According to the report, South Africa is the leading country in MEA on the Environmental Sustainability Index, followed by the UAE and Egypt.
The UAE ranks the highest in MEA across 3 of the 6 pillars, sustainable infrastructure and transport, governance and reporting, and environmental ecosystems.
Egypt ranks the highest among MEA countries indexed in adopting circularity. 38% of executives surveyed in the Middle East use the COP process to understand climate issues but set sustainability targets independently, while 19% set their goals in line with the COP process.
Meanwhile, 60% of executives don’t believe that the government has enough resources and access to financing to meet its COP commitments.
The Middle East and Africa Environmental Sustainability Scorecard (MEA ESS) evaluates the environmental sustainability performance of a diverse group of 17 countries from the Middle East and Africa. It uses a unique set of 48 indicators, combining quantitative and qualitative data, from a dedicated survey of executives, and policy assessments capturing environmental sustainability-related outcomes, government policies, and corporate practices.
The scorecard draws attention to the positive actions being taken across the two regions to address climate change and environmental sustainability. With a unique approach, it evaluates the current performance of the 17 countries and can guide all stakeholders to set further action steps. South Africa, the UAE, and Egypt are the top three performers on the Middle East and Africa Environmental Sustainability Scorecard for the year 2023.
The results show that in the majority of the 17 countries assessed across the two regions, both governments and businesses demonstrate commitment to the sustainability agenda but there still is considerable room for improvement. The scorecard builds on quantitative data, qualitative survey results about sustainable business practices gathered from 647 executives, and national sustainability strategy and policy assessments. The assessment framework reflects the key dimensions of environmental sustainability grouped into six pillars:
Pillar 1: Green Investment, Innovation, and Technology
This pillar measures the overall investment and innovation environment, including investment flows, barriers, incentives, collaborations, and patents, with a specific focus on green sectors. Qatar, the UAE, and Morocco lead the way on this pillar.
Pillar 2: Sustainable Infrastructure and Transport
This pillar captures the existence of green-certified, sustainable buildings and the availability of green infrastructure of roads, railways, ports, and airports, including electric fleets and public transport. The UAE, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia occupy the top three positions. Most Middle Eastern countries perform more strongly on the infrastructure sub-pillar than the transport sub-pillar, while for most African countries the reverse is true. This likely reflects differing policy priorities across the two regions.
Pillar 3: Governance and Reporting
This pillar captures the national regulatory environment, environmental sustainability commitments, and corporate reporting practices. South Africa, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia score highest. The Middle East generally performs more strongly than Africa, occupying positions 2 through 6. All countries except South Africa score more strongly on government regulation than corporate governance, which may reflect a general lag between government mandates and business compliance.
Pillar 4: Energy Transition
This pillar focuses on the energy supply and renewable energy use, subsidies and taxes, and the energy transition agendas at national and corporate levels, including net zero and energy efficiency targets. Uganda, Nigeria, and Rwanda are the strongest performers. The African countries score higher on the energy consumption sub-pillar than energy transition and adaption, due to their generally lower energy demand. The GCC countries tend to score lower but more similarly on both sub-pillars due to their fossil fuel-dependent economic models.
Pillar 5: Environmental Ecosystems
This pillar measures air, soil, and water pollution, as well as the conservation efforts for biodiversity, and protected areas. The UAE, South Africa, and Egypt lead on this pillar. GCC countries generally perform more strongly on ecosystem health than conservation, while the reverse is true for many African countries.
Pillar 6: Circularity
This pillar captures the circular economy via resource use efficiency and waste management. Egypt, South Africa, and Bahrain lead the way, with Middle East countries occupying four of the next five places. This reflects a tendency for higher-income countries to have higher scores on this pillar. Higher-income countries also tend to score better on waste management than resource use.
Key Findings of the Report
The scorecard’s selected Enablers include green investments, innovation and technology; sustainable infrastructure and transport; and national- and corporate-level governance, regulations, and reporting.
The scorecard’s selected Action areas include energy consumption and transition; environmental ecosystem health and conservation; and circularity via resource use and waste management.
