Climate crisis bearing down on Middle East – What is its response?

The severity of climate change risk to life, property and security has shifted up a gear, as it now injures and displaces 7 million people in an average year, while killing 2,600 and causing $2 billion in physical damage. However, this still just a taste of the challenges to come if climate change is not rapidly and radically addressed.

Nowhere is this pressure more apparent than in the Middle East, a region already more vulnerable than any other to drought, water insecurity and a range of other climate-related disasters that are increasing in frequency and severity.

As ever, the solutions are not simple or cheap. A mix of major policy shifts and investments are required to deliver on climate change pledges and minimise the long-term risks posed by extreme weather and rising temperatures. In the past decade, we have already seen words met with action in the Middle East, as governments pour resources into renewables, green financing and innovative clean tech systems. This ranges from massive solar installations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to Egypt’s modernisation of agriculture and sewerage systems, and Morocco’s recent surge to secure and expand key water infrastructure.

A lack of international funding cools off climate plans

As the climate crisis continues, it seems increasingly apparent that the Middle East must look to its own resources to continue the struggle. As COP27 – to be hosted in Egypt in November – approaches, a major conversation point will be the continued failure of the developed world to produce the $100 billion per year promised for developing nations to fund essential climate-related works. Despite this promise being made back in 2009, the money has failed to materialise year after year.

For now, each Middle Eastern nation must continue to manage its green recovery plans under its own finances. This makes the growing implementation of green financing – investments for sustainably viable projects and undertakings – even more vital as a way of galvanising climate-related improvements.

New thinking provides new opportunities

While overhauling and expanding critical infrastructure is key to combatting climate change, it doesn’t all have to be done with steel and concrete. A first-of-its-kind study from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) shows that massive savings can be realised on national infrastructure projects by incorporating nature into their plans.

Built infrastructure is responsible for over 60% of global emissions and is driving species and habitat loss. The report outlines in detail how this trend can be reversed by utilising natural features as replacements or complements for manmade infrastructure. Examples of this approach include using reefs or mangroves as sea wall defences, rather than concrete constructions, and using wetlands alongside water treatment plants.

Key insights from the report include the finding that Nature-based infrastructure (NBI) routinely delivers outcomes that are better or as good as manmade constructions, but with 50% lower costs involved. The report cites NBI as being appropriate for 11% for of the world’s $4.290 billion-worth of annual infrastructure needs, representing the equivalent of $248 billion per year, if this approach was fully implemented. In addition, NBI provides around 28% additional ‘added value’ compared to built infrastructure, in terms of environmental benefits such as storing carbon or reducing air pollution.

This report underlines an important shift in strategic thinking when it comes to major infrastructure projects. Not only is NBI a money-saver, it also directly contributes to reducing the risk of climate change. A double win for those governments and private enterprises willing to adopt it.

Monthly roundup: Middle East Climate initiatives and announcements

Morocco: Major reforestation in the Maâmora: Morocco’s Department of Water and Forests has announced a bold new initiative to repair and expand degraded forests across the country. The Maâmora is the largest cork oak forest in Morocco and possibly in the world. This is where the pilot test of the programme will begin, with over 3,000 hectares of forest targeted for forest and landscape restoration.

UAE: six-month food security action plan: The Emirates Food Security Council has produced a list of new measures designed to incentivise the reduction of food waste while boosting the competitiveness of local food products. This is part of a wider national strategy to reduce the rampant food waste levels of its population, while also lessening its reliance on food imports.

Saudi Arabia: Makkah Green Initiative: The Saudi province of Makkah has launched a new strategic initiative that consists of a package of environmental measures ranging from the rehabilitation of pasture areas, forests, valleys and natural water resources, as well as ambitious projects to create new national parks.

Saudi Arabia: Pilot algae plant: The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology aims to boost the presence of algae biotechnology within Saudi Arabia, and will design, build and operate a proof-of-concept algae plant that will provide raw material for animal feed at a much more sustainable rate than currently used options. It’s first phase will see create the facilities for growing microalgae biomass to feed animals such as fish and poultry.

GCC: Green finance boost: A new report from the PwC network has revealed that the GCC region has the potential to create 1 million new jobs and secure over $2 trillion in GDP through green finance. The size of this economic prize estimate is based on elements such at the region’s high levels of solar exposure, easy access to technology, availability of capital and willingness to attract FDI (Foreign Direct Investment).

Going green means going big

Climate analysts have noted that while the solutions to solve climate crises are known and available, it is almost always a question of money that determines whether they are implemented, and in what timeframe. While international financing has not yet materialised on nearly the scale than has been promised for nearly a decade, the current trickle of cross-border cash may still become a deluge. The upsurge of green financing has shown that the concept is gaining broader appeal in money markets, both domestically and internationally. Should this trend accelerate, as practically every financial analyst says it will, then so will the deployment of more ambitious climate-related solutions across the Middle East.