The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the world’s most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Over the past three decades, temperatures in the region have risen by 1.5°C, twice the global increase of 0.7°C, and climate models estimate a continuous rise in temperature over the region towards the end of the century. The region has already witnessed some of the highest temperatures: 54°C in Kuwait in 2016 and 53.9°C in Basra, Iraq, recorded in the same week. Rainfall has become more variable and climate disasters, such as droughts and floods, more frequent. Extreme weather events, such as cyclones and dust storms, have increased in frequency and intensity. Examples include Guno (2007), Chapala (2015), Sagar (2018), Gati (2020), Shaheen (2021), to name but a few.
Renewed ambitions for Climate Action in the MENA region
Two MENA countries are confirmed to host the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP), COP27 to be hosted in Egypt in 2022 and COP28 to be hosted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2023. While the Arab region has hosted three COPs before, the upcoming ones are expected to significantly push for regional climate action, for two reasons. First, hosting a COP puts a pressure on the hosting country to showcase its commitment and set an example for others. Indeed, Egypt (the last Arab country to do so) has updated its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), a key component to the Paris Agreement, wherein parties communicate to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) their efforts to reduce national emissions and to adapt to climate change impacts, with sectoralgreenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. Also, Egypt released a National Climate Change Strategy up until 2050. Similarly, the UAE, ahead of hosting COP28, updated their second NDC, with an upgraded GHG emission reduction target of 31%, compared to the business-as-usual scenario for the year 2030. Secondly, the first global stocktake – a mechanism to measure countries’ progress in achieving their climate commitments, starting from 2023, whose preparation is already underway – is likely to push countries to pursue ambitious climate actions, given the requirement of Paris Agreement for countries to conduct regular, transparent reporting of information on the implementation and achievement of their national climate targets.
By the time of writing, 17 MENA countries had submitted an updated or new NDC, namely Bahrain, Comoros, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and the UAE. Additionally, four countries had announced a mid-century net-zero target in the region: Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
However, the ongoing energy crisis of an unprecedented price hike and energy security issues following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since February 2022, have sent mixed signals worldwide on the importance and urgency of global energy transition, including in the Middle East and North Africa. On the one hand, the unfolding energy security crisis has been a reminder for countries about the importance of adopting energy self-sufficiency supplies, such as renewables. Indeed, on May 18th, the European Commission put forward a plan that details how to ensure gas supply security, while speeding up the deployment of renewables and energy efficiency measures ‘well before 2030’. On the other hand, securing immediate energy needs has triggered an urgent search for readily available, conventional energy supplies, such as oil and gas, especially for European countries threatened by Russia’s intent to cut its natural gas supply to the continent.
Russia-Ukraine war and Energy Transition in the MENA countries
The implications of current energy crisis have been felt beyond the European continent, including the MENA countries. Its impacts on climate-related energy policies of energy exporters and importers are different.
The impact on energy exporters
Oil and gas producers in the MENA region, including the Gulf Arab states, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, have been put under pressure by Western leaders, to produce more oil and gas to support European countries in diversifying their energy supplies, while lowering energy prices and inflation. Whereas the OPEC grouping, despite pressure from the U.S. and others, has shown no intention of ramping up oil supply and has even vowed to further cut their production, others –
like Egypt, Qatar, Oman and Algeria – have signed new agreements with Europe, to bolster their cooperation on natural gas supplies and liquified natural gas (LNG), in particular. The western nations’ – whose supposed to set the example for developing countries in climate action front – call for oil and gas producers to boost their production has in fact once again renewed the controversial position of energy exporting countries towards global energy transition, claiming that developed countries’ approach to energy transition is ‘unrealistic’, or triggered by ‘emotional dialogue’.
Although the ongoing energy crisis has decoupled climate emergency from the search to solve immediate energy needs, at least in the short-term, the Arab countries’ host of upcoming COPs has been a reason to complement new energy agreements with long-term frameworks, to enhance cooperation in clean energy transition. The memorandum of understanding between Egypt and European Commission, aimed at reinforcing cooperation on LNG, was signed by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and EU’s VP, Timmermans, responsible for the European Green Deal. Climate change negotiations agreed on developing a Mediterranean Green Hydrogen Partnership, encompassing hydrogen trade between Europe, Africa and the Gulf.
That said, while the current energy crisis solicits energy-exporting countries to produce more oil and gas, it also triggers advances in long-term climate-related energy policies, in different countries of the area, especially the Gulf Arab states. For instance, in October, Oman has announced its commitment to achieve net-zero target by 2050, and revealed a national hydrogen strategy targeting 1mn t/yr green hydrogen output by 2030. Also, in his recent visit to Germany in July, Sultan Haitham of Oman signed a declaration of intent, aiming to promote cooperation between the two countries, in the field of renewable energy technologies, integrated systems, smart grids and energy efficiency. Moreover, still in October, Germany has received its first bluehydrogen shipment from the UAE, following German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to the UAE in September.
The impact on energy importers
Net energy importers, on the other hand,have been hardly hit by the consequences of Russia-Ukraine war and the priority of improving the subsequent economic crisis could put climate profile down in the agenda. In Jordan, for example, the disruption of commodity supply chains and increased energy prices have led to a sharp rise in consumer prices, including electricity, exacerbating the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 pandemic. As a consequenceTherefore, on April 1st, Jordanian government has lifted fuel and electricity subsidies as an attempt to restore fiscal stability. According to Jordan's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, renewable energy sources contributed by around 29% in Jordan's total energy output, as of the end of July 2022, and the country aims to increase such proportion to 50% in 2030. The current energy crisis has been a motivation for some households to undertake their own energy transition, buying solar water heater and modules to generate electricity and hot water to avoid high-priced electricity bills.
Lebanon, which is going through its worst financial and political crisis in decades, has been facing similar problems. The lack of electricity and the rising costs of fuel for private generators has increased the demand in private solar power systems. Similar reasons, besides those related to war and instability, have also been a driver for the use of private solar power in Yemen. Yet, disruptions to the supply chain could also slow down the deployment of private solar systems.
Meanwhile, a few countries provided with relatively advanced renewable energy ecosystems, such as Morocco, appear to be taking advantage from the current energy crisis. Indeed, Morocco was the first African country to be targeted by the EU’s Global Gateway, an infrastructure investment initiative mobilising up to €300 billion of investments in digital, climate and energy, transport, health, education and research. Just a few days before the Russia-Ukraine war, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyenvisited Morocco, where she pledged to invest €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion) to produce green energy, within EU’s Global Gateway scheme. While the operationalisationoperationalization of this investment remains to be seen, the crisis has also renewed the United Kingdom’s interest in building the world’s longest undersea electric cable, UK-Morocco Power Project, to directly transfer renewable power from Morocco to the UK national grid.
To conclude,the Russia-Ukraine war has strongly impacted the trajectory of climate policies in the MENA region. In particular, energy dynamics in Europe, with the EU quest for diversification of energy supplies, have implied for the ‘rich’ energy exporters to become richer and the ‘poor’ energy importers to get poorer and more vulnerable to the economic impact of the war. While the crisis has also been a trigger to renew clean energy talks and climate policies across and between the region and Europe, it has also created winners and losers in the race of global energy transition.