On 25 January 2021, a number of world leaders met virtually in the first summit focused on discussing climate issues. The United States returned to the conversation after a four-year interruption due to presidency of Donald Trump. In his first statement as U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry took pride in Washington’s return to the Paris climate agreement. Kerry added that President Joe Biden is making the fight against climate change the top priority for his new administration and that the U.S. will do whatever possible to make up for lost time after its four-year absence.
A different agenda:
As soon as President Biden was inaugurated, he signed a flurry of executive orders, including the fulfillment of his campaign promise to return of the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement. Biden is expected to adopt a tough approach to fighting climate change and limiting carbon emissions. In this vein, he announced on 25 January 2021 that the U.S. will seek to increase its reliance on clean energy by building a national network of producers in every state.
In addition to returning to the Paris climate agreement, Biden is expected to return to many of the environmental policies that were pursued by President Obama and rolled back by Obama’s successor, Trump. It is conceivable that Biden will establish a division of environmental and climate justice within the Justice Department in order to increase penalties for polluters.
Of the numerous areas of policy convergence and cooperation between the U.S. and Middle Eastern nations, environmental policy may be particularly suited to bringing together all parties in the coming period. Middle Eastern countries have already taken a number of positive steps regarding environmental policy, including the following:
1- Abu Dhabi’s leadership in manufacturing hydrogen: The UAE has taken several proactive and progressive steps in order to establish a clean hydrogen economy. These steps will allow the country to not only meet the demand for hydrogen domestically, but to export hydrogen as well, taking advantage of the country’s advantageous geographic location.
In this vein, on 17 January 2021, many large Emirati companies announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to create the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance. Signatories included Mubadala Investment Company, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and the Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company (ADQ). Members of the new alliance are expected to devise a comprehensive plan to adopt and use hydrogen in key sectors such as industry, transportation, and utilities. Additionally, on 19 January 2021, Mubadala Investment Company signed a memorandum of understanding with the German company Siemens to advance the production of green hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Companies belonging to the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance are expected to coordinate with international markets to strengthen the position of the UAE as a global exporter of green and blue hydrogen.
2- Solar-powered aluminum production in the UAE: Continuing the Emirati push to transition to clean energy technology, on 19 January 2021, the Dubai Electric and Water Authority and Emirates Global Aluminum signed an agreement to begin producing aluminum with clean energy from the Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Solar Park. The Dubai Electric and Water Authority is scheduled to provide Emirates Global Aluminum with approximately 560,000 megawatt-hours of electricity, which is sufficient to produce 40,000 tons of aluminum annually. This project is expected to expand in the future. Such achievements have the potential to make the UAE number one in the world for solar-powered production of aluminum.
3- The launch of Saudi Arabia’s city, The Line: Within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030, on 11 January 2021, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of the Saudi city The Line. Located in the northwest of the kingdom, this new city will be the first in the world to be eco-friendly and produce no carbon emissions. The project will depend entirely on artificial intelligence.
According to the Saudi Crown Prince, planning and preparation for the city has taken three years. The cost of the city’s infrastructure is expected to be between one and two hundred billion dollars, which will help to diversify the kingdom’s economy. For instance, The Line will add 180 billion SAR to the GDP by 2030, and the project is predicted to create 380,000 jobs.
4- Egypt moving towards clean energy: In recent years, Egypt has sought to gradually transition to clean energy. Government reports indicate that from 2019 to 2020, the total of renewable, solar-powered electricity and wind energy generated in the country rose increased by 34.2%, from 2,247 megawatts to 3,106 megawatts.
On 14 January 2021, the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity announced that it had signed a partnership agreement with Siemens to increase cooperation related to electricity generation and renewable energy in Egypt. The parties will discuss the possibility of producing green hydrogen in the country as well. Siemens is world-renowned for its expertise in the area of clean energy and has undertaken a number of successful projects in Egypt, including electricity generation.
Additionally, Egypt is preparing its first locally-produced electric vehicle. The Egyptian Ministry of Public Business Sector announced that it is reviving the Nasr car company in order to produce electric vehicles. The country is working with a number of large Chinese companies on the production of electric cars. These steps are consistent with the Egyptian government’s goal of gradually transitioning to electric vehicles in order to protect the environment and reduce energy consumption.
Opportunities for cooperation
After returning to the Paris climate agreement, President Biden is likely to approve many new environmental policies and increase investment in clean and renewable energy in the U.S. He is expected to work to reduce carbon emissions such as those caused by oil and gas production, in addition to banning the sale of federal lands for natural gas extraction and coal mining.
The new agenda introduced by the current U.S. administration will likely create new opportunities for cooperation with countries of the Middle East, especially those like UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt that have already taken many positive steps to balance economic development with the transition to clean and sustainable energy. In particular, there is room for cooperation on fighting climate change, bringing about an economy built on clean energy, and not accepting lobby money. Biden’s agenda may encourage competition between companies in the U.S. and around the world as they seek to invest in clean energy in the region. Chinese and German companies have already taken progressive steps in this regard.