This paper analyzes the sensitivity of simulated climate and energy balance to changes in soil emissivity over Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and considers how this information may be used to improve emissivity parameterizations in climate models. Analysis of satellite observations suggests that the soil emissivity in current models is too high over this region. Sensitivity tests based on the recently developed Community Land Model indicate that this bias could produce significant errors in the model simulated ground and air temperature, net and upward longwave radiation, and sensible heat flux. There is a linear relationship between changes in emissivity and changes in these variables. Statistical results show that, on average for the study region, a decrease of soil emissivity by 0.1 will increase ground and air temperature by about 1.1°C and 0.8°C and decrease net and upward longwave radiation by about 6.6 Wm−2 and 8.1 Wm−2, respectively, at the ground surface. The decreased net longwave radiation (less emission) is mainly balanced by an increase of sensible heat flux of about 5.9 Wm−2. These relations vary seasonally and diurnally. The temperature increases are slightly higher in winter than in summer and twice as large during nighttime as during daytime, while the sensible heat flux and longwave radiation show more change in summer/daytime than in winter/nighttime. Our experimental results are consistent with our theoretical energy balance analyses. When a more realistic emissivity value is used, the model cold bias over the Sahara in comparison with land surface air temperature observations could be partially reduced. These results indicate that the simple representations of the land surface emissivity in climate models, especially for bare soil, need improvements based on satellite and in situ observations.