Climate leadership in one of the most challenging corners of the world

November 4, 2019

In Lebanon, Somalia and Yemen, UNDP has joined forces with sister UN agencies, local communities and bilateral donors such as the EU to expand the use of solar power while building resilience of communities affected by conflict. Photo: UNDP Lebanon

The heating climate is causing increasingly intense disasters it's rolling back hard-won development gains; it contributes to devastating conflicts and displacement; it affects the most vulnerable especially but is posing threats to life everywhere.

It's important to recognize that climate change is an imminent danger. But the global mobilization needed to stop it requires major focus and the Arab States stand to gain from moving resolutely.

In September United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres convened a climate summit at the UN General Assembly. He urged participants to think in terms of action, calling for “plans, not speeches”. Many important steps were announced.

Leaders wanted

Climate action requires specific and significant steps at the global, local and individual level. It requires focus, resolve and consistency. It requires difficult choices for societies and government. Only strong leadership can help navigate this difficult terrain.

Important signs abound. Countries are making bold announcements and committing to deep changes. Cities are stepping up to shield themselves from the worst, but also to gain an edge in business and to respond to demand. Activists are demanding commitments and accountability. Yet the global mobilization needed will require even more leadership, even at a time when authorities everywhere are dealing with many challenges in a fast-changing world.

Climate change; peril and promise

How this leadership takes shape will differ at every level and in every part of the world. The Arab States have no shortage of incentive to embrace the issue. We have the least water and are the most dependent on food imports, and over the last twelve years have been hit by a devastating wave of droughts. We have also seen world temperature highs, while social tensions grow. By 2030, average temperatures across the region could rise by 2C, and renewable water could decline by a further 20 percent.

Yet the region receives more sunshine than any other and is in many respects a hotbed of innovation. The capacity of new solar and wind power has doubled over the last few years. But renewables still account for no more five percent of energy supply.

Ambition, results, partnership

UNDP is the UN’s largest implementer of climate action in the region, yet there is much more that we can do to support.

During the UN Climate Summit, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner referred to a new report by UNDP and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); The Heat Is On: Taking Stock of Global Climate Ambition. It shows that 75 countries are planning to take more action than what they have already promised within the Paris Agreement. This is heartening, but also 14 countries have stated they have no plans to make their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) more ambitious, and 71 countries are still deliberating.

Half of the Arab States region will update their NDCs by 2020. UNDP is increasing financial and technical assistance in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan. In doing so, we help countries take climate action that brings benefits the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as poverty eradication, food and water security, gender equality and peace.

The region is home to some of the world’s largest solar initiatives, including major facilities in Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. But it is also has some of the world’s highest energy consumption growth rates, so action is needed to reduce carbon footprints. In Saudi Arabia, UNDP supports a flagship energy efficiency programme to establish a national center of excellence and speed up energy efficiency in industry, transport and construction. In Bahrain we have helped establish a sustainable energy centre to lead strategic policy and regulatory action, and in Kuwait we have improved forecasting, monitoring and policy on the sustainable energy agenda. In Egypt, UNDP has helped reduce energy insecurity with public-private partnerships to expand ow carbon technology in sectors such as banks, hotels and food retailing. In Tunisia and Lebanon UNDP helps partners reduce the risk of investing in large low-carbon initiatives.

Expanding solar power and building resilience

In Lebanon, Somalia and Yemen, UNDP has joined forces with sister UN agencies, local communities and bilateral donors such as the EU to expand the use of solar power while building resilience of communities affected by conflict. In Sudan, with support of the Least Developed Countries Fund, UNDP has helped develop climate insurance to expand social protection for the poor, while in Egypt UNDP has used the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to build resilience in the Nile Delta. With the GEF, we are also helping partners in Tunisia and Lebanon introduce new policies that reduce investor risk when they invest in renewable energy. UNDP has launched the SDG Climate Facility, a platform supported by Sweden with the League of Arab States, the Arab Water Council, and UN partners, including the UN Environment Finance Initiative, UN-Habitat, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the World Food Programme. It helps countries mobilize climate finance.

UNDP is fully committed to the emerging generation of climate leadership in the region, to align immediate actions with long-term vision, to support policies, governance and financing; and to find new ways to deliver benefits that go beyond the reach of any of us alone.