fiogf49gjkf0dIt is globally accepted that 2 degrees Celsius is the temperature limit of dangerous climate change, and that we should collectively strive to stay below it. The recent report on mitigation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that growth of greenhouse gas emissions continues despite global efforts to curb emissions, and that combustion of fossil fuels is the key driver of this growth. The report concludes that staying below 2 degrees requires major changes in terms of technology,"/>
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Mari Luomi Mainstreaming Climate Policy in the Gulf Cooperation Council States 
By Mari Luomi
It is globally accepted that 2 degrees Celsius is the temperature limit of dangerous climate change, and that we should collectively strive to stay below it. The recent report on mitigation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that growth of greenhouse gas emissions continues despite global efforts to curb emissions, and that combustion of fossil fuels is the key driver of this growth. The report concludes that staying below 2 degrees requires major changes in terms of technology, institutions an investment patterns, and the more action is delayed, the more costly and difficult these will become.
Worryingly, if countries were to fulfil their current emissions reduction pledges, we would end up with well over 3 degrees of global warming. There is optimism that, in late 2015 in Paris, countries will reach a new climate agreement with additional commitments from both developed and developing countries. Still, many doubt these will collectively add up to what is called for by science. On the positive side, national-level mitigation action is increasingly being scaled up all around the world. This brings hope of more ambitious reductions to come.
Nevertheless, the international negotiations on climate change, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, still retain a crucial and complementary role in drawing attention to collective nature of the problem, helping build trust among countries, and keeping the focus on the global target. Unfortunately, most countries, including many from the MENA region, spend their energy in these fora on arguing what others should do rather than examining what they themselves could do.
At the same time, however, there has been a visible shift in thinking in the GCC as most countries in the region are now actively exploring the opportunities and co-benefits of low-carbon energy, energy efficiency and climate resilience to support their broader development goals. In a recently published study, I have argued that now is the time for a systematic examination of these opportunities and synergies in the GCC.
As for any country, the fundamental motive for the GCC states to seriously engage with a low-emission transition relates to what scientists now call the global carbon budget, or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we have already emitted and can still emit safely. According to some estimates, our remaining carbon budget equals to less than half of proven economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves and could, at current rates, be used up in as little as three decades.
Whilst staying within the carbon budget will imply significant structural changes for practically all countries in the world, for the GCC states these numbers are the clarion call: given their high dependence on oil-export revenues, these countries’ very future hinges on their governments’ ability to enact policies and undertake bold measures that will ensure economic resilience and prosperity amidst this major global structural transition.
Each country has different national circumstances and these must provide the basis for charting the most appropriate kinds and level of mitigation action, and determining the potential for synergies in the context of the countries’ specific conditions and development priorities. Related variables include wealth, economic structure, development priorities, natural resource endowments, and climatic conditions. Countries’ capabilities to take action and their vulnerabilities to climate change and international climate action should also be taken into account, as these will shed light on national strengths and weaknesses, including the scope for leveraging existing experience and technologies and need for further external support.
Despite obvious differences, such as in per capita income or natural gas wealth, the GCC states share very similar national circumstances, structural strengths and vulnerabilities in relation to climate change mitigation. In this context, economic diversification and sustaining welfare are the key development priorities for all. Given the similarity of the six states’ greenhouse gas emissions profiles, the areas and measures by which enhanced mitigation action can be achieved are also similar. There remains significant scope for cuts in fugitive emissions in most states, and fuel switching to natural gas in the electricity sector would bring important reductions where oil is still burned for this purpose. Efficiency improvements and demand side measures can also play an important role, often at negative cost. Whilst utility pricing reforms can result in major reductions, they must be accompanied with education and awareness-raising. Carbon capture and storage too holds important potential for extended fossil fuel use once cost issues are resolved. Overall, based on the GCC states’ carbon intensity ratings (which take into account the carbon content of the energy mix and the intensity of energy use in the economy), there is important space for improvement across the six economies. Existing emissions modelling studies also indicate significant potential: a study on Abu Dhabi has estimated the potential for deviation from the baseline at nearly 40 percent of total CO2 emissions in the electricity and water sector in 2030.
