Sustainability Times – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 28 Nov 2021 06:27:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Are the Renewables Initiatives of the Arab Oil Producers of the Gulf a Game Changer or just Greenwashing? Tue, 05 Oct 2021 04:02:13 +0000 By Anna Schneider

( Sustainability Times) – Major oil-producing countries in the Arabian Gulf have lately committed to reducing their carbon emissions in the face of global climate change. In 2015, five major governments pledged to reduce carbon emissions, but none of those nations were major oil producers. This August, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially claimed it may hit a “net-zero” target for carbon emissions, according to Forbes.

The Middle East is already in the midst of a climate crisis and remains one of the most water-stressed regions in the world. Temperature increases have made and will continue to make many Middle Eastern cities, particularly those in the Arabian Gulf, unlivable and could send them into further drought.

Yet, climate action has not been a priority for oil-producing countries. Until now, that is.

Across the planet, nations have seen the effects of climate change. Greece, Turkey, and Italy were devastated by wildfires this year, preceded by wildfires across Australia in 2020. Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands faced major flooding, killing hundreds of people. And most recently, southern states in the US experienced a devastating hurricane on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

While many other nations have made pledges to reverse the effects of climate change, the UAE’s pledge would be a first for the Arabian Gulf. Yet, some observers speculate that the UAE’s target of “net zero” emissions is unrealistic as over 30% of the nation’s gross domestic product is directly based upon oil exports and revenues. Today, the nation produces 2.9 million barrels of oil each day and is the third-greatest producer of CO2 emissions in the world, according to the World Bank.

The nation’s “net zero” approach also uses a production-based calculation, meaning that greenhouse gases emitted during oil and gas drilling are not counted toward its overall emissions. The UAE’s claims have also raised questions because of the high energy demands of Gulf nations themselves as they have some of the highest electricity demands per capita. Many of the region’s cities are built around car dependency, and 84% and 100% of people in the Gulf region live in cities.

However, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy has affirmed its dedication to “net zero” emissions, starting with its new clean energy certificate program to promote clean energy sources to combat climate change.

“These certificates serve as proof of electricity produced from a renewable source, declaring that each renewable energy plant generated and added 1-megawatt hour of electricity to the grid,” explained the National News. Abu Dhabi companies and individuals can then use these certificates to claim social or environmental benefits through the department.

Abu Dhabi, which is the largest producer of UAE oil, has likely not made this decision for the greater good of reversing climate change but as a geopolitical power play. After the sharp decline in oil prices and the disastrous economic results of the Covid-19 lockdowns, Persian Gulf nations saw a need to diversify their economies which rely heavily on oil. When the demand for oil decreased, oil-producing nations took a massive hit.

Since then, nations like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been working to attract foreign investment. With 44 countries worldwide committing to reduce their carbon emissions, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have likely identified a need to make their energy-rich economies more palatable to climate-positive nations. As a result, these countries are making the push toward renewable energy sources, such as solar energy.

Mohammad Fawaz, director of Gulf Policy Research Group, stated that “despite the Gulf being some of the world’s heaviest energy users, there have been significant advancements showcasing signs of reaching ‘net-zero’ goals. Indeed, solar farms, renewable energy projects, and energy strategies will ensure the Gulf improves its current state whilst also diversifying its economies.”

One investor in the UAE’s renewable energy is China, a nation that would be hard hit if the UAE cut oil production, as much of the Persian Gulf’s oil exports head east. China has recently acquired Alcazar Energy, one of the largest renewable energy companies in the Middle East and North Africa, headquartered in Dubai.

“The acquisition gives Chinese business a foothold in the Middle Eastern renewables market, which is projected to have $175 billion (£127bn) invested in it globally over the next decade,” said Energy Live News.

Last year the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) also cut a deal with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), in which the ADNOC agreed to grow its oil production capacity overall and increase exports to China, with projections of growth into 2030.

The Middle East’s supposed interest in reducing carbon emissions will likely fall short of both projected goals and a true, meaningful climate pledge. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have no vested interests in cutting economically viable oil production, but they do have interests in diversifying their economies.

If the alternative is greater oil production, their pledge to renewable energy is at least offsetting further expansion into oil. For the time being, anyway.

Anna Schneider is a Berlin-based geopolitical and economic analyst specializing in MENA and EU bilateral relations.

Via Sustainability Times

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By phasing out coal-fired plants — Now! — we can save millions of lives Mon, 05 Jul 2021 04:01:59 +0000 ( Sustainability Times ) – Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are driving climate change, which imperils the health of life on the planet and so harms us all. Yet the burning of fossil fuels also harms us directly by contributing to a variety of diseases, many of them life-threatening.

