10 key facts around International Day of clean air for blue skies

01 SEP 2020

The UN has designated September 7 as the International Day of clean air for blue skies, with short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) among those pollutants most linked with both adverse health effects and near-term warming of the planet. 

SLCPs can persist in the atmosphere for a few days or a few decades, so reducing them can have an almost immediate health and climate benefits for those living in places where levels fall. 

These pollutants are responsible for about one-third of deaths from stroke, chronic respiratory disease, and lung cancer, as well as one quarter of heart attack deaths. Ground-level ozone, produced from the interaction of many different pollutants in sunlight, can also cause asthma and chronic respiratory illnesses.

Аir pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally, with an estimated 6.5 million premature deaths across the world in 2016 attributed to indoor and outdoor air pollution. 

Air pollution disproportionately affects women, children and the elderly, especially in low-income populations as they are often exposed to high levels of ambient air pollution and indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with wood fuel and kerosene.

Society bears a high cost of air pollution due to the negative impacts on the economy, work productivity, healthcare costs and tourism, among others. 

In the absence of aggressive intervention, the number of premature deaths resulting from ambient air pollution is estimated to increase by more than 50 percent by 2050.

UN Member States recognize the need to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination by 2030, as well as to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management by 2030.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which outlines a road map to achieving sustainable development, environmental protection and prosperity for all, recognizes that air pollution abatement is important to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Countries have committed to promoting sustainable development policies that support healthy air quality in the context of sustainable cities and human settlements


01 SEP 2020

How the Middle East is using technology to go green

Energy systems around the world are undergoing fundamental transformations that will change the world as we know it.

The pace of change is accelerating significantly as more people, societies and governments become aware of the extent of damage that the emissions from fossil fuels have on our environment.

The Middle East and Africa are ideally placed to be at the forefront of this energy and technological revolution, but further bold leadership, investment, and decisiveness are required to capture the potential that this transformation will provide.

Renewables are expected to provide about 30 percent of global power demand in 2023, up from 24 percent in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency. That pace needs to pick up even more if we truly want to mitigate the effects of global warming.

As the cost of renewable energy drops, it becomes a more viable competitor to conventional energy production.

According to IRENA, solar photovoltaic prices based on competitive procurement could average US$0.039 per kilowatt-hour for projects commissioned next year, down 42 percent compared with last year and more than 20 percent less than the cheapest fossil-fuel competitor.

We have already seen record-low auction prices for solar PV systems in the UAE, Chile, Ethiopia, Mexico, Peru and Saudi Arabia, where values were as low as US$0.03/kWh.

Though each country is at a different stage in the energy transition journey, the ultimate goal is for zero emissions and 100 percent clean energy.

Such a transformation will not happen overnight and not all countries can realistically move straight to renewables.

We need to act now, accept interim solutions, always with the overarching goal in mind: creating a reliable, cheap and carbon dioxide-free energy supply for all people.

Coal currently accounts for around 40 percent of the world’s energy production. A shift from coal to gas can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Gas technology will play a fundamental role in energy transition to balance the fluctuating supply of renewable energy and stabilise electricity grids.

Gas turbines are a sustainable investment, running with natural gas now and with carbon-neutral hydrogen in the future. Industrial gas turbines can already today co-fire up to 60 percent of green hydrogen with modern dry low emission combustion systems.

Greater incentives from governments and partnerships with the private sector would help propel our transition towards a greener world. While some countries are still in the early phases of their energy transition, switching to cleaner gas burning for electricity as opposed to coal or oil burning, others are way ahead, proving the feasibility of renewable projects and new energy projects with industrial-scale projects.

The UAE is breaking ground with its green hydrogen project, the first in the Mena region. This collaboration between Siemens Energy, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and Expo 2020 Dubai, will be the region’s first solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis plant.

Covering an area of 10,000 square meters, the plant aims to test and showcase an integrated megawatt-scale system to produce hydrogen using solar PV cells, store the gas and then use it for re-electrification, mobility or other industrial uses.

The UAE is using advanced technology to help reduce emissions and improve efficiency. A recent control system upgrade at Dewa’s Jebel Ali power plant, combining a digital twin with artificial intelligence, is ensuring that the gas turbines undergo constant performance rejuvenation.

