DUBAI: Floods, storms and other extreme weather events have grown in frequency and intensity in many parts of the world over the past two decades, primarily as a result of global warming. To prevent temperatures rising any further, scientists are urging nations to drastically reduce their carbon emissions.
Governments in the Middle East have accelerated action toward reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the lead-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this November, including the adoption of renewables and methods for the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
One innovative strategy embraced by Saudi Arabia is the circular carbon economy (CCE), a closed-loop system designed to promote the reuse of resources that would otherwise have been wasted or discarded.
The Middle East region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming. Several of its nations regularly experience temperatures in excess of 50C, leading to droughts, the destruction of delicate ecosystems and the loss of livelihoods, particularly among poor farming communities.
In Iraq, Syria and Turkey, for instance, once mighty rivers are beginning to run dry, destroying fragile fishing communities along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates and allowing the desert to consume lands once considered a breadbasket.
The knock-on effects of climate change have resulted in the mass displacement of rural populations and the exacerbation of conflicts — trends that experts warn will only get worse if immediate and radical action is not taken at a global level.
“These events have not been directly caused by climate change, but they will be exacerbating the more frequent occurrence in the coming decades if action on climate is not taken,” said Saudi Arabia’s Princess Noura bint Turki Al-Saud, speaking virtually at the 9th World Sustainability Forum (WSF 2021) earlier this month.
Princess Noura is a founding partner at AEON Strategy and an advisory board member of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Circular Carbon Initiative.
CCE is an energy strategy that advocates the reduction, reuse and recycling of carbon products and their removal in an effort to eliminate harmful pollutants from the atmosphere.
Energy ministers from the G20 group of leading economies endorsed Saudi Arabia’s CCE approach to managing greenhouse-gas emissions last year when the Kingdom held the G20 presidency.
In partnership with Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom has made energy efficiency and the minimization of flaring at its oilfields top priorities in mitigating climate change, alongside fossil-fuel reduction through substitution with low-carbon energy sources such as renewables, hydropower, nuclear and bioenergy.
Using innovative technologies, carbon dioxide can be captured from the air and reused for useful products, such as fuels, bioenergy, chemicals, building materials, food and beverages. It can also be chemically transformed into new products such as fertilizer and cement, or other forms of energy such as synthetic fuels.
Technologies can also be used to capture and store CO2 to achieve a large-scale reduction of emissions. Countries can also increase the process of photosynthesis by planting more trees — a strategy that is key to the Kingdom’s Saudi Green initiative.
Although the need to cut carbon emissions to halt global warming is now widely accepted, Princess Noura cautioned that the reduction is currently happening too slowly to prevent global temperatures climbing 1.5 to 2 C above pre-industrial levels.
“Despite three decades of continued efforts in climate diplomacy and policy making, there has been little impact on curbing emissions,” she told the WSF panel. “Five years into the Paris Agreement, global CO2 concentrations continue to increase in the atmosphere, driven by unabated global emissions.”
In fact, by the end of 2020, CO2 emissions were 2 percent higher than they were at the same time the previous year. Now global CO2 emissions are creeping ever closer to their pre-pandemic peak due to an increasing demand for coal, oil and gas as economic life resumes.
The International Energy Agency estimates that in the absence of further policy changes, global oil demand could reach 100.6 million barrels a day by the end of 2020. “This recent and historic trend underscores the challenge of curbing emissions and decarbonizing the global energy system,” Princess Noura said.
In a world that remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels — both as a source of energy and, for many countries, a source of revenue — Princess Noura says there is a critical need to scale up adaptation and mitigation efforts globally and to focus on the humanitarian response in those countries most vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change.
She urged governments to consider adopting the inclusive and flexible pathways offered by the CCE platform, which aggregates all mitigation and carbon management options into a single framework.
“It is allowing nations to collaborate in mutual areas of benefit and collectively address emissions in a coordinated manner,” she said.
“The CCE framework highlights the importance of renewable energy technologies and enhanced energy efficiency, which will be crucial to decarbonizing our energy system, but it also stresses the value of the best carbon management technologies.
“These remove carbon already in the atmosphere or from a point source before it enters the atmosphere, to either store or to utilize through recycling into other products, or using directly for specific purposes.”
The CCE platform also emphasizes nature-based solutions, requiring a whole ecosystem for innovation, deployment and scale, underpinned by strong commitment from governments, Princess Noura said.
“(There is a) need to scale up solutions and drive innovation at a rate that is faster than the rates of changing climates. Much of the policies, regulations and support that brought modern renewables to the market over the past decades are necessary to deploy the technologies that are needed today to reduce carbon emissions.”
In its latest report published in August this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without the widespread adoption of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies, long-term global climate goals may be unobtainable.
According to the IEA, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to about $4 trillion to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
“CCUS is one of the few technologies available that can decarbonize both power generation and heavy industries, such as cement, steel and chemical production with verifiable emissions reductions,” it said.
Although the international community has been discussing the adoption of such technologies for some time, implementation has been slow.
“Any further delay in CCUS implementation will make it even harder to achieve the climate goals,” said Aqil Jamal, chief technologist leading the carbon management research division of Aramco’s R&D Center in Dhahran, speaking on the same WSF 2021 panel.
Trouble is, CCUS technologies are more readily available to rich countries, and energy access remains a problem for many developing countries.
“There is a huge portion of the global population that doesn’t have electricity nor clean cooking fuels,” Adam Sieminski, senior adviser to the board of trustees of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, told the panel.
“We have to find a way to do that — cleanly. The idea is gaining political traction, which means the ability to craft policies to put real pragmatic approaches in place is increasing.”
Sieminski added: “The CCE framework is something that’s being taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia.
“Many people seem to look at the whole concept of managing carbon as (costly), and the most important thing is that we have to move toward looking at this as value creation and how carbon can create value in the global economy.”