Going global

25th November 2016

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Fiona Tutty

IEMA membership is growing worldwide. John Barwise talks to members of the expanding network in the Middle East

IEMA members and other environment professionals working in developed economies can always rely on regulations and a high level of public scrutiny to support their efforts to improve performance in organisations. This is not always the case in emerging economies, where governance and cultural priorities can be very different and practitioners face the challenge of fostering stewardship in regions where environmental legislation is evolving.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a diverse region where IEMA is increasingly active. The area encompasses 18 countries, the Palestinian territories and Western Sahara, and includes some of the world’s wealthiest nations and some of its poorest. Its combined population of more than 320 million is forecast to double over the next 40 years. GDP per capita ranges from $2,500 in Yemen to more than $41,800 in the United Arab Emirates. Some countries have large reserves of oil and gas, while others struggle to sustain water supplies. These features provide some unique challenges for members of IEMA’s expanding network in the region.

Host of challenges

Despite the socio-economic differences, a study by the University of Gothenburg identifies many similarities between the countries. Environmental and Climate Change Policy Brief describes MENA as one of the most arid regions on Earth, with many countries suffering water stress or scarcity. Other major environmental challenges include land degradation, desertification, coastal and marine environment degradation and air pollution, many of which are related to climate change.

The Middle East Institute (MEI) think tank recognises those differences in a study. Its Pathways to Sustainability argues that ‘economic growth, water scarcity, food security and health’ are the main challenges, with other environmental and social aspects considered secondary or even luxuries.

IEMA MENA is the first regional presence established outside the UK and is focused on building relationships and support for local members and key stakeholders, leading towards higher standards of environmental and sustainability management in the Middle East.

Harry Sealy, a principal environmental consultant at CH2M, established the network. The multidisciplinary consultancy has been instrumental in guiding Qatar’s supreme committee for delivery and legacy on environmental and sustainability management for FIFA World Cup 2022. Sealy, who is a Full member and a chartered environmentalist, has also been instrumental in establishing sub-regional branches in United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman.

At work

The UAE branch of IEMA MENA covers seven emirates and hosts the largest base for members in the region. It is led by Salma bin Breik, an environment, health and safety scientist at professional services company GHD. She says the group aims to support members by strengthening the links with IEMA in the UK and building a network platform to share ideas.

From an environmental perspective, bin Breik says the UAE is rising to the challenge: ‘Environmental management legislation and its implementation are generally regarded as more advanced than its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbours, especially in Abu Dhabi. Initial meetings with its environment agency have been very positive.’

The Middle East is experiencing high population growth and increasing urbanisation. The iconic Masdar City, built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, aspires to be one of the world’s most sustainable urban settlements. This high-density, pedestrian-friendly development, designed by British architects’ firm Foster + Partners, is intended to be a city in which residents and commuters enjoy high-quality living with the lowest environmental footprint. The $15bn Masdar development fund from the Abu Dhabi government includes 1.5 GW of clean energy capacity that will contribute to the emirate’s target of 7% renewable energy capacity by 2020.

Urban growth

Masdar may well be setting the standard for future urban development, but most MENA cities face more immediate concerns. Rapid urban expansion is adding pressure to transport, water and waste infrastructures. The demand for materials, water and other resources is also rising as construction work intensifies, which in turn increases the risk of further air and water pollution. Average per capita energy use and carbon emissions have almost doubled in the past 30 years, in part because of poor performing buildings, according to Karim Elgendy, architect and founder of Carboun, an advocacy initiative promoting sustainability in the Middle East.

In November, the Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) organised its annual sustainability week, which included a major conference and workshops on addressing the state’s environmental sustainability challenges and to help promote best practice for the built environment there, in the Gulf region and beyond.

Ecology consultant Dr Aspa D Chatziefthimiou, who spoke at the conference, says measures to limit air and water pollution are being adopted. ‘As a solution to dust emissions, I know that many construction companies use TSE [treated sewage effluent] to damp down roads on construction sites and piles of excavated soil, and lorries are washed before exiting sites. Some of them also use dust barriers. All these reduce dust emissions.’

TSE is also used to irrigate urban parks, as is desalinated water. Other measures to conserve wildlife are being introduced, including the creation of Doha West lagoon, where an area set aside for sewage is being turned into a wetland to support indigenous and migratory fauna, and native flora. Other rehabilitation lagoons are planned.

Management strategies

QDVC, a Qatari-owned construction company, has implemented a series of management strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of its projects. These include efficient waste management practices and green procurement methods. The company also promotes clean technologies and best construction practices, and has an investment programme in research, innovation and conservation of natural resources, such as water.

In 2009, QDVC set up a carbon-offsetting programme. After calculating its car fleet carbon emissions, the company changed its transport policy in favour of purchasing models that were less polluting. It also committed to voluntarily compensate every tonne of CO2 that was emitted from its car fleet and invest the money in a carbon sequestration research project in Qatar, which it continues to do.

With the support of Qatar University and others, QDVC is also engaged in a four-year research programme to develop algae production technologies for carbon sequestration (see panel, above). ‘The new collaboration between Qatar University and QDVC is focused not only on the production of various algae-based bio-products but also on how to solve pressing issues related to sustainable development,’ says Sheikha Athba Al Thani, adviser to QDVC’s chief executive. She adds that the programme is aligned with Qatar’s National Vision 2030 and that the technologies developed could be used for road or other construction sectors.

Transport schemes

Transport is responsible for about 90% of emissions of carbon oxides in Arab countries and is a primary cause of pollution in MENA urban areas, according to the Gothenburg brief. Other reports point to a rise in private vehicle use in recent years. Public transport projects under way in the Gulf countries aim to reverse this trend. The planned GCC-wide railway project, together with national schemes such as Qatar Rail, Etihad Rail in the UAE and local projects, including the Haramain Rail and Mecca Holy Sites Metro in Saudi Arabia, represent a major shift in the Gulf towards public transport systems.

