June 29, 2023, 10:00 am - June 30, 2023, 12:00 pm


Virtual Conference

The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to convene a virtual conference highlighting a number of synergistic themes associated with climate change throughout the week of the event. These daily themes put into focus areas of priority for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as the region begins to look ahead towards hosting the upcoming COP28 climate meeting in the UAE, following last year’s COP27 meeting in Egypt.

Building on the outcomes of COP27 and incorporating pressing climate issues for COP28, this event will feature climate resilience leaders, experts, and advocates in a series of keynote presentations and panels that bring to the forefront the MENA’s role in addressing the climate crisis.

Conference Agenda

Each session will take place from 10:00am to 12:00pm EDT. Additional speakers to be announced. 

Monday, June 26 | Welcome Remarks 

Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Fellow and Director, Climate & Water Program, Middle East Institute 

Monday, June 26 | Water Management & Environmental Sustainability 

The MENA region faces several water and environmental challenges that have significant implications for the environment, human health, and socio-economic development. To address these challenges, sustainable water management practices, such as efficient irrigation, wastewater treatment, and water conservation, are essential. Another critical aspect of water management and environmental sustainability is the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. The region is home to several unique ecosystems that are under threat from human activities such as urbanization, land-use change, and pollution. To mitigate these threats, nations in the region are implementing policies that promote environmental sustainability, ecosystem protection, and sustainable agriculture, to ensure the availability and quality of natural resources for future generations.

Paul Fleming, Advisory Council Member, Climate and Water Program, Middle East Institute

Newsha Ajami, Chief Development Officer for Research, Berkeley Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area

Hussein Amery, Professor of Water Politics and Policy, Colorado School of Mines

Logan Cochrane, Associate Professor, College of Public Policy, Hamad Bin Khalifa University 

Diana Francis, Assistant Professor & Head of ENGEOS Lab, Khalifa University

Tuesday, June 27 | Youth Activism & Climate Engagement 

The future of youth activism and climate engagement in the MENA region is promising, as young people increasingly recognize the urgency of addressing climate change and are taking action to promote environmental sustainability and climate resilience. Young people in the MENA region are already leading grassroots movements and campaigns to raise awareness about climate change and advocate for policy changes. And as such, youth-led organizations and initiatives focused on environmental sustainability and climate resilience are emerging across the region. With the increasing use of technology and social media, young people in the region have the potential to play a significant role in promoting climate action and advancing sustainable development in the years to come.

Neeshad Shafi, Co-Founder, Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar

Sarah Alharthey, Senior Business Development Manager, ACWA Power

Michel Frem, UNESCO Groundwater Youth Network

Athra Khamis, UAE Ministry of Climate and the Environment


Wednesday, June 28 | The Climate & Security Nexus 

The MENA region is facing several security challenges, including political instability and conflicts, which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change implications such as water scarcity, food insecurity, and natural disasters. Water scarcity can lead to social and economic tensions and has the potential to trigger conflicts between and within countries. Similarly, food insecurity can trigger social unrest and political instability, particularly in countries with weak economies and limited resources. Natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, can also have significant security implications for countries with poor infrastructure and limited disaster management capabilities. Addressing these challenges will require a comprehensive and coordinated approach, including measures to promote climate resilience, enhance disaster management capabilities, and promote regional cooperation and dialogue.

Iulia-Sabina Joja, Director, Black Sea Program, Middle East Institute 

Tom Ellison, Deputy Director, Center for Climate and Security

Mirette F. Mabrouk, Senior Fellow; Founding Director, Egypt Program, Middle East Institute 

Tobias Von Lossow, Research Fellow, Clingendael 

Thursday, June 29 | Energy Transition & the Green Circular Economy 

The MENA region has taken steps towards a sustainable future by investing in renewable energy and transitioning towards a green circular economy. Several countries in the region have set ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions by investing heavily in renewable energy technologies. The region is also adopting initiatives to reduce waste and promote sustainable resource use through circular economy principles that include waste reduction, recycling, and repurposing of materials, in addition to the use of renewable resources and energy-efficient technologies. These policies will not only seek to reduce carbon emissions and environmental degradation in the region but will also create new economic opportunities and enhance energy security.

