The dilemma facing Arab countries

An oil pump in the UAE (Photo by Shutterstock)

Arab countries must decide whether to continue to produce oil and gas or fight climate change. Ahmad Abdel-Rahman writes.

The Arab world possesses more than 57 per cent of the global reserves of crude oil, and more than 26 per cent of the global reserves of natural gas, according to statistics from the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC).

However, this enormous natural wealth is now called into question given the increasing global trend in demand towards clean and renewable energy. Some studies conducted by the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) indicate that the demand for clean energy (solar, wind and water) will overtake oil and gas from by 2040.

The use of hydrocarbon fuels (oil, coal, and gas) is seen as the major culprit for global warming and climate change. What will happen to Arab oil and gas? Can the Arab oil and gas producing countries continue to prosper and combat climate change at the same time? Will the economic well-being and social stability provided by oil and gas be threatened in the event of a decline in their production?

Why the Middle East?

British environmentalist and activist Angela Terry agrees with claims that rich oil-producing countries should take responsibility for global warming and climate change. "The huge oil and gas reserves in the Middle East have brought with them huge profits," Terry said in an interview with the BBC. "These profits have fueled growth towards consumption, ownership of large cars and travel over longer distances, and created a continuous cycle of supply and demand. It is time to break this cycle", she said.

Terry added: "The Middle East has more than a quarter of the world's production of oil and gas, and Saudi Aramco alone is responsible for four per cent of the world's gas emissions. The truth is that the Middle East is a very big player when it comes to oil and gas and the Arab countries have to realise that the future is not going like this." The trend is towards clean energy sources, she said,

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations has explicitly indicated that gases emitted from fossil fuels are the main source of global warming. This fact prompted the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, to call for "the declaration of the end of coal and fossil energy sources before they destroy our planet," considering that these energy sources and deforestation "suffocate the planet".

Shy efforts

Several Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced the adoption of a strategy to combat climate change by reducing their dependence on oil and gas as their two main sources of national income. However, the American Brookings Research Institute questioned the seriousness of these plans in a study issued this year, pointing out that development plans in the public and private sectors are still linked to oil and gas, even in light of the good intentions of what governments announce.

A study by the World Bank indicates that oil and gas revenues still represent about 40 per cent of the GDP of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with the exception of the UAE, which accounts for 30 per cent, and Bahrain, whose reserves are about to run out, at 18 per cent. Can the dependence on oil and gas be abandoned for the sake of climate change?

Arab oil expert Mamdouh Salamah says: "The price that the oil and gas sector will pay in the Arab producing countries will not be different from the price that the oil industry will pay from Russia to Latin America to China. This price is represented in continuing oil and gas production while working to reduce the associated toxic emissions for the production and use of oil and gas."

How to shift towards clean energy?

Salamah believes that oil and gas will remain the backbone of the Arab Gulf states, and that the Arab producing countries should contribute significantly to helping to deal with global warming and climate change by accelerating the use of advanced technologies.

Salamah says: "The Arab oil-producing countries, especially the Arab Gulf states, will not give up oil and gas throughout the 21st century and perhaps beyond that, because the world economy depends on gas and oil. If this is the case, then the role that the Gulf States play is to help reduce emissions in production of oil and gas."

However, he condemns the Arab oil-producing countries, especially the Gulf States, for not giving up oil in exchange for clean energy, "because renewable energy will not give them an income equal to what they are getting now. Renewable energy will help the Gulf countries increase their oil and gas exports to the rest of the world."

Although the production of fossil fuels, especially oil and gas, is not limited to Arab countries only, the region's natural wealth has formed the basis for the establishment and stability of countries. Revenues from oil and gas are also responsible for creating social and political issues that go beyond the geographical scope of production. Hence, the continued flow of these revenues is important to the Arab world.

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Sunday, 26 March 2023