x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Middle East faces extreme climate change

Earth matters: Temperatures up to 6°C higher are likely to be among the most serious impacts brought about by changes in the climate, a World Bank report notes in Doha.

A jogger running along the Corniche as the sun sets In Abu Dhabi.
A jogger running along the Corniche as the sun sets In Abu Dhabi.

DOHA // From heatwaves to water scarcity, desertification and flooding of coastal cities, the Middle East will be acutely affected by climate change, a report by the World Bank has warned.

The report, "Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries", was launched yesterday alongside the United Nations climate change summit in Doha, Qatar.

As far as the Arabian Gulf region is concerned, extremely high temperatures are likely to be among the most serious impacts brought about by changes in the climate.

Such a scenario is becoming increasingly possible, unless emissions of greenhouse gasses - caused by the burning of fossil fuels - are reduced quickly. The available scientific data is already a concern, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank's vice president for sustainable development.

"Temperatures in this region have increased 50 per cent faster than the global average," she said.

The year 2010 was the hottest since records began in the 1800s, with 19 countries setting records for high temperatures, said Ms Kyte. "Five of them were here in this precise region," she said. "Kuwait, for example, measured temperatures in excess of 52°C."

With Gulf cities, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, already experiencing extreme heat in summer, any increase will further push already harsh conditions.

"Imagine living in these cities when they regularly experience temperatures of 54°C, 55°C, 56°C," said Ms Kyte. "As someone put it to me yesterday, we are going to have to build fridges for people to live in ovens."

Prepared in partnership with the League of Arab States, yesterday's report reflects the feedback of experts, policymakers and civil society organisations from across the region. It follows another World Bank publication, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided.

As the title suggests, the document, released last month, analysed the impacts of a rise of 4°C in average global temperatures. At the Doha conference, world governments are trying to agree upon measures that will limit global warming to no more than 2°C. Even if the pledges for emissions reductions being discussed in Doha, are met, there is a "roughly 20 per cent likelihood" of exceeding 4°C of warming, the report said. And if the pledges are not met, this threshold can be crossed as early as the 2060s.

The World Bank followed November's report with yesterday's publication on the Arab world, because the average global increase of 4°C will not be evenly distributed throughout the globe. The increase for the Middle East and North Africa is expected to be higher, at an average of 6°C.

Under the Kyoto Protocol - the only legally binding agreement on climate at the moment - only developed countries are obliged to commit to reducing their emissions. The protocol considers the UAE and other countries in the Middle East as developing nations, and so they are obliged only to report their emissions, as well as any voluntary measures they decide to take.

"Our natural constituency as the World Bank are our shareholders and our clients and those are normally represented by the ministers of finance in those countries, and I think that the dialogue with them about the economic, financial and investment consequences of not acting now is something we wish to deepen and speed up," said Ms Kyte.

While officials fell short of recommending that Arab countries pledge legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, they stressed steps were needed to ensure they adapt to the climatic changes to come in future.

One key issue is the need to make an in-depth study on the likely impacts facing each country, said Dr Junaid Ahmad, World Bank's director for sustainable development in Middle East and North Africa. Food security and infrastructure development were also pointed as priorities.

vtodorova@thenational.ae