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Reflections from MENA at the #SpecialMeeting24

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Special Meeting 2024

World leaders came together for a two-day Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development. Image: World Economic Forum/Deepu Das

Maroun Kairouz
Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum
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  • World leaders came together for a two-day Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development.
  • The Israel-Gaza conflict was a key focus of discussion, while leaders also discussed how to achieve a just energy transition and inclusive growth.
  • Here are some of the key takeaways from speakers from the MENA region on the core themes of the meeting.

Khalil Gibran, a poet from my own village, once said, "Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing towards what will be."

Today, the world is at an inflection point, where myriad challenges, from climate change to conflict, are creating a polycrisis that threatens such progress.

But collaboration on common goals can help countries from across the Global North and South shape a more prosperous future for all.

Saudi Arabia's bold and ambitious Vision 2030 is transforming the kingdom, making it a fitting location for the World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development, which convened under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

More than 1,000 leaders from 90 countries, including 220 government and public sector figures, came together to discuss solutions to immediate crises while laying the groundwork to create a more sustainable, resilient world.

The Middle East and North Africa region acutely faces the challenges of conflict, economic disparities and the climate crisis – and leaders from the region were at the centre of dialogues across the meeting's core themes.

Here are some of the key takeaways from speakers from MENA.

On a just energy transition

Saudi Arabia, in one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, understands the need for urgent action on the climate crisis. But the MENA region cannot solve it alone, said H.R.H. Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia.

“Climate change and sustainability is a global issue. It cannot be attended to in regional scopes. It has to be a global response,” he said in the session People, Policy, Finance: Realizing an Equitable Energy Transition.

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"We have to be conscious of the fact that we here in this room have choices that at least 60, 70% of the world population do not have. Those who are suffering from energy poverty, those who cannot make ends meet, those who are still burning trees, converting it into charcoal, and making ends meet through selling that charcoal and buying food for themselves.”

"Energy is the lifeblood of our economies, but it must be produced, supplied and consumed responsibly," said Faisal Alibrahim, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Economy and Planning. "We cannot allow a world where some have access when others do not."

We must invest in clean and renewable solutions, and we must do everything we can to balance the energy trilemma of security, equity and sustainability.

Faisal Alibrahim, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Economy and Planning

"No one should be left in the dark. But let's be clear: none of these problems or challenges exist in a vacuum. They do not know borders," he added.

Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, Minister of State for Energy Affairs of the State of Qatar agreed the energy transition must be just.

“The importance is to do it in a way that's responsible for this generation and the next, and make sure people who want to grow and countries that want to grow their economy have the same rights the richer countries have had all along,” he said.

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Fatma Thabet Chiboub, Tunisia's Minister of Industry, explained how the country is reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and the cost of energy by supporting its citizens to use solar power.

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On driving inclusive growth

The role of technology – and AI in particular – in accelerating progress and growth was widely discussed, but MENA leaders emphasized the need to invest in people and ensure inclusive growth.

Faisal Alibrahim, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Economy and Planning, set the tone in the Special Meeting's Opening Plenary.

"Inclusive growth is not just a lofty ideal, it is a categorical imperative," he said.

"We must co-create a global economy that works for everyone. Where every nation has the chance to thrive, regardless of its wealth or status. This means investing in people in their skills, in their education and in their well-being.

"We must also harness and direct new technologies to benefit humanity. Artificial intelligence has the potential to contribute trillions of dollars to the global economy over the next decade."

“International trade and globalization are the main driver for economic growth, and the main driver for inclusive growth," said Hala H. El Said Younes Minister of Planning and Economic Development of Egypt.

"What developing and middle-income countries need is more transfer of technology, more foreign direct investment and more capacity building for their people in order to become more resilient and to become more agile to any external shocks."

Ahmed Galal Ismail, CEO, of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, sounded a note of optimism for the region: "I think from a private sector point of view, we need to deal with the current short-term challenges, but we must not lose hope that this region is on the brink of potential, a new golden economic age."

There are "no egos" in economic planning said Saudi Arabia's Minister of Finance, Mohammed Al-Jadaan. "It's OK to change and adjust" in order to deal with the multiple shocks the world is experiencing.

You need to focus, first of all, on your own people and the human capital development. This is a long-term play that is critical. Human capital is very, very critical.

Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Minister of Finance, Saudi Arabia

But, he stressed, many countries will find it very difficult to provide quality education and healthcare for their people.

During the meeting, Saudi Arabia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to work together to help protect 370 million children annually from polio and lift millions out of poverty across 33 countries.

Women leaders from the region emphasized the need for inclusion of women, young people and marginalized communities to drive growth and job creation.

Noor bint Ali Alkhulaif, Minister of Sustainable Development of Bahrain, said: “What we're seeing is amazing in terms of recognition by the private sector of the importance of women. You cannot isolate half of society. It's almost easy maths – you add more inputs, you get more output.”

Emon Shakoor, a Young Global Shaper from the Forum's Riyadh Hub said: "I think of diversity as meaning being invited to the party. But inclusivity is being asked to dance. As world leaders, as government leaders, as leaders of our organizations, we must ensure that the people who work with us are always being asked to dance, that they truly feel included in these environments."

On collaboration and conflict resolution

The Israel-Gaza conflict was uppermost in MENA government leaders' thoughts, with calls for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid and a Palestinian state.

In his special remarks, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, said: “The first thing we ask for is a ceasefire. And, secondly, we want the humanitarian aid to be able to reach the Palestinian people who are in dire need of it in all of Gaza. And, third, we will not accept in any case, the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza or from the West Bank outside their country.”

The Prime Minister of Jordan, Bisher Hani Al Khasawneh, said: "The world should unite in bringing about a sustained ceasefire and ensure the continuous and sustained flow of humanitarian assistance and goods into Gaza."

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli also called for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state. “Now, not tomorrow, the whole world should gather to recognize the right of Palestinians to have their own state."

There was a strong focus on the need for collaboration to counter growing divergence and "geopolitical recession".

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"Global collaboration is not optional," said Faisal Alibrahim, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Economy and Planning.

"It is essential at this critical juncture ... human development calls for a convergence of cultures and ideas as we are all in the same boat, and we can either collaborate to steer it towards peace and prosperity, or we will drift towards a future that is out of our control."

Competition not conflict is needed to aid economic growth and development, said Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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On a just energy transitionOn driving inclusive growth On collaboration and conflict resolution

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