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The heat is on but a green Gulf is worth the cost

The benefits of a net-zero economy include job creation and healthier living, even though it would require hundreds of billions of dollars

Global warming is leading to temperatures rising at a faster rate in the Gulf than anywhere else in the world. Picture: Creative Commons
Global warming is leading to temperatures rising at a faster rate in the Gulf than anywhere else in the world. Picture: Creative Commons

Today’s another scorcher; it’s about 38 degrees in the car, and it’s still only morning. The Middle East is warming up, and it’s doing so at a rate faster than the rest of the world. Temperatures in the Gulf are regularly hitting 50 degrees Celsius in the summer, causing droughts and desertification. 

The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green Initiative, which is a comprehensive strategy to green the desert, reduce temperatures and make the country’s cities more sustainable for the population. The UAE and Bahrain have declared net zero targets, and Qatar is planning the first carbon neutral World Cup later this year.

The shift in policy is perhaps remarkable given that the Gulf is primarily a region that relies on hydrocarbons. Then there’s the costs – Standard Chartered has estimated that the UAE alone will require $681 billion in investment to finance its transition to a net-zero economy. 

Everything from heavy industry and transportation to air conditioning – basically how we live, work and travel – will need to be retooled with zero carbon technologies and fuels.

However, there are clear benefits. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the move to low-carbon, greener economies has the potential to create 60 million jobs by 2030. Green economies are technology-focused and service-oriented. 

They’re also more sustainable health-wise, resulting in fewer respiratory issues for national populations. Controlling global warming would also reduce extreme weather costs: according to Statista, weather damage totalled approximately $2.5 trillion around the globe between 2011 and 2020, up almost 50 percent from the decade before.

There’s also the opportunity to shift economies to new promising growth areas. Much has been made of green hydrogen, but the Gulf’s policy makers have long thought about exporting energy produced by solar to regions like Europe. 

There’s also opportunity in other areas, such as green mobility. The link between technology and sustainability will only strengthen over the coming decade, presenting opportunities to forward-looking economies who want to be green pioneers.

As governments look to what they can do to make the region more sustainable, they must recognise the need to involve both the private sector and the public. For an example of how this can be done, look to Europe and its Green Deal. 

The plan, which envisions over $1 trillion in investment, has already been rolled out and includes elements such as funding for energy efficiency projects in old building stock. Given that buildings are responsible for up to 40 percent of carbon emissions this is a simple way to both reduce carbon emissions and energy costs while also increasing their lifespan and net worth.

Europe is also on track to green its automotive sector; all new vehicles sold from 2035 onwards must be zero carbon emission. And the bloc is supporting consumers who want to go net zero with subsidies and tax breaks – for example, if they want to install solar panelling or other energy-reducing technologies in their own homes.

The risk of not taking action is unthinkable. The investment costs may seem high, but the benefits will be appreciated in terms of more sustainable economies as well as being a stop to out-of-control global warming. 

The Gulf’s transition to a green economy will be worth the cost, and we must ensure that everyone can play a role in this movement over the coming years.

Alex Malouf is a marketing communications executive who has spent the last 18 years in the Middle East