Now Reading
‘Apocalypse soon’: reluctant Middle East forced to open eyes to climate crisis | Climate crisis
[vc_row thb_full_width=”true” thb_row_padding=”true” thb_column_padding=”true” css=”.vc_custom_1608290870297{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][thb_postcarousel style=”style3″ navigation=”true” infinite=”” source=”size:6|post_type:post”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

‘Apocalypse soon’: reluctant Middle East forced to open eyes to climate crisis | Climate crisis

Smog obscures the view from the Saad Abad mountain north of the Iranian capital Tehran.


NOrthern Oman was just battered by Cyclone Shaheen, the first tropical storm to make it that far west into Gulf. The 50C heat caused constant blackouts in Basra, south Iraq, this summer. Residents were forced to drive around in their cars in order to cool down.

Kuwait held the record for the hottest day in 2016 at 53.6 degrees. Its 10-day rolling mean this summer was equally hot. Flash floods were reported in Jeddah and Mecca, as well as across the globe. Saudi ArabiaThe average temperature has risen by 2% and maximum temperatures by 2.5% since 1980s. Qatar is the country with the most carbon emissions per capita in the world and the largest producer of liquid natural gas. The outdoors are already being air-conditioned.

Tehran’s air pollution kills 4,000 people every year. In Khuzestan, citizens block roads and burn tires to protest droughts that have been caused by western sanctions, mismanagement and deadly heat. In the United Arab Emirates it is estimated that the climate crisis costs £6bn a year in higher health costs. Proliferating desalination plant proliferation has led to a 20% increase in the salinity of the Gulf. This has all the potential impact on marine life.

Smog obscures the view from the Saad Abad mountain north of the Iranian capital Tehran.
The view from the Saad Abad mountain north, Tehran, is obscured by the smog. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

It is only going to get worse as the temperatures, humidity, and water levels rise. The Middle East is heating at twice the rate as the rest of the globe. If the more dire predictions are true, Mecca might not be habitable by the end of this century. This could make the summer Haj a pilgrimage in peril or even disaster. Large tracts of the Middle East will resemble the desert in Ethiopia’s Afar, a vast expanse with no permanent human settlement pressed against the Red Sea. As the waters rise, the gleaming Gulf coast cities could be inundated. It’s not Apocalypse Now. But it is Apocalypse Foreseeably soon.

Jim Krane, an energy research analyst at Rice University Baker Institute in Houston, said: “It is a really tough issue because the interests of the ruling elites run contrary to the interests of citizens. Oil rents are essential for the survival and well-being of their regimes. To stay in power, they need the oil business to survive. Their system is based on continued oil rent, but ultimately, the citizens’ long-term interests are with a liveable climate”.

Why the world is getting hotter and how you can help – video explainer
Why the world is getting hotter and how you can help – video explainer

Zeina Khalil Haijj, the founder of Greenpeace Middle East, said that the region is experiencing a double squeeze. “As demand for energy changes, a region that has been fundamentally reliant on fossil fuel, oil and carbon for its economic survival cannot continue with this dependence. There will be no market to their oil. It will not be able to sell its oil because of climate change. Extreme weatherIt is changing lives every day. There is no choice, but to go green.”

The west’s insatiable demand for fossil fuel has allowed this region to build car-dependent cities, full of shiny air-conditioned skyscrapers and malls. Now it has to find a way to avoid its self-destruction; this has to be, in Thomas Friedman’s phrase, the Middle East’s Promethean moment.

The truth is that the region has been told for over a decade that it must make the transition from oil to non-oil. It is difficult to predict when oil demand will peak. This is due to a variety of assumptions about regulation and consumer behaviour. Many believe that oil demand will peak in 2040, then decline.

Pigeons take cover under the shade of trees on the seafront of Kuwait City
In July 2021, the Gulf state experienced extremely hot summer temperatures and pigeons sought shelter under trees along the coast of Kuwait City.Photograph by Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images

But the International Energy Association’s report Net Zero by 2050, by contrast, proposed oil demand fall from 88m barrels a day (mb/d) in 2020, to 72 mb/d in 2030 and to 24 mb/d in 2050, a fall of almost 75% between 2020 and 2050. It claimed that the Gulf has all three necessary elements to switch to renewables, capital, sun, and large tracts land.

There was not much evidence that the petrostates, including Iran had ever felt the need to move away from fossil fuels at this pace until recently.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman was asked to comment on the IEA report. He also called for a cessation in new oil investment. sequel to La La Land. “If I had toBe concerned with IEA projections,” Abdulaziz said in Abu Dhabi during a public forum at the 24th World Energy Congress in 2019, “I probably [would] be [on] Prozac all the time.”

The Qatari energy minister, Saad al-Kaabi, said cutting off oil and gas production would cause damaging supply crunches, and laughed at “the euphoria around energy transition”. Opec’s own projections suggest oil demand will rise in absolute terms through to 2045, and oil’s share of world wide energy demand will fall only from 30% to 28%. This is not a green revolution.

And taking a look at the current energy crunch, spiralling price of oilGiven the predicted oil demand this year, it is more difficult to argue for a rapid transition than a year ago.

