Climate change a double blow to the oil-rich Middle East experts

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PAPHOS, Cyprus Experts say the climate crisis is threatening the Middle East with a double blow by destroying its oil revenues as the world switches to renewable energies and temperatures soar to intolerable extremes.

In a region long plagued by civil wars, wars and flows of refugees, little has been done to address the challenge, although global warming is likely to accelerate these trends, according to a conference heard last week.

“Our region is classified as a global hotspot of climate change,” said Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the International Conference on Climate Change in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The already sun-drenched region, home to half a billion people, has been classified as particularly vulnerable by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.

But it is also home to some of the last countries that failed to ratify the 2015 Paris Agreement – Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – weeks before the start of the UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow.

When it comes to climate change and the Middle East, “there are terrible problems,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

“First, this is the center of the world’s hydrocarbons, so many economies in this region depend on what is essentially an anachronistic fuel that we need to stop,” said Sachs of New York’s Columbia University.

“Second, this is obviously an arid region that is getting drier all the time, so there is water insecurity, water stress and displacement of populations everywhere,” he told AFP.

Sachs argued that “massive transformation is needed in the region. However, this is a politically tense region, a divided region, a region that has been ravaged by many wars and conflicts, often related to oil.”

The good news is that there is “so much sunshine that the solution is staring the region in the face. All you have to do is look at the sky. Sun exposure is the foundation of the new clean, green economy.”

Like ‘disaster movie’

Laurent Fabius, the former French foreign minister overseeing the Paris Agreement, pointed out that this year’s hot summer “we had catastrophic forest fires in Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Israel and Lebanon”.

“There were temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius [122 degrees Fahrenheit] in Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran. We have drought in Turkey, water scarcity in various countries, especially in Jordan.

“These tragic events do not come from a disaster film, they are real and present.”

Cyprus, the closest EU member to the Middle East, is leading an international initiative involving 240 scientists to develop a ten-year regional action plan to be presented at a summit one year from now.

At the two-day conference last week, some of the first results were revealed – including that the region’s greenhouse gas emissions have overtaken those of the European Union.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is already extremely arid and has been warming at around 0.45 degrees Celsius per decade, twice as fast as the global average, say scientists.

Deserts are spreading and dust storms picking up, while the region’s rare mountain snow caps are slowly waning, affecting river systems that supply water to millions.

By the end of the century, temperatures could rise by six degrees Celsius on a normal emission path – and even more in summer with “super or ultra-extreme heat waves” – said the Dutch atmospheric chemist Jos Lelieveld.

“Future Conflicts”

“It’s not just about averages, it’s about the extremes. It will be pretty devastating, ”Lelieveld from the German Max Planck Institute for Chemistry told AFP.

Peak temperatures in cities called “heat islands,” which are darker than surrounding deserts, could exceed 60 degrees Celsius, he said.

“People die in heat waves, from heat stroke and heart attacks. It’s like Corona, the people at risk will suffer – older people, younger people, pregnant women.”

Like other speakers, Fabius warned that climate change “may be the root of future conflict and violence” as farmland turns to dust and tensions rise due to dwindling resources.

The region is already being torn apart by fresh water from the Nile, Jordan, Euphrates and Tigris river systems, all of which supported ancient civilizations but came under pressure when the human population expanded massively.

Sachs pointed to the much-debated theory that climate change was one of the drivers of the Syrian civil war, as a record drought from 2006 to 2009 sent more than a million farmers to cities, adding to social stress prior to the 2011 uprising.

“A decade ago we saw in Syria how these upheavals of the massive drought spilled over, triggered in some cases massive violence and certainly exacerbated it,” he said.

In Syria’s last rebel area, the Idlib region, which has long been cut off from the state power grid and where photovoltaic systems are omnipresent, one of the highest uses of solar energy in the MENA region is currently being observed. – ADB


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