Friday 24 May 2019 |
AFED Conference 2019
Environment and development AL-BIA WAL-TANMIA Leading Arabic Environment Magazine

Selected Articles
Sustainable consumption: AFED’s 2015 report and public opinion survey AFED
In 2009, an Arab Regional Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) was adopted by the League of Arab States. This was one of the first such regional strategies to be developed before the RIO+20 summit, which had adopted the 10 Year Framework of Programs (10YFP) on SCP. Consequently, the Arab Region moved forward and became the first region to develop and adopt a Roadmap for Implementation of the 10YFP on SCP at the regional level in June 2013. However, as is the case in most Arab regional strategies, both the roadmap and the SCP regional strategy are far from being implemented at the national levels. Development and implementation of SCP strategies in most Arab countries are still lagging.
The determinants of demand on energy, water, and food in the Arab region include socio-economic contexts, level of development, population growth, rate of urbanization, scarcity of water resources, the harsh climate conditions, and pricing policies. However, the region is truly heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic contexts, level of development, and per capita income. Other factors contributing to variations of level of demand include governments’ supply-oriented policies and lack of demand management. Thus, great disparities exist in per capita energy, water, and food consumption amongst different Arab countries according to differences in the preceding factors.
Over the past three decades, demand on water and energy in all Arab countries has increased dramatically as a result of increasing population and urbanization growth, improvements in the standard of living, changes in lifestyles, industrial development and efforts to increase food self-sufficiency. As most of the Arab region is among the most urbanized regions in the world, urbanization is another strong driver of demand on energy, water, and food due to changes in lifestyles and consumption behaviors.
These factors have made the Arab region one of the major energy demand centers in the world. Per capita energy consumption varies greatly between high-income group (oil producing countries) and medium and low-income group (non-oil producing countries). The per capita consumption in Qatar is 38.6 tons of oil equivalent (toe), which is the highest among Arab countries and twenty-fold the world average (1.9 toe). The per capita electricity consumption in Kuwait – the highest in the Arab region – is about seven folds the average Arab, and nearly five folds the world average. A Kuwaiti national would consume as much electricity as 13 Sudanese households of five persons each.
The AFED 2015 survey on sustainable consumption reveals, to some extent, the impacts of energy efficiency policies adopted by governments on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Only 42 percent of the survey respondents considered electricity consumption as a criterion while purchasing an electrical appliance. The lowest percentage of those who buy electrical appliances based on efficiency was recorded in Qatar (9 percent) and the highest in Tunisia (57 percent) and Jordan (56 percent). These results clearly reflect the importance of adopting Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for electrical appliance by governments. Similarly, 46 percent of the survey respondents consider fuel consumption while purchasing a new vehicle. Brand name and model of cars were the main purchasing factors in the GCC (countries with high income and very low fuel prices), at above 50 percent of the total. Fuel efficiency and price dominated as the main factors for purchasing a car in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq and Tunisia. The highest percentage of those who choose a car for its fuel efficiency was in Jordan (72 percent) and the lowest in Saudi Arabia (17 percent) and Qatar (16 percent), which reveals a clear direct relationship between car purchase decisions and fuel prices. The same survey results showed that the use of energy-saving lamps (like CFL and LED) is expanding in Arab countries, as 85 percent of the respondents use them. This indicates the wider availability of energy-saving lamps in the market with easy access to consumers due to governments’ initiatives. Saudi Arabia and Qatar recorded low levels of domestic use of energy-saving lamps (35 percent) due to heavily subsidized electricity prices. On the other hand, high levels of penetration of efficient lamps came from Jordan and Syria (95 percent), Egypt (94 percent) and Lebanon (91 percent). Over the past few years, these countries have undertaken energy-saving initiatives, including price reforms.
The Arab region is one of the world’s most water-stressed regions. However, the level of per capita consumption in many countries has inflated municipal/domestic water demands. The municipal water tariffs in the majority of the Arab countries are low, providing no incentive for the consumer to save water. Moreover, it seems that per capita municipal water consumption is closely related to the income levels of the countries as high-income GCC countries consume a significantly larger amount of water compared to other countries. The AFED survey results revealed that only 6 percent of the respondents consider low tariff as a main reason of excessive water consumption, whereas 77 percent are willing to pay more for their water consumption in return for better social benefits. Thus, governments’ worries of water pricing need to be revisited if enhanced social benefits are considered.
The AFED survey results indicate, interestingly, that 72 percent of the respondents are aware of the facts concerning water scarcity in the region and 77 percent are aware that per capita water consumption is high as well. Furthermore, ironically, respondents from countries of the highest per capita water consumption have high level of awareness (UAE has a high awareness level of 92 percent, and Kuwait (90 percent)). Though 90 percent of respondents from the UAE are aware of the high levels of per capita water consumption, only 50 percent of them indicate that they use water-saving devices at home. This result raises questions on the reasons behind it – whether it is because of availability of those devices in the market, lack of awareness on their availability or economics of their use, or a combination of all – remains to be further investigated. These results show, as well, that public awareness is not enough to change consumption habits. Governments’ interventions through demand side initiatives are inevitable to complement public awareness.
