The second annual conference of TRENDS - Atlantic Council, held under the theme "Sustainable Security of the Middle East: Climate Change, Challenges, and Prospects", kicked off on Wednesday at the premises of the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C., with the participation of 30 political experts, academics, researchers and specialists from around the world.
The opening speech was delivered by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence. He stated that the risks of climate change in the Middle East are very real and that there is an urgent need for coordinated efforts across all nations of the Middle East region as well as cooperation between government agencies, municipalities, the industrial sector, civil society and universities in the region to help find solutions to local and regional climate change matters.
He added that an educational system that supports the environment is essential and that research, scientific data, knowledge sharing, and transfer of technology are critical to promoting and monitoring progress and measuring success. Sheikh Nahyan pointed out that the second annual conference of TRENDS - Atlantic Council will help boost climate change plans and actions, adding that it is not too late to win the climate change battle in the Middle East, and that every step we take will impact the lives of our children and grandchildren.
Smart solutions to key climate challenges
In his keynote speech, Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, stated that this conference will contribute to finding solutions to combat climate change and that the next two COPs, which are set to take place in the region, will be an ideal platform to address the topic of finding smart solutions to key climate challenges.
He pointed out that the UAE has invested over US$50 billion in renewable energy projects across 70 countries, and that the country has ambitious plans to expand its global renewable energy footprint to beyond 100 gigawatts by the end of the decade.
Dr. Al Jaber stressed that the UAE will continue to work with all its partners to seize economic opportunities of the energy transition, adding that as the UAE prepares to host COP28 next year, it will drive momentum towards greater climate progress through practical, actionable plans.
A threat to sustainable security
In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al Ali, CEO of TRENDS Research and Advisory, said that the conference will provide insights into how best to support regional and international efforts to address the threat of global warming, while helping provide a better understanding of the challenges that hampered previous efforts and how to overcome them.
He stated that the crises and disasters that the world has witnessed in recent years reinforce the reality that the dangers of this phenomenon have already shifted from possible scenarios explored by think tanks to immediate serious threats that require concerted efforts to deal with their different dimensions.
Al Ali stated that the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts seen around the world have demonstrated the need to reshape the mechanisms of international and regional cooperation, as well as achieve regional water and food security as a necessary entry point for achieving green security.
In his keynote remarks, David Livingston, senior advisor to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said that the Earth's surface is warming more than twice as rapidly in parts of the Middle East than it is in the rest of the world, adding that region is uniquely vulnerable to drought, famine, coastal erosion and rising seas, as well as ocean acidification, which threatens the livelihoods of local fishermen and the food security of those they serve.
He stated that the Middle East is truly the tip of the thermometer in our Anthropocene age, pointing to the great tragedy and suffering that awaits if we turn a blind eye to the climate crisis. The region, he added, is also in many ways the tip of the spear for advancing the solutions needed to solve our shared climate crisis, noting that there are great lessons to be learned from studying the adaptation, economic strategies and cultures across the Middle East, in a mercurial and changing climate.
He concluded by saying that there is also the seed of new invention in the region and that governments are increasingly looking forward to entrepreneurship and innovation in order to power economic growth and diversification.
Jonathan Panikoff, Director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative, Atlantic Council, said that since the turn of the century, climate change in the Middle East has directly caused tens of billions of dollars of economic and agricultural damage.
He highlighted the need to provide clarity about the difficulties that the region is likely to face due to climate change while also providing policymakers from across the Middle East, the US and the world with a roadmap for sustainable security that highlights opportunities to mitigate the upcoming challenges.
He expressed his hope that by combining perspectives from both the US and the Middle East, we can inspire new ways of thinking about sustainable security in the region, and overcome traditional divisions on climate change matters that have undermined progress.
The first day of the conference was divided into three main sessions. The first session, "National Security, Climate Change and the Middle East: Current Challenges and Future Prospects," shed light on the perspective of climate change and national security in the region and how the issues manifest themselves in the Middle East. The discussion was moderated by Reena Ninan, non-resident senior fellow at the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, Atlantic Council.
Dr. Aaisha Al Sarihi, research fellow, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, talked about ways in which climate change manifests in the Middle East and its impacts on the stability of the region. She pointed out that climate change has the potential to challenge human security in the Middle East, and that this could happen through competition over resources, which intensify tensions between communities.
Mazen Malkawi, Regional Advisor at WHO, discussed environmental changes and global warming effects on public health. He stated that we are losing one million people annually due to climate change, and that fifty percent of those deaths are due to air pollution alone. Malkawi also pointed to another climate-related disaster in Pakistan, where about 30 million people are affected by extreme floods, indicating that floods of this size are new and are occurring at a higher frequency than before.
Carol Chouchani Cherfane, Director of the Arab Centre for Climate Change Policies, Cluster Leader, Climate Change and Natural Resource Sustainability Cluster, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), addressed the correlation of extreme environmental events and increased migration flows. She indicated that if the global community does not meet its commitments, we could get up to 80 more days a year of temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Dr. Paul Jerome Sullivan, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, talked about the possible scenarios for global climate change in the coming decades. He said that climate change could have extreme effects on the economic, social, political, and international stability of the region. He addressed the complicated relationship between energy security, water security, food security and economic security, stating that the climate crisis requires strategic thinking and collective global effort to confront its consequences.
The second session, "Impacts of Resource Scarcity and Population Growth in the Middle East," was moderated by Dr. Kristian Alexander, Head of the Strategic Studies Section at TRENDS. The panel discussed the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war on the Middle East and major agricultural imports, such as wheat, as well as challenges that the region is facing in terms of rising food and water demands, especially in light of the projected increase in the region's population.
The discussion was started by Dr. Eckart Woertz, Director of the GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies. He talked about the future projections and impacts of the region’s population growth and droughts on the infrastructure of food and water systems.
Dr. Harry Verhoeven, a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy, Colombia University, talked about the strategic importance of water and the growing concept of cross-border water conflict in the Middle East.
Hanan Bakr Sakr, Finance Resilience Lead at the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions Team, addressed the impact of climate change on supply chain operations.
Svetlana Edmeades, Lead Agriculture Economist at the World Bank Group, talked about regional food security strategies and the impacts of the war in Ukraine on major MENA agricultural imports.
The third session, "Energy Industries, Infrastructure, and Politics in the Middle East: Opportunities and Challenges for a Clean Energy Transition," was moderated by Erin Sikorsky, Director of the Centre for Climate and Security and Director of the International Military Council on Climate and Security. The panel discussed the transition to an energy system in which environmentally friendly technologies and clean and sustainable energy sources play an increasingly significant role.
Dr. Zoheir Hamedi, Regional Programme Officer at IRENA, talked about the role of industrial partnerships in moving toward secure, low-carbon energy systems, emphasising the huge potential for producing renewable energy in the region, especially solar power.
Dr. Bora Guray, Director of Istanbul International Center for Energy and Climate at Sabanci University, talked about the transformations of major energy-intensive industries in their quest to align with sustainability goals.
Olga Khakova, Deputy Director of the European Energy Security at the Global Energy Center, the Atlantic Council, discussed the impact of increasing regional gas supplies to Europe on a swift transition to wind, solar and hydrogen power, emphasising the importance of cooperation in achieving sustainable development goals.
Syed Adeel Abbas, Regional Coordinator for Climate Change at the World Bank, addressed the challenges of energy transition in the Middle East and North Africa.
Tareq Emtairah, Director of the Department of Energy at the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), discussed the impact of renewable power generation on urban infrastructure, transport systems, and electricity grids.