Can MENA countries fight climate change the same way?


Climate change is among the most impactful and yet the least debated sources of instability for the whole of the MENA region.  Initiatives and dispersed actions are witnessed here and there.  Al Jazeera TV questions whether the MENA countries can fight climate change the same way?

Can MENA countries fight climate change the same way?

With Egypt’s COP27 less than six months away, experts are calling attention to the Middle East and North Africa region’s transition to clean energy.

MENA watchers are using upcoming UN climate negotiations in Egypt to bring the region into focus, particularly regarding the challenges it faces in transitioning to clean energy [File: Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters]

By Sanam Mahoozi

11 June 2022

Global climate talks are coming to the hottest and driest part of the planet.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will host the next United Nations climate change conference where decision-makers from around the world will come together to agree on actions required to limit rising temperatures.

Last year, governments made a pact during COP26 – the climate summit that took place in the United Kingdom’s city of Glasgow, to prevent the planet from heating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by mid-century, a threshold that if surpassed could have catastrophic results for humans and ecosystems.

At the same time, Egypt was selected to host COP27 this November in Sharm El-Sheikh, a resort town located between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. Incidentally, COP28 will also happen in MENA in the United Arab Emirates the following year.

Since the UN meetings began back in 1995, the region has accommodated the international climate change conferences known as COPs only a few times – twice in Marrakesh, Morocco, and once in Doha, Qatar, almost a decade ago.

Climate meetings are where leaders present national targets and proposals for cutting back emissions of greenhouse gases. The main objective is to get governments to prevent the release of large quantities of emissions into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.

The problem, however, is that about 80 percent of the world’s power comes from coal, oil and gas, and most nations are heavily reliant on these for their energy needs. Current energy mixes need to be replaced with greener alternatives, but in practice, fossil fuels are still very much running the show.

The International Energy Agency recorded the highest yearly level of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the energy sector in 2021.

Secure a pathway

Transforming energy systems is costly and is a difficult undertaking worldwide. For oil and gas producers in MENA, this task is even harder given that 95 percent of their electricity is generated from fossil fuels.

Climate change has also been drying and warming the region faster than anywhere else on Earth, making it more vulnerable to extreme weather events such as drought.

A pathway for the region that is safe and fair must be created and COP27 can serve as the platform to do that, analysts have said.

“Climate change negotiations tend to focus mainly on energy and decarbonisation while other important issues such as justice and water scarcity are not getting the attention they deserve,” Kaveh Madani of United Nations University and head of Iran’s delegation to COP23 told Al Jazeera.

“Prescribing identical solution measures is wrong because not all countries have access to equal resources and opportunities,” Madani added.

MENA watchers have used the negotiations in Egypt to bring the region into focus, particularly regarding the challenges it faces in transitioning to clean energy.

The most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change left no doubt that quick and deep emission cuts will have to take place across all economies, including in MENA, to prevent the worst effects of global warming from happening.

To do that, predominantly fossil fuel energy mixes in the region will need to start including more alternative sources. Renewables such as solar and wind have been considered possible alternatives.

Hydropower, however, may be the least desirable because electricity is generated by reservoirs of water barricaded by large dams and excessive dam building for energy and agricultural purposes in the region has already contributed to major rivers in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Egypt drying up.

“Water, energy, and environment are three interconnected factors. They are the pillars that define the quality of life in any country … If one goes wrong the others follow,” said Essam Heggy, a scientist at the University of Southern California.

So, whether it is at the climate summit in Egypt or the UAE, “any discussion on clean energy in MENA will have to address the issue of water management in the region,” added Heggy.

A fair transition

Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa have economies that depend solely on revenue derived from the production and export of oil and gas.

Energy transitioning means complying with international climate agreements, a scenario in which, by the year 2050, all greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere are offset.

For this to happen, MENA countries will need to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. However, not all governments can commit to this timeframe simultaneously.

With COP27 on the horizon, it is likely that more nations, including Egypt, will be pressured into submitting decarbonisation plans faster. Some wealthy countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have already done so.

But green financing opportunities are not equal across the region. Iran, for example, one of the highest carbon emitters in the world, is prohibited from receiving foreign investment to develop its renewable energy sector because of US sanctions

War-ravaged nations, such as Iraq and Syria, in the Middle East will also have trouble allocating the money needed for reconstructing cities and industries with clean energy.

