Managing climate risks through regional collaboration

(File photo: Jordan News)
The rise of climate action in the Middle East over the last few months has brought climate change into the limelight like never before. Yet it has also raised more questions than it has answered.اضافة اعلان

Growing climate ambitions together with the commitment by Egypt and the UAE to host the next two UN climate summits, COP27 and COP28, have signaled a greater interest in climate change in the fossil fuel-rich region.

Some encouraging signs have been observed since 2021, including the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Middle East Green Initiative — which aims to reduce carbon emissions, restore 200 million hectares, and grow 50 billions trees — and the improved coordination between Arab states during climate negotiations.

However, real collective efforts remain elusive. Additionally, regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and the UAE are engaged in a multidimensional game of chess in which climate diplomacy has one of the lowest values on the board.

Without cooperation and policy coordination, each country would have to face climate change impacts alone. Such impacts could, in turn, lead to more tensions between communities within and between countries, creating a downward spiral.

One way to escape this alarming scenario and to circumvent poor policy coordination is through technical research and knowledge-sharing. The Middle East shares similar environmental, geographical, and ecological features, and is struggling with the same urbanization and socio-economic trends.

Research on emissions reduction, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and cost-effective energy storage systems is also in the region’s common interest. Solar power, for example — already established as a critical component in the energy transition away from fossil fuel — faces unique environmental challenges in the region, including reduced output due to extreme heat and the presence of dust on solar panels. Similarly, research into construction materials and techniques that reduce demand for cooling in existing buildings is crucial in a region where air-conditioning accounts for the majority of electricity demand.
Without cooperation and policy coordination, each country would have to face climate change impacts alone. Such impacts could, in turn, lead to more tensions between communities within and between countries, creating a downward spiral.
Similarly, the emergence of blue and green hydrogen as an energy source for high temperature industries, shipping, and freight, and the European need to import hydrogen from beyond its borders, is an opportunity for the region to collaborate on an energy transition that builds on its existing oil and gas knowledge and infrastructures while delivering on global climate goals.

A regional climate and sustainability innovation center that coordinates interdisciplinary research focused on Middle Eastern challenges could become a reference point for many of these solutions. Focusing on solutions and staffed by regional scientists and experts, the innovation center should be based in the region but overseen and funded by international organizations such as the Global Center for Adaptation, U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is also envisaged that it would establish partnerships with science and technology universities across the region to maximize its impact on technology innovation and knowledge-sharing between regional countries and other participants.

A successful example of such a concept and a research center that can be used as a model is the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, a cooperative venture by material scientists from Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, under the auspices of UNESCO. The center — known as a synchrotron due to its use of a high-intensity light and a proven scientific tool for investigating matter — was established in Jordan in 2017, and is expected to produce research that has applications in sectors as diverse as medicine, archaeology, and environmental sciences. The center also provides training to foster scientific and technological excellence across the region.

For such a journey, Middle Eastern countries need to coordinate policy and recognize that the common challenges they face could eclipse any interests they seek to advance by perpetuating the current state of conflict and tension. Notwithstanding the legitimacy of their claims and grievances, the sooner the region comes to this recognition the better. In the meantime, researchers should get busy developing solutions and building trust.

Karim Elgendy is an urban sustainability and climate consultant based in London, and a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Hamid Pouran is the program leader for MSc Sustainability and Climate Change at the University of Wolverhampton. The opinions expressed in this piece are their own.

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