Tackling the multiple challenges of climate change is a matter of the highest priority for both the Gulf states and the European Union. Incoming EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that a “Green Deal for Europe” will be her top priority, while all six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are similarly signed up to carbon emission reductions as part of the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement.
While the Gulf countries have often been criticised for the size of their ‘carbon footprints’, it is important to recognise that the Gulf region is one of the most vulnerable when it comes to the impacts climate change, including: increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, advancing desertification and more extreme weather events. Already, the impact of climate change is observable on the fragile ecosystem of the region, which in turn is threatening serious consequences for the economic and development advances achieved in this part of the world over recent decades.
This paper by Dr Mohamed Abdelraouf for the Bussola Institute argues that the six countries of the GCC are as deeply concerned by the impact of climate change as their European counterparts, and they are determined to make a significant contribution to climate change research, while also playing a full part in international negotiations to resolve the challenges posed by our warming planet.
Outlining the principal challenges ahead, this paper also explores the potential for partnership between the EU and the GCC countries in this shared endeavour, and marks the start of a major programme of research by the Bussola Institute aimed at supporting and encouraging cooperation between Europe and the Gulf on this closely shared agenda.



Dr Mohamed Abdelraouf


November 21, 2019




The six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), i.e., Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE play an important role in the climate change field and the negotiations on a climate change agenda. This role has not always been positive; in fact, in many cases some of the positions pursued by the GCC states have had the effect of slowing down the negotiation process. At the same time, the GCC position cannot be described as obstructive. Rather, it is part of a search or an equitable way forward given that the GCC states are at once producers, exporters as well asvictims of climate change. Oil and gas revenues in the GCC states have enabled exceptional and accelerated development in all aspects of life. As a result, these countries have become a hub of intense activity in many spheres – geopolitical, economic, industrial, construction, and tourism, to name a few. However,the scale of oil and gas production and usage globally has also led to severe environmentalchallenges. Prominent among these is the issue of climate change.Alongside its tremendous economic development and progress, the Gulf region is confrontingnumerous and rising environmental challenges. Some are traditional, linked to water scarcity, landdegradation and desertification, and pollution linked to the oil and gas industry. Others areemerging including the negative impacts of climate change and the associated consequences ofincreased demand for energy, and construction and demolition debris.Many of the environmental challenges are the result of an interlinkage between traditional andemerging environmental threats. For instance, desertification leads to biodiversity loss; livestockincrease and overgrazing leads to desertification; and waste-dumping releases methane, whichadds to the climate change problem, which in turn leads to desertification, water scarcity andmany other ecological disasters.

Furthermore, climate change and its related environmental problems and challenges act as “hibernating phenomena” that have fuelled unrest and conflict across many countries in the MENA region. Many of these countries are direct neighbours of the GCC, in turn creating their own corresponding economic, political and environmental pressures upon GCC countries. It is in this overall context that climate change issues need to be urgently addressed in order to make sure that stability, security and sustainability are properly grounded across the region. 

In this paper on the need for a GCC-EU climate change partnership, the author outlines the various negative impacts of climate change on the GCC countries including on resources and economic development as well as on soft and hard security aspects that form part of the overall policy process in the region. The paper then proceeds to discuss the outcome of climate change COP 24 in Katowice, Poland and the GCC countries’ position towards this latest round of climate negotiations. Finally, the paper explores climate change partnership opportunities and obstacles between the EU and GCC and concludes with some recommendations about a common way forward. 

The Impact of Climate Change on the GCC States and Policy Responses

The consequences of climate change on the Gulf region can be analysed in four categories: Natural Resources, Soft and Hard Security issues as well as Economics. The impact across these issues shows a clear interlinkage between them with actions on one side leading to consequences in the others. 

Climate Change and Natural Resources

The Gulf region is one of the most vulnerable when it comes to climate change which affects its natural resources including its water, land and marine environment. There is already an impact on the very vulnerable ecosystem of the region, which in turn holds multiple implications for the economic and other development gains achieved in this part of the world. For example, climate change has resulted in changes in sea levels and the weather. Moreover, conflicts in countries like Syria, Yemen and Sudan (Darfur) often arise out of a combination of factors such as ethnic differences and natural resource scarcity. Climate change has become an aspect of national security in recent years, and therefore a water-scarce region like the Gulf increasingly finds itself needing to integrate climate change policy approaches into its overall policy-making process. 

Water is at the heart of the problem of climate change – glacier melt, rising sea levels, drought, desertification,1 and biodiversity loss are all water-related issues. Historically, civilisations have risen near the banks of major rivers and are heavily dependent on them for water, agriculture, transportation and trade. Water has always been both a blessing and a source of conflict. In fact, the English word “rivalry,” derived from the Latin “rivalis,” basically means“ one using the same river as another.”Water is also inextricably linked to the health of a population – fresh water is required for consumption, sanitation and irrigation of cropland. It is crucial for agriculture, which in turn affects harvests and livelihoods, particularly in subsistence farming areas. Climate change affects the movement of water and can generate erratic temperature changes and precipitation patterns.2 

Besides factors such as increased human demand for groundwater due to erratic rainfall patterns and reduced surface water flows in the summer in snow-dominated basins, rising sea levels also have an impact on groundwater recharge rates. Changes in saltwater levels could result in saltwater intrusion into aquifers, rendering the groundwater un-potable. In addition, higher surface water temperature affects water quality as it promotes algal blooms and increases bacteria and fungi content, resulting in a bad odour and taste in chlorinated drinking water. 

The total groundwater recharge in the GCC countries is estimated by the World Bank at 5260 MCM/year while their surface water resources is estimated at 3334.70 MCM indicating a significant gap.3 A semiarid-arid region like the Gulf is thus certain to face a growing problem of water shortage. Rising sea levels in the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean equally pose a growing threat. Countries such as Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar may lose a large part of their coastal area to the sea if water levels continue to rise as clearly stated in the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change4 as well as all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) reports submitted by the GCC countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A 2010 report by the Stockholm Environment Institute found that the “UAE could lose up to 6 percent of its populated and developed coastline by the end of the century” due to rising sea levels.5 This was acknowledged by Thani Al-Zeyoudi, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, at the 6th annual World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi in March 2019. Al-Zeyoudi stated that “any sea level rise is going to affect a huge part of our coastal areas. Almost 80 percent of our population is living in coastal areas, so their communities are going to be destroyed.” 6 

With most of the urban areas and capitals in the region being located along the shores of the Arabian Gulf, a rise in seawater levels by 50 cm could flood large swaths of lowlands used for agriculture near the coast as well as affect many economic sectors such as tourism and transport. This was also clearly underlined by the UAE Minster when he mentioned that “the country’s blue economy which encompasses fisheries, maritime transport, renewable energy and tourism, now comprises 68 percent of the UAE’s gross domestic product.” In addition, rising water levels would lead to an increase in the number of environmental refugees being forced to move inland within a country or even between countries. 

Similarly, the marine environment in the GCC countries is very important as a source of food security, energy (fossil fuel), and water desalination in addition to supporting many industries such as travel and tourism, transport and fishing. The major causes of coastal pollution in the GCC countries include ship-based pollution, offshore oil leaks and spills as a result of offshore operations, fishermen dumps, municipal wastewater discharge, industrial discharge as well as climate change. 

In terms of air pollution, the GCC countries have witnessed a radical transformation in the last two decades, with large-scale urbanisation and industrialisation. These developments have impacted air quality, adding to naturally high levels of dust. Owing to the dominance of the oil and gas sector, the countries are large contributors to the global emissions of carbon dioxide. While the GCC countries contribute about 2.4 per cent of world CO2 emissions, their population represents just 0.5 per cent of the world’s population. The per capita CO2 emissions of all GCC countries are therefore significantly higher than the average for high-income countries.

Climate Change and Soft Security

The damage to land, water, air and marine resources has consequences for wider soft security issues related to water, food, energy in the GCC countries.7 According to the UN, where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, the risks to the stability of states and societies will increase. Climate change is therefore the ultimate “threat multiplier” aggravating already fragile situations and potentially contributing to further social tensions and upheaval. This can be highlighted in more detail. 

