Look Ahead 2023: Grim forecasts underscore importance of climate adapation for Middle East and North African countries

Special A mother gives her child water at a camp in drought-ravaged Somalia. (AFP)
A mother gives her child water at a camp in drought-ravaged Somalia. (AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2023

Look Ahead 2023: Grim forecasts underscore importance of climate adapation for Middle East and North African countries

Look Ahead 2023: Grim forecasts underscore importance of climate adapation for Middle East and North African countries
  • Climate-related issues will continue to place a huge financial burden on Arab countries in the coming years
  • Record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather events are bound to pose a formidable challenge

DUBAI: For much of the past year, climate change had been high on the global policy agenda as extreme weather events, including floods, dust storms, heatwaves, droughts and blizzards, were reported from different parts of the world.

At the same time, governments pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, move toward cleaner, renewable sources of energy, take steps to increase resilience and advance the cause of environmental justice. But are these commitments bold enough or too little too late?

Over the holiday period, the UK Met Office warned that the coming year would likely be the hottest on record, indicating that not nearly enough was being done to prevent average global temperatures rising beyond 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

In fact, Met Office research suggests that 2023 will be the tenth consecutive year in which global temperatures are at least 1 C above pre-industrial levels.

Weather extremes of the past year, such as droughts and flooding, will become more frequent, with Middle Eastern countries facing ‘magnified effects,’ forecasters warn. (AFP)

For many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where temperatures are rising at almost double the rate of the rest of the world, the threat posed by an even hotter year cannot be overstated.

Climate-related issues will continue to place a huge financial burden on Arab countries, with some estimates suggesting that adapting to climate change could cost developing countries up to $340 billion annually by 2030.

To help developing countries, particularly those vulnerable to climate change, a decision was taken at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheik in November to establish a “loss and damage” fund.

The fund aims to encourage wealthy, industrialized nations to compensate developing, low-emission countries when they suffer climate-related disasters.

Addressing COP27 delegates, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, appealed for more ambitious with their emissions-cutting targets in line with the 1.5 C goal agreed in Paris in 2015.

“Our planet is still in the emergency room,” Guterres said, highlighting the need to “massively invest in renewables and end our addiction to fossil fuels.” With too many countries falling short of their targets, “the world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition,” he added.

Climate scientists say weather events of the past 12 months, including record temperatures in the UK, wildfires in Europe and Australia, flooding in Pakistan, dust storms across the Middle East, and the “bomb cyclone” in North America, have proved that far more concerted climate action is needed.

Zoltan Rendes, a European Climate Pact ambassador and chief marketing officer at SunMoney Solar Group, says the impact of rising temperatures is expected to be “magnified” in 2023, especially in hotter countries in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

A recent study published by the Review of Geophysics found that average temperatures in countries including Egypt, Greece, and Saudi Arabia are projected to rise by approximately 5 C by the end of the century. Climate adaptation, among other measures, is therefore critical for these nations.

People use a cradle service to cross a flooded river in Pakistan’s mountainous north. (AFP)

“Temperatures could reach dangerous levels that would be near impossible for people to work in,” Rendes told Arab News. “This would lead to decreased productivity and the potential for humanitarian crises due to heat-related illnesses.”

He says daptation strategies, such as increased spending on renewable energy sources and cooling infrastructure, should be implemented immediately.

Using climate-smart agriculture techniques, such as crop diversification, energy optimization through smart power grids, and water conservation measures will also be crucial to the region’s development in the coming decades.

“This rise in temperature can lead to a variety of extreme weather phenomena, such as sandstorms, heavy rains and floods, drought, and heat waves … . These conditions can put tremendous strain on vital infrastructure and resources essential to sustaining life in the region,” Rendes told Arab News.

While dust storms are not uncommon in the Middle East, an increase in wind speeds due to higher temperatures may mean that these storms become more frequent and intense.

Similarly, areas prone to flooding during heavy rainfall could experience an increased risk owing to a potential rise in precipitation, said Rendes.

To compound the problem, according to Dr. John A. Burt, associate professor of biology and head of environmental studies at New York University Abu Dhabi, rising temperatures will lead to more evaporation in the water-scarce Middle East region, adversely affecting ecosystems and agriculture.

