It can be hard to imagine the catastrophic impact that climate change can create. While the US has seen impacts, somehow when droughts dissipate, hurricanes die out, mud slides get cleaned up, fires are doused, flood waters recede and temperatures drop most of the public forgets about these events. Not, of course, those who’s lives are severely impacted. But most of the public puts these events in the real view mirror and go on with their own lives. I know most of you that get this newsletter and I know it’s safe to say that we mostly live on high ground in areas and ways such that the worst of these events has little direct impact on our personal lives…for now.
As the climate continues to heat up, which is inevitable, more and more of us will be personally impacted. Some areas of the globe are more vulnerable to the consequences of a less hospitable climate. One of those that is on the leading edge is the Middle East. This is obviously an area that is volatile without adding the stresses that a shifting climate is bringing. The following article from The Economist makes this very clear.
The article makes reference to the “debate” going on about the role climate change is having on the stability of the region especially as it impacts migration, violence and war.
“Exactly how much these events fuelled the war that broke out in Syria in 2011 and recent unrest in Iran is a topic of considerable debate. They have certainly added to the grievances that many in both countries feel.”
Here’s another example of how the climate can instigate international conflicts.
“The mere prospect of shortages can lead to conflicts, as states race to secure water supplies at the expense of downstream neighbours. When Ethiopia started building an enormous dam on the Nile, potentially limiting the flow, Egypt, which relies on the river for nearly all of its water, threatened war. Turkish and Iranian dams along the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers have raised similar ire in Iraq, which is beset by droughts.”
And when this happens it is hard to contemplate what will be the outcome…
“humidity and heat—could rise so high in the Gulf as to make it all but uninhabitable”
Climate Change is Making the Arab World More Miserable
Expect longer droughts, hotter heatwaves and more frequent dust storms
Expect longer droughts, hotter heatwaves and more frequent dust storms
Six years ago Nabil Musa, a Kurdish environmentalist, returned from over a decade abroad to find Iraq transformed. Rivers in which he had swum year-round turned to dust in summer. Skies once crowded with storks and herons were empty. Drought had pushed farmers to abandon their crops, and dust storms, once rare, choked the air. Inspired to act, he joined a local conservationist group, Nature Iraq, to lobby for greener practices. But Kurdish officials pay little attention. “One of the last things we want to think about is climate change,” says Mr Musa.
Apathy towards climate change is common across the Middle East and north Africa, even as the problems associated with it get worse. Longer droughts, hotter heatwaves and more frequent dust storms will occur from Rabat to Tehran, according to Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Already-long dry seasons are growing longer and drier, withering crops. Heat spikes are a growing problem too, with countries regularly notching lethal summer temperatures. Stretch such trends out a few years and they seem frightening—a few decades and they seem apocalyptic.
The institute forecasts that summer temperatures in the Middle East and north Africa will rise over twice as fast as the global average. Extreme temperatures of 46°C (115°F) or more will be about five times more likely by 2050 than they were at the beginning of the century, when similar peaks were reached, on average, 16 days per year. By 2100 “wet-bulb temperatures”—a measure of humidity and heat—could rise so high in the Gulf as to make it all but uninhabitable, according to a study in Nature (though its most catastrophic predictions are based on the assumption that emissions are not abated). Last year Iran came close to breaking the highest reliably recorded temperature of 54°C, which Kuwait reached the year before.
Dry and discontented
Water presents another problem. The Middle East and north Africa have little of it to begin with, and rainfall is expected to decline because of climate change. In some areas, such as the Moroccan highlands, it could drop by up to 40%. (Climate change might bring extra rain to coastal countries, such as Yemen, but that will probably be offset by higher evaporation.) Farmers struggling to nourish thirsty crops are digging more wells, draining centuries-old aquifers. A study using NASA satellites found that the Tigris and Euphrates basins lost 144 cubic kilometres (about the volume of the Dead Sea) of fresh water from 2003 to 2010. Most of this reduction was caused by the pumping of groundwater to make up for reduced rainfall.
Climate change is making the region even more volatile politically. When eastern Syria was ravaged by drought from 2007 to 2010, 1.5m people fled to cities, where many struggled. In Iran, a cycle of extreme droughts since the 1990s caused thousands of frustrated farmers to abandon the countryside. Exactly how much these events fuelled the war that broke out in Syria in 2011 and recent unrest in Iran is a topic of considerable debate. They have certainly added to the grievances that many in both countries feel.
The mere prospect of shortages can lead to conflicts, as states race to secure water supplies at the expense of downstream neighbours. When Ethiopia started building an enormous dam on the Nile, potentially limiting the flow, Egypt, which relies on the river for nearly all of its water, threatened war. Turkish and Iranian dams along the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers have raised similar ire in Iraq, which is beset by droughts.
Scientists have laid out steps that Arab countries could take to adapt to climate change. Agricultural production could be shifted to heat-resilient crops. Israel uses drip irrigation, which saves water and could be copied. Cities could be modified to reduce the “urban heat-island effect”, by which heat from buildings and cars makes cities warmer than nearby rural areas. Few of these efforts have been tried by Arab governments, which are often preoccupied with other problems. Mr Musa says the Kurdish officials he lobbies have been distracted by a war with Islamic State, a failed referendum on independence and, now, repairing relations with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad.
Politics often gets in the way of problem-solving. Countries are rarely able to agree on how to share rivers and aquifers. In Gaza, where the seepage of saltwater and sewage into an overused aquifer raises the risk of disease, a blockade by Israel and Egypt has made it harder to build and run desalination plants. In Lebanon there is little hope that the government, divided along sectarian lines, will do anything to forestall the decline in the water supply predicted by the environment ministry. Countries such as Iraq and Syria, where war has devastated infrastructure, will struggle to prepare for a hotter, drier future.
Some countries are, at least, trying to curb emissions. Morocco is building a colossal solar-power plant in the desert, as is Dubai, part of United Arab Emirates (UAE). Saudi Arabia is not going to stop exporting oil, but it plans to build a solar plant that will be about 200 times the size of the biggest such facility operating today. Like other sun-drenched countries in the region, it sees solar power as a cost-effective way to increase the electricity supply and cut energy subsidies. “When I first started, people looked at environmentalists as tree-huggers,” says Safa al-Jayoussi of IndyACT, a conservationist group in Beirut. “But now I think the most important argument is the economic one.”
States in the Middle East and north Africa can do little on their own to mitigate climate change. Inevitably, though, they will need to adapt. So far depressingly little has been done. “Sometimes I feel like I’m on a treadmill,” says Mr Musa.