The second annual conference of TRENDS - Atlantic Council, held in Washington DC, under the theme “Sustainable Security of the Middle East: Climate Change, Challenges, and Prospects,” concluded recently with recommendations on the way forward to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Among the recommendations were investing in research and development, enhancing regional and international partnerships, promoting initiatives aimed at improving resilience, and expanding production of technologies that facilitate the transition to renewable energy.
The conference also called for an education system that supports environmental sustainability in addition to smart solutions and innovative policies to tackle the impacts of climate change.
In her closing remarks, Sumaya Al-Hadhrami, Deputy Chief Global Officer at TRENDS Research and Advisory, said that the recommendations included strengthening regional cooperation, integrating common resilience and adaptation frameworks, investing in renewable energy technologies and infrastructure, introducing innovative initiatives aimed at achieving climate security in the region and making it an integral part of national and regional security, and strengthening individual and societal responsibility for climate action in the region, while also encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial activities in the areas of climate protection, renewable energy, and localisation of environmentally friendly technologies.
Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Executive Director of UAE Independent Climate Change Accelerators, also addressed the topic of climate diplomacy as a growing foreign policy challenge, with a focus on COP 28.
She underlined that the Earth is deteriorating rapidly and that there has been an astonishing shift in climatic conditions around the world, as evidenced by the extreme heat waves in Europe and devastating floods in Asia. She indicated that climate diplomacy is a key factor in driving collective cooperation, pointing out that the UAE has always recognized the importance of global collaboration and knowledge exchange in building sustainability.
Under Sheikha Shamma's leadership, the UICCA has been established to advance these pillars, acting as a catalyst for international partnerships and bolstering the nation's transition towards a green economy.
The keynote speech on the second day of the conference was delivered by Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, who indicated that the devastating floods in Pakistan, the severe drought and heat waves that swept across Europe last summer, and the destructive wildfires in the USA are wake-up calls on the urgency of preparing for a new climate reality. She emphasized the UAE’s belief in multilateralism as a powerful tool for creating a sustainable future and called for a collective and coordinated response to climate change. She further stressed the UAE’s commitment to pursuing a climate-neutral development path and turning its pledges into concrete actions and outcomes.
The second day of the conference comprised two sessions. The first session, “Between COP27 and COP28: Diplomatic Efforts of Middle Eastern Countries in Addressing Climate Change,” explored the role of climate summits in facilitating the transition to a low-carbon economy and how geopolitical factors relate to climate diplomacy. The discussion was moderated by Awadh Al-Breiki, Chief Global Officer at TRENDS Research and Advisory.
Prof. Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Glasgow (UK) and Gujarat University (India), Director of Water Management International (Singapore), and Chief Executive at the Third World Centre for Water Management (Mexico) assessed the commitments and pledges made at COP 26. He stated that when COP 26 ended in Glasgow, there was more optimism than what there is today. This, he said, is the result of the unexpected and dramatic changes in geopolitics, pointing to the Russia-Ukraine war and the broken diplomacy between two of the world’s greatest carbon emitters, China and the United States.
Nuran Atef, Regional Lead for MENA, United Nations Environment Programmeme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), discussed new visions for building a sustainable environmental framework. She said that, in 2017, UNEP FI developed a set of principles for responsible banking (PRB), specifically designed for banking institutions. The PRB provides banking institutions with a framework for sustainable finance, which can be implemented both globally and on a regional level. Atef noted that these principles have contributed to enhancing banking sustainability strategies.
Osama El Gohary, Assistant to the Prime Minister, Egyptian Cabinet, and Chairman of the Information and Decision Support Center, talked about climate diplomacy as a growing foreign policy challenge. He explained that the world is facing a number of crises that challenge the multilateral diplomatic process in confronting global issues, especially global warming. He indicated that the climate change crisis is part of the ongoing globalisation, which necessitates strengthening cooperation to reach solutions.
The second session of the conference, “Multilateral Green Security Initiatives: The Start of a New Green Era towards Collective Environmental Security in the Middle East,” shed light on the importance of regional and cooperative efforts in activating Middle East green security initiatives, as well as ways to mitigate challenges posed by environmental insecurity. The session was moderated by Mohammed Al Mulla, Founder and Director of Diwan Al Mulla Network.
Dr. Noura Mansouri, research fellow at King Abdulla Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), research affiliate at MIT, and an expert at the World Energy Council, addressed the regional use of multilateral green initiatives to improve the MENA region’s ability to lead a post-carbon, resilient and inclusive economy. She explained that obstacles to sustainability in the Arab region are numerous and include water scarcity, air quality, energy, food security, and climate change, in addition to the rifts between urban and rural areas, conflicts, political instabilities and crises. She added that Arab cities are among the 20 most polluted cities in the world, which hinders sustainability efforts.
Alya Al-Awadhi, Acting Director of the Consulting Department at TRENDS, focused on the economic aspects of sustainable environmental security and the required investments to achieve environmental security. She highlighted the strong links between climate change, planning for risks at the climate-security nexus, and securing long-term economic sustainability through private sector involvement and multilateral cooperation. She added that efforts to improve environmental security in the Middle East and North Africa require continuity through effective and economically sustainable environmental initiatives. She underlined the importance of those initiatives being multilateral and involving comprehensive cooperation.
Hamad Al Kaabi, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ittihad newspaper, discussed the role of media in supporting Middle East green security initiatives. He underlined that the media carries the responsibility of changing perceptions and drawing attention to sustainable development. He added, however, that the scientific complexity of research constitutes a challenge for the media as they are required to convey content in a simple and clear manner that is accessible to a non-specialist audience. He also emphasized that traditional media alone is not enough to capture the issue of climate change, as 90% of young people get their news from social networking sites.
William Wechsler, Senior Director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programmes, Atlantic Council, said that the climate crisis requires regional and international cooperation and partnership on a large and comprehensive scale, which involves governments, institutions and the private sector working together to mitigate and limit the effects of climate change. He added that the crises surrounding the Middle East require decisive and bold actions if sustainable long-term security is to be achieved.