Region at turning point in transition to a green economy
The monumental UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, this month welcomes more than 25,000 global leaders, environment ministers, senior officials and businesses to discuss the global responses to climate change. A number of important goals are being negotiated at this conference, chiefly to achieve emissions reductions targets by 2030 and global net zero by 2050. In parallel, countries are negotiating the securing of $100 billion in climate finance from developed countries and trillions from private sector organizations in order to mobilize these ambitious plans.
The Middle East is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with the region’s hundreds of millions of residents at risk. Without action, the region could face a number of impending threats, including extreme heat waves of 50 degrees Celsius for 200 days every year, food insecurity, water scarcity, desertification, reduced precipitation, land erosion, marine life deterioration, and forced displacement. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting COP26 in Glasgow, recently stated that countries’ failures to commit to the climate change emergency could incite “very difficult geopolitical events.”
Going forward, leaders will need to launch whole-of-nation green-growth strategies to achieve sustainability goals. In turn, it requires policymakers, regulators, enterprises and populations to reorient the way we live and operate. Across the globe, we are witnessing slow but impactful progress in this regard, with governments launching dedicated green economy strategies, funding sustainable businesses, reducing waste, facilitating greater efficiency in the use of natural resources, and adopting advanced technologies that ease environmental pressure.
As such, countries are vying for talents and innovators to devise home-grown innovations pertaining to sustainability solutions. To illustrate, several automotive corporations are investing in electric vehicle plants, with many governments supporting a full transition to electric cars in a few decades. For example, the European Commission has proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, aiming instead to gear up the transition to zero-emission electric vehicles.
Increasingly, property developers are utilizing more energy and resource-efficient technologies during construction. Meanwhile, the transport and logistics industries are leveraging renewable energy sources and more energy-efficient technologies in their daily operations. Many countries are also working diligently to preserve natural ecosystems, such as Singapore’s plan to dedicate about 200 hectares of land for nature parks and to plant 1 million more trees across the island, leading to the absorption of 78,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
Leaders need to launch whole-of-nation green-growth strategies to achieve sustainability goals.
It is equally important to steer consumers’ responsibility and behavior toward embracing a more sustainable lifestyle. Meanwhile, climate disasters will continue to devastate some countries and, thus, it is imperative that countries build resilient infrastructures and put in place early-warning systems to protect communities.
A complex transition to a zero-carbon future will have to be managed in an equitable and detailed manner, ensuring that affected employees and communities receive appropriate reskilling, retraining, investments and social protection to transition away from livelihoods that are reliant on fossil fuels. For example, a study by the International Labour Organization projects that about 6 million jobs in coal-powered electricity, petroleum extraction and other such sectors could be eliminated by 2030. This would require massive retraining and reskilling programs to absorb this workforce into green economies. Given the expected rise of global markets for sustainable practices and innovations in the next decade, we will witness bursts of economic growth and job-creation opportunities in this field.
The Middle East is also making headlines with its unique contributions to addressing climate change. Saudi Arabia recently announced a $186 billion investment to transition into a green economy and lead regional initiatives to tackle climate change. A special green investment fund worth $10.4 billion is part of its efforts to reduce regional carbon emissions. The Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative were launched this year to implement the largest afforestation project in the world, in addition to increasing vegetation cover, reducing carbon emissions, limiting pollution and land degradation, and protecting marine life. The initiatives aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the Middle East by 60 percent.
The UAE has adopted its game-changing National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017–2050, which prioritizes managing carbon emissions, investing in renewable energy, mitigating climate change risks and vulnerabilities, reorienting infrastructures to support sustainability goals, boosting energy efficiency, and introducing world-class technologies to generate added value for industries. For example, the Green Building and Sustainable Building standards for all new buildings are forecast to yield savings of AED10 billion ($2.7 billion) by 2030 and reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent. The UAE has also adopted policies to promote job creation in green businesses, in line with its economic diversification plan and efforts to reduce its reliance on oil revenues. At the same time, the UAE government manages regular public awareness campaigns about positive sustainability behaviors.
One of the key successful sustainability projects in the UAE is the Masdar Initiative, funded by the city of Abu Dhabi with a $15 billion budget to develop and commercialize technologies in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, water usage, and desalination. These technologies are diverted into Masdar City, which is deemed to be the world’s first carbon-neutral, waste-free and car-free city. It is currently training a new generation of home-grown experts in renewable energy and sustainability through the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.
The Middle East is at a critical turning point in history and must effect the required changes in its environmental policies in order to secure a more sustainable future. This opportunity must not be missed, and we each have a part to play in it.
• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.