Copyrighted material


by Meena Janardhan

on Bali global warming summit

(IPS) -- As main exporters of greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and potential victims of climate change, the countries of the Middle East find themselves caught in a bind.

Mohammad Raouf, senior environment researcher at the Gulf Research Center, Dubai, told IPS: "Gulf countries face a difficult situation as they depend mainly on fossil fuels, the main cause of CO2 emissions. Though the rate of development is high, the lack of arable land and water resources prevent the development of carbon sinks, forests and green areas. With higher sea levels, human-made islands here and abroad will disappear.'

The good news, according to Raouf, is that "according to most reports and studies, the consequences of climate change for Gulf countries fall between medium and high. This means that the region is unlikely to witness severe environmental disasters like tsunamis.'

The bad news, says Raouf, is that "there are other dangerous consequences to sealevel rise to these coastal countries. Biodiversity on land and in the sea will be affected and destroyed. Artificial islands will disappear and mangroves or corals could die.'

"There are two major and immediate consequences," says Mohamed Dawoud, water resources expert at the environment agency in Abu Dhabi which, along with Dubai, is one of the seven emirates constituting the United Arab Emirates (UAE). "First, rising sea levels will affect coastlines and marine life severely and could impact desalination plants that are the source of water for the region. Second, rising temperatures means increasing water demand and with falling freshwater levels and increasing salinity in sea water (which affects the efficiency of desalination plants), water scarcity is a fearsome prospect."

There are also fears of coral reef bleaching and coastline erosion. According to recent statistics, Dubai alone faces coastal erosion at the rate of 50 m every two years. Some 500,000 cu m of sand were poured along the shore to pad up the receding coastline over the past year.

Besides being petroleum exporters, the Middle Eastern countries have been under fire for carbon emissions from large-scale use of fossil fuels. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran figure among the world's top 50 CO2 emitters. (Iran ranks 18, Saudi Arabia 22 and the UAE 43).

At the ongoing United Nations conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, Climate Action Network (CAN), a coalition of over 400 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide, presented Saudi Arabia with the ‘Fossil of the Day' award on Wednesday for 'being the country that has done worst in the day's negotiations.' The award was given for Saudi Arabia's stated view that the Kyoto Protocol had an unfair focus on carbon.

Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi was cited as telling delegates that to move away from "fossil fuel consumption, as a means of addressing climate change, does not represent a practical alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.'

Explaining the predicament for the Middle East, Raouf told IPS: "Gulf economies depend on oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Even though the region's total carbon emissions are very low (only 2.4 percent) compared to other regions, per capita emissions are very high. They are also the main exporters of fossil fuel to other countries, which is still the main source of energy worldwide. So, there is no doubt that they share responsibility with the rest of the world for climate change and hence must work to diversify the energy pie and look for more environment-friendly energy sources."

According to the International Energy Outlook, CO2 emissions in the Middle East will grow by 2.3 percent annually to 201 billion tons in 2030. This is not much compared to CO2 emissions in China -- from 3.5 trillion tons to over 7 trillion tons during the same period. The low growth in emission levels in the region is attributed to a drop in oil consumption and an increase in availability and usage of natural gas, which is more appropriate for electricity generation and desalination.

"It is a common responsibility, but different obligations have to be charted out for different countries. Giant emitters should shoulder more burdens. Gulf countries do recognize the problem and are trying to come up with innovative solutions in the renewable energy field to offset this," Raouf said.

Regional experts aver that the responsibility is already being reflected in the efforts of the Gulf countries to develop renewable energy sources and the money they are donating to do research.

Last month, Gulf member states of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pledged a total of 750 million U.S. dollars to a new fund to tackle global warming through research for a clean environment.

Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar pledged 150 million dollars each for the fund. Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, will invest 300 million dollars in the fund which is aimed at finding technological solutions to climate change -- notably carbon capture and storage.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly's second committee on international economic affairs last month, Rehab Al Mansouri, member of the UAE permanent mission to the UN, said the UAE's achievements were deliberate. "They have been the fruit of sound national comprehensive strategy and action plan. The introduction of solar energy systems, compressed natural gas and unleaded diesel confirm our commitment to environment preservation.'

January 2008 will see all buildings in Dubai following ‘green building' standards. And this month, Dubai World committed 150 million dollars to a co-investment fund for climate change mitigation projects, the first time such an investment vehicle has been made in this sector.

"Most countries in the region are now complying with Kyoto Protocol guidelines, and regional and international cooperation combating climate change is on the anvil. The UAE is presently engaged in preparing its country report on climate change and suitable mitigation measures will follow. Pilot projects to study the use of solar and wind energy to supply water to remote areas are also on. Apart from this, many other initiatives promoting renewable energy sources are on," Dawoud told IPS.

A major initiative by the UAE has been the investment of five billion dollars to establish a ‘green city' by Masdar (the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company). The development, extending more than six sq km, will result in the creation of the world's first city with zero CO2 emissions.

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Albion Monitor   December 13, 2007   (

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