CERs and the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS)

The EU ETS was devised as one of several strategies to meet the European Kyoto Protocol target of an 8% reduction for the period 2008 – 2012, and now for the more ambitious EU target of 20% by 2020. Policies regarding renewable energies and energy efficiency, agriculture, and transportation, (to name a few), also contribute to European emissions reductions goals.

The EU ETS covers approximately 45% of total European Emissions (EC, 2013), including emissions from the power sector, aviation (for flights within Europe, though the original proposal covered international flights as well), and has successfully managed to integrate environmental costs into financial cost structures, thus ensuring that emissions are allocated a cost which will be taken into consideration during planning. This puts a monetary value on emissions, and incentivises reductions, and investment into R&D of more efficient, and less pollutant technologies.

In order to provide some flexibility, the Linking Directive (2004) was brought into effect, which allows for the use of Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms, and serves to connect the EU ETS with the international carbon market, and increases international cooperation. The incorporation of these mechanisms allows countries to meet some of their reductions commitments through obtaining Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) – to focus of the post – and Emissions Reductions Units (ERUs) through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI), respectively.  Both mechanisms involve the emissions reductions projects, the former in non-annex I countries (developing countries and LDCs), and the latter in annex I countries (i.e. those countries with binding KP targets) (UNFCCC, 2014).

Unfortunately, these mechanisms, which were designed to complement domestic reductions options, increase cost efficiency, and promote international efforts to reduce, have had unexpected results on the effectiveness of EU ETS.

Firstly, instead of supporting domestic reductions strategies CERs came to substitute for domestic action to meet international requirements. In terms of global emissions targets, provided the projects meet standards for environmental integrity, global targets will be met. However, an excessive use of CERs by EU countries for projects in non-EU countries undermines the EU reductions goals. In order to stay on track with for these goals, a limit on the use of CERs was put in place, forcing countries in the EU to consider domestic reductions. Unfortunately, difficulty in determining an adequate limit has made it so loose, that it creates little incentive for domestic action.

Secondly, CDM, in combination with over-allocation, has undermined the overall capacity of the mechanisms to create real reductions. Between the surplus of EUAs, and the availability of cheap CERs, industries under the EU ETS had to make very little domestic changes to meet targets. And if we consider cases like the HFC CER ‘fraud’, where Chinese and Indian companies were producing more HCFC-22 to take advantage of CER revenues for the subsequent destruction of HCFC-23 byproduct (EIA, 2011). Moving forward will require higher standards regarding the environmental integrity of CDM projects, in order to guarantee the effectiveness of our strategies to stabilize CO2 concentrations.

Regardless of potential and actual problems associated with CERs in the EU ETS, the most cost effective path to low carbon intensive economies requires that ‘where-flexibility’ mechanisms like CDM. Cost constitutes a major barrier for adopting low carbon, and more efficient technologies, and compliance with measures can be increased if structures that allow us to take advantage of differences between marginal reductions costs, and incentivise action are accepted, supported.

Moreover, mechanisms that allow for the transfer of capital, and technology from developed countries to developing countries are necessary if we are going to have a real impact on global emissions targets. Additionally, the guidelines for CDM projects combine environmental requirements, with broader socioeconomic goals and helping to bridge the ‘development gap’ between countries of different economic capacity.

The future of CDM in the EU ETS is complicated, emissions trading, and CDM and JI are new, and we are still learning. The urgency of effective climate change mitigation requires mechanism like these in order to make a meaningful impact, and share the associated economic burden. Whether or not we like it, collaborative action is necessary, so itis time to iron out the wrinkles, and get to it.


Environmental Investigation Agency (2011) Massive climate subsidies for HFCs industry to continue. . Retrieved 31 March 2014 from:

EU ETS (2013) CERs and ERUs market as from 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2014 from:

European Commission (2013) The EU Emissions Trading System. Retrieved 31 March 2014 from:

Piris, Pedro (2010) The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme: A Succinct Review, by Pedro Piris-Cabezas 2010.

