The Arab World: Towards Green Economy

Eng. Kavitha Krishnan
B.Eng, M.S, M.Eng, IES, LEED AP

The Arab World: Towards Green Economy


There is a growing awareness about the depletion of green gases that impact the existence of human beings in this world. Most of the developed nations and the countries that form part of the emerging economy have initiated necessary steps to limit the release of harmful gases or other toxic elements into the atmosphere that affect the planet and the human beings. These countries have realised the critical necessity to allocate material resources to transform their economies into Green Economies over a period of time, so that the future generations do not face a depletion of the natural resources and that their livelihood is based on sustainable development.

Green economy is an economy based on sustainable development, mainly based on renewable energy resources, green buildings, non-polluting public and private transportation, effective water management, waste management through recycling techniques and land management for productive purposes. All these sectors contribute to national wealth creation and generate job opportunities. These sectors are labour-intensive and stimulate the demand for products, services and systems that human beings use on a regular basis. For instance, waste management sector offers unique investment opportunities in recycling, composting, and generation of power for productive activities. Moreover, organic food waste, which accounts for 40-80% of municipal waste in Arab countries, can be used as a raw material to produce compost for agricultural purposes and biogas that can easily replace fossil fuels. Agricultural waste can also be used as a potential raw material for biofuel production.

The 2010 Arab Forum for Environment & Development (AFED) report has referred to the imminent catastrophic water shortage that will start impacting the Arab region as early as 2015. In addition, the impact of climate change in the region will multiply the risks of water and food scarcity, thereby putting at risk millions of people. Irrigation efficiency in the region also stands at a very low level of 30 %, as compared to other developing nations, often to produce low-value crops that require large quantities of water. The cropping patterns and the agricultural activities including the different techniques should be changed to produce more with less water, even if this eventually means radical changes in the food habits of the population living in these countries. Arab nations should also do their part in reducing toxic emissions, through greater energy efficiency, proper utilization of oil and gas, and wider usage of renewable energy.

It is an accepted fact the world over that with well planned development including through integrated planning and management approaches, the societies can become economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies. In this regard, the need for a holistic approach to urban development and human settlements that provide for affordable housing and infrastructure. Now, it is necessary to accentuate some key findings of the AFED on Green Economy, relating to certain selected sectors:


AFED report estimates that Arab countries will need to allocate at least 1.5% of their combined GDP annually towards providing clean sanitation, water supply infrastructure, innovative water conservation measures, and recycling technologies that will meet the expected rise in water consumption / demand. This would require US$28 billion annually. Such green investments will help in developing not only the infrastructure but also create jobs in both rural and urban regions, on a continuous basis.


Shifting to sustainable agricultural practices is expected to result in enormous savings to Arab countries, of between 5-6% of their GDP as a result of increased water management and protected environmental resources. This amounts to US$114 billion annually, and thousands of jobs will be created in rural areas, where 76% of the poor in the Arab region live. This will in turn provide a regular source of income for the people, who are otherwise dependant on the government subsidies and the vagaries of the weather.


An investment of US$100 billion annually in renewable energy is expected to create about 565,000 new jobs. A reduction in average per capita consumption of electricity in Arab countries to the world average, through energy efficiency measures, would generate a savings of US$73 billion annually. A 25% reduction in energy subsidies would free up over $100 billion over a three year period that can be transferred to green energy projects and millions of jobs can be added further.


Public transport systems and vehicle fuel efficiency standards have to be established. 50% greening of the Arab transport sector will generate a savings of US$23 billion annually, which could again be used for research and development purposes.


AFED report estimates that spending US$100 billion, over the next ten years, in greening only 20% of the existing buildings in the Arab countries, mainly for retrofitting, is expected to create 4 million jobs. If Arab governments commit to greening the construction sector, spending will have to increase by about 20% resulting in additional investments of about US$30 billion, and the creation of 10% more jobs.

