Gulf state leaders at the GCC summit in Riyadh last week pushed for greater cooperation and unity among Arab nations. There is a clear understanding that in today’s climate, with economic challenges from COVID-19 and changes to global oil usage, they must pull together to fully utilize the strength of the GCC and all it has to offer to fulfil the economic, environmental and political security of its people.
Many of the Gulf states have strategies for the next five or 10 years that focus on economic diversification, such as Saudi Vision 2030. There are plans to develop the involvement of two key resources close to my heart. Young people, who make up a growing proportion of the population, have great passion and creative ideas for change. Women in the GCC have a good level of higher education, but continue to have limited involvement in government and leadership. These two groups have so much to offer in terms of bringing great positive change to the governing bodies that run our nations, and to the nations themselves. It is a definite power move to include these groups more in the development of the GCC and its member states.
A key issue that needs to be urgently addressed is whether the Gulf states can come together to tackle climate change. The London School of Economics published a worrying report last month suggesting that there was limited awareness of climate change in the GCC. There is understanding that human influence has a detrimental effect on the global climate, and that flash floods in November 2018 and Asia’s highest recorded temperature of 53.9°C in Kuwait in 2017 are among the consequences. However, the report indicates that many people don’t relate these occurrences directly to their lives, or how countries can implement changes to reduce those impacts. Climate change is a huge issue that will affect us all, but it is not well understood. The report does give hope that the younger generation is both more informed and more interested in having a positive impact, but our young people say information is not easy to come by without international social media.
Whilst some of our countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions, large proportions of our energy usage come from extracting oil and desalinating water. Sixty percent of Kuwait’s energy usage is from residential buildings, a lot from AC units; if temperatures rise, this will only increase, further exacerbating the situation. While the wealthy have large cool environments with AC, many of our poorer people live in un-cooled homes, work outdoors in the heat, and travel on public transport.
Rising temperatures will cause deaths. Coastal areas will be more at risk from flash floods, which will affect fishing and tourism, and cause damage to homes. Rising temperatures and drought will affect crops and food supply. Rising pollution causes a rise in respiratory illnesses, such as asthma in children, which can kill. We need the Gulf states to unite to really talk about these issues, with scientists who really grasp the situation, to truly understand the risks and what can be done to reduce our impact without reducing our quality of life. We need to improve our education on this matter, starting in schools, but also through public media, all the way up to ministers and government officials who make decisions. Our governments can hold businesses to account and encourage citizen engagement.
There is an economic impact too. International businesses looking for partnerships are already insisting on environmentally sound buildings and companies; if we don’t keep up, we will lose out to other nations and regions. And with oil losing favor, the GCC needs to continue to secure alternative economies. In another environmental matter, discussions were planned at the GCC on how to deal with the oil in the storage vessel Safer moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, which is in a decrepit state and is expected to rupture and cause a spill if it is not moved soon to a safer place. Such a leak would cause serious environmental damage along the coasts of Saudi Arabia and eastern Africa.