London School of Economics and Political Science: Profound implications of climate change not well understood in Kuwait

Kuwaiti society lacks awareness of the issue of climate change and the impact it will have on the country, says a report by the Kuwait Programme.

The Quiet Emergency: Experiences and Understandings of Climate Change in Kuwait is among the first reports to look at attitudes among experts, citizens, non-citizens, youth, politicians and the media in Kuwait(1) towards climate change and its effect on daily life.

Experts expressed frustration at the lack of understanding in Kuwait about the issue of at every level of society, including in government. They highlighted a lack of coordination among government agencies and ‘inefficacies’ in the implementation of climate change initiatives and targets.

An urban expert in the high-level political focus group cited the construction of new roads, specifically the seventh ring road that was built recently, as evidence that Kuwait is not taking the issue of climate change seriously.

They said: “This single construction project [the new ring road] alone is doing more damage than all the current initiatives [by the government] to mitigate climate change.”

Several interviewees and focus group participants noted that while Kuwait has a good legal and regulatory framework in relation to environmental protection, there is a lack of implementation and enforcement of laws.

Even when laws are enforced, one Senior Environmental Specialist noted that because fines for pollution are not proportionate to the pollution caused, it is often cheaper for businesses and other organisations to pay the fine rather than reduce emissions.

Dr Deen Shariff Sharp, co-author of the report and Fellow in Human Geography at LSE, said: “While the Government of Kuwait has committed the country to moving toward a ‘low carbon equivalent emissions economy’, there is an absence of discussion as to what this pledge means or how it should be implemented.

“As a leading emitter of Greenhouse Gas emissions, and with the export of hydrocarbons being central to its economy, the global transition away from fossil fuels will have profound implications for the country’s economy, environment and social life.

“There are a lot of easy wins that Kuwait can put in place to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. These include the application of sustainable building measures, improving public transport and more efficient air conditioning and use of water. These must all be done in parallel with a broader engagement with Kuwaiti society on the issue of climate change.”

The report reveals that there is little or no public dialogue around climate change, nor the profound impact that global efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and limit global warming will have on the country.

An analysis of the December 2020 Kuwait parliamentary elections undertaken by the researchers found that climate change was not addressed during the campaign. Out of 326 candidates only one, Alia Al Khaled, briefly mentioned the issue of climate change.

When extreme weather events occur, the report notes that there is increased social and traditional media coverage of broad environmental concerns, and to a certain extent climate change — although this is from an almost non-existent base. However, after these extreme weather events have passed, the discussion dissipates.

Researchers interviewed citizens and non-citizens and undertook two focus groups with youth from both public and private schools in English and Arabic.

While interviewees mentioned experiencing the impacts of climate change in their daily lives, citing longer summers, shorter winters and the increase in extreme weather conditions, many did not appreciate the scope or severity of the issue. Instead, it was seen as a ‘luxury’ or ‘western’ concern compared to other issues deemed to be more pressing priorities.

The researchers found a noticeable generational divide with young people (ages 15-24) showing greater concern about climate change than the older generation.

Youth participants explained that their use of social media meant that they are more aware of climate change than the older generation. In the Arabic focus group, participants lamented the fact that there was not enough coverage of climate change in mainstream Kuwaiti media, and in the Arabic language more broadly, and the absence of climate change in their school curriculums.

Dr Deen Shariff Sharp said: “Kuwait is already experiencing extreme weather including record-breaking temperatures and deadly flash floods, such as were seen in 2018. While the more privileged in Kuwaiti society may be currently protected from the worst effects of global warming, and those most vulnerable primarily at the receiving end, the reality is that Kuwait is at the sharp end of climate change and everyone will be affected.

“If the country is to contribute to the global efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its worst impacts, there needs to be a discussion of how this will be achieved at every level of society.”