Our region is warming at twice the global average and we can expect an increase in temperature of 4 degrees Celsius by 2050. With many of our cities already experiencing record temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius, we are very worried that many of our cities will be uninhabitable by the end of the century, with average temperatures exceeding 60 degrees Celsius.

Our cities are critical to the survival of our region, with already 65 percent of the population living in urban areas and also with this population expected to double by 2050.

We are very worried that our cities will face serious threats to their survival, with chronic water shortages, difficulties growing food due to extreme weather and related draughts, heat-related death and health problems, social unrest, and potential political conflicts over resources. We are also worried that no one seems to own the problem of our cities overheating, nor are people aware of some of the practical solutions that can be employed.

We believe that we must encourage action in our cities to both prevent further warming of our planet and to urgently begin adapting to climate change so that we can live sustainability and have a promising future.

Our Cool Cities and ME ( Middle East) campaign have two goals, first to raise awareness about the urgency of taking action to mitigate the impacts of climate change and rising temperatures on our cities, and secondly, to take direct and immediate actions to help our cities adapt to rising temperatures by taking actions that will start cooling cities now.

  1. Raising Awareness on the Urgency of  Taking Action to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change and Rising Temperatures on our Cities

To cool our cities, we must focus on a range of longer-term changes that will impact every aspect of our lives through changing how we use energy, what we eat, where we live, our work, the infrastructure that we use, how we preserve biodiversity, and what we consume. These changes will have an impact on climate change and make our lives more sustainable.

Our awareness-raising campaign focuses on six key priority areas where we feel results can be achieved by 2030 and 2050.

1.1 Reduce Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Expand Use of Renewables and Climate-friendly Energy Resources

The Problem

The Middle East region produces almost 9% of global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 9.4% of global oil consumption while comprising only 6% of the global population. Emissions have tripled in the region over the past 3 decades. This high consumption is driven by subsidies, carbon-intensive and poor infrastructure such as public transport as well as industry, especially the oil and gas sector. 

Our Position

Cities are a major part of these GHG emissions and must commit to decarbonization and reach net zero emission by 2050, with 50% of energy coming from renewables by that time. In the race to reach net zero, we believe cities should seek to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

1.2  Change Our Food System and Diets by Adopting Plant-Based Diets and Using Alternative Protein Sources

The Problem

The region is already facing a worsening health crisis driven by malnutrition, consisting of undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies, usually linked to poor diets. Agriculture is the largest water-consuming sector, and with warmer and drier climates, there will be a significant impact on crop yields and livestock production. This will occur at a time when demand for food and especially protein, is expected to double.

Our Position

We believe that a food system transition towards plant-based diets and alternative proteins can both improve nutrition, and also reduce emissions and water use, while freeing up considerable amounts of land for additional climate mitigation strategies, food security, and protection of biodiversity. We call on urban consumers to adopt plant-based diets and promote alternatives to animal sources of protein. Our target is for 40 percent of all proteins consumed in our cities by 2050 to be from alternatives to animal protein, and by 2030 to have already reached 20% consumption levels of alternative proteins in our cities. 

1.3  Shift to Eco-friendly Infrastructure that is Sustainable and Equitable

The Problem

The building and construction sector account for almost 40% of energy and process-related carbon emissions. Major changes are needed not only in energy use but the design of industry and buildings as well as in planning cities and infrastructure. The built environment also needs to be resilient to extreme heat and other aspects of climate change. Decarbonization requires demanding fewer materials, minimizing energy use, adopting low carbon heating, cooling, and construction technologies, as well as decarbonizing transportation and major material manufacturing like steel and aluminum. The opportunity is that a significant amount of the buildings ( 40%) and infrastructure (70%) expected to be needed by 2050 still needs to be built and can be net-zero.

Our Position

By 2050 we want all cities to be decarbonized and to become healthy places that are affordable, accessible, and inclusive. We welcome sustainable eco-city experiments in the region ( e. g. Masdar City, Dubai Sustainable City, Neon, Downtown Doha, Silk City, and others) but call for more initiatives that are geared to the majority of the population across the region. But we also want our cities to be `Cool` in terms of being exciting, vibrant and creative which requires space and support for culture and creative industries. We support the goal that by 2050 all new and existing buildings and infrastructure should be net-zero emissions and that by 2030 the built environment should halve its emissions.

1.4 Promote Green Innovation and Growth to Drive Our Economies and Create Jobs

The Problem

We cannot reach net zero in our cities if we do not decarbonize the economy and shift also to a circular economy paradigm which involves: reusing, repairing, or recycling, and increasing sustainable manufacturing and consumption. This requires a major change in the way we source energy, produce goods, and deliver services. This requires an investment in green innovations that can generate the products and processes needed to reduce energy consumption, waste, pollution and increase biodiversity and environmental management. These innovations have the potential to improve productivity, increase growth, and generate green employment.