Moreover, decision-makers in MENA have said developed economies, such as the United States, the EU, and China – the most responsible historically for greenhouse gas pollution, should help pay for the technology they need for decarbonisation.

According to a survey published by management consultancy McKinsey, lower-income fossil fuel-based nations will have to spend significantly more on transitioning given their high exposure to climate change and its damages.

In their defence and the interest of fairness, mitigation cannot be expected to occur the same way across the MENA region.

As Ali Ahmad, energy and climate change specialist at the World Bank told Al Jazeera, “obstacles facing the region are very country specific, each one has its own political economy considerations that shapes the pace and depth of its energy transition pathway.”

Bridging the gap

Global oil and gas markets have changed significantly since COP26 concluded in Glasgow, Scotland, last November with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the plethora of sanctions that followed on Moscow.

To keep the security and costs of its energy sector in check, the EU will have to find a new partner to provide it with the gas it currently gets from Russia. Specifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Iran, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt have some of the world’s largest gas reserves, and possess the expertise in using it for both domestic energy intake, as well as for exports.

“It’s really likely that over the next few years Europe will start replacing its gas imports from Russia, and so basically the gas that is produced in MENA will find a renewed market at possibly a higher price,” Ahmad said.

Egypt and Qatar are already reaping the rewards having signed major deals with the Europeans for the development of the liquefied form of natural gas (LNG), which can be easily delivered by tankers rather than pipelines.

Even though natural gas is notoriously bad for the atmosphere and releases huge amounts of methane – the second-leading contributor to human-induced climate change – it is being championed as a bridging agent that can help pave the way for MENA’s transition to clean energy.

Natural gas emits about 45 percent less CO2 than oil and coal and has been recognised as the cleanest form of fossil fuel by the International Energy Agency.

Solar, wind, and green hydrogen are better options to constitute MENA’s future energy mixes, but “we need to check and evaluate which one of these fuels has a well-established supply chain and existing infrastructure to fill the gap in energy transition for now, and the answer is natural gas,” Farid Safari, visiting research fellow at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Ultimately for the Middle East and North Africa, “the energy mix will differ by country and really depends on the region and the range of circumstances – including renewable resources, access to capital, and available alternatives,” Ali al-Saffar, Middle East and North Africa programme manager at the International Energy Agency, told Al Jazeera.


Why smarter surfaces, not air conditioning, is the answer

For much of the MENA region, “living” means putting up with the prevailing oppressive climate with air-conditioned (A/C) machinery.  The use of A/C, however, contributed and many including the United Nations warned of climate change-induced heat waves worsening the ambient air.   From the Mediterranean shores to Baghdad through to all GCC, the region is right now undergoing a maximum Degrees Centigrade.  All houses, offices and others are equipped with individual and/or collective cooling systems.   Global Construction Review article by Greg Kats, Ian Riley and Manon Burbidge on why smarter surfaces and no air conditioning are the answer for their scorching cities.  The above-featured image is credit to iStock.

Why smarter surfaces, not air conditioning, is the answer for our scorching cities


Air conditioners in Kuala Lumpur. We need more reflective surfaces because air conditioners create a vicious energy consumption spiral, says the Smart Surfaces Coalition (Tinou Bao/CC BY 2.0)
Following another year of record-breaking temperatures, droughts and heatwaves across the world in 2021, it is time to look again at our options to manage summer heat, particularly in towns and cities, which suffer from the Urban Heat Island effect.

This occurs when darkly-paved roads, car parks and dark roofs absorb solar radiation and release it back as heat, instead of reflecting it back into the atmosphere, along with waste heat from buildings. It can lead to temperature differences between urban and rural areas of as much as 6-12ºC, particularly at night.

High summer temperatures are not only uncomfortable, but also lead to excess mortality, particularly among vulnerable groups, including the elderly, and those with disabilities and underlying health conditions.

Governments and people look to air conditioning to cool down but in the long-term, reliance on private AC for urban cooling would cost the planet dearly.