Three of the most proactive states in this area have been the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. An analysis of their activities in reveals that although economy-wide mitigation measures are still absent, there is a growing variety of sector-based project activities and medium-term plans that either seek to address emissions directly or have emissions reductions as co-benefits. Reflecting the fact that electricity supply dominates in the GCC states’ emissions profiles, several actions are duly being undertaken in this sector, including energy efficiency programmes and solar energy initiatives. At the same time, buildings and other end-use sectors are starting to receive attention, exemplified by green building codes, expanded public transport networks, and sustainable urban plans.
Whilst the emergence and expansion of portfolios of policies and measures in the three Gulf states is an extremely welcome development, lack of coordination between projects carried out by different agencies and organisations still often hinders the scaling up of efforts. Also, some policy tools perceived as politically unattractive remain untouched, including emission and energy taxes, emission permits, or emission targets for major point source emitters, such as major industrial facilities. Domestic energy pricing regimes are also still heavily in favour of the existing fossil fuel-heavy, energy intensive energy pathways. Overall, following through with set plans and targets continues to remain a challenge, and regional cooperation is feeble.
The good news is that the key goals of climate policy – mitigation and adaptation – are in fact parallel to the GCC states’ broad drivers of socioeconomic development, national development visions and strategies, and many more specific development goals, including economic diversification, natural resource sustainability, knowledge-economy building, and the pursuit of green growth. Synergetic areas of climate policy where co-benefits for other policy and goals are obvious include sustainable energy, water and food supply, green jobs and economic diversification, environmental quality and health, efficiencies in the energy supply sector, and increased economic competitiveness through more efficient energy and natural resource use.
However, in order to be effective and have a broad impact, mitigation policies must not only be aligned with key socioeconomic drivers and economic and development priorities, but they must also be spelled out and ‘mainstreamed’ across all development plans and their implementation through targets, policies, regulation, programmes and projects. A low-emission and climate-resilient development strategy, LE(CR)DS, is one possible tool for spelling out the national ‘visions’ for mitigation. Its elaboration involves a multi-step process that includes a multi-stakeholder planning process, situational assessment, analysis of strategic options, prioritisation of actions, and finally the preparation of a LEDS roadmap and its implementation and related monitoring. Whilst a low-emission transition strategy need not be expressed in one single document, a similar well-structured multi-stakeholder process would undoubtedly help the GCC policymakers to realise the wide scope of opportunities and build momentum for mainstreaming climate action.
In preparation for a new international climate agreement, all countries have been asked to come forward with their national contributions by March 2015. In addition to this, what the international community expects from the GCC states – similarly to all other countries – is a constructive negotiating spirit that reaches across diverging positions and focuses on the ‘win-wins’ instead of pointing fingers. In terms of national contributions to emission reductions, the GCC states have already indicated interest in framing their plans and actions in terms of economic diversification. However, so far, they have made no announcements of this kind, and it remains to be seen whether they are willing to contribute with new and ambitious mitigation actions to the post-2020 climate agreement.
Given the GCC states’ relatively small total greenhouse gas emissions the main burden of absolute emission cuts will not lie on their shoulders. Nevertheless, national interest, or the need to survive and prosper in a decarbonising world, provides an equally powerful reason for prompt mitigation and adaptation action. Sharing these actions and plans at the international level, in turn, will provide important signals for foreign and national investments, and can facilitate receiving finance, technology transfer and capacity-building to support implementation.
The fundamental economic motive for the GCC states to embark on a low-emission economic trajectory is evident: given the 2-degree imperative, the world is changing and the oil exporters must change with it. The full implementation of existing domestic mitigation plans and projects would be a good start. A promising sign is also the three states’ increasingly active participation in international mechanisms and cooperative and capacity-building initiatives, foreign investments in clean energy ventures, and investments in R&D into sustainable energy technologies and solutions. We remain hopeful that the current plans and projects will only serve as a springboard for much more ambitious actions and pledges to come.
This article is based on the author’s recent working paper “Mainstreaming Climate Policy in the Gulf Cooperation Council States”, published by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and available online at:

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