legislation. At emirates level, various legislation were passed to organise the waste management sector in each emirates. Abu Dhabi passed the Law 21 of 2005 concerning Waste Management in emirate of Abu Dhabi. Centre of Waste Management is the Competent Authority to monitor and manage the transportation of hazardous waste in the Emirates

Major hazardous waste streams in UAE are Petrochemical waste, Medical Waste, and e-Waste. To avoid hazardous waste export the cash-rich government-owned petrochemical companies have established centralised treatment facility. Centre for Waste Management (CWM) has established treatment facilities for Medical Waste Incineration, Engine Oil treatment, Tyre Shredding through PPP business model.

The UAE Government is encouraging private companies for e-waste recycling. Major electronic distributors have established waste collection centres and subsequent transfer to established facilities. However, good fraction of e-waste is still collected in an unorganised manner and exported to South and Southeast Asian countries.

Shipment of hazardous waste coming into UAE is being well-monitored and well-controlled. In recent past only a single incident of mixed plastic waste was reported. The waste was imported through Dubai ports to be treated at a facility in Ajman. The Dubai government objected to import and the issue was raised at Environment Agency (UK). As a result, the transporting company was fined about GBP 75,000.

UAE has efficient law enforcement machinery. Thus after the establishment of CWM in 2008, there has been significant improvement in waste management in general and hazardous waste transportation in particular. Further impetus is required by the government to invest into the better treatment/storage facilities for e-waste, nuclear waste and other such waste. The legislations shall also be made more illustrative to check the aberrations regarding trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste.

Contributed by Mr. Yasir Bin Taiyab who can be reached on yasir@adh.ae

 

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Medical Wastes in GCC

There has been a growing awareness of the need for safe management of medical waste all over the world. Medical Waste are generated by all health sectors including hospitals, laboratories, diagnostic and research centers, dental and medical clinics, blood banks, mortuaries and autopsy centres, veterinary hospitals, industrial laboratories etc.Medical wastes which pose the greatest risk to human health are infectious waste (or hazardous medical waste) which constitutes 15 – 25 percent of total healthcare waste.

Infectious wastes may include all waste items that are contaminated with or suspected of being contaminated with body fluids such as blood and blood products, used catheters and gloves, cultures and stocks of infectious agents, wound dressings, nappies, discarded diagnostic samples, contaminated materials (swabs, bandages, and gauze), disposal medical devices, contaminated laboratory animals etc.

The quantity of waste produced in a hospital depends on the level of national income and the type of facility concerned. A university hospital in a high-income country can produce up to 10 kg of waste per bed per day, all categories combined.

 

Medical Waste in the GCC

Healthcare sector in the Gulf Cooperation Council continues to grow at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to big increase in the quantity of waste generated by hospitals, clinics and other establishments. According to conservative estimates, more than 150 tons of medical waste is generated in GCC countries every day.

Saudi Arabia leads the pack with daily healthcare waste generation of more than 80 tons. As far as UAE is concerned, approximately 21.5 tons per day of medical waste are generated in the UAE, out of which 12 tons per day is produced by Abu Dhabi alone. Kuwait produces around 12 tons while Bahrain generates 7 tons of hazardous medical waste daily.

These figures are indicative of the magnitude of the problem faced by municipal authorities in dealing with medical waste disposal problem across GCC. The growing amount of medical wastes is posing significant public health and environmental challenges in major cities of the region. The situation is worsened by improper disposal methods, insufficient physical resources, and lack of research on medical waste management.

 

Medical Waste Generation in Some GCC Countries

Country Medical Wastes (tons per day)
Saudi Arabia 80
UAE 21.5
Kuwait 12
Bahrain 7

 

Need for Medical Waste Management Strategy

Improper management of healthcare wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in GCC countries pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, members of the community may have an opportunity to collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

According to World Health Organization, hospital-associated infections (HAI) affect approximately 5% of hospitalized patients.The complexity of infectious healthcare waste problems and the recent rise in the incidence of diseases such as AIDS, SARS and Hepatitis B open up greater risk of contamination through mishandling and unsafe disposal practices.

