The Arab world is at a crossroads as climate change approaches a tipping point. Once a distant and vague threat, climate change has now risen to the top of the region’s concerns, casting a long shadow over the future of economic, social and geopolitical stability. Already plagued by political instability, economic change and conflict, the region now faces an escalating climate crisis that exacerbates existing challenges and presents new ones.
The statistics paint a grim picture. The United Nations has warned that if countries continue on their current trajectory, the world could warm by about 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, far exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement. Although such temperature changes may seem small, they would have devastating consequences. The Arab region is already at the forefront of the escalating effects. Several countries have already been hit hard by severe heatwaves, drought, saltwater intrusion, desertification and a surge in sandstorms that ravage the once fertile cradle of civilization.
From a financial perspective alone, the costs are enormous and are only increasing. Climate change is a global threat, but the Middle East and its neighboring regions are particularly facing harsh realities. Temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average, and rainfall is erratic and difficult to predict. Over the past three decades alone, dramatic changes in temperature and rainfall patterns have had a major impact on per capita incomes across the Arab region, as well as on countries’ industrial mix and employment.
Meanwhile, climate-induced disasters are causing a permanent loss of 1.1% in gross domestic product (GDP) in the Middle East and North Africa region. This number is likely to rise in the future as the economic burden of these adversities is amplified by existing social problems such as inflation and unemployment.
Moreover, recent research suggests that climate change could further undermine public health, which is still recovering from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, worsen poverty and widen inequality. is getting stronger. This can result in tensions in the socio-political landscape, perpetuating instability and, in some cases, conflict. This could lead to countries that are currently weak becoming failed states in the future.
The September disaster in Derna, Libya, is the latest example of how the economic impacts of climate change will be especially acute in countries battered by conflict and misgovernance. As a result, these countries are four times more likely to experience production losses following climate-related weather shocks, and their frequency and intensity are likely to worsen. Apart from natural disasters, there is growing warning and evidence that climate change could worsen regional water security and food production, creating state failures and breeding grounds for terrorism and violent extremism.
Climate change-related water scarcity is particularly acute in the world’s driest regions. It is estimated that Arab countries could lose 6-14% of their GDP by 2050 due to reduced freshwater supplies. In one year, the Arab region suffered a GDP loss of $12 billion due to water scarcity alone, a result of a delayed response that, if left unchecked, would put as many as 100 million people in North Africa at risk. there is a possibility.
However, despite these challenges, the Arab region is also emerging as a global leader in climate change diplomacy. A number of climate change summits have been held in the region, including the important COP28 in Dubai. Despite criticism of these summits, they are important for the region (and the world) to promote cross-border cooperation, demonstrate unyielding commitment to tackling climate change, and highlight the scale and urgency of the challenge. There is no doubt that it is a great platform.
Currently, mitigation and adaptation efforts are severely lacking. Action and support are fragmented, sequential, concentrated in certain areas, and neglected in some areas. As the clock ticks down, Earth’s current orbit continues to significantly increase global temperatures. Meeting existing commitments would still lead to a rise in temperatures of around 2.5°C by the end of the century, compared to 3°C unless current policies are changed.
As evidence, in March and June 2023, global average temperatures briefly exceeded the critical 1.5°C threshold.
The main cause of temperature rise is an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with fossil fuel emissions accounting for over 75% of the total. In 2022, emissions exceeded pre-pandemic levels, but governments around the world plan to double fossil fuel production by 2030, in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. far exceeds sustainable amounts. To avoid exceeding this warming threshold set in Paris, global emissions must be nearly halved over the next seven years compared to 2010 levels, reaching net zero by 2050. There is a need.
To achieve this goal and reduce the growing costs of climate change, the world needs to take comprehensive, collaborative and urgent action. Not only are the potential benefits enormous, but the future of the Middle East and the resilience of its economies depend on it. At the global level, the cumulative benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C are thought to exceed $20 trillion. But for this to happen, governments in the Middle East, for example, may need to invest up to 4% of GDP each year to build enough climate resilience and meet their 2030 emissions reduction targets. do not have.
This seems difficult given the region’s tense geopolitical dynamics, economic headwinds, and untested ability to foster cooperation between conflicting stakeholders. Behind this is the increasing fragmentation caused by the rise of self-centered and self-centered states. Whatever path Arab countries take towards achieving their plan goals, attracting more private finance will be key to closing funding gaps and reducing regional economic disparities. Governments can also ease funding burdens by implementing measures such as accelerating fuel subsidy reform and introducing carbon taxes, alongside other interventions.
For example, the UAE and Qatar are significantly increasing investment in renewable energy projects, and countries such as Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia are working to improve the way they manage water. Measures that take these initiatives will not only mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, but will also bring significant economic benefits. But these efforts must be further scaled up. Current regional mitigation and adaptation policies need to be expanded and strengthened. This will require comprehensive strategies that address both the immediate crisis and the long-term impacts of climate change.
Future climate policy in the Middle East will need to be between managing economic trade-offs and taking decisive action to reduce the devastating effects of climate change on the region’s economies, socio-political structures and development. And there needs to be a balance. Although concrete progress is now being made, climate intervention in the Middle East requires more pragmatism than a focus on grand plans. Pragmatism and right-sizing are essential. Regions need to effectively prioritize climate interventions or risk putting the cart before the horse.
Disasters caused by climate change can compound threats that initially seemed unrelated, creating a complex web of challenges. This will not be resolved without risking the collapse of the entire economy. Moreover, even if abundant climate finance were available to poorer countries in the region, the focus would not be on mitigation or adaptation. Instead, there is an urgent need to reduce volatility by easing pressure on exhausted safety nets, closing inequalities, investing in infrastructure, and tackling unemployment, especially among young people and women. It will be. Failure to align climate change intervention priorities with these urgent socio-economic needs could lead to misaligned priorities that could lead to civil resentment, unrest and ultimately conflict.
To significantly reduce emissions and contribute to global climate action, Arab countries need to consider more ambitious mitigation strategies. Focusing on eco-friendly industry initiatives offers bright prospects, not only by reducing emissions but also by addressing other goals such as eradicating poverty and reducing inequality. Furthermore, just and equitable transitions produced through collective and participatory decision-making processes are critical to mitigating the devastating impacts on jobs and communities as countries transition away from fossil fuels. . This will require greater transparency in reporting on climate change adaptation actions, especially those that are tailored to the needs and context of local communities.
Of course, such actions need to be accompanied by a rapid scale-up of climate adaptation financing for developing countries. While the establishment of a fund for climate change-related “loss and damage” is a promising development, the funds pledged so far represent only a fraction of the estimated $400 billion in annual losses suffered by developing countries.
In the immediate future, the Middle East needs to adopt a holistic, pragmatic and inclusive approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. With the right strategies and implementation, the Arab region can close the current gaps and take decisive steps towards climate action. By aligning these actions with global efforts, the Middle East can pave the way to a more sustainable and resilient future.
Hafed Al -Gwell is a Senior Fellow and Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.