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Revealed: Gulf climate targets – and the progress so far

Solar energy Gulf
The agreement seeks to realise the full potential of solarisation across Kezad Group’s built assets
  • Six Gulf states among world’s 10 largest per-capita carbon emitters
  • Egypt may commit to a net zero deadline as it hosts Cop27 
  • Qatar aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030
  • UAE was first Gulf oil producer to pledge carbon neutrality 

The economies of the Middle East differ greatly in size and diversity – partly because of the distribution of oil and gas resources. Their impact on the climate varies accordingly. 

Governments’ willingness and ability to tackle climate change also differs. Many oil-rich Gulf states are engaged in high-profile renewable energy projects, for example, yet their green investment credentials sit uncomfortably with their carbon footprints.

The World Bank’s list of the largest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide is headed by Qatar. There are five more Middle Eastern states among the top 10: Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

The UAE and more recently Oman have made formal pledges to be carbon neutral by 2050. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have set their net zero targets for 2060.

Several countries updated their nationally determined contribution to global mitigation efforts late last year. Below, we set out the commitments made by selected countries in the region, along with greenhouse gas emissions where known.

Spire, Steeple, Building
Wind turbines on Bahrain’s World Trade Centre in Manama

Bahrain

As the first Gulf state to see its oil resources dwindle, Bahrain was also the first to actively diversify its economy.

This involved diverting its remaining gas resources into heavy industries such as aluminium and steel, however, so its carbon footprint per capita remains unduly large. As in other Gulf states, the real estate activity of the past two decades – including land reclamation – has come at a significant environmental cost.

Yet Manama wears its green aspirations on its sleeve. Visitors to the capital are greeted by the distinctive wind turbines of the Bahrain World Trade Centre, built in 2008.

The kingdom aims to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2035 and reach its net zero target by 2060.

Greenhouse gas emissions: 54 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent

Engine, Machine, Motor
Egypt’s Red Sea wind turbines. Picture: Masdar

Egypt

The most populous country in North Africa has not committed to a net zero target date, although there are suggestions it may use Cop27 to do so.

Although rapid population growth has increased Egypt’s reliance on thermal power plants, it has a long track record of renewable energy projects. The Aswan Dam has been a crucial source of clean water and electricity since the late 1960s, while the Red Sea coast is proving a prime location for wind farms.

A national climate change strategy launched at Cop26 remains short on detail, although Cairo has pledged to source 42 percent of its power generation needs from renewables by 2030.

Carbon capture and storage is mentioned, while the cement industry has also been singled out for future mitigation efforts.

Compatibility with the Paris Agreement targets would require complete decarbonisation of the power sector by 2039.

Greenhouse gas emissions: 352 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent 

Jordan

In November last year, Jordan enhanced its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 31 percent by 2030, from 14 percent previously.

Only a small proportion of this pledge is unconditional, however – the lion’s share depends on the kingdom’s ability to source funding from abroad.

That said, the government has worked hard to integrate the concept of sustainability into its internationally focused projects. A decarbonisation strategy was announced in August for Aqaba Container Terminal, billed as a “sustainable gateway to the Levant”, which aims to reduce its carbon footprint to net zero by 2040.

Nature, Water, Outdoors
Rendering of Kuwait’s planned sustainable XZero City

Kuwait

In August plans were unveiled for XZero City, a proposed sustainable community providing 100,000 residents with a “net zero carbon lifestyle”.

In common with green initiatives such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia’s Neom, the value of the project is largely symbolic, although Kuwait has shown an increased interest in pursuing sustainable projects.

In January, the cabinet ordered a comprehensive review of the country’s plans to decarbonise its economy.

As of 2016, fuel combustion activities accounted for 95 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The government has pledged to cut these by 7.4 percent by 2035, although this falls far short of the 45 percent reduction needed to meet the Paris aspiration of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2030. 

