Is our region preparing for climate change?
I am not a climatologist. I have never studied changes in weather patterns. But you do not need to be an expert to realize that, in recent years, there has been a monumental increase in extreme temperatures, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts and rising sea levels. Researchers have determined that the oceans are warming 40 percent faster than previously believed.
An article published in a UAE newspaper in January quoted an oceanographer and lecturer at Imperial College London, who warned that “the consequences in the Arabian Gulf could be quite dramatic if you have warming” because “it is semi-enclosed” and “won’t benefit from the cooling of the Indian Ocean.”
Around the world, young people whose future is in the balance are worried and angry that there is more talk than action. My generation and those that came after adopted a “live now, pay later” attitude or preferred to remain in denial. Denial is no longer an option. Not for me. I am deeply concerned for my grandchildren.
I will not get into the debate of whether or not climate change is man-made or natural evolution but, whatever the causes, it is happening. The question is what are the Arab world and the Gulf states in particular doing about it?
Have scientists and researchers been tasked by environment ministries to study the causes and come up with solutions? And, if so, are they being heard? Are our leaderships mobilizing to lessen the impact of the inevitable? There is little awareness of this looming problem within the Gulf. Hardly anyone I meet bothers to mention it.
That said, a report published on the UAE government portal indicates awareness. It acknowledges that the country “is classified among the categories of countries with the highest rate of vulnerability to the potential impacts of climate change,” citing the threat of “warmer weather, less precipitation, droughts, higher sea levels and more storms.” It adds: “The UAE has engaged in the fight against climate change because it recognizes the risks of inaction” and has “commissioned international studies to assess the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resultant changing weather patterns.”
According to the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, measures being taken include the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and nuclear power, new standards in energy conservation, mass transport systems, and energy-efficient building designs. A sector that surely needs concentration is food security. Should we not be investing in new sources of food and clean water?
As far back as 2009, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development published a disturbing report titled “Impact of Climate Change on Arab Countries” that basically went under the radar. It warned that scarcity of water in the Arab world would reach severe levels by 2025 and new water resources such as desalination plants must be found.
The report also warned of the threat serious sea level rises would pose for Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. The negative effects on human health due to diseases, food production, biodiversity, and tourism were also highlighted.
Fast forward to 2018 and the forum’s report was highly critical of Arab countries’ lack of preparedness for the challenges presented by climate change. “No concerted data gathering and research could be traced regarding the impacts of climate change on a variety of areas such as health, infrastructure and tourism, while the economic impact appears to be totally ignored,” it read. The authors urged policymakers to take urgent measures to address this threat.
We will go down in history as the generation that betrayed our one planet and its children.
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
Among the worst-affected is Egypt, which is facing a double whammy: Reduction of Nile water flow due to Ethiopia’s controversial Grand Renaissance Dam project, which could affect agricultural production, and the risk of swathes of Alexandria’s coastal areas being submerged. The Maldives is another, with the World Bank predicting that the entire country could be under water by the year 2100.
What is not broadly discussed is how climate change may lead to conflicts. Defense and intelligence agencies have warned that the effects could trigger conflicts severe enough to uproot populations and thereby increase migration.
A UN study paper warns of water wars in regions where fresh water is scarce and shared by bordering nations. Higher temperatures combined with population expansion and dwindling natural resources will heighten the risk of conflicts by as much as 95 percent over the coming 50 to 100 years.
We may be sleepwalking into disaster in my part of the world, but elsewhere there is a greater sense of urgency. This week, thousands of activists organized by a group called Extinction Rebellion blocked central London’s streets and bridges with signs reading “There is no Planet B.” There have been similar gatherings in cities around the world.
In 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden hit the headlines when she refused to attend school, opting instead to hand out leaflets outside Parliament to educate passers-by. This highly articulate and committed youngster inspired Finland’s biggest climate change demonstration and was later invited to address delegates at the UN’s COP24 climate change conference.
Scientists have been warning about the devastating impacts of global warming on humans and wildlife for decades, but their predictions were mostly viewed as scaremongering.
Governments finally woke up to the threat to our planet and vowed to keep temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius in 2015, when 174 countries and the EU enthusiastically signed up to the Paris Agreement. Impetus was lost when the US, the world’s second-biggest polluter, withdrew. Be that as it may, this is one area in which America should not be permitted to take the lead and we should not use its opt-out as a pretext to shrug our shoulders and give up.
Conferences, debates and signatures on agreements are all well and good but, in the absence of greenhouse gas reductions and a raft of measures taken immediately to limit the effects of climate change on populations, we will go down in history as the generation that betrayed our one planet and its children. God will not forgive us.
- Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor