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Look Ahead 2023: Gloomy forecasts highlight the importance of climate adaptation for countries in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: For much of the past year, climate change has been high on the global political agenda, as extreme weather events including floods, dust storms, heat waves, droughts and blizzards, have been reported in different parts of the world.

At the same time, governments pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adopt cleaner renewable energy sources, take action to build resilience and advance the cause of environmental justice. . But are these commitments bold enough or too little too late?

Over the festive period, the UK Met Office has warned that the coming year is likely to be the hottest on record, saying not enough action has been taken to prevent average global temperatures from rising above 1 .5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In fact, Met Office research suggests that 2023 will be the tenth consecutive year that global temperatures will be at least 1°C above pre-industrial levels.

Extreme weather events in the past year, such as droughts and floods, will become more frequent, with countries in the Middle East facing “magnified effects”, forecasters warn. (AFP)

For many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where temperatures are rising almost twice the rate of the rest of the world, the threat posed by an even warmer year cannot be overstated.

Climate-related issues will continue to impose a huge financial burden on Arab countries, with some estimates suggesting that adapting to climate change could cost developing countries up to $340 billion a year by 2030.

To help developing countries, especially those vulnerable to climate change, the decision was taken at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November, to establish a fund “loss and damage”.

The fund aims to encourage wealthy, industrialized countries to compensate low-emitting developing countries when they suffer climate-related disasters.

Addressing COP27 delegates, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, called for more ambition with their emission reduction targets in line with the 1.5C target agreed in Paris in 2015.

“Our planet is still in the emergency room,” Guterres said, stressing the need “to invest heavily in renewable energy and end our reliance on fossil fuels.” With too many countries falling short of their targets, “the world still needs a giant leap forward on climate ambition”, he added.

Climatologists say weather events over the past 12 months, including record high temperatures in the UK, wildfires in Europe and Australia, floods in Pakistan, dust storms in the Middle East and the ‘cyclone at the bomb” in North America, have proven that much more concerted climate action is needed.

Zoltan Rendes, ambassador for the European Climate Pact and chief marketing officer at SunMoney Solar Group, said the impact of rising temperatures is expected to be “amplified” in 2023, especially in hotter countries in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean.

A recent study published by the Review of Geophysics found that average temperatures in countries like Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia are expected to rise by around 5°C by the end of the century. Climate adaptation, among other measures, is therefore essential for these nations.

People use a cradle service to cross a flooded river in the mountainous north of Pakistan. (AFP)

“Temperatures could reach dangerous levels in which it would be almost impossible for people to work,” Rendes told Arab News. “This would result in lower productivity and the potential for humanitarian crises from heat-related illnesses.”

He says adaptation strategies, such as increased spending on renewable energy sources and cooling infrastructure, should be implemented immediately.

The use of climate-smart agricultural techniques, such as crop diversification, energy optimization through smart power grids and water conservation measures, will also be crucial for the development of the region. in the decades to come.

“This increase in temperature can lead to a variety of extreme weather events, such as sandstorms, heavy rains and floods, drought and heat waves…. These conditions can put a strain on vital infrastructure and resources essential to sustaining life in the region,” Rendes told Arab News.

Although dust storms are not uncommon in the Middle East, an increase in wind speed due to higher temperatures can mean that these storms become more frequent and intense.

Likewise, areas prone to flooding during heavy rains could experience increased risk due to a potential increase in rainfall, Rendes said.

To compound the problem, according to Dr. John A. Burt, associate professor of biology and head of environmental studies at New York University Abu Dhabi, rising temperatures will lead to greater evaporation in the Middle East region where water is scarce, negatively affecting ecosystems and agriculture.

“As our seas are a major sink of thermal energy, we can also expect an influence on marine heatwaves and the resulting effects on sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs,” he said. at Arab News.

“If we look back to August 2017, weak winds for a period of just a few weeks resulted in a marine heatwave that killed almost three-quarters of all coral reef areas in the Persian Gulf.”

A Somali girl draws water from a well in the Tawakal IDP camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (AFP/file photo)

This is partly due to the already hostile environment found in most countries in the Middle East. Even modest changes in temperature and wind speed can have a significant impact on ecosystems and human health.

“While climate change represents a long-term trend, climate variability – where we can experience much stronger extremes – can have more acute, short-term impacts,” Burt told Arab News.

It is also important to consider that global temperatures are also influenced by El Nino and La Nina events, which cause warmer or cooler periods, respectively, depending on changes in ocean temperature.

“These phenomena refer to large-scale wind patterns occurring in the southern Pacific Ocean, which have the ability to affect weather patterns globally, as our atmosphere and seas form a system vast and complex network,” he said.

Over the past three years, La Nina has cooled the average global temperature, an effect that is expected to end in 2023, resulting in warmer weather patterns.

“It is important to recognize the potential impacts of these climatic events as they can result in significant human and economic costs,” Rendes told Arab News.

For example, an increase in precipitation during an El Nino could mean flood risks for some countries, while a decrease in precipitation during a La Nina could lead to water shortages.

Rendes added that drought-stricken regions in the Middle East could experience reduced rainfall, leading to severe water shortages.

Consequently, heat waves could become much more frequent and potentially longer lasting as temperatures in the region reach unprecedented highs.

In turn, this could lead to an increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, sunstroke and heat exhaustion, according to Rendes.

In the dazzling turquoise waters off Egypt’s Red Sea coast, divers swim among delicate pink jellyfish and admire coral – but the booming tourism sector is worrying the fragile marine ecosystem. (AFP)

“It is essential that governments work together to implement policies that address both climate change mitigation efforts and adaptation strategies,” he told Arab News.

The 2022 Emissions Gap Report recently released by the United Nations Environment Program shares the same findings.

This shows that the world is not on track to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Instead, global temperatures are expected to reach 2.8°C by the end of the century, while that in 2023, temperatures are expected to reach between 1.08°C and 1.32°C above the pre-industrial average.

The report also says the world needs to cut emissions by 45% to avert a global catastrophe and that multilateral action is needed to address the crisis.

Several Arab countries are taking steps to mitigate climate change. For example, Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Kingdom is investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind to achieve this goal.

The Saudi government also plans to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and establish a carbon offsets and credits trading platform for the MENA region.

“By 2023, Saudi Arabia aims to complete 840 MW of solar PV projects and is currently building 13 additional renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 11 GW,” Rendes told Arab News.

The Kingdom has announced one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage centers on the east coast of Jubail, which will be operational by 2027.

Meanwhile, ambitious projects such as the Saudi Green and Green Middle East Initiatives, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021, aim to drive emissions reductions, carbon capture and the transition to green energy. throughout the region.

Similarly, the UAE is taking steps to reduce emissions from power generation and transportation to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“The government and leaders of the United Arab Emirates have invested wholeheartedly in solar power projects, setting the stage for it to be the first country in the Middle East and North Africa region with a towards net zero emissions,” Rendes told Arab News.

He warns that, as with any important endeavour, cooperation between governments in the Arab region is a prerequisite for meaningful progress.

“The time to act is now – let’s make sure 2023 is not too late,” Rendes told Arab News. “Make no mistake, the planet will survive. But let’s make sure we survive with him too.

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