“Climate change is among humanity’s greatest challenges, and the Middle East and Central Asia (ME&CA) region is on the frontlines of its human, physical, and economic ramifications.” That’s how the IMF’s March 2022 departmental paper – Feeling the Heat – described the region’s multi-faceted environmental challenge. The report underlined the already precarious nature of harsh climate zones in the region, where global warming exacerbates desertification, water stress, and rising sea levels.
The prognosis is not good. The region’s climatic trends entail economic disruptions, endanger food security, and undermine public health. As per the IMF report, there could be ripple effects on poverty, inequality, displacement, and conflict. But here comes the report’s most definitive. “While recognition of these challenges is high in the ME&CA region, with nearly two-thirds of its population perceiving climate change as a global emergency, decisive and broad-based action has yet to follow,” it says.
World Bank estimates that by 2050, climate-related water scarcity will cost the Middle East 6-14 percent of their GDP due to water-related impacts on agriculture, health, and incomes. As the most water-scarce region in the world and with rising temperatures likely to lead to more persistent and acute drought, the region is already a climate change hotspot. It is hence in the region’s interest to observe global climate change developments, track what is in store in the near future, and prepare for the change needed to mitigate the crisis.
There exists a broad realisation of the challenges at hand in the region. Countries in the region, whether big or small, battling mild or severe symptoms, are trying their own ways to counter the effect, some with reasonable success. Some of these efforts have helped the larger causes of the environment and have also received global recognition. One can still argue for a more coordinated response, and perhaps rightly so. It would be far more effective than even grand initiatives of individual countries.
Alongside language and culture, climatic conditions are also by and large similar across the Middle East region.
Let us look at some regional initiatives that are starting to bear fruit. Launched in October 2021, the Saudi Green Initiative brought under its umbrella over 60 initiatives, representing more than SAR 700 billion investment into green economic growth. Under this initiative, Saudi Arabia is backing global efforts to protect 30 percent of the global ocean in Marine Protected Areas and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures by 2030. It has also put its weight behind cutting methane emissions by 30 percent globally by 2030, following the UNEP-proposed six-sector solution. These are ambitious as well as time-bound targets.
The Saudi Green Initiative has combined environmental protection, energy transformation, and sustainability programs to achieve three overarching objectives to achieve the shared goal of a green future. These goals include reducing emissions, greening Saudi, and protecting land and sea. The target is to cut carbon emissions by more than 278 mtpa by 2030, plant 10 billion trees across Saudi Arabia, and raise protected areas in the country to over 30 percent of the total marine and terrestrial area. It is a commendable target and is bound to boost Saudi Arabia’s struggle against climate change.
Countries are also coming up with out-of-the-box ideas to change things on the ground. Green hydrogen pilot projects in the Middle East have started to showcase the potential of hydrogen commercialization as a carbon-free solution. It has already made a good start with DEWA launching the region’s first solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility. In the last 30 years, greenhouse gas emissions have more than tripled in the MENA region, emitting above the global average per person. The Middle East is also home to the top 10 countries by carbon dioxide emissions per person.
One major instance of collective efforts came in the form of the inaugural MENA Climate Week (MENACW 2022), the first-ever Climate Week in the region, held from March 28-31 here in Dubai. It opened with sessions putting the Week’s discussions into the context of regional leadership and global action and closed with a wrap-up session and a strong call to action from the host government and all partners. It brought together regional stakeholders to plan, forge partnerships, and expedite implementation. Overall, the key challenges and opportunities faced by MENA countries toward the green transition came under the spotlight.
An even cursory look at the green initiatives taking shape across the region and in various stages of implementation suggests there is no dearth of quick-thinking, speedy execution, and long-term focus of the policymakers. However, beyond the headlines, what would add momentum is more and more collective efforts. Treating the entire region as a backyard that needs to be preserved and nurtured would be the most practical way forward.
The writer is a journalist and researcher based in Abu Dhabi
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