Middle East can be a beacon of sustainable development

Middle East can be a beacon of sustainable development

The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crucial turning point in its efforts to combat climate change (File/AFP)
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The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crucial turning point in its efforts to combat climate change. Encouragingly, nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been proactive and are taking steps to invest significantly in renewable energy with the aim of broadening their energy portfolio, decreasing their reliance on fossil fuels and tackling environmental issues.

The imperative for MENA countries to increase their investments in renewable energy is not merely an environmental commitment, but also a strategic response to the pressing challenges posed by climate change. As global temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more frequent — and due to the climate vulnerabilities of the region —MENA countries must accelerate their transition toward sustainable energy sources to mitigate the impact of climate change and ensure a resilient and prosperous future.

The region is familiar with the negative effects of climate change, as its temperatures are rising, water scarcity is increasing and desertification is intensifying. Extreme weather events are also becoming more frequent. Coastal areas face the threat of rising sea levels, while arid regions experience more prolonged droughts. But by increasing their investments in clean energy, nations in the region can fortify their resilience to these negative effects.

Firstly, to address this issue, it is critical to chart a path toward decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. As we know, a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels, particularly in developed nations. Transitioning to renewable energy sources, particularly solar power, can be a powerful tool in reducing nations’ carbon footprints.

By increasing their investments in clean energy, nations in the region can fortify their resilience

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

By harnessing the abundant sunlight that bathes the Middle East and North Africa, countries can decrease their dependency on fossil fuels, thereby limiting their release of greenhouse gases and contributing to global efforts to curb climate change.

The second reason it is important to expedite the transition toward renewable energy is that the region grapples with water scarcity — a challenge that is exacerbated by climate change. Clean energy solutions, particularly solar power and wind power, can address the water-energy nexus by offering sustainable alternatives to traditional energy sources, which often require significant water consumption.

Solar power, in particular, is a water-efficient energy source that not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also helps alleviate the strain on already-scarce water resources. This dual benefit approach is a crucial aspect of sustainable development in the face of climate change.

Additionally, solar-powered irrigation systems and climate-resilient infrastructure contribute to building adaptive capacity, ensuring that the region can withstand and recover from the impacts of a changing climate.

Thirdly, in the context of climate uncertainties, securing energy needs should be given paramount importance. As has become evident, climate change introduces uncertainties into the availability and accessibility of traditional energy sources. By investing in clean energy, the region can enhance its energy security in the face of climate-related disruptions.

For example, solar power offers a reliable and consistent source of energy that is immune to the geopolitical tensions and market fluctuations that often characterize fossil fuel-dependent economies. This transition to more secure and sustainable energy sources not only shields the MENA region from external vulnerabilities, but also fosters long-term stability.

Investing in clean energy is not only an environmental imperative, but also an opportunity for economic diversification

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Fourthly, the economic implications of climate change cannot be overlooked. Extreme weather events, disrupted supply chains and shifting agricultural patterns can have profound effects on economies, particularly those dependent on traditional sectors.

In other words, investing in clean energy is not only an environmental imperative, but also an opportunity for economic diversification. The renewable energy sector, including solar, offers avenues for job creation, technological innovation and the development of new industries. By fostering a green economy, the MENA region can build resilience against the economic impacts of climate change and position itself as a leader in the global transition to sustainability.

But addressing climate change requires coordinated effort on a global scale. The Middle East can play a pivotal role in international climate diplomacy by shaping global narratives, fostering collaboration and contributing to the achievement of international climate goals. This not only aligns with international expectations, but also establishes the MENA region as a key player in the global fight against climate change.

In a nutshell, the imperative for the region to invest in green energy is not just a response to environmental concerns, but is also a strategic necessity.

Fortunately, nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have already made substantial investments in renewable energy as they aim to broaden their energy portfolio, diminish their reliance on fossil fuels and confront environmental challenges. From mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate and from fostering economic diversification to assuming a leadership role in global sustainability efforts, the benefits of this ongoing transition are far-reaching.

With its unique environmental challenges and abundant solar resources, the MENA region has the potential to emerge as a beacon of sustainable development, illustrating that the pursuit of clean energy is not just a global responsibility, but a pathway to a resilient and prosperous future for the region and the planet.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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