Rising prices of natural gas could see the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states using their oil riches to become early adopters of renewable energy technologies in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and accelerate the adoption of renewable energies in other parts of the world, heard the delegates at the closing conference session of the Seventh World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi.

“Neither our water nor our energy can be considered cheap anymore. A significant increase in the price of natural gas in the GCC had made water costlier too, which could limit economic growth if left unchecked. But the region was starting to see a cultural change, as forums such as WFES continue to raise awareness of water and energy challenges and the action needed to address them,” said Thani Al Zeyoudi, Director of Energy and Climate Change at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the First Permanent Representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Eicke Weber, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy highlighted the returning confidence in the global solar panel industry as demand catches up with supply. “Things are changing. We are standing in front of the second gold rush in photovoltaics,” he said.

The GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – use 30-40 per cent of the total energy used in the region to desalinate water from the sea and are home to some of the largest water desalination plants in the world. The emirate of Abu Dhabi is now exploring the potential of solar-powered water desalination and projects to reclaim wastewater.

Samantha Smith, Director at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said the effects of climate change were unavoidably linked to the challenges of water, energy and food. “If we don’t do something about climate change all of these issues will become much harder to solve,” she said.

Smith said despite their reliance on fossil fuels, the Gulf states had the resources to address sustainability challenges, and the accelerated adoption of renewable energies could also address the region’s youth unemployment. Gulf states should think about how to develop and capture the benefits of being one of the first places in the world to introduce sustainable solutions on a large scale.