The weekend attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas comes roughly 50 days before global climate talks kick off in Dubai — potentially destabilizing the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula as Western negotiators push for a tougher stand against future fossil fuel use.
At a time when political allegiances across the globe are already fragile, the war in the Middle East is almost certain to complicate negotiations.
The oil-producing host of the United Nations climate negotiations, the United Arab Emirates, is pushing for a global agreement to rapidly boost renewable energy capacity. But other fossil fuel producers — led by Saudi Arabia — have often thrown a wrench into proposals aimed at reducing demand for oil and natural gas production, the backbone of their economies.
It’s not just the Middle East where tensions are heightened. Relations between the United States and China remain frosty, despite efforts by climate envoy John Kerry and other leaders to mend them. If the two countries can rebuild ties, that could lead to progress on major issues such as the orderly phase-down of fossil fuels and money to help poorer countries transition to cleaner fuels and prepare for rapid warming.
Conflict in the world could also make it even harder to secure financial commitments to help nations most vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures.
On top of conflict in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine has continued to put pressure on energy supplies and led to a black market for Russian oil. It’s also made for an uneven transition to renewable energy across the world, from Europe to India.
The world is full of geopolitical wildcards. In Israel and Gaza, it’s unclear how long the fighting will go on and whether it spreads deeper into the region. Then there is the price of oil.
President Joe Biden is under pressure from Republicans to tighten sanctions on Iranian oil exports. (Iran is a financial backer of Hamas.) But if prices at the pump go up, that could lead the Biden administration to push for more oil production out of the Saudi-led OPEC producers in an effort to bring them back down.
The UAE will want to wall off the talks from tensions in the Middle East. Even as the assault and Israel’s retaliation on Gaza made headlines, leaders from the Middle East and North Africa gathered in Riyadh to prepare for next month’s climate gathering.