Water security: According to the UN, “water scarcity” is when annual water availability falls below 1,000 cubic meters. When the level falls below 500 cubic meters per capita per year, this is referred to as “absolute water scarcity.” This is the case for all the GCC countries. As Mohamed Dawoud, a water expert in Abu Dhabi, has stated:8 “There are two major and immediate consequences: first, rising sea levels will affect coastlines and marine life severely and could impact desalination plants that are the source of water for the region. Second, rising temperatures means increasing water demand with falling freshwater levels and increasing salinity in sea water which affects the efficiency of desalination plants.”9 In short, the most visible, immediate and severe impact of climate change in the region will be on already scarce water resources which in turn deepens and widens water security issues in the region. 

Gulf region that the GCC states now rely on desalination for two-thirds of their water needs on average. In Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, the dependency has reached more than 90 per cent. Overall, 65 per cent of all the world’s desalination plants are found in the GCC countries. Given that desalination itself is highly energy intensive, it therefore contributes indirectly to climate change. 

Food security: Climate change poses threats to the food system in the Gulf region on all levels, whether agriculture, livestock or fisheries. As temperatures rise, studies show that agriculture production drops dramatically because the fertility of agricultural land also decreases across the region. This then affects livestock and results in higher incidence and spread of diseases. Fish resources also come under threat, especially with the rise in temperatures of saltwater, which triggers fish migration to the north to live in deeper and colder waters. 

Energy security: It is likely that thermal changes and continuous changes in temperature will negatively impact the efficiency of traditional power plants and affect photovoltaic cells. Meanwhile, the thermal impact on rising sea levels is certain to threaten power plants and electric transportation networks located close to the coast. 

Public Health: In addition, one cannot neglect the impact on public health. It is expected that rising temperatures resulting from climate change will impact the health of Gulf inhabitants. Extreme heat can result in people suffering heatstroke, which if not treated promptly can even cause death. Extreme temperatures can cause genetic changes in some viruses and bacteria, creating new strains that have new genetic characteristics such as better survival rates and resistance to antimicrobials. There could be more aggressive attacks (such as bird flu, malaria parasites, meningitis bacteria, and viruses causing Ebola and Zika). 

Climate Change and Hard Security

The UN’s 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that climate change can “indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”10 Climate change and related environmental problems such as natural resources scarcity, deterioration of and competition over natural resources use and utilisation have thus to be recognised as root causes of the conflicts across all countries in the Middle East region. In fact, one can argue that social, political and/or economic factors represent only the consequences of climate change that have negatively impacted the people in the region. 

Climate change and conflicts are more closely linked than most would imagine. In the case of Syria, environmental problems such as “hibernating phenomena” are clearly present, with climate change and the decreasing annual precipitation leaving large areas of the country drier, damaging agriculture in these areas, and ultimately forcing people to leave their villages and move to the cities. In the period from 2006 to 2011, Syria experienced its worst recorded drought in history that decimated the livelihoods of more than twenty percent of the rural population and led to the internal displacement of up to one million people. This, in turn, exacerbated social vulnerabilities in advance of the uprisings. For instance, the River Barada which provided water to villages near the capital city of Damascus has almost dried up in recent years due to low levels of rainfall in Syria. 

As a result, herds of livestock have died causing the prices of many crops to more than double. In combination with the cutting of food subsidies on which many people depended, the situation soon deteriorated. In the end, the plight of the farmers, who could also be referred to as “climate refugees,” and the widespread deterioration of agricultural harvests led to food insecurity throughout Syria and ultimately contributed to the country’s instability in addition to urban problems related to energy, water, sanitation and waste. It is estimated that 1.5 million Syrians can be classified as environmental refugees. Coupled with the influx of refugees from Iraq, this mass migration fuelled conditions of unemployment and poverty that were central to the beginnings of the conflict in Syria. 

Climate change impacts have likewise contributed to instability in Iraq and Yemen. In Yemen, prior to the outbreak of the present Yemeni conflict in 2011, the country suffered from a continuous and worsening deterioration of environmental resources due to the combination of several factors, the most important of which was the increasing population growth. The resulting social and economic changes have led to increasing pressure on limited resources, which led to the expansion of poverty and hunger and very poor basic lifeline services. Additionally, there is a serious shortage of water in Yemen as there are very few natural freshwater resources and inadequate supplies of potable water. Yemen has experienced long periods of water shortages due to the rapid growth of the market economy as well as government support for development and groundwater extraction. Around two-thirds of the country’s population live in the rural areas and their livelihoods depend directly on agriculture and water resources. Irrigation in the country is poor due to government incentives to farmers, such as fuel subsidies and low electricity tariffs. As agricultural lands are threatened by desertification because of climate change, the problem of water scarcity has only worsened. Food security and income are lost for many Yemenis. 

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq is experiencing more intense heat and gets dwindling rainfall.11 Persistent drought and rising temperatures in recent years have ruined crops and dried up lakes and other water resources. This leads to climate refugees and tensions over scarce water resources. 

To make matters worse, communities in the various countries in the region often have little or no means to address the negative impacts that result from climate change, i.e., they have no means of adaptation. Most lack the technical capacity or financial resources to address these issues. As a result, this point might be an area to focus on for both the GCC and the EU as described later. 

Economic Impacts

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that, as a result of global warming, global average GDP will fall by about 2 per cent. In the long term, climate change is expected to weaken global economic activity as a result of damage to vital sectors such as agriculture and tourism, damage to property and infrastructure, high insurance costs, poor productivity and displacement. 

For GCC countries, the economic impact of confronting climate change is severe. This is because their economies depend on revenues from oil and gas exports with those exports continuing to account for around 40 per cent of total exports.12 Fossil fuel combustion is the main source for emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas (GHG). Shifting towards renewable forms of energy will change the trading landscape of hydrocarbon markets by reducing the demand for fossil fuel exports and/or leading to lower prices. This in turn will directly impact the GCC’s GDP. 

Policy Responses

All of the above indicates a need for proper policy responses and corresponding actions some of which has been forthcoming. In response to the threat posed to the marine environment, for example, the GCC countries have taken steps for marine protection through laws, and awareness and protection projects by government, private companies and through the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME). There has also been some movement on coastal zone management. 

In the field of energy, the evolution of different forms of renewable energy technologies (RETs), does offer solutions to society’s energy needs. Fortunately for the GCC states, renewable and clean energy has emerged as one of the viable options for energy diversification as well as adapting to climate change. With its perfect geopolitical positioning providing it with abundant solar resource endowments and large desert areas allowing for large wind areas, the GCC will not only meet its domestic energy demand, it could potentially emerge as an exporter of energy derived from renewable energy (RE). RE offers promising opportunities in the GCC, particularly in the field of solar energy technologies. The GCC countries lie in the so-called Sunbelt, with global horizontal irradiance (GHI) values ranging from 1,900 kWh/m2/y in Kuwait to 2,160 kWh/m2/y in Bahrain, and direct normal irradiance (DNI) varying from 2,000 kWh/m2/y in Qatar to 2,500 kWh/m2/y in Saudi Arabia. This is one of the best endowed areas of the world with respect to solar energy, both for PV and CSP applications. 

Wind-generated energy is the least costly among all sources and is also feasible in some parts of the region. For instance, wind speeds reach 8-11 meters per second in countries like Oman. It is worth mentioning that renewable energy integration is an opportunity not only for GHG reduction but also for water issues. In all, the integrated climate-energy-water nexus is of great potential in the GCC countries and can realise many SDGs. EU experience is this regard, therefore, can support another area of significant cooperation between the two regions. 

According to a report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the increase in the use of renewable energy in the GCC region would allow the countries to conserve about 11 trillion litres of water withdrawal as well as 400 million barrels of oil, a decrease of 25 per cent. In the UAE, renewables would decrease fuel use in the energy and water sectors by 50 per cent which is in line with the national targets. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the use of fuel in the energy and water sectors would decrease by 23 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively. Overall, the use of renewable energy can help

in reducing the carbon footprint per capita in the Gulf region by as much as 8 per cent. Shifting desalination plants to solar desalination would also be more sustainable, environment-friendly, and cost-effective.14 Finally, the use of renewable energy would create more than 200,000 jobs. 

