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Sustainable initiatives in the Middle East

by Michelle Konov

If you’re like me, you probably wouldn’t think of the Middle East and sustainability in the same sentence. There are a lot of hot countries and more air conditioning than you could even imagine. Because of the heat, driving is the go-to method of transportation. And, let’s face it, carbon emissions have doubled in the last 30 years because of it.

In recent years, sustainability initiatives are actually on the rise. We’re seeing this wonderful effort to be greener, which is likely to continue in the future. Projects aiming to reduce carbon footprint or restore the environment are cropping up all over the place.

And we’re here for it!

The Middle East Green Initiative Summit

On October 25, 2021, The Middle East Green Initiative Summit was held for the first time in Saudi Arabia. Its goal: to create of a regional alliance aimed at combating climate change.

As an “intersection of knowledge and capital,” this event was meant to drive investment toward more renewable resource usage and help foster climate diplomacy in the region.

This was the first event of its kind, as rulers in the region have taken more aggressive stances toward global warming.

Representatives from over 30 countries, along with envoys from a select group of organizations attended this function. Among the agenda was an area on the financial sector and how to finance the green transition.

Foremost in the program, was the desire for collaboration to help create a circular carbon economy. That’s basically reducing, reusing, recycling, and removing excess carbon – and is a really interesting concept.

The circular carbon economy concept builds on the principles of the circular economy, applying them to help manage carbon emissions. It’s an integrated approach that will help facilitate the transition to a more climate-friendly energy system to support sustainable development. (For more detail, you can check out this guide: here.)

Saudi Arabia has since established the Green Initiative Foundation to help support the implementation of these initiatives.

middle east green initiative summit, sustainability initiatives

Dubai: Zero Carbon Police Force & Expo 2020

Even before the summit, there were a lot of initiatives starting up in the region. The city of Dubai won the Climate Action Award in 2017 for its Zero Carbon Police Force initiative. Measuring and reducing its emissions, they became carbon neutral by 2020, making them the first police force to achieve this goal globally.

Dubai aims to be the world’s lowest carbon-footprint city by the year 2050, and has had a multitude of initiatives to help raise awareness for sustainability.

In 2021, they held the Dubai Expo 2020 (delayed, of course, as everything was by COVID-19). And, at the forefront of this was sustainability, reflected in all aspects of the Expo. Their Sustainability Pavilion was actually really great to walk around in, and I learned a lot going there. At its heart, it looked at new ways of living sustainably in a challenging desert climate.

dubai sustainability pavilion, dubai expo 2020
But these events are only the biggest ones we see

Smaller, more grassroots-style initiatives have cropped up all over the region.

RISE2030

Rise2030 is a Lebanese community-led initiative that focuses on the empowerment of women and youth. They aim to improve living conditions of those who live in poor areas through education and employment in the green sector.

Such employment can include things like training youth to set up solar panels and supporting local female-owned businesses.

They also provide aid in case of disasters, like the Beirut explosion that left a large part of the population without homes or food.

solar installation, sustainable initiative, disaster-relief
dar si hmad, nets, fog harvesting, sustainability initiatives

Dar Si Hmad

Similarly to RISE2030, Dar Si Hmad prioritizes women’s empowerment. They train women of all backgrounds to take on leadership and decision-making roles within their communities. And, of course, they promote sustainable development.

Currently their biggest project is the Fog Collection Project. It uses fog nets to deliver drinkable water to communities that don’t have access to it.

In recent years, droughts have caused a lot of communities in Morocco to go thirsty. And it’s not something that can be fixed with the snap of our fingers.

Dar Si Hmad took it as a challenge to find a new way to get water, and landed on harvesting fog. With a special net designed to catch as much water as possible from fog, the water drips down into a trough that flows into containers. Later on, these are what get distributed to local communities in need.

Al Ain Plant-Based Bottle

It might seem slightly smaller scale than the other sustainability initiatives we’ve touched on, but the Al Ain Plant-Based Bottle is something that we love to use! The Agthia Group produced this fantastic bottle which is made of 100% environmentally friendly material–including the cap!!!

It doesn’t need petroleum or its by-products, and uses 60% less energy to create!

The company says that it’s biodegradable as well as compostable. This plus the smaller carbon emissions is gold!

al ain plant bottle, sustainability initiative, al ain, UAE
Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, sustainability initiative, solar panels

Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

Let’s go a bit bigger, shall we?

The Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) is implementing The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. Set to be the largest solar park in the world, it’s supposed to have the production capacity of 5,000MW by 2030.

I had to do some deep-digging to figure out what that meant, so please bear with me:

1MW (Megawatt) is equivalent to 1 million watts. A refrigerator, depending on the model can use anywhere from 300 to 800 watts of electricity. (There’s also a lot about watt hours that we should keep in mind, as well, but that complicates things, so…). So, this solar park will have the capacity to produce the equivalent of 10 million refrigerators running at the same time. That’s an awful lot of fridges.

Once it’s completed, it should reduce more than 6.5 million tons of carbon emissions annually, on top of that!

skyscraper city, saudi arabia, sustainable city

Saudi Arabia’s zero carbon city: The Line

If you haven’t heard of Saudi Arabia’s skyscraper city, then you’re one of only a few, I think! Saudi Arabia’s crown prince announced this project: a plan to construct two parallel skyscrapers that stretch for 110 miles (roughly 170km). It would create a zero carbon city in the middle of the desert.

Now the catch is that they wouldn’t be vertical skyscrapers! They plan to make these mirrored buildings lay flat against the earth, even going through a mountain range!

They plan to power the development with 100% clean energy and house around 9 million people. With no roads, cars, or emissions, only a high-speed rail will connect one side to the other.

The news has always been incredibly negative, and we tend to see only the bad in things. Particularly with global warming, all we hear about is how it’s getting worse. There are small positive changes happening throughout the world, though, and it’s great to get to know a little bit about them. [Although perhaps a good number of them definitely can’t be called “small”!]

What’s one thing that you’ve done recently to help make your carbon footprint a little smaller? Are you taking part in any local initiatives? Maybe this is a good opportunity to take that step!

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