Qatar Rail is an IEMA corporate member. In 2011, the company was given the mandate to design, build, operate and maintain the country’s rail network (see panel, p25). Qatar Rail’s environment and sustainability team aims to ensure that priorities are managed through the ISO 14001-certified environment management system (EMS), which helps to set policies, procedures, requirements and guidance for continual improvement. The company has won two accolades this year for its efforts: a Green Apple award for the built environment and architectural heritage and one from the International Safety Quality Environment Management Association for implementing a best-in-class EMS.

Giovanni Nacci, head of environment at Qatar Rail, says the challenges for practitioners in the region are similar to those faced by colleagues in the West, with one major difference: ‘A distinct challenge for the environmental professional in the region is to sustain a high-level of professionalism in situations where there may not be the same level of scrutiny placed on the industry from regulators, pressure groups and the public.’

Qatar Rail believes the prospect of the state holding the FIFA World Cup in 2022 will help to drive its energy and carbon management initiatives, and make a significant contribution to a carbon-neutral world football competition.

IEMA influence

In September this year, the UAE became the first Arabian Gulf country to accept the Paris agreement on climate change. Saudi Arabia ratified it in November. Martin Baxter, chief policy advisor at IEMA, believes this will set long-term expectations on countries to become more sustainable. Baxter and IEMA chief executive Tim Balcon have met members and key stakeholders in the region to set out aims and objectives to develop the MENA network. ‘A key enabling factor will be capacity building and equipping people with skills, competencies and capabilities to make positive sustainable change,’ says Baxter. ‘We’re in discussions with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs in Oman to support the preservation and enhancement of the environment through awareness-raising, skills development and capacity-building activities.’

Environmental management and sustainable development are gaining momentum in the region. The governments of the UAE, Egypt and Jordan began introducing energy efficiency standards for buildings and the Moroccan government has a national charter for sustainable development. Also, non-governmental and professional organisations in Jordan, Qatar and the UAE have set up green building councils and introduced ratings systems to promote sustainable design standards for new buildings.

According to Sealy, IEMA MENA has a crucial role to play in sustaining that momentum: ‘As a non-profit, non-political body of qualified professionals IEMA provides a unique vehicle to facilitate sharing of information, ideas, and lessons learned between sectors that may not otherwise have a forum to interact. This is as true in the UK as it is in Oman, UAE and Qatar. We have so much to learn from each other.’

John Barwise is a director at QoL.

Key considerations

The IEMA regional team in the Middle East and North Africa has identified several key considerations:

  • Governance – the UAE, Qatar and Oman all enjoy stable governance from highly respected monarchies. The method of governance is different from Europe’s, with different requirements, constraints and opportunities.
  • Environment – summer temperatures routinely range between 45°C and 50°C; there is a high density of mega-projects under simultaneous construction; a reliance on desalination for water supplies; and soaring migrant populations.
  • Standards – through well-established stakeholder public consultation processes, IEMA enjoys significant involvement in the drafting of environmental and sustainability management standards in the UK. By contrast, governments set the standards in the Middle East, with consultation typically between their departments.
  • Professional memberships – although often required by employers in the UK, it is not yet the case in the Middle East. However, governments are beginning to look for mechanisms by which they can set internationally recognised standards for personnel. IEMA’s work on mapping skills could help to support this.

Sustainable public transport systems – Qatar Rail

Established by Emiri decree in 2011, Qatar Rail was given the mandate to design, build, operate and maintain the country’s four metro lines, light transit system and long-distance passenger and freight railway (LDR).

The company’s environment and sustainability (ES) team sets priorities across business activities, including design and build, and operations and procurement. These are established by considering whether adverse or beneficial impacts have occurred in the past, now or could in the future.

A significant challenge is to ensure that key issues are regularly appraised and remain relevant as the company moves from asset creation to asset maintenance and railway operation. The priorities are managed through the firm’s environment management system, which is certified to ISO 14001. The ES team is also responsible for overseeing the production and implementation of environmental impact assessments for the construction and operational phases of the metro and the LDR.

In addition, the team provides environmental awareness for staff and implements office-based environmental initiatives. Over the past 12 months, these have included the introduction of paper-saving measures, the removal of small plastic water bottles, the fitting of UV screens on windows, the launch of a car club, and a beach clean-up.

Qatar Rail is pioneering the delivery in the state of the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) for sustainable design and construction. The operator’s 100-plus stations will be rated at least four-star under this.

Algae production technologies – QDVC

Earlier this year, Qatari construction company QDVC set up a four-year collaborative research programme to develop algae production technologies for carbon sequestration. Other organisations involved in the project include Qatar University (QU) and the Centre for Sustainable Development in the College of Arts and Sciences. The research and development team at consultancy Eurovia will provide technical support.

As well as carbon sequestration, the programme aims to produce algae-based bio-products that will contribute towards wider sustainable development goals in Qatar, including water and food security, environment protection and a reduction in climate change impacts. The study will aim to:

  • examine whether algal-product can be used in the road or construction sectors or any other industries;
  • determine suitable algae strains for production of algal-products dedicated to long-term carbon sequestration;
  • develop a laboratory-scale biomass conversion process of identified algae and test the products’ quality;
  • optimise biomass productivity and carbon fixation efficiency; and
  • assess the feasibility of commercialisation of selected product(s) and the potential for carbon dioxide sequestration.

A project board has been set up to monitor progress quarterly.


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