Owing to climate change-induced temperature increases, by 2050, the number of air conditioners globally is projected to grow from 1.6 billion to 5.6 billion. This would result in additional emissions, created by excess energy demand, that could add 0.5ºC of global warming, pushing the Paris Agreement target of 1.5ºC maximum beyond our reach.

Many air conditioners are cheap and inefficient window-mounted units. Studies of cities ranging from Phoenix to Tokyo show that large increases in these types of air conditioners can add as much as 1ºC to outdoor heat. This creates a feedback loop; if the outdoor temperature becomes hotter, air conditioners are needed for longer, thus increasing the outdoor temperature, and so on.

When air conditioners are stacked one above each other, floor after floor up the sides of buildings, they heat up the intake air of the AC units above, making them less efficient.

Worse, the AC units may not work when we need them most: electric grids are most likely to break down during peak use periods, and for most of the world this is determined by AC usage during the hottest days, when people are at greatest risk of heat-related deaths.

The strategy of indefinitely expanding air conditioning to cool buildings and people in warming cities will simply not work in the medium- and long-term.

So, what is the alternative to ever more air conditioners? One option is to cool the city and its neighbourhoods by altering the urban fabric itself.

“Smart surfaces” are defined by the Smart Surfaces Coalition (SSC) as any surface that better manages sunlight and rainfall than dark, impervious surfaces. They include reflective, porous and green surfaces that, if installed in combination with increasing tree and solar PV coverage in urban environments, can work to decrease the impact of heat in built-up areas.

Regular concrete has higher reflectivity than asphalt, shingles or slate, the most common roads and roofing surfaces. It can be increased by using lighter coloured materials in the concrete mix.

The material with the biggest impact is sand, which is much more visible in the surface of concrete than the typical aggregates used. In addition, urban vegetation, in the form of parks and green spaces, can, in combination with broad application of highly reflective surfaces, cool surrounding areas by as much as 5ºC.

The SSC’s coalition of leading health, planning, architecture, city policy, energy, affordable housing, energy and other organizations is dedicated to supporting expanded adoption of smart surfaces globally. Prior studies of potential city-wide smart surfaces adoption by Baltimore, El Paso, Philadelphia and Washington DC demonstrated smart surfaces to be a cost-effective, city-wide strategy to address climate change mitigation and adaptation that would also improve equity and create jobs.

The SSC’s study of Baltimore modelled 12 measures, ranging from planting more trees to making roof and car park surfaces porous and more reflective with lighter-coloured materials. This included the use of low and even negative carbon concretes, which are important shared objectives of the World Cement Association and the smart surfaces Coalition. According to this study, by 2050, adoption of a select set of smart surfaces could cool greater Baltimore by 1.7ºC and downtown Baltimore by 2.4ºC.

Additionally, the benefits to health, employment, tourism and lower energy bills are ten times larger than the costs: the net present value to Baltimore over 30 years could be as much as $20,000 per person.

The study also revealed that the greatest decreases in temperature could be achieved by putting smart surfaces in lower-income neighbourhoods, which are typically less green and built with more dark, impervious materials. Residents here are much more likely to live in inefficient buildings and disproportionately suffer from respiratory and other health problems.

While energy costs make up about 1% of total income for the highest-income renters in the USA, among the lowest-income renters, tenant-paid household energy costs are approximately 15% of income. This inequality has broad income, health, quality of life, and cost impacts. Smart surfaces, such as reflective roofs and trees, can cut these energy bills by up to a third.

It is clear that a cleaner and more effective solution than air conditioners is needed to ensure that our towns and cities remain habitable and safe in the face of global climate change. Implementing smart surfaces, in the form of urban greening and reflective surfaces can make a tangible difference to communities, particularly those who are already vulnerable to extreme heat.

  • Greg Kats is founder and CEO of the Smart Surfaces Coalition; Ian Riley is CEO of the World Cement Association; Manon Burbidge is policy and communications manager at the World Cement Association.

Can the Middle East Avoid the Coming Climate Disaster?


At a time when it is no more Climate-related disasters posing a ‘major’ growth threat, can the Middle East avoid the Coming Climate Disaster?

While the costs of mitigation and adaptation reforms will be high, the price of inaction is immeasurable.

