3As: Awareness, availability and affordability of low-impact solutions critical to achieving net-zero targets
by – Chandra Dake, CEO of Dake Rechsand
If the takeaways from COP26 are anything to go by, we have entered a post-consideration stage in industrial decarbonization. In other words, we now find ourselves focusing not on whether we should decarbonize but on when and how. At the summit, many countries, including OPEC members such as the KSA and the UAE, have pledged net-zero emissions. In doing so, they have essentially created a clock, which is now ticking. Incidentally, the MENA region and its efforts will soon be at the forefront in light of the Egypt-hosted COP27 and the UAE-hosted COP28. So, for regional stakeholders, now is the time to measure the progress, reorganize, and ramp up the efforts.
However, volatility in energy prices and supply-side issues continue to hold us back from taking decisive steps Industrialized economies in the region now face a predicament between increasing fossil fuel-based production and decarbonizing. Fortunately, intergovernmental organizations, taking cognizance of the issue, are coming up with solutions to help stakeholders stay on the decarbonization track. The World Economic Forum’s Net-Zero Industry Tracker (1) , which provides a 360-degree perspective and standard metrics needed to measure progress, is worth mentioning. I believe such initiatives couldn’t have come at a better time, especially for MENA economies.
Challenges at the intersections
While there is broad consensus over the need for industrial decarbonization, the required actions run into implementation challenges. Due to the cross-sector nature of barriers, the aggressive pursuit of net-zero goals can run counterproductive to holistic sustainability. This phenomenon — known as “Carbon Tunnel Vision” — must be addressed, so that decarbonization actions can be reconciled with other priorities such as sustainability transition, poverty alleviation, water and energy security, the balance of trade, and socioeconomic development.
For instance, in the GCC region, most of the freshwater is produced by desalination plants. And two-thirds of the water produced from desalination in the region is from fossil fuel-based thermal plants (2) , which are both energy- and carbon-intensive. However, stakeholders cannot afford to drastically scale down these plants — not without widespread social, economic and political repercussions. So, there is a pressing need for common, cross-industry tracking mechanisms that can enable multistakeholder collaboration, where individual efforts do not detriment each other. This is perhaps where the World Economy Forum’s Net-Zero Industry Tracker finds significant
Having spent considerable time navigating the sustainability landscape in the region, I believe industrial decarbonization requires both primary and secondary interventions. The first order of business is raising awareness and ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page. Consensus is achievable when the case for decarbonization is underpinned by a scientific rationale. In addition, the tracking mechanism should be data-driven, with relevant KPIs for periodic measurement of progress. The resulting insights and reportage can be used to raise awareness and achieve consensus across the board.
Awareness often begets action, which, in turn, brings new variables into the equation. For starters, concrete actions require the availability of low-emission solutions that are predicated on the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability. In other words, for any solution to be considered actionable and plausible, it should characterize environmentally responsible sourcing and processes, accessibility across the socio-economic strata, and affordability. Such solutions can generate the required multistakeholder participation and investments for quantifiable industrial decarbonization.
Oil and gas industries, which are the mainstay of GCC economies, will require methodical decarbonization approaches. Primarily, the aim is to increase operational efficiencies and optimize resource utilization. Secondarily, policy-led efforts should be made to electrify key sectors such as transportation and logistics. Less fossil fuel consumption will help regional economies reduce their footprint. In long-value-chain sectors such as retail, conscious efforts must be made to quantify the footprint across a product/service life cycle, before formulating targeted decarbonization actions.
At Dake Rechsand, we have explored use cases of our low-emission solutions in secondary interventions pertaining to desalination plants. Our solutions, including the Breathable Sand and IDer rainwater harvesting systems, were developed to specifically address acute water scarcity, which is creating an unsustainable reliance on carbon-intensive desalination plants. Breathable Sand reduces irrigation requirements by up to 80%, on average, while enabling optimal yield in desert farming; IDer finds application in decentralized rainwater harvesting and efficient water storage.
Our objective is to provide both the public and private sectors with low-impact solutions to enhance water security and, in doing so, reduce the load on desalination plants. Such secondary interventions will address the root causes, leading to lasting impact without a relapse. Furthermore, in this use case, the solutions are at the intersection of industrial decarbonization and water security — which can be linked to multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The confluence of interconnected solutions, their 3As, and common frameworks such as the World