Inadequate waste management can cause environmental pollution, growth and multiplication of vectors like insects, rodents and worms and may lead to the transmission of diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and AIDS through injuries from syringes and needles contaminated with human. In addition to health risks associated with poor management of medical waste, consideration must also be given to the impact on environment, especially to the risks of pollution of water, air and soil.

The situation is further complicated by the extreme climatic and environmental conditions of the region, which makes medical waste disposal more challenging. Since medical waste is more dangerous than ordinary trash, it is imperative on governments and private companies in GCC countries to devise a successful hospital waste management program to avoid the spread of diseases and to protect the environment.

 

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An Interview with Paper Bag Boy of Abu Dhabi

Abdul Muqeet, also known as the Paper Bag Boy, has risen from being just another ordinary boy to an extraordinary environmentalist spearheading the fight against climate change in United Arab Emirates. Ten-year old Abdul Muqeet has demonstrated remarkable commitment to saving the environment and has won numerous awards including the prestigious Abu Dhabi Award. Here the Paper Bag Boy (PBB) talks to Salman Zafar, Founder of EcoMENA, about various aspects of waste management scenario in UAE:

SZ: You are considered as the ‘recycling face’ of Abu Dhabi because of your wonderful achievements. Can you give an idea of the prevalent waste management scenario in Abu Dhabi?

PBB: As far as waste management is concerned, winds of change are sweeping across Abu Dhabi. Centre for Waste Management is making commendable efforts in improving waste collection and disposal situation in Abu Dhabi. Separate collection bins for plastic, paper and general waste can now be seen at strategic locations. An underground pneumatic waste collection system is also being designed for Abu Dhabi which would help a lot in dealing with the problem of urban wastes.

SZ: What are the major factors responsible for tremendous increase in waste generation in GCC countries?

PBB: High standards of living, increasing population and consumerism are the major factors responsible for increase in waste generation across the Middle East region. Fortunately, people are doing their best to do away with this problem and everybody is working together for a better environment.

SZ: GCC countries have the highest per capita waste generation in the world. What basic measures can be taken to reduce solid waste generation in the region?

PBB: Source-segregation and mass awareness can be instrumental in reducing waste generation in GCC. Segregated bins is already helping in waste management and educating people to buy less quantity of things and recycling would help as well.

SZ: What is attitude of common people towards waste recycling in the Emirates?

PBB: A major problem is that people are usually unaware about harmful effects of garbage and benefits of waste recycling.  The government, NGOs, environmentalist etc are making constant efforts to educate the masses, and I must say that things are beginning are look up.

SZ: Keeping in view your first-hand experience in waste management projects, what future do you foresee for recycling projects in the region? Is the government providing enough support in solving the waste management problem?

PBB: The government has been very supportive, to say the least. It is formulating effective laws, providing funding, organizing community initiatives and motivating the general public to solve the waste management problem.

 

 

SZ: What is the awareness and interest-level of masses towards waste recycling?

PBB: Slowly but steadily, people are becoming increasingly aware about the harmful effects of urban wastes and importance of waste recycling. Many schools are taking measures for educating children on how to implement recycling in day-to-day life.  Shopping malls and other commercial establishments are also taking measures to minimize waste generation..

SZ: What is your idea of ‘clean and green world’?

PBB: Making changes to our daily lives to decrease waste generation, reduce global warming and minimizing the use of chemicals that deplete the protective ozone layer. We all must do our share to take care of our planet and not overusing the resources that we all share.

SZ: You are a true inspiration for millions of youngsters all over the world. What message/advice you would like to give to students and entrepreneurs?

PBB: I would like to tell them to plant more trees, recycle papers and plastic, because you need to remember that everything on earth can be recycled but not time, so take your action fast and do your part in saving the environment. If you want to make a difference, the best way to start is to follow three principles of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

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Plastic Waste Management in UAE

Plastics are an inseparable part of modern society. However, their safe disposal is a big and highly challenging issue. A typical UAE resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average in a single year1. With the equivalent of 43 gallons on an average per person in 2011, the United Arab Emirates had the fourth-highest level of bottled water consumption in the world.

A whopping 11 billion plastic bags are used annually, according to statistics from UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water. This goes on to add up to an annual overall waste of 912.5 kilogram per capita2, 3, and 4. These statistics reflect on the extent of use of plastic bags and bottles in UAE and the consequent generation of plastic waste.

