How Oman is revolutionising environmentalism

13 Dec 2018

natureOman has actively approached environmentalism in an informed manner, proving itself to be aware of the need to adapt to climate-friendly policies. The sultanate could be considered a role model for its Arabian counterparts, and here is why – according to data providing by The New Arab.

Oman’s awareness on the subject is not new, with it having become the very first country in the Middle East to approve a comprehensive environmental policy in 1982 and the first to establish an environmental ministry in 1984.

Dr Aisha al-Sarihi, a visiting fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute, whose area of expertise lies in global warming, said: "Oman's interest in protecting its natural environment happened at the early stages of economic development.

"The law's main aim was to ensure that economic development did not expand at the expense of the natural environment."

Dr Crystal Ennis, a lecturer at Leiden University concentrating on political economy in the Gulf, said: "The government of Oman has been quite active in thinking about the environment.”

Back in 1991, Oman and UNESCO collaborated on a joint initiative – the UNESCO Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation – which granted a biennial $70,000 to help research institutes and scientists advance on their work devoted towards revolutionising environmental protection.

When considering that Oman did largely build its economy off fossil fuels, the sultanate’s efforts may come off as surprising – but in actual fact, Sultan Qaboos was well aware that climate change could not only impact Oman, but potentially control the Arab world’s future.

In 2001, Sultan Qaboos issued The Law on Conservation of the Environment and Prevention of Pollution by royal decree, which included punishments for acts contributing to pollution. This further boosted and proved his and Oman’s commitment towards the environment.

It is worth noting that some of the most biodiverse ecosystems exist in the Middle East, further strengthening Oman’s relationship with the environment. From the Arabian leopard, oryx, and hawksbill, to the loggerhead sea turtles, Oman’s many species have inevitably boosted tourism and interest in the area.

"The embrace of environmentalism among civil society and government bodies is critical for the preparation of Oman for a post-oil future," Ennis told The New Arab.

"Two aspects are especially important here: preparing legal and regulatory frameworks for safeguarding the environment and reducing harm and raising social awareness and changing consumer preferences and practices."

Al-Sarihi pointed out how the Omani government has dedicated an effort towards integrating civil society into protecting the environment by providing the right educational curriculum.

Yet, despite such an advanced approach, there are always more steps that can be taken towards improving the environment.

“Oman and almost all other Arab countries could benefit greatly from combining electrical generation from abundant solar energy with energy storage and export, perhaps by using the electrical energy to produce hydrogen or synthetic hydrocarbon fuels suitable for export as liquids," said Dr Peter Kelemen, a geochemist at the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory.

"Such initiatives would take advantage of the Arabian Peninsula's huge solar resources and regional expertise in hydrocarbon engineering and export."

Dr James Russell, an associate professor of national security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, said: "The oil and gas-rich states of the Gulf cannot build their way out of the crisis with ever more air-conditioned towers like you see in Dubai, Doha, and Manama.

"Oman should position itself as a leader – and lead."