Beirut, 10 December 2018 (Communication and Information Unit)--Low oil price environment has had negative effects on the economies of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. To discuss these effects as well as challenges and opportunities arising from oil price fluctuations and other related questions, experts and policymakers recently gathered for the first MENA Energy Economics Conference and highlighted the need for the region to head towards sustainable energy systems, and to work more towards diversifying national economies.
Co-organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Institute of Financial Economics at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES), the conference was held on 6 and 7 December at the AUB campus in Beirut to provide a multi-stakeholder platform for dialogue among Arab countries with regional and international research and financial institutions to exchange expertise on addressing oil price dynamics and the challenges of the energy transition to sustainable energy systems.
The conference included two panel discussions featuring international and regional experts and triggered vibrant debates with an audience of academics, policymakers, practitioners, government representatives, financial institutions, research and technology institutions, international organizations, university students and lecturers, young researchers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
The first panel tackled ‘oil price dynamics and the transition of energy systems and their implications for Arab countries’ and was moderated by the Director of Oxford Institute for Energy Studies Mr. Bassam Fattouh.
In this session, the Director General of Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), Mr. Adnan Shihab Eldin, the leading expert on Gulf and Middle Eastern economies and energy markets, Mr. Majid Al-Moneef, the adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Geneva, Mr. Giacomo Luciani, and the chief of the Energy Section at ESCWA, Ms. Radia Sedaoui, discussed energy vulnerability, diversification strategies, energy productivity, energy pricing reform, climate change mitigation, role of technology, and sustainable management of natural resources.
“We all know that there is a structural energy transition taking place. We don’t know its speed or its exact direction but we know it is going in the direction of low-carbon,” said Mr. Shihab Eldin. “We have 60% if not more of the oil and gas proven reserves, and therefore we have to make those oil and gas reserves cleaner and low in carbon, which means that we need technology and we need to lead in developing it,” he emphasized.
Many experts argue that demand on oil will be reduced if oil prices increase and that one of the solutions would be to agree on imposing a carbon tax. “If we make our oil and gas cleaner, we avoid the carbon tax because we will be exporting the clean energy resource,” Mr. Shihab Eldin added.
The second panel of the conference focused on ‘pathways to achieve sustainable energy systems and discussed the challenges and opportunities for the Arab countries’ in that regards and was moderated by Ms. Sedaoui.
The discussions of the Chief Executive Officer of the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), Mr. Ahmed Attiga, the senior energy economist at the World Bank, Ms. Liliana Elisabeta Benitez, the Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities, Ms. Stephanie Pincetl, and the energy advisor at the Lebanese Ministry of Energy, Mr. Joseph Al Assad revolved around renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation and adaptation, investments in clean technologies, financial mechanism, and sustainable energy data.
According to ESCWA, fossil fuels account for around 96% of the energy needs in the Arab region. Meanwhile, the transition to sustainable energy systems constitute an opportunity for economic diversification and job creation through the optimal use of oil and gas resources and improvement of their inputs into the energy mix.
“When we talk about oil transition we are repositioning this sector in a way that makes it more connected with issues of economic and social and environmental development,” said the Acting Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCWA, Ms. Roula Majdalani. “It is more about how we can make it much cleaner, how we can manage it in an efficient way, how we can address sustainable consumption and production and how we can use it as a solid entry point for economic development,” she added.
Earlier, ESCWA had also held the first meeting of a Group of Experts on Fossil Fuels aimed to help member states move toward advanced and clean energy technologies in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
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Nabil Abu-Dargham, Head, ESCWA Communication and Information Unit
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