But compared to Europe, protecting the environment is a relatively young topic in the Middle East, which hold 60% of the world's proven oil reserves and 40% of the world's proven gas reserves.
Nevertheless with its Masdar zero-carbon-city (still under construction), the conference location Abu Dhabi is the symbol for renewable energy concepts of the twenty-tens. Masdar, which means source in Arabic, aims to build a city for 50,000 inhabitants whose households will only be provided with renewable energy (such as wind, solar or bio-energy) will also be the home of the 2009-founded International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). As per its website, "Irena aspires to become the main driving force for promoting a rapid transition towards the widespread and sustainable use of renewable energy on a global scale."
According to Julia Bucknall, Lead Natural Resources Specialist at the World Bank, emerging markets in general play a key role in reducing pollution. "If developed countries act now, a 'climate-smart' world is feasible, and the costs for getting there will be high but still manageable. A key way to do this is by ramping up funding for mitigation in developing countries, where most future growth in emissions will occur," Bucknall says. But there is an economic flipside of the new energy-coin. Stricter rules and more regulations for companies can lead to higher costs and to layoffs.
Scarcity of resources
On a regional Middle Eastern scale, the efficient use of the earth's resources is not a luxury, but a necessity. Four fifths of the Arab world is barren desert. Scarce water resources and a population which is one of the fasted growing of the world make the region from Morocco across to Iraq most vulnerable to climate change.
Measures to tackle the impact of pollution and reducing energy wastage have already been taken. As well as Abu Dhabi's Masdar, Dubai-based ICT-free zone Tecom set up the Energy and Environment Park in 2006, a sub-free zone dedicated to the research, development and production of renewable energy technology.
Tecom became the first Middle Eastern free zone which publishes a sustainable development report. According to Ali bin Towaih, Executive Director of Enpark, sustainable programmes launched by his division prove that the green wave does not mean higher costs for companies. "Going green has saved us money", Towaih explains. All buildings in Tecom must abide to LEED-Standards, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building rating system.
The Energy City Qatar (also currently under construction), a project financed completely in line with Islamic Shariah law by Doha-based investment bank Gulf Finance House (GFH), aims to develop efficient means of exploring and transforming carbon resources. It also aims to raise the know-how in the industry about recycling processes for ethylene-products. While Qatar takes the lead, other Energy Cities are planned by GFH and are in the process of being designed in Lybia, India and Kazakhstan.
The aforementioned green shoots in the desert are, however, rather symbolic and disjointed. Other initiatives such as the ban of disposable plastic bags in Dubai's shopping malls are certainly steps to the right direction, but the effects should not be overvalued.