Egypt going green: Staying below 1.5 °C

Ahmed Kotb , Friday 3 Sep 2021

Egypt is stepping up its transition to clean energy as part of the battle to control climate change

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The latest report issued by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”, released on 9 August, was a wake-up call for immediate action to avoid what it described as the catastrophic warming of the planet as a result of climate change driven by increasing carbon emissions.

The report delivers the most up-to-date and comprehensive assessment of the climate system and climate change yet published.

Some 3,500 pages long and prepared by about 200 climate scientists, the report warns of more extreme weather events, including extended heat waves, droughts, floods and higher sea levels that will affect people living in coastal areas. It highlights the urgent need for nations to accelerate plans to decarbonise and transition to renewable energy resources.

Relying on fossil fuels for industry, transportation, and generating electricity is still the main problem, and the transition to renewable energy has been slower than planned in many countries, especially the major industrial countries and Asia.

During the COP21 Climate Change  Conference in Paris in 2015, 197 countries agreed to increase their efforts to fight climate change and  keep global temperature rises to well under 2 °C as part of the Paris Agreement designed to halt climate change.

This is still above pre-industrial levels, and the countries agreed to try to keep temperatures closer to 1.5 °C as a result. However, the most recent IPCC report suggests that the world is moving towards a dangerous threshold faster than ever.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the hot spots suffering from the negative effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, extreme heat waves, and worsening droughts and water scarcity.

“Most of the severe impacts of climate change will be affecting the MENA region in terms of scale and key sectors,” said Hammou Laamrani, a senior expert on water, energy, food security, and climate change at the Arab League.

He added that it was challenging for the region to mitigate such impacts, as there was much to do in terms of contributing to global mitigation and adaptation measures.

Adaptation is the process by which each country adjusts to the effects of climate change, while mitigation means reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that drive global warming.

The region’s efforts are improving, but there is room for it to raise its ambitions and contribute more to reducing GHGs, such as carbon dioxide, by the faster transition to renewable energy.

The region is heavily affected by the effects of global warming, despite its minimal contribution to global emissions.

infograph: Nader habib
infograph: Nader habib
infograph: Nader habib


Mohamed Darrag, deputy focal point for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, pointed out that emissions of GHGs in the African continent with its 54 countries do not exceed four per cent of the world total, with Egypt’s share at 0.58 per cent.

However, Darrag added, Egypt is one of the countries most affected by extreme weather events caused by climate change, and according to the IPCC, the Nile River Delta is among the top three river deltas worldwide threatened by the effects of climate change, due to the rise of the land surface, desertification and salinisation, and the erosion of the Delta layer.

“That is why the developed countries are required, according to the Paris Agreement, to provide financial resources to assist the developing countries in mitigation and adaptation efforts,” he noted.

According to a UN report, 80 per cent of the $100 billion the developed world promised to deliver by 2020 came through in 2018. IPCC says between $1.6 and 3.8 trillion are needed annually for transformation of energy systems alone between 2016 and 2050.

Egypt has received a total of $300 million from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), created as part of the Paris Agreement to support developing countries raise and realise their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards lower emissions, and has carried out projects worth billions on its path towards the transition to clean energy.

Darrag stressed that Egypt does not have a specific target to reduce its GHG emissions, because it is working from an ethical commitment towards protecting the environment. The country’s emissions are already very low, he said, but the effects on the country from global warming are a major problem.

Major threats

Laamrani said that the implications of climate change, according to the IPCC report, are going to affect the water and agriculture sectors severely in Egypt.

The report refers to water some 3,000 times, which is an indication of how important the future of water security is going to be, he said, adding that water security and food security are interlinked, and both are going to be affected in a dramatic way unless preparations are made to face up to impacts on water and food.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in Egypt, and modernising the agriculture sector is needed urgently for the future of food and water security, Laamrani said. “We are a region that suffers from multiple scarcities, so we need to become a region of multiple efficiencies to survive sustainably,” he added.

The MENA region is considered the most water-scarce region in the world, and Egypt is placed well below the international threshold for water scarcity, with an annual share of water of 560 cubic metres (m3) per person. According to the United Nations, a population faces water scarcity if the share of water per person drops below 1,000 m3. Below 500 m3 is considered “absolute scarcity”.

Rationalising the use of water in agriculture has been one of Egypt’s top priorities, with the Ministry of Irrigation announcing a plan to replace flood irrigation systems on 1.55 million hectares of agricultural land with modern drip systems that bring water precisely to crops.

Rising sea levels are also a major problem that Egypt and the region are facing. Global warming causes sea water to expand and icebergs to melt, causing a rise in sea levels.

The sea-level rise means beaches will erode more frequently, and this will affect settlements by the coasts and might lead to a loss of jobs, said Alexander Kolker, a water expert and associate professor at Louisiana University’s Marine Consortium in the US.

The IPCC predicts up to a metre rise in sea levels this century, with more severe scenarios predicting several metres if major iceshelfs become destabilised and melt.

