AGENDA The tight relationship between the environment, its natural resources, and the modern history of the Middle East is unavoidable; this simple, albeit powerful equation has, over the past fifty years or so, fuelled a series of major developments with implications ranging from the global to the regional and the local scales. In this case it seems appropriate to extend the characterisation of an ‘extreme environment’ – often assigned to the desert – to embrace and describe also local economic, social and political conditions, resulting in a concoction whose degree of excess and intensity generates an acute state of fragile equilibrium. Despite the environmental implications, human dependence on non-renewable energy resources continues to increase. In the UAE, for example, the oil consumption (per capita) is 1.21 barrels per day per 10 people (ranked 6th of 2070), a growing dependency that has largely annihilated the further development of alternative industries. At the same time, a high population growth, together with the rising participation of women in the labour force, is translating into a rapidly growing national labour force, which, given the limited room for further employment in the government sector, is generating an unemployment trend that has started to increase in most GCC countries. The governments, not oblivious to this fact, are engaging with a sustained pick-up in non-oil growth, exemplary of which is Qatar, committed to invest over $15 billion in R&D.