Turning the Tide: ME pushes projects to combat climate change

Low water security, air pollution and a whole host of other climate and environmental issues affect the Middle East more than almost every other region on Earth. So how is the Middle East addressing these issues in 2021, at a time when the pressure is on to act boldly and decisively for the interests of long-term global sustainability?

Wide-ranging efforts across the ME region

The emerging theme of late 2020 and early 2021 has been a renewed drive across leading global economies to tackle climate change. Throughout this period, leading international organisations and news outlets have published warnings that current emissions goals and other climate-related targets are not enough to stave off global catastrophe, pointing to a need for further actions by world leaders and their governments.

These warnings, combined with the world-changing effects of COVID-19, have lit something of a fire under governments and NGOs looking to act before it’s too late. This has led to a swathe of new climate targets emerging everywhere from Britain to China and, crucially, the US after the installation of the Biden Administration.

However, nowhere is the fight against climate change more pressing than in the Middle East. Fortunately, much of the region has been ahead of the global curve in terms of forming national strategies and pledging more ambitious targets on cutting emissions, boosting renewable energy, and other key environmental issues. Increasingly, we’re seeing governmental policy being backed by heavier investment in both landmark national projects and a widening range of smaller initiatives. Both of these approaches are vital for raising public awareness and participation in solving environmental issues, as well as boosting the profile of national and regional sustainability efforts as a whole.

Headline ME projects in Late 2020-2021

October 2020: Egypt successfully launched MENA’s first green bonds, at a total value of $750 million. While this is a relatively small figure overall, it is highly significant as a statement of intent to attract international investment in large public projects around sustainability. The initial $750 million, plus future green bonds planned for issuance, will finance $1.95 billion of public investment projects designated as ‘green’ by the Egyptian Government. 

November 2020: The UAE Government undertook a comprehensive review of environmental and sustainability projects being developed at a cost $1.8 billion, affirming its commitment to carrying them out. Headline projects include the $1 billion Dubai Centre for Waste Processing, which will be one of the largest in the world, with a municipal solid waste processing 1.9 million tonnes per year.

December 2020: Saudi Arabia's National Water Company (NWC) announced that $213 million will be spent on 30 environmental and water projects in the Asia region. Altogether, over one million citizens will benefit from vastly improved water and sanitation services, simultaneously boosting the nation’s long-term water security.

December 2020: Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation launched a pilot project to help farmers make their crop watering more efficient. By distributing sensors buried in the soil to measure moisture levels, farmers can track exactly when crops need to be watered, saving on water usage and labour costs. 200 farmers have entered the programme already, with a national rollout in the works.

Jan 2021: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Project, perhaps the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism project, achieved the first stage of the LEED for Cities (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certification in the ‘Plan & Design’ criteria. This is a significant endorsement of the megaproject’s green credentials and equally it is a statement of intent. It aims to achieve full LEED certification once complete, and is building the world’s largest battery storage facility to ensure that the entire site will run on 100% renewable energy.

March 2021: The UAE announced preparations are almost complete for the launch of a nanometric satellite – a regional first – designed to monitor, collect, and analyse environmental data. Primarily, its data-collecting efforts will help in forming long-term plans to address urban pollution and climate change.

2021 is a crucial year for ME climate change actions

While there is plenty to be positive about when looking at the Middle East’s current drive to boost sustainability in its key economies and industries, the region has a lot of ground to cover. In 2020, the UAE was the region’s best environmental performer, but still only ranked 42nd globally.

With massive issues around rising water and energy demand, waste generation and a widespread lack of public awareness on green issues, the road towards sustainability is still a long one. However, the early months of this year have provided a range of healthy indicators that the region has the political will, and the resources, to make more rapid gains in this crucial long-term effort to safeguard the environment for future generations.