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These 20 sustainability actions reshaped the Middle East in 2022

The Middle East is at the cusp of a green renaissance. Here are the breakthroughs – from carbon capture tech to a stadium made of recycled materials – that reinforced the region’s sustainability goals

These 20 sustainability actions reshaped the Middle East in 2022
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Given the ravaging effects of climate change, there has never been more urgency for sustainable initiatives and energy-minded technology in the Middle East. The COP27 held in Egypt and the upcoming COP28 in the UAE accelerated clean energy initiatives in the region. Businesses across industries and governments realize sustainable development is indispensable to the future of the region’s economic prosperity.

The year 2022 began on a high note, with countries making ambitious net-zero commitments and realigning national priorities based on ESG guidelines. As 2022 comes to a close, we witness more ambitious green innovations and obligations.

“The region is at the cusp of a ‘green renaissance.’ This is not only evident in its commitments to achieve net-zero targets but also in the expected transformation of major industries like the construction industry, agriculture, tourism, and even the hard-to-abate industries like steel,” says Dr. Yahya Anouti, Partner at Strategy&.

He adds that the Middle East has two critical roles to play in the decarbonization agenda. “To drive a development path that is green centric — green industrial development, circular and sustainable urban growth), and accelerate the affordable and secure decarbonization of the world through offering green fuels and sustainable products.”

The prize is big. Green finance represents an opportunity for the countries of the Middle East, in particular, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, an estimated $2 trillion in cumulative GDP contribution, creating an estimated 1 million jobs in key industries and foreign direct investment (FDI), according to Strategy&.

Here are key sustainable announcements, innovations, and investments announced this year that will play a critical role in the future.

Reducing plastic use

Dubai Can, introduced in February, is a sustainability initiative by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai. The initiative aims to reduce the city’s single-use plastic water bottle waste by empowering individuals and enterprises. The initiative has reduced the consumption of over 3.5 million 500ml single-use plastic water bottles.

Middle East Green Initiative

The Saudi Crown Prince launched the Middle East Green Initiative to reduce carbon emissions and plant 50 billion trees across the Middle East. In November, he said the kingdom would contribute $2.5 billion to the initiative over the next ten years and host its headquarters. Saudi Arabia had said last year it aimed to contribute 15% of the $10.4 billion required for the fund’s clean energy projects.

Plastic pyramids and single-use plastic ban 

One of the biggest environmental hazards facing Egypt’s biodiversity is the plastic pollution of the river Nile. Reportedly about 4.5 million tons of waste make its way into the Nile each year. Environmentalists and volunteers got together in October to build a giant pyramid – inspired by the shape of the Giza Plateau – made entirely out of discarded plastic. Ahead of COP27, Egypt rolled out several initiatives, the biggest of which was the commitment to plant 100 million trees and reduce the use of single-use plastic bags by instituting a country-wide ban.

Food security through the world’s biggest vertical farm 

Emirates Food Catering announced the launch of the world’s largest vertical farming plant in Dubai, Bustanica, a $40 million joint venture with US-based Crop One, as the UAE continues to bolster its food and water security. The 330,000-square-foot hydroponic farm facility is set to grow more than a million kilograms of leafy greens annually, or about 3,000 kg per day. Employing 95% less water than traditional farming and saving 250 million liters, the vertical farm will harvest fresh produce without pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals.

Protecting Egypt’s coral reefs

Home to over a thousand species of fish and around 350 coral species, the United States Agency for International Development has committed up to $15 million to scale coral reef-positive blue economic growth and conservation finance in the Egyptian Red Sea in partnership with the Global Fund for Coral Reefs during the COP 27 summit.

Powering residential areas through solar solutions 

In November, SirajPower, the UAE’s leading distributed solar energy provider in the region, and master developer Nakheel teamed up to install solar panels across key communities in Dubai, which is in line with the UAE’s vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Building a sustainable city 

Oman’s sustainable city Yiti, a development by Sustainable Development Investment Company (SDIC), reaffirmed its commitment to roll out initiatives to support Oman Vision 2040 and the National Tourism Strategy by creating a green, energy-efficient city, which is people-centric. Reportedly, nearly 58 SMEs in Oman have also benefited from the job opportunities spurred by the sustainable city in the last two quarters.

Well-oiled biofuel machinery 

Among the ambitious projects in Oman is an agreement signed by Oman Oil Marketing Company (OOMCO) and Oman Aluminium Rolling Company (OARC). This agreement makes OOMCO the first fuel marketer providing biofuel in Oman and OARC the first enterprise to employ environmentally viable biodiesel contributing to a reduced carbon footprint. This is also a big step toward the achievement of the Oman 2050 Carbon Neutrality target, as biodiesel from the plant will reduce 4.3% of carbon emission, and OARC will employ B5 in its aluminum rolling operations as a quick fix to inch closer to its decarbonization goals.

Commitment to green hydrogen and renewable energy

Jordan has joined forces with Norway to learn from a global leader in renewable energy, signing several agreements in green hydrogen, oil and gas exploration, and renewable energy. The partnership will steer the future of the region’s energy sector infrastructure.