H.E. Dr. Nawal Al-Hosany, UAE Permanent Representative to IRENA

Andrei Covatariu, Non-Resident Scholar, Middle East Institute

Sherif Ayoub, Senior Director for Finance and Operations, Sustainable Energy for All

Carole Nakhle, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Crystol Energy

Jauad El Kharraz, Executive Director, Regional Center for Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency 

Sara Vakhshouri, Founder, SVB Energy International and SVB Green Access


Friday, June 30 | Climate Resilience & Sustainability in Cities 

Cities and climate resilience are interconnected in the MENA region, where rapid urbanization and climate change pose significant challenges to urban development and environmental sustainability. Climate change impacts such as rising temperatures, drought, and flooding are expected to exacerbate water scarcity, food security, and public health issues, particularly in urban areas. Cities in the region are increasingly incorporating climate resilience measures and innovative solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Progressive approaches to urban planning, such as green infrastructure and urban agriculture, can help enhance the resilience of cities to climate change, while also promoting environmental sustainability and economic development.

Steven Kenney, Director, Strategic Foresight Initiative, Middle East Institute 

Shruti Narayan, Regional Director of South and West Asia, C40

Karim Elgendy, Founder, Carboun

Jamila Elmir, Senior Advisor, High Level Climate Champions 

Key Takeaways

Day 1: Water Management and Environmental Sustainability

  1. The Middle East & North Africa (MENA) is not a singular climate, therefore it is difficult to project change. The most pressing issue is the water crisis: the region is arid and semi-arid, meaning there is already a natural stress in water resources. This is compounded by climate change, which manifests in extreme droughts and flooding, rising sea-levels and melting snowpacks, as well as a growing population and urbanization without corresponding management systems for water resources. 
  2. Geopolitical events, like the war in Ukraine, have ushered in a move away from globalization to localization vis-a-vis food production, Hussein Amery highlights. This reactionary localization lends to the exacerbation of water waste and water loss, especially as it feeds into the popular misnomer of “an imagined infinity of water supply” in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to increasing levels of water loss, increasing water and soil salinization levels may worsen and contribute to the deterioration of local ecosystems if water mismanagement continues. 
  3. Infrastructural adaptation, especially in relation to water management, is key to playing a role in dealing with climate change. Paul Fleming reminds us that the past is no longer prologue with respect to climate change, meaning that it is imperative to support adaptation and resilience measures, especially to manage short- and mid-term climate effects. 
  4. There is hope that COP28 will raise awareness, promote dialogue and lead to agreements and actions on climate change. Through COP28, there is hope that environmentally sustainable solutions may be found through the integration/lenses of water distribution, demand-management, modular infrastructure solutions and cross-sectoral approaches. While we’ve seen a slow progression and integration of new voices, Logan Cochrane looks forward to the diversification of voices, empowerment of youth and peer learning during this upcoming conference.

Day 2: Youth Activism and Climate Engagement

  1. Globally, youth are the agents of change when it comes to the issue of climate change. They have demanded the right to fully engage in the issue, especially within the realm of public policy, and have made sure that their priorities are represented within governance conversations. The Middle East and North Africa is home to some of the hottest climates in the world, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change. With youth being the most at stake, and with about 30% of the region’s population constituting of those aged between 15 and 29, climate change stands out as a pertinent and rapidly concerning issue. This has galvanized youth across the region and has increased efforts of regional climate activism and advocacy. 
  2. There is a greater need for connectivity and collaboration within youth climate activism and movements across the MENA region. Unfortunately, the region is segregated due to a lack of connected infrastructure. While movements grow stronger within each country, there is now a need to facilitate their connection and communication across nations in a safe and legal manner in order to encourage the movements’ sustainable natural growth. This connectivity is crucial in expanding engagement and cross-collaboration, which in turn will help to bridge the gap between research findings and policy implementation.
  3. The upcoming COP28 conference presents an opportunity to serve as a valuable platform for inclusive youth involvement and a positive milestone. Athra Khamis, Michel Frem and Sara Alharthey all hope that it will facilitate youth-driven solutions and entrepreneurship. During COP27, 68% of the UAE delegation was comprised of youth, a trend which is projected to continue at this upcoming COP and hopefully future conferences. Increased youth participation brings hope for tangible applications and financial flows of new projects to promote climate resilience. 

