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Wed 2 Apr 2008 04:41 PM

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Carbon emissions - what’s all the fuss about?

North America, Europe, China and Russia account for the vast majority of global CO2 emissions.

Every other week a new study urges us to cut our ‘carbon footprint' as otherwise temperatures and sea-levels will rise making life on earth steadily more difficult. Yet, when North America, Europe, China and Russia account for the vast majority of global CO2 emissions and the Middle East contributes less than 6%, it is easy for us in this region to ask, so what's all the fuss about?

But international reports on climate change are increasingly throwing the spotlight on the Middle East, where rapid development fuelled by petrodollars is driving energy consumption skywards.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the ratio of CO2 emissions to GDP is more than twice as high in the Middle East than in any other region of the developing world. It states that three Middle Eastern countries had the highest per capita CO2 emissions rate in the world in 2004: Qatar with 21.63 tonnes; Kuwait with 10.13 tonnes; and the United Arab Emirates on 9.32 tonnes.

Meanwhile, the WWF's Living Planet Report 2006 declared that the United Arab Emirates has the largest ecological footprint in the world, ahead of the US.

Taken as a whole, the United Nations says Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey account for 60.5% of the region's total CO2 emissions.

So clearly, the battle against climate change needs to be fought from this front as well.

Reducing the region's emissions will represent a significant challenge given that economic growth here is expected to keep demand for energy high for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the Middle East also lags behind the rest of the world in developing renewable energy resources.

But if the most pessimistic scenarios concerning the impact of climate change on the Middle East are to be believed, then mitigation and adaptation measures have to be taken now, because, as Friends of the Earth Middle East warned in December, climate change could act as a threat multiplier in the region, exacerbating water scarcity and creating tensions over water within and between nations with vulnerable populations.

Initiatives such as last week's Earth Hour, when non-essential lights in many cities the world over were switched off for 60 minutes, are a step in the right direction in terms of raising awareness for energy efficiency. And it was pleasing to see countries in this region were prepared to take part.

But in terms of making a significant, long-lasting contribution to saving the environment, the initiative was a hollow gesture, which only served to raise the question: if these lights are deemed non-essential, why have they all been switched back on? Now that is worth making a fuss about.

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