The Gulf Monarchies and Climate Change; Environmental Politics in Egypt

In This Review

The Gulf Monarchies and Climate Change: Abu Dhabi and Qatar in an Era of Natural Unsustainability
by Mari Luomi
C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd, 2013
0 pp. $0.00
Environmental Politics in Egypt: Activists, Experts and the State
by Jeannie Sowers
Routledge, 2012
232 pp. $145.00

We know precious little about policymaking of any kind in the Middle East, let alone environmental policymaking. These two books help fill the void. Luomi looks at government policymaking in the face of global warming. Sowers focuses on the networks of activists, nongovernmental organizations, and public experts fitfully interacting in order to bend that policy process. Ironies abound: Abu Dhabi’s planned Masdar City and the Masdar Institute, together constituting a “renewable energy and clean-technology hub” that aims to be carbon neutral, would have been impossible without high oil prices. It is probably the highly globalized nature of the Gulf states’ economies that prompt them to embrace the theater, if not the substance, of mitigating global warming. But in the end, Luomi avers, it might be the high opportunity cost of using petroleum for domestic purposes that will push Abu Dhabi and Qatar toward the domestic use of natural gas and the development of solar and wind power.

Sowers takes readers into the trenches of environmental policymaking in Egypt. She explores sewage disposal in Alexandria, state-sponsored industrialization of the Damietta region, the development of luxury tourism in the Sinai, and the confrontations between bureaucrats and farmers over irrigation. Unsurprisingly, ham-fisted bureaucrats and greedy crony capitalists often, but not always, call the tune. Networks of activists linked to local populations can score victories, but the challenge is securing those gains. Experts toiling in the public bureaucracy and interacting with international donors and specialists occasionally ally with the activists, to good effect. The results of such alliances are uneven but positive, on balance.

One small problem: time is not on the side of environmentalists in Egypt or the Gulf states. Whoever winds up leading Egypt in the years to come, it is doubtful that they will do much to slow the grinding despoliation of the country. And it is not a given that the oil exporters in the Gulf will choose to do penance for their environmental misdeeds or develop more diversified economies.