“As our seas are a major sink for thermal energy, we can also expect an influence on marine heat waves, and consequent effects on sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs,” he told Arab News.

“If we look back at August 2017, low winds for a period of just several weeks resulted in a marine heat wave that killed off almost three-quarters of all coral reef areas in the Arabian Gulf.”

A Somali girl collects water from a well at the Tawakal IDP camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (AFP/File Photo)

This is in part due to the already hostile environment found in most Middle Eastern nations. Even modest changes in temperature and wind speed can have a staggering impact on ecosystems and human health.

“While climate change represents a long-term trend, climate variability — where we can experience much stronger extremes — can have more acute, short-term impacts,” Burt told Arab News.

It is also important to consider that global temperatures are also influenced by El Nino and La Nina events, which cause warmer or cooler periods, respectively, based on changes in ocean temperature.

“These phenomena refer to large scale wind patterns that occur in the southern Pacific Ocean, which have the capacity to affect weather patterns globally as our atmosphere and seas are one large and complex interconnected system,” he said.

Over the last three years, La Nina has cooled down the average global temperature, an effect that is expected to come to an end in 2023 — bringing about warmer weather conditions.

“It is important to recognize the potential impacts of these climate events as they can lead to significant human and economic costs,” Rendes told Arab News.

For example, an increase in precipitation during an El Nino could mean flooding risks for some countries, while a decrease in rainfall during a La Nina could result in water shortages.

Rendes added that areas of the Middle East suffering from drought might are likely to experience reduced rainfall, resulting in severe water scarcity.

Consequently, heat waves could become far more frequent and potentially longer lasting as temperatures in the region scale unprecedented highs.

In turn, this could lead to an increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, sunstroke, and heat exhaustion, according to Rendes.

In dazzling turquoise waters off Egypt's Red Sea coast, scuba divers swim among delicate pink jellyfish and admire coral -- but the rebounding tourism sector is worrisome for the fragile marine ecosystem. (AFP)

“It is essential that governments work together to implement policies that address both climate change mitigation efforts as well as adaptation strategies,” he told Arab News.

The UN Environment Programme’s recently published Emissions Gap Report 2022 shares the same conclusions.

It shows the world is not on track to reach the 2015 Paris Agreement goals. Instead, global temperatures are set to reach 2.8 C by the end of the century, while temperatures in 2023 are on course to reach between 1.08 C and 1.32 C above the pre-industrial average.

The report also says that the world must cut emissions by 45 percent to avoid global catastrophe and that multilateral action is needed to tackle the crisis.

Several Arab countries are taking steps to mitigate climate change. For instance, Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. The Kingdom is investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind to achieve this goal.

The Saudi government is also planning to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and establish an exchange platform for carbon offsets and credits for the MENA region.

“By 2023, Saudi Arabia aims to complete 840 MW of solar photovoltaic projects, and is currently in the process of constructing an additional 13 renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 11 GW,” Rendes told Arab News.

The Kingdom has announced one of the world’s most significant carbon capture and storage hubs on the east coast of Jubail that will be up and running by 2027.

Concurrently, ambitious projects such as the Saudi Green and Middle East Green Initiatives, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021, aim to boost emissions reductions, carbon capture and green-energy transition throughout the region.

Similarly, the UAE is taking action to reduce emissions from power generation and transportation to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“The UAE government and leadership have wholeheartedly invested in solar energy projects, setting the stage for them to be the first country in the Middle East and North Africa region with a national pathway towards net zero emissions,” Rendes told Arab News.

He cautions that as with any significant undertaking, cooperation among the governments of the Arab region is a prerequisite for meaningful progress.

“The time to act is now — let’s make sure that 2023 isn’t too late,” Rendes told Arab News. “Make no mistake, the planet will survive. But let’s make sure that we survive with it too.”