UNFCCC Website, (Last updated March 2014) Clean Development Mechanism. Retrieved 31 March 2014 from:


SMEs and Job Creation in Oman

Oman has seen astonishing growth since the Renaissance in 1970. In terms of economic growth, Oman’s GDP has grown to over $80 billion annually thanks in large part to oil and gas revenues (approximately 70% of GDP). While the steady flow of income has given the government the means to invest in public services and infrastructure, other developmental indicators, such employment, have not been advancing at the same rate. Big business came with the promise of revenues and jobs, but by its very nature ‘big business’ is limited in its ability to fulfil the second half of that promise. Large industries are more efficient, and focus on technology for the large part of their activities, and thus tend to require less human resources, leaving them restricted and incapable of meeting the growing needs for jobs. Moreover, the jobs that are created require sophisticated skills, as opposed employment opportunities for high-school and college graduates entering the workforce.

The issue of youth unemployment in particular became one of contention during the Arab Spring movements. In 2011 a wave of protests broke out in the country’s two largest cities, the capital Muscat, and industrial hub Sohar. Calling primarily for jobs, better wages, lower living costs, and a crack down on corruption, the protests lasted over a period of two months. In order to maintain legitimacy, the government has made the government place job creation firmly on the agenda for coming years (Logan, 2012).

The question is, if big business has been unable to provide, and the public sector can only create so many jobs, what is the future for the Omani job market?

In high income countries, SMEs represent a driving force for economic growth, bringing in approximately 50% of GDP, and providing 80% of total employment. In Oman these figures are significantly lower, ranging from 13-14% of GDP just 15-20% of total workforce (Muscat Daily, 2013).
The government recently recognised the need to channel funds into the SME sector, which though weak represents 90% of all private sector employment as the majority are ‘micro-enterprises’ (less than 5 employees). Currently, the growth of these micro-enterprises is limited as a result of lack of access to credit, due to high interest rates, and unrealistic collateral requirements. In 2013, the government  created a new fund specifically for SMEs, and the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) mandated all banks to allocate 5% of credit to SMEs by the end of 2014 (Muscat Daily, 2013).

In addition to capital, SMEs also require support through business and management skills training, skills which have proven to be make or break for many SMEs. In addition to a funding role, big businesses has the potential to accelerate the development of SMEs through knowledge and skills transfer, for the mutual benefit of all. As the CEO of Oman Oil, one of the countries largest oil companies, rightly identified “job creators will be our subcontractors and the large number of SMEs who will be their subcontractors”. Furthermore  it reduces government pressure on large industries to create jobs that are unnecessary. Finally, a vibrant and healthy community, and business environment  is necessary to ensure the successful growth all businesses, regardless of size.

Today, Oman’s economy heavily relies on revenues from fossil fuels, and as the world moves towards a low carbon economy (albeit slowly), diversification of economy is necessary to safeguard the country’s future, and contend with its growing population. Oman has an estimated population of 3.1 million people (2011 census), which is predicted to reach 5 million by 2050. With youth unemployment a controversial issue, the needs of the population extend further than money, and meaningful employment, and stable income is necessary for the country to advance on other developmental indicators. SMEs represent a potential for economic growth, and job creation that must be pursued, and that can only be accomplished through collaboration.



Joseph Logan (2012) Oman protests suggest jobs, reforms fall short. Retrieved 21/04/2014 from:

Muscat Daily Online (Dec 2013) SMEs, the engines of economic growth

Parambi, Raphael (Feb 2014) SME development in Oman: Working with the mighty. Retrieved 22/04/2014 from:

Blended Value: a new outlook on business

The growing number of social enterprises indicates a change in public perception of the value created by businesses. The focus has traditionally been on the provision of products and services for certain target groups, generally those who from the middle and upper income brackets, in order to make a profit. Unfortunately, traditionally this goal has been pursued without much thought for other impacts, particularly those that constitute negative social and environmental externalities. The concept of “blended value” has emerged, where the success of an organisation (civil or private) is measured through the added social and environmental value as well financial gains.