Climate change is also leading to desertification, Kolker said, and increased droughts in many places, including Egypt. These mean there is a growing stress on the water supply.

People living near the sea or rivers in Egypt and across the world are subject to increased extreme weather events like flooding and increased salt-water intrusion. This could cause the migration of such populations, Kolker said.

The restoration and preservation of coastal systems are needed in order to prevent damage to coasts, and these can often provide economic benefits as well because the money spent to restore a coastal system can help to sustain the economies of such systems, Kolker stressed.

The Egyptian Authority for Coastal Protection is currently implementing several major projects aimed at protecting Egyptian coasts through investments, public and private projects, and infrastructure projects in coastal areas, according to a press statement by the authority.

The protection efforts are also contributing to the development of fisheries in the country’s northern lakes by working to ensure the quality of water in the lakes, as well as protecting the estuaries of the Nile at Damietta and Rosetta to prevent problems of erosion and sedimentation.

Other efforts are being made at touristic sites in coastal areas.

According to the IPCC report, it is still possible to meet the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C if collective action takes place sooner rather than later to reduce GHG emissions.

Actions

Yasmine Fouad, Egypt’s minister of the environment, announced last month that work was being done to ensure lower emissions in various sectors, increase renewable energy sources, and preserve natural resources.

Egypt’s commitment to switching to renewables and expanding its renewable energy projects is a clear commitment in the fight against climate change, said Maged Mahmoud, technical director and lead renewable energy advisor at the Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RECREEE).

“Egypt has made real and tangible efforts to switch to clean energy, and it has already reached 20 per cent as the percentage of renewable energy in electricity production is up from five per cent in 2014,” he pointed out, adding that Egypt is targeting 42 per cent of the total in 2035, subject to increases in the current rate of production.

The country has embarked on a major solar-energy production scheme that has seen the implementation of several projects during the last few years, including the Benban Solar Park in Aswan, which upon completion will be the largest solar-energy project in the world, generating up to 1,600 Megawatts (MW) of electricity.

A feed-in tariff system for renewable energy was also introduced in 2014, which is a special pricing system by which the government is obliged to buy electricity generated from renewable energy installations by the private sector at a fixed price.

Egypt then introduced a net-metering scheme that was initially approved by the Egyptian Electrical Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency (Egypt ERA) in 2013. Net-metering is a billing system in which individuals or businesses generate their own electricity using solar cells and feed the excess power to the national grid at fixed prices.

In the region, Mahmoud noted, the rate of increase in energy generated from renewable energies before the coronavirus pandemic was about 3,000 MW annually, but in 2020 the number fell by half due to disruption in production at a number of factories and their supply lines, especially since China is a supplier of basic components of solar-energy cells.

The situation started to improve at the beginning of 2021, he said.

According to the International Energy Agency, the growth rate in the world’s renewable energy capacity jumped by 45 per cent in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic, to reach a total capacity of 278.3 gigawatts compared to 191.8 gigawatts in 2019.

Mahmoud stated that Egypt is also moving towards clean energy in several sectors, including the industrial sector, with the availability of financing mechanisms and initiatives to serve industry and improve its productivity to become more efficient and sustainable having been introduced.

Many of these financing mechanisms and initiatives include conditions such as reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency. There is also the transportation sector, in which Egypt is implementing an ambitious programme to convert vehicles to work with natural gas, which is more environmentally friendly than petrol and diesel and contributes to reducing emissions. This is in addition to signing agreements to locally produce electric buses and cars in cooperation with international partners starting next year, as part of modernising the transport network to make it more efficient and more environment-friendly.

The industrial sector has many opportunities for financing, Mahmoud added, but not all manufacturers are aware of them, especially at the level of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The main incentive is to improve the competitiveness of Egyptian products to facilitate their export abroad through the more sustainable management of resources.

Mohamed Saadeddin, head of the Energy Committee at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, said that the industrial sector needs more incentives to increase its transition towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.

When the prices of electricity increased with the gradual lifting of subsidies on electricity, and at the same time the cost of solar panels decreased due to technological progress, this became a good incentive for manufacturers to seek to use clean energy since it had become more cost efficient, he said.

Saadeddin added that manufacturers need more incentives to reduce emissions through the use of renewable energy, such as the availability of loans to install solar panels with convenient installments over a long period of time. “We need more initiatives to encourage more manufacturers to turn to renewables,” he stressed.

Hoda Sabry, a banking and financial expert, believes that the present financing initiatives are enough to encourage manufacturers to go for energy efficient and renewable energy solutions.

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) and international financial institutions have introduced several funding initiatives to encourage the private sector to invest in green financing that covers resource efficiency, the circular economy, and renewable energy installation, Sabry said.

Green financing is available through international financial institutions and a number of initiatives with local banks, she pointed out, adding that there is also a project to reduce industrial pollution with the participation of many international financial institutions. These include grants of up to 20 per cent before and 25 per cent after the success of a project, she stated.

