Published first on Forbes Middle East
In a world of polycrises—including the war in Ukraine, the continuing impact of COVID-19, and surging inflation—the most threatening to the planet and the welfare of all its people is climate change. Yet progress is stalling in preventing the potentially catastrophic impacts of global warming. A recent United Nations (UN) report said only 24 of 193 countries had followed through on pledges at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, to take stronger action on climate change.
That makes the ongoing COP27—the UN-led global conference on climate change—especially critical for regaining momentum in trying to prevent a future of rising oceans, more destructive storms, increased wildfires, more barren landscapes, and other dangers to health and stability worldwide.
With COP27 hosted by Egypt at Sharm el-Sheikh, and next year’s COP28 being held in the UAE, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region must energize the international response to climate change and direct attention to the financing and assistance needs of its countries.
Supporting an energy transition
MENA countries are among the most affected yet least prepared for climate change, with 60% of the region’s population living in highly water-stressed areas and 75% of agriculture depending on rainfall levels projected to decrease in coming decades to worsen food security. In North Africa, 20 million people could be internal climate migrants due to increased sea levels, reduced freshwater sources, poorer crop yields, and creeping desertification.
Issues impeding climate action in MENA include population growth, surging urbanization, reduced resources due to the COVID pandemic and other stresses, and a lack of economic diversification in countries dependent on oil exports. In 2020, 98% of energy production in MENA was from fossil fuels. To assume a leadership position, MENA countries need to implement the bold climate responses announced last year, going beyond their green pledges to achieve stated goals through strong policies, greater regional cooperation, and increased climate financing.
Oil-producing countries need to address inefficiencies in their extractive activities — for example, in Iraq, capturing wasted flared gas could save around $2.5 billion per year by reducing gas imports and fueling 10 gigawatts of electricity generation capacity, almost covering the current supply-demand gap, and improve energy security.
Countries such as the UAE could capture 25% of the low-carbon hydrogen market, the value of which is expected to reach more than $400 billion a year over the next five years. Others, including Saudi Arabia, are investing in transformational alternative technologies such as green hydrogen through its megaprojects.
The shift to greener energy could create millions of jobs. Egypt alone is projected to generate two million much-needed new direct and indirect job opportunities in the next 30 years by meeting renewable energy targets. Transitioning from full reliance on fossil fuel imports in Tunisia, Jordan, and Morocco and tapping into cleaner schemes will open new opportunities. Indeed, as the EU seeks alternative energy sources, it could turn to the MENA region as a reliable supplier of green energy in the form of solar, wind, and hydrogen.
Countries in MENA can also demonstrate leadership by implementing bold reforms to enable private sector participation in the economic transitions needed for effective climate action, such as bridging financing gaps and providing the latest technologies and innovative approaches for renewable energy solutions.
MENA currently receives the smallest amount of climate finance of any region in the world—an estimated $16 billion a year, according to the Climate Policy Initiative—with financing needs estimated at $186 billion in the nationally determined contributions submitted by countries in pledging climate action.
The World Bank Group’s climate-related financing for MENA is projected to reach $10 billion between 2021 and 2025, supporting transformations in water, food, energy, cities, financing, and other key areas. The group issues around $16 billion through 185 green bonds in 23 currencies, with an average of 35% committed to climate action aligned with the Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 in 2015.
This financing provides critical support to build the resilience of communities to climate change and to facilitate a green transition. In Morocco, 200,000 agri-food producers and entrepreneurs are being given financial incentives to switch to climate-smart agriculture practices, while in Egypt, an air pollution program in Cairo is expected to reduce emissions from public transport by 23%. In conflict-wracked Yemen, mobile solar energy systems are providing almost 100,000 households and more than 500 schools, health centers, and other facilities with access to energy. In November 2022, country climate and development reports will be released for Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Morocco, which outline priority areas for urgent action to set countries on a more sustainable path.
Tackling climate change is key to reducing global poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Bold leadership is needed from the next two COP meetings at this crucial time in confronting the world’s changing climate.