Climate Change

MENA must be a leader in climate action and the pursuit of net-zero. Here’s how.

COP27 climate summit Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt net zero emissions MENA climate action

The Middle East will host the next two COP events — and is well placed to quickly become a leader in the fight against climate change and pursuit of net zero emissions. Image: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Maroun Kairouz
Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum
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  • Water-related catastrophes are projected to reduce the Middle East North Africa region's GDP by 14% by 2050.
  • But COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the UAE provide the region as a whole the opportunity to forge itself as a leader in the fight against climate change.
  • To this end, the World Economic Forum is convening the “Leaders for a Sustainable MENA,” a community of leaders working together to accelerate climate action across the Middle East.

As the United Nations COP27 climate summit kicks off this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the global spotlight turns to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

COP27 offers a sobering reminder of the devastating effects of climate change on the region — and presents an opportunity for governments, businesses and society to come together to reduce emissions and increase resiliency.

MENA at risk

The MENA region is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and in most need of urgent mitigation and adaptation efforts. The region is warming at twice the global average and has experienced increased drying in recent years due to a rise in greenhouse gases and desert warming amplification phenomenon, whereby drying soil prevents natural cooling. It is especially at risk of drought as climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent and more severe.

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At the same time, rising sea levels could make coastal areas uninhabitable as well as salinize water in coastal aquifers and wells. According to the IPCC, water-related catastrophes are projected to reduce the region’s GDP by a staggering 14% by 2050.

Not only do these effects risk destroying lives and livelihoods, but they could also cause increased water stress and food insecurity, resulting in rising socioeconomic inequality and unrest. With climate disasters rising faster in the Middle East and Central Asia than anywhere in the world, there’s a strong case for climate action to help populations adapt to the climate realities of today and prepare for future shocks.

COP26 saw countries commit to the Glasgow Climate Pact to prevent the planet from heating more than 1.5 °C and pledge to strengthen their emissions targets. COP27 must advance that momentum.

Commitments to net zero — and making it happen

While some countries in the region have made commitments to net zero emissions — including UAE and Oman by 2050 and Saudi Arabia by 2060 — the region as a whole must do more. That means bringing together governments alongside businesses and civil society to ensure concrete commitments, systemic strategies and inclusive collaboration.

The private sector cannot turn a blind eye to its role in these efforts. Businesses have a responsibility to help the region achieve net zero and improve its ability to prepare for and adapt to climate change shocks.

According to a new Bain analysis of 200 companies in the region, many companies, including Majid Al Futtaim, ADNOC, Etihad, Agility, Saudi Aramco, ACWA Power and SABIC, are taking actions to reduce emissions, increase renewable energy sources and scale low-carbon technologies. But there is still much more to be done.

According to the Bain research, only half of the companies surveyed have started Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting. At the same time, only 12% have announced their commitments to becoming net zero, and only 6% have defined a roadmap to do so. The data also shows a lack of transparent and consistent disclosures policies, reduction roadmaps and science-based target setting.

There is a strong business case for action, according to a new World Economic Forum analysis in collaboration with PwC. By acting now to increase resiliency along their supply chains, businesses can minimize risks to their operations and capitalize on new opportunities. One estimate found that investing $1.8 trillion into adaptation efforts globally could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits by 2030.

Convening leaders to take action

The impact of climate change does not stop at national borders and will affect the entire region. As such, regional collaboration is crucial to mount an effective response to this generational challenge. In this context, the World Economic Forum has helped form the “Leaders for a Sustainable MENA,” a community of government and business leaders with the ambition to working together to accelerate climate action across the Middle East.

The members of this group will seek to do this through a dual approach: ramping up their emissions disclosures and net zero commitments over the next two years and launching or scaling “lighthouse projects” to inspire and catalyze collaboration with their peers.

A belief that unites us across the region, from Tehran to Tangiers and from Aden to Adana, is a deep commitment to toiling and sacrificing to endow the next generation in the family with as much of an advantage as possible. If we are collectively failing to make sure we can bequeath our children a livable planet, it will matter less what we provide for them individually.

Hosting the next two COP summits in the Middle East — in Egypt now and the UAE next year — is a unique opportunity to ensure that we shoulder our responsibility towards the next generation.

This article was originally published in The National.

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