The missing partner in the Arab post-2015 development (SDGs) agenda

In the context of the post 2015 development agenda and in the lead toward adopting the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, the multi-stakeholder debates have focused lately on two critical enablers for sustainable development – namely “Financing for Development- FfD” and the “Data Revolution”.

The post 2015 process has been qualified to be consultative, participatory and bottom-up making serious efforts to learn from the pitfalls of the MDGs. From a monitoring and evaluation perspective, the MDGs reporting was constrained by data coverage and representation, lag in reporting and weak national statistical capacity, besides being donors’ driven. To that end, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) in its 2013 report on the post 2015 agenda concluded that lack of data has hampered development efforts, and that monitoring and evaluation “[at all levels and in all processes of development] will help guide decision making, update priorities and ensure accountability”. The report then called for a “data revolution” that would enable overseeing the implementation of the 17 SDGs (through more than 100 indicators[1] identified so-far).

Data revolution, as promoted by the HLP and the SDSN[2], is happening and is shaped by technological innovation. The challenge is to leverage it to ensure (1) high-quality data, (2) unified definition and conceptualization, (3) timeliness of reporting in order to serve and improve real-time decision-making and implementation.  The key challenges in this regard revolve around developing the capabilities, resources and principles that would harness blending and integrating the traditional data and data sources with the emerging ones and while devising means to ensure their reliability.

In the Arab region (Middle East and North Africa), the efforts have been marginally successful in monitoring and evaluating the MDGs. A recently commissioned study[3] by UNESCWA revealed no news by concluding that, on average, Arab countries produced official statistics for almost 50% of the 45 MDG indicators they used to report. The remaining was done on an ad-hoc basis through the UN or other funding agencies. The report questioned the region’s readiness for monitoring, reporting and ultimately evaluating the post 2015 era. It highlighted key challenges related to the following M&E foundations:

  • Institutional- mostly related to Sustainable Development data compilation and reporting mandate. Nationally, instead of being directly linked to the center of government, reporting on the sustainable development is often mandated to either the ministry of social affairs or environment (mostly to the latter). The same applies regionally with the League of Arab States council of the ministers of the environment. Besides, the institutional challenge reflect on the processes, hence the lack of integration both nationally with the national statistics offices, and weak coordination regionally.
  • Capacity – directly influenced by the institutional challenge too. It is mostly related to the availability of resources (human and financial), associated with lack of interest (compared to the governments’ focus ns fascination by the macroeconomic indicators), lack of knowledge, and weak coordination.
  • Quality of the collected data – mostly related to its (a) representation nationally and sub-nationally; (B) comparability given the variation with the set/ agreed upon definitions and concepts; (c) limiting its benchmarking with others; (d) timeliness of the data and (e) accessibility.
  • Measurement approaches and methodologies – mostly too conventional with high emphasis on quantitative/ numeric indicators and less interest in the qualitative aspects associated with capturing the learnings, institutionalizing the knowledge and exploring unintended outcomes.

It is worth noting that these attributes of the Arab M&E and statistical capabilities have long been overseen by the various partners when reporting on the MDGs. MDG related reports were mostly objective and target- driven. Yet, when addressing the development enablers, the identified weak SD governance and processes fail to highlight the monitoring and evaluation elements.

In parallel to the global and regional consultations in preparation for the post-2015 development agenda, lead evaluation networks have promoted and facilitated the establishment of VOPEs[4] worldwide, and advocated for declaring 2015 the International Year of Evaluation. These efforts were timely. VOPEs have emerged as primary stakeholders whose expertise, capability and mandate (mostly related to advocating for high-quality, reliable, relevant and timely monitoring and evaluation processes) are cornerstones to foster informed decision-making.

