Impact of climate change on MENA region to be ‘catastrophic’ by 2050

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The earth is cracked and dry in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley after a year receiving little rainfall. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Bassam Alkantar

Published Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Even if highly ambitious measures are taken to mitigate these effects, it is inevitable the earth's average surface temperature will increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution era temperatures according to a new report issued by the World Bank. The report warns that the results are going to be catastrophic in the Middle East and North Africa, including Lebanon, as Beirut and Riyadh will witness the highest increase in warmer temperatures in the region. The number of hot days will increase to 126 and 132 days per year respectively, making the summer season long and extremely hot.

“If you think the summers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are hot – think again. Summers are likely to become even warmer,” environmental economist at the World Bank, Maria Sarraf, wrote on her blog after a new World Bank report painting a very bleak and disturbing picture for the MENA region was published. Temperatures will rise slightly less than 2 degrees Celsius (above pre-Industrial Revolution levels) in the coming years until 2050. The increase in temperatures will create additional pressure on agricultural crops and already scarce water resources and will likely lead to increased migration and risks of conflict.

People living in Lebanon can already sense the risks of climate change and its impact on their lives, health and resources. Unusual weather fluctuations, high temperatures in the middle of December, and less rainfall and snow leading to water shortages. In other words, the winter season has become shorter and the summer season longer with natural phenomena that used to be few and far in-between occuring a lot more frequently. It appears that what used to be an exception in Lebanon’s moderate weather is becoming the norm. That is exactly what the World Bank is warning against by pointing out that Beirut is projected to have 126 hot days per year, coming second place after Riyadh on the list of Arab states expected to witness an increase in the annual number of exceptionally hot days.

Regional risks

According to the World Bank’s latest annual report titled, “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the direct impact of climate risks is not limited to Lebanon. There are regional risks that have major implications on all the countries in the region. The large increase in heat waves in the MENA region “will place already scarce water resources under immense pressure..., with major consequences for human life and regional food security.” In countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Libya, crop yields might drop 30 percent if temperatures rise 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 60 percent if temperatures rise 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

The report points out that while the number of natural disasters has almost doubled around the world since the 1980s, it has nearly tripled in the MENA region. In recent years, floods and droughts have been devastating for the region creating severe water shortages, economic losses and negative social implications in addition to many deaths. Earthquakes were the second most common natural disaster in the region, affecting people’s lives and livelihoods. Although the risk of death caused by flooding declined in the world since 2000, it is growing steadily in the MENA region, as the number of floods and people affected or killed by them doubled in the past 10 years.

In his book “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence,” US sociologist and journalist Christian Parenti argues that the social effects of climate change already exist and manifest themselves in the existing crises of poverty and violence caused by Cold War militarization and the neo-liberal economy. He explains that adjustment in the Global South takes the form of ethnic ambitions, religious intolerance, rebellion, banditry, drug trafficking and small wars over resources like the desperate skirmishes over water and livestock... Whereas, in the Global North, a multi-layered crisis emerges in the form of an armed lifeboat that includes preparations to combat open rebellions, militarized borders, hostile surveillance of immigrants and the spread of right-wing xenophobia.

The World Bank report is in line with Parenti’s analysis but for ideological reasons does not tell the facts as they are and does not connect the projected outcome to the capitalist system.

Decline in crops

The report analyzes the potential impact of the current situation (a confirmed increase by 0.8 degrees Celsius, a projected increase in temperature by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century) on agricultural crops, water resources, ecological services and coastal areas in Latin America, the Caribbean, the MENA region, and parts of Europe and Central Asia. This report builds on the World Bank’s 2012 report which concluded that global temperatures will rise by 4 degrees Celsius above their pre-Industrial Revolution levels by the end of this century if we do not take concerted action immediately.

The report prepared by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics reveals that global warming will expose the health and livelihood of the most vulnerable populations to increased risks and will multiply the problems that every region is struggling to overcome today. The common threat in the three aforementioned regions is the risk posed by heat waves. New climate models reveal that the highly unusual extreme heat waves ,like the one that occurred in the US in 2012 and in Russia in 2010, increase quickly when temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius. The report also reveals that risks posed by the decline in crop yields and loss of production in the areas under study increase quickly when the temperature rises by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. It also points out that the decline in agricultural production will have an impact outside the main production areas leading to major consequences for food security and perhaps a negative effect on economic growth, development, social stability and the common good.

