For the next two years, the Middle East and North Africa region will host the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s “Conference of Parties” – or Cop – the world’s premier climate change conference. Cop27 will be held in Egypt, and Cop28 in the UAE, making this a pivotal time to shed light on the region’s climate ambitions and its path towards low-carbon and zero-carbon pathways.
The expected outcomes from Cop27 entail four main items that are to be agreed upon: climate finance; adaptation; loss and damage; and increasing ambition. On climate finance, there is hope that developed countries will commit the previously agreed-upon $100 billion a year to developing countries, which hasn't been fully realised since the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Adaptation, as well as loss and damage, are key points since Egypt’s Cop is an African Cop, with the most vulnerable countries on this continent at risk of inundation and eradication of land and biodiversity. Therefore, an agreement on the mechanism to deal with loss and damage is necessary.
The fourth agenda point, of increasing ambition, requires more political will from the global community. A February 2022 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that global temperature increases need to remain below 1.5°C to avoid a climate disaster, and that we have only 10 years remaining until our “carbon budget” is used up entirely. By 2030, moreover, emission levels should be halved in order to maintain a 1.5°C course. This means that we have less than 10 years to take strong action and reduce our emissions globally.
Countries have committed to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in order to curb their emissions. An NDC is a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts with an emission-reduction target in mind. The Glasgow Climate Pact in 2021 assessed that, if all NDC targets pledged in Paris were implemented, we would still head towards 2.4°C of global warming, with a worst-case scenario of 2.8°C if not all pledges are implemented, and a best-case scenario of 1.8 °C if all new actions in Glasgow are implemented. This is still above the 1.5 °C warming mark needed to avert disaster. Therefore, it was agreed in Glasgow that, by the time of the Egypt conference, all countries would increase their ambitions and place new pledges to reduce their emissions. This is where universal political will is needed the most.
Egypt, in a sign of good faith as the Cop27 host, promised to be the first nation to publish its updated pledge before the conference. In July, the country published its updated NDC, breaking from its 2017 plan by expressing its reduction commitments quantitatively (the 2017 version was purely qualitative). Egypt has made some ambitious efforts to work towards progressive climate action over the past few years, with serious investments in solar, including the Benban Solar Park in Aswan with 1.8 GW of produced solar power. But it could still go further. The updated NDC 2022, furthermore, lays out reduction targets to be achieved within specific sectors: electricity (by 33 per cent), transport (by 7 per cent) and oil and gas (by 65 per cent). A national target, however, would be helpful, as the Climate Action Tracker, an internationally funded measurement tool, assesses that a country with the size and profile of Egypt would need to reduce emissions by 25 per cent overall by 2030 – compared to today’s levels – if we are to remain below the 1.5°C goal.
From the Arab region, the only country besides Egypt to have submitted updated NDCs are Tunisia and the UAE.
Tunisia’s updated NDC will reduce national emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared to the reference 2010 level, as opposed to a reduction of only 41 per cent envisioned under its first NDC. However, this amount is contingent on international financial support. Failing that support, Tunisia has pledged a 28 per cent unconditional reduction of its emissions by 2030 compared to the reference 2010 level, as opposed to a reduction of only 13 per cent envisioned under the first NDC. This updated pledge is progressive, but its contingency on international financial support places an emphasis on climate finance to be disbursed, which is until today lagging behind the initial goal of $100bn a year.
As the host of Cop28 next year, the UAE has pledged to reduce its emissions by 31 per cent by 2030, compared to business as usual. This represents a 7.5 per cent increase from its 2020 NDC of 23.5 per cent. Earlier this year, moreover, the UAE launched the Net Zero by 2050 Initiative, which demonstrates how the country is working towards transitioning to a zero-emission pathway. This bold move, of committing to a zero-emission pathway as opposed to a low-emission one, provides hope that the rest of the region will follow suit.
The Middle East, then, has entered the climate conversation as a host region to the world’s foremost climate conference. But the region’s progress is very uneven, and without support from the developed world, it is sure to remain that way. From devastating floods in Pakistan to forest fires in Brazil to deadly heat waves across Europe, we are at the brink of climate disasters all around us. Political will of nations is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for our survival.