“Long-term exposure to ambient (outdoor) fine particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) is the largest environmental risk factor for human health, with an estimated 4.1 million attributable deaths worldwide (7.3% of the total number of global deaths) in 2019,” warn scientists in a new study, which provides further evidence (if any more was needed) of the health hazards caused by harmful industrial emissions.

In 2017 alone more than 1 million people worldwide died as a result of airborne particles that adversely impacted their health, causing or worsening strokes, pulmonary diseases and other deadly conditions. Needless to say, that awful toll is a clear global health emergency.

PM2.5 particles are emitted into the air we breath from a variety of sources from cooking to waste burning, the scientists explain.

“Sources include direct emissions such as forest fires and agricultural waste burning, windblown mineral dust from arid regions, and inefficient fuel combustion, as well as secondary emissions from atmospheric chemical reactions between primary gas-phase pollutant precursors,” they write.

“These precursors are emitted from both combustion and non-combustion processes that include residential energy use, on- and off-road vehicles, energy generation, solvent use, industrial processes, and agricultural fertilizer application,” they add.

A large part of such airborne pollution comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which causes large numbers of deaths each year, especially in China and India, where most deaths in the world occur each year owing to pollutants released from coal-fired plants and other industrial sources of PM2.5.

The authors of the study examined data from 204 countries and 200 areas within nations, and their findings are clear: the more fossil fuels are burned in a certain region or area, the more deaths occur as a result of it.

“Our results show that regions with large anthropogenic contributions generally had the highest attributable deaths, suggesting substantial health benefits from replacing traditional energy sources,” the researchers explain.

Part of the solution lies in phasing out coal-fired plants and other large sources of PM2.5 emissions, particularly in China and India where air pollution levels and coal use both remain very high.

“[The] complete elimination of coal and O&NG [oil and natural gas] combustion in these two countries could reduce the global PM2.5 disease burden by nearly 20%,” the scientists stress.

Via Sustainability Times

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Is there a climate link to Miami’s condo catastrophe? Sun, 27 Jun 2021 04:01:00 +0000 By Laureen Fagan | –

( Sustainability Times) – The tragic collapse of an oceanfront condominium near Miami has captured attention across the world, and the search for some 159 people lost in the rubble remains a top priority for rescue crews. But investigators are beginning to look at what caused the catastrophe too, and one possibility may be linked to the changing climate.

The 136-unit Champlain Towers South building housed people from across the globe, including a few dozen from Paraguay, Argentina and other South American nations. It rose 12 stories above the adjacent beach before it crumbled at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, each floor pancaked atop the next. At least four people were confirmed dead and, after nearly 48 hours, hope was fading for the others.

What has long interested Shimon Wdowinski, though, was what lies beneath the doomed tower.

Wdowinski, a professor at Florida International University‘s Institute of Environment, studies land subsidence – the sinking or settling of land that happens for a variety of reasons, many of them caused by humans. It’s a critical component when researching coastal sea level rise and planning for its effects, because in many urban locations the sea is rising as the ground is sinking.

Parts of Tokyo sank by 4 meters during the 20th century, with 2 meters or more of sinking reported in Shanghai, Bangkok, and New Orleans. Indonesia has planned to move its government center away from Jakarta because parts of the city have lost up to 4 meters since record-keeping began in 1978.

Wdowinski has studied subsidence in Mexico, Israel and other countries, using InSAR imaging and GPS tools to reliably measure the smallest motions over time. But Florida is his home, and he’s taken a special interest in Miami’s mounting climate challenges, including the frequent “sunny day” flooding associated with increasingly higher tides. Part of Wdowinski’s work focuses on how subsidence contributes to the sea level rise problem, especially along a thin strand of barrier island that’s been heavily built up over decades.

So when he heard the tragic news that Champlain Towers South had collapsed, he immediately remembered the building because of subsidence measured at the site during the 1990s. The land beneath the tower showed signs of motion as early as 1993, and was something of an outlier in his research because most of the findings for subsidence were in western parts of the Miami Beach area where buildings sit upon reclaimed wetlands.

Wdowinski and his colleagues documented structural damage and other findings because of subsidence, and published their research in journals including Ocean and Coastal Management and PIAHS. In this case, the land beneath the fallen tower showed subsidence of between 1 and 3 millimeters per year during the years of the study, although there may have been changes since and Wdowinski is quick to caution that it’s just one factor.

