How is the Arab States region scaling up on climate action?

March 17, 2022

Photo: Said Fadhaye / UNDP Somalia

With the MENA Regional Climate Week taking place in Dubai at the end of the month and Egypt hosting COP27 later this year, climate change is poised to become a top issue in the Arab States region. We spoke to Kishan Khoday, Regional Team Leader – Nature, Climate and Energy at the UNDP Regional Hub for Arab States, about strategic priorities for countries in the region.

1. The Arab States region is one of the most heavily affected by the climate crisis. From UNDP’s vantage point and experience, what do you think are the main issues countries in the region will face over the next decades?

Climate change poses the greatest challenge the Arab States region has ever faced. Temperatures in the region have been rising faster than the world average, with a 5°C increase over pre-industrial levels being possible by 2100. The region is heavily dependent on food imports and its renewable water resources are increasingly stressed and could further decline by 20 percent by 2030. The spectre of millions of people in the region facing climate-induced displacement in the decades to come is very real. 

2. Since the climate crisis can exacerbate social tensions, displacement, and conflict, what can we do to limit these risks in the region?

Climate change has already accelerated humanitarian crises across the region. For example, in the years running up to the Arab uprisings a decade ago, the region saw one of the worst protracted drought cycles in close to 1,000 years, converging with broader social movements for change and the impacts of global food, fuel, and financial crises.

Today, the same areas of the region experiencing conflict and displacement are also among those most at risk from climate change. There is a growing imperative to mainstream climate action as part of crisis recovery efforts, with climate-resilient restoration of agriculture, fisheries, and urban infrastructure critical to recovery in post-conflict and protracted crisis settings.

On the ground in fragile countries in the region, UNDP has expanded support in recent years to help countries manage multi-dimensional risk and build back better in situations of conflict and displacement. This includes new climate change initiatives in places like Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, where we help countries implement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and expand climate action with development co-benefits for broader crisis prevention and recovery goals.

3. One of the challenges in implementing large-scale climate action is having to provide low-carbon solutions across entire sectors of the economy. How are countries in the region working with the private sector to manage the transition?

The Arab States region is host to the world’s highest levels of solar radiation, but as of today 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 will be one of the greatest market opportunities in coming years. Some positive signs are emerging in this regard. In recent years, countries in the region succeeded in expanding solar and wind capacities ten-fold, from just 0.5 GW in 2008 to about 7.2 GW in 2018, while recent auctions have resulted in world-record low solar prices. Still at an incipient stage, this upward trajectory is a positive development and something the region can build on, including through private sector partnerships.

An important foundation for this work will be the enhanced NDCs and National Renewable Energy Action Plans that countries across the region have adopted in recent years. Through these and other processes, more ambitious targets and innovative policies have arisen as a basis for attracting private investment, reforming energy subsidies, establishing renewable energy institutions and national funds, and experimenting with renewable energy development zones. The cumulative regional target of renewable energy capacity by 2035 now stands at 190 GW – a 26-fold increase over 2018 levels! 
Achieving this vision will require a strong enabling environment at the country level, including enhanced policies that reduce and/or transfer investor risks. UNDP is expanding its support to help countries identify barriers and risks that are holding back private investment in renewable energy and to put in place policies to reduce these risks and catalyse private sector investment at scale.

While much of the region’s growth in renewable energy to date has been in large solar facilities meant to diversify power at the national level, large gaps remain in ensuring inclusive access to sustainable energy for those living in poverty, whose numbers have expanded rapidly in recent years owing to conflict, displacement, and the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, UNDP has also expanded its local sustainable energy partnerships to deploy decentralized solutions like solar mini-grids and off-grid solutions to expand energy access in places like Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, with particular results towards women’s empowerment.

4. Many climate activists feel that COP26 didn’t quite reach the level of urgency needed. What do you think COP26 meant for countries in the region?

COP26 saw several important outcomes of relevance for the region. In the run up to COP26, seven countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia) developed and submitted their enhanced NDCs with technical assistance from UNDP, increasing their ambition across climate mitigation and adaptation goals. The Glasgow Climate Pact announced at COP26 is an important foundation for accelerating the implementation of NDCs in the region, through scaled-up climate finance and provision of innovative technology and capacity building.

The need to scale up climate adaptation finance for vulnerable countries was also a main focus at COP26. As one of the world’s climate risk hotspots, this is a critical agenda for the Arab States region.  COP27 in Egypt is bound to increase focus on this issue. While progress has been seen globally in recent years in mobilizing public and private investments for climate mitigation and clean energy, less progress has been seen for climate adaptation. UNDP is supporting seven countries in the region to develop National Adaptation Plans and helping to design a new generation of scaled-up adaptation initiatives for climate-resilient development with support from the Green Climate Fund, Least Developed Countries Fund, Germany’s International Climate Initiative, and other partners.

5. COP27 will take place in Egypt and COP28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The region will therefore be in a prominent climate leadership position for the next two years. What kind of action can we expect to see in the coming years?

The decision to convene COP27 in Egypt in 2022 and COP28 in UAE in 2023 comes at a critical moment in the region, as climate impacts accelerate, needs for climate adaptation expand, and the path to a clean energy transition scales up. We are seeing more ambition emerging across the Arab States region to advance a low carbon climate-resilient transition, with COP27 and COP28 serving as a critical window of opportunity to advocate for transformational actions and expand the constituency advocating for change.

Overall, the road to COP27 and COP28 will be a unique opportunity to raise the profile of the Arab States region as a global climate risk hotspot and a top priority for climate adaptation investments, as well as an important – frankly, essential – partner for the global clean energy transition.


Through the Climate Promise and other initiatives, UNDP is working with countries in the Arab States region to advance their NDC implementation agendas, embrace opportunities for scaled-up finance and climate adaptation, and put in place policies to better manage the converging risks of conflict and climate change.