2021 Year in Review: When climate change got real and the world took notice 

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Updated 29 December 2021

2021 Year in Review: When climate change got real and the world took notice 

  • Apocalyptic warnings by the IPCC underscored the urgency of tackling global warming
  • Saudi Arabia launched two initiatives to emphasize its leadership role in the campaign 

DUBAI: 2021 could go down in history as the that year when climate change made the transition from being mainly the concern of youthful activists to becoming a real and present threat for all of us, and especially for the Middle East.

The climate change agenda accelerated throughout the year, fanned by a background of raging forest fires in, for example, Australia and Turkey, extreme and fatal summer heat on the US Pacific coast, deadly floods in central Europe and South Asia, and rampaging tornadoes in the US Midwest.




Ginny Watts (C) hugs her friend as they help cleaning her destroyed home in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, on Dec. 14, 2021, four days after tornadoes hit the area. (AFP)

Each new climate disaster was received as proof, if any more were needed, of the seriousness of the climate situation; each fresh extreme event chipped away at the convictions of the deniers.

Perhaps no one better illustrates the changing sentiment on climate change better than Mark Carney. A former executive at giant US bank Goldman Sachs and governor of the Bank of England, Carney is now a UN special envoy on finance and climate change.




Local residents fight the wildfire in the village of Gouves on Evia (Euboea) island on August 8, 2021. (AFP)

At COP26 in Glasgow in November, he was received as a hero by environmentalists. He declared: “Finance is becoming a window through which ambitious climate action can deliver a sustainable future that people all over the world are demanding.”

And it is not just Carney. Politicians of all persuasions, multi-billion-dollar investment fund executives, and even the bosses and owners of the global oil industry — the producers of the “fossil fuels” the activists love to hate — are increasingly vocal and assertive in their demands that “something” has to be done about global warming.

One key event of 2021 was the publication in August of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which — in language verging on the apocalyptic — set the tone for much of the debate for the rest of the year.

 

“Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion — such as continued sea level rise — are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years,” the report said.

The authors had no doubt as to the reason for these changes.

“Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming since 1850-1900. Averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming,” it concluded.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 set a goal of “less than 2 degrees Celsius” by 2050 if the planet were to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic warming. Now the experts have said that there was little chance that could be met.

That presents a unique challenge for the hydrocarbon-producing countries of the Arabian Gulf. Oil and gas production has been responsible for the huge advances in economic and lifestyle well-being in the region, but at the same time the abundance of hydrocarbon fuels has led to inefficient use of these fuels.




A general view shows the Shams 1, Concentrated Solar power (CSP) plant, in al-Gharibiyah district on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, UAE. (AFP)

Gulf countries — which in the past had no second thoughts about burning oil to generate electricity — have among the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world.

The possible repercussions were highlighted in some new research by the Saudi-based energy think tank Aeon Collective. Global warming in the Gulf could lead to extreme and fatal heatwaves, a jump in atmospheric pollution and threats to public health from previously unknown diseases. It could even threaten the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah, one of the fastest-warming cities in the Kingdom.




An extreme climate change could even threaten the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah, one of the fastest-warming cities in the Kingdom. (SPA file photo)

Fortunately, regional policymakers appear to have developed an enhanced awareness of the specific dangers to the region’s economy and public health from global warming.

For one thing, the Vision 2030 strategy is aimed specifically at reducing Saudi Arabia’s dependence on fossil fuels — alongside similar strategies in the UAE and other GCC states.

But the Kingdom went a significant step further in October with the launch of two major initiatives designed to show that it was playing a leadership role in the global campaign against climate change.




A view of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. (AN file photo)

When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Saudi Green and Middle East Green Initiatives at a special event in Riyadh, it was a landmark event in the region. Not only did it contain a goal for Saudi Arabia to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, but it also stepped up the amount of harmful emissions that would be reduced under the nationally determined contributions schedule agreed with the UN and climate bodies.

In addition, the Kingdom pledged to eliminate oil from the domestic power generation cycle completely by 2030, replacing it with cleaner gas and renewables. Multi-billion-dollar investment programs to plant trees in the Kingdom were also launched, among other environmentally sound strategies.




A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 29, 2018. (AFP)

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Kingdom’s energy minister, underlined the seriousness of the campaign against global warming. “It is most daunting challenge that we are faced with. We have, I think, the most humane initiative that we could ever come up with, and we’re willing to enlarge it if everybody wants to enlarge it. I’m sure that people have noticed that we have been repositioning ourselves,” he said at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh in October.

These developments in the Middle East set the stage for the decisive climate change event of the year: COP26 in Glasgow, the annual gathering of energy policymakers, experts and activists. Expectations were high that the Glasgow gathering could lead an advance against climate change of comparable significance to the Paris meeting six years earlier.

Two weeks of intense negotiations eventually produced what became know as the Glasgow Climate Pact. This fell short of a commitment to a hard 1.5 degrees Celsius target by 2050 and resisted some of the wilder calls from the extreme environmentalists for an end to fossil fuel investment and production, but had enough for everybody to claim COP26 as a success.

“The Pact charts a course for the world to deliver on the promises made in Paris,” was the verdict of Alok Sharma, the UK president of COP26.

Some were disappointed that there was no commitment to “phasing out” coal as a fuel source, but — with the Glasgow event taking place in the middle of an energy crisis in which every ton of hydrocarbon was needed — the general feeling was that it was good enough, especially in view of the coal-burning necessity in places like India and China.

A few days after the COP26 delegates had departed, a rather different energy forum convened in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. ADIPEC is one of the biggest oil and gas gatherings in the world, but is definitely an industry event. There were no parties of Amazonian natives among the delegates there.

However, attendees noted a distinct empathy between COP26 and ADIPEC21. Badar Chaudry, senior vice president for the energy sector at UAE bank Mashreq, said: “There was enough overlap in the agendas and outcomes of both events to reach the conclusion that there is a consensus that climate change is the big issue facing the world today, and that the hydrocarbon industry has recognized that and is stepping up to play its part.”




Saudi Aramco's Shaybah plant in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

For the Middle East, the climate change challenge gets very real indeed from now on. COP27 will take place next year in Cairo, and COP28 is earmarked for the UAE in 2023.

The two biggest oil producers in the region — Saudi Arabia and the UAE — are set to increase oil production in the years ahead to fuel economic growth and take advantage of their low production costs at a time of rising prices.

How they can square this strategy with the self-declared aim of reducing emissions will be a key focus for the next couple of years.


Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.


Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.


Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Updated 05 July 2022

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.