The intensity of climate change in Iran is increasing

The intensity of climate change in Iran is increasing

In Iran, one of the most significant consequences of climate change is the exacerbation of water scarcity (File/AFP)
In Iran, one of the most significant consequences of climate change is the exacerbation of water scarcity (File/AFP)
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With its diverse geography and unique climatic conditions, Iran is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. In recent years, the country has experienced a myriad of climate-related challenges, ranging from prolonged droughts and water scarcity to extreme weather events and ecosystem degradation. It is very important to examine the underlying factors exacerbating these challenges and propose actionable solutions to mitigate their impact.

According to a report released by World Weather Attribution, the drought experienced in Iran between 2019 and 2023 represents, under current climatic conditions, a phenomenon occurring once every five years. However, in the absence of climate change’s impact, it would have been a rarity occurring only once every 80 years.

Unprecedented heat waves, periods of drought and the gradual depletion of water bodies are compelling tens of thousands of Iranians to seek new habitats annually. Among these climate migrants are individuals hailing from agricultural, labor and fishing backgrounds, along with their families, as they depart rural regions en masse for the urban centers of Iran in search of fresh avenues of sustenance.

Iran’s location and climatic diversity make it susceptible to a wide range of climate-related risks. One of the most significant consequences of climate change in Iran is the exacerbation of water scarcity and droughts. With a large portion of its territory already classified as arid or semi-arid, Iran heavily relies on its limited water resources for agriculture, industry and domestic consumption. However, rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns have led to decreased precipitation, a diminished snowpack in mountainous regions and increased evaporation rates, exacerbating water stress across the country.

One of the most significant consequences of climate change in Iran is the exacerbation of water scarcity

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

More fundamentally, the agricultural sector, which forms the backbone of Iran’s economy and employs a significant portion of its population, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Droughts and water scarcity have led to decreased crop yields, a loss of arable land and increased desertification, threatening food security and livelihoods. Furthermore, extreme heat events and shifting climate conditions have disrupted traditional farming practices, forcing some farmers to adapt to new agricultural techniques or face significant economic losses.

It is important to point out that, in addition to water scarcity and agricultural impact, Iran is also experiencing more frequent and severe extreme weather events, including heat waves, storms and flash floods. These events not only pose immediate risks to human lives and infrastructure, but also have long-term implications for public health, economic stability and environmental sustainability. Moreover, climate change is contributing to the degradation of Iran’s unique ecosystems, including its forests, wetlands and marine habitats, further diminishing biodiversity and ecosystem services.

While climate change is a global phenomenon driven primarily by human activities, certain factors exacerbate its impacts in Iran. The first issue is linked to water mismanagement. Inefficient water management practices, outdated infrastructure and the overexploitation of groundwater resources have contributed to water scarcity and depletion in Iran. Additionally, inefficient irrigation techniques and a lack of investment in water conservation measures have further strained water resources, exacerbating the impacts of climate change.

It is also critical to note that Iran’s economy is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, particularly oil and natural gas, which are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The country’s dependence on fossil fuel revenues has hindered efforts to transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, perpetuating its carbon-intensive economy and exacerbating climate change.

The third issue is that Iran’s rapidly growing population and rapid urbanization have placed additional pressure on natural resources and infrastructure, exacerbating the country’s environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate-related risks. Unplanned urban expansion, inadequate infrastructure and poor land-use planning have also increased the population’s exposure to climate hazards, such as floods, landslides and heat waves.

In order to address climate change in Iran, a comprehensive and multifaceted approach is required

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

In order to address climate change in Iran, a comprehensive and multifaceted approach is required; one that tackles the underlying drivers of vulnerability and builds resilience to its impacts. One example would be to initiate sustainable water management strategies. Embracing water-saving technologies, promoting efficient irrigation practices, investing in water infrastructure upgrades and enforcing regulations to prevent the overexploitation of groundwater resources would all help mitigate water scarcity and improve water security in Iran.

In addition, there is a need to transition to renewable energy. Accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower, can reduce Iran’s reliance on fossil fuels, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy independence and sustainability.

Promoting climate-smart agricultural practices, such as drought-resistant crop varieties, soil conservation techniques and water-efficient irrigation systems, can enhance the resilience of Iran’s agricultural sector to the impacts of climate change. Investing in agricultural research and extension services, providing financial incentives for sustainable farming practices and strengthening agricultural insurance schemes can support adaptation efforts.

More importantly, protecting and restoring Iran’s natural ecosystems, including forests, wetlands and coastal areas, can enhance biodiversity, ecosystem services and resilience to climate change’s impacts. This means that implementing protected area management plans, enforcing environmental regulations and promoting community-based conservation initiatives can help preserve Iran’s valuable natural heritage.

Finally, strengthening climate governance structures, enhancing institutional capacity and promoting stakeholder participation can facilitate effective climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts in Iran.

In a nutshell, climate change poses significant challenges to Iran’s environment and society, exacerbating water scarcity, extreme weather events and ecosystem degradation — all impacting the region’s agriculture. Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, build resilience to climate impact and promote sustainable development practices.

In order to mitigate the impact of climate change and build a more sustainable and resilient future for the Iranian people and the planet, there is a need to implement sustainable water management strategies, transition to renewable energy sources, promote climate-resilient agriculture, conserve and restore ecosystems and strengthen climate governance and capacity.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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