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
Updated 23 March 2023

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
  • Ambassador Riyad Mansour takes issue with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denying the existence of Palestinians as a people
  • Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan hits back, accusing the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinians and Israel clashed over the future intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right-wing government at a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, with the Palestinian UN ambassador pointing to an Israeli minister’s statement “denying our existence to justify what is to come.”
Israel’s UN ambassador countered that the minister had apologized, and accused the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history.
The council’s always contentious monthly meeting on the Mideast was even more acrimonious in the face of comments and actions by Israel’s new coalition government, which has faced relentless protests over its plan to overhaul the judiciary and strong criticism of Tuesday’s repeal by lawmakers of a 2005 act that saw four Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank dismantled at the same time that Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the Security Council the statement by firebrand Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claiming there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people wasn’t part of “a theoretical exercise” but was made as Israel’s unlawful annexation of territory the Palestinians insist must be part of their independent state “is more than underway.”
While not all Israeli officials go as far as denying the existence of Palestinians, some deny Palestinian rights, humanity and connection to the land, Mansour said.
Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank, with the past three months “even worse,” he said. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, and Palestinian attackers have killed 15 Israelis, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Nonetheless, with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the approach of the Jewish holiday Passover and Christianity’s Easter observance, Mansour said the Palestinians decided to be “unreasonably reasonable” and leave no stone unturned to prevent bloodshed.
The Palestinian envoy urged the Security Council and the international community to mobilize every effort “to stop annexation, violence against our people, and provocations.” Everyone has a duty to act now “with every means at our disposal, to prevent a fire that will devour everything it encounters,” he said.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called his country “unquestionably the most vibrant liberal democracy in the Middle East” and accused the Palestinians of repeating lies, glorifying terrorists who spilled innocent Israeli blood and “regurgitating fabrications” that are not going to solve the decades-old conflict.
“To the Palestinian representative, I say: ‘Shame on you. Shame on you.’ It is so audacious that you dare condemn the words of Israeli minister who apologized and clarified what he meant, while your president and the rest of (the) Palestinian leadership regularly, regularly incite terrorism, never condemn the murders of Israeli civilians, praise Palestinian terrorists, and actively attempt to rewrite facts and the truth by erasing Jewish history,” he said.
Erdan accused the Palestinians of being “dead set on encouraging more violence” while Israel has taken significant steps to de-escalate the current tensions by sitting down with Palestinian officials in Jordan in February and on Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a joint communique afterward, the two sides had pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of the sensitive holiday season — including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb and counter violence.”
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — which most of the world considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
But Netanyahu’s government has put settlement expansion at the top of its agenda and has already advanced thousands of new settlement housing units and retroactively authorized nine wildcat outposts in the West Bank.
The repeal of the 2005 act on the four West Bank settlements came after Sunday’s agreement, and a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the West Bank underscored the difficulties in implementing the joint communique. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, criticized the repeal, summoning Israel’s US ambassador, and other countries were also critical.
Netanyahu appeared to back down Wednesday, saying his government has no intention of returning to the four abandoned settlements.
Ambassador Erdan echoed him, saying “the state of Israel has no intention of building any new communities there,” but he said the new law “rights a historic wrong” and will allow Israelis to enter areas that are “the birthplace of our heritage.”

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 23 March 2023

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria

Kuwait pledges $90m to support earthquake survivors in Turkiye, Syria
  • It is the largest pledge from any country since the disaster in February: Kuwait News Agency
  • Financial aid will support UN in providing food, education, shelter, healthcare to around 18m people

NEW YORK: Kuwait has pledged $90 million to support survivors of the earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria in February.

The pledge is the largest made by any country since the disaster, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday. 

It will assist UN organizations in providing food, education, shelter, healthcare and other necessities to approximately 18 million affected people. 

The UN has appealed for $398 million for an urgent response in Syria and $1 billion for Turkiye. 

So far, 79 percent of the target number for Syria has been met, while 19 percent of the target number for Turkiye has been met. 

Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, expressed concern that the amount of funding is nowhere near the target, but praised Kuwait’s pledge.


10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen
Updated 23 March 2023

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

10 dead in new attack by Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: At least 10 Yemeni government soldiers were killed on Wednesday in a renewed Houthi militia offensive in the contested central province of Marib.

The new attack shattered a truce that had largely held since last April, and came amid renewed diplomatic efforts to end the eight-year war.

“The Houthis launched an attack on hills overlooking Harib district, south of Marib, and made progress on that front, causing the displacement of dozens of families,” a Yemeni military source said. “At least 10 soldiers were killed, in addition to an unknown number of attackers.”