Water scarcity

The Middle East and North Africa is the most water scarce region in the world. The availability of renewable water resources is generally below 1000 m3 per capita per year, except for a few countries. It gets as low as 16m3 per capita in the United Arab Emirates. Whereas in Mexico, it is about 3,500m3 per capita per year, in East Asia Pacific countries, it is 4,500m3 and in the US, it is 9,000m3.

With time, rainfall is expected to decrease in the North African and Levantine regions. This decline in rainfall, along with the increase in evaporation, will lead to more aridity. Even with the current situation of water and arable land scarcity, the warming scenarios, whether by 2 or 4 degrees Celsius would exert more pressure on water resources and agriculture. Less rainfall and higher temperatures means a shorter growing period for some crops.

Mountainous areas in Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey play an important role in supplying water in the region as they store part of the rainfall in the form of snow. As snowfall and water storage is projected to decline, water availability will also decline.

The report warns that extreme heat waves will hit larger swaths of land for longer periods of time. This will make certain areas uninhabitable and other areas unsuitable for agriculture while cities will feel the impact of rising sea levels. As temperatures rise 4 degrees (this may happen in the 2080s if measures are not taken to curtail the pace of climate change), most capitals of the region will have four months of excessive heat each year.

The report also warns that if global warming continues without any measures to stop it, it could trigger irreversible changes on a large scale. In northern Russia, forest dieback and melting permafrost threaten to exacerbate global warming as stored carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere, creating a self-amplifying feedback loop. Methane emissions could increase by 20 to 30 percent across Russia when temperatures increase 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The report states that glaciers are receding in the Andes of South America and in the mountains of Central Asia. As temperatures continue to rise, melting glaciers mean more water will flow to farms and cities before the growing season increasing the risks of destructive floods. Within decades, however, risks of flood will turn into risks of drought. With the absence of any measures to stop climate change, by the end of the century most of the glaciers in the Andes and two-thirds of the glaciers in Central Asia could be gone.

The report warns that the oceans (which absorbed about 30 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions) will continue to acidify and its temperatures will continue to rise. This will damage coral ecosystems where marine life thrives, pushing swarms of fish to migrate to colder waters. The results of this process in the Caribbean Sea means the loss of up to 50 percent of its current catch.

Limiting the use of fossil fuels

To curb climate change, the report recommends placing a high price on carbon, reducing government subsidies for fossil fuels which cause a lot of damage, increasing investment in energy efficiency and in renewable energy, encouraging smart agriculture that takes into consideration climate conditions and building low carbon producing and climate resilient cities. The report highlights successful examples of adapting to climate change in the region. For example, Yemen increased its crop yields by developing local seed varieties. Morocco invested heavily in solar energy thus becoming a regional and global example for reducing dependence on fossil fuels and limiting harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The responsibility of rich nations

This report coincided with the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This session is the second to last in the international negotiations which are supposed to lead to the signing of a new international convention on climate change in Paris in late 2015. The first Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC was held in Berlin in 1995. At the third conference, in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, the signatory nations committed to reducing carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, which increases the Earth's temperature.
This commitment ended on December 31, 2012 but was renewed to 2020, despite the withdrawal of many countries. The two most polluting countries, the United States and China, never signed it anyway. Scientific reports stress that global emissions should reach their peak in 2015 and by 2020 return to their 1990 level before decreasing by 80 percent of that level in 2050. The concentration of carbon dioxide is more than 400 parts per million (ppm) and is increasing 2 ppm each year. Climate experts say that it is almost impossible to maintain the temperature of the earth. Halting this increase at a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius requires that the concentration of greenhouse gas be at 350 ppm. So far, all the scenarios proposed within the halls of the UN have failed to reach this goal.

Follow Bassan Kantar: http://about.me/bassam.kantar

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

The Earth's tilt is 23.5 degrees - 23.439281 degrees to be exact.
It is because of this tilt that we have the amazing seasons on Earth.
The Earths axis has changed, the tilt has increased.
This explains the changes in the weather.
Increase solar positions towards the north is increasing melt & evaporation of glacial ice.
READ SCIENCE DATA & NOT THE RUBBISH OF THE WORLD BANK & DUN KI-MOON.

The climate research on AGW is corrupt, and the world is (sadly) not warming here in the north..though I agree the world needs coordination on oil consumption (most critical, of the fossil fuels) as we are using 90 million barrels/day and the reserves are dwindling.

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