This simple idea has huge implications for billions of people, particularly those the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) who have been marginalised from traditional business models because of their lack of financial capacity to participate in the market. If we broaden our definition of value to include social and environmental factors as well, products and services for the 4 billion people at the BoP become a potential source for a wide variety of commercial activities.

In Spain, cooperatives have been leading the way on this front, combining profit with the pursuit of social good through a fresh outlook on societal problems, and possible market-based solutions. Cooperatives like Mondragón, Grupo Asces and Eroski have demonstrated the profitability of these kinds of organisations, and today socially oriented cooperatives have managed prove that you can make profit while striving to rectify social ills (Rebel, 2013).

In times of crisis, any success is miraculous, and if cooperatives and social ventures have been able to prove their financial viability, reason dictates we stick to what works. And if you can kill two birds with one stone, even better.

Emerson, Jed. (2003) Blended Value Executive Summary. BlendedValue.org retrieved 28 March 2014, from:
EuropaPress (2013) Grupo mondragón, Eroski y Consum en el ranking de las 300 empresas cooperatives mas importantes del mundo. Retrieved 28 March 2014 from:
Rebel, Christina (2013) Spain’s entrepreneurs carving path amidst economic crisis. The Guardian Online. Retrieved 28 March 2014 from:

Maize in Contemporary Mexico

Maize has been an integral part of Meso-American culture for over 10 000 years. Today there are a total of 59 varieties are native to Mexico, each with their own uses in approximately 600 different food preparations specific to certain varieties. Today, traditional agricultural varieties of maize, as well as agricultural practices are being replaced in favour of promises of high yield from new hybrid and transgenic seeds, and conservation techniques which are highly unsuitable for the rural Mexican context. With national demand for maize to reach 39 million tonnes per year by 2025, and corn prices remaining stubbornly high, Mexico must find a solution to their current deficit in corn production, or face ever rising food import bills from neighbouring USA, and a devastating loss of local culture.

Since Mexico opened up its borders to North American free trade in the 1990s, maize production has doubled, to approximately 23 million tonnes per year. However, a study by Timothy Wise in 2009 has estimated that despite this massive increase, Mexican maize farmers suffered an annual loss for maize farmers of $72 million between 1997 and 2005, as a result of an increase in imports of cheaper subsidised US yellow maize competing with traditional Mexican white maize. For Mexico’s 3 million white maize farmers, this has been a brutal blow. Imported US maize is supported by billion dollar subsidies, which allowed US farmers to sell maize bellow its production cost, forcing Mexican farmers to decrease prices, and accept the associated losses, undermining the integrity of maize production in Mexico.

Since the 1990s, Mexican import dependence has increased from 7% to 34% in 2010, which when coupled with rising food prices since the 2007 crisis and increased interest in biofuels, has put Mexico is an unfortunate position. On average Mexico spends $2.5 billion a year on yellow maize imports from the US (10 million tonnes), which represents not only a financial issue as import bills rise, but climate and cultural issues as well.

Rich biodiversity has been known to increase resilience to climate change, as crops are more adaptable. For a country like Mexico, which is believed to be particularly vulnerable to droughts and storms associated with extreme weather patterns, agricultural resilience is paramount. Additionally, traditional Mexican cuisine requires a variety of maize strains in order to survive. Moving forward demands respect for sustainable agriculture both ecologically, and socially – protecting the next generation’s access to valuable natural resources, and the rich biodiversity associated with Mexican culture.

Public investment in agricultural infrastructure and programs is direly needed to optimise Mexican maize production while minimising inputs of valuable water resources. Small to medium-scale farmers represent the highest potential for growth, with the possibility to almost double their yields, under the right conditions.

The government has seen positive results of an increased yield of 55 and 70%  have been recorded as result of a pilot project by the Strategic Project for High-Yield Maize (PROEMAR), founded in 2008. The project focused on cost effective measures to improve resource use, for example soil analysis to prevent over fertilisation, thus protecting water resources for eutrophication.

