Climate change is coming fast to the Middle East, but so is the desire to do something about it.
At this year's Cop26, the world saw the many different ways the region's countries are joining the conversation. And now, the Middle East is showing it wants to not just be part of the solution, but a home for it, too. The latest example came on Thursday, when it was announced that the UAE will host Cop28, scheduled to be held in 2023.
The UAE's leaders congratulated the country for winning the bid to host the "most important" of meetings.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, tweeted after the announcement that the UAE would put everything towards making Cop28 a success.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the UAE looked forward "to working with the international community to accelerate global efforts to address climate change and environmental protection and create a more sustainable economic future”.
After the decision, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, offered a reminder that it was Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, who has inspired "us as we strive to safeguard the well-being of present and future generations".
"Cop28 in 2023 will and must be a ‘solutions Cop’ – and I am confident that the rich experience of this young, inclusive nation in advancing practical, viable and shareable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges will again come to the fore as we host the world for the UN Climate Change Conference in two years’ time," he said, according to Wam.
"The UAE Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative, announced earlier this year, shows our own unwavering commitment to promoting climate action. Further, through new investment commitments and partnerships, we are illustrating our determination to support the world in addressing climate change."
Choosing the UAE to host Cop28 is also another huge moment for the environmental movement in the region, which will follow in the footsteps of Cop27, to be held in Egypt.
Having back-to-back conferences in the Middle East and North Africa is a sign of how the event is changing. Its early years were confined to Europe, when the foresight of countries such as Germany spotted the need for it as far back as the 1990s. But, as the global significance of the issue at hand becomes clear, Cop has been held all over the world. Now, it is very much in its Middle Eastern phase.
And that has much to offer the world. In the most basic sense, the region is an early example of the dangers ahead. It is the most water-stressed part of the planet, with a rising temperature double the global average. This burden will be borne by some of the most fragile societies, made up of people who often have known few of the highly polluting luxuries for which the developed world is largely responsible.
But reconfiguring this conversation is not just about the UAE's efforts; the successful bid would not have been possible without the backing a number of other countries, including all member states of the UN's Asia-Pacific Group and the Arab League. It is this ability to rally global support that will also make Cop28 one to watch. At this year's meeting, the atmosphere between the world's biggest emitters has not been easy, something that may stop the event reaching its full potential. Agreement may become easier as the conversation shifts to new geographies.
And Cop is not just about getting governments on board, but industry, too. Earlier this month, The National spoke to Claire O'Neill, managing director of climate and energy for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Discussing the prospect of upcoming conferences in the Middle East, Ms O'Neill said: “I think the next Cop cycle will be a new chance to amplify those of the world's most sustainable businesses who are committed to net zero by 2050, nature positive and committed to reducing inequality and total transparency in reporting.”
A hub for international business, the UAE would also be a particularly strong location for major industries to discuss how they might contribute to fighting climate change outside western contexts. After all, a corporate sustainability strategy that works in the US or Scandinavia might well not work in the Middle East or the rest of the world. We are already seeing this mixing of expertise at work at Expo 2020 Dubai, where a number of countries and companies from all over the world are providing sustainable engineering for the UAE's desert location.
As part of its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement, the UAE recently announced it has stepped up its plans to plant mangroves, and now aims to plant 100 million by 2030. After Thursday's announcement on Cop28, the UAE will help plant the seeds for a new regional culture of environmentalism, too.