Can renewables stop heatwaves in the Middle East?

As scorching temperatures are on the rise, Middle eastern countries try to find a solution in renewables.
Photo Edward Musiak/ CC BY-SA 2.07/ Source: Flickr

Temperatures in Arab countries are establishing new records each summer. The heat waves that are occurring in Kuwait, Iraq and Morocco have highlighted the consequences of climate change in the MENA region. All the while, scientists are expecting a continuous occurrence of such waves in the coming years.

This situation has already led to economic losses in some states, like Algeria and Egypt, in addition to increasing destabilization of a region that is still experiencing the consequences of the Arab Spring. Experts have associated several political unrests and revolutions with the increased deterioration of the environment as a result of climate change. For example, it is being said that one of the main factors that led to the Syrian revolution was the lack of food as a result of the droughts in rural areas.  

Renewable energy, a solution?

In this context, and in order to prevent the possibility of new internal conflicts on one hand and to face the consequences of an increasingly hostile environment that create vulnerable populations on the other, renewable energy sources are being presented as a solution to the current events that are taking place.

Indeed, investing in mitigation actions such as the deployment of renewables constitutes a perfectly reasonable strategy by any government seeking to limit its economic losses and preserve its legitimacy by protecting its citizens.

Countries in the MENA region are facing immense challenges due to the combination of religious fascism, a rapid increase of the population and unemployment, coupled with climate change.  This constitutes the perfect recipe for social destabilization.

Across the region, the deployment of renewables depends on the country’s’ willingness and long-term vision of including clean energy in the economy.  Several reasons have led to the adoption of clean energy, one of them being the exhaustible nature of fossil fuels, as well as geopolitical and environmental factors.

Thus, while there are countries adopting long term strategies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, other states are having limited investments in this sector. Moreover, other nations do not even have the luxury of even thinking about investing in this industry, due to civil wars or other more urgent issues that need to be dealt with, despite the serious existing threats resulting from climate change.

Saudi Arabia leading in renewables

The biggest renewable energy investments are being made in Saudi Arabia, that is seeking to replace the local oil consumption in particular when it comes to domestic power generation.

As national demands for energy are expected to increase drastically in the coming years, a part of the current oil exports would have to be used to satisfy the local market. This would affect the revenues generated by oil in general. For this reason, the government established ambitious renewable energy targets while foreseeing in the same time a decrease in unemployment as a result of the investments in the new sector.

The case of Jordan and Morocco

Different reasons are pushing a country like Jordan to invest in renewables. Jordan depends on the satisfaction of its energy needs through imports in an extremely volatile region. This geopolitical reality is making it harder for the country to secure the constant flow to satisfy the needs of its citizens.

The Jordanian government also imports its electricity from abroad, Egypt, which led to experiencing power shortages and blackouts during the political unrests of the exporting country. In this sense, renewable energies, in particular, solar energy, are being conceived as a way to break out of this cycle.

In another case, although the largest country for renewable energy in MENA, Morocco is facing the same challenges.   It is importing almost all its energy from abroad. Yet, the country is witnessing a rapidly growing population which requires further energy supplies.

Moreover, the country possesses great potential for solar energy across the territory and wind energies along its Atlantic coast. This huge opportunity is made more attractive for the government, as it could constitute a way of generating profits due to the possibility of exporting renewable energy to southern Europe.

Gulf Area sets ambitious plans

Going back to the Gulf area, although several Gulf countries are setting ambitious plans for the deployment of renewables, the main difference with Saudi Arabia is that the scope of deployment is smaller, due to the differing size of the population and the industrial base.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar are investing in renewables also for preserving the existing huge reserves of fossil fuels while meeting the increasing population demands.

These examples present some hope for the future of the region and could be used as models for other countries seeking to satisfy their energy needs via renewables instead of fossil fuels.

However, so far the potentials for the deployment of renewables outside these countries are limited, for several factors ranging from civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, to a worsening economic situation and increasing debts in countries like Egypt, in addition to constant instability.

Yet, there is hope that in the future these barriers will be completely diminished with the help of the international community. There is an urgency to consider the kind of incentives that could be offered to these countries that would encourage a gradual shift toward renewables.

Imad Ibrahim

Imad Ibrahim is a PhD Candidate at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy. In his Phd thesis, he examines the issue of transboundary groundwater governance from a legal perspective. He is specialized in energy, water, environmental and climate change law and also deals with matters related to international trade and intellectual property rights. He has been working for the last 3 years as a Research Associate at the think tank Global Law Initiative for Sustainable Development (gLAWcal). He is also an EU commission Marie Curie Fellow at Tsinghua University and at Beijing Normal University (Beijing, China) and Energy policy expert at the Lebanese Oil & Gas Initiative – LOGI, Beirut Lebanon. Imad holds a Master in European Interdisciplinary Studies from the College of Europe and an LLB with a specialization in European, French and Lebanese Law from the Lebanese University, Beirut.
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