Qatar’s Fight Against Climate Change

Qatar's environmental records have always been in news, of course for the negative ones, but it has always strived to work towards reduction of GHGs emissions. Qatar is already doing plenty to help poor countries with financing and it seems unfair to focus on per capita emissions for a country with estimated population of 2.27 million making it the 143th most populous country on earth. (For climate talks, that is heresy). This may sound harsh, especially since Qatar's contribution to global warming is tiny compared with the United States, China or India.

In recent years, Qatar is making itself a benchmark for all future sustainable and renewable initiatives in the Middle East. Qatar is committed to creating a cleaner and more energy efficient environment which is expected to make significant contributions in addressing climate change challenges and moving towards a more sustainable future. However, these positive moves will not be enough to cover up the fact that Qatar, much as the other oil-producing countries in the Gulf, has still not made any commitment as part of the UN climate talks.

Qatar’s Revamping Climate Plans

In line with Qatar National Vision 2030, Qatar aims to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Sustainable development has been identified as one of the top priorities in Qatar’s National Development Strategy. Environmental Development is one of the four main pillars of the Qatar National Vision 2030, which aims to manage rapid domestic expansion to ensure harmony between economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.

According to recent reports, Qatar is getting close to opening its long-delayed 200-megawatt solar tender. Qatar currently has a stated goal of installing 10 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2030; the 200 MW solar tender represents just a portion of the installations expected over the coming years, but is still a noteworthy quantity. Qatar, as part of its environmental commitment and sustainable development, is turning to renewable sources of energy such as solar power, with initiatives already underway.

Qatar Foundation (QF) plays an instrumental role in Qatar’s sustainability efforts as it helps transform the country into a knowledge-based economy. It also endeavors to realize this vision by making sustainability an integral part of the day-to-day lives of local residents. By doing so, QF is working towards achieving its own strategic mission of unlocking human potential and promoting creativity and innovation.

Qatar Foundation (QF), in partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), is setting up a pioneering Climate Change Research Institute and a Global Climate Change Forum as part of MoU signed on sidelines of COP 18 UNFCC Doha conference in 2012. The Institute, the first of its kind in the region, will seek to fill critical gaps in research on mitigation, adaptation and climate resiliency for key regions such as tropics, sub-tropics and dry lands. However, it is making a very slow pace due to various issues.

Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is producing up to 85 percent of Qatar's total solar energy as it announced the launch of one of the Gulf region's first Energy Monitoring Centre (EMC) to manage its smart grid and monitor solar power generation across all sites within Education City. The EMC is part of the recently completed Solar Smart-Grid Project that added a total of 1.68MW of new solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at various facilities. The PV systems at QF now generate 5,180 MWh of clean energy annually, resulting in savings of around 2,590 tons of CO2 emissions every year.

The Qatar Green Building Council, a QF member was established in 2009 to promote sustainable growth and development in Qatar through cost efficient and environment-friendly building practices. There has been rapid progress in green building sector in Qatar with the emergence of many world-class sustainable constructions in recent years. With the fifth-highest number of LEED-registered and certified buildings outside the U.S., Qatar has valuable experience and inputs to offer on the system’s local relevancy and application.

Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) which hosted Doha UNFCCC climate conference COP 18/CMP8 was the first LEED certified project in Qatar and remains its largest rooftop solar system installed to date. Subsequently, Qatar Foundation continues to have the largest pipeline of all PV installations in the country, in addition to its pipeline of LEED-certified green buildings. With more than five megawatts of solar energy installations planned, Qatar Foundation's clean efforts are one of the largest in the Gulf region.

QF is equally dedicated to sustainable infrastructural development. For instance, the student-housing complex at Education City is currently one of the only platinum LEED-certified student housing complexes in the world. Having earned 12 Platinum LEED certifications in the category of ‘New Construction’ from the US Green Building Council, it is also the largest collection of platinum LEED- certified buildings in one area in the world.

Qatar Solar Energy (QSE) has officially opened one of the largest vertically integrated PV module production facilities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The 300 MW facility, located in the Doha industrial zone of Qatar, is the first significant development of the Qatar National Vision 2030, which aims to reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels in favor of more renewable energy sources. Qatar's fledgling forays into the solar PV sector have gathered pace last year, when state-backed Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec) acquired a 29% stake in SolarWorld in a move that raised eyebrows throughout the industry.

The Head of Qatar’s state-run electricity and water company (Kahramaa) has already announced ambitious plans to install solar panels atop the roofs of many of the country’s 85 reservoirs. With these latest plans are for creative solution to Qatar’s lack of viable land space (the country measures just 11,571km²), it is a must in a country with very little available land for large-scale solar plants. Qatar will adopt a scattered model, installing several small- to medium-sized PV installations.

Qatar's National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) has been a driving force behind the nation’s thirst for renewable energy, creating an action plan designed to better utilize Qatar’s abundant solar radiation. Meanwhile, Qatar Solar Tech 70% owned by the Qatar Foundation (QF) has announced that it is scaling up its local manufacturing capabilities, and will build a 297 acre solar farm in the country’s Ras Laffan Industrial City.

As the host country for 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has pledged solar-powered stadiums and the country is also working on a range of other solar projects gearing up to this Football Extravaganza.