These grants and initiatives, Sabry added, include technical assistance and capacity-building to raise the capacity for financing projects related to the green finance involved in climate-change mitigation and adaptation such as resource efficiency, energy efficiency, and renewable energy installations.

There are other available initiatives, but the coronavirus crisis was a major obstacle in rolling them out because businesses were suffering and leading to less demand, especially in 2020. The situation has been getting better since the beginning of 2021, she said.

Government initiatives to reduce subsidies for electricity and petrol are considered a key catalyst for the transition to green methods and energy efficient ways to do business, Sabry added.

“Stimulating the market to switch to a more efficient and sustainable way of performance is a sound economic tool,” she stressed.

Going green

Green buildings are another way of achieving energy efficiency and helping to lower emissions.

Mahmoud of RECREEE pointed out that there are solutions for new buildings and more expensive and difficult solutions for old buildings to make them more environmentally friendly. The focus now is on new buildings, he said, with regulations ensuring that they are built in a sustainable manner from the beginning.

Mahmoud stated that there is an energy efficiency code for buildings already in place, but it has not yet been implemented.

He added that RECREEE is working in cooperation with the Ministry of Housing and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and a number of other partners and international financial institutions to design a pilot project to simplify the application of the energy efficiency code in buildings, in addition to searching for technological solutions available in the Egyptian market that can be applied to the buildings being constructed within the framework of the large urban expansion projects implemented across the country.

There is a pilot project in Hurghada implemented by the Ministry of Housing, along with another implemented by the private sector, the results of which will appear in the next few months, he said.

Mahmoud also said that this was in parallel with a EU project called Build the Middle East (Build ME) and another project managed in cooperation with a German company and the Egyptian Housing and Housing Research Centre on how to activate the role of the housing sector within the framework of national energy efficiency plans.

“We have already started cooperating with the Building and Housing Research Centre on developing an executive plan to activate the energy efficiency in buildings plan as a national plan,” he said.

Developers in the Egyptian market need to be more aware of the environment and the economic returns of environmentally friendly buildings in the long term compared to the initial cost, Mahmoud pointed out, adding that there should be incentives for those who submit models for the use of environmentally friendly architecture or green architecture, as well as fines for those who do not comply.

One development in Egypt’s transition towards green energy was President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s directive in July to prepare an integrated national strategy for the production of hydrogen in the light of the growing international interest in this green fuel.

Green hydrogen is hydrogen fuel created by using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, and according to Mahmoud it will enable energy-intensive industries to be more environmentally friendly.

The industrial sector, for example the steel industry, he explained, needs energy generated from hydrogen that can be produced from natural gas or coal, but if green hydrogen is the energy source, the climate-change impacts will be very different.

“The cost of green hydrogen is currently high, but its cost is expected to gradually decrease in the near future, as was the case with solar-energy cells which have seen a cost reduction of about 50 per cent over the last few years,” he said.

The Egyptian Electricity Holding Company and the German company Siemens Energy signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last week on the development of the green hydrogen industry in Egypt.

Nature-based solutions

There is an increased awareness of the important role of nature-based solutions in climate-change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

These solutions, Laamrani pointed out, include treating wastewater and preserving wetlands in many countries in the region including Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia. There are also increasing coastal-services projects for water preservation and security, and Egypt is one of the leading countries in this regard.

Wetlands, as defined by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, are areas of marsh, fen, peat land, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is fresh, brackish, or salt.

Such ecosystems have a role to play in adaptation efforts as a buffer against extreme climate events, mainly droughts and floods, and they also provide water for different purposes including productive uses.

“Ecosystems are at the heart of adaptation efforts against climate change in the Arab region, and that is why we need to take care of fragile ecosystems by increasing efforts to protect and preserve them and improve the quality of aquatic ecosystems, including lakes and ground-water quality,” Laamrani stressed.

“That is also why we need an integrated approach that takes into consideration the water, energy, food and ecosystems nexus to help the region better prepare for the effects of climate change and also contribute to the reduction of harmful emissions,” he said.

“We should make sure to put the ecosystems benefits at the heart of the economic benefits.”

Laamrani pointed out that there has been a profound shift in the economies of the region, including Egypt, towards the green transition, with an increased awareness of green solutions and their environmental and economic benefits.

“Egypt is on the right track in terms of the energy transition and encouraging the nation to become more energy efficient,” Laamrani said.

“We need to minimise emissions and improve our adaptation measures, as well as improve preparedness, by designing new cities differently and educating more people and institutions about the challenges and efforts that need to be made,” he added.

Laamrani noted that it is important to look into climate-change impacts across sectors and design solutions with the same approach.

“This integrated approach has the benefit of reducing the cost of investments across sectors,” he pointed out, adding that a main challenge was to move from a sectorial approach to an integrated development one where all sectors are all taken into consideration when designing policies and implications for other sectors.

“The energy transition is a difficult but necessary step to make sure we are contributing our share to the Paris Agreement and preserving the planet’s future without hampering economic-development efforts,” Laamrani concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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