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  • More and more cities around the world are looking for ways to build regenerative infrastructures in response to the consequences of the climate crisis. These infrastructures are designed and built with long-term environmental, economic and social impacts in mind having into account all financial and non-financial aspects.

The Middle East is among the world’s fastest growing regions economically, with many ambitious infrastructure and development projects forecasted to attract close to $1 trillion in investment by 2030, according with a study conducted by Morgan Stanley by the end of last year, “The Future of Saudi Arabia: Emerging at ‘Giga’speed”. These mega projects will transform societies and economies—and I believe they could also pioneer new sustainable development practices. Indeed, the region has a unique opportunity to advance a step-change in environmental considerations and emissions reductions in a sector that represents about 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, all aligned with the Saudi Green Initiative which aim is to reach ¨net zero¨ carbon emissions by 2060.

More and more cities around the world are looking for ways to build regenerative infrastructures in response to the consequences of the climate crisis. In addition to the dangers posed directly by extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, indirect damage related to infrastructure failure is becoming more frequent due to rising temperatures, making it clear that traditional urban designs and buildings need to change to adapt to the new circumstances.

In response, regenerative infrastructures emerge: systems designed not only to meet today's needs, but also to be able to adapt to tomorrow's demands having new technologies as main drives of that transformation.

Where regeneration and infrastructure meet

Sustainable infrastructure is infrastructure that is designed and built with long-term environmental, economic and social impacts in mind having into account all financial and non-financial aspects. It aims to reduce its impact on the environment, preserve natural resources and improve the quality of life of local communities.

Regenerative infrastructures are rooted on this idea but go beyond sustainability. While sustainability aims to maintain the status quo and prevent further environmental degradation, regenerative infrastructures take a more proactive approach. Their goal is to create systems that minimize negative impacts on the environment and actively contribute to ecological restoration and social well-being. They focus on creating integrated solutions that see infrastructure as part of a larger natural system.

They are based on the idea that construction should be able to regenerate and restore the environment rather than degrade or deplete it. This practice includes the use of green building techniques and technologies, the use of renewable energy and the conservation of natural resources, with the aim of minimizing waste and pollution generated by buildings and cities. In addition, regenerative infrastructure aims to improve the health and well-being of the community by providing green and healthy spaces to live and work in boosting all together Circular Economy.

A great example of this kind of infrastructure is Jubail 3B, the desalination plant by reverse osmosis of 575 million of liter per day capacity (the most efficient and sustainable desalination technology with the smallest carbon footprint) that we are building in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Two thirds of the plot where the plant is located, is a photovoltaic solar facility with a 61 Megawatt-peak (MWp) developed with most efficient and sustainable solution in the market. This solar field being the largest in-house solar capability for a desalination plant in KSA will have the capacity to reduce the power consumption from the grid helping to significantly reduce the CO2 associated to the water produced with this plant,. The Project will also include the storage tanks for daily production, the Electrical Special Facilities (Electrical Substation and 59 Km of an Overhead Transmission Line (OHTL) and the associated marine works.

This plant will help to the contribution of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and net-zero objectives, which seek to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and drive the shift to clean energy. Jubail 3B will supply 2 million people in the cities of Riyadh and Qassim once commercially operational in 2024.

Another important point that we cannot forget when talking about regenerative infrastructure is the green financing, as it provides the financial mechanisms and incentives necessary to support the development of these kind of infrastructures. It enables the allocation of capital towards projects that promote ecological restoration, resource efficiency, and renewable energy, facilitating the transition to a more sustainable and regenerative built environment.

It has gained significant momentum in recent years as governments, investors, and businesses seek to address climate change, promote sustainability, and transition to a low-carbon economy.

Regarding this, we raised last year $480 million in green finance for three sewage treatment plants (ISTPs) in Saudi Arabia. The financing syndicate for Madinah-3, Buraydah-2 and Tabuk-2 included local, regional, and international lenders.  The financing structure incorporated an Islamic tranche for 60% of the value of the loans structured as an “Ijara Facility”, or Islamic leasing. Investors and financial institutions are increasingly allocating capital to green infrastructure projects such as water treatment plants. 

The Project Companies developed a Green Loan Framework in accordance with Green Loan Principles 2021 of the Loan Market Association, the Asia Pacific Loan Market Association, and the Loan Syndications & Trading Associations. Under this framework, the green loans will finance expenditures related to the wastewater treatment projects. S&P Global Ratings has certified the finance for these projects as green, in compliance with best practices. The three ISTPs will treat the wastewater of up to 2 million inhabitants and contribute to national efforts to conserve and reuse water, in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, its blueprint for sustainable development and economic diversification.

Vision 2030 places a particular focus on optimizing the use of renewable water resources for agriculture purposes and improving the efficiency of municipal and agricultural water consumption.

To conclude, it is clear that in an ever-changing world scenario, it is essential to think of this type of infrastructure as a necessary asset to create regenerative and resilient cities.

By Julio de la Rosa, ACCIONA ME Business Development Director, Water Solutions