What climate change means for the Middle East

A one meter rise in sea level would result in the disappearance of about 99% of the coastal wetlands at elevations of one meter or less in the Middle East and North African region. (File photo: Reuters)

The call on countries to increase their efforts in combating climate change continues, as the United Nations and the United Arab Emirates’ prepare to host the Abu Dhabi Ascent next week.

The high-level meeting will be held on May 4th and 5th, in preparation for the Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2014.

The conferences follow the March 31 release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report on global warming which confirmed what had previously been speculated: climate change is progressing at a more rapid rate than previously projected.

The findings of the report examined the causes, impacts and possible mitigation options of the phenomena. The root of the issue is nothing new, as scientists and environmentalists have been warning of global warming for years.

As Saleemul Huq, a co-author of the IPCC’s previous report in 2007 accurately predicted, “We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated.”

Now, noticeable and significant rises in temperature and sea levels are expected as soon as 2050. With recent wildfires, droughts, floods and storms, the effects of climate change are already evident around the globe.

An imminent issue

Rising temperatures and sea levels resulting from global warming are expected to have severe environmental, economic and political implications for the already turbulent Middle Eastern region.

Even a seemingly small increase in the water levels could have devastating results. Coastal regions and geographically lower-lying areas bordering seas and gulfs like Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Egypt are particularly at risk, and would experience the brunt of the impact of rising sea levels.

According to a study by the World Bank back in 2012, a one meter rise in sea level would result in the disappearance of about 99% of the coastal wetlands at elevations of one meter or less in the Middle East and North African region.

Rising sea levels would contaminate fresh water sources with increased salinization, potentially escalating existing tensions over already scarce water resources.

This worsening scarcity of water is the biggest challenge for Middle Eastern countries, which have some of the lowest reserves per capita in the world.

A shortage of fresh water would drastically impact countries already struggling with fresh water supply and management like Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Libya, Israel, Iran, Yemen, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan; all of which are included in the World Resource Institute’s 36 most water stressed countries.

Extreme circumstances

Increased temperatures and warmer waters are expected to result in increased and extreme weather patterns world-wide, including drought, floods and storms.

These extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, combined with a lack of fresh water, would add stress to an already struggling agricultural industry and worsen ongoing food shortage crises in countries like Syria and Yemen.

The World Bank currently estimates that more than fifty percent of the food in the Middle East and North Africa is imported, making it the largest region reliant on imported food in the world.

The IPCC’s latest report expects climate change to slow economic growth, jeopardize food security, and increase and intensify world-wide poverty.

The report also speculates that poverty stricken populations, who have contributed the least to global warming, will be some of the most affected by its ramifications.

Dwindling resources could easily translate into lost welfare, providing additional economic and environmental strain on the region.

Severe economic shock increases the possibility of violent conflicts over land, water and other resources, compounding existing instability in the Middle East.

Moving forward

Due to the volatility of the climate change process, it is difficult to predict short and long term changes. There is a general consensus among the scientific community that sea levels will continue to rise even if greenhouse gas emissions are decreased or at least stabilized immediately.

Scientists are also projecting lower rainfall, higher temperatures and continuing desertification of the region. According to the forecasts, average temperatures in the Middle East could rise by three degrees Celsius between now and 2050.

Adaptation to climate change is a necessity. Heavily reliant on oil, the Middle East must respond to the calls and demands for cleaner energy alternatives and lower carbon emissions.

According to a statement from the United Nations, the Abu Dhabi Ascent and ensuing meetings will aim to “catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience, and to mobilize political momentum for an ambitious, global, legal agreement in 2015.”

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Last Update: 14:57 KSA 17:57 - GMT 14:57
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