Should the GCC prioritise renewables over conventional energy? That is the challenge facing energy policymakers.

On 7 June, Dubai signed a 25-year agreement to develop a 2,400MW coal-fired power station. The move came just six months after global governments, including the UAE, agreed to increase activity to tackle climate change, with investment in renewable energy capacity at the top of the list.

The inconsistency highlights the region’s challenge of producing enough energy to support economic growth and diversification while at the same time reducing its carbon emissions. The lack of electricity generation and storage capacity from renewables means the region must juggle the short-term need for capacity with its long-term ambitions for sustainability. It is a balancing act that will take decades to be resolved.

The biggest threat to the region’s climate change plans is the availability of ultra-low-cost energy from oil. This is why the GCC states are among the world’s worst performers in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (page 15) and it is why a culture of wastefulness prevails.

Ironically, oil could be the trigger for action. The reforms being rolled out in response to low oil prices provide the biggest boost to regional efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Across the region, government policy has been redefined to prioritise energy efficiency and conservation. This has centred on slashing energy subsidies and a drive to find operational efficiencies.

The biggest challenge, however, is changing attitudes. A combination of incentives and penalties will force new ways of doing things, but it will take a generation before these habits result in a new conservation-first mindset.