“When we measure subsidence or when we see movement of the buildings, it’s worth checking why it happens,” Wdowinski said. “We cannot say what is the reason for that from the satellite images but we can say there was movement here.”

Other considerations include structural damage to the building’s concrete, documented in a 2018 technical report posted to the Town of Surfside website on Friday along with other information about Champlain Towers. The investigation into the cause is likely to take months, even as the rescue and victim recovery efforts progress.

What is certain is that coastal communities across the globe are dealing with an increasing subsidence and sea level rise problem, and Wdowinski’s measurement techniques may provide data to help inform their decisions. It’s one way to detect at-risk subsidence sites and help prevent future catastrophes.

Laureen is a freelance journalist creating high-quality, informed content on international affairs, politics and technology. She is trained in conflict resolution and diversity, and has special interests in science and medical reporting, and culture and religion issues.

Via Sustainability Times


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How Renewables could Forestall an Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia War over the Grand Renaissance Nile Dam Thu, 29 Apr 2021 04:01:38 +0000 By Laureen Fagan | –

( Sustainability Times) – Renewable sources have the power when it comes to the energy future of East Africans, but they also may prove a solution to a complicated diplomatic and geopolitical problem.

That’s according to scientists at Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussel, who say that adding solar and wind energy sources to operate in concert with the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) would support the hydropower that Ethiopia is banking on, without disrupting the flow of the Nile River on which Egypt and Sudan depend.

Construction on Ethiopia’s huge hydropower dam began a decade ago and is now near its completion; Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his government began filling the dam last year. The US$4.8 billion hydropower project is meant to deliver 15,000 GWh in much-needed energy for Ethiopians, who are counting on that energy to boost development and reduce poverty.

But the Blue Nile also winds its way through Sudan, joining the White Nile in the capital city of Khartoum before flowing into Egypt’s territory through Cairo and then reaching the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria. Both countries rely on the highly seasonal Nile River resources for drinking water, agriculture and other activities.

The disputes over the dam now span years, with Ethiopia insisting that all parties stick to a 2015 deal while Egypt relies on a 1959 agreement that protects its water rights. Ethiopia refuses to yield and argues that it doesn’t need permission from other nations to chart the course of its own transformation, even as those water rights become more critical in the context of an uncertain climate future.

On occasion, the tenor of the three-way dispute has leaned toward threats of military intervention. Sudan now warns of legal action. Successive rounds of negotiations within the international community – most recently with the African Union – continue to fail.

What the scientists in Belgium realized after intense modeling is that “the sun shines brightest and the winds blow strongest” during the regional dry season, which means that Ethiopia could still benefit from the GERD hydropower while protecting downstream river flow if it installed solar and wind resources to take advantage of the seasonal shifts.

There would be less hydropower during the dry season and more during the wet season while still maintaining energy output. The water flowing out of the dam would be similar to the river’s own natural flow.

“Essentially, Ethiopia would have all the expected benefits of a big dam,” says Sebastian Sterl of VUB, the lead author on the GERD research published this month in the journal Nature. “But for Sudan and Egypt, it would look as if the Ethiopians only built a modest, relatively small reservoir. There are many such reservoirs already on the Nile, so no country downstream of Ethiopia could really object to this.”

Better still are the benefits arising from a cooperative approach that ends the regional conflict. Ethiopia could still become Africa’s largest exporter of power but reduce its costs and its reliance on hydropower. Sudan would decrease its reliance on fossil fuels, and Egypt would have more water when it needs it. Above all, the ecology of the Nile River would see fewer impacts from Ethiopia’s dam.

“You could call it a win-win situation,” says VUB climate researcher Wim Thiery. “The entire region would benefit.”

Via Sustainability Times

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On Top of Causing Deadly Global Heating, Fossil fuels cause 1 in 5 Adult deaths each year Thu, 22 Apr 2021 04:01:56 +0000

People damage their health in various ways and one of those ways is to continue to use fossil fuels. In 2018 alone more than 8 million people died from fossil fuel-related pollution, according to new research.

( Sustainability Times) – Researchers at Harvard University in the United States, working with colleagues at the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London in the United States, estimate in a new study that exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from fossil fuel emissions resulted in nearly one in five deaths among adults that year globally.

At the same time, mortality caused by lower respiratory infections among children under the age of five in the Americas and Europe due to PM2.5 exposure was also markedly high, the experts say.

“We estimate a global total of 10.2 (95% CI: -47.1 to 17.0) million premature deaths annually attributable to the fossil-fuel component of PM2.5,” they write. “The greatest mortality impact is estimated over regions with substantial fossil fuel related PM2.5: notably China (3.9 million), India (2.5 million) and parts of [the] eastern US, Europe and Southeast Asia.”

