Climate change is the region’s ultimate enemy
For decades scientists have warned governments about the catastrophic effects of global warming — caused by greenhouse gas emissions — on climate change and called for drastic measures to reduce man-made CO2 emissions as the only way to prevent worldwide environmental disaster.
But since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, only 55 countries out of 84 original signatories have ratified the accord. Between then and now, with little done by major gas-emitting nations, scientists are finding that their original projections have missed their targets and now we could be heading toward dramatic climate change effects sooner and with more disastrous ramifications than expected.
Last week, a draft report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that warming across the Mediterranean will be about 20 percent higher than global averages in the decades to come as the region is hit by devastating heatwaves, water shortages, loss of biodiversity and risks to food production.
The release of these initial findings coincided with wildfires, mainly caused by record high temperatures, raging through vast wooded regions of Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon in recent weeks.
In contrast, unseasonal floods, due to torrential summer rains, hit vast areas of Algeria, resulting in landslides and casualties. Yemen, too, saw floods and extensive damage to property, while Iranians took to the streets in southwest Iran to protest at water shortages after years of drought. Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates rivers are at historic low levels, partly due to drought but also because Turkey and Iran are controlling the flow of water through dams. Poor rainy seasons have caused droughts in Syria and Jordan, resulting in acute drinking water shortages.
These climate change events are not restricted to the Middle East and North African regions but have been documented all over the globe — from uncontrollable wildfires in North America to devastating floods in Germany, Belgium, India and China. Record high temperatures have been recorded in the US, Turkey, Iran, Greenland and Siberia.
But now we know that our region will be particularly affected by faster-than-expected climate change fluctuations. The Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf will be hit by rising sea levels, drought and scorching heatwaves beyond what humans can endure, with severe socioeconomic outcomes.
One study predicts that extreme temperatures currently recorded once in every 20 summer days will soon become a new norm. It adds that “major cities such as Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bandar Abbas” could face life-threatening levels of temperature and humidity “several times over a 30-year period” by the end of the century if CO2 emissions do not decrease.
Earlier this week, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, warned that the IPCC report “is a code red for humanity,” adding: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
The revelations come less than three months before a crucial meeting on climate change takes place in Glasgow under the COP26, which will follow up on the resolutions of the 2015 Paris climate change summit. It now seems that countries will fail to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and that 2 C and even 3 C rises can be expected within a few decades.
To put things into perspective, the latest data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) shows that our planet is 1.1-1.3 C warmer than it was before the steam engine was invented. WMO also said that on July 19, more than 40 percent of the Greenland ice cap was covered by melt water.
Closer to home, a 2015 study by Nature Climate Change (nature.com) concluded that in the Gulf region, climate change will have environmental, economic, political and even security implications.
One study predicts that extreme temperatures currently recorded once in every 20 summer days will soon become a new norm.
The Arabian Peninsula is characterized by great variability in seasonal and annual precipitation, as well as extreme temperatures, the study added. It said that regional average temperature increases of 1.8 C by 2040 and 3.6 C by 2070, combined with decreasing precipitation, will exacerbate the already high levels of desertification, further reducing the availability of arable land and water resources, and leading to a higher incidence of drought.
This unprecedented existential threat needs a global response and there is no time to waste. But regional governments must make their voice heard and presence felt as the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf stand to be the worst affected by climate change.
Regional political turmoil is a major impediment to collective action, and this makes the situation even more dangerous since climate change will affect all. The threat of climate change to sustainability has never been greater and world governments can no longer ignore the problem or delay the adoption of green energy technologies.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010