We recently wrapped up the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos, where world leaders, including many foreign ministers from the Middle East and North Africa region, gathered to discuss the top global economic issues of the day. The theme of this year’s forum was “History at a Turning Point,” with three main sub-topics: COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the longer-term issue of climate change.
A big focus this year was on security. Of course, the current situation in Ukraine is having a huge impact, with Russia sanctioned and fuel and grain supplies from the region severely affected. This is not to lessen the importance of other conflicts also occurring around the world.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterated the Kingdom’s previous offers to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, emphasizing the need to foster global cooperation and open communication. The MENA region has strong symbiotic relations with the West, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and China, with goods, oil, tourism and security all being strong aspects of these relationships. MENA nations could be good, impartial partners to aid mediation and broker peace in the conflict before it escalates further and causes more suffering. The security at stake here is not merely physical safety, but also incorporates food and economic safety that, while impacting the whole world, has a greater effect on developing countries.
But there is huge overlap here with sustainability. As mentioned, the situation in Ukraine affects the sustainable and continuous supply of grain to MENA nations, particularly in North Africa and Yemen. Countries already struggling with a high poverty rate are at real risk of disruption to the food supply chain. Likewise, environmental disasters usually hit the poorest communities first.
Back in 2017, the World Bank commented on how rising temperatures will reduce the amount of land suitable for agriculture, as well as reducing water availability for both human consumption and crops and farmed animals. It highlighted how more pressure on essential resources could increase the risk of conflict. We have already seen how the Yemen conflict has had the greatest effect on the poor, who are experiencing a huge humanitarian crisis.
The World Bank highlighted how more pressure on essential resources could increase the risk of conflict
Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed
Likewise, the increase in flash floods related to climate change disproportionately affects poorer communities. Back in 2020, the WEF talked of how low-income economies often rely on revenue from the land. These countries have poorer infrastructure and fewer resources. Travel is slower due to rough roads, so people go on foot instead. Buildings have weaker foundations, if any, so towns can be completely destroyed and washed away, leaving communities having to be rebuilt from scratch. Fewer and poorly equipped hospitals mean that the spread of disease is more rapid, with devastating effects.
However, McKinsey also reported that, of 105 countries studied, all would “experience rising socioeconomic impacts from climate change.” If crops cannot be grown, whether due to flood or drought, food will become scarcer. Sustainability and security are intertwined. While countries can join forces to support one another through natural disasters and hardship, others sometimes use such events as opportunities to take what they need from poorer countries with lower resource security.
It is essential that we collaborate and work harder to develop and invest in alternatives to, for example, fossil fuels, such as green hydrogen, wind and hydroelectric energy, and electric cars to take pollution out of our cities, where it is damaging public health. We need to educate ourselves on what we can do to reduce the impact of climate change, whether these are direct changes that individuals can make or whether they are changes we push by carefully choosing where we spend our money and what companies we support.
A recent report from the London School of Economics and Political Science documented Kuwait’s lack of progress with regards to climate change. Kuwait is not alone here; the story is similar across the whole of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Many global corporations insist that their partner companies adhere to strict environmental targets and demonstrate impeccable sustainability standards, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Gulf nations are working hard to diversify their economies and must succeed if they are to build a strong economy outside of the oil industry. However, they will lose vital business deals — and tourist opportunities — if they do not immediately see how important environmental standards are.
Prof. Klaus Schwab, the head of the WEF, reiterated the message that global communities need to collaborate and that the world’s issues — political, economic, social and ecological — are all interlinked and therefore they are all important. He reminded delegates of the importance of serving their wider, and local, communities and that they can act as stakeholders.
Hilde Schwab, co-founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, believes that one way this can be done is by supporting entrepreneurs and social innovators to create sustainable solutions.
The founder of the We Love Reading organization, Rana Dajani, spoke of how important a mindset of “I can” and the slogan “a responsibility to solve locally” are in motivating people toward change. She emphasized that we all have “shared universal values,” but can also celebrate “diversity by acting locally… and focusing on human-to-human interactions.”
Again, as individuals, we can look at alternatives; we can look at where something comes from. We need to take responsibility for how we travel, where we shop, where we eat and where the products we buy come from, how they are transported, how and where they are stored and whether they are ethical and sustainable. Sustainability is not all about international industry, governments and energy suppliers. We can all be empowered to make changes. It is about looking around us and being creative.
How can we work with others in our community to drive change? How can we develop social enterprise? This can be great for those who might want more flexible working hours, those with young children at home or at school, those with care responsibilities or those with physical disabilities that prevent them from working in certain conditions or working long hours, while also building up the local economy and the community’s skills. Young people get to see how businesses work, they can get involved and feel empowered to make change or start their own enterprise. This also helps to support our own local economies, building financial and environmental sustainability.
So, in summary, we need to work together and use the skills within our communities to build strong, diverse and sustainable businesses. We need to get better at clearly communicating how climate change will affect us if we do not reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, reduce global warming and clean up our land and the oceans.
Only by understanding the impacts — on our health, local neighborhoods and the economy (both national and global) — will individuals and industries feel the need to make changes. There needs to be a strong focus on alternatives. We need to support innovators and entrepreneurs to develop new ideas and bring them to market. The strategies of MENA nations for the next 10 to 15 years include sustainability — in architecture, energy, tourism and community — but we as citizens need to support their actions and collaborate within our own communities to make local changes.
• Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed is a professor of law at Kuwait University and visiting fellow at Oxford. Twitter: @BashayerAlMajed