The Council of Arab Ministers responsible for the environment in its 19th session in Cairo in December 2007 adopted the Arab Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change that aimed to raise awareness on the serious impact of climate change and urge for collective regional and international efforts and policies to meet the rising challenge. Following from this, the Gulf countries have recognised the problems posed by their energy production and consumption profiles and are trying to come up with innovative solutions in the renewable energy field to offset this. In this regard, numerous renewable energy initiatives at the research and project level have been initiated across the GCC countries such as the pioneer city of MASDAR in Abu Dhabi, the installation of wind turbines in Bahrain’s World Trade Center and the establishment of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Saudi Arabia. 

With the unveiling of the Saudi Vision 2030 in April 2016, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underscored the need to make the Saudi economy more resilient against commodity fluctuations.15 As part of diversification measures, efforts are being made to grow the kingdom’s investments in clean and renewable energy. This includes ambitious plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by building more solar power systems and initiate some of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage projects as well as decrease the emissions of methane in oil production.16 In addition, Saudi Arabia aims to use more natural gas as well as set new standards to make buildings and cars more energy efficient. Other steps will seek to reduce the levels of pollution, increase waste management efficiency and achieve environmental sustainability. One aspect of Vision 2030 is to remove consumer subsidies at home to encourage more sustainable consumption of water and electricity.17 To help the kingdom achieve its goals, the Public Investment Fund is to bring together more than $2 trillion in order to minimise the country’s dependence on oil and shift its economy to a more sustainable one.18 

In Oman, in line with its efforts to diversify its energy resources, the Oman Power and Water Procurement company (OPWP) recently announced the launch of major renewable energy projects, including a new utility-scale solar project with capacity between 500MW-1,000 MW and a mega wind energy project with anticipated capacity of 300MW as well as a waste-to-energy independent power plant with an anticipated electricity generation capacity of 125MW-160MW to be located in South Batinah governorate.19 

Oman will also increase energy efficiency projects in the industrial sector, develop new legislation on climate change which will support the adoption of low carbon and energy efficiency technologies, and reduce hydrochlorofluorocar- bons (HCFC) use in the foam and refrigeration sector besides initiating many low carbon emission projects such as:20 

  •   Solar panels at homes
  •   Three solar and three wind-powered projects – that can generate nearly 2,650 MW of electricity
  •   Petroleum Development Oman (PDO)’s solar PV power plant
  •   GlassPoint’s solution concentrate solar power project 

In Qatar, the Msheireb low-carbon city model (focused on sustainability and green buildings) is part of a wider mission to meet Qatar's National Vision 2030 plan, which aims, among other things, to reduce energy consumption and the nation's carbon footprint.21 Qatar Foundation (QF), in partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), has also set up a Climate Change Research Institute and a Global Climate Change Forum as part of its overall strategy. Bahrain, as well as Kuwait, has equally put forward initiatives in line with their national vision plans and diversification strategies.Bahrain, as well as Kuwait, has equally put forward initiatives in line with their national vision plans and diversification strategies. 

In many respects, the UAE has taken the lead in the region when it comes to climate change issues through mitigation and adaptation. Key initiatives include the National Climate Change Plan 2017-2050, adopted by the UAE Cabinet in June 2017, and the National Climate Change Adaptation Program, adopted at the first annual meeting of the UAE Government in September 2017.22 Included in these programs are a National GHG Emissions Management Program, a National Biodiversity Strategy, a National Adaptation Plan as well as private sector driven initiatives promoting innovative diversification programs. 

Events in the GCC region such as the annual World Future Energy Summit (WFES) and Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in Abu Dhabi provide direct support to sustainability plans in the GCC countries. Such annual forums help attract investments and facilitate exchange of experiences between the GCC and the rest of the world. Dubai Expo 2020 will feature a Sustainability Pavilion as one of its signature features of the exhibition. 

Renewable energy projects and clean energy technologies for mitigating climate change will thus enable the GCC countries to align their GHG reduction and human development efforts as well as promote mitigation activities that, in turn, will accelerate socio-economic progress. A key step to move forward in this direction will be a simultaneous shift in the energy sector as a precondition for any green transition. Since the energy sector affects all other sectors, a green energy sector can have a positive spillover effect on the other sectors too and help realise the various goals. 

Two caveats need to be mentioned here. First, the adaptation in the GCC countries to the various impacts of climate change continues to be quite low despite the many public pronouncements. The lack of arable land and water resources in much of the region prevents the development of carbon sinks, forests and green areas. Furthermore, information acquisition, public awareness, mainstreaming impacts into policies, monitoring, evaluation and implementing measures remain insufficient. The bottom line is that cross-sectoral policies to fight climate change need to be better developed and integrated especially sectors like energy, agriculture, and transportation. 

Second, in order to mitigate the impact of climate change, it must be first acknowledged that not all new technology presents a solution to the Gulf’s challenges. In many cases, traditional knowledge and practices are often best suited for the local environment as they can deliver faster, more reliable, cheaper and more environment-friendly services for citizens. This includes, for example, the Aflaj irrigation water systems, traditional housing and neighbourhood planning, as well as traditional means of transportation. The integration of traditional practices into the overall climate change response allows the people in the region to better adapt to climatic conditions (such as wind and temperature trends) in the planning and design of urban development. What is needed therefore is a mix of traditional and modern technological innovations. For example, in the older parts of the city, traditional, smart mobility methods could be more favourable, consumer-friendly, cheap and sustainable and even act as a tourist attraction. In the new areas of the cities, authorities can depend on new, smart and clean means of transportation. 

Recent Developments and the Position of the GCC States on Climate Change at COP 24 in Poland

Delegates from nearly 200 states gathered at COP 24 in Katowice, Poland in December 2018 to finalise the procedures to deliver on the Paris Agreement’s goals for limiting global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Overall, the results from the COP 24 meeting can be characterised as positive. The agreement reached was generally robust, fair and cohesive with a set of implementation guidelines to solidify the Paris regime and a roadmap to finalise outstanding issues. 

Most of the countries committed to stepping up and enhancing their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020 in line with the findings of climate science. In addition, the rules for reporting and compliance were also clarified. On the issue of financing, there was some progress related to the Adaptation Fund and other international funding sources such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF).23 

At the same time, many tasks remain unfinished. First, there is still no agreement on the common timeframes to be followed. Second, the NDC enhancement measures remain unclear in terms of their actual implementation especially with regard to the big emitters. This includes, for instance:24 

  •   China: Contribution not to be clarified until the next five-year plan; 
  •   EU: Clarification will come sometime in 2020 although the exact commitment is to be linked to what is decided by China; 
  •   US: No clarifications expected until the next US administration in 2021 or after; 
  •   Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia: Specific clarifications and commitments remain generally unlikely; 
  •   Japan is looking at the year 2050 and might not consider any NDC enhancement until the year 2030; 
  •   South Korea: Further clarifications to be announced in 2020. 

Greater clarity on enforcement measures is critical given the fact that the NDCs are central pillars of the Paris Agreement. Without ambitious NDCs, the entire effort of the Paris Agreement and rulebook will not be achieved; at a minimum, the outlined goals will find themselves significantly undermined. NDCs are therefore the main way to hold governments accountable in a multilateral system. While other efforts and initiatives can play a complementary role, they cannot replace the NDC mechanism. 

Throughout 2019, the COP process has gained momentum. Multilateral meetings such as the G7/G20 summits, the Fridays for Future movement, or elections such as the European Parliamentary elections in May 2019 were defined by the debate about climate change. The Green Climate Fund is already in the process of discussing the replenishment process, while the UNSG Climate Summit in September 2019 will try to drive pledges to increase the ambition of Paris commitments and identify high-impact actions on energy, industry, and nature-based solutions, action by cities, and climate resilience in addition to finance. 

For the next COP 25, the Chilean High-Level Champion presented the plans of the upcoming presidency with a focus on electromobility, renewable energy, circular economy, and ecosystem, forest and biodiversity in order to strongly increase the ambitions, define the rule book, and focus on implementation. In general, the negotiations will focus on key areas such as: 

  •   The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (L&D) Review that will hopefully lead to a financial mechanism to address L&D in the next five-year plan. 
  •   Continue negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement that establishes the foundation for a post-2020 carbon market. 
  •   COP 25 will be the last opportunity to push for a revision of NDCs before 2020. 