The Middle East has a severe climate problem. According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, the average temperature in the region has risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1990, which is more than twice the global average. On top of that, countries there and in Central Asia account for nearly half of the fifty countries most prone to “extreme heat events” (periods of excessive temperatures and humidity). Further temperature increases are expected, with adverse economic, environmental, and societal consequences for the region.

For example, in 2019, the United Nations sounded the alarm of a coming era of “climate apartheid,” wherein extreme temperatures and prolonged heatwaves threaten to “‘undo the last 50 years’ of development, global health and poverty reduction” and impoverish millions. This new reality will be particularly consequential for the Middle East, which has already been struggling to address electricity shortages, economic inequality, and human harm intensified by lengthy heatwaves with record temperatures. These pains are likely to have a pronounced economic effect: as the IMF reports, “Even in a moderate emission scenario (RCP 4.5) that limits global warming to 2-3 [degrees Celsius] by 2100, mortality-related costs [the cost of deaths and adaptations on society] … could reach an average of 1.6 percent of GDP per year during 2040-59.” And the situation is even grimmer for the region’s hottest countries—such as Bahrain, Djibouti, Mauritania, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The IMF says that these nations could see an “immediate decline in per capita economic growth of around 2 percentage points” for every “temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius.”

Of course, it is not just rising temperatures but also declining precipitation rates that are exacerbating the region’s challenges. Indeed, decreasing annual precipitation rates are aggravating the Middle East’s water crisis, which is one of the world’s worst due to the region’s arid climate and years of state governments mismanaging their water resources and subsidizing water-intensive agriculture and animal husbandry. Adapting to the coming climate emergency will greatly burden the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that uses, on average, more than four times of its available freshwater resources and is home to twelve of the seventeen most water-stressed countries in the world.

Image courtesy of the International Monetary Fund’s report, “Feeling the Heat: Adapting to Climate Change in the Middle East and Central Asia,” where MENAP represents the Middle East and North Africa plus Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The above featured image is of Arab News


MENA states may be able to meet their green ambitions



The desire to minimize dependency on fossil fuels, improve energy security, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions has prompted governments in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) area to commit to meeting aggressive renewable energy objectives. By 2030, MENA countries want to produce between 15% to 50% of their power from renewable sources. A favorable climate for the uptake of renewables, notably solar & wind power, is being created by falling technology costs and an increasing focus on green regulations. However, the MENA region has been reluctant to adopt renewable energy, with a total developed renewable energy capacity of only 10.6 gigawatts (GW) relative to a worldwide total of 2,799 GW by 2020.

ESS (Energy storage systems) will be critical in integrating variable renewable energy (VRE) technologies into power grids. Through capacity firming as well as other ancillary services like frequency and voltage management, ESS will improve the flexibility and stability of the power systems.

ESS offers a variety of services that can be combined to maximize value based on the demands and requirements of the power system and grid. Depending on market needs, these services are rewarded differently. Moreover, to the storage capacity payment, service stacking offers revenue stacking, making ESS’s business case more appealing. Traditionally, power system design has concentrated on increasing power-producing capacity to satisfy rising electrical demand. This has sparked a competition throughout the MENA region to increase power generation, which is primarily based on thermal energy and is growing at a rate of 7% per year. Population growth, subsidies, and the ever-increasing need for cooling and water are all driving up demand. The trend in power system design is toward lower peak loads, which is crucial for MENA nations to minimize the pace and rate of power output capacity addition.

Nations in the region are undertaking steps to increase their energy storage capability, with 30 projects expected to be completed by 2025. Pumped hydro storage (PHS) accounts for 55 percent of the region’s ESS installed capacity, relative to 90 percent globally, while batteries, especially lithium-ion and sodium-sulfur batteries, are predicted to rise from 7% to 45 percent of MENA’s ESS by 2025.

The reasons for ESS deployment differ per area. Ambitious renewable energy objectives encourage Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and the majority of Gulf republics. This applies mostly to utility-scale FTM (front-of-meter) applications — grid-scale energy storage linked to generation sources or even transmission and distribution (T&D) networks — mainly through renewable energy-plus-storage auctions or even the co-location of solar and wind power plus storage. Currently, FTM applications account for 89 percent of the region’s ESS installed capacity. Significant power supply shortages, on the other hand, provide another push for ESS in countries that experience frequent power outages, such as Iraq and Lebanon. This is largely in terms of behind-the-meter (BTM) solutions, which mitigate the socioeconomic losses linked with blackouts by storing electricity on-premises behind the consumer’s meter.

