Arab States in Green Transition
How are Arab states managing and funding their ‘green transition’ to mitigate and adapt to climate change? This simple question deserves an answer that shows how 24 governments are doing their part to face the world’s greatest existential challenge, while also pointing out shortcomings and new hazards and questions that arise for both the state and its citizens.
That was the objective of research recently undertaken at HLRN, in cooperation with the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) as a reference for civil society in the MENA region to orient itself to the current ‘green transition’ processes and priorities. The inquiry is part of civil engagement in the global policy processes, including states’ commitments under the 2030 Agenda, New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The region’s state reporting under these instruments since 2015 formed the basis of the inquiry, as these official sources lay out the current policy, institutional and legislative frameworks and report on efforts to meet global and country-specific targets.
This review founds that, with the exception of those embroiled in conflict, most Arab states have been diligent about reporting to the international forums involved in climate action and related global development policies. Although the green-transition measures and performance are very uneven across the region, most states are involved in some degree of green transition. This study has mapped the actions of the Arab states and the major funders of green transition. It has been a quantitative, rather than a qualitative assessment; that is, it produced a profile of climate-related policies, projects and other actions in each state, but has left the evaluative assessment of their performance for another stage and locus of inquiry.
Nonetheless, some qualitative observations are important to note. Of all the very positive-seeming Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) under the 2030 Agenda, Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait are outliers in the sense that they project increases in GHGE, oil and gas production and relatively few green-transition initiatives. Notably also, some VNRs (e.g., Iraq and Syria, among others) externalizing all responsibility for environmental decline and climate change, while others largely omitted the subject of climate change in official reports (e.g., Sudan and Libya).
So far, 18 Arab countries have presented VNRs to the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) during the period. Only three states in MENA (Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia) have reported on their NUA implementation to date. However, all states have submitted Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, including updates. Owing to its non-self-governing status under Moroccan occupation, the only government in the region not reporting so far is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara), despite POLISARIO’s stated willingness to do so.
All VNRs reflect a lack of distinction between what is a state’s voluntary and temporary policy commitment and what is a legally binding and permanent state obligation. The states generally refer to all norms as commitments, which, by definition, are not monitored with critical scrutiny and have legal consequences. Whereas, terms of a treaty such as the Paris Agreement are obligations and should have legal effect with simultaneous individual, collective, domestic and extraterritorial dimensions. (See “Toward a Regional Strategy for Human Rights beyond State Borders” in this issue of Land Times/أحوال الأرض.) Although VNRs should reflect both these commitments and obligations, this omission is not unique to the Arab region, but shared in like measure across most states’ 2030 Agenda reporting.
None of the VNRs, NUA-implementation reports or NDCs appears to be truly “national” in the sense of reflecting multi-stakeholder inputs and collaboration. Rather, each is a “governmental” report, compiled either with or without UN agency assistance. This being the case, a further inquiry would be needed to determine the degree to which the policies and the reports citing them pass the test of meaningful participation and sovereign ownership.
In addition to the climate emergency, the context of the pandemic-afflicted world has seen some notable shifts affecting all emerging-market economies (EMEs), both directly and indirectly. The most-obvious implication is the $14 trillion of additional global debt that will have to be paid off in advanced and emerging economies alike. For most states, this additional fiscal burden has shifted to external debt markets as a new round of borrowing has emerged to help finance both external debt and balance-of-payments anomalies amid needed green transition. It is anticipated that further debt issuance in rich countries will eventually raise interest rates and call for a repatriation of finance capital that can further reduce access to, or raise costs of financing for EMEs. Further research and monitoring are still needed to capture the debt created by green transition in the Arab states, as no state or donor agency report mentions this important issue.
As a special feature of the Arab region, this study shows the opportunity costs of conflict in those countries to the global green-transition effort, as well as the direct harm to the environment—both directly and indirectly—caused by ongoing war. It is clear also that the region’s major conflicts and protracted occupations, namely of Palestine and Western Sahara, are enabled, armed and financed by some of the same Western countries managing and resourcing the green-transition funds.
For a thorough mapping of the green-transition funders and projects, a longer-term and more diligent effort is still needed. The major actors in this field are covered here, but such PDBs number some 450 institutions worldwide. Beyond those are innumerable commercial and private banks, as well as bi-lateral aid arrangements, bi-lateral investment agreements, foreign direct investment (FDI) and technical cooperation grants and loans that are not coordinated through the majors. On the beneficiaries’ side, some state’s portfolios show as much as 40% of green-transition funds going to the private sector.