It is worth mentioning that schoolchildren across the world and especially in the EU region started, in 2019, organising and joining the global Fridays for Future protests, demanding global leaders take action on climate change. Overall, the climate agenda is expected to remain at the top of political agendas with more actions and partnerships likely in 2019 and beyond. 

COP 26 will be hosted by the UK at the end of 2020 in partnership with Italy. They will co-organise many of the pre-COP 26 meetings and events. The two countries aim to promote the highest level of ambition possible for the next COP 26 and to encourage the adoption of concrete actions capable of making the necessary qualitative leap necessary for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. The UK and Italy have long cooperated to affirm the urgency of coordinated global climate action and have played a key role in making the EU adopt ambitious commitments on this issue. Both are active members of the High Ambition Coalition and supported the statement on strengthening climate ambitions at COP 24. Not only does this underscore the role that the EU will be playing in COP 26, but it also underlines the need for greater coordination with other key international players in climate negotiations, including the GCC countries. 

Stronger bilateral relations and collaboration can ultimately broaden the strategic cooperation between the EU and the GCC on climate change which could unfold through the United Nations Climate Action Summit, COP 25 and the simultaneous Presidencies of the G20 by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2020 and in 2021 of the G20 by Italy and the G7 by the United Kingdom. In fact, G20 leaders should set two main tasks to address the climate crisis: Set bold 2050 targets and establish stronger national climate commitments by 2020 that can help achieve that ambitious long-term strategy. As the major emitters, action on the part of the G20 leadership is critical to tackle the climate crisis. The good news is that bold climate action will also help G20 countries achieve their goal of strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth. 

No consensus was reached at COP 24 on the need to reduce carbon emissions by half before 2030. The scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which lays out the consequences of average global temperatures’ rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius, argues that such a reduction was required in order to reach the goal of halving global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius. As the report was widely regarded as a wake-up call for policy makers when it was released in October 2018, a clear majority of countries at COP 24 argued in favour of adopting the reports’ recommendations. 

Ultimately, the United States along with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked endorsement of this landmark study on global warming as they questioned some of the scientific assumptions in the report.25 In the end, these four countries were only willing to make a note of the report and express appreciation to the scientists who drafted it, but they did not endorse its conclusions. The recommendation that fossil fuel use should be phased out by 2050 was likely the central reason for the rejection of the report. 

Finally, there was some progress on climate finance with the Adaptation Fund to continue as the main financing mechanism for the Paris Agreement. Many countries, especially developing countries, assured their continued support for the Green Climate Fund as a new finance tool to help realise the Paris Agreement goals.

The GCC Position

All six countries of the GCC are signatories to the Paris Agreement and, except for Oman, have ratified it. However, this does not really mean much given that historically the GCC countries were also signatories to the Kyoto Protocol but the implementation of the outlined action was weak. 

The hesitancy of the GCC states to live up to the stated commitments can be easily understood if one takes into consideration the impact of climate change deals on fossil fuels. Given that fossil fuels form the backbone of the Gulf economies, the climate change debate has taken on particular importance for the GCC countries. 

The industrial, energy, transportation and agricultural sectors globally depend almost entirely on fossil fuels and generate a large proportion of GHG emissions. Therefore, given that these fuels are the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, any actions taken to lower emissions is bound to directly affect the demand for fossil fuels, especially in the countries that adopt laws and policies to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. This, in turn, will have an impact on the economies of the oil-rich Gulf countries as fossil fuels are their major source of revenue. 26 

As a result, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for example, stresses the importance of climate mitigation policies that do not compromise the economic growth and prosperity in developing countries. Saudi Arabia also places emphasis on policies that help in the reduction of GHG without adversely affecting social development. Worried about oil being singled out as the key environmental culprit, Saudi Arabia has asked for financial assistance in exchange for its participation as a kind of compensation for the potential negative impacts it is bound to face. 

Of course, Saudi Arabia is not alone in this regard. Other developed countries too have sought to protect their main energy or income source. For example, the UK has taken a number of measures to protect its own oil and gas industry. According to a report, recent UK subsidies for oil and gas extraction will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves. Furthermore, the UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share in relation to Paris climate goals as industry and government aim to extract 20 billion barrels in total.27 

Similarly, when COP 24 was held in the famous mining town of Katowice, which sits at the heart of the coal industry in Poland but is also one of the most polluted cities in Europe, the Polish President pledged not to allow anyone to "eliminate coal mining."28 Other countries such as China and Egypt, both members of the Group 77, are cooperating in establishing the Hamrawein coal-fired plant on the Red Sea despite their ambitious plans for a transition to renewables energy and a low carbon economy. 29 

Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman have played more low-profile roles in the climate talks and have mainly followed the Saudi line. These countries share the Saudi worries about the economic consequences of a global emissions cap deal. Qatar’s gas exports are a cleaner alternative to its neighbour’s oil, which, in turn, gives Doha more room for environmental manoeuvring. 

The one country that has been very open and forthcoming in the climate negotiations is the UAE. This is very clear in “the National Climate Change Plan UAE 2017-2050” where Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, reaffirms “the UAE’s strong commitment to continue addressing climate change in the coming decades. Climate change should be everyone’s concern, and each of us has a valuable role to play in turning this global challenge into an opportunity for prosperity.” In this sense, the UAE has more than any other GCC state listed its environmental actions, commitments, and limitations, and has asked what others will do in return. 

In exchange for their ratification of the Paris Agreement and COP 24, the GCC seek to gain from corresponding technology transfer as well as reach an agreement on proper finance mechanisms in order to achieve an equitable and adequate cost distribution mechanism. On a positive note, there is growing awareness that the GCC states have to move forward on introducing and implementing a host of environment-friendly, clean, low emission technologies in various sectors to smooth the transition towards a green and low-carbon economy in addition to attracting new investment and creating new green jobs. 

Most government officials understand that this would be a better and sustainable option for the GCC economies rather than continuing to depend mostly on fossil fuel revenues. For instance, Abdulaziz Al-Rasheed, Deputy Minister for Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Economy and Planning in Saudi Arabia, stated that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is based on diversifying the economy, reducing dependence on oil, achieving sustainable growth at high rates, and creating more jobs.30 In 2016, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, said “Shifting towards the post-oil era is a major transformation in our history as Emiratis: success is the only option,”31 and the country has a “post-oil strategy.”32 

The GCC countries generally welcomed the outcome of COP 24.33 The UAE responded positively to the idea of a “rule book” as laid out in the COP 24 text and urged the international community to further commit to the fight against global warming.34 Together, the GCC states also used the COP 24 meeting to further push for technologies that support the sustainability of its fossil fuel industries such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). For instance, in the GCC pavilion, a panel considered the feasibility of CCUS technologies in the oil and gas industry as well as the ways in which the panelists’ respective organisations have applied them as carbon emission reduction strategies. CCUS involves the capturing of carbon emissions at source to sequester them underground or to transform and utilise them as alternative marketable products. The core argument is that CCUS is critical for achieving global climate objectives as it is a technology that is ready for use and therefore should not be seen merely as an option.35 


Given that NDCs are critical elements in the Paris Agreement, a closer look at the GCC’s NDCs is warranted. In general, NDCs for the GCC countries emphasise the importance of diversifying the sources of energy production so as to prevent the increase of GHG emissions. All NDCs mention the fragility of the ecosystem in the region especially with regard to water resources and sea level rise. 

The stated goal of Saudi Arabia’s NDC is to reduce its output of CO2 by a total of 130 million tonnes by 2030. This measure seeks to allow for the growth of the Saudi economy while at the same time making the implementation of various diversification measures possible. With the Carbon Dioxide-Enhanced Oil Recovery programme, the goal is to purify 1,500 tonnes of CO2 a day.36 The kingdom has also outlined plans to invest in renewable energy sources such as solar, thermal and wind energy. The reason for this is clear. While oil production remains the primary economic activity of Saudi Arabia, the decline in oil price since late 2014 resulting in significantly lower revenues in addition to increased domestic demand for oil, has underscored the urgent need to finance complementary sources of energy. Early in 2019, Saudi Arabia launched the second phase of its renewable energy programme with seven solar photovoltaic energy projects that would generate 1.52 gigawatts and direct investments worth $1.51 billion.37 

The main criticism of Saudi Arabia’s NDC, however, is that it has not stated a baseline from which the reductions will be made. This has led Saudi Arabia to be categorised as“critically insufficient” in the current rating by the Climate Action Tracker. 

