It’s eye-opening to consider that more than half of the world’s best solar resources are in the Middle East and Africa (MEA). When you combine this vast untapped potential with a rapidly evolving renewable energy landscape, formidable people power from a growing youth population and thriving entrepreneurial scene, it’s clear that MEA has an increasingly important role to play in innovating towards a way out of the climate crisis.
There is a rousing incentive to act with urgency. Though MEA may have the lowest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, it’s the most vulnerable region to the effects of climate change, especially Africa. Home to many of the planet’s key suppliers of fossil fuels, the region is also pivotal in enabling the shift towards new sources of energy. Already, there is a huge focus from governments to invest in sustainability, and investment in clean energy from the UAE alone totals $40 billion.
But much work is still be done at a far greater scale and that work is dependent on three things: people, money and digital technology and data.
It’s the cost-efficient and highly scalable nature of the cloud, for example, that enables energy startup, M-KOPA Solar, to manage the energy systems of half a million homes in East Africa, bringing affordable clean energy to around 2 million people.
Technology is paramount, not only to the shift towards renewable energy, but to all aspects of climate adaptation. ”The climate crisis is taking a significant toll on the Middle East and Africa. But we live in a new technological era with the potential to power dramatic transformation across every sector of society. Digital solutions offer a way to progress towards a greener and ultimately more prosperous future. Together, we find ourselves at a historic intersection of tremendous opportunity,” says Sherif Tawfik, Chief Sustainability Officer, Microsoft Middle East and Africa.
The exponential rate of technology adoption in the region will help drive this opportunity. Almost half of business leaders say more than 50 percent of their assets are in the cloud, meaning powerful foundations are already in place to create solutions to MEA’s greatest climate change challenges.
The agriculture industry, for example, sustains 70 percent (http://bit.ly/3AWiolE) of livelihood in Africa but also accounts for almost 90 percent (http://bit.ly/3EPkhls) of all freshwater withdrawals. To conserve water while still preserving crop yields, farmers need to know exactly where and when to water fields and how much water they should use. Innovative tech solutions are needed to provide smallholder farms – particularly those in rural areas – with accurate data.
The Kenyan National Agriculture Platform is working with Microsoft to drive digitalization of agriculture through an app called AgBot (http://bit.ly/3GWXDdk). The AgBot is a one-stop shop for half a million farmers where they can access services and information to increase their productivity. Further work is now being done on the app to incorporate data analysis for more informed decision-making.
Further north in the UAE, multinational corporations like Etihad Airways (http://bit.ly/3ONn2Ii) are using advanced analytics and AI to measure and benchmark their environmental footprints. The ability of businesses to measure their carbon emissions is essential to carbon reduction, but accuracy is extremely challenging because of large volumes of data that typically sits in silos. But the cloud helps by digitalizing processes to break down data silos and centralize data for better reporting, ultimately enabling companies like Etihad to implement carbon efficiency savings across their operations. The use of technology to help businesses report, record and reduce their environmental impact is essential as it’s big business that will ultimately tip the scales towards a net-zero future.
Implementing innovation at a greater scale
It’s clear enterprising organizations in MEA are already using technology for climate adaptation in exciting and impactful ways. But greater collaboration is needed to replicate these kinds of successes at scale. COP27 provides an opportunity for world leaders to come together and make it happen.
“With Egypt as host of this year’s conference, the Egyptian government has been given a unique platform to voice the climate adaptation needs of countries in Africa and the broader region,” comments Mirna Arif, Microsoft Egypt General Manager. “As a country and as a continent, it’s time be ambitious in our vision, not only of how we want to progress on our own sustainability journey, but also how we will contribute to the global fight against climate change.”
During the summit, we can expect to see bold initiatives and announcements from both the public and private sector as we strive to move beyond pledges to progress. For our own part, Microsoft will focus on both the technology and skills needed to drive broad-scale impact. This includes general access to quality local data, strategic collaborations with the public sector around the deployment of key sustainability solutions and the development of critical skillsets needed to promote a green economy. At the beginning of November, we published our Sustainability Skills Gap report (http://bit.ly/3XIKTgv) highlighting the necessary skills needed to move beyond pledges to progress. It is now more important than ever that sustainability is considered at every level of our society and economy, and in order to do this, we will need the workforce to have the right skills.
These efforts will build on the work Microsoft has been doing for more than 30 years, empowering customers, partners, and governments across MEA to build digital capabilities. Tools and innovations like our data centres are empowering people and transforming the way organizations and industries operate. Now, we’re doubling down on our commitment to provide the technology needed for a more sustainable future.
“Given our role as an enabler of a diverse range of digital solutions, Microsoft has a unique responsibility to help governments and organizations to achieve their climate goals through the power of technology. We are committed to accelerating digital transformation in Africa, with a view to helping the continent realize its growing innovation potential in the climate technology space and beyond,” says Wael Elkabbany, General Manager, Microsoft Africa Regional Cluster.
As it stands, the Middle East and Africa can be likened to a sleeping giants with powerful potential to lead the world’s energy transition and build a greener future. Beyond the clear opportunity in renewable energy, there is much to be gained from the region’s track record of invention. From water scarcity to food insecurity and lack of access to electricity, MEA’s problem-solving capabilities have long been put to the test. COP27 is an opportunity to share learnings with the rest of the world. The challenge ahead is daunting but, together, we can move faster.