In addition, a return to traditional agricultural practices that are more suited to Mexico’s needs is widely viewed as positive step for maize prodcution, as well as cultural heritage. Milpa, for example, is a traditional agricultural practice that has shown positive results in increasing yield in small to medium scale farms, which are currently producing only 57% of their full potential. Milpa involves intercropping several crop varieties (maize, beans, squash, pepper, yuca etc) in order to preserve oil quality, and reduce vulnerability of run off and erosion associated with mono-cultivation. In fact, studies have shown that it takes 1.7 planted hectares planed in monoculture to produce the same amount of food as 1 hectare of intercropped land. Furthermore, diversifying crop plantations also serves to decrease Mexico’s vulnerability to climate affects.

It seems that that a best step forward for Mexico is perhaps returning to traditional methods.In combination with sustainable resource management and public investment, it is estimated that in 10 to 15 years Mexico will reach an annual production of 57 million tonnes. This means that Mexico will be able to meet national demand (expected to reach 39 million tonnes in 2025) while protecting cultural heritage around maize production, as well as consumption.


Fernández, Antonio Turrent, Wise, Timothy A, and Garvery Elise 2013 Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential

Santini, Christina 2006 The People of the Corn.

Wise, Timothy A. 2012 The Cost to Mexico of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion

Biodiversity and Poverty: A complicated relationship

They say that “variety is the spice of life”. After learning that variety of biodiversity is not only an indicator of the health and functioning of our ecosystem, but it also the basis for human life as we know it, I think perhaps the idiom “variety is life” is more accurate (if not nearly as poetic).

The fact is that we rely on the environment for all economic activities, either through direct or indirect goods and services. From provision natural resources, food, and water, as well as countless services, from air and water filtration, to pest and disease population control; its easy to see that how our way of life is intricately linked to our surrounding ecosystems.

Unfortunately, our patterns of economic development have taken their toll. The movement to more developed industrial economies has led to an array of threats to our natural environment; deforestation, soil degradation, habitat fragmentation, pollution, to name a few. According to a study by the Global Planet Index there has been an estimated net global loss of 28% of biodiversity (as compared to 1970) – with a 61% loss of that loss recorded in the ‘Global South’.

For 70% of the world’s poor living in rural communities, who are directly reliant on their surrounding natural resources for food and employment, their vulnerability to amounting ecological changes is all the more intense (See Linking Poverty and the Environment by Jacob Jon).


Mercifully, there is a silver lining; with higher levels of biodiversity, our ecosystems become even more resilient against impacts, human or otherwise; and the ‘Global South’ remains home to some of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Due to the variety of terrain, temperatures, climate, and altitudes animals and plants that live in the tropics are highly adaptable, new species are born at a rate we cannot know through. In fact, for all our studies of bio diversity, we have identified just 1.5 million of an estimated 3 to 5 million species currently exist, and while we worry that many will be lost to extinction before we can identify them, we should also think of those we will gain through speciation(Costello, May, Stork, 2013).

That being said, Mother Nature can only do so much, and to move forward, we need to focus  on helping the environment recover its functions, which are vital to our very existence. One thing is clear, the continued overexploitation of our natural resources must stop, and we need to commit to sustainable models of growth and development in order to help the environment to recover its functions, all of which are vital to our very existence.









Shark Attack: CITES to the Rescue!

I recently came across a shocking statistic, thanks to an article and graphic from Joe Chernov

On a peak year, 12 people are killed in a year by sharks.

On average 12 sharks are killed every second by humans.

Amounting to a shocking 100 million sharks per year.

After further investigation, I found that estimates range from 60 million to 270 million. In comparison to just 12 human deaths in 2012, and zero fatal victims in 2011, the statistics speak for themselves. If we factor in that sharks are simply acting out of instinct, whereas we are acting out of vanity and greed, it’s easy to see who is the real victim here (Huffington Post, 2013).

Sharks products are used for cooking, medicinal supplements and beauty products, though substitutes exist. The biggest demand for shark products come from the notorious shark fin soup, a delicacy in China, which has unintentionally encouraged a practice known as finning, where sharks are thrown back into the ocean alive after having their fins cut off (Conrad, 2012).

