Gulf Arab States Race to Net Zero

By Neeshad Shafi, +SocialGood Connector

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Saudi Green Initiative forum on October 23, 2021. FAYEZ NURELDINE — AFP/Getty Images

Shifting the global economy to renewable sources of energy is the key to combating climate change while improving quality of life. To do this, every national energy system must transition first, and fast. We have known for some time that the world is losing the fight to achieve net-zero emissions and prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change. Even with a significant drop in global carbon emissions in the next two decades, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report predicts that it is unlikely that we can limit global warming to the recommended 1.5°C threshold.

Recent announcements from the oil- and gas-rich Gulf countries made headlines locally and globally in time for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). These pledges highlight the substantial commercial opportunities for private sector investors and energy companies that are committed to driving progress. They also underscore the public sector support required to catalyze these efforts to move towards a decarbonized world.

At the end of October, leaders from across the Middle East met in Riyadh for the Middle East Green Initiative to discuss the region’s environmental challenges and strategies to address the impact of climate change, as well as cut emissions . Other leaders at the Riyadh conference emphasized the need for governments to accelerate efforts to slow climate change.

Leaders in the Race to Net Zero United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has already proven itself as a regional leader by becoming the first country in the Gulf to commit to significantly reducing its carbon footprint and announce plans to invest $163 billion in clean and renewable energy to achieve this goal by 2050. Furthermore, the country, which is an OPEC member, has in the past 15 years invested $40 billion in clean energy. Its first nuclear power plant, Barakah, has been connected to the national grid and the UAE aims to produce 14 GW of clean energy by 2030, up from about 100 MW in 2015. The UAE is also bidding to host the COP28 global climate talks in 2023.

Saudi Arabia

One of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia, announced it aims to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 to curb man-made climate change. However, the Saudis made no mention of reducing investment in oil and gas or moving away from the production of fossil fuels. Riyadh is forecast to make $150bn (£109bn) in oil revenues this year alone.

The announcement, made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the start of the kingdom’s first Saudi Green Initiative Forum, was made ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The prince vowed that Saudi Arabia would plant 450 million trees and rehabilitate huge swaths of land by 2030, reducing more than 270m tons of carbon emissions a year, and attempting to turn Riyadh into a more sustainable capital.

Qatar

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, criticized nations for making vague net-zero pledges, saying it would be wrong to commit to eliminating planet-warming emissions without having a proper plan in place. In its latest updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) plan submitted to the UNFCCC last month on 21, August, Qatar’s government said, “For the past several decades, Qatar has maintained a pioneering role in the international efforts to tackle climate change and promote sustainable development through the export of natural gas and its derivatives to the world’s energy market.” The updated NDC of Qatar indicates an ambitious plan to cut emissions 25% below business as usual in 2030 but does not disclose what those business-as-usual emissions are projected to be.

Bahrain

Bahrain has become the latest Gulf country to announce a check on carbon emissions with a target to reach net zero by 2060. Its decision came after neighboring Saudi Arabia declared a similar goal in October 2021.

The announcement from the special envoy for climate affairs and chief executive of the supreme council for the environment Dr Mohammed bin Daina stressed the importance of redoubling efforts to transform global cities into more sustainable areas through initiatives that contribute to reducing negative environmental and climate impacts. Alos, it included the use of clean technologies and creating new and creating more sustainable jobs

Oman

Oman updated its climate action plan in July to include a 7% reduction in emissions by 2030. Around half of Oman’s planned emissions reductions are conditional on international finance. Oman has been hit by low oil revenues during the coronavirus pandemic, which plunged the national economy into an unprecedented recession. The sultanate is less wealthy than Gulf neighbours like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar.

The Way Forward

In the last 8 to 10 months, there has been a heightened interest across the Middle East region, with new programs, announcements, and more focused implementation of various strategies and roadmaps to reduce emissions and achieve net zero. What we’re witnessing is a noticeable shift in the players involved in such plans, with greater involvement and even leadership coming from senior members of government, influential ministries, and leading companies, which are moving away from the positions of the past.

The new targets align the Gulf and Middle East countries with most major economies and a surge of new net-zero pledges from the Middle East’s oil-producing nations has raised expectations ahead of COP26. But, the move will remain a largely symbolic one until policymakers announce short-term measures that show how the carbon-neutrality target can be met.

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