Greenhouse gas emissions: 86 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (2016 estimate)

Morocco

Morocco does not have a net zero target but, in 2016, its nationally determined contribution was one of the few to be deemed compatible with the 1.5°C Paris stretch target.

Its enhanced contribution plan submitted last November targets a 45.5 percent reduction of emissions by 2030. More than a third of this reduction is unconditional, with the rest dependent on international assistance.

The new plan mentions several areas of innovation, such as carbon capture in the country’s lucrative phosphate industry.

As with many other Middle East hydrocarbon producers, the energy sector accounts for most of Morocco’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Oman

Weeks ahead of Cop27, Oman announced that it aimed to reach net zero by 2050. The royal decree also established the Oman Centre for Sustainability “to supervise and follow up on plans and programmes for carbon neutrality”.

As part of its existing 2040 economic masterplan, the country has prioritised ecotourism as a potential revenue earner and placed a strong emphasis on renewable projects.

However, it remains a significant per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, despite the gradual decline of the Omani oil industry.

More details of the net zero plan are expected to be released during the Cop27 summit.

Qatar

Qatar aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030.

Though far from net zero, the pledge is significant given the state’s per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases – which is largely down to its role as the world’s leading supplier of natural gas.

The heady pace of industrial development in the past two decades has also contributed to a poor environmental record.

The country’s pledge to host a carbon-neutral World Cup has been heavily criticised by climate activists as a result, despite attempts to offset emissions from the event.

However, the government continues to evince a keen interest in reducing its carbon footprint.

State-owned giant QatarEnergy recently committed to end gas flaring, expand its solar capacity and use carbon capture and storage technology to capture over 11 million tonnes per annum of carbon by 2035.

Greenhouse gas emissions: 115 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent

Electrical Device, Solar Panels
Solar project in Saudi Arabia. Picture: Reuters

Saudi Arabia

The question of how long Saudi oil reserves will last has fuelled a small industry of analysts for decades.

While the kingdom’s pre-eminence as a crude producer will likely remain unchallenged for many years to come, it has made a strong rhetorical commitment to energy transition.

It opened its first renewable energy plant in April last year and its first wind farm the following August.

In October 2021 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the state would invest $180 billion to ensure it meets its net zero target by 2060, including developing a national carbon capture and storage programme.

Other interim targets include ensuring 50 percent of its power needs are met by renewable resources. The government has also committed to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

A detailed blueprint for the overall programme has yet to emerge, however. Ahead of Cop26, a leak revealed Saudi Arabia was among several countries lobbying the UN to play down the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels.

Greenhouse gas emissions: 723 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent

Person, Human, Clothing
The Mohammed bin Rashid A Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. Picture: Masdar

United Arab Emirates

Late last year the UAE became the first Gulf oil producer to commit to decarbonise its society fully by 2050. That pledge includes investing $163 billion in clean and renewable energy over that period.

While Abu Dhabi in particular remains a significant oil and gas producer, the UAE has seen the largest increase in renewable energy capacity worldwide over the past decade.

A dedicated ministry for climate change and the environment has been given the remit to ensure the private sector works towards government net zero targets.

Other decarbonisation plans include ensuring Dubai’s public transport network is entirely electric or hydrogen-powered by 2050.

Abu Dhabi will also become home to a carbon trading exchange and carbon clearing house that will allow companies to trade and finance carbon credits. 

Data: UNDP, Net Zero Tracker. Figures for greenhouse gas emissions can vary depending on carbon accounting rules: for example, the UN assesses emissions from fossil fuels on the basis of where they are burned rather than where they are produced. On the other hand, oil and gas production is itself a key source of emissions.

Carbon impact in the Gulf and elsewhere
Tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year

Qatar 38.8
Kuwait 23.3
UAE 23.0
Bahrain 21.6
Saudi Arabia 18.0
Oman 18.5
Australia 17.3
Canada 15.7
US 15.5

Source: Joint Research Centre, European Commission

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