Decarbonisation: Water stress may worsen with global warming, says head of Paris-based energy agency
The Middle East and North African (MENA) region, which includes the Sultanate of Oman and the wider Arabian Gulf, risks serious climate impacts that can potentially be alleviated if countries in the region move to decarbonise their economies. Further, by capitalising on its unrivalled natural attributes, the region can also emerge as an important player in global energy markets, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Failure by MENA economies to address climate change risks aggravating an already severely stressed water situation among other hazards that global warming is expected to unleash upon the region, a top official of the influential Paris-headquartered organisation has warned.
Dr Fatih Birol (pictured), Executive Director, said the perils posed by global warming are “not a distant threat for the region, but already a painful reality”.
“We all know that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is already one of the most water-stressed regions in the world, and this year, the drought in the region is the worst in the last 900 years,” he said. “If the temperature goes up, we will be seeing the need for electricity for cooling going up as well. While power systems in some countries in the region were able to accommodate this huge increase of cooling demand, unfortunately in other, there were huge strains on the existing systems.”
Dr Birol’s remarks came at the opening of a ‘Ministerial Dialogue’, jointly hosted by Oman’s Ministry of Energy and Minerals and the IEA on Thursday. Dr Mohammed bin Hamad al Rumhy, Minister of Energy and Minerals, also addressed the virtual session, which focused on the theme, ‘Clean Energy Transitions and Economic Resilience in the Middle East and North Africa’.
Climate change will also have severe implications for the water situation in the region, the IEA chief further warned. “Rising heat and growing populations in the region may well mean that the demand for desalinated water can go up to 15 times higher that it is today,” he said.
Aside from climate change impacts, oil and gas producers in the MENA region may also see global demand for their energy exports declining in the face of strategies by many international countries to cut their fossil fuel consumption in support of decarbonisation. Major industries, notably the automotive sector, are also looking to switch to low carbon fuels as part of their energy transition commitments, he noted.
Given this emerging scenario, MENA countries have no choice but to diversify their economies, said Dr Birol, adding that many countries have recognised the potential for greener energy alternatives, notably hydrogen.
“Everybody loves hydrogen,” he said. “In the Middle East, we see there is a huge opportunity and competitive advantage. Also, solar power, in my view, is the new king of global power markets. The days of coal being the king are passé. Last year, about 90 per cent of all power plants built around the world were solar — not only to save the planet, but also because solar is cheaper. In the MENA region, we have the best solar radiation compared to others.”
In his address, the IEA chief also urged producing nations in the region to improve their “carbon footprint” associated with oil and gas production. Eliminating gas flaring, for example, can make a significant contribution to this goal, he said.
Additionally, countries can introduce regulations and policies to enhance energy efficiency in the transportation, households and other sectors, he said. In this regard, he pointed out that a “big gap” exists between global average energy efficiency benchmarks and those in the MENA region.
“So there are a lot of opportunities for MENA countries to make their energy systems more sustainability in line with the next chapter of global energy markets so as not to be left behind, as decisions taken by the rest of the world will have implications for the MENA region,” Birol added.
High-level officials representing Iraq, Egypt, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates addressed the forum as well. Also taking part from Oman were Salim bin Nasser al Aufi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals; Dr Salim al Huthaili, CEO — OQ Alternative Energies; and Steve Phimister, Managing Director — Petroleum Development Oman (PDO).