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Here’s why the Middle East could be key in decarbonizing the global economy

The journey from an oil-rich region to a green pioneer, making a mark on global sustainability

Here’s why the Middle East could be key in decarbonizing the global economy
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

How long will it take for the world to achieve net zero? That’s the question nations worldwide strive to answer, each racing to set a definitive timeline and stick to it. In our quest for global sustainability, transformative action will be essential.

In the Middle East, a growing commitment to clean energy is the key to reshaping the landscape of decarbonization.


The Middle East has historically been a key player in the oil sector, contributing to global economic growth over the past century.  To achieve net zero, the imperative is for energy sources to be carbon-free.

Ibrahim Al Hashidi, Regional Manager at Al Masaood Energy, a provider of petroleum services and supplies across the UAE, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean, asserts that the Middle East’s advantages extend beyond its abundant oil reserves. The ample direct sunlight from its geographical location presents an opportunity for the region to prioritize investments in renewable energy generation capacity. It could capitalize on exporting energy from hydrogen, ammonia, or methanol.

Dr. Diana Francis, Head of the ENGEOS Lab at Khalifa University, says that the Middle East’s strategic location at the intersection of three major continents positions it as a significant player in global efforts to shift towards renewable and alternative energy sources to reduce carbon emissions. The region is rich in solar energy resources, and if fully utilized, it can meet its energy demands and even export surplus energy to other nations.

With its ideal geographical positioning, utilization of abundant natural resources, and strategic deployment of renewable energy, it becomes evident that the Middle East has the potential to play a crucial role in hastening the global shift towards a low-carbon economy. This fosters sustainable development and enhances energy security within the region, adds Dr. Veronica Bermudez Benito, Senior Research Director at Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. 


Solar energy is poised to emerge as the primary tool for combating climate change in the region, says Hashidi. This is primarily because wind potential is confined to specific locations, whereas the region benefits from endless solar irradiance potential. 

CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) technology offers the best path to achieving this objective due to its minimal reliance on rare metals such as lithium and cobalt. By storing energy in heated molten salt, CSP can generate steam even when the sun is not shining. This simplifies sourcing materials to primarily copper for the pipes and silicon for the glass mirrors.

Countries like the UAE, Spain, China, and Morocco have successfully implemented massive CSP projects exceeding 500MW in capacity. These projects operate continuously, 24/7, demonstrating the efficacy of CSP in providing uninterrupted solar energy throughout the year, he adds. 

The region can capitalize on the energy transition by diversifying its energy portfolio through solar and wind power investments. Doing so can establish itself as a frontrunner in clean energy and associated sustainable products. This shift towards a low-carbon economy has the potential to drive innovation and investment in clean technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, green hydrogen production, green ammonia, and greener petrochemistry.

Achieving this target requires the region to balance transitioning to sustainable energy sources while maintaining economic stability and employment in a diversified economy. Benito says coordinated efforts across government, industry, and society will be essential for the successful energy transition. “This collaborative approach will not only foster the emergence of new businesses and innovations but also create financial opportunities for all stakeholders involved.”

The energy transition also holds substantial promise for innovation, economic expansion, and environmental conservation, says Francis. Yet, it also introduces hurdles such as economic upheaval, substantial investment needs, and the necessity for cohesive policy frameworks to facilitate seamless sectoral transitions. Effective collaboration among governments, businesses, and civil society is paramount to overcoming these obstacles and unlocking the benefits of a clean energy future.

The shift to electrification to reduce fossil fuel use is also gaining momentum, adds Hashidi. Decision-makers and investors must prioritize investments in reliable renewable energy sources to ensure the success of this transition. Solar cooling using CSP-powered adsorption chillers is emerging as a viable option. Integrating more consistent renewable energy into the grid will be vital to achieving decarbonization goals as industries, transportation, and households electrify.

He also adds that e-fuels are poised to become a pivotal tool in significantly mitigating the impact of carbon emissions. This is achieved by recirculating the carbon dioxide currently being emitted rather than extracting more carbon from the ground. According to him, shifting manufacturing capability to the Middle East presents a potential avenue for further growth. Utilizing renewable energy at the production stage could lead to significantly more efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes. “With appropriate policies and investments, the Middle East is poised to maintain, if not enhance, its critical role in the net zero era.”


According to Benito, the primary challenge lies in managing the impact on revenues as economies heavily reliant on oil and gas exports transition away from fossil fuels, along with the substantial investments needed for decarbonization. 

This necessitates significant capital mobilization, attracting private sector investments, and overcoming regulatory barriers. “All these factors are critical for energy transition, and most Middle Eastern countries lag behind in scaling up renewable energy deployment, energy efficiency, and sustainable mobility.”

There’s a need to develop grid integration systems, reliable energy storage solutions, and smart grid technologies to combine with solar and wind power generation systems effectively. These advancements are essential for managing hybrid power systems reliably and efficiently.

All these abundant renewable energy resources, particularly solar power plants with the lowest Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), can be leveraged to produce green hydrogen through electrolysis powered by solar and wind. When combined, these sources, often complementary and boasting a larger load factor, present a significant opportunity for hydrogen production.

An essential aspect to consider is adapting existing and emerging technologies to the challenging outdoor environments in the region. Francis adds that countries are tackling this challenge by investing in research and development focused on renewable energy technologies tailored to the region’s specific environmental conditions to increase efficiency and enhance performance while simultaneously reducing costs.

For Hashidi, the energy supply chain is delineated into three pivotal stages: power generation, transmission, and consumption. Despite the substantial capacity of solar installations worldwide, their output remains intermittent due to daylight limitations. Transmission infrastructure demands significant investment in cables, transformers, and civil engineering. 

Consumption patterns fluctuate dynamically due to daily and seasonal variations, impaired by the increasing electrification of kitchen appliances and thermal devices. This scenario presents multifaceted challenges for utility providers.

On the other hand, Benito asserts that the region faces a dual reality of significant challenges and abundant opportunities in its pursuit of decarbonization and global sustainability. Simultaneously, it must uphold economic growth while addressing specific challenges stemming from the ongoing impacts of climate change.

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Karrishma Modhy is the Managing Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She enjoys all things tech and business and is fascinated with space travel. In her spare time, she's hooked to 90s retro music and enjoys video games. Previously, she was the Managing Editor at Mashable Middle East & India. More