Arab countries are witnessing a fundamental recalibration of their different roles in the global game of energy. The world’s accelerated awareness of energy security priorities and still growing climate risks necessitates a, however reluctant, global rethinking of energy policies and politics, which for the past century had cast exploiters and consumers of fossil energy sources into corresponding positions of innate strengths and urgent needs. No longer is the Arab world easily compartmentalized into rich or richer oil exporters with no other concern than the optimization of hydrocarbon production and under-affluent oil importers whose expanding population numbers are their blessing and bane.
In the changing world energy order, climate risk mitigation, climate change adaptation, and renewables are trumps of a more sustainable future under the perspective of energy security, while perceptions of risks affiliated with energy sources such as nuclear and hydrocarbons have flipped from wild enthusiasm to rejection. In the context of population growth, annual increases in electricity consumption of 2 percent on global level, and long-unabated rises in damaging carbon emissions (they doubled for example in the three decades since climate alarms were rung at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro back in 1992), energy security is the aspiration to have affordable, diversified, sustainable, and adequate/reliable access to progressively cleaner energy. Over this period, electricity production and consumption data of Arab countries show an increase from 309 terawatt hours (TWH, or 309 billion kilowatt hours) in 1993 to some 1389 TWH in 2022. In terms of individual consumption, the numbers in the region show immense variance between countries, to the point that the “average” Lebanese supposedly consumes slighty more than the global average in electricity and thus uses as much of this resource in 10 days as is afforded to the average Yemeni in a year… not to speak of the discrepancy between top Arab consumers of electricity and the global average or bottom, where Yemen is situated. In the global context of climate risk alertness, Arab countries are now classified by most indices on the matter as highly vulnerable and sufferers of energy insecurity, with Lebanon and its Arab neighbors among the most vulnerable. Bets are on for diversification, renewability, and reduction/conservation of energy, not for extracting the most in temporal profits at any cost.
The new rules and strategies of the energy game appear to favor and reward diversification and collaboration, win-win strategies of mutually profitable exchange and inter-territorial sharing of energy that is produced from renewable resources. At the same time, the long track record of ever more intense production and relentlessly increasing consumption shows that the status quo of dependency on fossil sources and mercantile organization, with international mechanisms of energy finance and major roles for producer conglomerates such as OPEC, are not fated to vanish from economic and political visibility like smoke from an extinguished wood fire.