Middle East and North Africa at the crossroads
Energiewende im Nahen Osten und Nordafrika
The impetus required for a worldwide future-proof, post-fossil social and economic model will only be generated if regions which until now have not been engaged with sustainable development models to an adequate extent, if at all, can be encouraged to make progress in this field. In this context, besides India and China, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a strategic regional priority for Germanwatch.
On the one hand, the Southern riparian countries of the Mediterranean are known to be particularly impacted by climate change and the associated water and food security crisis. On the other, climate change is still a new topic on many MENA countries’ political agendas. They lack comprehensive mitigation and adaptation strategies, and regional partnerships aiming to address these issues are still in their infancy. In fact and up to this date, many Arab countries have focused on protecting their fossil resources and obstructing an ambitious climate protection regime at the international climate negotiations.
The expansion of renewable energies in the region and the development of integrated solutions to address climate, energy and food/water security issues – one of the objectives of the proposed energy partnership between the European Union and the MENA region within the DESERTEC concept – could mark a significant turning point and soften the region’s blockading position at the international climate negotiations in the future. Already, the impending energy crisis has encouraged numerous Arab states to rethink their energy plans and promote ambitious renewable energy targets through the implementation of various forms of renewable energy, mainly major solar thermal power plants and photovoltaic systems in the deserts and wind farms along the coasts.
Coupled with decentralised energy generation, large-scale centralised power plants could assist MENA countries to transform their fossil-based energy systems towards a low-carbon future. Furthermore, there are plans to export a proportion of the renewable-generated electricity to Europe and use its economic returns to further promote the renewable energy transition in the region.
In order to facilitate the successful transformation of the energy systems and capitalise on the opportunity to avoid the expansion of nuclear power in the region by harnessing its renewable energy potential, it is, however, essential to ensure that DESERTEC also benefits the local communities in the vicinity of the planned power projects. Centralised and decentralised energy generation should not be played off against each other, and safeguards must be in place so that most of the electricity generated in North Africa is consumed locally and not used for exports to Europe. A further key prerequisite is an equitable approach to property issues and participation. Against this background, Germanwatch is working to ensure that appropriate guidelines and sustainability criteria are developed for key renewable energy projects in the MENA region through which DESERTEC could evolve into much more than just an energy infrastructure project.