Conclusions

Climate change and increase in temperatures is making Qatar even more vulnerable to the lack of water and food insecurity. Every single drop of water that is used in Qatar needs to be desalinated. Every single gram of food that is eaten needs to be either imported or grown with desalinated water. The plunging price of oil, coupled with advances in clean energy and resource conservation, offers Qatar a real chance to rationalize energy policy. Qatar can get rid of billions of dollars of distorting energy subsidies whilst shifting taxes towards carbon use. It is heartening to see that Qatar has recognized the importance of renewable energy and sustainability and its fight for reducing its ecological footprint. A cheaper, greener, sustainable and more reliable energy future for Qatar could be within reach.

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CDM Projects in MENA Region

 

The MENA region is an attractive CDM destination as it is rich in renewable energy resources and has a robust oil and gas industry. Surprisingly, countries in MENA host very few and declining number of CDM projects with only 23 CDM projects registered till date. The region accounts for only 1.5 percent of global CDM projects and only two percent of emission reduction credits. The two main challenges facing many of these projects are: weak capacity in most MENA countries for identifying, developing and implementing carbon finance projects and securing underlying finance. 

The registered CDM projects in MENA countries are primarily located in UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and Tunisia. Other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, are also exploring opportunities for implementing projects that could be registered under the Kyoto Protocol.

Potential CDM projects that can be implemented in the region may come from varied areas like sustainable energy, energy efficiency, waste management, landfill gas capture, industrial processes, biogas technology and carbon flaring. For example, the energy efficiency projects in the oil and gas industry, can save millions of dollars and reduce tons of CO2 emissions. In addition, renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, holds great potential for the region, similar to biomass in Asia.

Let us take a look at some of the recent registered CDM projects from the MENA region.

Al-Shaheen Project (Qatar)

The Al-Shaheen project is the first of its kind in the region and third CDM project in the petroleum industry worldwide. The Al-Shaheen oilfield has flared the associated gas since the oilfield began operations in 1994. Prior to the project activity, the facilities used 125 tons per day (tpd) of associated gas for power and heat generation, and the remaining 4,100 tpd was flared. Under the current project, total gas production after the completion of the project activity is 5,000 tpd with 2,800-3,400 tpd to be exported to Qatar Petroleum (QP); 680 tpd for on-site consumption, and only 900 tpd still to be flared. The project activity will reduce GHG emissions by approximately 2.5 million tCO2 per year and approximately 17 million tCO2 during the initial seven-year crediting period.

GASCO Project (Abu Dhabi)

Located at the Asab and Bab gas processing plants in Abu Dhabi, the energy efficiency project is the fifth CDM project in the UAE to be registered under the Kyoto Protocol. The ADNOC's GASCO CDM project helps to reduce CO2 emissions through installation of a device in the flare line to considerably reduce the consumption of fuel gas, thereby ensuring lower greenhouse gas emissions. The project contributes to Abu Dhabi's and ADNOC's goals for sustainable development while improving air quality in the region. This retrofit project is expected to generate approximately 7,770 CERs per year.

Kafr El Dawar Project (Egypt)

Located at the Egypt for Spinning, Weaving and Dying Company in Kafr El Dawar near Alexandria, the fuel switching project is the latest CDM project from MENA to be registered under the Kyoto Protocol. The Kafr El Dawar CDM project helps reduce COemissions through switching from the higher carbon intensive fuel such as Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) to natural gas, a lower carbon intensive fossil fuel, contributing to Egypt’s goals in sustainable development. It has also significantly mitigated atmospheric emissions of pollutants while improving air quality in the region. The replacement of HFO with natural gas is expected to generate approximately 45,000 Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) per year.

 

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District Cooling Perspectives for the Middle East

District cooling produces chilled water in a centralized location for distribution to buildings like offices and factories through a network of insulated underground pipes. The chilled water travels to different buildings, where the water circulates through refrigeration coils or uses absorption technology to enter the air-conditioning system. During winter, the source for the cooling can often be sea water, so it is a cheaper resource than using electricity to run compressors for cooling.

What is District Cooling

District cooling provides effective control over internal temperature of a building, requires less maintenance than a standalone air-conditioning system, consumes lesser space and reduces noise pollution. The effect of district cooling systems on the environment is minimal because of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, use of eco-friendly refrigerants and implementation of rigorous health and safety standards.

The Helsinki district cooling system in Finland uses waste heat from CHP power generation units to run absorption refrigerators for cooling during summer time, greatly reducing electricity usage. In winter time, cooling is achieved more directly using sea water. The adoption of district cooling is estimated to reduce the consumption of electricity for cooling purposes by as much as 90 percent. The idea is now being adopted in other Finnish cities.

The use of district cooling is also growing rapidly in Sweden and in a similar way. District cooling is very widespread in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. In fact, approx. 7 million square meters of commercial space in Stockholm is connected to the district cooling grid. The Stockholm district cooling grid currently consists of different systems with capacities ranging from 3 MW to 228 MW. The district cooling network in Stockholm is currently 76 kilometers long.

District Cooling Prospects in the Middle East

There is tremendous potential for the utilization of district cooling systems in the Middle East. The constant year-round heat coupled with expensive glass exteriors for hotel, airports and offices etc result in very high indoor temperatures. The combination of distributed generation of power and utilization of waste heat can provide a sustainable solution to meet the high demand for refrigeration in the region. District cooling systems can provide cooling solutions to commercial buildings, hotels, apartment blocks, shopping malls etc.