Though some sharks that end up on the market are by-catch, with prices up to € 300 per kilo of processed fins, the shark industry has become very lucrative, encouraging fisherman to target certain species. If we consider revenues derived from the sale of shark products, the margins are even higher, creating even more perilous circumstances for these sharks (Fowler and Fordham, 2010).

And all this regardless of the of the fact that several shark species are covered under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). These species are listed as Appendix II species, which does not prohibit trade entirely, however they are considered threatened with extinction unless trade of such species is subject to strict regulation.

CITES, which came into being in 1975, provides a framework for the control of trade of certain species depending on the species’ vulnerability, and whose rules are non-voluntary for parties who have ratified the agreement, however each member nation in responsible for incorporating CITES decisions into their national level legal systems.

Under the CITES rules, any Appendix II species intended for export must be accompanied by a permit verifying that sustainable practices were used in obtaining the specimen. While importing these products does not require any paperwork, it is the responsibility of countries receiving these goods to ensure that the correct steps have been taken, and all the necessary permissions have been obtained. Non-compliance of the part of any Party, or insufficient effort can be met with sanctions (Greenpeace, 2013).

After the 2013 CITES Conference of Parties, which meets every three years, five more species of shark were added to Appendix II. With the two other species of shark added to the list in 2003, the total is now seven, and effective as of September of this year all Parties must have in place all the necessary mechanisms to tighten their control over the the trade of these species of sharks (McGrath, 2013).

The question is, have we waited too long to admit that these ‘monsters’ need protection from us? Demand for shark products began to rise in the late 1970s, and overfishing, in combination with slow reproductive rates have caused a steep decline in shark populations (EXAMPLE). Due to the nature’s intricacies, the integrity of the ocean’s ecosystem would be affected by the elimination of a high ranking predator, which in turn would cause a ripple effect, causing changes in other marine, plant, and eventually terrestrial populations.

Regardless of their reputation, or the fact that they must compete with adorable creatures like these for public attention, the bottom line is that they need us, and we need them, and in September 2014 we will see the results of the latest CITES decision put into action (or not), in order to protect them.










It’s not all fun and games: Brazil and the 2014 World Cup

I love the World Cup, ever since my first World Cup memory, in 1998. I still remember being huddled around the TV with family and friends watching the France-Brazil final, and the shared sense of disappointment of Brazil’s loss (and perhaps even more so of France’s triumph – the family and friends in question are English).

Four World Cups later, and I’m still hooked; I can’t wait for this year’s tournament to begin. However, while my love of the tournament remains unconditional, 16 years have passed since that final in France, and I have grown up, and with it my understanding of world has changed. For better or for worse, I have come to realise that football is more than just a game, and this tournament much more than just a sporting competition.

Over the years and the event has grown in importance and reach, with an estimated 3.2 billion people tuning in to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (FIFA, 2011). With half the world as an audience, the dream of participating in the World Cup has become a global one, and the chance to host the event has become an honour than every country dreams of.

This year, the World Cup returns to South America, and to the land of “the beautiful game”, 5 time World Cup champions, and home to some of football’s greatest, like Pelé, Ronaldo, and Ronldinho to name but a few…

… and over 43 million people living in poverty,  a country ranked 86th on the Human Development Index (HDI), (CIA World Factbook, 2012). And yet an estimated  €9.2  billion will be spent on the upcoming tournament; €9.2 billion euro that could have gone towards tackling any number of issues across the country (Harris, 2013).

What do Brazilians have to say about this? National pride Pelé made his opinion quite clear:”Brazil is running a great risk of embarrassing us in how it runs the World Cup, principally in communications. The airports are frightening and not just for Brazilians.” (ABS-CBN News, 2011)

Thanks to social networks, we’ve been able to hear from more than just celebrities. Filmmaker Carla Dauden put it her point of view quite eloquently with her viral video “No, I’m not going to the World Cup“:

With growing animosity towards the World Cup, the slogan, “All in one Rhythm”, couldn’t seem more ironic.

