Carbon Footprint of Electricity in the Middle East

Guy El Khoury

Despite the increasing global interest in renewable energy sources, electricity generation remains largely dependent on fossil fuels with approximately 70% of the world’s electricity currently being generated using coal, natural gas, and petroleum products. Coal, the most carbon intensive of the fossil fuels, accounts for the largest share of electricity generated globally, with 40% of all electricity generated.

Such reliance on fossil fuels is coupled with a relatively low conversion efficiency from fossil fuels to electricity, which averages 35%. The remaining 65% of the energy contained in fuels used is in effect wasted, lost as heat in power plant turbines and generators.

In this context, it is not surprising to learn that electricity generation stands as the top contributor to global Carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electricity generation currently accounts for approximately 50% of global carbon emissions.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, electricity and heat production are responsible for 41% of total carbon emissions according to IEA data from 2009. And while not representing a consumption sector, electricity generation ranked well higher than any individual sector, including transportation, which comes second and accounts for 25% of the region’s total carbon emissions.  Yet carbon emissions from electricity generation is not equal across the region. In fact, the top 5 contributors to carbon emissions from electricity generation – namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Kuwait, and Iraq – together represent 70% of the region’s electricity generation carbon emissions, according to 2009 data by the IEA, a share that represents approximately 30% of the region’s total carbon emissions.

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An Introduction to Climate Change

Wissam Yassine

UPDATED – Climate change refers to the current changes in the Earth’s climate patterns due to the increase in greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. The driving force behind this pattern is an increase in the Earth’s surface and water temperature. In fact, over the last 130 years, the global average temperature of the planet rose by 0.8 °C.  However, the impacts of this temperature increase on climate patterns in different regions varied widely (Figure 1).

National scientific bodies in all major countries agree that the cause behind global warming and climate change is the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and growing livestock. Climate models have been created to forecast the expected increase in the average global temperatures over the coming years based on current and expected emission levels. These models show that the global average temperatures are expected to rise by up to 6 °C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they have in recent decades.

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Sustainable Development and the Built Environment in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities

Karim Elgendy

In the western context, notions of sustainable development often refer to the need to adjust existing economic models in order to maintain better balances between economic growth and social needs, while protecting local ecologies and reducing the negative impact of growth on the global environment.

In the developing world, however, sustainable development takes on a rather different meaning. With the agendas of developing nations focused on addressing basic developmental challenges such as economic growth, water scarcity, food security, and health, other environmental and social aspects are considered secondary at best and for the most part a luxury that a developing nation cannot afford.

The Environment and the Middle East – Pathways to Sustainability – Volume 1.

In the absence of functioning economic models in the developing world, sustainable development here is not about adjustments to maintain balances. Instead, it is about using this economical tabula rasa to build the foundations of a new economic model in which sustainability and the environment are integral. One of these economical foundations is the built environment.

The built environment of our cities plays a major role in shaping the way we live and work, and given its relatively long lifespan its impact is long lasting. Our buildings determine how much energy we use to maintain thermal comfort while our infrastructures determine how much energy we need for transportation. It is estimated that 40% of carbon emissions worldwide is produced from the occupation of buildings with at least a portion of transportation’s 20% share being a consequence of the way our cities are planned.

Our built environment also influences our impact on the local environment as well as our collective health and wellbeing. Thus, as the cities of the developing world continue to grow, they continue to make decisions about the direction their development takes.

In the Middle East, the role of the built environment is becoming more pronounced as the region continues to experience rapid population increases and urbanization. Increased urban densities together with the rise of consumerism, have not only led to an increase in environmental degradation locally, but they have also meant that the region’s traditionally low energy use — and consequently carbon emissions– are set to rise and to play a larger role in global climate change.

But embracing sustainable development in the Middle East faces many challenges which prevent it from becoming part of the region’s development framework and its building industry practices.

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The State of Egypt’s Sustainability Agenda

Karim Elgendy

Two weeks ago, The English version of a leading Egyptian daily published an opinion piece on entitled “Our local ‘green’ agenda.” In his article, the author made a number of intriguing arguments that suggest that Egypt has a unique environmental agenda and a set of sustainability priorities that are different from the predominant global ones.  He also suggests that imported ‘green’ concepts fail to take into consideration ingrained conservationist behaviors that already exist in Egypt.

While I agree that each country must develop a local approach to sustainability which responds to its specific socio-economic and environmental needs, I found many of the author’s arguments to lack sufficient context, and was therefore concerned that the article could potentially result in an inaccurate representation of the state of sustainability in Egypt.

Cairo's Old City. Copyrights: Karim Elgendy

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The State of Energy Efficiency Policies in Middle East Buildings

Karim Elgendy

Energy use in buildings accounts globally for nearly 40% of global energy consumption and 36% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. These percentages are almost equally split in two halves between the industrialized countries and the rest of the world (Price et al., 2005).

Our buildings use energy in two ways; first, to keep our interior environment comfortable through cooling, ventilation, and heating our spaces; second, to power the appliances that we have come to depend on such as home appliances, lighting systems,computers, and other office equipments.  To reduce this high percentage of energy use and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions, both sources of energy use in buildings must be addressed. The first energy use can be addressed by improving the building envelope’s efficiency in order to reduce the need to condition its spaces (cooling, heating, and ventilating). This method of conserving energy use includes a vast array of passive low energy design strategies that depend on the building’s environment and context. The second energy use can be addressed by improving the efficiency of appliances and equipment used inside buildings including improving the efficiency of lighting and dissemination of improved stoves for cooking in rural areas. Continue reading The State of Energy Efficiency Policies in Middle East Buildings

The Arab World’s Opinion on Climate Change

Karim Elgendy

A pan-Arab survey conducted by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED)  found that a resounding majority of 98% believed that the climate is changing.

The survey sample which included a big segment of educated people (who more reflect the views of those nearer to decision making, than proportionally reflect the actual population mix) showed that only a small portion of 5%  said they did not understand what climate change was, reaching a maximum of 11% in Syria. However, 95% of those who said they did not understand what climate change was, still answered that they believed the weather was changing,  (Figure 1).  A majority of 89% also thought that this change was due to human activities, including excessive use of energy and depletion of resources, (Figure 2). These results clearly showed that climate change has become widely accepted by the public in Arab countries as a fact which needs to be addressed. Moreover, the survey showed that the skeptical attitudes which prevailed among some groups on the facts and causes of climate change, either denying it entirely or limiting it to natural causes, are decreasing.

Survey Figure 1. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

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The Impact of Sea Level Rise on The Arab World

Karim Elgendy

In recent years much of the discussion about the impact of climate change around the world has caused a mix of anxiety and fear about the impacts this may have on human life and the environment. Many detailed studies have shown by using simulation models the impact of sea level rises on coastal cities around the world if sea level were to rise by a certain degree.  These studies showed that generally speaking, it was low lying areas and river deltas that were most vulnerable, especially when these deltas are densely populated.

Figure 1. Relative vulnerability of coastal deltas as shown by the indicative population potentially displaced by current sea-level trends to 2050 (Extreme = > 1 million; High = 1 million to 50,000; Medium = 50,000 to 5,000 (following Ericson et al.,2006). Source Nicholls, R.J., P.P. Wong, V.R. Burkett, J.O. Codignotto, J.E. Hay, R.F. McLean, S. Ragoonaden and C.D. Woodroffe, 2007

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