The second-ever MENA Climate Week (MENACW) has wrapped up, having been attended by over 10,000 participants from 115 countries. It facilitated wide-reaching discussions between government officials, the private sector, civil society and youth and witnessed several agreements being signed.
The event comes at a crucial time for the MENA, as it battles rising temperatures, depleting water resources and food insecurity, while also being shaken by regional turbulence.
A climate hotspot, climate models predict temperatures in the region 20% higher than global averages, with the imperative for action to limit global warming at 1.5°C, greater than ever.
Indeed, just this week, the “Climate Futures Report” published by KAUST, AEON Collective, and KAPSARC, explored the potential impacts of a 3°C rise by the end of the century in Saudi Arabia, and the picture it painted? Bleak, but the report also noted that it’s not inevitable.
Against this backdrop of growing climate concern, MENACW, held in Boulevard Riyadh City, served as a warm-up to COP28 and focused on establishing a collaborative spirit, something that will be essential for progress in November.
The week roundup
The event was focused on three main pillars: transformation, inclusion, and solutions, and day one held three high-level ministerial sessions on:
- Advancing inclusivity and circularity for just and equitable energy transitions,
- Inclusive finance and economic diversification toward the goals of the Paris Agreement, and
- Moving toward a global goal on adaptation for a 1.5 C world.
Throughout the day, insights were shared by a wide range of officials and climate experts, discussing everything from the importance of economic diversification to the challenges of Smart Energy Systems integration for a sustainable future. This included a Gulf Cooperation Council Roundtable.
Day two launched the four thematic tracks with Parallel sessions on: Energy Systems and Industry; Cities, Urban and Rural Settlements, Infrastructure, and Transport; Land, Ocean, Food, and Water; and Societies, Health, Livelihoods, and Economies. In the Energy Systems and Industry track, attendees heard Riham El Gizy, CEO of the Regional Voluntary Carbon Market Company, share a contribution that was threaded throughout the event, that fossil fuels “won’t be switched off tomorrow.”
It also hosted a High-Level Dialogue event, “Towards a Cool COP,” organised by UNEP and the Climate Champions Team of the COP28 Presidency, which launched a call to action to commit to the UNEP-led global cooling pledge set to be launched at COP 28 that begins in less than 50 days.
Day three saw a continuation of the four tracks, with sessions looking at the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems and the importance of nature-based solutions.
The fourth day centred around transformation, and explored topics such as reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas value chain (it was highlighted that existing methane mitigation measures and technology can affordably reduce more than 75 per cent of methane emissions), localising climate financing, the digital transformation of agriculture, and the role of Arab youth on climate action. Day four also saw the screening of a documentary titled “Between the Rains,” which explored the impact of climate change and adapting to these changing conditions.
The final day, which wrapped up a week of keynotes, side sessions, and action hubs, held sessions discussing the health impacts of climate change, CCUS Climate Technology use in hard-to-abate sectors, and the potential of carbon markets for emissions reductions to support the transition to net-zero.
Bringing together countries & emphasising the importance of collaboration
During the MENACW, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said in a speech that during COP28, the UAE plans to use the platform to generate discussion about international cooperation, capacity-building and what further steps are required to support developing countries and the most vulnerable. This was a theme threaded throughout MENACW.
The event also highlighted that it’s important to tailor energy transition pathways to national contexts, and here, regional collaborations and initiatives were identified as essential to scale renewable energy and bridge resource gaps.
Announcements and deals signed on the sidelines
Alongside the signing of an MoU with India and Saudi Arabia, the launch of the Greenhouse Gas Crediting and Offsetting Mechanism (GCOM) and the announcement of the ten billion trees roadmap, a number of other agreements were signed at the event.
This included Aramco signing an agreement with Topsoe to construct a lower-carbon hydrogen demonstration plant at the Shaybah Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) recovery plant in Saudi Arabia, and Siemens Energy to build a pilot project for carbon capture and storage.
Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia’s Communications, Space and Technology Commission launched the ‘Development of Electronic Waste Management Regulations’ initiative for the experimental implementation of regulations in Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Paraguay in collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union.
The path to COP28
On the last day of the event, the importance of localised and region-specific approaches to climate change was emphasised.
Alejandro Kilpatrick, Capacity-building Subdivision, UNFCCC secretariat, also said that now is the time to “turn commitment into action,” while other speakers said that the week showed what is possible with collaboration, innovation and leadership to get the world on track to deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, closing the event and looking ahead, Khalid Al-Mehaid, Saudi Arabia’s Chief Climate Negotiator, said that the region is a pivotal player in advancing climate action in a balanced, just and equitable manner.
Al-Mehaid urged attendees to take five messages forward, noting that the “science is clear” and accelerated emission reduction, abatement and removal are needed in this decade and beyond. He also said that hydrocarbons will remain in the energy mix for decades to come, and said that if the world is serious about limiting warming “in reality” and “not as an empty promise” the scaling up of abatement and removal technologies need to be prioritised.
Al-Mehaid said that inclusion must also serve as a guiding principle for all decisions coming out of COP28, and that the transition must be just and equitable. He said that the current energy transition narrative is not taking into account the priorities of the MENA region, or the Global South and that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. He noted that the transitions have to be multidimensional and adequately take into account the differing circumstances of regions and countries.
Likewise, he said that mitigation and adaptation go hand-in-hand with each other and that finance is a key enabler for the Paris Agreement to successfully achieve its goals.
Al-Mehaid called for these five messages to be carried forward to COP28 to ensure that the voice of the region is heard, “sending a strong signal to the world, a signal of unity through ambition and inclusion, as we aspire to leave no one behind.”