Our Position

Our cities must embrace decarbonization of the economy and the circular economy. Investments must also be directed to supporting this transition and building platforms to encourage more green innovation in the manufacturing and service sectors. Cities should build ecosystems with business accelerators to support green innovation and circular economy start-ups.

1.5  Build Biodiversity into our Cities through the use of Landscapes, Urban Planning, and through Building More Biodiversity Parks

The Problem

Many cities in the region not only face rising temperatures and extreme weather like prolonged dust storms but they are also confronted with increasing land degradation, desertification, and rising sea levels. We can future-proof our cities and making more them more habitable, by reintroducing green spaces in built-up areas and also by incorporating more food production into cities. Plants and trees provide clean air, clean water and increase our resilience to the impacts of climate change by cooling the atmosphere. Planting more trees and plants can also restore biodiversity which can also support urban agriculture ecosystems.

Our Position

We support more investment in greening and rewilding our cities which we see as critical to sustainable and healthy living, and the wellbeing of our communities. We also strongly believe in the benefits of urban agriculture that produces fruits and vegetables in and close to cities as a key part of food security. We advocate for the creation of more green corridors and biodiversity parks in our cities. We also advocate for new public spaces to be used to promote inclusion, greater equality, and quality of life, and for young people to be involved in all aspects of the planning process.  

1.6 Promote Sustainable Consumption and Lifestyles to Minimize our Impacts on the Environment

The Problem

Our consumption and lifestyle choices have a major impact on our carbon footprint and the ability of our cities to reach net-zero. Energy use, the food we eat and the built environment are central to sustainable consumption and have already been covered. But other lifestyle choices relate to the products and services we use and our consumption habits. These require fundamental changes if we are to be carbon neutral.

Our Position

We believe in shifting to sustainable living which means that we must make a number of changes to our lifestyles: when it comes to food, we must use more local products, buy seasonal foods and organic where possible; when it comes to fashion we must avoid fast fashion and look for products that are eco-friendly; in our homes, we must use less water, less light, less energy on heating and air conditioning,and buy eco-friendly furniture; we must where possible also choose products upcycled from other materials; we must commit to net-zero waste across all aspects of our urban lives and also avoid single-use plastic and minimize our food waste; when it comes to travel, we must travel make our choices with our carbon footprint in mind, and look for eco-friendly options; we must recycle and reuse as much as possible; and lastly, we believe that we must overall find ways to reduce our levels of consumption.

Who Needs to Act?

Action must take place across all sectors to reach these targets and pressure needs to be placed on key actors to act. We need a coalition to drive these changes: policy-makers; financial institutions; business and service providers; technology providers, innovators, academia, civil society organizations, consumers and our youth. But we first need to build awareness to mobilize the key stakeholders that need to drive these changes. This has not happened yet in the Middle East region, but with COP 27 and COP 28 taking place in our region, there is a real opportunity to get these issues on the agenda in the climate talks and also on the policy agenda in our cities.

  • Taking Immediate Action: Our Campaign to Deliver One Million Cool Roofs, Cool Walls, Cool Trees, Cool Pavements and Cool Innovations to Stop the Progress to 60C and to Start Cooling our Cities Now in the Middle East.

We believe that we cannot wait for 2030 and 2050 to see changes emerging from our awareness raising and proposed mitigation actions. While these will be important, there are actions we can take now that are affordable, based on existing technology and knowledge, and that can have an immediate impact on the rising temperatures in our cities. As part of our campaign, we will accelerate the introduction of cool roofs, cool walls, cool trees and cool innovations across the Middle East region. These actions need to be taken to scale and should not be limited to exclusive projects targeting those with high incomes in the region. They must also reach the most marginalized, including women and low-income communities who often suffer the most from extreme heat in our cities.

Our approach is to work with key stakeholders including government, business, and civil society, to identify the most promising opportunities that also build on existing initiatives. We plan to build a coalition of key stakeholders to help us drive this initiative across the region.

Through fundraising and partnerships, we plan to generate resources and to build momentum around our agenda. Our programs will be delivered through organizations that have a proven track records in the sectors and countries in which we will operate.

What are cool roofs?

Roofs make up 25-30% of urban surfaces. A cool roof is one that strongly reflects sunlight (solar energy) and also cools itself by efficiently emitting any heat that was absorbed. The roof  stays cooler and reduces the amount of heat conducted into the building below. If a building does not have air conditioning, this keeps the building cooler and a more constant temperature. If a building has air conditioning, the equipment does not have to work as hard. One study found that a clean white roof that reflects 80% of sunlight will stay 31 C cooler. There are many different methods that can be used to cool roof surfaces such as coatings/ paints on roofs that reflect solar energy ( such as acrylic, polyurethane, silicone). Cool colors are used ( such as white, red, green, blue) which can be applied to concrete, different types of tiles and singles and to metal roofs. Covering roofs with vegetation can also be very effective in cooling buildings, providing shading and providing an aesthetic environment( Green roofs can only work in the Middle East where there is enough precipitation). Nevertheless, there are a number of countries that have successfully developed roof top gardens to produce vegetables and fruits for local consumption. Urban roof gardens present an important opportunity to not only cool cities but also to address the challenges of food insecurity.