In MENA, the Evaluation Network and its associated national VOPEs (Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and Tunisia, among others) have been established (officially registered) to support good governance and influence evidence-based decision-making through advocating and mainstreaming monitoring and evaluation. The booming of these organizations in the region seized the “Arab Uprising” momentum, responded to necessities and envisioned to fill in gaps – same gaps identified above – which were for long undermined. Over the last 4 years, evaluation has been recognized widely in the MENA region and has earned a broader visibility and greater emphasis by various development stakeholders – primarily among governments, parliamentarians and international organizations.

Fundamentally, the evaluation societies in the region share a common mission aiming at addressing the institutional, data quality methodologies. They are mandate to mainstream M&E, promote non-conventional M&E theories and approaches, and advance M&E standards and practices. They are well equipped to build capacity and provide the quality resources needed to keep close eye on the SDGs. They are well positioned to contextualize and provide a use-based analysis drawn from any M&E system – even those highly ICT-driven. They are the actors without whom “data revolution” will turn inefficient. Yet, to-date, they have not been harnessed! In fact, the various regional consultations on the SDGs and post 2015 agenda (both government- led or UN-led over the last 3 years) has fallen short in engaging the emerging evaluation community in MENA. It is time for post-2015 agenda custodians to tap into such resource…

It is always time for the MENA VOPEs to strive to push the M&E component and devise innovative means to lead the post-2015 M&E agenda forward…

[1] Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals ( (Accessed June 30, 2015)

[2] Sustainable Development Solution Network

[3] Measuring sustainable Development in the Arab Region, UNESCWA, 2015

[4] Voluntary Organizations for Program Evaluation

Evaluating Evalpartners: some reflections

IYE 2015I participated in the webinar run last week on the findings of the first external evaluation of EvalPartners. The evaluation, done by both Nancy and Sarah, provides a broad snapshot of what EvalPartners is and does with the intention to shape decisions about what EvalPartners could be and achieve beyond 2015 (the International Year of Evaluation). The presentation highlighted the key findings around Evalpartners functions (the initiatives it has been managing), and its institutional set up. Yet most of the recommendations addressed the latter.

I see the report an eye opener for all of us within the Evalpartners network, I learned a lot and am reflecting! But it is definitely beyond that for Evalpartners’ management. By addressing the gaps, the report has highlighted key programs Evalpartners is managing, yet indirectly provoked many questions that help shape the future agenda. These seem more relevant within the context of Evalpartners’ strategic discussions. I am happy it already caught the immediate attention of Evalpartners’ management and triggered the management response.  I trust the below will be insightful too in such “big picture” discussions.

There is a clear acknowledgment that EvalPartners is a young global movement with loose boundaries within the evaluation landscape. Driven by champions, it emerged from on strong partnership between UNICEF and IOCE. It has emerged in becoming the global network and has succeeded in reaching out to a wide set of partners within the government, civil society and international organizations spheres.  I think its branding and affinity to attract such a wide array of partners stems from its intrinsic structural format. This is not a call to undermine the well -crafted governance recommendations. Yet, it is a flag to be raised when engineering its governance. A too-structured network adds to existing ones. Rigidity might create a barrier to outreach with other networks, hence triggers a competing rather than a collective spirit.  Of course more transparency in decision making and implementation processes, as elegantly suggested by the report, are fundamental to promote Evalpartners as the “network of networks”.

MillGoals01On another side, the key issues identified in the report unveil critical aspects that would ensure the network’s sustainability and added value in the international evaluation landscape. Yet from a program perspective, there has been an opportunity to highlight strategic thematic directions that promote its mandate and relevance. I am happy to hear Ziad (IOCE president) addressing this dimension in his intervention in the webinar.  Yet, I believe there is still a prospect for Evalpartners to build on the momentum created around the coincidence between the international year of evaluation and launching the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The network is capable through its web of regional and national VOPEs to drive the post 2015 development agenda’s enablers and implementation mechanisms. It would be of great value to further explore the network’s future directions in the context of the post 2015 agenda. Indeed the latter is hugely enabled by innovative evaluation capabilities, transformative policies and implementation mechanisms. Though the clock is ticking, there are a couple of months to pitch in with contributions on the data and evaluation capability among others to inform global decisions (scheduled for September 2015). Platforms will then emerge and huge efforts are needed to gear the SGDs implementation globally, regionally and
nationally in the next decade. I am confident Evalpartners is up to it. Evalpartners will smartly align its programs within the context of the post 2015 development agenda… VOPEs will follow… Everyone will follow…

