MENA faces big – and needed – opportunity to cut carbon emissions

24 November 2023 3 min. read
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For countries in the MENA region, addressing the climate crisis is especially urgent. It will require bold initiatives and commitment from all sides to transform the huge risks into opportunities.

Climate change is perhaps the most pressing challenge of our times, and it is hitting the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) particularly hard. As far as global warming, the region has been getting twice as hot as the global average for the last 40 years, and it is expected to be 4 degrees Celsius warmer by the middle of this century.

More cross-border public-private collaboration will be needed for MENA countries to meaningfully address climate change. That is according to a report from management consulting firm Bain & Company and the World Economic Forum (WEF), which explores exactly what is at stake in MENA and what can be done about the situation.

MENA faces big – and needed – opportunity to cut carbon emissions

Net-zero pledges

Many MENA countries have made net-zero pledges for either 2050 or 2060, including Saudi Arabia (which represents around 37% of the region’s emissions) and the UAE (around 13%). Overall, around 60% of emissions and GDP in the MENA region have come under net-zero pledges.

While governments are taking steps to aim for net-zero emissions and support eco-friendly policies, it’s also up to companies to take action and help push forward efforts to adapt to climate change and promote sustainability.

While the current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) cover a significant majority of the region’s emissions, they still fall short of tangible outcomes that could spare the region from more of the negative effects of climate change. According to the report, these pledges (if they are ever actually met) still fall short of the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

MENA faces big - and needed - opportunity to cut carbon emissions

Diversity among MENA countries

Because there is significant diversity in the economies and amount of emissions among the different MENA countries, strategic priorities on how to decarbonize vary. For example, North African countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco have far lower emissions and lower GDPs. That is because they are simply not the energy producing giants that the GCC countries are.

These lower GDP non-GCC countries make up only 30% of all emissions across the MENA region, yet contain 70% of the population. The report therefore suggests that GCC countries must do much more to cut back emissions, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors like oil and gas.

On the other hand, all MENA countries, including North African countries, have a lot to gain from large-scale deployment of sustainable energy like solar and wind power.

MENA faces big - and needed - opportunity to cut carbon emissions

Local perspectives

According to a survey of MENA residents, 65% recognize climate change as a global threat, though only 45% expressed concern at the vulnerability of the MENA region. That is despite the unique threat that rising temperatures pose to the region.

Over half of respondents said they believed their country is onpar with or ahead of global sustainability efforts, showing a gap between perceived action and the reality. Despite that, 70% noted an increase in heat waves and air pollution in the past ten years, with older respondents more likely to notice changes in the climate.

Some experts say that because of boiling temperatures, the Middle East is actually slowing becoming uninhabitable (with cooling systems in summer months). Last year, several countries in the Gulf region and in Iran recorded some of the highest temperatures seen since recording began, with some cities in Iraq, Kuwait, and Oman reaching a searing 50 degrees Celsius.