Engaging Non-state Actors in the Arabian Gulf States in Climate Action
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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To have a fighting chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, action is needed from sectors, countries and regions that have not historically participated in climate action, including the oil-exporting countries of the Gulf.

In recent years, climate action has been rising on the GCC countries’ domestic agendas.

Private sector engagement in this area in particular is seen as supporting economic diversification away from oil export dependence.

A new study identifies several opportunities for GCC non-state actor engagement with existing transnational climate initiatives, which simultaneously align with the GCC countries’ strategic economic priorities.

Efforts by non-state and subnational actors to address climate change are increasingly seen as complementary to those of national governments. The year 2015 was a landmark year for climate action: the world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 SDGs, including Goal 13 (climate action), and the Paris Agreement on climate change, under which governments agreed to limit global warming to “well below 2°C.” In practice, however, governments alone are unable to reach these targets. It is estimated that the collective pledges made by Parties to the Paris Agreement would lead to a temperature rise of at least 3-4oC, if implemented.

Achieving the global climate goals will therefore require unprecedented levels of cooperation and partnerships across national borders, between both governments, and subnational and non-state actors. In essence, the rich variety of partnerships is described in SDG targets 17.16 and 17.17 (multi-stakeholder partnerships). Studies suggest that such partnerships could make a significant contribution to closing the gap between government pledges and the needed action.

Partnerships for climate action may evolve in ways that are difficult to predict today, but will require a certain degree of open-mindedness from everyone. To have a fighting chance of meeting SDG 13 and the goals of the Paris Agreement, we will also need to engage new actors from sectors, countries and regions that have not historically participated in climate action, including from the oil-exporting countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is comprised by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

At the global level, since the 1990s, non-state and subnational actors, which include businesses, cities, local municipalities, researchers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have been involved in climate change action in different ways. One way is through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where they have participated both as observers and as part of national delegations, helping to set policy and providing technical advice. Another is through their own actions to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and deliver adaptation measures. In the past decade, the number and size of transnational climate initiatives (TCI), formed by both government and non-government actors working on different thematic or sectoral aspects of climate change mitigation and adaptation, has grown significantly.

In a recently published study titled, ‘Engaging Gulf Non-state and Subnational Actors in Implementing the Paris Agreement,’ we explored the potential for non-state and subnational actors from the GCC to support climate action and help implement the Paris Agreement. GCC states are major oil producers, with energy-intensive economies and social contracts often characterized as “no taxation, no representation,” which all impacts on their relationship with the global challenge of climate change.

GCC governments have traditionally been considered controversial actors in the UNFCCC, but in recent years, climate action has been rising on their domestic agendas. Five out of the six GCC countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, and the UAE, for example, has developed a long-term national climate plan to 2050 as the first of its kind in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have plans to engage more closely with the private sector in line with efforts to diversify their economies away from oil and create jobs in non-oil sectors.

Given their political culture, engagement of non-state actors in the region usually needs to be in close liaison with the state. In this context, we found two main opportunities for GCC non-state actors to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement: through engagement with the UNFCCC process, as part of national delegations; and through participation in sectoral and thematic TCIs.

In the latter area, some GCC non-state/subnational actors are already members in existing TCIs. For example, Dubai is a member of the C40 cities network. However, there is still a lack of significant representation and interest from the region in these initiatives.

Through our study, we found several opportunities for engagement with existing TCIs, which align with the GCC countries’ strategic economic priorities. These include the following sectors/areas: energy efficiency and cooling; renewable energy; oil and gas; transportation; cities; finance; real estate, buildings and construction; private sector carbon measurement and management; and adaptation.

There are also opportunities for GCC non-state actors to form new regional TCIs. An interesting precedent is the Global Clean Water Desalination Alliance, which is coordinated by UAE-based clean energy company Masdar. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have both hosted world record-low prices for solar photovoltaic projects, and are rolling out energy efficiency initiatives. This could be an ideal opportunity to create a regional TCI for power and utility companies to explore business models that promote increased deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Another opportunity relates to collaboration of researchers, governments and the private sector on climate change risk and adaptation assessments. The GCC states face similar impacts from climate change, some of which have been studied but as yet not comprehensively placed together in integrated adaptation plans that are based on sound science.

In order to facilitate greater participation by non-state actors, our study recommends the following:

  • GCC governments could explore a dual strategy of encouraging national oil and natural gas companies to participate in relevant transnational initiatives, while simultaneously engaging with non-state actors from newer sectors, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, to catalyze growth of newer economic sectors;
  • State consultation is most likely to be the best-functioning mechanism for engaging non-state actors: lead government entities in each sector could actively encourage strategic partnerships and also raise awareness among non-state actors, in particular businesses, of the benefits of measuring and managing GHG emissions, and of energy efficiency and renewable energy as cost-effective mitigation measures.
  • To further facilitate national and regional climate action, GCC governments could also explore the possibility of leading in the development of new multi-stakeholder initiatives or networks in areas of common interest. They could further look into supporting the leveraging potential of locally-based NGOs, businesses, cities and researchers, as well as regional and international organizations’ coordination roles in global TCIs.

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This article was authored by Tanzeed Alam, Managing Director, Earth Matters Consulting, and Mari Luomi, Senior Research Fellow, Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

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