The world’s largest district cooling plant, Integrated District Cooling Plant (IDCP), was installed in The Pearl-Qatar in 2010. IDCP will service more than 80 apartment towers, beachfront villas, townhouses, shopping complexes, offices, schools and hotels throughout the Island, ultimately supplying more than 130,000 tons of refrigeration to the Island’s estimated 50,000 residents.

Despite paramount importance of air conditioning in Middle East countries, regional governments have failed to incorporate it in policy and planning which has lead to the evolution of an unregulated market for cooling systems.  Most of the cooling methods employed nowadays are based on traditional window units or central air cooling systems where consume copious amount of power and also damage the environment.

District cooling has the potential to provide a viable solution to meet air conditioning requirements in the Middle East. Low energy requirement, peak saving potential, eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness are major hallmarks of district cooling networks. District cooling can play a vital role in fostering sustainable development in Middle East nations. Apart from providing cooling needs, district cooling can reduce the need for new power plants, slash fossil fuel requirements and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region.   

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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.

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MSW Generation in the Middle East

The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all  sorts of waste. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries has crossed 150 million tons per annum.The world’s dependence on Middle East energy resources has caused the region to have some of the largest carbon footprints per capita worldwide. The region is now gearing up to meet the challenge of global warming, as with the rapid growth of the waste management sector. During the last few years, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have unveiled multi-billion dollar investment plans to Improve waste management scenario in their respective countries. 

Solid Waste Generation Statistics

Saudi Arabia produce more than 15 million tons of garbage each year. With an approximate population of about 28 million, the country produces approximately 1.3 kilograms of waste per person every day. More than 5,000 tons of urban waste is generated in the city of Jeddah alone. 

The per capita MSW generation rate  in the United Arab Emirates ranges from 1.76 to 2.3 kg/day. According to a recent study, the amount of solid waste in UAE totaled 4.892 million tons, with a daily average of 6935 tons in the city of Abu Dhabi, 4118 tons in Al Ain and 2349 tons in the western region.

Qatar's annual waste generation stands at 2.5 million tons while Kuwait produces 2 million tons MSW per annum. Bahrain generates more than 1.5 million tons of municipal waste every year. Countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have astonishingly high per capita waste generation rate, primarily because of high standard of living and lack of awarness about sustainable waste management practices.

Country

MSW Generation

(million tons per annum)

Saudi Arabia

13

UAE

5

Qatar

2.5

Kuwait

2

Bahrain

1.5

In addition, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment, human health and marine life. On an average, the rate of municipal wastewater generation in the Middle East is 80-200 litres per person per day. Cities in the region are facing increasing difficulties in treating sewage, as has been the case in Jeddah where 500,000 cubic metre of raw sewage is discarded in Buraiman Lake daily. Sewage generation across the region is rising by an astonishing rate of 25 percent every year which is bound to create major headaches for urban planners. 

Waste-to-Energy for the Middle East

Municipal solid waste in the Middle East is comprised of organic fraction, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc which can be managed by making use of recycling, composting and/or waste-to-energy technologies. The composting process is a complex interaction between the waste and the microorganisms within the waste. Central composting plants are capable of handling more than 100,000 tons of biodegradable waste per year, but typically the plant size is about 10,000 to 30,000 tons per year.

Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture) or by modern conversion systems (such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis). The three principal methods of thermochemical conversion are combustion (in excess air), gasification (in reduced air), and pyrolysis (in absence of air). The most common technique for producing both heat and electrical energy from urban wastes is direct combustion. Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration systems, ranging from small-scale technology to large grid-connected facilities, provide significantly higher efficiencies than systems that only generate electricity. 

At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW can be collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation. 

Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling. Infact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the 4th R in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.

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Waste Management Outlook for Qatar

Qatar is counted among the world’s fastest growing economies as well as richest countries in the world. The rapid industrialization of the country and high population growth generates a lot of wastes in the form of municipal wastes, construction & demolition debris, industrial wastes etc. Annual solid waste generation in Qatar has crossed 2.5 million tons, which corresponds to daily waste generation of more than 7,000 tons per day. The country has one of the highest per capita waste generation worldwide which ranges from 1.6 to 1.8 kg per day.

Solid Waste Management Scenario

Solid waste is mainly comprised of organic materials while the rest of the waste is made up of recyclables like glass, paper, metals and plastics. Waste is collected from across the country and predominantly disposed off in landfills. There are three landfills in Qatar; Umm Al-Afai for bulky and domestic waste, Rawda Rashed for construction and demolition waste, and Al-Krana for sewage wastes. This method of waste disposal by landfill is not a practical solution for a country like Qatar where land availability is limited and only 8% of the waste is recycled.

One of the promising developments in solid waste management sector in recent years has been the creation of Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre (DSWMC) at Mesaieed. This centre is designed to maximize recovery of resources and energy from waste by installing state-of-the-art technologies for separation, pre-processing, mechanical and organic recycling, and waste-to-energy and composting technologies. It will treat 1550 tons of waste per day, and is expected to generate enough power for in-house requirements, and supply a surplus of 34.4 MW to the national grid. 

Government Strategy

The Qatar Government has identified the need for better waste management and has made plans to address this issue in Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016. According to this plan the Government proposes to contain the levels of waste generated by households, commercial sites and industry and to recycle much more of the waste generated. Accordingly, the plan prioritizes actions to reduce the pressure on the environment, with the most preferable goal being the avoidance of waste. Where waste cannot be avoided, the preferred goals would be to reduce it, reuse it and recycle it, and the least desirable action is to dispose of materials.