A 100% dismountable stadium

Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 will be remembered for more reasons than the headline-grabbing wins and upsets that marked football history. The World Cup has several sustainability initiatives, including Stadium 974. The 40,000-seat stadium, crafted by Spanish architects Fenwick Iribarren Architects, is the first entirely demountable stadium in World Cup history. The stadium, constructed with repurposed shipping containers and modular steel, is a relic of sporting history and sustainability.

Electric mobility network and push for EV adoption

There has been a slew of announcements from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reaffirm its commitment to sustainability. Recently, tourism company Red Sea Global partnered with Electromin and Energy International Corporation to deliver a carbon-neutral, electric mobility network to its Red Sea development.

The kingdom has also taken a pole position with several initiatives to increase the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in the region. Ceer, the kingdom’s first electric vehicle brand, said construction on the EV manufacturing plant at King Abdullah Economic City would start early next year. This is the second EV factory to be announced in IV after Lucid Group, a US-based luxury EV manufacturer backed by PIF, announced in June 2022 that its first overseas plant would be located in Saudi Arabia.

In a major push for electric mobility, Siemens has agreed to supply Electromin, the e-mobility unit of Saudi Arabia’s lubricants and automotive services company Petromin, with EV chargers for its planned development of a kingdom and region-wide charging network. Reportedly, the agreement will ensure supplies of Siemens’ most advanced EV infrastructure technology for Electromin’s network, including the efficient Sicharge D chargers that use direct current and the smart Versicharge AC wall or pole-mounted units that run on alternating current.

Carbon capture technology 

Saudi Aramco has partnered with US-based Aspen Technology to introduce carbon capture and utilization (CCU) economic solutions. The aim is to employ the new solution, based on a technology developed by Aramco collaboratively with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST), to address the identification of the most promising carbon capture and utilization areas.

First air capture plant

Saudi Arabia is designing its first Direct Air Capture plant and has set eight pilot projects in motion to test the use of hydrogen in the mobility sector. The plant that will capture atmospheric carbon dioxide is currently in the design phase. In November, Saudi Arabia announced it would be setting up a carbon capture sequestration hub with a capacity of storing 9 million tonnes of CO2 by 2027 in the first phase and expanding it to 44 million tonnes by 2035.

Carbon footprint slash for the construction sector

Real estate and construction make up for major carbon emissions in the Middle East. The UAE cabinet recently approved the National Building Regulations and Standards, as part of which the nation will decarbonize construction with a 5% reduction in carbon footprint. The regulations include sustainability guides for buildings, roads, and housing and a National Guide for Building Sustainability in operation and maintenance. The initiatives are targeted at the UAE’s plans to support the green economy.

Egypt to build $5.5 billion-worth green hydrogen project

Many Middle East nations want to become major manufacturers of green hydrogen, which could ultimately usurp fossil fuels as a key source of energy for transportation, electricity, and heating that combined create nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. In December, Egypt’s cabinet approved the construction of a green ammonia project with an annual production capacity of 1 million tons in the Ain Sokhna industrial zone.

Etihad Airways rings big on green miles

Etihad Airways operated a net-zero emissions flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Abu Dhabi via Sharm El Sheikh carrying delegates to Egypt’s Cop27 climate change conference as part of the airline’s push for sustainable travel. The Abu Dhabi-based airline joined with net-zero services provider World Energy to operate the flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) through a book-and-claim system.

The world’s biggest wind farms 

In another landmark announcement, the UAE’s renewable energy firm Masdar partnered with Egypt’s renewable energy developer Infinity and Hassan Allam Utilities to build the world’s largest wind farm. Upon completion, the wind farm would form part of Egypt’s Green Corridor initiative, a grid dedicated to renewable energy projects aimed at ensuring renewable energy makes up 42% of the nation’s energy mix by 2035. Reportedly, the wind project will save Egypt an estimated $5 billion in annual natural gas costs.

Futuristic, green living project in the kingdom 

Saudi Arabia’s linear smart city, The Line, is the most ambitious project in the Middle East. The futuristic city has announced that it will run 100% on renewable energy drawn from the sun, wind, and hydrogen-based power generation and will be the world’s first fully net-zero city.

Largest solar energy plant in Saudi Arabia

A giga-scale development in sustainable energy that will play a key role in translating Saudi Vision 2030 goals is the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in Makkah province. To be developed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the plant is expected to achieve commercial operation by 2025.

Waste-to-hydrogen plant

A project that will bolster the Middle East’s waste management needs is a plant that will generate hydrogen from waste wood and plastic. Developed by UAE’s BEEAH Group, UK’s Chinook Science, and Japan’s Air Water, the waste-to-hydrogen plant includes plans for an on-site green hydrogen dispensing station capable of fuelling several vehicles.

While the initiatives and announcements relating to sustainability highlight the extent of the commitment undertaken by Arab nations, the road ahead to a green economy still wants a galvanized approach.

“Our recent pulse of the sustainability agenda in the region revealed insights: priorities are in transition, and there is a lack of alignment in some areas between corporate ESG strategies and national ESG priorities,” says Dr Anouti. “For example, despite national policies and programs, water scarcity and biodiversity rank fourth and fifth place among the top environmental priorities for companies we surveyed.”

He adds businesses want clearer government policies and regulations to support ESG efforts. “In our survey, 86% of large companies said increased ESG regulation would strengthen and accelerate the implementation of their ESG strategies.”

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

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