Which-ever approached is used, the benefits are enormous, and include: keeping house and building occupant cooler during hot periods; reducing costs and energy use by limiting the need for air-conditioning and extending the life of cooling equipment ; through reducing the urban heat island effect[1] by reflecting heat back to the atmosphere; and also by addressing air pollution and global warming concerns by lowering CO2 and other emissions associated with fossil fuel-generated electricity used for air-conditioning.

Cool roofs have begun to be used across the Middle East but is often limited to highly visible projects like Masdar in the UAE or small-scale pilot projects in different countries.  There is a great opportunity to scale this simple technology which will have an immediate impact.

[1] An urban heat island occurs when a city is hotter than the surrounding rural areas due to dark surfaces, like roofs and roads, that absorb heat from the sun and have less shade trees and vegetation

What are cool walls?

Building walls do not receive as much sunlight as roofs but there is significantly more wall area than roof area in cities Like roofs, dark walls can heat buildings and increase the urban heat island effect. A cool wall is an exterior wall surface that stays cool in the sun by strongly reflecting sunlight and by efficiently emitting thermal infrared radiation. Just like a cool roof, a cool wall should exhibit both high solar reflectance and high thermal emittance.The benefits of cool wall are the same as for cool roofs. Cool walls can also be created by using coatings and paints that use cool colors. Cool walls can include the use of Green walls where vegetation is grown on walls surfaces This can reduce the energy consumption of buildings by creating microclimates within the urban environment that help to regulate temperatures. Green walls not only increase the biodiversity of an urban space with plants, they offer vital nesting space, shelter and food for birds and insects. In summer months it has been found that external Green walls reduce surface temperatures by up to 12 C. The Dubai Wharf today boast having the largest Green Wall in the Middle East, however the use of cool walls across the region remains limited.

As with Cool roofs, despite some high-profile projects in the region, cool walls are not being widely employed across the region, and can be used much more widely.

What are cool trees?

Cool trees refer to planting and maintaining an urban tree canopy. Trees that are appropriate for the local environments, are an inexpensive way of lowering temperatures. Trees cool cities by shading the ground and structures around them, and also through releasing water into the atmosphere through their leaves. Planting trees has other major potential benefits: it improves air quality, saves energy, improves health, provides thermal comfort for pedestrians, offers recreational and  aesthetic value, improves biodiversity and habitats, and also can have benefits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The greater the density of trees such as in parks or green corridors offers the greatest potential benefit. Trees can reduce temperatures by as much as 5C, compared to open ground around them.

A major study by the Nature Conservancy predicted that cities in the MENA region would have a high return on investment in tree planting for both reducing particulate matter in the air and mitigating heat waves. Cities with the highest potential benefit of tree planning are : Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Rabat, Sanaa, Baghdad, Amman and Tripoli. Major tree planting programs have begun in a number of countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, and Oman) but it is only a fraction of what needs to be happening if we are to cool our cities. We believe there is enormous scope to scale up tree planning in the region, which will have multiple benefits for inhabitants including in reducing heat.

What are cool pavements?

Pavement makes up one third of urban surfaces, when hot impact urban heat islands by warming the local air, and contribute to global warming by radiating heat into the atmosphere. The conventional pavement surface temperature is generally 20-30ºC higher than the air/surrounding temperature due to pavement solar energy absorption during daytime, especially in the summer. Cool pavements are reflective/permeable pavements that help lower surface temperatures and reduce the amount of heat absorbed into the pavement. Solar reflective “cool” pavements stay cooler in the sun than conventional pavements. Pavements are cooled through different approaches including the use of reflective surface coatings or paints.We will support cool pavement initiatives in our cities, especially in communities that suffer most from the heat island effect.

What are cool innovations?

It will be difficult to find solutions to cool our cities in the Middle East without finding innovations that can be have an impact in terms of helping cities adapt to climate change and rising temperatures. We will work with start-ups and social businesses that have identified new and existing technologies and innovations that can are affordable, and can be scaled up to have an environmental and societal impact.  We will also be open to identifying solutions that are based in traditional knowledge and derived from and that would benefit most more marginalized groups. We will identify promising initiatives and support business model development processes and the identification funding.

Taking Action to Cool Cities in the Middle East

The goal of our campaign is to combine these different approaches to cooling our cities and to benefit as many people as possible. We have a big vision to reach a million units, be they cool roofs, cool walls, cool trees, cool pavements or cool innovations. Central to our vision is to look for opportunities to reach scale and to do so as quickly as possible and through involving key stakeholders.

This campaign is being promoted by Yalla Healthy Living based in Cairo, Egypt.
See www.yallahealthyliving.com .