The sheer scale and complexity of green-transition efforts makes tracking and monitoring a mammoth task, even in a specific region. Nonetheless, certain priority issues emerge from this review, complicated by questions of:
- Increasing privatization of green-transition initiatives with their pursuit of short-term gains, within the longer-term and globalist objectives;
- Roles and values of private actors in public policy fields and their relation to states’ human rights obligations, and economic- and social-justice principles; and
- The decentralization of green transition activities is often overlooked by a focus on the bilateral and multilateral dynamics.
The role of the private-sector in green-transition efforts is a subject of needed scrutiny beyond the sources consulted for this overview. Moreover, the opaque and nondemocratic nature of the private-equity financing of green transition, in general, and agro-business, in particular, has raised alarms about the ‘green washing’ of entire sectors.
The transition to renewable energy (RE) in most countries has pursued a model that associates the private sector as the main partner, given its expertise and operational capacity. Such an approach has supported a regulatory framework that seeks to foster investment confidence, mobilizing stakeholders and sharing resources. Hence, this transition remains a rather top-down process with support from the highest governance institutions, while the different options of energy transition are not usually discussed by all stakeholders.
Simultaneous with respectable green-transition efforts in certain countries is the same old business as usual of continued investment in oil and gas, or other extractive industries within Arab state jurisdictions. Notable is Royal Dutch Shell’s off-shore oil and gas exploration deal concluded with the Egyptian government in 2020. For Shell’s part, that investment defies a Dutch court order directing the corporation to desist from further fossil-fuel investments. In Jordan, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources is seeking to turn the Dana Biosphere Reserve into a copper pit mine, and a KfW-funded project operated by UNRWA to provide solar power to refugees simultaneously spells the destruction of a natural forested area at al-Muqabalain. [المقابلين]
Much criticism of grand solar-panel oases in the desert is now emerging as well. Not only do those installations raise local temperatures, while generating only a fraction of the energy captured, they are often the subject of land disputes at the expense of traditional tenure holders. In the case of Morocco’s development of solar power in occupied territory, the practice and its outcomes are also grave violations of international law, including peremptory norms.
This review is only a snapshot from what is a constantly moving multidimensional picture. It concludes by recommending a sustained civil society effort to keep on top of the developments and shifts in this important field. This is necessary to ensure policy, technical and fiscal accountability, especially in light of the potential for corruption amid vast money transactions for green transition.
The study’s conclusion recommends also that governments seek greater social acceptance for green-transition policies and efforts, systematically informing stakeholders from the planning stage to be enlightened about site and technology choices, regulatory framework, and the concrete socioeconomic and environmental returns. In so doing, methods are still needed to restore the missing “P” in public-private partnerships (PPPs); i.e., to engage the public in the policy discourse and green-transition project benefits. This need is also made evident by states submission of ‘government’ reports, rather than the participatory ‘national’ reports called for in the policy forums. At the same time, ‘multistakeholderism’ should come with certain criteria, prioritizing public and plural interests of actors, whether public institutions and civil society, as distinct from private interests.
The research also identified gaps in green transition reporting such as data on the level of indebtedness incurred in the course of green-transition financing, as well as the prospects of privatizing public goods and services. The review of green-transition reporting often indicates a contrast between states’ internal good practice and external behavior. Alternative sources reveal how some governments continue to conduct business as usual, including the prosecution of ongoing war, occupation and militarism, as well as investment in fossil fuel industries and over-hunting and over-extraction. Global civil society has already called for a halt to funding industrial agriculture and agribusiness, too, as these pursuits are inherently antithetical to green transition and combatting climate change.
Ultimately, the study calls for developing a community of citizens committed and mobilized for the green transition, with the possibility to develop a common vision and influence energy policies at various scales. To this end, new forms of sociability could emerge, especially engaging the voices of concerned women, youth, indigenous peoples, farmers and pastoralists of the front lines of climate change. Then a robust and much-needed debate-and-consultation culture could emerge among involved actors.
Image: Graphic of green-transition financing. Source: Future Center for Research and Advanced Studies. [مركز المستقبل للأبحاث والدراسات المتقدمة]