Plastics are used globally in industries like packaging, construction and medical equipment among others. This is because plastics are durable, water-proof, lightweight and versatile. However, some countries use them more than others due to certain socio-economic factors. UAE has witnessed rapid growth in the last decade or so. This has been in terms of population as well as GDP per capita, both of which have more than doubled in this period5. The above two factors result in higher consumer spending. Moreover, the latter translates to greater importance, given to ‘convenience and hygienic shopping’ resulting in higher demand for plastics in packaging and shopping.

All this consequently leads to increased waste generation. From the supply side also, plastic manufacture (for all purposes including packaging) is a booming industry in UAE and rest of Gulf, one factor for it being abundance of petrochemicals, the raw material for plastics, in this region6.

Had it not been for the damage caused by plastic waste to environment and human health, trend of increasing use of plastics would have been acceptable. However, since waste is being generated at a dangerous rate and its management has become a critical challenge, a reality-check is called for. Plastics can take as much as thousands of years to degrade. Till then, they take precious space in landfills, are eaten up by unsuspecting animals & birds leading to their death or end up in sea, accumulated in certain areas called ‘gyres’.

While in landfills, plastics emit harmful greenhouse gases, which lead to ‘global warming’. This is apart from plastic waste being an eye-sore and civic menace. When in open areas, animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food. Estimates suggest that 50 percent of the camels that die every year in the UAE die from ingesting them which can lead to massive calcified balls of plastic in the stomachs that eventually kill the animals.

The ultimate destination of this waste is ocean. Plastics and Styrofoam (used in disposable cups and plates) comprise 90% of the floating debris in oceans. Marine animals and birds are killed by entanglement or ingestion7, 8, 9 and 10. Further, plastic manufacture is an input-intensive process, using significant amounts of oil, water and power.

Realizing the flip-side of high use of plastics, UAE has initiated definitive corrective measures. The Ministry of Environment and Water has reported that it will ban circulation and marketing of non-biodegradable plastic products in UAE from early next year11. In that direction, Dubai Municipality have launched a “Say No to Plastic Bags” campaign starting May 2013 targeting a 20 per cent reduction in the estimated 2.9 billion plastic bags used annually in the emirate, by the end of this year. This is to be done by means of creating consumer-awareness and offering reusable and recyclable alternatives like jute and paper bags in major supermarkets12.

In Sharjah, a private company, in partnership with Sharjah Municipality, is working towards a 100% landfill diversion target set for the Emirate of Sharjah by the end of the first quarter of 201513. This is being done through development of waste management infrastructure on one hand and community education of the importance of environment principle of 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The Government of Abu Dhabi has established ‘The Center for Waste Management’ (CWM) to control and coordinate all activities related to sustainable waste management. Several non-government organisations as well as community groups are also working towards the goal of better plastic waste management in UAE.

References

(1) Todorova, V. (2011, July 31). Retrieved May 4, 2013, from The National:http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/sharjah-landfills-bulge-with-plastic-water-bottles

(2) Rodwan, J. (2011). Bottled Water 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2013, from International Bottled Water Association: http://www.bottledwater.org/economics/industry-statistics

(3)  The National. (2013, January 21). The National. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/uae-uses-fewer-plastic-bags-but-shoppers-still-go-through-11bn-a-year#ixzz2RxyWrwe7

(4) Bee'ah. (2010). Sustainability Report 2010. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from Bee'ah-UAE: http://www.beeah-uae.com/sites/default/files/Beeah_Sustainability%20Report%202010%20(LR).pdf

(5) National Bureau of Statistics UAE. (n.d.). UAE in figures – 2001 and 2009. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.uaestatistics.gov.ae/PublicationEN/tabid/187/Default.aspx?MenuId=2

(6) Yousef, D. (2011, December 18). Petrol to plastics: Bagging the future. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/business/general/petrol-to-plastics-bagging-the-future-1.952591

(7) Time. (2013). The Global Warming Survival Guide. Retrieved from Time Magazine: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/environment/article/0,28804,1602354_1603074_1603179,00.html

(8) MoEW. (2013). Retrieved May 8, 2013, from UAE Ministry of Environment & Water: http://www.moew.gov.ae/portal/en/search.aspx