The UAE and Qatar have both proposed ambitious NDCs in order to confront the impending consequences of climate change. The UAE promotes “Vision 2021” with various sub-programmes including a Green Growth Strategy focusing on economic and social sustainable development through decarbonising steps in the energy sector. In 2017, the UAE launched its “Energy Strategy 2050,” which is considered the first unified energy strategy based on supply and demand.38 The strategy aims to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix from 25 to 50 per cent by 2050 and reduce the carbon footprint resulting from power generation by 70 per cent. This is estimated to allow for a savings of Dh700 billion by 2050. It also seeks to increase the consumption efficiency of energy usage among individuals and corporates by 40 per cent. The strategy targets an energy mix that combines renewable, nuclear and clean energy sources to meet the UAE’s economic requirements and environmental goals as follows:

  •   44 per cent clean energy
  •   38 per cent gas
  •   12 per cent clean coal
  •   6 per cent nuclear 

In order to achieve its objectives, the UAE government has stated its readiness to invest Dh600 billion by 2050 to meet the growing energy demand and ensure sustainable growth of the economy. 

The government of Qatar stresses the need for technological transfers and increased research and development and, as a result, has established within the Ministry of Environment a department dedicated to climate change. Qatar’s National Vision 2030 contains four pillars: Human, Social, Economic and Environmental Development. This fourth pillar seeks to strike a balance between the country’s development needs and environmental protection. In that context, Qatar supports international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Qatari government has understood that economic diversification is crucial for the country to maintain a steady and robust economy. At the same time, Qatar NDCs underline that the country is already contributing indirectly to global efforts to mitigate climate change by exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a clean energy resource. 

The NDCs of Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman are similar to those proposed by other GCC countries. All three countries attach great importance to diversifying the sources of energy production in the country to avoid the increase of GHG emissions.39 Kuwait’s Agenda 2035 lays out a policy of moving to a low carbon equivalent emissions economic system based on its future business and expected emissions over the period of 2020 to 2030. Bahrain’s Economic Vision focuses on the financial, manufacturing and tourism sectors as well as Energy Efficiency, Carbon Capture and Storage, and Renewable Energy.40 The NDC of Oman seeks to reduce gas flaring from oil industries as well as increase the share of renewable energy and increase the number of energy efficiency projects among industries. In addition, Oman proposes to frame new legislation on climate change that will support the adoption of low carbon technologies.41 

The NDCs of the GCC countries in general recognise the decisions of both COP 18 and COP 24 as they stress the need for further economic diversification, in particular for countries with a high dependence on fossil fuel production. The COP 18 meeting in Doha marked a turning point in the views of the GCC countries and underscored the urgency of taking proactive measures towards climate change.

In general, the NDCs of Qatar and the UAE are more comprehensive than the NDCs proposed by other GCC countries. The biggest difference is that they integrate programmes geared towards consumer awareness. This can be seen in the Ecological Footprint Initiative in the UAE and the creation of a world-class education system with specific programmes on climate change in Qatar. All NDCs mention the fragility of the system with regard to water resources, but Qatar and the UAE additionally stress the issue of food security. 

That, however, does not mean that the GCC states are at the forefront on climate change deliverables. While the Climate Action Tracker had initially stated that the UAE has the most ambitious climate programme in the Middle East and highlighted the country as the first to propose a Green Growth Strategy programme, it has since stated that the overall policy approach is not deemed sufficient. As such, it has officially qualified the NDC of the UAE as inadequate. The main criticism is that the NDC fails to provide economy-wide (GHG) with a targeted baseline year. The NDC thus provides qualitative measures of its intended projects without quantifying it in relation to GHG emissions. What this means is that the UAE’s climate commitment in 2021 is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement. Rather, it is consistent with warming between 3°C and 4°C. Despite that, the UAE continues to be the leader of the region with regard to green economy and climate change with pioneer projects such as MASDAR and its Green Economy Strategy,42 in addition to being host to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). 

Unfortunately, Climate Action Tracker has yet to publish its views of the NDCs of the other GCC countries but the author believes that based on the evaluations of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the other GCC countries are most likely not in a better position. Thus, their NDCs can be expected to receive the same label of “critically insufficient.” At the same time, the GCC countries continue to defend their plans and targets for the Paris Agreement. They argue that they have chosen to take an “action-based” rather than “results-based” approach. Saudi Arabia, for example, has argued that given its dependence on one natural resource, i.e. oil, it is “extremely difficult” to predict the course of the country’s emissions over the next year as it depends on demand for hydrocarbons from the rest of the world.43 

Surprisingly, most of the countries analysed by the Climate Action Tracker do not meet the Paris Agreement goals. Russia and the US are classified as “critically insufficient” while countries like Canada, China and Japan are classified as “highly insufficient.” Even the EU and other European countries such as Norway and Switzerland are classified as “insufficient.”44 

 Nevertheless, the EU countries remain at the forefront in talking concrete steps to move forward on a climate change agenda. The European Commission unveiled a plan in November 2018 and made it clear that the EU will have to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in order to stick to commitments made under the Paris Agreement. That stance has been backed by the European Parliament. While not all EU countries have voiced their agreement regarding meeting the 2050 deadline, individual countries have taken steps in this direction. Austria, for example, will be free of electricity from coal in mid-2020.45 The UK has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050,46 while France has proposed net zero emissions legislation this year.47 

Smaller countries have gone for dates before 2050, such as Finland (2035) and Norway (2030), though the latter allows for meeting the target through the buying of carbon offsets. Finland’s current government said in June 2019 that the country will aim to cut its carbon emissions completely by 2035 thus aiming to become the world’s first fossil free welfare state and achieving carbon neutrality by that year. Finland has made the climate change issue the core of its agenda for the rotating EU presidency from July to December 2019. Overall, it is one of the most ambitious benchmarks set by an EU country and will obligate Finland to reduce its carbon emissions to below the amount that can be absorbed by forests, wetlands and new technologies. Its policy is set to reviewed in 2025.48 

Some environmental groups have expressed disappointment that UK and Norway seek to achieve their goals through international carbon credits, something Greenpeace said would “shift the burden to developing nations.”49 However, the author believes that this is a great opportunity for cooperation and technology transfer with other nations as regions like the GCC or countries like the UK cannot achieve their targets domestically but can only do this within the context of international collaboration. 

Though the EU scenarios foresee substantial but different gross CO2 and GHG emissions reductions until 2050, current plans include a range of varying options on carbon sequestration by biosphere and other potential negative emissions technologies (NETs), or through Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies to reach carbon neutrality. In this regard, it would be beneficial for both the EU and the Gulf region to establish a working group on how to move towards carbon neutrality and on the potential use of NETs and CDR technologies. Definitely, there is a lot that the Gulf region can learn from the EU in this regard. 

GCC-EU Discussion on Climate Change Issues

The EU and its member states are signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Action to tackle climate change and cut GHG emissions is a priority for the EU. In fact, EU leaders have committed to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low-carbon economy. The EU has also set itself the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. 

To underscore its commitments, the EU has pioneered the use of new policy instruments such as emissions trading, which have since been copied elsewhere. While emissions in the rest of the world continued to grow apace, the EU’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 8 per cent under the Kyoto Protocol was met, and, by 2015, levels were down by 23 per cent from 1990 levels.50 The EU has also been the largest contributor of climate finance to help developing countries. 

Given the leading role of EU in climate and renewables policy, technology and finance, there is great room for lessons to be learned by the GCC as well as opportunities for cooperation which could both assist the GCC region in its diversification efforts as well as provide incentives to promote greater consensus on climate change policies on the global level. Given the centrality of climate and environmental challenges and their rising relevance to public policy discourse, GCC-EU cooperation on positions, policies, institutions, regulations, and projects within the broader framework of climate change is an important dimension to be considered. 