The Gulf States still rely heavily on oil and gas exports. They account for more than 70% of total goods exported. KuwaitQatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Oman, as well as on oil revenues which account for more than 70% of total government revenues in Kuwait and Qatar, Oman, Bahrain. In Vision 2030, published 2016 by Mohammed bin Salman the Saudi crown prince promised to transform the country into an industrial powerhouse. The reality is quite different. According to the World Bank, Saudi Arabia is still 75% dependent upon oil exports for its finances.

A billboard in Riyadh advertising the 2019 Aramaco IPO, the biggest public listing ever.
A billboard in Riyadh promoting the 2019 Aramaco IPO. This is the largest ever public listing. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Aramco, a Saudi company with the largest carbon footprint It is not trying to diversify at a rate like BP or Shell. It just announced an investment to increase crude oil capacity from 12m barrels per day to 13m barrels by 2020.

Hajj believes it will require a rapid psychological shift from consumerism. “The Gulf is not even close to that kind of conversation. You can see the lifestyles in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Saudi Arabia. It is based upon endless consumption. My fear is that we are so far away from it both in terms of policy and willingness”.

Iran is now the seventh largest carbon emitter per capita. The UAE is second and Saudi Arabia is third.

The rulers of the Gulf at events like Cop26You can defend yourself from criticism by arguing the Gulf region is not collectively one the greatest emitters of carbon, either historically or now. The region is responsible only for 4.7 % worldwide carbon emissions. This is dwarfed in comparison to the pollution from Europe and America. The carbon emissions of those who use the oil that is exported from the Middle East are not logged.

2050: what happens if we ignore the climate crisis – video explainer
2050: what happens if we ignore the climate crisis – video explainer

Yet the region’s leaders now appear to be responding to pressure to act not only from the west, but their own population. The goose has finally realised the golden egg – oil – is turning brown. Frank Wouters, director of the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network, says that although even a year ago preaching about the green deal was not exactly rewarding (“It felt a bit like going to the butcher shop and telling them you want to become a vegetarian”), attitudes are changing.

The Gulf’s self-proclaimed first mover, the UAE, was the first country in the region to ratify the Paris agreement and is now the least dependent on oil for government revenues. Last week it announced a “net zero initiative by 2050” to be begun with $163bn (£118bn) of investments and a new minister for climate change and the environment, Mariam Almheiri. After the UAE had ordered an 80-day brainstorming session within every government department starting in June, the UAE announced the announcement. It was the first petrostate to adopt net zero in domestic consumption.

Although the plan is still in its infancy and some aspects are unclear, the direction is clear. It has committed to being 50% dependent on renewables, nuclear and nuclear for its electricity by 2020. Abu Dhabi’s national oil corporation has declared that it will source 100% its grid power from solar and nuclear. With a production capacity of up 5000MW, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s solar park is expected be the most cost-effective single-site solar park anywhere in the world. Also, the price of solar from the Middle East is extremely low.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, south of Dubai.
The Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Solar Park, south of DubaiPhotograph by AP

Since the Gulf states are extremely competitive, there has been a lot of news. Qatar has appointed climate minister; Bahrain aims to net zero by 2050; Kuwait has an emissions plan.

Saudi Arabia, which does not like to be outdone, had already announced that it would increase its renewables share in electricity generation from a tiny 0.3% to half-off by 2030. It also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the next decades. At the weekend the world’s largest oil producer staged an unprecedented Middle East Green Initiative Summit in Riyadh, an event that attracted broadly approving speeches from Prince Charles and John Kerry. It promised it would reach net zero carbon emissions within its borders by 2060It is less ambitious that Prince Charles’ request to meet the target by 2050. However, it does have clear baselines. It also stated it would reduce carbon emissions to 278m tonnes per year by 2030. This is more than double its previous target.

Senior Saudis claim they are masters at visions, summits, websites, and visions. But true credibility comes from making PR concepts like a circular carbon economy a reality. Many in the west are skeptical. Fossil fuels shipped abroad are not on the Saudi’s carbon ledger, owing to UN accounting rules, and the promised internal reduction in emissions is dependent on a heavy bet that unproven blue hydrogen and carbon capture technology will work. Greenpeace Middle East suggested the summit was a fraud to please the US, as the Saudis’ plan included increasing oil production. Others say at least Saudi has felt the need to join – rather than stall – the climate debate.

The reason the Gulf monarchies have been so slow to wean themselves from the commodity that made them wealthy is because the wealth has been used by the public to numb their opinions. Citizens have been bought off with a mixture of no taxes, petrol, and energy subsidies. This dynamic is different in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as Iran to a lesser degree. This is changing, however, and there are small green civil society groups such as Kesk and Nature Iraq that are emerging.

The issue, according to Israel’s leftist vegan environment minister Tamar Zandberg, could transform some of the frozen inter-state politics of the Middle East for the better. Zandberg, who works to get her own government adopt net zero says that the region’s countries have been very good at looking back on the past. They must instead focus on the future in light of climate change. “We share the same problems, the same sun, the same lack of water, and the same collapse of our ecosystem. We need to share the solutions.”

Support urgent, independent climate journalism


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.