The fighting comes a month after at least four soldiers were killed in the same district, and dents new optimism after Saudi Arabia and Iran, who back opposing sides in the war, agreed to restore diplomatic ties.
“The Houthis are interested in sending a clear political message that ... the Riyadh-Tehran deal does not mean they will just surrender,” said Maged Al-Madhaji, an analyst at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies think tank. “The Houthis lean more toward the option of a military confrontation than current negotiations.”

An exchange of hundreds of prisoners was agreed this week and Hans Grundberg, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Yemen, has said “intense diplomatic efforts” were underway to reach a peace deal.
An open letter on Wednesday from NGOs in Yemen including included Oxfam and Save the Children urgedthe warring sides to reach a truce and move toward an “inclusive Yemeni peace process.”


Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia

Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia
Updated 23 March 2023

Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia

Five migrants drown, 28 missing off Tunisia
  • Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for social and economic rights said it had sunk “because it was overloaded” with 38 people
  • The boat had set off from the coastal region of Sfax in the direction of the Italian island of Lampedusa

TUNIS: Five migrants from sub-Saharan Africa drowned and another 28 were missing Wednesday after their boat capsized off Tunisia, a rights group said.
“Five migrants’ bodies were recovered and five other migrants were rescued, but 28 are still missing,” said Romdhane Ben Amor of the Tunisian Forum for social and economic rights (FTDES).
He said it had sunk “because it was overloaded” with 38 people, mostly from the Ivory Coast.
The boat had set off from the coastal region of Sfax in the direction of the Italian island of Lampedusa, a popular launchpad for people from people escaping war and persecution across Africa to try to reach safety in Europe.
The sinking is the latest such tragedy on the central Mediterranean, known as the world’s deadliest migration route.
It comes a month after President Kais Saied made an incendiary speech accusing migrants from sub-Saharan Africa of representing a “plot” against Tunisia and causing a wave of crime.
His comments sparked a wave of violence against black migrants, and landlords fearing fines evicted hundreds of people who are now camping in the streets of Tunis.
Migrants, many of whom fear they will face violence if they go home, have called on the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR to evacuate them.
Around 21,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are believed to be in the country of 12 million people.

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’
Updated 22 March 2023

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’

Israel’s policies ‘threaten ties with Arab countries’

RAMALLAH: The Israeli government’s extremist policies are threatening diplomatic ties with Arab countries amid efforts to normalize relations, political analysts and observers warn.

On Wednesday, the Jordanian Parliament voted in support of a proposal to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman in protest at comments by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Al-Safadi called on the government to take effective measures over Smotrich’s use of a map that allegedly “includes the borders of the kingdom and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

A veteran Arab diplomat, who declined to be named, told Arab News that the extremist Israeli government will not be accepted, even by countries that have normalized relations with Israel, such as the UAE.

This is especially true “when Israeli ministers state there is nothing called the Palestinian people and that Jordan is part of Israel,” the diplomat added.

“If these Israeli government policies continue, those countries will have stronger reactions that may include the withdrawal of their ambassadors from Tel Aviv.”

On Wednesday, media reports suggested that the UAE is considering reducing its diplomatic representation in Israel over Smotrich’s claim that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.”
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs is believed to have told its ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Al-Khaja, to avoid meeting any Israeli official.
On Tuesday, Bahrain also condemned Smotrich’s statements.

The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Bahrain rejects “incitement rhetoric and practices that contradict moral and human values, and undermine efforts and international peace.”

Israeli government policy also appears to have angered Israel’s closest ally, the US. In a rare move, the Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Michael Herzog, was summoned to the State Department on Tuesday following the passing of legislation that will allow resettlement in areas of the northern West Bank.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman held talks with Herzog, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

The two diplomats also “discussed the importance of all parties refraining from actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions leading into Ramadan, Passover and the Easter holidays,” Patel said.

Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben Menachem said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs Smotrich and Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir as partners in the government coalition and has to respond to their demands.

“They will continue to blackmail him,” Ben Menachem said.

“Arab countries and the US must understand the difficult situation of Netanyahu, who is facing political blackmail,” he added.