Climate change leads challenges for Gulf states
Gulf state leaders at the GCC summit in Riyadh last week pushed for greater cooperation and unity among Arab nations. There is a clear understanding that in today’s climate, with economic challenges from COVID-19 and changes to global oil usage, they must pull together to fully utilize the strength of the GCC and all it has to offer to fulfil the economic, environmental and political security of its people.
Many of the Gulf states have strategies for the next five or 10 years that focus on economic diversification, such as Saudi Vision 2030. There are plans to develop the involvement of two key resources close to my heart. Young people, who make up a growing proportion of the population, have great passion and creative ideas for change. Women in the GCC have a good level of higher education, but continue to have limited involvement in government and leadership. These two groups have so much to offer in terms of bringing great positive change to the governing bodies that run our nations, and to the nations themselves. It is a definite power move to include these groups more in the development of the GCC and its member states.
A key issue that needs to be urgently addressed is whether the Gulf states can come together to tackle climate change. The London School of Economics published a worrying report last month suggesting that there was limited awareness of climate change in the GCC. There is understanding that human influence has a detrimental effect on the global climate, and that flash floods in November 2018 and Asia’s highest recorded temperature of 53.9°C in Kuwait in 2017 are among the consequences. However, the report indicates that many people don’t relate these occurrences directly to their lives, or how countries can implement changes to reduce those impacts. Climate change is a huge issue that will affect us all, but it is not well understood. The report does give hope that the younger generation is both more informed and more interested in having a positive impact, but our young people say information is not easy to come by without international social media.
Whilst some of our countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions, large proportions of our energy usage come from extracting oil and desalinating water. Sixty percent of Kuwait’s energy usage is from residential buildings, a lot from AC units; if temperatures rise, this will only increase, further exacerbating the situation. While the wealthy have large cool environments with AC, many of our poorer people live in un-cooled homes, work outdoors in the heat, and travel on public transport.
Rising temperatures will cause deaths. Coastal areas will be more at risk from flash floods, which will affect fishing and tourism, and cause damage to homes. Rising temperatures and drought will affect crops and food supply. Rising pollution causes a rise in respiratory illnesses, such as asthma in children, which can kill. We need the Gulf states to unite to really talk about these issues, with scientists who really grasp the situation, to truly understand the risks and what can be done to reduce our impact without reducing our quality of life. We need to improve our education on this matter, starting in schools, but also through public media, all the way up to ministers and government officials who make decisions. Our governments can hold businesses to account and encourage citizen engagement.
On climate change, both we and our leaders must work to better comprehend it; to understand the direct risks it poses to us, and how we can reduce the negative influence we are having on our environment.
Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed
There is an economic impact too. International businesses looking for partnerships are already insisting on environmentally sound buildings and companies; if we don’t keep up, we will lose out to other nations and regions. And with oil losing favor, the GCC needs to continue to secure alternative economies.
In another environmental matter, discussions were planned at the GCC on how to deal with the oil in the storage vessel Safer moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, which is in a decrepit state and is expected to rupture and cause a spill if it is not moved soon to a safer place. Such a leak would cause serious environmental damage along the coasts of Saudi Arabia and eastern Africa.
To be able to focus on these pressing matters, the region must first have political stability. It is hard to make strategic long-term decisions if there is unease about what will happen tomorrow. There was a strong urge this year to move on from January’s AlUla Agreement, and the summit focused on building a better relationship with Iran. Despite this, the GCC is standing firm on disputing Iran’s occupation of three UAE islands in the Gulf. The GCC did state that any international discussions with Iran should involve GCC nations and should focus on dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The reinstating of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which the US withdrew in 2018, is under discussion at talks with Iran in Vienna.
Other instabilities in the region were also touched on, including a call for the UN to continue their support to help solve the Yemeni crisis, particularly as the instability continues to lead to terrorist attacks on Saudi infrastructure. This came just as more missiles fired by the Houthi militia in Yemen were intercepted on their way to strike Abha in Saudi Arabia.
Overall, there was a positive drive at this year’s GCC summit to continue to bring the GCC nations and their neighbors closer, to achieve solidarity and unification. Only by working together can we overcome the world’s problems, and in a world that technology is making smaller every day, our neighbors’ problems are our problems too. We must work to overcome our differences to be able to master our common concerns and it is heartening to see that being taken on board.
On climate change, both we and our leaders must work to better comprehend it; to understand the direct risks it poses to us, and how we can reduce the negative influence we are having on our environment. The impacts are closer and more direct than many realize, but we still have the power to make a difference. Let us set aside our disputes and work together to build a healthier, safer future for all.
Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed is a Professor of Law at Kuwait University, and a Visiting Fellow at Oxford.
Twitter : @Bashayeralmajed