It has long been known that long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause or worsen a wide variety of often chronic conditions from pulmonary disease to heart disease to dementia in adults and attention deficit disorder in children. Previous studies have shown that even in some of the world’s richest nations such as the United States as many as 30,000 people die of causes directly linked to airborne pollutants.

However, the new study focused on harmful airborne pollutants resulting specifically from the burning of fossil fuels in various forms.

“Previous research relied on satellite and surface observations to estimate the average global annual concentrations of airborne particulate matter, known as PM2.5. The problem is, satellite and surface observations can’t tell the difference between particles from fossil fuel emissions and those from dust, wildfire smoke or other sources,” the scientists explain in a statement published by Harvard University.

The researchers for this study decided to employ a cutting-edge 3-D model of atmospheric chemistry for global surveys called GEOS-Chem, which has high spatial resolution that allows scientists to divide the planet into a grid with boxes as small as 50km by 60km with local pollution levels highlighted in each.

“Rather than rely on averages spread across large regions, we wanted to map where the pollution is and where people live, so we could know more exactly what people are breathing,” explains Karn Vohra, a graduate student at the University of Birmingham who worked on the study.

Their findings demonstrate once again how badly the continued burning of fossil fuels impacts the health of millions upon millions of people worldwide, especially in developing countries such as China and India with constantly high levels of pollution and huge population densities.

China managed to lower air pollution levels through a variety of measures, but several worst polluters have failed to follow suit,

“While emission rates are dynamic, increasing with industrial development or decreasing with successful air quality policies, China’s air quality changes from 2012 to 2018 are the most dramatic because population and air pollution there are both large,” says Eloise Marais, an associate professor at the University College London who is another author of the study.

“Similar cuts in other countries during that time period would not have had as large an impact on the global mortality number,” the scientist adds.

Sustainability Times


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Oil’s Götterdämmerung: Why Covid-19 could Hasten the end of Fossil Fuels Tue, 05 May 2020 04:02:00 +0000 ( Sustainability Times) – Last week the oil market took another plunge that saw the price of one barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fall 8 percent to $10.45 on Tuesday.. Last Monday, WTI crashed by 25 percent and rocked the market, yet the decline was relatively minor compared to what happened two weeks ago when oil prices briefly became negative – for the first time in history – bringing WTI to minus $40 per barrel.

With supply outstripping demand, it could well be that these severe swings in the market may be a reckoning of sorts of the oil industry – one of the world’s largest carbon emitters which has come under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint or disband altogether. Even if the oil sector is unlikely to disappear completely anytime soon, the Covid-19 crisis could still be the singular most important event responsible for permanently diminishing the prominence of oil in our economies, according to energy sector analysts from Goldman Sachs.

Several factors are at play that could help push the world towards much greater use of low-carbon energy sources, and with most things, it comes down to costs. Production cost of oil is higher in the US than in Saudi Arabia, meaning the low oil price could lead to a rapid decimation of jobs and oil wells in North America. Consequently, it will be very difficult for oil companies to return to their old strength after the crisis.

On top of that, researchers predict that demand for oil will spike after the global lockdowns come to an end, bringing a rapid rise in oil prices as well. However, due to lost production capacity, oil majors will be unable to fulfil the rising demand. The resulting gap in energy provision would then offer the greatest opportunity for renewables to fill the gap, greatly expanding their market position and firmly entrenching their wide-spread use in the economy.

What this means is that fossil fuels are becoming less attractive for investors, who may subsequently decide to avoid the sector. The recent price crunch has already changed the equation for oil exploration projects, with the lucrative returns they are usually associated with being wiped off. The same holds true for fracking, hitherto hailed as an alternative and viable way of producing oil thanks to large investments, high oil prices and low-interest rates on debt.

“The oil and gas sector is already a very much unloved sector by investors and in this kind of oil price environment, it becomes low return, high risk and high carbon”, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie told The Guardian early this month. As such it stands to reason that the fossil fuel sector has permanently lost its prestige. Not only have numerous voices called for a greater focus on renewables once economic activity picks up again, but the decline of fossil fuels may be exacerbated by populations retaining some of the behaviours acquired in lockdown, such as less travel.

Of course, none of this is set in stone just yet. But it’s clear that the low-carbon economy now has an unprecedented chance to become a reality as we emerge from this crisis. It’s time the sector carve out its fair share.

Via Sustainability Times


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