Mapping civil society in Lebanon: some critical observations

11050738_853256824730560_6776181994540508042_nI received like many other practitioners and interested in civil society the report “Mapping civil society in Lebanon” recently published by the Civil Society Facility South, funded by the European Union and conducted by Beyond Reform and Development. The report is definitely another serious attempt to understand the current landscape of civil society in Lebanon. It is an eye opener, yet it prompts questions rather than provides answers. (It is worth thanking BRD for putting the report to the public. This definitely reflect a high level of professionalism and transparency, but more importantly an indirect call for comment and feedback to better serve the policy-making process in Lebanon)

Driven by my interest in research and passion about CSO role in policy development/ dialogue, I am posting a contribution that aims at the better understanding the sector and its challenges. The post intends to be critical about the findings with the intention of enriching the discussion and shedding light on dimensions worth exploring in order to promote and find leverage for civil society to influence policy-making.

  • Approach: The report seems to be too descriptive to the extent that it falls short of providing a critical analysis of the current situation of Lebanese civil society. There is a tendency in the report to present the findings without qualifying them and analyzing their relevance. In addition, the report tends to furnish a wish-list of “valid” recommendations that address serious gaps and resonate well with the CSO community and the practitioners. Yet they seem to be disconnected from the findings! The eminent question is: what are the bases of the suggested recommendations?
  • Scope: There are some conflicting messages. On one hand, the report describes its methodology as inclusive with a sample of 10% of the total registered CSOs; while acknowledging that the 10% represent the active ones (page 23). On the other hand, it concludes (page 47) that the “Civil society actors in this report are those organizations and groups contributing to civic participation and inclusive governance, as such faith-based and partisan non-governmental organizations are excluded from the study”. The report can’t claim to map the Lebanese civil society. Its findings however help to draw trends.
  • On the history of CSO in Lebanon: it would be advisable that the report adds the volunteering dimension to the evolution it describes. Findings suggest that the level of volunteering and its spirit tends to dwindle as we move into the post 2005 era. Most recently, the activism and policy influence dimension (post 2005) is paralleled with another “contracting-like” dimension! This is worth further exploration! It is observed that it is mostly triggered by the Syrian crisis and the influx of Syrians into the Lebanese territory on one hand, and induced by the shift in the international organizations attention and consequently their fund allocation. Many CSOs with no mandate or experience in relief work seized the opportunity were tempted to apply for funds, and got contracted to deliver services. This is a typical shift toward a “contractor” mindset.
  • CSOs governance and internal challenges: the report suggests many internal organizational and governance challenges, yet did not address the emerging “undemocratic” and “authoritarian” tendencies. It is observed that many CSO management board remains on board for long. It is worth addressing and analyzing such undemocratic practices that might have multiple causes mostly associated with a cultural paternalistic attitude, loose government monitoring and oversight, limited constituencies, lack of internal processes, and increasing opportunity to use a CSO as a money generating tool (with the emerging of the “contracting” mindset). Besides, among the intrinsic internal challenges are: the lack of trust, political and sectarian affiliation, inability to capture and manage knowledge, lack of professionalism, lack of transparency …
  • The external challenges: it is evident how the security situation is perceived as the most eminent external challenge affecting the work of CSOs. Yet, considering the political context a challenge needs to be further analyzed.
  • Legal framework: There is general consensus among scholars and practitioners that the Lebanese law of association is one of the most progressive laws in the region, though it is a 100 year old. The report acknowledges that, and calls for reforming the law. This needs further elaboration, as it might be a window of introducing stringent requirements by the government. It would more appropriate to call for redesigning the processes to ensure transparency among others… besides, the report refers to “unfavorable legal framework” as a challenge facing CSOs without qualifying this framework and what is unfavorable about it!.
  • Advocating for policy change: It is reported that CSOs failed to lobby and advocate for policy change because it can’t generate a general public opinion/ pressure. It is worth exploring other factors such as (1) the ambiguous policy processes, (2) the lack of coordination with media, (3) lack of trust in CSOs for political or sectarian affiliation.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: There is a global trend to promote M&E and performance management, yet there was no reference to improve/ enhance the monitoring and evaluation functions of the CSOs, both internally at the level of the organization and its programs, and externally at the level of government’s plans and programs. This is a dimension that is worth exploring in terms of capabilities as well as a tool to influence policy. Besides, the report does not make any reference to the audit function within the organizations.
  • The recommendations: the report lays down a wish-list of recommendations that are needed to further empower CSOs in Lebanon. They seem to be valid, yet the link between these recommendations and the findings is not clear.
  • The general recommendations: they might need further attention and reconsideration:
    1. CSO involvement in policy development is primarily pending developing a CSO-policy makers partnership policy that describes the relationships, lays down the process and sets the requirements for such engagement
    2. What is the link between “result-based strategy” and the list of goals suggested? There seems to be a mismatch and lack of alignment. It is worth revisited.

