By Shada El-Sharif
Climate Change and Sustainability Advisor; Founder, SustainMENA
As countries begin to rebuild from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has issued a call for the world to ‘build back better’. Early examples of this, like the European Green Deal have demonstrated how an ambitious, multi-sectoral plan that will impact the lives of millions of people can simply be captured by a few key bold targets to make the European economy more sustainable. Targets around climate action, biodiversity, circular economy and smart mobility have already raised the visibility of the Deal and will enable evaluation and communication of progress along the way. High quality and independent evaluation and communication of best practices and lessons learned around the implementation of the Deal will also help to sustain its buy-in within the European Union, and serve as an inspiration to other regions to embrace green recovery.
MENA’s climate change and data challenge
The Mediterranean region, which is home to several countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been described as a ‘climate change hotspot’ in a United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) recent report, State of the Environment and Development (SoED) in the Mediterranean. Populations and livelihoods in coastal cities of Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (SDG 13) due to the increasing risk of sea level rise. It is no surprise that countries of the region are increasingly adopting low carbon and climate resilient policy frameworks.
The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’s (ESCWA) latest Arab Sustainable Development Report (ASDR) highlights significant challenges in data availability on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across the 22 Arab States. For example, the limited information on ecosystems and interlinkages between climate change and invasive species was cited as one of the key barriers for advancing SDG 15 in the Arab world, where poor data availability hinders the capacity to incorporate impacts in management strategies, monitor progress and changes over time, and adapt plans to meet conservation challenges.
Jordan as a case study
We often hear statements like “Jordan is one of the most water scarce countries in the world” or “Jordan imports over 92 per cent of its energy requirements”, which is typically followed by a statement about the country being “the largest host of registered refugees in the world” (as of 2018, 2.8 million refugees registered with UNRWA and UNHCR). Jordan issued its Voluntary National Review (VNR) in 2017 on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda but has yet to submit its update. It has been tracking some of its SDG targets and indicators through the Department of Statistics (DoS), however, communication of Jordan’s progress on the SDGs does not happen regularly enough to resonate with the public. This can be a lost opportunity, particularly to celebrate achievements. Better tracking, evaluation and communication around the SDGs in Jordan would galvanize the needed political buy-in to turn green transition plans into actions, and potential investment opportunities.
Better tracking, evaluation and communication around the SDGs in Jordan would galvanize the needed political buy-in to turn green transition plans into actions, and potential investment opportunities.
Progress on SDGs in Jordan: Despite limited communication of success stories, Jordan has made progress on key SDGs, both at the policy and project levels. For example:
SDG 13: Jordan issued its Nationally Determined Contributions with a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14 per cent in 2030 (with 12.5 per cent contingent on receiving international assistance)
SDG 7: Jordan concluded three rounds of direct proposals to establish utility scale renewable energy projects, based on its landmark Law on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (2012)
SDG 6: Jordan is home to Al-Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, one of the most energy efficient wastewater treatment plants globally
SDG 11: Jordan has a fleet of over 20,000 electric vehicles
SDG 2, 6, 7, 15: The Sahara Forest Project in Aqaba is a successful demonstration of a water-energy-food nexus project.
What ‘build back better’ could mean for Jordan: Jordan, like other countries in the region, is exploring what ‘build back better’ means for its national context. A good starting point is the National Green Growth Plan (NGGP) issued by the Ministry of Environment in 2017. In order to operationalize the NGGP, Jordan recently issued the Green Growth National Action Plans (GG-NAPs) for the economy’s key sectors: water, energy, agriculture, waste, transport and tourism. As shown below, the GG-NAPs seek to achieve five national objectives that are interlinked with the SDGs.
The policy development and implementation process of the GG-NAPs is captured in the graphic below, along with the desired impacts including jobs, carbon reductions, resource efficiency, and poverty reduction, all of which must be measured, evaluated and communicated regularly.
Evaluation and communication of impact
Jordan already has a robust green policy framework in place, but key to its success will be the ability to define, measure, monitor, evaluate and communicate impact across the desired objectives of the GG-NAPs. This will also help to prioritize post-COVID green recovery measures in the medium and long term. Furthermore, the ability to forecast and communicate on the green jobs created by this paradigm will be instrumental in securing wider support for this agenda, since unemployment continues to be a pressing challenge.
Jordan already has a robust green policy framework in place, but key to its success will be the ability to define, measure, monitor, evaluate and communicate impact across the desired objectives of the Green Growth National Action Plans.
Robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks of the green projects will also help Jordan and MENA countries to access international climate and sustainable finance. Jordan is well positioned to ‘build back better’ by turning its natural resource and socio-economic challenges into opportunities, by adopting a data-driven, green recovery pathway that is both climate resilient and deploys low carbon technologies. The communication of data-driven success stories along its green recovery journey will further facilitate cross-fertilization of best practices at the regional and global levels. This underscores the strategic importance of embedding an effective evaluation and communication framework as an integral component of its green recovery model.
 UNEP. 2020. State of Environment and Development in the Mediterranean.
 ESCWA. 2020. Arab Sustainable Development Report (ASDR)
 MWI. 2017. Water Reallocation Policy 2016.
 MEMER. 2019. Energy Sector Brochure.
 Jordan Economic Growth Plan 2018-2022 (UNRWA: United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNHCR: United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees)
 Department of Statistics (DoS). 17 Dec 2020. SDG Tracker. http://jorinfo.dos.gov.jo/Databank/pxweb/en/SDG/
 Sahara Forest Project. https://www.saharaforestproject.com/
 Green Growth is defined by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) as economic growth that is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.
Shada El-Sharif is a recognized thought leader on climate change, green economy and sustainable development in Jordan and MENA. Shada El-Sharif is an advisor to the Government of Jordan on Sustainable Development and Green Recovery, and served as Director of the Jordan Environment Fund at the Ministry of Environment. She holds MEng and BSc degrees in Environmental Engineering from Cornell University, and is pursuing an MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School. Shada is Founder and CEO of SustainMENA, an advisory and public awareness platform on climate change and sustainability in Jordan and the MENA region. Follow Shada on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.