On Sunday, 6 November the world will convene at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th iteration of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The climate conclave, which is being held from 6 to 18 November, has been billed as a ‘make-or-break’ gathering, with decisions and actions taken, or not taken, at COP27 impacting generations to come. Everyone with a stake in the future of the planet, which ideally should be every one of us, need to be concerned about the outcome of COP27.

A high-profile ‘Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Implementation Summit’, being held on 7 and 8 November, is expected to see the participation of over a 100 heads of state and governments, or their representatives. The summit is expected to address and redress some of the daunting economic, social and geopolitical challenges that have eluded resolution at previous COP gatherings, and impeded progress in climate action for far too long.

The impact of human-induced climate change that has resulted in weather and climate extremes has become evident in every region across the globe. Observed changes due to these extremes include, among others, intense heatwaves, more frequent droughts, increase in number of tropical cyclones, heavy rainfalls, severe flooding, raging forest fires, and poor air quality over wider areas.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations entity tasked with providing governments and policymakers with regular scientific assessment on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, has in its latest report put to rest the fatuous views often voiced by climate deniers. The report categorically confirms from its latest findings that human influence is unequivocally responsible for warming the atmosphere, ocean and land.

The IPCC report shows that since 2011, concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere from human activities have continued to rise, reaching annual averages of 410ppm (parts per million). In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least the last two million years. While land and ocean have annually absorbed about 56 percent of this emission over the past six decades, the remainder has piled up in the atmosphere and contributed to global warming. It is no surprise that each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.

The report also notes that global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years. And that this surface temperature will continue to increase until at least mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered by IPCC studies. It warned that global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades. But, is anyone seriously listening to what the IPCC and the scientific community have been warning, seemingly for ages?

om the mold of being yet another international talk-shop, and begin implementing measures to effectively tackle the global challenge of climate change. Nascent signs of a change in attitude are visible at least among some stakeholders in COP27. In late October, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President-Designate Sameh Shoukry said he hoped all state and non-state actors would come together with a collaborative and constructive mindset to deliver on climate action, and implement the transformative decisions needed to respond to the gravity of the situation.

Earlier in an op-ed titled ‘COP of No Return’, published through syndication exclusively in The Times Kuwait, Mr. Shoukry noted: “At its heart, climate action is a bargain. Developing countries have agreed in good faith to help tackle a crisis they did not cause, on the understanding that financial and technical support would be provided to complement their own efforts.

“Developed countries must now uphold their end of that bargain, by supporting both mitigation and adaptation, thus fulfilling their envisaged responsibilities in the Paris agreement.” He added, “As daunting as these climate challenges are, we have no choice but to confront it. We must negotiate with one another, because there can be no negotiating with the climate.”

Striking a more positive note ahead of COP27, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that climate and nature crises are not inevitable. “We know what we need to do, and how to make our planet clean, sustainable, and equitable. Now we need to scale-up the political will, technical and financial support to drive the much-needed transformation toward net zero and climate-resilient pathways. The world has made promises through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), now we must fulfill them.”

In October 2021, Kuwait, which was among the first countries to sign up to the UNFCCC back in 1994, said in its updated NDC to the UN that it now aims to achieve a reduction of 7.4 percent below a Business-As-Usual (BAU) baseline scenario, as its unconditional maximal ambition by 2035. The BAU represents the likely GHG emissions if future development trends follow those of the past and no changes in policies take place.

While Kuwait’s voluntary contribution to reduce its GHG emission is commendable, it falls far short of what is needed. According to figures computed by online site climate-resource.com, based on available data from various sources, despite the 7.4 percent reduction pledged in its updated NDC, Kuwait’s annual greenhouse gas emissions would go from 94 metric tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalents (CO2eq) in 2015 to 123 Mt of CO2eq per year by 2030.

The CO2 equivalent for a gas is derived by multiplying the tonnes of the gas by its associated global warming potential (GWP). With the GWP of CO2 set at 1, the GWP for methane is 25 and for nitrous oxide 298. This means that emissions of 1 metric tonnes of methane and nitrous oxide respectively are equivalent to emissions of 2.5 and 29.8 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Available data also shows that per capita emissions in 2015 of 25.3 tCO2eq, which ranked Kuwait 7th in the world based on highest emissions, are projected to rise to 27.6tCO2eq per capita by 2030 and rank the country 4th in the world in emissions. Though the share of Kuwait’s emissions relative to global emissions would remain around the same from 2015 to 2030 at 0.2 percent, the country’s rank in the global order would sink to 49th lowest spot by 2030 from the 56th place it occupied in 2015.

Kuwait clearly has more to do in order to contribute its fair share to keeping global temperatures within specified limits. But, forget the 1.5 or 2°C temperature increases cited by the IPCC report, studies show that in the Middle East region, where temperatures are rising faster than the world average, there is the distinct possibility of temperatures marking a 5°C increase over pre-industrial levels by 2100. Also, with scant rainfall and available renewable water resources depleting under increasing stress, it is estimated that the region could witness a 20 percent decline in replenishable water by 2030.

Additionally, since many states of the region are too arid for agriculture and rely on food imports, global food shortages from changing climate and weather patterns, or disruption in food supply chains from pandemics and geopolitical developments, could have an inordinate impact on many countries in the region. All of these circumstances create the specter of millions of people in the region facing climate-induced displacement and potential conflicts in future.

The need for implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies to reduce or avoid potential climate threats, including reducing use of fossil fuels and increasing the pace of transformation to renewable energy sources, has never been more compelling or crucial. However, the region being both a major producer and exporter of hydrocarbons, and a host to the world’s highest levels of solar radiation, has fueled conflicts of interests that have impeded the development of renewable energy sources, until recently.

While the region accounts for a third of the world’s total oil production, only approximately seven percent of power in the region comes from renewable energy, and only between one to two percent from solar or wind. Shifting from conventional oil and gas sources of energy to clean energy is expected to be one of the greatest challenges for oil exporters in the region, but it also offers the potential for great market opportunities in coming years.

In Kuwait, although the country has set a modest target of achieving 15 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources of power by 2030, a new assessment by the government shows that as of 2020, only 0.3 percent of the total installed capacity of the power plants in Kuwait came from renewable energy. With less than eight years remaining to the 2030 timeframe it seems highly likely that Kuwait will miss this target.

Achieving the goal of 15 percent, even if it involves extending the time-frame to a more realistic one, would require the country to establish a strong enabling environment. This could start by genuinely evaluating the barriers and risks that have deterred private investment in renewable energy in the past, and then implementing progressive policies aimed at catalyzing private investment, including if need be by reducing or transfering investor risks to the public domain.

As the intergovernmental organization, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently stated: “We cannot afford to invest in outdated ways of producing, distributing and consuming energy that are neither economical nor future proof. We have seen time and again that energy that is unreliable causes uncertainty; energy that is too costly alienates and isolates; and energy that pollutes incapacitates and kills. In all cases, poor energy choices mean slower economic growth and potentially irreparable damage to the ecosystems that sustain us all.”

With more ambition being shown by states in the Middle East to advance a more sustainable, low-carbon, climate resilient transition, the convening of two back-to-back iterations of COP in the region — COP27 in Egypt in 2022 and next COP28 in UAE in 2023 — provides a critical window of opportunity to advocate for transformational actions, and to expand and encourage the constituencies calling for change to a more greener, inclusive and sustainable economy.

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