Despite these factors, ESS deployment in the Middle East and North Africa is currently around 1.46 GW, relative to a worldwide capacity of around 10 GW, or simply below 15% of overall capacity – roughly equivalent to battery storage in the United Kingdom. To expedite ESS and VRE implementation in the region, governments, power utilities, and financial institutions will require to address a number of legislative, financial, and market impediments.


Climate change, overuse kill off Iraq Sawa Lake


Reporting on one particular water scarcity that is sweeping the Middle East, Kuwait News found that the situation is not only due to climate change, but to overuse that kill off Iraq Sawa Lake thus human mismanagement of the vital resource would be looked at.

Climate change, overuse kill off Iraq Sawa Lake

The above-featured image is SAMAWAH: An aerial view that shows a pond remaining at the dried-up Sawa Lake in Iraq’s southern province of Al-Muthanna.- AFP

SAWA LAKE: A “No Fishing” sign on the edge of Iraq’s western desert is one of the few clues that this was once Sawa Lake, a biodiverse wetland and recreational landmark. Human activity and climate change have combined to turn the site into a barren wasteland with piles of salt.  Abandoned hotels and tourist facilities here hark back to the 1990s when the salt lake, circled by sandy banks, was in its heyday and popular with newly-weds and families who came to swim and picnic.

But today, the lake near the city of Samawa, south of the capital Baghdad, is completely dry. Bottles litter its former banks and plastic bags dangle from sun-scorched shrubs, while two pontoons have been reduced to rust. “This year, for the first time, the lake has disappeared,” environmental activist Husam Subhi said. “In previous years, the water area had decreased during the dry seasons.”

Today, on the sandy ground sprinkled with salt, only a pond remains where tiny fish swim, in a source that connects the lake to an underground water table. The five-square-kilometer lake has been drying up since 2014, says Youssef Jabbar, environmental department head of Muthana province. The causes have been “climate change and rising temperatures,” he explained. “Muthana is a desert province, it suffers from drought and lack of rainfall.”

1,000 illegal wells

A government statement issued last week also pointed to “more than 1,000 wells illegally dug” for agriculture in the area. Additionally, nearby cement and salt factories have “drained significant amounts of water from the groundwater that feeds the lake”, Jabbar said. It would take nothing short of a miracle to bring Sawa Lake back to life.

Use of aquifers would have to be curbed and, following three years of drought, the area would now need several seasons of abundant rainfall, in a country hit by desertification and regarded as one of the five most vulnerable to climate change. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, a global treaty, recognized Sawa as “unique… because it is a closed water body in an area of sabkha (salt flat) with no inlet or outlet.

“The lake is formed over limestone rock and is isolated by gypsum barriers surrounding the lake; its water chemistry is unique,” says the convention’s website. A stopover for migratory birds, the lake was once “home to several globally vulnerable species” such as the eastern imperial eagle, houbara bustard and marbled duck.

‘Lake died before me’

Sawa is not the only body of water in Iraq facing the perils of drought. Iraqi social media is often filled with photos of grotesquely cracked soil, such as in the UNESCO-listed Howeiza marshes in the south, or Razzaza Lake in the central province of Karbala. In Sawa, a sharp drop in rainfall – now only 30 percent of what used to be normal for the region – has lowered the underground water table, itself drained by wells, said Aoun Dhiab, a senior advisor at Iraq’s water resources ministry.

And rising temperatures have increased evaporation. Dhiab said authorities have banned the digging of new wells and are working to close illegally-dug wells across the country. Latif Dibes, who divides his time between his hometown of Samawa and his adopted country of Sweden, has worked for the past decade to raise environmental awareness.

The former driving school instructor cleans up the banks of the Euphrates River and has turned the vast, lush garden of his home into a public park. He remembers the school trips and holidays of his childhood, when the family would go swimming at Sawa. “If the authorities had taken an interest, the lake would not have disappeared at this rate. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I am 60 years old and I grew up with the lake. I thought I would disappear before it, but unfortunately, it has died before me.”