The plan also proposes to initiate new policies to encourage firms to export recycled items and manufacturers to use recycled material. The Government is to consider providing subsidies to encourage more firms to enter the recycling business and public awareness campaigns to encourage waste separation. It also plans to improve collection networks and to provide recycling bins.

To generate new recycling activity sponsored demonstrations and public awareness activities are planned. Citizens will be made aware of the opportunity to use recycled products, such as furniture made from recycled wood or compost produced daily in Mesaieed. Citizens are to be encouraged to see waste reduction and recycling as a duty with the welfare of future generations in mind.

The critical step in establishing a solid waste management plan will be to coordinate responsibilities, activities and planning. The plan, to be aligned with the Qatar National Master Plan, will cover households, industry and commercial establishments, and construction and demolition. The plan will also provide classifications for different types of domestic and non- domestic waste, mapping their sources.

Future Perspectives

When the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016 was conceived, the plant at Mesaieed might have been seen as an ideal solution, but by the time the project was completed the capacity of the plant to handle waste has been overwhelmed. The centre in Mesaieed can treat only 1550 tons of the 7000 tons generated everyday and this is only going to increase in future. Qatar needs a handful of such centers in order to tackle the growing menace of urban wastes.

While steps are being taken to handle waste generated in future, the Government needs to focus on creating mass awareness about 4Rs of waste management viz. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recovery. If this can be achieved then the public can be expected to play its part in helping to reduce the generation of waste and in recycling waste by making the process easier by segregating waste at the source. The public needs to be made aware of its responsibility and duty to the future generations. Since Qatar is predominantly a Muslim country, the government may also take help of Islamic scholars to motivate the population to reduce per capita waste generation.

Improvement in curbside collection mechanism and establishment of material recovery facilities and recycling centres may also encourage public participation in waste management initiatives. After a period of public education and demonstration, segregation-at-source needs to be implemented throughout the country. Legislation needs to be passed to ensure compliance, failure of which will attract a penalty with spot checks by the Government body entrusted with its implementation.

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Food Security Strategy in Qatar

Qatar is a water-scarce and arid region which has its own share of demographic and socio-economic problems. The cultivation of food crops is a difficult proposition for Qatar due to scarcity of water supply and limited availability of arable land. The country is vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets because of heavy dependence on imported grains and food items. The increasing dependence on foreign food imports is leading to a growing sense of food insecurity in Qatar.

Understanding Food Security

Food security is the condition in which all people at all times have a physical and economic access to safe, adequate and nutritious food to satisfy their daily calorific intake and allow them to lead an active and healthy life. Individuals who are food secure have an access to a sufficient quantity of food and do not live in fear of hunger and starvation. On the other hand, food insecurity exists simultaneously and inhibits certain groups of individuals from gaining access to nutritionally adequate and safe food. In the case of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, food insecurity is related to poor quality diets rather than calorie-deficient diets. A typical diet in MENA region is high in saturated fats, sugar and refined foods which is a major cause for increase in chronic diseases in the region.

There are a multitude of factors which may challenge a nation from achieving food security. Some of these factors include; the global water crisis and water deficits which spur heavy grain imports in smaller countries ultimately leading to cutbacks in grain harvests. Similarly, intensive agriculture and farming drastically influence soil fertility and cause a decline in crop yield. Another notable factor limiting food security includes the adverse effects of climate change such as droughts and floods which greatly affect the agricultural sector.

The impacts of declining crop yields will include a change in productivity, livelihood patterns as well as economic losses due to declining exports. According to the Global Food Security Index, countries which are on top of the food security index include USA, Norway and China. The countries suffering from greatest food insecurity include, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Chad.

Food Security Strategy in Qatar

Being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Qatar is facing large-scale influx of expatriate workers which has resulted in tremendous increase in population in recent years. Limited land availability, chronic water scarcity and constraints in agricultural growth have led to growing concerns about food security. Agriculture plays a strategic role in the nation’s food security. Qatar imports over 90% of its food requirements due to the scarcity of irrigation water, poor quality soils and the inhibitions due to climatic conditions. Infact, the country is facing an agricultural trade deficit of QR. 4.38 billion equivalent to $1.2 billion. 

In response, Qatar has begun to address the situation by aiming to efficiently utilize ‘cutting edge technology’ to establish a sustainable approach to food security for dry land countries. The Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP) was established in 2008 and aims to reduce Qatar’s reliance on food imports through self sufficiency. The program will not only develop recommendations for Food Security policy but intends to join with international organizations and other NGOs to develop practices to utilize resources efficiently within the agricultural sector.

Qatar has established a nation-led National Food Security Program to encourage domestic production which will lead to scientific and technological development in two specific areas to increase domestic production. These areas include development in agricultural enhancement and food processing. QNFSP’s approach to expanding the agricultural sector aims to introduce the best practices and establishing a sector which considers its economic efficiency, optimal usage of scarce resources with limited impact on the environment as well as profitable and sustainable agriculture. A key element of this approach will include the deployment of advanced crop production technologies and advanced irrigation systems. The QNFSP will require well managed stakeholder participation, revised agricultural possibilities and of course a comprehensive strategy for agricultural research.