I hope the above review triggers a constructive discussion to develop and promote a partnership policy that recognizes the engagement of the civil society in decision making at all levels in Lebanon.

Post 2015 Sustainable Development Process: An opportunity is looming in the MENA region…

I had the chance of participating in a couple of regional MENA/Arab consultation meetings on environment and sustainable development, and reviewed many reports issued on the subject.  The latest report on the Arab High-level forum on sustainable development discussed the regional progress toward achieving the MDGs and highlighted the regional priorities toward the post 2015 agenda among other regional considerations.

MENA mapThere is seldom a report that did not highlight peace and security, water scarcity, demographics and poverty as contextual key themes for a regional sustainable development agenda. Likewise, there is an overall affirmative tone that describes the progress achieves on the different fronts of the MDGs. In my post below, I am more interested in having a closer look at what constitutes key enablers that are fundamental for the Arab governments to address in embarking into the post 2015 development era.

Prevailing economic mindset that leads development

Evidently sustainability has not been institutionalized or mainstreamed into the development agenda in the region. Despite some key sustainability initiatives, the governments’ policies and overall agenda are still driven by economy, mostly “rentier” in nature. Institutionalizing sustainability into an inclusive economy will prompt a diversified, productive, job generating and distributive economic model, with minimal ecological footprints.

Evidence base

  • Ambiguity of the baseline

The data capability of the various countries in the region is not consistent. In the moved advanced ones, the question pf data comprehensiveness and quality is often raised. This is evident in most of the sustainable development related reports, as well in the efforts facilitated by UNESCWA to strengthen data capabilities and statistical arms in order to improve quality, consistency and strengthen data generation, analysis, use and dissemination. Ambiguity and lack of confidence around the reported national and regional MDG progress prevails! In fact, governments have recently expressed the need to conduct genuine and critical analysis of the progress achieved toward achieving the MDGs to allow them an opportunity to learn from failure and capture the knowledge to build on it.

  • Obsession with the numbers!

There is generally a common obsession among politicians and leaders toward short-term, immediate and easily measurable results. In the region, this mindset has been further reinforced by the MDG process given its intrinsic emphasis on quantitative measures. Obviously, this comes at the expenses of the quality, relevance and impacts of the outcomes. The SDG process, along with the gaps highlighted in the regional progress reports, suggests an immediate call to improving data capabilities and emphasizes strengthening M&E tools to improve knowledge management and lessons learned, enhance greater accountability and inform decisions.