(9) California Coastal Commission. (2012, June 20). Public Education Program. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.coastal.ca.gov/publiced/marinedebris.html

(10) Science for Environment Policy. (2011, November). Plastic Waste: Ecological and Human Health Impacts. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/IR1.pdf

(11) Salma, S. (2013, March 3). UAE bans non-biodegradable plastic products. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/environment/uae-bans-non-biodegradable-plastic-products-1.1153432

(12) Baldwin, D. (2013, April 23). Dubai Municipality launches campaign to slash 500m plastic bags. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/environment/dubai-municipality-launches-campaign-to-slash-500m-plastic-bags-1.1174280

(13) Bee'ah. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.beeah-uae.com/about-us

 

 

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Freshwater Management Outlook for UAE

Per capita water consumption of freshwater in the United Arab Emirates is the highest in the world. Over the last several decades, the demand on municipal water supply has increased significantly in the UAE. This is mainly due to increase in population growth, economic development and changes in lifestyle of the people. Though water is used by many sectors such as manufacturing industries, agriculture and domestic purposes, residential  and commercial uses of water during the operational phase of the building is one of the biggest contributing factors that puts a strain on freshwater supply in the country.

Desalination and Sustainability

Due to lack of existing freshwater sources in the UAE, limited annual rainfall, high water evaporation rate, the only source of potable water in the region is the desalinated of sea water. The desalinated water contains huge amount of embedded energy due to the process involved in producing it. Apart from energy use, there are many other environmental and socio-economic issues associated with desalinated water. To name a few, there are multiple issues associated with the disposal of brine, salt intrusion, and the high costs of its production.  Forecasts show that the demand for desalinated water is expected to double by 2030. Not only the potable water production creates the problem, but also the resulting wastewater generated by the users poses many sustainability challenges such as putting strain on treatment facilities, land and surface water contamination due to overflow of untreated water, disposal of treatment sludge and expensive to production method. Hence, the management of fresh water is considered as one of the most important challenges for the United Arab Emirates.

To deal with freshwater management challenges in UAE, it is important to bring a balance between water supply and demand side. This can be done by employing strategies to increase water efficiency and conservation. These strategies include reduce the use of potable water where possible, find alternative source of water for various water usage and increase the water efficiency of fixtures and equipments.  Efficient strategies along with water monitoring that tracks water consumption and identifies problems can significantly reduce both indoor and outdoor water consumption. 

Ways to Implement Water Efficiency Strategies

The best way to implement water efficiency in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah etc is to develop a comprehensive water strategy at the early stage of project design for both indoor and outdoor water use reduction. The indoor comprehensive water strategy must include the baseline building interior water consumption information based on number of occupants in the building and the flow fixtures and other strategies used. It is required to do calculations for the both baseline water use and projected indoor potable water use based on the fixture and flow rates. The water use reduction targets can be achieved by using water efficient fixtures and appliances and by using recycled water where possible.

To achieve the targets of exterior water use efficiency and reduction, the project team has to develop water reduction strategies for outdoors at the early stage of the design. The strategies should include provision of metering facilities on all exterior water use and provision of easily accessible and clearly labelled water meters that are capable of monitoring water consumption for water uses in heat rejection, external hose bibs, irrigation system, swimming pools, water features etc.

Similarly, at the early stage of design, develop a Landscaping and Irrigation Operation and Maintenance plan. This should contain information on plant species, irrigation strategies to be used and strategies to use recycled water. The low water-use landscaping strategies include carrying out the baseline and design case calculation of building water use, developing a site plan showing the landscape areas, areas of hardscape and softscape along with their irrigation requirements. Strategies to minimise landscaping water demands should be done through appropriate plant selection, irrigations system and recycled water use. Similarly, develop strategies to reduce potable water use for heat rejection and exterior water features.

Conclusion

Use of large volume of water for building operation not only puts strain on municipal water supply and causes negative impacts on the environment but also increases the maintenance and life cycle costs of the building operations. It also increases the consumer’s costs for additional municipal water supply and treatment facilities. Hence, various water efficiency measures can reduce water use in average buildings by 20% or more. Many of the water conservation strategies have no additional cost implication or provide rapid payback while other strategies such as wastewater treatment systems and graywater plumbing system often require substantial investment. The main strategies that should be considered for water use reduction in United Arab Emirates are installation of efficient plumbing fixtures, use of non-potable water, installation of submeters, use of native adaptive plant species, xeriscaping, mulching and efficient irrigation systems.