UAE's Vision 2021

UAE is the first nation among the Arab countries to launch the green economy initiative. This initiative, which falls under the UAE Vision 2021 and under the Arab Green Economy Initiative, seems to be a natural continuity to the recent green economy initiatives in the UAE, such as: the building of Masdar City, the first green city in the world, the investment in the creation of renewable energy sources, including nuclear energy and the development of greenhouse and organic agriculture. The UAE has also become the centre of green buildings in the Arab world.

The green economy initiative consists of various policies, programs, projects, and legislation, in six major fields, including:

  • Promoting the production and use of renewable energy and developing standards for energy consumption in the public and private sectors
  • Encouraging investments in green economy and facilitating the production, import, export and re-export of green products and technologies
  • Planning of green cities, green building, and environmental-friendly transportation
  • Reducing carbon emissions from industrial and commercial sites, promoting organic agriculture, and maintaining biodiversity and the ecological balance in the uae
  • Regulating the use of water resources, electricity, and natural resources, recycling water and promoting environmental education
  • Developing green technology, while its first phase includes carbon capture and conversion of water into energy.
On January 15, 2012, H.H. Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the launch of a long-term national initiative to build green economy in the UAE under the slogan "A green economy for sustainable development". This initiative's aims are threefold:

  • To make the UAE one of the global pioneers in green economy
  • A hub for exporting and re-exporting green products and technologies and
  • A country preserving a sustainable environment that supports long-term economic growth.

H.H. Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum said that "our goal from this national initiative is clear, that is, to build an economy that protects the environment as well as an environment that supports the growth of the economy. We in the UAE, within the vision 2021, are striving to build a diversified economy based on knowledge and innovation, through which we can provide excellent employment opportunities to our citizens. Through this, we can protect our natural and environmental resources, and strengthen our competitive position in global markets, especially in the areas of renewable energy products and technologies on the green economy." He added that "we are serious about the transformation of our development process to reach the first position on the global level. During the next nine years and up to the year 2021 we will launch a range of initiatives and projects in all areas to achieve our goal".

The Arab Green Economy Initiative

The Arab Green Economy Initiative was presented for the first time by Najib Sa'ab, the Secretary General of the AFED. According to Najib Sa'ab, the Arab Green Economy Initiative aims at "transitioning from virtual economy based on real estate and financial speculation and depletion of resources, to the real economy based on sustainable growth combined with productive investment which creates new job opportunities". Najib Sa'ab said that the Arab development agendas are facing demanding challenges, as population grows fast and rapid economic growth places a strain on the institutional capacities and the limited natural resources, such as water. He added that "Arab economies are requested to provide gainful employment to tens of millions over the next 10 years, alleviate poverty, address food and water security risks, drive economic growth, and adapt to climate change". Sa'ab emphasized that these challenges demand strong action by Arab governments guided by a bold vision and concluded that a shift to a green economy can bolster the region's economic competitiveness and diversify national incomes, while maintaining social stability, cultural identity, and environmental sustainability.

Arab economies impede the development of Green Initiatives, to unsustainable depletion of renewable natural resources, motivated by short-term gains, causing irreparable environmental damage to scarce agricultural land and water resources while discounting the value of these resources to future generations. Making the transition to green development is not a one-time event that can be achieved by a single high level decision, within a limited timeframe. Rather, it must be viewed as a long and arduous process guided both by top-down policy prescriptions as well as bottom-up public participation. This approach provides the political and social legitimacy required to ensure wide-scale mobilization of committed efforts to make the transition into a reality.

Therefore, it has only been natural for UAE to launch the green economy initiative. Hopefully, more Arab countries will soon join UAE in launching the green economy initiative, which has a great potential in many countries to boost even more socio-economic and environmental progress, while it has a good potential to solve many acute and difficult socio-economical and environmental security challenges facing the Arab world. Thus, future possible implementation of the green economy initiative in more Arab countries might shift the whole regional economy throughout the Middle East and North Africa into a green economy, which is much more sustainable than the current economy. Only through small concrete and effective steps that big progress can be achieved in the interests of the future generations.

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