Since Brazil embarked the perilous path to the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian people have seen billions of dollars go towards shiny new stadiums, while promises of public transport improvements, which could represent a true legacy, have fallen by the wayside. And if the budget concerns weren’t enough to contend with, the forced evictions, and demolition of thousands of homes in favelas that happen to be located too close to desirable tourist areas have further tarnished the memory of the 2014 World Cup, years before it even begun (Huffington Post, 2012).

And what of FIFA’s response? FIFA president Sepp Blatter put it quite clearly:

Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We didn’t force it on them. It’s obvious that stadiums need to be built but that isn’t the only thing in a World Cup: there are highways, hotels, airports and a lot of other items that remain as a legacy.”
(Downie, 2011)

Disappointing. A shirking of responsibility, and the glittering promise of the legacy. Unfortunately, despite the potential that the World Cup has to be a “catalyst for social and economic development” (Darnell, 2012), in reality there has been little to suggest that ‘legacies’ (cultural and/or infrastructural) merit the financial commitment required. For the World Cups hosts over the last 2 decades (excluding the World Cup’s debut in Africa, in the South Africa 2010 World Cup) Germany, Korea-Japan, France, USA, all advanced economies, the burden of the World Cups ever increasing cost was not as difficult to bear. However, with the expected spending for the World Cup to be more than the 2 previous cups combined, Brazil, even with its strong economic growth, is in trouble.

So where does that leave us? With our rose coloured glasses torn off, and there’s no way back. The 2014 World Cup will be remembered not only for its champion, but also for the pain and suffering around it, and as the time when Brazilians rejected football (if you can forgive the stereotype).

For me at least, the memory is already blemished. Can I still love the World Cup, knowing all that I know?

Yes. Of course I can, and I do. On June 12th I will be glued to the TV (schedule permitting), with family and friends watching the opening match between Brazil and Croatia. For a moment, amidst the excitement, I will forget. Along with billions of people across the globe, from all walks of life. Some might call it escapism, but I prefer to think of it as a celebration of global sense of unity. A celebration of an event that captures the attention and dreams of so many, and allows us to have a brief, shared moment of relief from whatever else may be happening around us.

There is beauty in that. The truth is, for all its flaws of the World Cup, of which I named just a few, there is no denying the power of football. The question is how we attempt harness that power towards greater good. When it comes to the World Cup promise of a lasting legacy for Brazil, I think that ship has sailed. Just as the World Cup can be a driver for development, it also brings with it a lot of risk. The recent trend in granting the right of these kinds of sporting mega-events (the Common Wealth Games in Delhi, World Cup in South Africa, Olympics in China for example) comes with a certain responsibility, from both those submitting their bids, and those approving them.

But in the Case of Brazil 2014, with the the inaugural match just  6 months away, there is no turning back; The Show Must Go On. Maybe all we can ask of this year’s World Cup is that, even if we allow ourselves a few moments of blissful forgetfulness, we remember the path to Brazil 2014, and more importantly that we learn from it.


Darnell, Simon. Mega sports for all? Assessing the Development Promises of Rio 2016. Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research. 2010. Retrieved from:

Dip, Andrea. Brazil World Cup: Forced Evictions. The Huffington Post Online. 28 June, 2012.

Downie, Andrew. World Cup legacy for Brazil goes beyond soccer, says Blatter. Reuters. 19 June, 2013.

FIFA, Almost half the world tuned in at home to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. FIFA.com, July 2011.

Harris, Nick. World Cup 2014: Will the beautiful game turn ugly in Brazil amid angry protests at 7.6 bn cost of World Cup finals. The Daily Mail, 30 November, 2013.

The CIA World Factbook, Brazil. Updated 2014.

ABS-CBN News Pelé fears embarrassment over World Cup delays. abs-cbnnews.com. 19 February 2011.

Creating Sustainable Communities in Muscat, Oman

To understand anything about Oman, you must first understand the concept of Al-Nahdha,  “The Renaissance”. It refers to the period since the current ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, came to power after a bloodless coup in 1970. Before this period, there the health care system consisted of two hospitals, with a total of 12 physicians, and the education system included two primary schools, and no secondary schools. And to connect a country larger than Italy, there were just ten kilometres of paved road (Middle East Health, 2005; Ministry of Education, 2011).