The nation’s second approach to increase domestic production includes regulations and implementations on food processing. Food processing increases the shelf-life of food, reduces raw food losses and enables the continuity of product availability. By enhancing the shelf-life of food and reducing the amount of food being wasted improves a nation’s food security. The QNFSP aims to develop the nation’s food processing industry by taking advantage of the new industry being established in Qatar which will allow the country to sell its own processed goods on the global market. To meet this objective the nation will need to implement international quality assurance mechanism to be capable of producing high quality products as well as to expand their food reserves and storage facilities.

Sahara Forest Project

In addition to the trenchant efforts being made by the Qatar National Food Security Program, an interesting and promising pilot project named Sahara Forest Project is being rigorously pursed in Qatar. The Sahara Forest Project allows for sustainable production of food, water and energy while revegetating and storing carbon in arid areas.

A one hectare site outside Doha, Qatar, hosts the Sahara Forest Project Pilot Plant. It contains a unique combination of promising environmental technologies carefully integrated in a system to maximize beneficial synergies. A cornerstone of the pilot is greenhouses utilizing seawater to provide cool and humid growing conditions for vegetables, The greenhouses themselves produce freshwater and are coupled with Qatar’s first Concentrated Solar Power plant with a thermal desalination unit.

An important part of the pilot is to demonstrate the potential for cultivating desert land and making it green. Outdoor vertical evaporators will create sheltered and humid environments for cultivation of plants. There are ponds for salt production and facilities for experimentation with cultivation of salt tolerant plants, halophytes. Additionally, the facility also contains a state of the art system for cultivation of algae.

References

Sahara Forest Project. "Sahara Forest Project in Food Security Program on Qatar TV." Sahara Forest Project. N.p., 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.goo.gl/ICjuKN>.

QNFSP. "Qatar Steps up to Food Security and World Hunger." Qatar National Food Security Programme. QNFSP, 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. <http://www.qnfsp.gov.qa>.

Farhad Mirzadeh. "Qatar’s Seeks Solutions to Food Insecurity." American Security Project. N.p., 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. < http://www.goo.gl/LvY2em />

Bonnie James. "Qatar Food Security Plans Get a Boost." Gulf Times. N.p., 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.goo.gl/wSc27F>.

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Understanding Qatar’s Ecological Footprint

Qatar’s environmental impact remains worryingly high. The country’s per capita ecological footprint is now the second highest in the world, as another Gulf state, Kuwait, has overtaken it to become the worst offender of the 152 countries that were measured, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report 2014. The third country in the list is the UAE, with Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, in 33rd position. By comparing the total footprint with the planet’s biocapacity – its capacity to generate an ongoing supply of renewable resources and to absorb waste -the report, based on 2010 data, concludes that the average human’s per capita footprint exceeds the planet’s capacity by 1.5. Most MENA countries’ ecological footprints also exceed their biocapacity in terms of their global rankings.

Qatar’s footprint, measured in global hectares (gha), is 8.5 – the second highest in the world, but down from 11.6 in the 2012 report. Only Kuwait fared worse, with a footprint of over 10gha. According to the WWF report, if all people on the planet had the footprint of the average resident of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets. If we lived the lifestyle of a typical resident of the USA, we would need 3.9 planets. The figure for a typical resident of South Africa or Argentina would be 1.4 or 1.5 planets respectively. The world’s average footprint per person was 2.6gha, but the global average biocapacity per person was 1.7gha in 2010. This is based on the Earth’s total biocapacity of approximately 12 billion gha, which has to support all humans and the 10 million or more wild species.

Salman Zafar, founder of EcoMENA, a voluntary organisation that promotes sustainable development in the Arab world, attributes the Qatari situation on lack of environmental awareness among the local population, lavish lifestyles and a strong dependence on fossil fuels. “The huge influx of workers from across the world has put tremendous strain on already stressed natural resources. Migrant workers, who make up a huge chunk of the population, remain in the country for a limited period of time and are not motivated enough to conserve natural resources and protect the environment,” he adds. As for Kuwait, he says the growing ecological footprint may be attributed to its flourishing oil and gas industry, an increase in desalination plants, the presence of hundreds of landfills, excessive use of water, energy and goods, a huge expatriate population and the absence of concrete environmental conservation initiatives.

Of the 25 countries with the largest per capita ecological footprint, most were high-income nations. For virtually all of these, carbon was the biggest component, in Qatar’s case 70%. Carbon, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, has been the dominant component of humanity’s footprint for more than half a century, says the WWF report – in 1961, carbon had been 36% of the total footprint, but by 2010 it had increased to 53%. In 2013, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above Mauna Loa, Hawaii – the site of the oldest continuous carbon dioxide measurement station in the world – reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958. This is higher than they have been for more than a million years, and climate science shows major risks of unacceptable change at such concentrations. Furthermore, 2014 has globally been the hottest year since measurements started, and the World Meteorological Organisation predicts that this upward trend will continue.

The world’s total population today is already in excess of 7.2 billion, and growing at a faster rate than previously estimated. The dual effect of a growing human population and high per capita footprint will multiply the pressure humans place on ecological resources, the report states. As agriculture accounts for 92% of the global water footprint, humanity’s growing water needs, combined with climate change, are aggravating water scarcity. The authors also make it clear that in the long term water cannot be sustainably taken from lakes and groundwater reservoirs faster than they are recharged. Desalination of seawater also leads to brine (with a very high concentration of salt and leftover chemicals and metals), which is discharged into the sea where it poses a danger to marine life.  In terms of biodiversity, the report shows an overall decline of 52 percent between 1970 and 2010. Falling by 76 percent, population of freshwater species declined more rapidly than marine and terrestrial (both 39 percent) population.