Europe is a leader in advanced RE technologies and as far as the GCC is concerned, the EU would be an ideal partner given that it is already an important trade partner and has the will to diversify its energy imports and clean energy also from the GCC region as an inexpensive and sustainable alternative solution. 

For the EU, it is important to understand that the GCC countries are playing an increasingly important role (both positive and negative) in the climate change field and in negotiations. As has been stated before, the GCC countries are at once producers and exporters as well as victims of climate change. Thus, it is necessary to fully bring the GCC countries into the debate and have a mechanism where policy steps being taken receive the full support of the international community. There is simply no room for unilateral efforts that ignore other players.  

In conjunction with the Paris Agreement, the GCC countries have abundant opportunities to diversify their economies away from oil. While policy makers have started to understand that the region needs to invest in research and development in cutting edge technologies in generation, distribution and storage of renewables, they should be encouraged to follow up on such a transition. 

It is important to realise that there exists a unique current moment. Since June 2014, oil prices have dropped by 60 per cent exposing regional economies to lower revenues and rising budget deficits. The decline in oil revenues has once again highlighted the high degree of dependency of the GCC states on the hydrocarbon sector. Realisation of this dependency coupled with increased efforts to implement diversification policies opens the door to opportunities in shifting to clean energy technologies. The best and least expensive method to implement NDC is to put a price on carbon emissions.51 

This is also because the demand for alternative and cleaner sources of energy will continue to increase and more investment will find its way to this field. In response, the potential for expanding sustainable resource use and cleaner, efficient and alternative renewable energy technologies in the GCC region will equally increase. However, these efforts need to be supported by the international community through actions that assist the GCC countries in their move towards establishing better institutional capacities in the field of climate change. What is required is both building on existing forms of cooperation as well as formulating new strategies between EU and GCC countries regarding climate policy as well as clean energy technologies and energy efficiency. 

Current Level of Cooperation

Before providing some recommendations on a future EU-GCC agenda for climate change cooperation, it needs to be acknowledged that the two sides already engage in cooperation in the field of climate change, environment and renewable energy.52 Current areas of joint project cooperation in various sectors (such as energy, transport, and agriculture) include the following aspects: 

  •   Capacity building in climate related policies

  •   Mitigation and finance

  •   Technology transfer

  •   Monitoring climate change impacts and vulnerability

  •   Supporting national planning for adaptation

  •   Enhancing knowledge sharing 

  •   Streamlining financial and technical support to leverage finance for energy efficiency.

  •   Renewable energy 

Since 1989, the European Community has been linked by a cooperation agreement to the six countries of the GCC. This agreement is not a trade agreement, but a wide cooperation agreement that is aimed at establishing close cooperation between the member states of the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council on a wide range of areas, which maybe grouped in three main sections: industry, energy, and the environment. The agreement effectively entered into force in January 1992 when the first meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee took place in Brussels.53 Cooperation in the three fields mentioned was formalised by the setting up of three working parties. 

EU-GCC relations have taken on more distinct forms of cooperation since the early 2000s, especially following the agreement within the GCC to implement a customs union. Energy issues and subsequently environmental aspects have received a greater degree of attention. One specific initiative in recent years has been the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network set up with the aim of providing a framework for a long-term strategic energy relationship with a focus on sustainable, clean and renewable energy. Coming out of the 20th session of the joint GCC-EU Ministerial Council held in Luxembourg on June 14, 2010, the "establishment of a European Union-GCC Network for clean energy" was adopted as part of a joint action programme for the period 2010-2013. The network was established to create a means, and practically useful tool, for developing tangible cooperation activities among various actors in the sector from both sides. It has five working areas: Renewable Energy Sources; Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management; Clean Natural Gas and Related Clean Technologies; Electricity Interconnections and Market Integration; and Carbon Capture and Storage. 

Since January 2016, more than 60 successful initiatives in the areas of clean energy technology and policies have been completed by the network. Study tours to the EU, allowing EU and GCC stakeholders to meet and exchange expertise and knowledge on clean energy technology and policies, were considered particularly successful.54 The project also included a constructive energy dialogue between the EU and the GCC, including regular meetings of the EU-GCC Energy Expert Group. With various workshops, conferences, joint research, capacity building and study tours in the area of clean energy, the EU-GCC Clean Energy Network has been a tool to operationalise some of the discussions of the political energy dialogue. Implementation of activities related to clean energy technology and policies has helped consolidate the EU’s position as a leader in the response to climate change and provided business opportunities for EU industry. 

The INCONET-GCC project is an additional initiative that develops and supports dialogue between the GCC and the EU by bringing together policy makers and stakeholders from both sides. Through its activities, it has promoted actions to monitor, develop, promote and contribute to the creation of synergies among the various science and technology cooperation programmes between the GCC and the EU countries and foster the participation of the GCC in the FP7. The environment and climate change have been central themes within the INCONET-GCC project. This includes supporting institutional bi-regional policy dialogue in scientific research and monitoring progress towards science, technology and innovation cooperation. It also encouraged increased participation of the GCC states in Horizon 2020. The second phase has addressed societal challenges of mutual interest identified during the first phase, in particular smart cities and health (specifically diabetes).55 The team also drafted key policy documents in support of bi-regional research and innovation policy dialogue. 

Recommendations - Exploring Partnership Opportunities and Setting an Agenda for Progress on Climate Change Agreements

While the initiatives described above have established a basis for EU-GCC cooperation in the field of climate change, a further upgrading of cooperation is needed in terms of a higher level of coordination on environmental policies and positions and on setting up joint climate reduction projects/activities through the development of clean energy mechanisms. If the GCC countries want to follow through on their stated commitments to diversify their economies along with improving relations with EU countries, climate change cooperation with the EU may be a prerequisite for the following reasons: 

  •   On climate change matters, it is very difficult to coordinate with the United States, in particular given the Trump Administration’s complete denial of climate science and its pursuit of a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Instead, a workable climate change agenda needs EU-GCC cooperation. 
  •   Climate change has an impact on diverse areas such as energy, transport, economy, security and political issues. It is an essential element in sectoral plans, strategies and policies, e.g., energy policy and agriculture policy.
  •   Climate change has to be considered a major factor in terms of accomplishing economic diversification strategies in the Gulf region.
  •   Climate change is goal no. 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its success will affect almost all the other SDGs. 
  •   As climate change does not recognise borders, joint efforts of regional organisations such as the EU and GCC represent important components of a more holistic approach towards tackling it. 
  •   The active exchange of views and lessons learned regarding climate legislation and policies can be used for the benefit of both the EU and the GCC as well as to strengthen cooperation. 
  •   Coordination on climate change challenges helps to increase efficiency, spread clean technology standards, and achieve a high quality of life. This is what ultimately will continue to attract investors, citizens and tourists to the GCC region. 
  •   Energy security has been a major driver at the national and regional levels in the EU. Making renewable energy a major domestic source of energy within the EU will add to the region’s security of supply by reducing energy import dependency from its currently high levels (around 71 per cent). 

The GCC states clearly need to find new, reliable and sustainable sources of revenue other than oil. Economic diversification measures based on the further development of renewable and clean energy options is therefore the way forward. In addition to the UAE, the other GCC states still need to find an alternative route to continue their economic development and start their transition away from fossil fuel income dependence. The EU can play a crucial role in this regard. 

EU-GCC coordination on climate change, low carbon technologies and renewable energy should focus on items in the following order where number 1 is basic coordination and number 5 is the highest level of cooperation and partnership: 

1. Agreements and joint working groups 

2. Institutional coordination and raising institutional capacities and its cadres 

3. Common climate policies, regulations 

4. Common climate positions during climate negotiations 

5. Joint mitigation and adaptation projects 

In general, current cooperation in the field of climate change, low carbon technologies and renewables is limited to items one and two. Therefore, an agenda needs to be developed that brings the two sides together to move towards complementarity in items three to five. 

EU assistance to the Gulf region in the climate change field could therefore progress as follows: 

Technical assistance component 

This is to develop a comprehensive set of strategies to respond to the challenges posed by climate change to the GCC countries. It will also help in gathering, evaluating, prioritising, and updating information on capacity building and technology needs for reaching climate change targets set out in the Paris Agreement. 

