Sustainability in the Middle East: Complications and Opportunities

The Middle East region is facing a unique set of natural, operational, political, economic and social challenges in efforts to adopt sustainability. The rapid development and increasing population in these countries have led to an increased consumption of fossil fuels, water, and other non-renewable natural resources, taking a toll on the environment. Though the Middle East countries have significantly contributed to the carbon emissions, over the past decade they have taken positive steps towards addressing the core environmental issues and improving sustainability situation in their respective countries.


This article aims at sharing the common challenges and opportunities faced by the Middle East countries in their path towards fostering sustainability.


1. Arid Climatic Conditions

The Middle East faces an overall hot and dry climate and has merely one percent of the world’s consumable water. Consequently, these countries face scarcity of water, forcing them to depend on desalination plants that treat nearly four billion bottles of water a day. These plants produce carbon emissions and sludge that is poured back into the water bodies, adversely affecting the environment. Thus, the arid conditions and the consequent depletion of natural resources do not help in fostering sustainability in this region.

Moreover, the rising mercury levels and the rapid growth of cities increase the need for air-conditioning and moderating the indoor environment. Thus, fossil fuels are utilized in order to keep these cities habitable in such hot and arid conditions.

2. Over-Dependence on the Non-Renewable Natural Resources

The energy usage and the carbon emission of an average person in the Middle East have doubled over the past 30 years. The inefficient and overuse of the non-renewable energy resources for transportation, built environment, and landscaping has led to the additional need for energy.

Moreover, the primary sources of renewable energy, namely solar, wind, and waste still struggle to compete with the oil and natural gas, owing to the increasing demand for energy. The Middle East countries hold the world’s greatest potential (45 percent) for renewable energy production. Yet, renewable energy contributes to merely one percent of the total energy production mix in this region.

Over the past decade, however, these countries have realized the significance of sustainability and are slowly adopting newer environmentally-responsive policies and regulations.

3. Lack of Infrastructure and Expertise

Several industries in the Middle East are still reluctant to comply with the sustainability standards owing to the concerns regarding the changes in the supply chain, the design process, the adoption of newer energy-efficient technologies, and the increased capital costs. Moreover, the lack of grid infrastructure and clarity amongst the local designers and management with respect to sustainable designs is proving to be a big hurdle in this domain.

In order to overcome this challenge, firms are collaborating with foreign architects, effectively training their designers, and hiring young qualified professionals to help them work towards a sustainable design and development.

Though the above-mentioned challenges are slowing down the adoption of sustainable processes in the Middle East, huge projects are being undertaken by these countries to demonstrate the increased levels of sustainability awareness and encash on the available opportunities.


1. Abundant Availability of Renewable Energy Systems

Owing to the increasing environmental concerns such as the global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels, the Middle East countries are taking concrete steps to trim down their dependence on oil and gas. They are now investing in clean energy, lowering their carbon footprint and fostering sustainable development.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar are investing in a number of renewable energy schemes and aiming to achieve 30, 15, and 20 percent of their power generation respectively from renewable energy sources by 2030. The Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is expected to be the world’s most sustainable eco-city. This city is expected to exemplify how other cities can accommodate rapid urbanization through the efficient utilization of energy, water, and waste.

The Middle East has abundant sources of renewable energy resources, namely solar and wind that can be effectively used to build a sustainable environment. A huge part of the Middle East lies within the Global Sun Belt, the area around the world that gets the most sunlight and the least rainfall. These climatic conditions can generate and supply terawatts of solar electricity, offering a global source of renewable energy.

2. Establishment of Development Institutions and Regulations

The government, the non-government, and the industry experts in the Middle East are increasingly taking an interest and investing their time and energy in establishing sustainable development institutions and regulations. This positive trend can be capitalized upon to overcome the challenges described above.

For instance, the government of the United Arab Emirates has recently announced its objective of building a sustainable nation and making sustainability one of the core themes of the EXPO 2020. Similarly, Estidama (‘sustainability’ in Arabic) is the first organic sustainability framework in the Middle East that imposes green building code under the pearl rating system.

The Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME), Saudi Arabia too announced a decree asking all the organizations to meet the air, water, and noise pollution standards approved by the nation’s Council of Ministers.

A rooftop solar power project in Abu Dhabi

The increased investments by the Middle East countries in sustainable development projects such as the introduction of the Green Building Regulation and the use of renewable energy and recycling strategies will help preserve the natural resources and reduce the carbon footprint, fostering sustainability in this region.

3. Growing Usage of Eco-Friendly Products

The government and non-government organizations in the Middle East are taking proactive measures to control the waste output by introducing sustainable energy and waste management projects. The waste is being recycled and reused to create new products, generate energy through incineration, and for landfilling. For instance, the UAE has achieved a 70 percent recycling rate in less than ten years, reaching its goal of zero waste.

An increasing number of firms in the Middle East are showing their commitment towards protecting the environment and fostering sustainability worldwide. Implementing environment-friendly policies and practices is also enabling these firms to differentiate themselves from the competition.

For instance, the increased usage of eco-friendly molded pulp packaging is helping organizations to enhance their brand image while conserving the energy and natural resources.

Parting Shot

The Middle East countries have always been establishing their expertise and resilience with regards to overcoming a range of economic, natural, political, technical, and social challenges. As the world is shifting towards creating sustainable systems, the Middle East countries are striving to adopt environment-friendly options, overcoming the challenges of sustainability.

The above-mentioned pointers will help you appreciate the sustainability complications and opportunities in the Middle East.

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About Natalia Hawkins

Natalia Hawkins is a content writer, who is known to weave magic with words. A versatile writer, she can wax eloquent on any topic under the sun, though her expertise lies in the genres of sustainability, recycling, green living and etc. You can get in touch with her on Twitter

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