In Kuwait this summer that birds died from the skies.
Sea horses were boiling until they died in the water. Dead clams covered the shores, and their shells opened like they’d been steam-cooked.
Kuwait was hit with scorching heat at 53.2 Degrees Celsius (127.7 F), making it one of the hottest places on Earth.
Climate change’s extremes create life-threatening dangers across the globe. But the record heatwave that smolders Kuwait every year has become that many are finding it difficult to bear.
At the end of the century, scientists believed that the weather at night in Kuwait City could be life-threatening — and not just to birds but also to. A recent study also found that 67% of deaths are caused by heat in Kuwait City due to climate changes.
But, Kuwait remains among the world’s most prolific exporters and producers of oil and an important polluter. In a state of political limbo and silence, the regional petrostates sang amid countries setting goals to reduce emissions in their own countries but not to reduce exports of oil ahead of last year’s U.N. climate summit in Glasgow.
Instead, the Kuwaiti prime minister committed to reducing emissions by 7.4 percent until 2035.
“We are in a very serious danger,” said environmental consultant Samia Alduaij. “The responses are so tepid that it’s not logical.”
Racing to improve their environmental credentials and diversify their economies, Saudi Arabia pitches futuristic car-free cities. Dubai plans to prohibit plastic and expand the emirate’s green parks.
Although the small population in oil-rich Gulf Arab states means their pledges to reduce emissions are not significant within the overall scheme to stop the global temperature rise, these states have symbolic value.
But the machinery of the government in Kuwait, which has a population of 4.3 million, appears stuck like never before due to the pressure of the populists in parliament and because the very authorities who regulate Kuwait’s emissions earn the majority of their income from oil pumping.
“The Government has money and information and the power to do something about it,” said lawmaker Hamad al-Matar, the director of the environmental committee in the parliamentary parliament. “It does not care about environmental concerns.”
The country uses oil to generate electricity and is among the top carbon emitters per person, as per the World Resources Institute. As the asphalt melts off roads, Kuwaitis gather for cool air conditioning in malls. Renewable energy is just 1% of the demand and is well below the goal of 15% for Kuwait in 2030.
Just an hour’s drive from the dim suburbs of Jahra, wind turbines, wind turbines, and solar panels rise out of the sand clouds — the fruits of Kuwait’s energy transition goals.
However, nearly a decade after the government established this solar park in the Western Desert, its empty areas are just as visible as the metal and silicon.
Initially, the Shagaya Energy Park was a success, the engineers stated. The first plant in the Persian Gulf that combines three renewables such as wind, solar, and solar thermal puts Kuwait in the forefront. The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research announced that the wind farm performed better than expected and produced 20 percent more energy in the first year than expected.
However, the optimism and momentum faded. The government relinquished control over the project to make it more attractive to private investors. This radical move caused legal issues over how developers could sell power to the country’s primary power company.
Instead of pursuing the highly successful hybrid energy model, the investors dedicated the remaining portion of the site to creating solar thermal energy, the most expensive kind. A long period of delays and the cancellation of tenders followed. The fate of the project is still uncertain.
“The management took the wrong decision,” said Waleed al-Nassar, a member of Kuwait’s Supreme Councils for the Environment and Planning and Development. “There, no one was willing to take action or know the truth. Everyone says, “Let’s keep doing what we’ve done for the past seventy decades.'”
Conflicts also have hampered the industry of natural gas. Although natural gas produces significant greenhouse gasses, it burns much more effectively than oil and coal and could play an important part in a low carbon future for Kuwait.
The 63 trillion cubic feet of Kuwait’s meters worth of reserves in natural gas, which is 1 percent of the global total, are largely untapped. Fields shared with Saudi Arabia in what’s known as the neutral zone was shut down for several years while the two countries fought over land use.
The parliament that is elected and considers itself to be a protector for Kuwait’s resources versus foreign businesses and corrupt businessmen often blocks exploration for gas. The lawmakers have for a long time been seeking to question the authority of the government to give lucrative energy contracts and have summoned oil ministers to be questioned in the event of suspicion of corruption and delaying major projects.
The legislature is also responsible for maintaining Kuwait’s extravagant welfare state as they believe that the government lacks accountability. Kuwaitis are among the most affordable electric rates and prices for petrol worldwide.
If ministers recommend that the government not spend too much on subsidy programs, lawmakers can put up an argument in the literal sense. The debates in the chamber could become a battle.
“This is among the biggest issues. It’s considered to be an inbuilt right for all Kuwaiti citizens,” said urban development expert Sharifa Alshalfan.
With extravagant subsidies even for the richest, she said, Kuwaitis are squandering their money by letting their air conditioning run at home to enjoy months-long vacations.
“We don’t have the same measures cities have implemented all over the world to motivate people to alter their behavior,” she said.
The country’s stagnation has plunged it into a major financial crisis. The budget deficit of Kuwait jumped to $35.5 billion in the last fiscal year, after oil prices fell.
As Saudi Arabia and the UAE are competing for shares of an ever-growing market for renewable energy, Kuwaiti environmentalists are taking on the task in the role of town-crier.
“Renewables provide a lot more economic rationale,” claimed Ahmed Taher, an energy consultant. He is promoting an economic model that reduces Kuwait’s power subsidies by encouraging homeowners to buy shares in solar projects. “(The government) should understand how much Kuwait could save and how many jobs it could create.”
But for now, Kuwait keeps burning oil.
A thick layer of pollution covers the streets. Sewage gushes into the boiling bay. The carcasses of fish that wash on the shore leave a strong stench which activists claim to be an unpleasant representation of the country’s politics.
“When you stroll by the bay, you may feel like vomiting,” said Kuwaiti environmental advocate Bashar Al Heidi. “The people who abuse are winning and I am frustrated every single day.”