Exploring the use of Copernicus Remote Sensing 

Copernicus is the EU's Earth observation programme coordinated and managed by the European Commission in partnership with the European Space Agency, EU member states and EU agencies. The pan-European component is coordinated by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and produces satellite image mosaics, land cover/land use (LC/LU) information through the CORINE Land Cover data, and High Resolution Layers.56 Such images are very helpful for countries to monitor climate change impacts especially on changes in land cover and land use. 

Technology transfer in the field of renewables and energy efficiency 

Given the leading role of the EU in deploying RE, greater technology transfer to the GCC would be beneficial. For instance, Oman has said that in terms of capacity building and transfer of technology from the UNFCCC, most of the funds come from EU. Therefore, what needs to be explored is what further efforts can be undertaken to ensure concerted progress when it comes to sustainable buildings, the development of renewable energy, energy efficiency, low carbon transport initiatives, low carbon technologies in industries, methane recovery from solid waste dumping sites, and carbon sinks.57 

Improve governance for renewables and climate change across the region 

That includes but is not limited to clear targets, strategies, policies and actions for climate change, renewables, and cross-sectoral coordination. 

In order to move forward in these areas, this report recommends the establishment of an EU-GCC Climate Change Liaison Centre that can take the responsibility of communication and cooperation to facilitate a close working relationship between the EU and GCC on all issues related to climate change. 

Such a centre would be very similar to the Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC) which, as an international organisation, was mandated to find solutions to freshwater scarcity. Established in 1996 as part of the Middle East Peace Process, it conducts research and training and undertakes development cooperation and transboundary water projects. It has its headquarters in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman. 

It would be beneficial for the EU and the GCC to establish a similar center to tackle climate change issues in both regions. Although the GCC countries have adopted many plans, initiated regional cooperation, and implemented common policies and projects in the field of environment, clean energy and climate change, they lag far behind regions like Europe. In this regard, the proposed EU-GCC Climate Change Liaison Centre can play a key role in strengthening relations and harnessing benefits for the two regions. Such a centre can start by establishing a working group on how to move towards carbon neutrality. 

• 1 J. Tulloch, “Water Conflicts: Fight or Flight?” Allianz Knowledge , March 19, 2008,

• 2 Mohamed Abdelraouf, “Water Issues in the Gulf: Time for Action,” Middle East Institute, January 1, 2009, available at (accessed April 6, 2019).

• 3 World Bank, “A Water Sector Assessment Report on the Countries of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf,”Water, Environment, Social and Rural Development Department, Middle East and North Africa Region [Report No. 32539-MNA], 2005.

• 4 IPCC, “Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” 2007, available at (accessed on April 8, 2019).

• 5 See (accessed August 21, 2019).

• 6 5 Natasha Turak, “UAE Climate Minister Outlines Top Threats as Abu Dhabi Hosts the Middle East’s First Ocean Summit", March 6, 2019, available at: threats-as-abu-dhabi-hosts-the-middle-easts-first-ocean-summit.html (accessed August 21, 2019).

• 7 UN Environment Programme, “Climate Change and Security Risks,” available at security-risks (accessed May1, 2019).

• 8 Meena Janardhan, “Climate Change-Mideast: Producers and Victims of Fossil Fuels,” IPS, available at (accessed May 1, 2019).

• 9 Quoted in Leila Radhouane, “Climate Change Impacts on North African countries and some Tunisian economic sectors,”Journal of Agriculture and Environment for International Development, June 2013, p. 104.

• 10 IPCC, “Climate Change 2014 Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability- Top level Findings,” 2014, available at (accessed June 16, 2019).

• 11 Climate News Network, “Iraq’s Climate Stresses Are Set to Worsen,” November 12, 2018, available at (accessed May 17, 2019).

• 12 Aisha Al-Sarihi, “Prospects for Climate Change Integration into the GCC Economic Diversification Strategies,” LSE Middle East Centre Paper Series no. 20, February 2018, available at Prospects%20for%20climate%20change_2018.pdf (accessed May 18, 2019).

Potential Stumbling Blocks and Obstacles

To operationalise a more effective agenda on climate change, the EU and the GCC need to also address a number of obstacles that currently hamper their full coordination in this field. However, each of these obstacles could be a driver for more effective coordination between the two parties. These can be summarised as follows: 

  •   The current instability in many Arab countries
  •   The rejection by the Trump administration of climate science and impact of climate change 
  •   The power of the oil and gas industry in terms of preventing greater investment in renewable energy 
  •   The lack of interest among some of the political leaders

  The tendency to be inflexible in climate talks due concern about economic development. 

While all the GCC countries have signed the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, their positions did considerably slow down aspects of the negotiation process. For Saudi Arabia, a global deal that curbs GHG emissions, and by extension the consumption of oil, is a very serious economic threat. Throughout the climate change negotiation process, Saudi delegations have been consistently outspoken against such a deal. 

Ultimately, the climate change process is as much an economic issue as much as a political and social one. A central question has always been to what extent will a global climate deal affect economies. When it comes to the GCC, the degree of unwillingness to curb global GHG emissions is directly related to the degree of fiscal dependence on fossil fuel exports. This explains the hard position taken by Saudi Arabia given the kingdom’s very high oil income dependence as opposed to the more flexible UAE stance as the latter’s economy relies to a much lesser extent on hydrocarbon exports. 

What is important ultimately in addressing potential obstacles is to integrate the EU-GCC approach within the wider regional framework and to explore how wider climate/renewable plans for mitigation and adaptation can be implemented beyond traditional EU-GCC framework of cooperation. 


It is very clear that neither EU nor any other international party can fix the climate change crisis alone. They definitely need to cooperate with all other parties and especially the GCC countries given their importance in the trade of current traditional energy sources and potential role in building up renewable and clean energy sources. 

This paper argues that it is a win-win situation for the EU and the GCC regions to have a partnership in climate negotiations, climate policy, clean energy and low carbon technologies. 

Maintaining and strengthening the cooperation between the EU and the GCC in the area of sustainable clean energy and energy efficiency is crucial: such cooperation could trigger mutual benefits - at the technological and political levels - and contribute to addressing both regions’ interests. Furthermore, such cooperation would directly benefit the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the economic diversification strategies in the Gulf region that form the basis for their GHG emissions reduction. 

Given the leading role of EU in deploying RE, enhanced cooperation between the EU and the GCC for sharing best practices, legislative frameworks and policy formulation, energy pricing structures as well as institution and infrastructure development can be beneficial for the integration of RE in the GCC countries and in shifting them to low carbon economies. Besides direct cooperation measures that help both sides meet their climate obligations, better coordination can contribute significantly to mitigating conflict zones in the Middle East that are directly impacted by climate change and environmental issues. Cooperation is thus a central element in the path to peace and stability that sits at the core of the EU-GCC relationship.

About the Author

Dr. Mohamed Abdelraouf leads the Gulf Research Center’s research programme on Sustainability and Environmental Issues. He was the lead author for the West Asia chapter in the Environmental Governance section of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) GEO 5 and 6 reports. He has published various policy papers on different environmental issues in the MENA region and authored five books. He is a part-time lecturer of Environmental Economics at various universities in the MENA region. Since 2010, Dr. Abdelraouf also represents the Science and Technology Major Group at UNEP and currently serves as Co-Chair of the UNEP Major Groups Facilitating Committee (MGFC).

1 J. Tulloch, “Water Conflicts: Fight or Flight?” Allianz Knowledge , March 19, 2008,

2 Mohamed Abdelraouf, “Water Issues in the Gulf: Time for Action,” Middle East Institute, January 1, 2009, available at (accessed April 6, 2019).

3 World Bank, “A Water Sector Assessment Report on the Countries of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf,”Water, Environment, Social and Rural Development Department, Middle East and North Africa Region [Report No. 32539-MNA], 2005.

4 IPCC, “Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” 2007, available at (accessed on April 8, 2019).

5 See (accessed August 21, 2019).

6 5 Natasha Turak, “UAE Climate Minister Outlines Top Threats as Abu Dhabi Hosts the Middle East’s First Ocean Summit,” March 6, 2019, available at: threats-as-abu-dhabi-hosts-the-middle-easts-first-ocean-summit.html (accessed August 21, 2019).