Day 3: Climate and Security Nexus

  1. Climate change’s role in affecting access to natural resources and changing weather patterns contributes to challenges such as political instability, food insecurity and water insecurity. In regions such as the horn of Africa, these conflicts have led to upticks in refugees, with significant portions of the population requiring humanitarian assistance due to food and water insecurity. 
  2. Water scarcity and distribution has been a significant factor in political and security instability, particularly between countries that share river resources. Water is connected with policy concerning almost all levels: local, regional and national. Conflicts surrounding access to water scales from water distribution between local tribes to the contestation of aquifers and transboundary rivers. While water sharing has remained more about cooperation than conflict, the potential for increasing tension looms large as less water becomes available with the evolution of climate change. 
  3. Water and food go hand in hand, meaning that a lack of access to water both directly affects the population and contributes to the exacerbation of food insecurity. Climate change and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict have also affected the MENA population’s food supply dramatically, making strained areas more climate vulnerable. Food shortages have spiked, particularly in Egypt which relies heavily on Ukrainian and Russian grain, and food inflation prices have skyrocketed across the region, increasing by as much as 260% in Lebanon.  
  4. To address the security challenges posed by climate change, concrete measures must be implemented across the board, especially in traditional sectors like migration and agriculture. In addition, Tom Ellison recommends that prudent external security investments, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the mitigation of misinformation are vital to improving climate-related security concerns. 

Day 4: Energy Transition and the Green Circular Economy

  1. When considering the gargantuan undertaking of fossil fuel phaseout, Carole Nakhle highlights that there are two main issues to take into account: the ambitious timeline and the massive scale of the issue itself. These two issues are regularly affected and dependent on the context and financing of any energy transition processes. The context of each respective nation provides a different basis of their technical and economic capacities, and the financing restricts their ability to execute energy transition. This makes energy transition processes different for everyone, with some countries and financial institutions able to dedicate billions of dollars to their efforts while other countries facing security and political conflicts, such as Syria and Yemen, are struggling.
  2. Nakhle also notes the importance of maintaining a degree of realism when engaging in the energy transition discussion. Energy transition at this point in time is more about the complementarity of certain fuels rather than substitution, due to the financial and technical difficulty of completely phasing out fossil fuels and investing in new minerals. Throughout this energy transition process, it is important to keep in mind the need for improving the environmental footprint of fossil fuels while at the same time learning how to improve and utilize more renewable energies. 
  3. There is no single energy transition process timeline that can be generalized for the entire region. There is a tendency to paint energy transition plans with a very wide brush based on the Paris Agreement, however, every transition must be independent of one another. Sherif Ayoub emphasizes the need for each country to look independently at issues such as their economic growth, poverty rate, and financial capabilities before taking a look at their energy transition. Although there is a push to encourage ambitious phaseout, one of the most important steps is to ensure that countries have appropriate financing, support and granular data to complete the work that needs to be done. 

Day 5: Climate Resilience and Sustainability in Cities

  1. In order to support climate resilience in the face of rapid urbanization, urban planners need to conduct a baseline assessment of climate risks and vulnerabilities. Applying new developments will conserve natural assets and forecast their evolution, teaching people how to measure major climate risks. Integrated planning that overlays climate, sustainability and infrastructure is crucial to avoid pitfalls and ensure climate resilience in urban growth.
  2. Karim Elgendy notes that ⅔ of the Middle East and North Africa region lives in urban locations and that most of the GDP of the region is generated there, making big cities particularly key players in climate change and action. However, despite their importance, these cities often do not have any autonomy and lack the power to control their own fates. With more direct political influence, financial support and technical confidence, as well as capacity-building, these cities have the potential to influence 33% of climate action, with potential to achieve 90% of this action based on their emissions alone. 
  3. Access to data, data-sharing and data analytics are crucial for informed decision-making in climate planning. Because of its benefits in revealing how cities can manage cross-sectoral impacts during climate crises, it is important for cities to truly integrate this data beyond an academic setting into urban planning. Utilizing technology, smart-city technologies and data-driven research can enhance mitigation and adaptation policy and enable efficient resource management. However, with only about 20% of the MENA population having access to 4G or 5G networks, it is important to ensure equitable access to data and technology.
  4. Climate planning must also account for vulnerable populations, informal sectors and migrants. Strategies should aim to create resilience, provide equitable access to benefits, promote job creation and skill development for all communities, ensuring a just transition to green economies. Often, global climate plans lack the measures to account for these sectors, straining cities’ resilience. Shruti Narayan reminds us that nothing in climate change is isolated, including cities. The people within and around cities themselves must be accounted for first and foremost, as they drive production and expansion.