With regards to Qatar’s biocapacity, its fishing grounds make up 92% of the total, while the country ranks 66th globally in terms of its biocapacity per capita. Like other Gulf states, it can operate with an ecological deficit by importing products, and thus using the biocapacity of other nations; and/or by using the global commons, for instance, by releasing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning into the atmosphere, says the report.

Although Qatar has initiated plans to reduce its footprint and live less unsustainably, the latest electricity demand figures from Qatar General Electricity and Water Company (Kahramaa) show a 12% rise in demand for power over the previous year. This is in line with the country’s population growth, meaning that there has been no reduction in the per capita consumption, which is still under the top 15 countries in the world. Its water consumption per capita is also one of the highest in the world.

Qatar’s heavy reliance on gas and oil, its subsidised water and electricity, and the huge amount of energy needed for water desalination and air-conditioning make it unlikely that the country’s per capita standing in terms of the ecological footprint will improve anytime soon, but given the country’s small size its total impact is still relatively small.

Salman Shaban from the metal recycling company Lucky Star Alloys, regards the report as only highlighting Qatar’s current rapid development. “It is not fair to come to any conclusions at this stage when the construction, transport system and population boom is taking place. Any place that will go through such a fast development will initially have its impact on the ecological systems.” He foresees a gradual carbon footprint reduction once the construction and development phase is completed.“ Having said that, it is still every resident and citizen moral responsibility to conserve energy and protect the environment,” he adds. “Recycling should be a standard part of every household culture.”

According to Salman Zafar, grass-root level environmental education, removal of subsidies on water and energy, sustainable waste management practices, effective laws, awareness programs and mandatory stakeholder participation are some of the measures that may improve the environmental scenario in Qatar.

Although it makes for some disturbing reading, the report makes it clear that many individuals, communities, businesses, cities and governments are making better choices to protect natural capital and reduce their footprint, with environmental, social and economic benefits. But given that these exhaustive reports are based on data that is four years old, any current changes for better and worse will only become clear in the near future.

Note:

  • WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organizations; its mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. The full report is available at this link.
  • An edited version of this article first appeared in The Edge, Qatar’s Business Magazine. 

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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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Community Engagement in Recycling Initiatives in Qatar

The current state of environmental custodianship in Qatar leaves much to be desired from the national government and other institutions that publicly endorse initiatives with much fan-fare but do not commit to sustained action. My previous piece titled “Environmental Initiatives in Middle East – Challenges and Remedies” illuminated some of these gaps, but did not provide a detailed description of what underpins this trend and possible solutions might look like. Thus, this article seeks to delve deeper into how state institutions and civil society in Qatar may be able to work cooperatively in staving off further environmental degradation, especially with regards to waste management and recycling.

I believe that real success will be achieved through popular buy-in and a paradigm shift towards recognizing the interconnectedness of humans with their surroundings, which can be encouraged through education. Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a public acknowledgement that all individuals residing in Qatar have a vested interest in pushing for greater environmental protection enforcement and accountability. In a region that is already faced with a lack of potable water and arable land, allowing the existing course to be maintained is not only risky, it is flat-out dangerous to the nation’s survival.

An Uphill Battle, But a Necessary One

Individuals that either live in or visited a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation, especially a hydrocarbon-rich rentier state like Qatar, are probably quite familiar with the inadequacies of current recycling initiatives. As someone who has visited the country on three different occasions I can tell you that I have searched high and low for something resembling a recycling bin, can, or other receptacle but to no avail, save for a few located in Education City. One might imagine this to be exceptionally jarring coming from the hyper-attentive, green-obsessed Washington, DC where trash and recycling cans typically are placed together on streets and in buildings.

Further adding to my chagrin is the apparent disconnect between high level, widely publicized recycling improvements and the realities (and consequences) manifesting among general society. For example, last year there was much excitement surrounding the announcement of upcoming environmental reforms in July 2014, but it appears nothing further came to fruition.

The article touches upon some of the apparent hindrances for recycling programs and other environmental initiatives: bureaucracy; paperwork; budgetary constraints. I would add to this list based upon personal experiences: general apathy towards recycling; inaccessibility of bins; perception of additional costs to conducting business.

Fair enough – I acknowledge that some of these issues are out of citizens’ and expats’ hands, but that is no excuse for giving up. The predicted 6.8% GDP growth spurred by the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup and hydrocarbon exports will surely put further pressure on an already fragile ecosystem and lead to an uptick in waste production. This is not meant to stoke unnecessary fear, but the equation here is straightforward; more people present in Qatar, more trash will be created from residential and commercial zones. As noted by fellow EcoMENA contributor, Surya Suresh, the nation presently possesses one solid waste facility at Mesaieed and three landfills devoted to particular items, which now seem to be overwhelmed by growing waste inputs.

Possible Solutions: Personal and Community Action

Given this lag in state responses to the existing recycling crisis and future issues stemming from it, readers may be asking what they can do to help. At the personal level, I would encourage Qatari residents, as well as others in neighboring nations, to begin with educating themselves about the current state of recycling initiatives and conducting an inventory of their daily waste generation. EcoMENA website offers a variety of informative pieces and external resources useful to individuals seeking more information.

