Research News

Sharing the Decarbonization Effort: The Road to Global Carbon Neutrality for Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Countries

July 12, 2023


Research from Khalifa University offers the first national emission allocation evaluation for the countries in the broader EMME region, providing guidance on setting realistic and fair emissions targets based on national circumstances.


The climate crisis is a critical issue for contemporary society, demanding significant investments from all nations to transition to low carbon economies. A 2021 IPCC report indicates that in order to limit global temperature increase to 2°C, global net CO2 emissions need to be reduced by about 25 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and net-zero must be reached by 2070. More aggressive targets are required to limit the 1.5°C overshoot.


Globally, different regions and nations show varying degrees of commitment to these goals. While the European Union, Canada, and South Korea are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, many countries in a region like the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME),, which consists of Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates are less inclined to rapidly adopt carbon neutrality due to their heavy reliance on fossil fuels. In 2019, the EMME region with 5.5 percent of the global population, and 4.9 percent of the world’s economic output, contributed over 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.


Research has explored necessary actions at the country level to achieve the Paris Agreement targets, considering equity in the low-carbon transition. Effort-sharing approaches to determine emissions reduction targets, carbon budgets, and carbon dioxide removal quotas have been discussed, typically centered around three principles of equity: responsibility (current and historical contribution to emissions), capability (ability to pay for mitigation), and equality (equal rights per person).


Dr. Steve Griffiths, Professor of Practice and Senior Vice President Research and Development together with collaborators from the Cyprus Institute have proposed various approaches to determine equitable national emission allocations for 2030 for the 17 countries in the EMME region. The research team compared these allocations with the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of each country to assess the degree to which current climate change mitigation targets are sufficient, finding two approaches that may be considered both realistic and fair. Both approaches are based on required emissions reductions for the EMME region as a whole to be in line with the global average emissions reductions need to achieve net-zero targets. Emission reductions required for each EMME country are then allocated relative to those required for the EMME region. Hence, both approaches require emissions in the EMME region to drop by nearly 50 percent by 2030 as compared to 2019 levels to achieve a 1.5°C warming scenario.


Their results were published in Climate Policy, a leading global journal focused on climate policy matters. Despite previous regional-level emission allocation studies, this paper offers the first national emission allocation evaluation for the countries in the broader EMME region, providing guidance on setting realistic and fair emissions targets based on national circumstances.


There are numerous approaches to effort-sharing in reducing emissions and the Paris Agreement recognizes the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ shouldered by each nation, but there are no universally agreed guidelines to quantify what constitutes a realistic and fair contribution. To remedy this, the researchers propose quantitative criteria to evaluate the concepts of realism and fairness: the emission reduction target, relative to 2019 emissions, should not exceed 80 percent for any country; the abatement target for any country should not be more than 50 percent higher than the average abatement of the entire EMME region; and the range of abatement targets between countries should be less than 80 percent.


“If we were to just assume that all countries globally must achieve the same per capita emissions reductions by 2030, the EMME region must reduce its emissions by 52 percent and 65 percent in 2030, compared to 2019 levels, for the 2°C and 1.5°C global warming targets, respectively,” Dr. Griffiths says. “This blanket approach, however, does not take into account balanced consideration of equality, responsibility and capability to pay for climate mitigation.”


While it’s not advisable to ignore the uniform per capita emissions equality criterion, the researchers suggest that combining this with additional criteria such as per capita GDP (capability), cumulative carbon emissions (responsibility), or carbon intensity (responsibility) could lead to more balanced decarbonization burden sharing. Nations like Syria, Palestine, and Egypt could be allowed temporary emissions increases to further their development, while placing a stronger decarbonization burden on wealthier nations.


In order to ensure that countries in regions such as the EMME are not unduly burdened with carbon emissions reduction requirements, 2030 emission reductions required worldwide can be applied to the regional as a whole and then reductions for each EMME country can be assessed by ranking the countries according to various equality, capability and responsibility criteria.


“Interestingly, some EMME countries we studied, such as Greece, have calculated emissions reductions requirements that are relatively uniform across the many emissions reduction allocation approaches we considered,” Dr. Griffiths says. “Other countries, however, have dramatically different outcomes based on the approach considered. These countries, which include Palestine and Qatar, are more likely to lobby strongly for specific approaches that are more favorable to them, while countries such as Greece, may be indifferent to the specific approach pursued.”


In order to assess the sufficiency of national climate policies relative to net-zero compliant emissions reductions from the various approaches studies, the researchers examined the emission reduction pledges provided in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Only a handful of countries (Greece, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates) have set targets that align with the calculated ranges necessary to prevent more than 2°C of warming. Even fewer (Jordan, UAE, and Palestine) have targets in line with the more ambitious 1.5°C warming threshold. In contrast, countries like Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, and Turkey are expected to increase their emissions compared to 2016 levels.


The researchers note that the climate targets in these countries still represent a significant slowdown in emissions growth compared to a hypothetical situation without any abatement measures. For instance, even though Turkey’s greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase substantially over the next decade, following their NDC would result in a growth rate 21 percent slower than in a scenario without any mitigation measures.


Several countries, including Greece, Israel, the UAE, Oman, Turkey, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, have recently committed to a net-zero emissions future. However, even countries like Israel and the UAE that are regionally best-in-class regarding climate policy commitments aligned with net-zero 2050 ambitions, may need to further strengthen their medium-term mitigation efforts if their ambitions are to be realized. More specifically, their current 2030 emissions mitigation commitments are near the lower end of the ranges that were calculated as being consistent with meeting the 1.5°C warming threshold.


Among the 14 proposed approaches the researchers considered, two were proposed as the optimal for further consideration based on the criteria of being both realistic and fair. According to both suggested approaches, all countries must decrease their emissions by 2030 even though this might be challenging for developing nations with low incomes, such as Palestine, or countries recovering from long periods of conflict, like Syria. The countries required to make the most significant reductions are those with high GDP per capita (capability) and high CO2 emissions levels (responsibility): Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.


“If these countries with the most significant required emissions reductions are to align with the Paris Agreement’s goals, they must diversify their energy supply towards zero- and low-carbon technologies,” Dr. Griffiths said. “These countries, being rich in fossil fuel reserves and net energy exporters, have the financial capacity to pursue a low-carbon transition, which can arguably be considered fair in terms of effort-sharing.”


The researchers underscore that emission abatement efforts must be fair and realistic, considering the unique impacts on each country and the relative impacts experienced by the countries in the EMME region. Some of these countries face significant challenges, particularly those in fragile states or those with deeply ingrained carbon emission in their economic structures.


“So far, none of the EMME countries, despite their updated NDCs and net-zero commitments, have proposed a strategy to reduce 2030 carbon emissions by more than half compared to 2019 levels,” Dr. Griffiths said. “This discrepancy between stated ambitions and realistic targets is a concern.”


The team propose regional cooperation, such as renewable electricity trade or technology knowledge exchange, and financial support from wealthier countries for green projects in countries with lower GDP per capita. This approach could help EMME countries align with the Paris Agreement goals and could be a model for other regions.


“Wealthier countries in the region should take on greater responsibility for developing and implementing emission management and removal technologies, crucial for global climate change mitigation targets. The UAE provides an example of what needs to be done through its regional leadership in climate policy, renewable energy deployment and oil and gas sector decarbonization,” Dr. Griffiths said.


Jade Sterling
Science Writer
July 2023