Today there are over 500 hospitals and clinics across the country, providing free universal health care for all Omani citizens. In terms of education, Oman now has over 1000 schools (primary and secondary), over 20 colleges and universities for the pursuit of higher education.

In October 2011, the Royal Opera House opened in Muscat. A symbol of both Omani tradition through its Arabian design, and of the what the future will bring for the growing capital through the ‘Majestic Muscat’ plan, which includes 24 mega projects to develop the waterfront, revitalise the business district, create public parks and spaces etc.

In short, a lot has changed in 43 years; and there are many plans for the future.

Muscat Today:

Currently, Oman has a population of 3.3 million inhabitants over 310, 000 km2. At first glance, compared to Italy’s 60.9 million over a 302, 000 km2, Oman’s modest population does not appear to present a problem. However a closer look at the demographic makeup of the country reveals that 50.8% is aged 24 and under (30.6% 14 and under; 20.2% 15-24), and in terms of housing, as the young Omani population becomes economically and socially independent the demand for high quality,well-communicated, affordable housing will become a key issue (CIA World Factbook, 2013).

While Oman has a per capita GDP of $29,600, wealth is unequally distributed, and an estimated 73% of the population can be considered low-income (Jones, Land and LaSalle, 2011). However, a short drive down the Sultan Qaboos Highway seems to tell an entirely different story. Mansions and huge urban complexes line the highway, indicating the housing market’s focus on the provision of luxury homes, and aiming for the higher income market to take advantage of larger economic gains. This has caused a gap in the market for low-income families, particularly in Muscat, where rent and prices are soaring.

There are two main issues to be considered when discussing affordable housing in Oman: first and foremost, the construction of houses ; and secondly the creation of communities around these physical structures.

Addressing the former entails an extensive analysis of the issues around supply and demand of affordable housing. According to a study by Jones, Lang, LaSalle, there was a shortage of 15, 000 housing units in 2011. This demand represents a fairly large market for investment in low-income housing, however land prices, cost of labour, and physical infrastructure costs each have a significant and complex set of effects on investment in this sector. Similarly, conditions for buyers in Oman are difficult, and ability to access credit plays a big role in the stagnation of the market.

In order to encourage investment, the Omani government has placed an emphasis on projects that include an affordable housing element. Additionally, the government has set up the Housing Loan Programme, which aims to provide up to RO20,000 per year of interest-free loans for Omani families (Arabian Business, 2011). However, low-income consumers are consumers nonetheless, and demand a certain level of quality both in the structural aspect as well as quality of life, and as education and socioeconomic status increases, a deeper understanding of the needs of the population is necessary.

This brings me to the second issue: the creation of new urban communities. As I explained above, when affordable housing is available, focus has been on simply the construction of the physical structure, with limited thought to families that these units of housing represent, and their social and societal needs (Jones, Lang and LaSalle, 2011). The Affordable Housing Institute highlights the dangers of marginalising communities from access to social services, good schools, commercial centres, as it has a negative effect on the quality of life of those citizens, reduces social integration and cohesion among, and creates communities that are temporary in nature, based on income level.

Moving Forward:

It is necessary that the Omani government consider a long term, holistic approach to urban development, and the realities of population growth give open a short window of opportunity to act.

On the policy level, changes to encourage investment in the sector are necessary in order satisfy the increasing demand for affordable housing. For example the implementation of regulations around the allocation of a fixed percentage of investment in affordable housing projects has proved successful in other nations (Jones, Lang, and LaSalle, 2011). Additionally, costs associated with building infrastructure (eg sewage, electricity, water) to new developments must be addressed to counteract cost cutting incentives for developers to build affordable housing on less desirable real estate. Furthermore, in order to ensure durability and quality of these investments, regulations regarding quality standards must be addressed to prevent cost cutting measures.

