x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Climate change is a big threat to Arab states

Despite perilous facts, 194 nations have again failed to make progress on a plan to halt climate change at the 18th annual UN climate conference in Doha. The consequences to the Arab World will be unprecedented.

The Tilapia lake, hidden behind sand dunes near Al Ain, is now fenced off to the public until more is known about it.
The Tilapia lake, hidden behind sand dunes near Al Ain, is now fenced off to the public until more is known about it.

DOHA // They are perilous facts.

The Arab world will experience unprecedented and dangerous warming over the next century, endangering farming, industry and the water supply.

In Russia, two years ago, 55,000 people died from an extreme heatwave linked to global warming.

Arctic ice - that was once predicted to disappear this century - is now expected to vanish within the decade.. And the entire globe is in danger of a rise in temperatures of 4°C by the end of the century and possibly as soon as 2060, if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly cut.

Despite this information from a new World Bank report, 194 nations have again failed to make progress on a plan to halt climate change at the 18th annual UN climate conference that ended here yesterday. No agreement was reached on new emissions and rich nations refused to make a specific commitment to help poor nations adapt to rising temperatures, which are having devastating consequences.

As they left the cavernous convention hall in Doha, exhausted delegates did agree to extend the Kyoto Protocols - the world's only climate-change agreement - until 2020. But the United States has never joined, India and China were not included, and Canada, Japan and Russia said they will not sign on to the extension. The Russian delegate left the conference two days before its conclusion.

Kyoto will now cover cuts of only 15 per cent of world emissions, almost exclusively by Europe. The protocols are supposed to be a holding agreement requiring only reductions to 1990 levels until a formal climate treaty can be adopted, a prospect not greatly advanced in Doha.

A World Bank report released during the conference, held for the first time in the Middle East, was especially relevant to the region.

"Over the next century … the climate of Arab countries will experience unprecedented extremes," the report said. "Temperatures will reach new highs and, in most places, there will be less rainfall. Water availability will be reduced and, with a growing population, the already water-scarce region may not have sufficient supplies to irrigate crops, support industry, or provide drinking water."

At current warming trends, available water in Arab countries will decrease 10 per cent by 2050, while demand will increase by 60 per cent by 2045. Agricultural production will decline after 2050.

Recognising the damage to the Arab region by the emission of greenhouse gases, Sheikh Hamad bin Kahlifa Al Thani, the emir of host nation Qatar, which is the third largest supplier of liquified natural gas, said his nation has initiated projects to minimise gas flaring, gather and store carbon dioxide and upgrade combustion turbines. Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, told the conference his country was aiming to use wind and solar power to produce 15 per cent of the country's energy by 2030.

The main reasons for failing to achieve progress were the same as in previous UN climate conferences: the intransigence caused by the economic imperatives of China and the US - the world's largest polluters - and the exorbitant demands of developing countries for wealthy nations, grappling with recession, to pay for their transition to a greener economy.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York City in October, conference delegates had hoped for a dramatic shift in US climate policy. Yet there was no discernible difference in the US approach. Hamstrung by a strong oil, gas and manufacturing lobby, which views cuts in carbon emissions as a cut to their bottom lines, the US remains reluctant to consent to emission reductions necessary to keep a rise in global temperatures below the dangerous 2°C threshold.

The US president, Barack Obama, said last month that further US emissions cuts would come only if they did not harm the economy.

Likewise, China's imperative to keep economic growth levels among the highest in the world is keeping its government from agreeing to significant emissions cuts. Although it leads the world in alternative energy, China is also the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Economic motives trumping environmental preservation is perhaps best illustrated by the response to the melting polar ice cap by some producers of fossil fuels, the greatest cause of the climate crisis, who see new opportunity in the land and sea now free of ice. Russia's Gazprom wants to drill in the Pechora Sea, north-east of Murmansk. Shell, a global petrochemical group, has sought drilling rights to explore the now ice-free Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

Developing nations say that they have a historical argument for depending on the generosity of the developed world to pay for their green economy. Greenhouse gases have risen by 260 per cent and temperatures by 0.8°C since the Industrial Revolution in the northern hemisphere, built largely on the exploitation of natural resources of the undeveloped south. Now developing countries feel it is time for payback.

But with the industrialised world still recovering from the worldwide 2008 financial crash, they say they don't have the money. During the past three conferences they agreed to raise US$100 billion (Dh367bn) annually by 2020. Despite the request by developing nations, who want a payment timetable, the $100bn figure was not in the final document, with countries promising to announce pledges only "when their financial circumstances permit".

The frustration of governments unable to deal with an impending global crisis was perhaps best expressed in an emotional plea by Naderev Sano.

He broke down in tears in the middle of his speech as he referred to the typhoon that killed at least 550 people, most of them in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines, last week.

"The outcome of our work isn't about what our political masters want," he said. "It's about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people. "If not us, then who?" he said to the delegates. "If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"