While many Arab countries are heavily dependent on food imports, the food consumption levels are generally in the upper middle range. Increased welfare is a major driver of food demand and changes in consumption habits in the region. So, Arab countries are experiencing a nutrition transition characterized by a shift away from a traditional, more seasonal, and more diverse diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, towards a ‘westernized’ diet that is high in refined cereals, animal protein, fats, sugar, and salt. Although the rate of under-nutrition and underweight, particularly among under-five years children, has been on the decline in some Arab countries, there has been a parallel dramatic increase in the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
Many harmful components of the Arab diet are also examples of foods that have a negative impact on the sustainability of the current food system and hence on food and nutrition security. For example, red meat is currently over-consumed which has negative impacts on both human health and sustainability of the food system, while fish and poultry are protective foods that are under-consumed although they have the potential to be produced in a sustainable manner with less impact on the environment. Thus, changing dietary habits is a crucial issue involving intricate social and cultural values and traditions. When asking the Arabs whether they are ready to change their dietary habits to protect the environment or the public health, the answers were surprisingly positive: 84 percent of the respondents were ready to do so to save the environment, while an astounding majority of 99 percent went for it if it would protect health, such as fighting obesity, diabetes and blood fats. Thus, a good approach to promote positive change in food consumption patterns in the region is to put more emphasis on the health benefits, as they are more easily noticed by the public.
Water security, energy security and food security are inextricably linked in the Arab region, perhaps more than in any other region in the world. The region is known to be energy rich, water scarce, food deficient, and one of the world’s most economically and environmentally vulnerable regions to climate change. This calls for the adoption of the nexus approach when addressing the management of the three vital resources of energy, water, and food. In addition, climate change, which is mostly driven by energy use and land use changes, is another challenge that would exacerbate the scarcity situation of natural resources. With a high proportion of arid and semi-arid land and scarce water supplies, alongside in some cases poor and unsustainable agricultural practices, the Arab region finds itself facing a food security challenge. With the current limited cultivated land in the region and considering the dominant method of agriculture being rain-fed, the region’s food supplies and agricultural needs are highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, especially incidents of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods that have been notably more prevalent in the region.
This strong interdependency between energy, water, food, and climate change makes it imperative that policy formulation becomes coordinated, particularly with respect to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. Conventional policy-making in ‘silos’ therefore needs to give way to an approach that reduces trade-offs and builds synergies across sectors. This new development has created unprecedented opportunities for fundamental policy changes in various economic, institutional, technological, and social systems. However, it is important to acknowledge that there has been weak or lack of real coordination in the Arab region in terms of policies and strategies for water, agriculture land, energy, and climate change. Climate change policies, in infancy stages in the Arab region, are still being fragmented between different entities.
Most of the Arab countries have had a long history of subsidizing energy, water, and food prices for different reasons. The long history of energy subsidy has been a major barrier to promoting energy efficiency and other sustainable energy options. Pricing water has been a contentious issue in most of the Arab countries due to perceived cultural and religious considerations. For example, the average price charged for water in the Arab region is about 35 percent of the cost of production, and in the case of desalinated water it is only 10 percent. Setting proper pricing policies can convey to consumers the real value of water and motivate users to treat it as such, driving them to increase its productivity and rationalize its use. In addition, Arab governments maintain their obligations to the social contract by providing low-priced food and other goods and services to the population. As a result, food subsidies are perceived to be important in promoting political stability.
Experience shows that subsidies in the region only promote wasteful consumption behavior, and do not help to ease the burden on the poor, as over 90 percent of the general subsidies go to the rich. A recent study by the World Bank show that low-income households in Tunisia receive only 2 percent of energy subsidy while high income households receive about 67 percent of the subsidy on gasoline and 60 percent of the subsidy on diesel. The same World Bank study showed that for food subsidies in rural Upper Egypt, the richest quintile received about 48 percent more in per capita benefits than the poorest group.
AFED public survey results underline the fact that the rich are benefiting most from subsidies in the region. They showed that the cost of food constituted the largest portion of the family income – over 10 percent for 62 percent of the survey respondents. In contrast, only 4 percent of the respondents spent more than 10 percent of the family income on water and electricity. Those who paid the lowest percentages for electricity compared to family income were residents of the GCC (countries with high per capita income and heavy energy subsidies). Furthermore, when asked about the major causes of energy and water inefficiency, only 6 percent of the respondents consider heavy subsidy as the main reason, while 43 percent think it is a combination of harsh climate conditions, lack of public awareness, and subsidies.
In their search to reverse these trends, Arab countries have varying price reform experiences. During the period of 2013-2015, six Arab countries implemented subsidy reform efforts: Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, and the UAE. In addition, four countries – Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, and the UAE – have implemented price adjustment mechanisms where domestic fuel prices are periodically reviewed and adjusted in accordance with international levels. An interesting response of the AFED survey, worth to consider while planning to reform energy and water pricing in the region, shows that 77 percent of the respondents agree to pay more for water and energy if compensated with additional social benefits such as education, health insurance and adequate pensions. Thus, if accompanied by effective mitigation measures, reforming subsidy regimes in the Arab region could be a powerful tool for governments to simultaneously address those very profound socio-economic grievances that have contributed to the outbreak of social unrests known as the “Arab Spring”.
In order for the Arab countries to gradually shift to SCP, every country, based on its respective socio-economic circumstance, needs to identify priority actions and enabling conditions necessary to facilitate that transition. These enabling conditions include: good governance, integrated policy planning, sound regulatory regime, use of market-based instruments, capacity development, access to finance and investments, research and development, public awareness, and green procurement.
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Boghos Ghougassian
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Financing Sustainable Development in Arab Countries
ان جميع مقالات ونصوص "البيئة والتنمية" تخضع لرخصة الحقوق الفكرية الخاصة بـ "المنشورات التقنية". يتوجب نسب المقال الى "البيئة والتنمية" . يحظر استخدام النصوص لأية غايات تجارية . يُحظر القيام بأي تعديل أو تحوير أو تغيير في النص الأصلي. لمزيد من المعلومات عن حقوق النشر يرجى الاتصال بادارة المجلة
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