Institutional framework and processes

Good governance is perceived to be a fundamental cornerstone for sustainable development. It has become its fourth dimension lately. Arab governments have recognized, in most of the MDG progress reports, that good governance, transparency and respect for people’s rights to participate are indispensable for an inclusive development agenda. This is evident both at the national and regional levels.

Though established, national sustainable development councils have not been influential in shaping the government agenda. Civil society voice is often unheard due to the absence of the engagement processes; and if in place, the processes are not transparent.

Regionally, the environmental and social dimensions are often overlooked! Sustainable development agenda is occasionally on the Arab leaders Summit agenda. It is seldom discussed in economic forums; rather it is managed at the level of the ministers of environment. Its relevance is then questionable! Besides, its stakeholders’ engagement processes are ambiguous and mostly exclusive. Nevertheless, with persistence and networking, a couple of civil society organizations have found their way, infiltrated the “black box” and still navigating through the system.


There is a frequent popular call to enhance the regional cooperation with the aspiration to establish the long awaited “Arab Common Markets”. It is believed that the intra-regional cooperation is a strategic choice for the Arab governments to be able to face the challenges of the global economy and international trading system.

Besides, the region is not homogeneous in terms of wealth and development. There is huge opportunity for countries witnessing double digit growth to invest (in terms of ODI and development assistance) in less developed countries within the region, while benefiting from the knowledge, research and capability transfer in the different sectors.

A new regional partnership needs to establish innovative means and forms of multi and bi-lateral cooperation while engaging new stakeholders. Civil society, academia and private sectors have a lot to contribute for a successful regional partnership. Sectorally, intra-regional partnership can be extended on many fronts considered critical by the less developed and more developed countries, namely agriculture and food security, water and its scarcity, ICT and communication, industry and services, among others.

Though the region is witnessing an unprecedented turmoil, it is believed that it is time to revisit the national and regional development agenda enablers while leveraging on the SDG process that will drive the global development agenda for the next decade. It is timely for countries in transition to institutionalize these enablers while rebuilding their governance systems. It is an opportunity for other countries to redesign their decision making processes to make more inclusive, adaptable, transparent and evidence based. Yet, will it be a lost one?

Canada and the Post 2015 development agenda: some observations…

Picture1I have been following the discussions and scholarly literature on the Canadian development aid and agenda post 2015. I have collected some observations and tried to highlight key dimensions that are worth noting and further exploring. This framework is a work in progress. Any feedback and comments are appreciated.

Canada has always affirmed its commitment toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond, and contributed lately in setting the principles that have been guiding the post 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) while serving on various forums, particularly the 30-seat Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs. Its presence in the development cooperation is getting off the radar screen recently. This might be attributed to a couple of factors:

  • Paradigm Shift in scoping development assistance: illustrated in the shift from a development oriented approach to a more commercial and economically driven one. This is clearly reflected in the emphasis on trade and commerce over poverty alleviation dimension.
  • Institutional set-up: as a direct manifestation of the conceptual shift, the conservative government has merged CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2013 under the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). As such, development and humanitarian assistance rank low in DFATD priorities. This is clearly illustrated in DFATD mandate – as defined on its website, namely to “manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country’s international trade and to lead Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance”.
  • Shift in focus: This shift in paradigm in favor of the new approach is associated with:
    • Emphasis on less risky places/ countries and themes, to ensure both safe implementation and steady flow of funds.
    • Obvious focus on (1) middle income countries rather than the poor ones; (2) mostly in extractive industries and (3) over a shorter timeframe to yield results.
  • Dwindling ODA contribution: manifested through the decrease (estimated at 10%) in the government ODA took place over the last 5 years.
  • Chronic ODA management syndrome: The change in perspective has not triggered changes in the way ODA is managed so far. The latter is still managed centrally, result-focused and with a tendency to avoid risks! Ian Smillie, in his contribution to the recently launched book “Rethinking Canadian Aid” has warned from three tendencies development assistance usually falls into: (1) centralized, top-down, rigid, paper-bound, and remotely managing development programs, (2) politicians’ obsession for quantitative short term results not long-term impacts! jeopardizing knowledge capture and management, and (3) Risk avoidance characterized by hiding failures and consequently losing the opportunity to learn from failures.
  • Stakeholders Engagement: The implications of the conceptual shift are observable on the Government- CSOs consultation toward post 2015 development agenda. The process has been mostly government-led and managed. In fact, DFATD has mandated an internal team to coordinate among the concerned departments and align the national agenda with the global goals, in order to support the government negotiations at the UN end of 2015. The national consultation process however was not as inclusive as it should be. There were limited opportunities for Canadian CSOs to engage and provide input. Nevertheless it is worth noting that a lot of hope is held over the recent policy on “International Development and Humanitarian Assistance Civil Society Partnership” in which the government fully recognizes the role of CSOs in achieving sustainable development. It reiterated its commitment to support an enabling environment for civil society in developing countries, to foster multi-stakeholder approaches to development.

Is this shift in paradigm for the best interest of Canada? Will the partnership policy translate into action soon? and most importantly, what are the implications of both on the SDGs era?

What prompted the AGS sustainability drive?

It is believed that the decision-making dynamics in the AGS related to the global development agenda (such as the MDGs, the Rio+20 and the post 2015 development agenda, as well as Climate change) are mostly driven by the States’ foreign policy. Evidently, AGS have a strong geopolitical weight in the regional and world economy (given their oil and gas reserves); they became highly exposed after September 2001; they are at the heart of the Climate Change discourse; they have the largest share of the sovereign wealth funds globally; and many AGS envision global ambitions.

Understanding the decision-making structures and dynamics requires, as suggested by Nonneman, a multi-dimensional analysis that examines the domestic determinants – mostly regime survival, the regional (inter and intra) geopolitical challenges and aspirations, as well as the international positioning and dependencies.

Indeed, I would argue that all the AGS have seized the initial global calls for greening the economies in light of the 2008 crisis as the opportunity to position themselves in the global post 2008 era. Along with their Arab League counterparts, the AGS endorsed in 2009 the first Arab Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and production. At the same time, their global outreach has prompted the development of key initiatives aiming at off-setting the unsustainable practices yielding high carbon emission and waste generation, as well as to propagate a polished image of the states that aim to be key players in the regional and global economies (leaders in the services and transport industries -aviation and marine, among others), while preserving each member state’s competitiveness edge. This would explain the huge “sustainability” claimed investments in research and development under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation, hosting of the International renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in UAE, the nine digit-investment in the planned zero-waste MASDAR city in Abu Dhabi, along with its research arm, the announcement of the 1,000 MW Mohamad Bin Rashed Al Maktoum solar park stretching over a 40 square kilometers in Duabi, as well as the recent Saudi Arabia announcement of its planned 100 billion investment to generate 41 GW of solar energy by 2032.

Regionally, it is noticeable that the Arab Gulf States exhibit different pace and approaches to development, subject to both domestic determinants as well as intra-regional competitiveness. Inter-regionally, though the investment opportunities for many Arab Gulf States were imminent in many sectors in the neighboring countries, it is worth noting that the regional circumstances –namely the “Arab Uprising” and its consequences so far – have impacted their policies. AGS were obliged to look inward and attend to the escalating voices and needs domestically. They seem to get further locked in their regime survival policies, namely providing more to their constituents in order to ensure their loyalty and legitimacy, amplifying their “nationalist” branding and tightening the security measures in an attempt to make it hard on insurgence to mess with the agreed socio-political contract between the ruling elites and their constituents.

What are the attributes of such contract? and how does it influence the sustainability drive?

