At a World Bank supported regional workshop in Lebanon, Ahmed and other young entrepreneurs and business leaders discussed the challenges and opportunities of doing business in the region. Given the enormous potential of solar irradiance in the region and the threat of high oil prices, Karm Solar Egypt is targeting water users in rural arid areas. They ask questions such as: What if there was a way to reach out to farmers and convince them to switch to high-capacity off-grid solar-generated groundwater pumping systems in Egypt?
In many countries farmers continue to rely on diesel generators. Ahmed’s alternative is a computer based Solar Management Interface (SMI) that he and his partners developed to facilitate the adoption of new solar powered water pumps. Participants at the workshop were intrigued by the business pitch. That same day, his team accepted the inaugural HCT-Wharton Innovation prize in Abu Dhabi.
Ahmed’s endeavor illustrated for me the realization that innovative solutions to climate change need not only come from labs or research centers. They result from the risk taking attitude and dynamism of entrepreneurs willing to translate a theoretical “formula” into a full size business enterprise. But these entrepreneurs as well as larger companies cannot do it alone. With the right enabling environment, including business-friendly regulatory frameworks and access to finance, renewable energy based solutions have a strong potential to change the way resources are used in the region. Imagine if Ahmed’s innovation not only took off in Egypt but elsewhere in the region? The potential rewards are significant.
Renewable energy is one of the key sectors where dual benefits or "co-benefits" can be generated if appropriate actions are taken by governments in the region. This is one of the key findings of the MED 2012 Report “Toward Green Growth in the Mediterranean Region ” that Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) has just launched. As part of a global green growth strategy, this sector and a few others, such as energy efficiency and waste management, can help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and create new employment opportunities. The report is the result of more than two years of in-depth evidence-based research work and no less than eight regional and national consultations led by the CMI and its partners.
The report also recognizes the difficult path ahead for transitioning to a green economy. It will involve trade-offs and hard choices for countries in the region. However, action is needed to avoid the risk of irreversible outcomes. The report shows that there are several tools that can be adopted by countries to move towards a green growth agenda such as environmental fiscal reforms, payments for ecosystems services, or eco-labels and certification.
As showcased at the workshop in Lebanon, it can also happen by smart policy-making and encouraging entrepreneurs like Ahmed. In spite of the challenges ahead, Green Growth in the Mediterranean region is about common sense and imagination.