We must adapt our lives to lessen climate change
Scenes of snow falling on the northern parts of Saudi Arabia a few days ago were circulated in WhatsApp groups, with people commenting about how beautiful the scenery is and how strange it was not that snow was falling, but that it was in April, when it is supposed to be spring. Weird weather has been observed in other parts of the world as well, whether unseasonably hot or cold. For most people, a casual explanation of global warming is given and then the conversation quickly moves to something else.
For sure, we are all aware of the extreme changes in our weather, but do we actually understand what causes them and what this means?
Experts have indicated that the impacts of climate change affect every country on every continent. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts threaten food supplies, drive people from their homes, separate families and jeopardize livelihoods. What we might not realize is that all of these effects increase the risk of conflict, hunger and poverty.
A recent UN report estimated that, by 2030, more than 100 million people could fall back into extreme poverty due to climate change, while over 200 million people could be displaced due to more frequent and severe climatic disasters.
People in the Middle East in particular are experiencing the consequences of climate change. Participants in last week’s World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa held at the Dead Sea in Jordan witnessed the effects of global warming first-hand. They noted that the Dead Sea has shrunk by almost a third in the last two decades due to lower rainfall and higher temperatures, leading to increased evaporation and a reduction in the amount of water flowing into the sea from the River Jordan.
Meanwhile, rising sea levels in the Mediterranean are putting many coastal cities at risk, including Alexandria, where high water levels are flooding the basements of buildings near the waterfront corniche, leading to fatal collapses. Furthermore, the Nile Delta, on which Alexandria stands, is shrinking. Construction of the Aswan High Dam and the extraction of water upstream has reduced the Nile’s flow, decreasing the amount of silt the river deposits. And, without silt to replenish delta soils, the whole area is vanishing.
Closer to home, Jeddah has suffered devastating floods almost annually, caused by sudden violent storms. Research by the King Abdel Aziz University found that the city’s rapid expansion in recent years has made the situation worse, as routes through which water used to escape have been built over.
The World Bank declared in 2016 that the Middle East and North Africa region is among the most vulnerable places on earth to rising sea levels. Forecasting a 0.5-meter rise by 2099, its report warned that “low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait and particularly Egypt are at particular risk.”
On the other extreme are record-breaking high temperatures in recent years. The highest recorded temperature in the region to date was 54 degrees Celsius at Mitribah, Kuwait, in 2016. In the same week, Basra in Iraq recorded 53.9 C.
The region has been subjected to an almost continuous drought since 1998, according to NASA, which says the current dry period is the worst for 900 years. The World Bank, which is spending $1.5 billion to fight climate change in the region, estimates that 80-100 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2025.
The World Bank declared in 2016 that the Middle East and North Africa region is among the most vulnerable places on earth to rising sea levels.
Yet we seem to be oblivious to this. We complain about the heat, the cuts in water and the increased water and electricity bills, but continue with our habits of wasting water and over-consuming food and gas.
More than 40 percent of the Arab region’s 357 million inhabitants are already exposed to drought and other climatic disasters, and this could well increase as temperatures rise faster than the global average — going up by as much as 5 C by the end of the century, according to the UN.
Last month, the UN released a report that highlighted the increasing number of natural disasters and dangers linked to climate change. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that it represented another strong wake-up call to the world. Speaking at the launch of the State of the Global Climate report by the World Meteorological Organization, Guterres reiterated his call for action, underlining that the alarming conclusion that climate change is accelerating “proves what we have been saying: Climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it.”
This was why he has convened the Climate Action Summit, which is due to take place in New York on Sep. 23. “We are seeing record rises in land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gas concentrations,” Guterres told journalists. “Second, we are seeing, more and more, the dramatic impact of extreme weather conditions. Last year saw 14 weather events where the devastation cost more than $1 billion each… The average number of people exposed to heatwaves has increased by some 125 million since the beginning of the century, with deadly consequences.”
In Saudi Arabia, while at the national policy level — especially with Vision 2030 — there is keenness on preserving natural resources and putting great attention on environmental issues, at the individual and community level we need more awareness and practical programs and regulations on recycling, saving water and food, and using alternative energy.
- Maha Akeel is director of the Public Information and Communication Department at the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Twitter: @MahaAkeel1