My latter point about doing a personal inventory is about consciousness-raising about how we each contribute to a wider problem and identifying means of reducing our impact on the environment. Examples from my own life that I believe are applicable in Qatar include counting the number of plastic bags I used to transport groceries and replacing them with a backpack and reusable bags. I also frequently re-appropriate glass jars for storing items, such as rice, spices, and coffee – make sure to wash them well before reuse! It has taken me several years to get to past the social stigmas surrounding reusing containers and to cultivate the future planning to bring my reusable bags with me, but knowing my actions, aggregated with those of my friends and family, positively affect the environment is quite rewarding and reinforces good behavior. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Furthermore, it may be beneficial for the community at large to begin discussing the topic of recycling and what they would like to see, rather than solely wait on state agencies to address issues. Doing so could initially be formulated on a level that many Qatari residents are probably most familiar with: their place of employment, apartment, or neighborhood. After all, if individuals, specifically employers, are expected to bear the increased costs associated with improved recycling then an understanding of what people want is necessary in hopefully resolving issues effectively and with greater community enthusiasm.

Because of the nature of nation-states’ institutions typically being reactive entities and incapable of being aware of every societal problem, it is up to community-level groups to voice their concerns and be committed to change. Organizations such as the Qatar Green Building Council and the Qatar Green Leaders, offer a variety of informative pieces and training services that may help in establishing dialogues between groups and the government. Perhaps this is too idealistic right now, but Qatari residents have organized popular support for other initiatives, notably in the initial pilot recycling program in 2012. Now let us make that a sustained commitment to recycling!

 

References

  1. Andrew Clark, “Environmental Initiatives in Middle East – Challenges and Remedies,” on EcoMENA.org, http://www.ecomena.org/environment-middle-east/.
  2. Doha News Staff, “Official: New, Sorely Needed Recycling Policies in Qatar Afoot,” on Dohanews.co, http://dohanews.co/official-new-sorely-needed-recycling-policies-in/.
  3. Qatar National Bank, “Qatar Economic Insight 2013,” on www.qnb.com.qa  
  4. Surya Suresh, “Waste Management Outlook for Qatar,” http://www.ecomena.org/waste-qatar/
  5. Doha News Staff, “Responding to Community Calls, Qatar Rolls Out Pilot Recycling Program,” http://dohanews.co/responding-to-community-calls-qatar-rolls-out-pilot/.

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SAFE-Q: Be a Part of Food Waste Research Project in Qatar

SafeQ-Project-QatarDistribution of food is quite different and more challenging than other consumer products since the distribution operation must ensure the food product maintains its quality and safety while it is transported downstream on the food chain until it reaches the consumer. For example, temperature control is a critical aspect of food distribution as failure to maintain it at the prescribed level will result in deterioration of the quality or even risk the safety of the food product.

On the other hand, owing to the globalised distribution networks and the advances in food processing and packaging technologies as well as the improvements in storage and distribution infrastructure, the geographical locations where food is grown, processed, and consumed are becoming increasingly decoupled. As a result, global food supply chains are becoming longer and more complex than non-food supply chains because of the need to assure the quality and the safety of the products throughout their journey from farm to fork. The inefficiencies in food supply chain operations and changing consumer demands around food products have resulted in an increased global concern across academia, industry, and the public about the rise of food waste.

What is Safe-Q Project?

SAFE-Q or Safeguarding Food and Environment in Qatar is a research project funded by the QNRF, aiming to develop perspectives on food waste as well as its impact on food security in Qatar. The objectives of the SAFE-Q project are:

  • to systematically study and develop a typology of the causes of food waste occurring the distribution of food in Qatar
  • to examine the changing trends in consumption of food in relation to their implications on waste occurring in Qatar’s food supply chains
  • to synthesize and develop a holistic understanding of the food waste generated in the supply and the demand perspectives
  • to develop policy recommendations to reduce and eliminate where possible the waste occurring during the distribution and the consumption of food in Qatar

SAFE-Q is run by an international team of researchers from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Cranfield University (UK), Brunel University (UK), University of Bradford (UK), and Western Sydney University (Australia) collaborating on factors driving food waste and how they can be mitigating to reduce and eliminate where possible the food waste. The SAFE-Q project is running from January 2015 to January 2018 and over the course of the project the researchers have collaborated with many organisations in Qatar, including but not limited to EcoMENA, Hamad bin Khalifa University, United Nations Environment Programme.

Why should you care?

Qatar is located in a region that has a limited capacity to be self-sustaining in food as much of the country consists of low, barren plains that are covered with sand and subject to intense heat over dry and humid seasons. Although recent efforts to grow food locally have proven successful, they are yet to reach substantial yields: the self-sufficiency percentage is still in single figures. Importing 90% of the food consumed in the country, Qatar also faces a significant food waste problem originating from many factors: weather conditions, poor demand planning, lack of logistics infrastructure, consumption habits, and so on. Whilst the agricultural capacity in the country is being increased to improve food security, there is something else we can do: identify the factors relevant to food waste and quantify them.

The SAFE-Q research team conducted 64 interviews with food chain actors such as farmers, importers, distributors, retailers, hotels, and catering businesses as well as consumers and employees of governmental and non-governmental organisations over the past two years and identified 61 factors related to food waste. All these factors and their definitions can be found on https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/safeq/factors-relevant-to-food-waste/

What do we expect to achieve?

