Oman has just been battered by Cyclone Shaheen, the first tropical cyclone to make it that far west into the Gulf of Arabia.
Around Basra in southern Iraq this summer, pressure on the grid owing to 50C heat led to constant blackouts, with residents driving around in their cars to stay cool.
Kuwait broke the record for the hottest day ever in 2016 at 53.6, and its 10-day rolling average this summer was equally sweltering.
Flash floods occurred in the Saudi city of Jeddah, and more recently Mecca, while across Saudi Arabia average temperatures have increased by 2%, and the maximum temperatures by 2.5%, all just since the 1980s. By the end of the century, if the more dire predictions prove true, Mecca may not be habitable
In Qatar, the country with the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world and the biggest producer of liquid gas, the outdoors is already being air-conditioned.
In Tehran, Iran, air pollution kills 4,000 people each year, while in the south-west province of Khuzestan citizens blocked roads and burned tyres to protest against droughts caused by a combination of mismanagement, western sanctions and killer heat.
In the United Arab Emirates, it is estimated that the climate crisis costs £6bn a year in higher health costs.
Iran is now the seventh-largest carbon emitter per capita, the UAE the second largest and Saudi Arabia the 13th.
The salinity of the Arabian Gulf, caused by proliferating desalination plants, has increased by 20%, with all the likely impact on marine life and biodiversity.
Large tracts of the Middle East may be with no permanent human settlement.
The Gulf coastal cities by the end of the century could find themselves inundated as waters rise.
The Middle East is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. It has to find a way to avoid its self-destruction
Jim Krane, an energy research analyst at Rice University Baker Institute in Houston, said:
“It is a really tough issue because the interests of the ruling elites run contrary to the interests of citizens. The ruling elites are all dependent on oil rents for the survival of their regimes. They need the oil business to stay alive for them to stay in power. Their system is based on continued oil rent, but ultimately, the citizens’ long-term interests are with a liveable climate”.
Zeina Khalil Hajj, a founder of Greenpeace in the Middle East, says that the region is under a double squeeze. “As demand for energy changes, a region that has been fundamentally reliant on fossil fuel, oil and carbon for its economic survival cannot continue with this dependence. There will be no market for their oil. But as its climate changes, it has an extra duty to shift for its own survival. Extreme weather is changing the lives of the people at a daily level. There is no choice, but to go green.”
Hajj says it may require a rapid psychological shift away from consumerism. “The Gulf is not even close to that kind of conversation. If you see the lifestyle in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is based on endless consumption. My fear is that we are so far away from it both in terms of policy and willingness”.
The region has all three elements needed to switch to renewables: capital, sun and large tracts of vacant land. But until recently there were few signs that the petro-states felt the need to get out of fossil fuels.
Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, famously described it as a sequel to La La Land. “If I had to be concerned with IEA projections,” Abdulaziz said in Abu Dhabi during a public forum at the 24th World Energy Congress in 2019, “I probably would be on Prozac all the time.”
The Qatari energy minister, Saad al-Kaabi, said cutting off oil and gas production would cause damaging supply crunches, and laughed at “the euphoria around energy transition”.
Oil and gas exports remain more than 70% of total goods exports in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Oil revenues exceed 70% of total government revenues in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain. The World Bank shows Saudi Arabia is still 75% dependent on oil exports for its budget.
Aramco, the Saudi company with the largest carbon footprint in the world, is not trying to diversify at the rate of many other oil corporations. Indeed, it has just announced an investment to increase crude capacity from 12m barrels a day to 13m barrels by 2027.
Fossil fuels shipped abroad are not on the Saudi’s carbon ledger, owing to UN accounting rules. The region is responsible for only 4.7 % of worldwide carbon emissions, dwarfed by the pollution from Europe, America and China. The oil that the Middle East exports is logged against the carbon emissions of the users, not the producers.
And the promised internal reduction in emissions is dependent on a heavy bet that unproven blue hydrogen and carbon capture technology will work. Greenpeace Middle East suggested the Saudis’ plan included increasing oil production.
One reason the Gulf sheikdoms have been able to be so slow in weaning themselves off the commodity that made them rich is that the wealth has been used to numb public opinion. Citizens have been bought off through a mixture of no taxes, along with water, petrol and energy subsidies.