ABU DHABI // Carbon emissions in the Middle East and North Africa have doubled in the past 30 years, with oil-rich countries leading the way, a new study shows.
Such countries represent a small share of global emissions but lead the way in emissions per capita, the study says, with their citizens creating two to 10 times the amount of emissions of the average global citizen.
The study, by the Britain-based environmental organisation Carboun, said a big part of the problem is that countries that are rich in oil and gas are more likely to use it inefficiently.
It said the rest of the world's per capital output had remained stable.
"Emissions from the Middle East and North Africa have doubled in the last 30 years, while the world average has remained pretty much the same," said Karim Elgendy, an architect and sustainability consultant based in London, and one of Carboun's founders.
Experts say carbon emissions, created as people burn fossil fuels to produce electricity and power cars and other means of transport, have the potential to unsettle the climate. Calculating emissions generated by countries and their citizens is important because it shows how responsibility for the climate should be shared, Mr Elgendy said.
Carboun's study used statistics for 2007, compiled by the World Bank. It revealed huge discrepancies in the countries of the region.
"We realised that there was no such thing as an average Middle Eastern person," Mr Elgendy said. "We found out that the emissions from resource-rich countries far exceed the emissions from resource-poor countries."
By resource-rich countries, Mr Elgendy means the oil-rich countries of the Arabian Gulf. All of them are among the top per-capita carbon emitters.
Qatar, with 55.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, has the highest footprint globally, about 10 times the global average. In the region, Qatar is followed by Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain, which are ranked third, fourth and fifth in the world.
At the other end of the spectrum are residents of the Palestinian territories, responsible for 0.6 tonnes per person per year - the smallest footprint in the Middle East and North Africa, and one of the smallest in the world.
Yemen, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia all had footprints less than half the global average.
Mr Elgendy said inefficiency was one of the biggest reasons for a big footprint. With oil and gas resources plentiful and cheap, there is no financial incentive to use less energy.
"It looks like there are a lot of subsidies into energy use, both in gasoline and electricity," he said. "We think these subsidies play a part in this inefficient trend."
Although Qatar uses about 1,000 kilograms of oil for every US$1,000 of gross domestic product, Syria needs a third as much oil to produce the same amount of economic activity, he said.
Mr Elgendy said the group was not trying to point fingers but to raise awareness.
"We hope to start a conversation," he said.
Tanzeed Alam, climate change and sustainability manager at the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature, said the results of the study were not surprising and agreed that to a large extent, the problem was created by inefficient use of resources.
"One key area which we think has a lot of potential is developing energy efficiency standards," Mr Alam said. "In the UAE, we are beginning to see moves in the right direction," he said, referring to an initiative to regulate the efficiency of small-scale air-conditioning equipment, under development by the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology.
Another step is being taken by the Environment Agency- Abu Dhabi, which in July launched a project to further analyse the emirate's emissions.
"We are aligned with Carboun's view that the UAE's annual emissions of CO2 equivalent is currently around 30-35 tonnes per capita," the agency said in a statement. The figures "will be used to help Abu Dhabi Government develop strategies and policies to assess and monitor the levels of emissions as well as the 'sinks' that absorb greenhouse gases, such as wetlands and mangroves."