INTERVIEW: Achieving Egypt’s SDGs

Samia Fakhry, Thursday 15 Feb 2024

The UNDP is helping Egypt achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through human development, supporting micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, and increasing solar-energy generation, Alessando Fracassetti, UNDP resident representative in Egypt told Al-Ahram weekly.

 Alessando Fracassetti, UNDP resident representative in Egypt
Alessando Fracassetti, UNDP resident representative in Egypt


The UNDP is working on a number of projects in countries around the world, including Egypt, to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to Alessando Fracassetti, UNDP resident representative in Egypt, in 2024, the UNDP will continue working closely in partnership with the government and international and national development partners to guide the country in pursuing the SDGs and Egypt’s Vision 2030. 

“Our primary focus will be on advancing social and economic resilience for the most vulnerable communities, ensuring that no one is left behind,” he said. For example, he said, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Population, and the government of Canada, UNDP is already assisting several areas, including Aswan and Arish, by providing mobile X-rays to those who need them most.

They also support micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), “as they are a key source of economic resilience, particularly as they transition to digital and environmentally friendly practices.” Their efforts, he said, will encompass biodiversity conservation, agrifood systems, and tourism development, integrating disaster and climate risks into development planning. 

For instance, the resident representative said, last year UNDP worked closely with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the Green Climate Fund, resulting in better protection of people living in low-lying lands in the Nile Delta against coastal flooding through the construction of 69 km of sand dune dike —an achievement that was highlighted at the latest executive board session of the programme.

Additionally, UNDP will focus on advancing green financing opportunities to catalyse financing, collaborating with key institutions and investors engaged in Egypt’s green transition sectors, including energy, water, waste, and biodiversity preservation. 

In the light of Egypt’s huge development financing gap, estimated at around $17 billion, UNDP emphasises the importance of tapping into diverse financing sources to address this shortfall effectively. This includes leveraging domestic resources, attracting foreign direct investment, engaging the private sector, and optimising international aid, he stressed.

“Developing policies and regulations for green finance will also be crucial for transitioning to a sustainable economy without adding to debt burdens,” the resident representative said. Through initiatives like the Integrated National Financing Framework in Egypt, which UNDP has assumed a technical lead on, UNDP aims to optimise available financing and catalyse new funding for sustainable development priorities with a particular focus on addressing climate issues, he pointed out. 

However, access to finance, especially for MSMEs pursuing sustainable initiatives, remains a significant challenge. nonetheless, he said, green finance offers a promising solution, as it could empower them to adopt eco-friendly practices and contribute to a job-rich, low-carbon economy. 

He pointed out that MSMEs are central to Egypt’s economy, constituting a remarkable 98 per cent of private enterprises with 3.8 million businesses and playing an essential role in shaping the country’s economic landscape.

UNDP has been a strategic partner to the Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprises Agency since its establishment. “Just last year, our collaboration contributed to the creation of nearly half a million jobs and the facilitation of 120,000 loans benefiting women and youth.”

These loans amounted to nearly LE4 billion benefiting both male and female entrepreneurs and demonstrating a clear commitment to fostering inclusive economic growth and empowering all segments of society through entrepreneurship and job creation, Fracassetti stressed.

The UNDP has also contributed to expanding the use and production of solar energy in Egypt, according to Fracassetti, climate and development can no longer be viewed as competing priorities, and access to clean energy is now a prerequisite for development.

Globally, solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies have become increasingly affordable over the years, he said, adding that with continued technological advancements, it is anticipated that their prices will continue to decline.

Over the past five years, UNDP in Egypt has supported the implementation of more than 240 small-scale solar-power stations, powering an array of public and private buildings, as well as cultural and historical sites through the Egypt PV Project in collaboration with the Industrial Modernisation Centre of the Ministry of Industry.

UNDP’s contribution to the solar-power stations, sourced from various funding channels, amounts to approximately $3.5 million, while the total cost of establishing and replicating these solar power stations exceeds $20 million. The primary financing for implementation came from the owners of the solar power stations, and this is a clear signal that the market is opening up, he pointed out. 

The UNDP’s contribution to solar-power stations primarily focuses on small-to-medium scale systems installed on various structures, including car sheds and the rooftops of buildings, factories, hotels, and houses.

Recently, they also assisted in installing five solar-energy stations located at prominent sites such as the Giza Plateau’s Visitor Centre, the Mohamed Ali Palace in Manial, the Sharm El-Sheikh Museum, and the National and Royal Jewellery Museums in Alexandria. These stations boast a total capacity of 325 KW of photovoltaic systems, generating 520 MWhr/year of electricity. This is estimated to reduce approximately 295 tons per year of the carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

The implementation of solar power plants is part of a broader plan to integrate solar energy across all Egyptian heritage sites and museums. This strategic step towards fostering sustainability and green energy practices within Egypt’s rich cultural heritage sector holds great promise. “I hope to see the transformative impact of this project inspire the replication of these efforts, providing green electricity to all historical sites in Egypt and showcasing the potential of partnerships and innovation in achieving renewable energy goals.”

He said incentives for solar-energy projects and household use come in various forms, all aiming to make renewable energy more accessible and financially viable.

Some governments around the world provide financial benefits like tax credits, rebates, or grants to help offset the initial costs of installing solar panels, he pointed out. Meanwhile, some countries have net metering, allowing system owners to sell excess electricity back to the grid, which can lower bills or even generate credits, he pointed out. Additionally, feed-in tariffs offer fixed rates for solar-generated electricity, ensuring a steady income stream. Grants, loans, and solar-renewable energy certificates also encourage investment in solar energy, he added. Moreover, Fracassetti said, ongoing advancements in solar technology and manufacturing hold promise for making solar panels more widely available and affordable, making it easier for households to adopt solar energy.

The obstacles preventing the private sector from investing in the production of photovoltaic cells include high initial costs, technological complexity, market uncertainty, competition from overseas, regulatory barriers, and limited access to financing. “Overcoming these challenges requires favourable policies and strategic partnerships to drive innovation and reduce costs.”

An existing UNDP project, Egypt PV Project, has played a vital role in establishing small-scale solar power stations, totaling approximately 25 MW in capacity and resulting in a reduction of over 20,000 tons of CO2 equivalent, according to the resident representative. In addition, currently, the UNDP is committed to helping transform Sharm El-Sheikh into a green city in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and the governorate of South Sinai, with a strong emphasis on enhancing the reliance on solar energy. Within just one year, significant progress has been made, including the development of sustainable transport infrastructure, initiatives to reduce single-use plastic, and the installation of solar plants. “The Green Sharm Initiative has the potential to position Sharm El-Sheikh as a model city for green transformation, representing a significant milestone for Egypt’s sustainability goals.” 

Furthermore, government initiatives successfully added over 40 MW of solar-energy capacity to the city ahead of the UN COP27, with plans for the UNDP to continue supporting additional hotels in installing small-scale solar power stations, he said. Additionally, an upcoming project with the Ministry of Electricity will focus on promoting energy efficiency and the application of solar energy in low-emission buildings.

With all these projects, UNDP aims to support Egypt in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning towards a low-carbon economy by promoting renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures, the resident representative said. Concurrently, efforts will focus on assisting vulnerable communities in Egypt in adapting to climate change impacts by enhancing resilience through climate-resilient infrastructure, sustainable agricultural practices, and sustainable tourism. “Our focus will not only be on mitigating climate change but also on helping to equip Egyptian society to cope with its inevitable effects.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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