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The Middle East: COP26 and the journey to net zero

There is a renewed focus on the Middle East to show leadership and initiative on tackling issues of climate change with the official announcement from the United Nations that the UAE will host the COP28 international climate conference in 2023. The selection is significant and positions the COP in the MENA region for two years, with Egypt scheduled to host COP27 next year. Following the recent COP26, we take a look at the targets that Gulf States have pledged in their transition to achieving net zero on their carbon emissions.

The UAE was the first country in the Middle East to announce a ‘net zero by 2050 strategic initiative’, pledging to reduce carbon emissions by 23.5% (equivalent of 70 million tonnes) by 2030. To help achieve these targets, the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy announced new clean energy generation projects focusing on solar and nuclear sources and the Dubai Future Council of Energy unveiled a detailed roadmap to achieve a carbon neutral economy. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development has also committed US$400 million towards a new energy transition programme that aims at financing renewable energy projects in developing countries that may otherwise struggle to secure sufficient capital.

Saudi Arabia aims to reach net zero by 2060 while Saudi Aramco, the national oil company and one of the biggest oil companies in the world, has pledged net zero carbon emissions from its operations a decade earlier. The country has pledged US$1 billion in climate change initiatives as a part of the Saudi Green Initiative programme, which looks to establish a regional carbon capture and storage centre, an early storm warning centre and cloud seeding programmes in its endeavour for a greener future.

Qatar, with the world’s highest carbon intensity per capita, has launched a national climate change action plan with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030 and its carbon intensity from liquefied natural gas facilities by 25% by the same year.

Bahrain is not far behind with a net zero emissions commitment for 2060 and pledges to reduce emissions by 30% by 2035, including investments in renewable energy, carbon removal solutions and afforestation.

Oman's national energy strategy aims at supporting a gradual transition to low carbon economy in line with the Oman vision 2040, and reducing GHG emission growth by 7% in 2030.  

Iraq, as OPEC’s second largest oil producer, has committed to 1-2% reduction in emissions by 2030. It has also adopted the "Mesopotamian Revitalization" project as a framework for the nation’s environmental strategy, to include afforestation, modernizing of water administration and generating clean energy.

While most states in the Middle East have committed to ambitious targets in line with global expectations, it will be interesting to see how these pledges are put into action in the next few years with clear objectives, strategic planning and targeted investments. We are witnessing real momentum as the Gulf States transition from their historical reliance on hydrocarbons to becoming more balanced and sustainable economies, but the move to a net zero future will be based on realistic outcomes - as UAE’s minister of climate change and environment, Mariam Almheiri noted: “this is a transition, we can’t just switch off the tap.” Climate activists have, however, criticised the approach noting that it is too slow in adopting meaningful changes and the primary focus should be on reducing carbon output.


asia, climate change and environment, cop26, energy and infrastructure