Through an examination of campaign posters, social media events and posts, media analysis and interviews with candidates, we examined the extent to which environmental concerns and climate change were raised in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Our analysis shows that climate change was not a political priority or a topic of discussion in the parliamentary elections that was otherwise dominated by issues, such as: the debt crisis; economic diversification, subsidies and taxes; the electoral law; corruption; gender equality; and freedom of speech.
Distribution of the candidates that ran in the 2020 elections according to
Out of the 326 candidates that ran in the 2020 elections, we identified five candidates that touched upon environmental concerns (broadly conceived) during their campaign: Alia Al Khaled (Second District), Shaikha Al Jassim (Third District), Hamad Al Ansari (Second District), Anwar Al Fikir (Fourth District), and Tariq Al Dowaisan (Second District). Alia Al Khaled was the only candidate in the 2020 parliamentary elections that we were able to identify that touched upon the issue of climate change during the campaign and even her reference to it was oblique.
During her social media campaign as parliamentary candidate, Al Khaled held “Instagram Live Q&A sessions” where she answered questions from potential voters. In one of them, she responded to a question about climate change and said that it is “absolutely a priority” to her (the video has been deleted since). In another Instagram post, Al Khaled called on the Public Authority of Agriculture to halt their plans to remove trees from the Al-Nakhil Park, citing the benefits of tree coverage for “decreasing the temperature and purifying the air, improving individuals health and protecting those with respiratory issues.”1 In the months after the election, Al Khaled conducted an interview with the Director of the Environment Public Authority, Sheikh Abdullah Al Sabah, which she posted onto her Instagram page.2 The question of climate change did not come up during this conversation. Except for Alia Al Khaled, who did listed “environmental issues” on her campaign poster, none of the other 325 candidates in the 2020 parliamentary elections listed climate change or environmental issues as an electoral priority.
In our interviews with the above listed candidates there was consensus that the environment was not a subject that the electorate found important or had substantial knowledge of. Shaikhah Al Jassim said that despite finding the topic of climate change important personally, she did not bring it up in her campaign because the environmental awareness in Kuwait does not exist to address it: “Most people care about health, education and employment.”3 Hamad Al Ansari stated that Kuwaiti society is not engaged with environmental concerns and that it is a niche topic: “I could go to a _diwaniya _and ask what do you think about global warming, and they would say who cares about the polar bear? ... Voters showed no interest in the environment.”4 Tariq Al Dowaisan echoed this sentiment, noting that conversations about environmental issues might take place in “intellectual households” but not elsewhere.5
The question of oil was an electoral issue in the 2020 parliamentary elections. In the campaign, however, it was discussed firmly within the framework of economic diversification and sustainability, and not in relation to carbon emissions and climate change. The fluctuation of the oil price and the dependency of Kuwait on oil is a national concern but the GHG emissions that the extraction of oil involves is not. For example, Tariq Al Dowaisan, who owns his own consultancy company - training engineers on health, safety and the environment - stressed that economic diversification away from oil was one of the most important issues facing Kuwait.6 This view was echoed by the Senior Environmental Specialist Samia Al Duaij, who noted that Kuwaitis may not worry about the increasing heat but they are concerned about the implications of GM deciding to switch to electric cars and aware that Elon Musk has become one of the richest people in the world through electric cars.7 Al Duaij expressed surprise at the positive reaction - “even from my father’s generation” - to an opinion piece she wrote in the national newspaper Al-Qabas calling for Kuwait to embrace a “Green Economy”.8 She added that people are not aware that China and South Korea want to move to net-zero economies, or what net-zero is, and that Kuwait’s oil and gas revenue could drop 40 percent by 2040.
Several Kuwaiti political figures, such as Abdulaziz Al Saqoubi and Hamad Al Matar, who have previously raised environmental issues, and climate change specifically, did not do so during the 2020 election. Hamad Al Matar, who has been a member of parliament for over 20 years and is the head of the Environmental Committee at the National Assembly, is well known for bringing discussions of climate change to the fore. He notably raised the issue of extreme temperatures and the absence of any government action around climate change in a 2016 tweet that subsequently went viral. Several responses to Al Matar’s tweet derided him for expecting the government to address the rising temperatures.
هل يعقل؟ درجة الحرارة ٦٠؟؟!!— أ.د. حمد محمد المطر (@HamadAlmatar) June 30, 2016
أفيدونا يامسئولين.... pic.twitter.com/ePrTmLN1sr
Several of these parliamentary candidates and other experts interviewed for this study noted that most Kuwaitis viewed climate change as a long-term issue - something that will impact Kuwait severely in 50 years-time – and that other issues, such as corruption and the debt crisis are viewed as more pressing electoral concerns. Kuwait has experienced a severe political deadlock in recent years.9 As Al Duaij stated, “the political deadlock in Kuwait just sucks the oxygen out of the air, parliament and corruption is what people think about all the time”.10 Al Dowaisan also said that the pressing economic and corruption concerns meant that environmental issues were “put on the back burner”.11 Notably, Hamad Al Ansari preferred to link the flooding of the country’s infrastructure in 2018 not to climate change but to poor planning, lack of competency in the government, and corruption.12
Several parliamentary candidates interviewed noted that the issue of the environment and climate change was raised during their respective campaigns by the younger generation. Shaikhah Al Jassim said that during her campaign she received two or three messages on Instagram about the environment and that these were all from younger people.13 In addition, several candidates commented that it was their children who had drawn their attention to the importance of the environment. Al Dowaisan said that his 18-year-old daughter was an active reader on environmental issues and had raised the issue of poor air quality in Kuwait, linking the high cancer rate in the country to the high-levels of pollution.14 He concluded, from the example of his daughter and talking with his friends and colleagues, that the younger generation is more conscious about the environment.
بمناسبة قُرب تطبيق الضرائب، أقترح البدأ بنوعين من الضرائب:— أ.د. طارق عبدالمحسن الدويسان (@TariqAldowaisan) September 14, 2018
1. ضرائب الخطيئة - وتطبق على السلع المُضرة بالصحة مثل السجائر والوجبات السريعة.
2. ضرائب البيئة - وتطبق على الأنشطة المُضرة بالبيئة مثل هدر الماء والكهرباء.
Selection of tweets posted by 2020 election candidates about environmental issues.