Home » The grass will be greener in the GCC: The transition to a sustainable and resource secure future

The grass will be greener in the GCC: The transition to a sustainable and resource secure future

by Madaline Dunn

As COP28 finished in Dubai with the signing of the agreement on The Global Climate Fund for vulnerable countries, many people thought that this represented a new chapter in the history of the GCC region.

The global centre for the production of hydrocarbons had realised that there has to be a new sustainable future and just continuing to pump oil is no longer an option. There has to be a new vision which is focused on protecting the environment by moving away from energy sources which produce CO2.

However, this view fails to understand the transition which has been taking place in a number of Gulf countries, over an extended period of time. COP28 did represent a hugely significant turning point, but it is a milestone in a journey which has been many years in the making.

The Governments in the region of the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for over a decade have known that the continued reliance on fossil fuels for income and energy is economically and environmentally unsustainable. They have therefore invested ‘oil money’ to diversify and ‘green’ their economies especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

They are faced with rapidly growing upwardly mobile and well-educated populations who need strong economies to deliver ongoing growth. This growth can only come from investment in new and developing sectors, such as sustainability and technology. It also relies on global trading relations, keeping doors open to all business, by being politically neutral and not partisan.

In less than ten year’s time countries around the world will wake up to the reality that the major nations in the Middle East will reach net-zero many years before they do. Some of the hottest countries in the world will have achieved water security and their ability to reuse and manage water supplies is many years ahead of the operations in the ‘developed’ countries. And, these same countries are now leaders in technology especially in the areas of blockchain, robotics and AI.

They will see that through solar power, wind energy and the production of green hydrogen as well as the tactical investment in nuclear energy, these countries are net exporters of clean energy. They will be providing other nations with the means of achieving their own net-zero targets.

So how has this change happened and why has it gone relatively unnoticed by many other countries? There are many elements to the story, but the two most relevant have been the acceleration in concerns over climate change, and the global changes brought about by Covid.

The rapid rise in mean global temperatures has made managing global warming an imperative and therefore it is essential to reduce carbon emissions. The UAE and Saudi Arabia having recognised the need to diversify their economies and move away from hydrocarbon based GDP growth had already invested heavily in renewable energy. The oil economies have become the solar economies, able to generate electricity at costs which are lower than in any other markets.

This is a bonus for their economies but has a much greater importance when looking at global industry and the need for industries from heavy industrial to technology to be able to produce goods with no, or a much reduced, carbon footprint. Without access to green or clean energy this cannot happen.

When the impact of Covid is added into the equation we can see that a perfect storm has been developing. Covid has led to a reassessment of global supply chains. Businesses, shut down by Covid, because of their extended supply chains, have started nearshoring or reshoring, looking to manufacture close to their home bases and markets.

The GCC region, sat between three major contents, at the centre of the old silk route offers an ideal location for companies to base their operations. Add to this the availability of clean energy and the development of a number of highly regarded tech-hubs which have focused on using AI to reduce energy costs, accelerate R&D and develop solutions for new markets, it has made the GCC a sought-after location.

Work is still needed, as the recent storms in the region have shown. The ups and downs of climate change has meant that more extreme weather conditions will lead to unprecedented events. However, countries like the UAE are used to responding quickly and effectively. They are highly skilled in wastewater management and reuse and will move quickly to ensure that for future storms the processes are in place to benefit from, and not be caught out by, the rainfall.

In conclusion, the GCC faces complex challenges on its path to sustainability, but it has for many years been embracing renewable energy, harnessing the potential of AI, and adopting water-efficient practices. Through bold and insightful leadership, collective action, and strategic investments the GCC is many years ahead of countries who profess to be the guardians of a sustainable future.

As global dignitaries walk across the lawns of the UAE or KSA, they may need to reflect on the fact that the water used to keep the grass green is probably sustainably produced using clean energy, which may not be true of their own backyards. So, may be the grass is greener in the GCC.

By Ilias Abdo, CEO, Hydropower.

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