July 09, 2013

The Poor Use of Energy in the Middle East

After the American Century                                                                                                                  

The consumption of energy is a topic usually taken up when discussing China or the United States. Yet the Middle East is not only a major oil-producing region, but an important consumer of oil and natural gas. Unlike the United States or China, however, higher use has not been accompanied by improved energy efficiency.

Doha Qatar, night view

The following table shows the growth in CO2 emissions for OECD Europe, the United States, China, and the Middle East, from 1980 until 2000.  Recent statistics are more fragmentary, but they strongly suggest that the relative positions in this table (ranked according to how close they have come to sustainable growth)  have changed little since 2000. OECD Europe is still the only large region or nation that has come close to achieving sustainable growth, although the United States has begun to do better since 2008.

   Growth in CO2 emissions, selected nations and regions, 1980-2000
Selected Region / nation
Population growth
GDP % growth
Energy Intensity
Carbon Intensity
growth CO2 
20 year growth in CO2 emissions 1980 = 100
OECD Europe
- 1.00
- 1.06
United States
- 1.64
- 0.21
- 1.12
- 0.45
- 5.22
- 0.26
Middle East
- 1.14

The far right-hand column indicates the overall growth in CO2 for each region. It becomes immediately clear, The Middle East, aside from all its political problems, also has serious problems with energy misuse, in good part because oil and gas are abundant in the region. Their price is kept low, and with an annual population growth rate of almost 3%, there are millions more people using energy in the Middle East. More recent statistics show that between 1980 and 2010 Middle East use of oil and natural gas has quadrupled.

Moreover, in stark contrast to all the other regions listed, the Middle East is the only place were energy is being used more carelessly and less efficiently. Look at the third column, "energy intensity" which measures such things as whether cars get fewer or more miles per gallon, whether appliances use more or less electricity to accomplish a task, and so on. In the world as a whole, energy intensity is improving. In China, dramatic improvements in energy intensity do a great deal to offset the enormous increase in GDP. As a result of this factor and lower population growth,  CO2 emissions did not increase as fast in China as they did in the Middle East.

The Middle East has long been increasing CO2 pollution levels faster than Europe, the United States, or China, even though the region's economies as a group scarcely expanding. The population grows, but the economy scarcely holds even. Rising energy use is not part of a dynamic growth economy, as in China or East Asia. 

If one drills down to the national level, the Middle East  dissolves into contrasting oil-rich economies and oil-poor economies, and into sharply divided social classes. But that is not my subject. I merely want to emphasize the failure of the Middle East as a whole to develop efficient energy use. Despite a view highly-publicized solar projects and windmills, almost all energy consumption remains oil and natural gas. For thirty years the Middle East has gone down the path of unsustainable stasis, when most other economies have sought sustainable growth. 

See also: Technology: Energy Rationing or Quotas?  America vs. Europe, 2100