LONDON: The UAE’s hosting of the UN Climate Change Conference later this year could transform the future of the annual international forum and create momentum for it to become less about negotiation and more about action, experts said.
“COP28 could really become a COP for action. And it could start a transformation of what COPs are, from those meetings of negotiators, to trying to come up with a framework for climate governance around the world, into something that is largely about encouraging climate action,” said Karim Elgendy, associate fellow at the UK-based think tank Chatham House.
“We’re resolving many of the climate justice issues. We’ve resolved most of the Paris Agreement details and what we really have in front of us is ratcheting up and increasing ambition for carbon reduction targets around the world.
“COP28 has this opportunity where it could do exactly that and drive all the parties to push forward with a carbon reduction,” he added.
Elgendy was speaking at a briefing ahead of the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s final report in its sixth assessment cycle on Monday, in which it outlined some key findings and important implications for Middle East countries and expectations for the UAE’s COP28 presidency.
The UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, whose plenary sessions in Switzerland end on Sunday, will distill its findings from the six reports produced since 2015 and amass them in a single “synthesis” report — a comprehensive manual for tackling the crisis.
Elgendy said that Egypt’s hosting of last year’s COP27 placed a “little spotlight” on the region — as Cairo said it was hosting on behalf of Africa — but the Dubai conference would put a “real spotlight” on the Middle East and especially Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
The 2022 IPCC Working Group II Report described the regional impact of climate change for the Middle East as worrisome in relation to how local temperature and precipitation are projected to change. Current predictions indicate that in the coming decades conditions for working and living in the desert region will worsen. Persistent drought, water scarcity and rising sea levels could dramatically decrease food security in the region without swift, immediate large emission cuts.
In the Middle East, climate change has already increased temperatures and decreased rainfall. In Iran and Kuwait, more than half of the summer heat-related deaths between 1991 and 2018 could be attributed to climate change. In the coming decades, the number of days with temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius is expected to rise across the region.
The report said that countries in the Middle East would only be able to adapt to heatwaves and drought to a certain extent, and that hard physical limits to adaptation exist.
Sand- and dust storms have already become more frequent and intense and with further warming, they will become worse, increasing water scarcity and drought in the region.
Water scarcity will particularly affect Saudi Arabia, which could undermine food security, while in Bahrain and Iran, climate change will decrease fish catches, with consequences for food security and income generation. Global warming already threatens important fish species currently found on the coasts of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, and which are at high risk of local extinction.
As sea levels rise, more land will be submerged, flooded regularly, eroded, or become unsuitable for agriculture due to saltwater intrusion. The economic costs of sea level rise for Gulf countries, in terms of percentage of country-level GDP, would be among the highest in the world by the end of the century. The most threatened countries are Kuwait with 24 percent of GDP, Bahrain with 11 percent and the UAE with 9 percent, according to a study cited in the report.
“The MENA region has a variable rainfall regime that changes dramatically from one year to the next, which means we’re going to get longer droughts. And when it does rain it will rain in a flooding manner which could lead to stormwater management issues because of the region is not prepared for that,” Elgendy said.
“There are tertiary implications we should be concerned about, such as what will this do to social structures and movement, tensions over resources, migration,” he added.
“These may not be of primary concern right now but the region has to be prepared for what effect these implications could have environmentally and socially.”
Camille Ammoun, associate fellow at the American University of Beirut, said that in order to become a real climate actor, the GCC needed to genuinely diversify its economy away from fossil fuel extraction and from the oil economy.
“GCC countries, as high income countries, have economic if not environmental interest to engage in mitigation and adaptation,” he said.
“In terms of adaptation, the Gulf has been working on it for decades investing in several projects that are not necessarily labeled as adaptation projects, especially in infrastructures.
“When you talk about climate action, we talk about mitigation and adaptation, and I think we should focus more specifically, especially in the Gulf region, on diversification because it’s an enabler for climate action globally given the weight the GCC countries have in global diplomacy.”