Environmental Studies

Climate Change and the Gulf


February 15, 2024


Nritya Sultana, CSB '08
Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Agni Core Corporation

Nicholas Mertens, SJU '25
Environmental Studies and Political Science Major

The United Nations Conference of the Parties 28, colloquially known as COP 28, was the foremost climate change negotiation and expo in 2023. Each year, the COP bolsters international unity towards climate change policy, including the Paris Climate Accords in 2015, a comprehensive plan in which countries pledged to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

COP 28 was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that seeks to be a climate leader in the region. Often criticized as a “petrostate,” the UAE holds the seventh-largest proven oil reserves in the world, estimated at around 215 trillion cubic feet of oil. There was heavy skepticism about an oil-rich country hosting a UN-level event on climate change, with doubts further exacerbated by alleged state-sponsored collaboration with major oil companies like ADNOC, Exxon, Chevron, and Shell.

Prior to COP 28, BBC News Arabic investigation Breathless teamed up with environmental scientists Arianet. In November 2023, they published their analysis of gas flaring data from Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and UAE. Home to some of the world’s biggest oil companies including BP, Shell and ADNOC, these countries supply up to 15% of the world’s demand. While flaring is meant to be an emergency measure to burn off excess gas during oil drilling, the investigation showed that flares are burning gas every day.

The gas flaring from oil fields combined with high scale construction projects and dense automobile traffic continually contribute to rising temperatures in the region. After Death Valley in California, one of the hottest places on Earth is Mitribah located in northwest Kuwait. Temperatures here often soar past 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).

Respiratory disease is one of the leading causes of death in the region, with the UAE having one of the highest rates of asthma in the world. In September 2023, Human Rights Watch analyzed data from 30 government ground monitoring stations in the UAE. The average levels of PM2.5 were three times more than the World Health Organization’s recommended levels.

Interacting with Gulf industry leaders at COP 28 helped provide a greater understanding of climate adaptation techniques. The frankness of the delegates and their strong self-awareness of the effects of their oil-drilling shattered preconceived notions of climate change apathy. Groundbreaking mitigation techniques are being developed, each of which will save lives and promote equity.

United Arab Emirates
During the past two decades, the UAE has actively harnessed rain-enhancement technology such as cloud seeding to increase annual rainfall and reduce dependency on seawater desalination. Contrary to assumptions, cloud seeding is much cheaper than desalination. A cubic metre of water produced through cloud-seeding is just 1 fil as compared to 60 fils needed to desalinate the same amount of water. And with $150 million for water security solutions announced in COP 28, the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP) is taking that knowledge to address global water scarcity in vulnerable countries.

The oil and gas industry accounts for 30 percent of Oman’s gross domestic product. But Oman Vision 2040 recognises the urgency for energy efficient infrastructure that is resilient against climate change. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Environment Authority of Oman, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Sultan Qaboos University are teaming up to roll out the Climate Change Adaptation Policy and National Adaptation Plan.

Saudi Arabia
With ambitious projects such as NEOM and Expo 2030, Saudi Arabia recognizes the effects of climate change on a dramatically transforming landscape. The Kingdom has a target of reducing carbon emissions by 278 mtpa (million tonnes per annum) by 2030, with 50% of its power generated from renewable sources. Currently, 700MW of renewable energy capacity is connected to the grid, while 13.76 GW is under development.

The green initiative momentum in the Gulf opens the space for planetary optimism. Whilst sustainable development is commendable, attacking the root of climate change must remain paramount. Even with all the technology being developed, in the Gulf or elsewhere, oil exports must decrease in every oil-exporting country. Further, an emphasis on renewable energy infrastructure must become a top priority in all countries, and wealthier nations — like the US — should alleviate those costs. Particularly in the Gulf region, diversifying from oil exports and forgoing “carbon offsets” must remain top priority. The future of the climate is reliant on the actions of oil-producing nations and their continued fervor for change.

A personal note:

During his time at COP 28, Nick had the opportunity to connect with Nritya. Though Indian by origin, she grew up predominantly in the Arabian Peninsula, first in the Sultanate of Oman and then in the United Arab Emirates.

Nritya gave Nick a guided tour of some of the major landmarks in Dubai, including Souq Al Bahar, Burj Khalifa and Global Village. In her 37 years, Nritya has seen the terrain of the Gulf world change so rapidly that the days of her childhood seem from a bygone era. And while those changes have generated great wealth and luxurious lifestyles, it has come at an environmental cost.

Recognizing this, Nick found his calling to join the Gulf’s efforts to combat climate change. He anticipates moving to the UAE or Saudi Arabia after graduating from CSB+SJU. He hopes to join Nritya in amplifying the efforts of the Gulf States and help drive planetary change both domestically and abroad.

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