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Green SMEs in Middle East: Obstacles and Challenges

green-smes-middle-eastWith ‘green’ being the buzzword across all industries, greening of the business sector and development of green skills has assumed greater importance all over the world, and Middle East is no exception. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in eco-design, green architecture, renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability are spearheading the transition to green economy across a wide range of industries. Green SME sector in the Middle East has been growing steadily, albeit at a slower pace than anticipated. 

Regulations

One of the major obstacles in the progress of green SMEs in the Middle East the has been poorly-designed regulation. According to Ruba A. Al-Zu’bi, a renowned sustainable development consultant in MENA, “SMEs should be the drivers of transformation towards green economy in the Middle East. Lack of clear policy direction and enablers are hindering growth and competitiveness of green SMEs”. Product market regulations which stifle competition pose a big hurdle to SMEs operating in renewables, energy, environment and sustainability sectors.  For example, state-owned companies in GCC have almost complete monopoly in network industries which have large environmental impacts (electricity/energy sector) or control strategic environmental services (water and waste management sector).

Restructuring

Restructuring of the SME sector in the Middle East is essential to allow small businesses to grow and prosper, thus catalyzing region’s transition to a green economy. SMEs account for vast majority of production units and employment across the Middle East, for example SMEs are responsible for around 60% of UAE’s GDP. Needless to say, participation of SMEs is essential in the transition to a low-carbon economy, thus paving the way for greening the business sector and development of green skills across all industrial segments.

Green SMEs require strong government support for growth, which is unfortunately lacking in several GCC countries. As Ruba Al-Zu’bi puts it, “Despite the humongous opportunity for green growth in the Middle East, magnified by climate change, water scarcity, oil dependency and environmental footprint, green SMEs are plagued by severe challenges and competition.”

Pressing Challenges

The Middle East region is facing multiple challenges in the growth of green SME sector. As Ruba Al-Zu’bi puts it, “The most pressing challenges are (1) increasing disconnect between education and market needs and (2) the disorientation of research and development from industry priorities and trends. Government agencies, business associations and NGOs need to play a bigger role in advocating more streamlined priorities for green growth across all industrial sectors.” Green SMEs in the region are facing significant barriers to entry despite their key role in developing locally appropriate technologies and eco-friendly business models.

Promising Initiatives

Abu Dhabi has taken a great step towards consolidation of green SME sector by creating the Masdar Free Zone. As a business cluster, Masdar Free Zone endeavors to provide SMEs and startups with an environment that inspires innovation, offers business development opportunities and provides a living lab and test bed for new technologies. However office rents has been a hurdle to overcome for green SMEs with limited financial capabilities.  “High office rents in Masdar Free Zone have been a major deterrent for small businesses desirous of setting shop in the business cluster”, says Dubai-based sustainability consultant Sunanda Swain.

In 2007, Qatar also launched a promising initiative to promote green growth in the form of Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) with core areas of focus being energy, environment, health sciences and information and communication technologies. During the initial phase, QSTP has been heavily focused on establishing infrastructure and attracting large companies. During the second phase, QSTP intends to target SMEs and provide them support on legal matters, finance, mentoring and business planning.

Future Perspectives

Policy interventions for supporting green SMEs in the Middle East are urgently required to overcome major barriers, including knowledge-sharing, raising environmental awareness, enhancing financial support, supporting skill development and skill formation, improving market access and implementing green taxation. In recent decades, entrepreneurship in the Middle East has been increasing at a rapid pace which should be channeled towards addressing water, energy, environment and waste management challenges, thereby converting environmental constraints into business opportunities.

Construction Wastes Management in the UAE

Out of total solid wastes generated in the UAE, the construction and demolition (C&D) wastes account for 70% of the total weight of solid wastes. Dubai alone produces nearly 5,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste every day, which is about 70% of the total solid waste generated every day. In Abu Dhabi, C & D wastes account for 71% of total wastes generated in the year 2011. It is expected that construction and development activities and associated C&D waste production will continue to rise in this region. Hence, if not managed appropriately, it is expected that dumping of C & D will become uncontrolled. This will not only cause negative environmental impact on soil, water and air and the surrounding ecosystem but also result in depletion of finite resources. This also creates social and financial burden to the society and to the country.  Hence, the management of construction waste is an essential aspect of sustainable building development.