SAFE-Q contributes to the implementation of the “Qatar National Vision 2030”, focusing on the long-term sustainability of the food supply chains. We expect to better understand the organisational and social influences that can promote food security in Qatar as it is on its path to set an example for the rest of the countries in the region in their efforts to become more sustainable and improve their food security.

food-waste-project-qatar

There are many factors driving food waste and we understand them individually, but we do not know the interactions between them and the system-wide effects. With your help, we will quantify the relationships between factors affecting food waste and develop policy recommendations around them in a systematic way to reduce the food waste. Your participation in our survey will allow us to establish the strength of these relationships and inform policy makers as they prioritise their policies to address the food waste problem as an integral part of the efforts to improve food security.

How can you help?

Click here to complete the survey to help identify the relationships between factors relevant to food waste:

https://cranfielduniversity.eu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_7U8I9jiC5YgI5RX

We do not record your identity, please answer freely. We appreciate your support!

Do you want to learn more?

SAFE-Q research project has a website that is updated every two weeks and you can learn more about our progress so far and the results in the future here:

https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/safeq/

You can email us at safe-q@cranfield.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter @SafeQProject. We will be grateful to your feedback. 

Environmental Education: Key to a Better Future

environmental-educationTomorrow's leaders need to be equipped for tomorrow's challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit. As climate change is being felt across the globe and its long term catastrophic impacts have never been so scientifically clear, environmental education is the key to a better future. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, we should recognize the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue career in environmental and natural resources. And not only that: environmental education can help children perform better in social studies, science, language, arts, and mathematics.

Engagement at Different Levels

The secret to environmental education is to act at different levels, engaging the entire school and addressing students, teachers, parents, administrators and all members of the schools community. Eventually, it will link up all the participants within the community. The components of this initiative depend on interaction and participation, with teachers undertaking a guiding role by encouraging students to discover solutions on their own.

At first students should determine and check the extent of their use of natural resources in the school. Through this, they evaluate their efforts in the field of environmental management. 

As a second step, children should set up and run Eco Clubs. Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities. They also serve as a forum through which the students share environmental problems, along with the school staff, parents and the community surrounding the school, in order to work on finding solutions, and promote a positive environmental behavior. In this component the schools can implement internal and external projects, such as introducing efficient methods of irrigation, lowering the volume of waste, reducing the consumption of electricity and water and trying to reduce air pollution.

The third step focuses on organizing training courses for teachers and releasing educational resources in different themes and curricula, helping them to teach environmental concepts in innovative ways and through various educational materials. This will help teachers to adapt and to provide students with information about different habitats, biodiversity, climate change and other issues faced at the local level, as well as faced by the planet on a global level.

The final step should be to connect students to environmental causes and issues, and identify solutions through the provision of field trips. Additionally, such trips can be associated with the educational curriculum as they offer direct learning method. This helps boosting the understanding of various concepts by the students, and increasing the chance of using multiple senses such as eyesight, hearing, etc., which helps to raise their capacity to understand what they have learned. The success and engagement of schools to take on the environment field trips is great and extensive and it represents a set full of amazing adventures of exploration and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, the final and greatest outcome is to educate our children on the importance of becoming good environmental citizens.

Challenges in the Middle East

The Middle East region faces difficult natural conditions, and it is clear that steep population growth, poverty and the consequent degradation of natural ecosystems make it a priority when it comes to Environmental awareness and sustainability goals. One of the biggest challenges is certainly the lack of awareness. 

Most countries are blessed with high levels of education, with a large portion of the population pursuing secondary and higher education. Unfortunately however, human development and wealth are not always synonym with high environmental awareness and interest in sustainability issues… Jordan and Lebanon, for example, have their primary focus in tourism, which mostly contributes to their GDPs.

An interesting survey conducted in the Sultanate of Oman revealed that the environmental awareness of the Omani public was related to education level but also to gender and age. Males were found to have a higher level of knowledge about environmental issues than females. Males were also more environmentally concerned and tended to engage in more environmental behaviors than females. Younger and more educated respondents tended to be more knowledgeable and concerned about the environment than older and less educated respondents.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Another challenge that countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar are faced with, is trying to reduce their consumption patterns. Even though awareness levels seem to be higher than in other countries, these nations are notorious for their unsustainable consumption rates. For instance, KSA and the UAE’s water consumption have reached 265 and 550 liters per capita per day respectively, which significantly exceeds the world’s average. 

Participation of Emirati Youth

Educating the UAE youth and preparing them to lead the country’s sustainable future is the first goal in the UAE national environmental awareness strategy and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment encourages the youth to innovate and be part of global environmental efforts.

Recently the UAE has taken a major step including environmental education in all schools: back in November Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, announced that awareness of climate change and how to help save the environment will be taught in classrooms across the country.

Under plans to tweak schools' curriculum to include learning on sustainability, schoolchildren will also be shown how to take energy-saving measures. These include schoolchildren of all ages, including in private sector schools, learning the importance of turning off lights and air-conditioning when not in use, and how to use less water. Each pupil will also be encouraged to spread the message to their family and friends. One of these initiatives, called Sustainable Schools, is an extension of a program that started in Abu Dhabi in 2009.

As a consequence to all these efforts taken by the government, I observed an increase in the numbers of UAE nationals volunteers participating in our programs: we've usually had a majority of Indians and Europeans taking part in our tree planting events or in the anti-pollution awareness drives, but lately large groups of young Emiratis have come forward to participate actively in all our programs and we continue to receive many emails asking to become long term volunteers. This is one of the biggest achievements we could wish for the UAE.

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