Green initiatives in MENA make a change but long road ahead

Initiatives by companies such as Ford and Saudi Aramco help raise public awareness about environmental issues.
Saturday 23/06/2018
A farmer drives a tractor through smoke from burning rice straw in preparation for the next harvest, at a paddy field in the beginning of the agricultural road leading to Cairo November 1, 2014. (Reuters)
A farmer drives a tractor through smoke from burning rice straw in preparation for the next harvest, at a paddy field in the beginning of the agricultural road leading to Cairo November 1, 2014. (Reuters)

TUNIS - The Middle East and North Africa region has some of the highest rates of pollution in the world but environmental protection ventures spearheaded by private companies are seeking to reduce emissions and promote environmental sustainability.

On June 5 -- World Environment Day -- Ford Motor Company announced its 17th Conservation and Environmental grants programme to encourage awareness and action to protect the environment.

The programme, which supports conservation engineering, environment education and protection of the natural environment, provides $105,000 in grants for projects in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen.

The grant programme has boosted projects such as Morocco’s Go Energyless, which aims to create and produce low-cost coolers; the Tunisian Turtle Bycatch project, which creates locally sourced, hand-made fishing equipment to reduce the by-catch of sea turtles; and the Jordan Nature Ranger Programme’s conservation awareness project.

“With this year’s World Environment Day theme of Beating Plastic Pollution in mind, the programme will be including an additional special category to be awarded a $5,000 ‘beating plastic’ grant,” Ford said in a release.

In addition to Ford, whose green initiative has been met with praise and support from governmental and non-governmental environmental authorities, including the Arab Forum for Environment and Development and the World Wide Fund for Nature, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco has sought to promote environmental sustainability.

Through its Energy Management Programme and Accelerated Transformation Programme, Aramco has reduced overall energy consumption and increased energy efficiency since 2011.

This strategy is in line with Saudi Vision 2030, an ambitious reform effort overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz that aims to diversify and modernise the economy and develop public sectors. Achieving environmental sustainability, through increased waste management efficiency and reduced pollution, is a key part of this vision.

“We continue to make progress towards reducing the environmental impact of our operations through a number of means, in particular, the search for technological solutions to lower greenhouse gas emissions through carbon capture and sequestration, and research into advanced engines and fuel formulations,” Saudi Aramco said in a statement.

However, top energy providers in the MENA region have a long way to go to reduce carbon emissions, which is one of the region’s biggest environmental challenges.

A recent study by the Eco Experts said that seven of the ten most toxic countries in the world are in the MENA region (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Libya), a trend that will be difficult to reverse.

Jordan, which also ranks high in toxicity, has such bad pollution that drivers reported having to keep their car windows shut to keep soot out of the vehicle and pedestrians complained of inhaling poisonous fumes when walking down the street.

“The black clouds of smoke that blow from heavy-duty diesel engines are suffocating and killing people,” Maan Nasayrah, executive director of the Jordan Environment Society, told the Jordan Times in 2016.

High rates of pollution are detrimental to the environment and citizens’ health. A study by the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) at the University of Surrey stated: "Emissions in the Middle East and North Africa are responsible for 4.5% of global greenhouse emissions and the effects of climate change are already being felt within the area.”

This has no doubt contributed to the estimated 125,000 people who died in the MENA region in 2012 due to diseases related to pollution.

Initiatives by companies such as Ford and Saudi Aramco could help address MENA’s pollution problem and raise public awareness about environmental issues, even though many more initiatives are still needed, according to environmental experts.

Prashant Kumar, founding director of GCARE, said that while “it is not feasible to ask this resource-constrained region (MENA) to step away from the energy sector... a focus on improving public transport infrastructure, together with encouraging businesses to implement emission control measures could go a long way in reducing the deadly impacts of pollution on the public health.”