Climate change tops regional agenda

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Medlir Mema, PhD
Fellow, Middle East Policy Council


The 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) underway in Glasgow has brought together government officials and representatives of civil society from around the world to try to find a way to avoid the worst effects of the impending crisis. Among those present are delegates from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region which, as many observers have expressed with alarm, stands to be affected disproportionately by the shifts in climate patterns. Not surprisingly, many of them are urging their governments to implement more environmentally friendly policies and technologies.

Azza Radwan Sedky, an Egyptian journalist and political analyst writing for Al Ahram, considers the COP26 gathering an “opportunity” and “responsibility” for Egypt. Given the impact that climate change is likely to have on the region, Sedky calls on the government to take the lead on the issue both internationally and domestically: “COP26 is a responsibility for sure, but it is also an opportunity like no other. And the onus lies on the collective effort of all Egyptians to show to the world how Egypt is handling climate change. More importantly, it is indeed an opportunity to make Egyptians aware of how climate change will affect Egypt. Egypt is vulnerable to the risk of climate change including the potential for flooding along the north coast as the sea rises, the potential for droughts with shortages in water resources caused by lack of rain and hotter weather. … It is also an opportunity to cultivate amongst Egyptians … how precious water is, what happens to the Nile when it is encroached upon and swamped in waste, and why we should all realize what is happening to the planet.”

A comment by U.S. President Joe Biden criticizing Saudi Arabia, along with Russia and China, for not doing enough to mitigate climate change has riled Saudi officials. Arab News’ long-time contributor Frank Kane believes Mr. Biden has mischaracterized the Saudi position, which in his view, “is much more nuanced than Biden credits it. Of course, as an economy that derives the vast bulk of its gross domestic product from the oil industry, it has to ensure that hydrocarbon revenue keeps flowing in order to guarantee it has the resources to maintain and advance the living standards of citizens and residents. It also needs that revenue to fund the transition to cleaner forms of fuels that will play a vital role in the future energy mix of the Kingdom. By 2030, oil will not be used anymore in domestic power production, which instead will be fueled by renewable sources like wind and solar and an equal proportion of natural gas. President Biden should know all this.”

Meanwhile, in Jordan Times, Hazim El-Naser, a former government official and chairman of the Middle East Water Forum, issued a call for Jordanian authorities to act on climate change before it’s too late. El-Naser points to the country’s lack of water resources as one of its greatest vulnerabilities, “a lifetime challenge [with which] Jordanians will most probably have to live and struggle … for many years to come. … Jordan is at a crossroads in this regard and needs to draft as quickly as possible a working strategy to address climate change’s impact across the various targeted sectors …, policies to be developed, programmes and action plans to increase awareness, resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts. … Jordan needs to establish a Jordan National Centre for Climate Change (JNCCC) that works in an integrated manner and to coordinate between different sectors, universities, NGOs and the private sector to come up with nationwide projects under the envisaged national strategy programmes to address climate change impacts including ways and means in how to tap into the Green Climate Change Fund.”

Israel has been surprisingly slow to get started on climate challenge, opines Dan Lavie in his latest op-ed for Israel Hayom. However, the U.N. climate conference provides a great opportunity for the country to put that slow start behind it and “fall in line with leading states. Now is the time to wake up. From Israel’s perspective, the conference should serve as a stepping stone on the country’s path to dealing with pressing environmental issues. That is why it is so important we set out measurable targets in the immediate term: Declaring a climate crisis, taking a leading role in the use of renewable solar energy, and implementing comprehensive public transportation reforms would all be positive steps for our children’s future. More importantly, these steps do not require a climate conference to succeed.”

Iranian officials are driven by a different set of considerations in their struggle to make the country less prone to natural disasters. As Faranak Bakhtiari notes in this article for Tehran Times, Iran’s main climate-related concerns go beyond global climate patterns. A more immediate concern is the short-term mismanagement of natural resources that is causing preventable disasters. However, there is a recognition that “the Iranian plateau, with its location between two vast expanses of water as well as the intersection of the Eurasian plateau and Saudi Arabia, has always been exposed to numerous natural hazards and disasters.  Earthquake, as one of the main natural challenges, occasionally becomes the uninvited guest in Iranian homes. On the other hand, the existence of important rivers and water reservoirs in the country has also increased flood risk. … Although natural disasters and their occurrence are beyond our control, our wrong and unprincipled actions can increase the number and severity of some of them. But without a doubt, the adoption of macro-policies will affect us sooner or later, taking into account human goals and ignoring the environment.”

While national strategies remain ways for countries in the region to address the need for the mitigation and reversal of climate-change patterns, The National’s editorial points to the need for greater regional cooperation and leadership. Encouragingly, so far, the signs are positive and “there have been recent developments to give people in the Middle East hope. Major regional powers have announced ambitious plans to reach net zero emissions: the UAE aims to do so by 2050 and Saudi Arabia by 2060. That two countries whose modern development has been so closely tied to hydrocarbons are committing to these ambitious targets is not just an example to the region, but to the world. And while the ultimate solution to the danger we face lies in huge national responsibilities to decarbonize, adaptation and new technologies will play a crucial role in saving lives and livelihoods as the world waits for fundamental global change. … What comes out of Cop26 in the next few days and weeks will show us just how committed countries are to making the sacrifices we need to stabilize the future. Faced with a particularly immediate threat, it might be the Middle East that leads the charge.”

Despite the recognition that each country in the region must do its best to combat global warming, there is a sense among many that, for the efforts to yield the desirable outcome, much of the burden must be borne by developed countries, which must ultimately underwrite and coordinate the effort. A Khaleej Times editorial sounds a more cautious note, considering previous efforts and promises to deal with the threat: “The trouble with conclaves like COP26 is that there’s a lot of talk and no concrete action. Development goals are in open conflict with green statements; temperature targets are unlikely to be met. … Punitive action is ruled out. Setting temperature limits, while showing intent, does little to prevent a warmer planet. The result could be devastating for future generations who deserve a better, safer life. It’s important to dig deeper to reach a consensus on the dangers of climate change. Rich countries have a moral obligation to help the developing world with green technology. Unless that happens, climate summits like COP26 will hold out false hopes.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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