In term of urban planning strategies for the creation of communities, a more profound look at the more complex needs of Oman’s increasingly educated population is required. Now that access to basic needs has been covered, importance must now be placed on improving the quality of life within these new spaces. Supermarkets, cinemas, social centres, schools, health centres, and public spaces are all crucial elements in the planning of these new urban developments, and not only satisfy the needs the neighbourhood, but also opens up new venues for economic growth and opportunities outside of the core, and encourages more stable patterns or urbanisation as population continues to rise.

It is evident through the ‘Majestic Muscat’ Project that the Omani government understands the importance of creating public spaces for interaction, and social integration, with many parks, markets, and plazas on the list of development projects. I believe than it is important to abide by the same principles in the approach to the creation of new urban communities.


Oman has achieved a lot in the last 43 years, and while there is much to be proud of, there is still much to be done.  In this regard it is my hope that our relative ‘youth’, developmentally speaking, can be one of our greatest assets. With lessons from successes and failures in countries around the world available, Oman is at a unique position to plan for the long term and put in place more holistic strategies to ensure the sustainability of Omani society.



Arabian Business. Oman sets aside $208m for affordable housing. April 17, 2012

CIA Factbook, Oman, updated 2013.

Jones, Land and LaSalle. Why Affordable housing matters. September, 2011.

Middle East Health. Regional Profile – Oman; Rapid Progress. 2005

Oman Education Portal. A Glance at the Development of Education in the Sultanate of Oman. 2011

Small Islands, Big Ideas: Climate Change and Environmental Responsiblity

From November 11th to 22nd, the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Warsaw. Over a period of 10 days, 195 nation states participated in the discussion of our next steps in the face of climate change.  The next session is to be held in Paris in 2015.

2013 has seen a variety of extreme weather events that  has affected every continent, and left millions devastated. This year’s UNFCCC began just as the world’s latest natural disaster, typhoon Haiyan, classified as a ‘super typhoon’, and perhaps the strongest typhoon ever recorded, finally dissipated (Strzempko, 2013). With estimated Haiyan damages of up to $14.5 billion  for the Philippines to clean up, the international community is reminded once more that those who are most vulnerable to climate change, are often those least able handle the economic burden that comes with it (Air Worldwide, 2013). Furthermore, in many cases these countries, which have less developed economies, are suffering an environmental onslaught, caused primarily by the impacts of past actions and decisions of ‘developed’ economies, which they are simply not able to afford.Left, 2012. Right, 2013

The question that is raised, is one of economic and environmental responsibility; if such countries cannot front the financial load – who can? And, more importantly, who should?

In the previous convention in Doha, the need to “establish an institutional arrangement…to address loss and damage in countries particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change” was recognised. Regrettably, up to now we have had a history of inaction on environmental issues, even when urgency is universally accepted on an international level (IISD Reporting Services, 2013).

This year in Warsaw, the Alliance for Small Island States (AOSIS) raised this issue again, calling for a Multi-Window Mechanism to Address Loss and Damage from Climate Change Impacts, which includes a “compensatory component”, bringing to the foreground the notion of environmental accountability. The proposal requests support, by the way of finance, technology and capacity building, from ‘developed’ countries. The funds are to be accumulated, taking into consideration each countries responsibility (GHG emissions) as well as capacity (GDP). Through this proposal, AOSIS has brought placed an emphasis on the global nature of environmental responsibility, and effects, and demands that this be recognised through economic means, namely through their Multi-Window Mechanism.

While the environment can be considered innately global in nature, as a race, we have striven towards the globalisation of our economic system, thus deepening these global connections. The current financial crisis, which has reverberated across the globe, demonstrates that we have succeeded, and now more than ever the actions of one, affect all, regardless of economic or political power relations. However, our interconnectedness is also one of our greatest strengths. The ability to share information and technology, as well as organise rapid mobilisation in times of disaster are part and parcel with our increasingly globalised world.

The message of AOSIS is clear: “We didn’t make this mess, and we cannot clean it up alone”. With these tools at our disposal, how will we respond?











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