The Arab Gulf States: the development and environment nexus

Located on the west coast of the Arabian Gulf and sharing many socio-economic and cultural similarities, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established in 1981 a political and economic coalition called the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States. Twenty years later, the AGS’ economy has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world mostly led and managed by governments. The AGS has witnessed unprecedented social and economic transformations manifested through the sole reliance on hydrocarbons to fuel their energy-intensive industries; a world-record population growth driven mainly by labour emigration- estimated at 42% of AGS population in 2010- and an unprecedented urbanization. Domestic demand for oil and gas has increased drastically to fuel the rapidly expanding infrastructure, transport, real estate and industrial development, transforming AGS from energy exporters to consumers. In fact, the demand for electricity has doubled over the last decade and is foreseen to keep growing with urbanization, given that the demand from the built urban environment currently accounts for more than 75% of total electricity demand in each state.

Their level of development has been reflected in the human development index (HDI) that suggests a correlation between the level of development and affluence, as well as the consumption and wasting patterns. In fact, four of the six AGS are exhibiting high HDI; two of them, namely Qatar and United Arab Emirates, ranked in the “very high” HDI category (HDR, 2012). HDI ranking resonates with the AGS progress in meeting the Millennium Development goals (MDGS), particularly on the first five goals. They are close to achieving gender parity in education, with almost close to universal enrolment; women’s political participation is increasing, but not fast enough, reaching an average of 18.6% (mainly driven by the increased women quota in the Saudi Shoura council in 2013). Besides, AGS have halved the maternal mortality ratio between 1990 and 2010 (reaching 15 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010), and reduced the under-five mortality rate by 73% in the same period (from 29 to 8 deaths per 1,000 live births)

Yet from an environmental perspective, the picture is gloomy! The AGS development seems to be gained at a high cost producing unprecedented pressures on the regions’ natural resources and its management capabilities. Little attention has been paid to the environmental dimension of their development path. In fact, with less than 0.6% of the world’s population, the Arab Gulf States produce more than half of the global desalinated water; generate on average 1.5 kg per day per capita of solid waste (considered among the highest worldwide); and emit 19.9 tonnes of carbon per capita in 2010, the highest worldwide, accounting for around 2.4 % of global emissions. This is further reflected in the AGS ecological footprint, mostly associated with the consumption-based economy and lifestyles. Estimated at 5.7 global hectares per capita in 2008 (239 million gha in absolute terms), the AGS ecological footprint outpaced its bio-capacity by seven times- estimated at 0.8 gha per capita (33 million gha). Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have the second and third highest footprint per capita in the world, after Qatar (11.7 gha per capita). To put it in perspective, it is estimated that 6.6 planets would be required to satisfy the level of consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide if the world population lives like an average resident of Qatar.

Nevertheless and despite that most AG States have not yet adopted national sustainable development policies linking the environmental, social and economic priorities, the region has been investing recently on pioneering and internationally attractive environmental initiatives mostly in the energy sector, such as the solar energy powered cites. Besides, there has been some progress at the macro level illustrated in the trendy launches of various “green” based strategies and plans in the region. UAE has kicked off the implementation of its Green Growth Strategy 2014, Qatar initiated its national vision 2030 on advancing sustainable development, and the Saudi Arabia endorsed its sustainable environment and development strategy. In addition, the region has witnessed a significant improvement to strengthen the environmental and development data and statistical capabilities. This is illustrated in publishing the emissions registries in UAE and Qatar since 2007, the ecological footprint calculations and the environmental performance index replication in UAE – namely Abu Dhabi, among others. More interestingly, since the 2008 economic crisis, government officials in the region have overly used the term “sustainability” to qualify and market their projects and initiatives.

It is then legitimate to further explore the evolution of the sustainable development discourse in the AGS and unveil the political-environmental nexus with regard to the existing institutional frameworks for mainstreaming environment into decision-making.