To reduce the environmental impacts and improve the socio cultural, economic performance of buildings, various sustainability rating systems and green building regulations are created in the UAE apart from the sustainability rating systems available globally.  These rating systems and regulation have a credit category generally called “materials and resources” credit category, which includes the requirements for construction and demolition waste management. The main intent of having these requirements is to facilitate the waste reduction during construction and to prevent the depletion of material resources and associated environmental impacts.

The common sustainability rating systems used in the UAE are LEED, Pearl Rating System for Estidama and EHS Trakhees in-house certification. Various local Green Building regulations are made to regulate the building design and construction activities in each administrative location or jurisdiction. The local green building regulations are mostly aligned to USGBC LEED v3 but are more specific to the region. As a general requirement, for the purpose of credit compliance, excavated materials such as soil, sand, land clearing debris and hazardous wastes are exempted for calculation of the percentage of wastes diverted from disposal at landfill facilities. However, it is required to divert these substances to places designated by the concerned department of the local regulatory authorities. Let us have a close look at various green building regulations and guidelines for minimizing C&D wastes generation.

LEED

The LEED rating system makes it mandatory for the project owner to develop and implement C&D waste management plan. Like other rating systems the main intent is to reduce the volume of C&D waste that is sent to landfills and incineration facilities by employing strategies such as reduce reuse, recovery and recycle of materials from the C&D waste stream. Apart from mandatory requirements, up to 4 credit points can be earned for building and construction projects in building and material reuse optional credit category and awards up to 2 points in the C&D waste management category which uses reuse and recycle methods.

Dubai Municipality 

Dubai Municipality doesn’t provide in-house certification for green buildings but enforces green building regulations by issuing building permits for projects within its jurisdiction. As per Dubai Municipality regulations, it is a mandatory requirement for all new buildings except the buildings in the CBD area to divert at least 50% of wastes materials by volume (cubic meter) or by weight (kg/ tonne) from the total waste materials generated during construction and/ or demolition of buildings by using reuse and recycle strategies. Excavated soil, land clearing debris and hazardous waste materials are not taken into consideration for this requirement.

EHS Trakhees

EHS Trakees green building department is the regulatory wing of Port, customs, Free zone Corporation (PCFC) jurisdiction. It enforces its green building regulations on all new construction projects of the jurisdiction. Projects seeking in-house certification can earn 1 point for diverting 50% of C&D waste materials from landfill disposal and 2 points for 75% of C&D waste diversion. These requirements can be achieved by using various strategies mentioned earlier. In the building reuse credit category, EHS Trakhees awards up to 3 points for maintaining the existing building structure (including structural floor and roof decking) and envelop (the exterior skin and framing, excluding window assemblies and non-structural roof materials). In the material reuse credit category, 1 to 2 points can be earned by reusing salvaged building materials and products directly or after refurbishing those. These materials can be beams and posts, flooring, doors and frames, cabinetry and furniture, brick, and decorative items. The project can earn 1 point for having 5% of salvaged, refurbished and reused materials based on the total cost of materials for the project. Similarly, 2 points can be earned for using 10% of those materials in the project.

Pearl Rating System for Estidama

This rating system is the sustainability initiative of Urban Planning Council (UPC) Abu Dhabi. It is a mandatory requirement under this rating system to divert a minimum of 30% of C&D wastes through recycling/ salvaging. There is no credit awarded for this but it encourages the reuse of existing building stock, reduce waste and associated environmental impacts by providing credit earning options for retaining percentage of building structural system. 1 credit point can be earned for reusing 25% of building structural system by surface area and 2 credit points for reusing 50% of the total materials. In the material reuse category, 1 credit can be earned by demonstrating that the total materials cost of reused and salvaged materials represent 3% of the total material cost.

Conclusion

If appropriate sustainability rating system is used and the green building regulations are followed aptly and adhered, not only the volume of C&D wastes sent to landfills or incineration will be reduced significantly but also the demand for virgin resources construction materials will be reduced. 

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