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Majority of Mena countries lack net zero target, IEA warns

A worker at Shell's Pearl GTL facility in Doha, Qatar. The country has yet to set a net zero target Shell
A worker at Shell's Pearl GTL facility in Doha, Qatar. The country's budget surplus is forecast at 8.6 percent of GDP in 2024
  • Only six Mena countries have target
  • 90% of emissions from three nations
  • Wealth no indicator of progress

Just six out of 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) have set a target for reaching net zero carbon emissions, hampering global efforts to tackle climate change, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

The IEA has published a detailed update to its net zero roadmap of 2021. In the report, the OECD-funded energy watchdog warns that fossil fuel demand must fall by a quarter by 2030 if governments want to limit the increase in global warming to 1.5C. 

Increasing numbers of countries have adopted a net zero target, and some of those – accounting for around one-fifth of global energy sector emissions – have enshrined those targets in law, the IEA noted. 

The advanced economies of Asia Pacific and Europe are leaders in this regard, with 100 percent of Asia Pacific energy-related emissions covered by a statutory net zero target and 80 percent in Europe. The majority of global emissions are covered by non-binding net zero pledges.  

However, 11 Mena countries have yet to agree on a national emissions target.

If Egypt, Iran and Algeria – the largest markets by population size – were to adopt such a target, they would collectively cover almost 90 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the region, the report found. 

There is also a mixed picture in terms of the content of pledges and target dates. Around 30 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions are covered by net zero pledges by 2050 or sooner, the report said. 

Sending a clear signal

There are stark differences between the countries in the top 30-40 percent of global income distribution – the wealthiest countries per capita.

Some have pledged climate neutrality by as early as 2035 (Finland) and 2040 (Iceland and Austria). Others have set targets for after 2050, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (climate neutral by 2060), or not at all (Kuwait and Qatar).  

The United Nations’ global stocktake – a review of countries’ progress on cutting emissions since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which set the 1.5C goal – “needs to provide a clear signal about the ambition and urgency with which countries are preparing their up-to-date national targets”, the IEA said. 

The stocktake was issued earlier this month but participating nations are set to respond to the findings during Cop28 in Dubai this year.

Ultimately, coal, oil and natural gas will need to be replaced by clean energy at a rapid rate to keep the world on track to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, with implications for Mena oil producers, the IEA added. 

In 2022, fossil fuels accounted for around four-fifths of total worldwide energy supply. With the IEA’s projected increase in clean energy investment needed to reach net zero – from $1.8 trillion in 2023 to $4.5 trillion by the early 2030s – the share of fossil fuels would drop below two-thirds of the total, reducing emissions by 35 percent compared with the all-time high recorded in 2022. 

Coal demand would decline by 45 percent and oil and natural gas by around 20 percent. Overall fossil fuel demand would fall by 80 percent by 2050, according to the report. 

Clean energy progress

As a result, there is no need to invest in new long term oil and gas projects, the report said. Governments must instead plan for a “large and sustained surge in clean energy investment”, including carbon capture and storage and hydrogen. 

On hydrogen, there has been “significant progress on policy and investment” since the 2021 report, notably in Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

Still, under the IEA’s projections, the Middle East would grow its share of the smaller global oil and gas markets from 25 percent today to 40 percent in 2050, because of its outsized role in serving the import needs of emerging Asian economies.  

“Sequencing the increase in clean energy investment and decline of fossil fuel supply investment is vital to avoid damaging price spikes or supply gluts,” the IEA warned.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol urged the world to come together to effect a stronger decline in fossil fuel demand over the coming decade. 

“The pathway to 1.5C has narrowed in the past two years, but clean energy technologies are keeping it open,” he said. “With momentum building behind global targets such as tripling renewable capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, strong international cooperation is crucial to success. 

“Governments need to separate climate from geopolitics, given the scale of the challenge at hand.”

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