7 UN Environment Programme, “Climate Change and Security Risks,” available at security-risks (accessed May1, 2019).

8 Meena Janardhan, “Climate Change-Mideast: Producers and Victims of Fossil Fuels,” IPS, available at (accessed May 1, 2019).

9 Quoted in Leila Radhouane, “Climate Change Impacts on North African countries and some Tunisian economic sectors,”Journal of Agriculture and Environment for International Development, June 2013, p. 104.

10 IPCC, “Climate Change 2014 Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability- Top level Findings,” 2014, available at (accessed June 16, 2019).

11 Climate News Network, “Iraq’s Climate Stresses Are Set to Worsen,” November 12, 2018, available at (accessed May 17, 2019).

12 Aisha Al-Sarihi, “Prospects for Climate Change Integration into the GCC Economic Diversification Strategies,” LSE Middle East Centre Paper Series no. 20, February 2018, available at Prospects%20for%20climate%20change_2018.pdf (accessed May 18, 2019).

13 As per mainstay to the economy of UAE 2018, oil exports now account for about 30 percent of total UAE gross domestic product. ” Reference:

14 International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Scaling up Renewable Energy in the GCC Would Reap Major Benefits, ” available at the-GCC-Would-Reap-Major-Benefits (accessed May 29, 2019

15 Meghan Darby, “Saudi Arabia Set to Reveal Vision for Post-oil Future,” Climate Change News , April 24, 2016, available at (accessed May 29, 2019).

16 Climate Action Programme, “Saudi Arabia Submits Climate Plan for COP21 Global Deal,” November 10, 2015, available at (accessed May 29, 2019).

17 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030, available at: (accessed May 29, 2019)

18 “2016 CDP and the We Mean Business Coalition,” Carbon Pricing Pathway, 2016, available at: (accessed May 29, 2019)

19 Gulam Ali Khan, “Oman Launches Renewable Energy Projects,” Accessed May 19, 2019).

20 Y magazine, “How Is Oman Affected by Climate Change – And What’s Being Done To Cope with It?,” December 15, 2018, available at whats-being-done-to-cope-with-it/ (accessed June 21, 2019).

21 China Daily, “Qatar's Low-carbon City Models a Greener Future,” March 3, 2019, available at (accessed June 21, 2019).

22 The National Climate Change Plan 2017-2050 is available at file:// /C:/Users/Christian%20Koch/Downloads/National%20Climate%20Change%20Plan.pdf

23 Colton Kasteel, “Climate Finance at COP24: Reviewing Progress & Goals,” The British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC), December 17, 2018, available at (accessed May 1, 2019).

24 Climate Action Network International (CAN), “CAN Strategy Retreat Slides,” CAN Strategic Planning Meeting, Costa Rica, March 18, 2019

25 Frank Jordan, “U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Block Endorsement of Global Warming Study,” Huffington Post, available at: warming-study_n_5c0e51a8e4b0ab8cf69563ee?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNv bS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAANFNegdSSUkRj18L8Jhi6xxfpMxvzEfD_T_oceF6sfGeXhhQvjDdAtYwpY6jR7yXn771k- OV3B82thFVFkzg1pZnXxbamxXZu-BjYIGV824SwQ3DBedgTOMK_Hr0GWX1Y53ofMaEd3HBGonMl1It6VfJW_YaZPSHJ 0CIqUM4icvx (accessed April 10, 2019). This, however, is somewhat ironic as they themselves, with other countries, had requested the reports during the Paris climate talks three years earlier.

26 Mohamed Abdelraouf, “For GCC, Climate Deal a Window of Opportunity,” Gulf News , December 18, 2015, available at (accessed May 1, 2019).

27 “Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction,” Oil Change International, May 15, 2015, available at (accessed May 16, 2019).

28 Agnieska Parchko and Nina Chastanyi, “Analysis - Climate Talks Postpone Important Decisions in the Battle of Global Warming,” Reuters , December 16, 2018, (accessed May 16, 2019), in Arabic.

29 “Egypt to Build World’s Biggest, Most Advanced Clean-Coal Power Plant,” Energy Egypt , October 20, 2018, (accessed May 28, 2019).

30 Najy AbdelAziz, “Saudi Official: Reducing Dependence on Oil Highlights the Goals of Vision 2030 in the Kingdom,” Almasry Alyoum Newspaper, December 2019, available at (accessed August 22, 2019).

31 Adam Bouymaourn and Caline Malek,“Leaders Chart New Strategic Roadmap for the UAE after Oil,”The National, January 2016, available at uae-after-oil-1.193589 (accessed August 22, 2019).

32 UAE E-Gate, “ Economy and Vision 2021,” available at (accessed August 22, 2019).

33 Naser Al Wasmi, “Beyond the Headlines: What More Can We Do to Curb Climate Change?” The National, December 29, 2019, available at climate-change-1.804196 (accessed May 17, 2019).

34 Naser Al Wasmi, “UAE Welcomes COP24 Agreement but Says More Needs To Be Done,” The National , December 16, 2019, available at needs-to-be-done-1.803446 (accessed April 15, 2019).

35 IISD, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Pavilion Events at COP 24, (accessed April 8, 2019).

36 David Wogan, Elizabeth Carey and Douglas Cooke, Policy Pathways to Meet Saudi Arabia’s Contributions to the Paris Agreement, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, February 2019, available at (accessed April 15, 2019).

37 Saudi Arabia Announces 7 Renewable Energy Projects Worth $1.5 Bn,” Asharq Al-Awsat, March 12, 2019, available at worth-15-bn (accessed June 15, 2019).

38 Government of UAE, “UAE Energy Strategy 2050,” available at ns/uae-energy-strategy-2050 (accessed April 15, 2019)

39 State of Kuwait, “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) Report,” UNFCCC, n.pdf (accessed May 5, 2019).

40 Kingdom of Bahrain, “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) Report,” UNFCCC, df (accessed May 5, 2019).

41 Sultanate of Oman, “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) Report,” UNFCCC, (accessed May 5, 2019).

42 or more information on MASDAR and UAE Green Economy Strategy, visit: and

43 Megan Darby, “COP21: Saudi Arabia Defends Target-free Climate Plan,” Climate Change News, December 2, 2015, available at plan/ (accessed May 12, 2019).

44 Climate Action Tracker, “EU”, January 3, 2019, available at (accessed June 15, 2019).

45 Günther Strobl, “EVN lässt noch heuer Kohle Kohle sein,” Der Standard , May 28, 2019, available at (accessed June 24, 2019).

46 “Net zero” or “Climate neutral” – means the sum of CO2 emissions to atmosphere and carbon removal from atmosphere equal zero.

47 Karl Mathiesen and Natalie Sauer, “France Introduces 2050 Carbon-neutral Law,” Climate Home News, available at (accessed June 22, 2019)

48 Sam Morgan,“Finland Pledges Carbon Neutrality on Eve of EU Presidency,” EurActiv, June 5, 2019, available at idency/ (accessed June 26, 2019).

49 Carbon Brief, “In-depth: The UK Should Reach ‘Net-Zero’ Climate Goal by 2050, Says CCC,” May 2, 2019, available at (accessed June 25, 2019).

50 Tim Rayner and Andrew Jordan, “Climate Change Policy in the European Union,” August 2016, available at 7 (accessed May 19, 2019).

51 Maurice Obstfeld, “Will Low Fuel Prices Derail the Move to Clean Energy?” World Economic Forum, December 3, 2015, available at (accessed May 29, 2019).

52 European External Action Service (EEAS), “Saudi Arabia and EU,” September 30, 2016, available at (accessed May 20, 2019).

53 European Commission, Press Release, available at (accessed April 7, 2019).

54 European Commission, “Action Document for EU-GCC Clean Energy Technology Network III,” available at (accessed June 26, 2019).

55 European Commission, “Cooperation with the Gulf Countries”, available at (accessed June 26, 2019).

56 European Environment Agency, COPERNICUS Remote Sensing data, available at (accessed June 27, 2019).

57 Baba Umar, “Oman To Play Its Part on Climate Change,” Times of Oman , December 13, 2015, available at (accessed June 27, 2019).