This makes it possible, for the first time, to compensate for age-related performance losses in real time. As a result, the performance of the turbines has been increased by up to 3.5 megawatts each, and nitrogen oxide emissions have fallen by as much as 10 percent.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, is another big regional player looking to diversify away from oil and move into the green hydrogen business. Its futuristic megacity of NEOM is set to be the world’s most advanced energy hub, which will be fully powered by renewable energy, with forward-looking storage and transport solutions.

In the interim, the kingdom is looking at gas solutions as it invests and puts into effect technology to upgrade its existing turbines and enable them to use gas and eventually hydrogen, instead of crude oil for fuel.

These are promising changes that are shaping the future of energy and the transformation to a greener world.

By Dietmar Siersdorfer / Middle East and UAE Managing Director, Siemens Energy


26 OCT 2020

Former Unilever Chief: Pre-COVID Return is Not an Option

Failure to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic would be a “tragedy” and have catastrophic consequences for humanity, Paul Polman, former chief executive of Unilever, and a long-term campaigner for sustainable business practices, said during the first-ever ADSW Web Series this month. 

“COVID has shown that we cannot have healthy people on an unhealthy planet,” Polman said on the online seminar. COVID-19 has demonstrated the dangers of encroaching on the environment and threatening biodiversity through “the mixing of our wild life increasingly with our human life,” which has caused a series of health incidents, culminating in the pandemic, he said.

Polman, co-founder and Chair of IMAGINE, a for-benefit company and foundation that mobilizes business leaders around the UN Global Goals, was speaking on the inaugural ADSW Web Series, a year-round platform dedicated to continuing the dialogue around sustainability.. Hosted by Masdar, the ADSW Web Series discusses critical, relevant topics key to accelerating the world’s sustainable development and delivering a green recovery. 

The global response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis had failed to adequately address climate change issues, with less than 3 percent of total investment going on greening economies, Polman argued.

“We missed a huge opportunity: a lot of money was spent to keep the banks afloat but people felt that banks were too big to fail and that people were too small to matter,” he said. 

In the wake of COVID-19, “to simply go back to where we came from is not an option” as life pre-pandemic “wasn’t working,” Polman told the online audience. “Mother Nature is sending us the invoices,” he stated. 

“The biggest risk I see right now” is for governments to declare they have already spent too much money on tackling COVID-19 issues, and can’t afford to address climate change, he said. Failure to raise capital flows into green markets would be a tragedy, Polman declared, adding that “the cost of acting is significantly lower than the cost of not acting.” 

In his decade as CEO at Unilever, Polman oversaw the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, with the company championing brands that support positive change for people and the planet. In 2018, Unilever said its 28 Sustainable Living brands grew 69 percent faster than the rest of its brands, while delivering 75 percent of the company’s overall growth. 

Total shareholder returns over his tenure was almost 300 percent, Polman said, “well above the market” but the company hadn’t prioritized this, he added, but had focused on other measures. 

Businesses need to be aware that there are enormous costs of not being in balance with the planet, Polman said. “Business depends on nature for many of its activities – in fact nature provides around US$125 trillion of services, but we don’t pay for it, we don’t value it, we destroy nature, these costs are coming back in the business,” he declared. 


29 SEP 2020

10 key facts about World Food Day

By United Nations & the Food and Agriculture Organization

  • World Food Day 2020 takes place on October 16 – this year’s event marks the 75th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 
  • World Food Day is one of the most celebrated days of the UN calendar, with hundreds of events and outreach activities taking place across 150 countries. 
  • This year, almost 690 million people are hungry, up 10 million since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic could add as many as 132 million people to this number, depending on the economic growth scenario.
  • Over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. The global population is expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050.
  • The impact of malnutrition in all its forms - undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, as well as overweight and obesity - on the global economy is estimated at US$3.5 trillion per year.
  • A steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people's livelihoods.
  • Today, just nine plant species account for 66 percent of total crop production, despite the fact that there are at least 30, 000 edible plants. 
  • Our future food systems need to provide affordable and healthy diets for all and decent livelihoods for food system workers, while preserving natural resources and tackling challenges such as climate change.
  • Approximately 14 percent of food produced for human consumption is lost each year before it reaches the wholesale market. More food is wasted at the retail food and consumer stages.
  • 10. Over 3 billion people in the world lack internet access, most of them living in rural and remote areas. Smallholder farmers need greater access to finance, training, innovation and technology.