1 Almost all Middle Eastern countries show relatively high levels of green investment and strong results for innovation, while Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa are leaders in Africa. The size of economies, technological capacity, and attractiveness to investors play key roles in explaining these results.
2 According to the World Bank, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) current trajectory would lead to a GDP of around USD 6 trillion by 2050. Embracing a strategic green growth approach to economic diversification could potentially elevate this figure to over USD 13 trillion by the same year.
3 GCC countries are already investing in sustainable development. Qatar, for example, has initiated a USD 1.5 billion public-private sewage treatment project to enhance water management and use of non-conventional water resources.
4 The UAE has invested more than USD 50 billion in clean energy projects in 70 countries, and the UAE-US Partnership to Accelerate the Transition to Clean Energy aims to catalyze USD 100 billion to deploy clean energy globally.
5 Saudi Arabia has committed USD 266 billion to clean energy, including transport and distribution networks and hydrogen production.
6 Among the selected countries in Africa, Morocco is a leader with a USD 13 billion program in green fertilizers and clean energy.
7 By 2027, the program aims to convert all industrial energy supply to green energy powered by wind, solar, hydroelectric, and co-generation sources.
8 Saudi Aramco, for instance, has announced a USD 1.5 billion sustainability fund with the objective to invest in technology that supports the energy transition.
9 The UAE is the overall leader in thetransport pillar, driven by its score on infrastructure. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also perform strongly on infrastructure but more modestly on transport.
10 Saudi Arabia has launched a carbon trading platform.
Some countries in the Middle East in particular have set out to become leaders in sustainable buildings, such as Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Neom, an urban project that also aims to host the world’s largest green hydrogen production facility.
The UAE has applied green and sustainable building standards since 2011, and expects them to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.11 Despite speculation about the economic downturn, the construction industry in the GCC is projected to increase by 3-4% in 2023-2024 driven by investment in sustainable design strategies and ESG programs.
Several initiatives reflect the strategic commitment of countries in the Middle East and Africa to pioneering innovative solutions in carbon trading. For example as part of its "Year of Sustainability" in 2023, the UAE’s Security and Commodities Authority and Abu Dhabi Global Market set out aspirations to create local carbon trading platforms.
The Qatar-based Global Carbon Council is exploring opportunities to list its carbon credits on exchanges across the MENA region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, showcasing clean energy projects in nearly 45 countries
Morocco’s NOOR Ouarzazate Solar Complex – which will deliver solar power to 650,000 local residents25 – is part of a plan for renewables to comprise 52% of the country’s energy production capacity by 2030. Qatar Energy and General Electric (GE) have joined forces to develop a carbon capture strategy for Qatar’s energy sector,27 showing how businesses can align with government objectives to drive sustainability efforts.
Highlighting the growing importance of green hydrogen to the transition, Hydrogen Oman (Hydrom), a subsidiary of Energy Development Oman, is developing two green hydrogen projects collectively valued at USD 10 billion.
Across the Middle East, hightech companies are developing solutions for energy, waste management, and agriculture. In the UAE, for example, startup Hydo Wind Energy is developing a hand-held device that turns seawater into freshwater.
Policies and businesses
Across all countries, business scores were lower than policy scores, even though businesses demonstrate a strong interest in applying green technology and innovation. This signifies that while policies are being put in place to promote investment and innovation, business does not yet have sufficient access to green finance and technologies.
Awards such as the Sustainability Middle-East Award can also help to stimulate action and learning. Businesses need to work with the government help to shape the regulatory framework in a way that maximizes incentives for businesses to develop a sustainable pathway, create an enabling environment for private sector investment that delivers on sustainability, and collaborate on public-private ventures like Mason Morocco, which is developing the Noor Complex, the largest concentrated solar farm in the world.
Financiers such as First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), which aims to lend, invest, and facilitate USD 75 billion for environmental and socially responsible solutions by 2030, can be important partners in identifying ways to facilitate sustainable financing.
Clear policies and regulations that underscore a government’s long-term commitment to sustainability can help to reduce risks for investors and enable the growth of sustainable business practices. For example, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 demonstrates national commitment across a broad range of sustainability topics from energy to sustainable cities.