A joint energy and science partnership between Europe and the Middle East is essential in the face of declining resources, climate change, growing water and energy demands, and political change in the Arab world, writes Frank Lehner, based on the international symposium 'Solar Energy for Science'.
Solar energy has a unique role as a basis for sustainable development in the two regions, says Lehner. Countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have the solar capacity to carry out ambitious renewable energy plans — for example Egypt hopes to produce 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
With the right infrastructure, MENA could not only fulfil its own requirements but also have enough excess to cover up to 20 per cent of Europe's energy needs by 2050.
This shows that the two regions have much to gain from coordinating their research agendas and enhancing scientific, technological and educational cooperation, writes Lehner. But MENA spends a "meagre" proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development, and will need coordinated and coherent research strategies, programmes and priorities.
Europe can support countries in the region through programmes providing MENA scientists with access to European research centres that have excellent conditions for basic and applied science to promote innovation. But that will not be sufficient — local scientific capacity will need to be built up from the ground.
Conference participants cited the international research centre SESAME as an example of a multilateral cooperation project set to strengthen the natural and life sciences in MENA.
"Such research infrastructures are vital as they educate young researchers, counteract brain drain, and supply valuable cooperation links to international scientific communities," writes Lehner.