An Emerging Catastrophe: Implications of Climate Change on the MENA region

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In recent years, the state of countries in the Middle East and Northern African (MENA) region have painted a disturbing picture of the world ragged with emerging climate catastrophe. Although the implications of climate change are truly global in nature, MENA countries, in particular, are looking at a horrific future that includes the destruction of crucial infrastructure and massive loss of life, if necessary and desperate measures are not taken in time. From flash floods in Turkey[1] to wild forest fires in Algeria[2] and increasing threats of drought, deforestation, and flooding –- the MENA region as a whole has already started to bear the burden of an untamed natural crisis. 

Multiple investigative reports and extensive studies targeted at exploring the degree of climate disasters have concluded that several Middle Eastern states are on the verge of confronting disaster. In 2016, Iran lost dozens of its citizens to smog and polluted air quality[3], while Turkey recently battled wild forest fires and flash floods simultaneously. Both of these disasters, not only claimed scores of human lives but also destroyed livelihoods, infrastructure worth billions of dollars alongside natural habitats. In June 2020, a report published by Science Advance argued that if the average temperature in the MENA region remains as high as it has been, parts of the region might become completely uninhabitable in the near future.[4]

Besides falling victim to regular natural disasters, Middle Eastern states also suffer from the constant dumping of hazardous material. Tons of illegal, non-renewable plastic waste is exported from the United Kingdom and Germany to landfills in Turkey every year. According to some accounts, in 2020 alone, almost 40% of the UK’s plastic waste ended up in Turkey.[5] However, such an exploitative approach to the mitigation of climate change is destined to provide a surface level and shallow solution to approaching perils. Whereas, the need of the hour is to formulate a comprehensive, all-inclusive, and practically deliverable policy regarding inevitable disaster. Instead of making the global south suffer from the calamities of emerging catastrophe alone, the global north must up the ante of reasonable and urgent action by efficiently handling perilous material responsibly and rationally. 

Meanwhile, states like Syria are at risk of what experts are calling ‘conflict-linked pollution flashpoints’, based on decades of conflict that have complicated governance in the region to a point that coastal oil spills have become a horrific but regular reality.[6] In the middle of such series of events, Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) appears to be a breath of fresh air. Although it aspires to take the lead in restoring the climate balance of the region by decreasing Kingdom’s fossil fuel emissions and fully adopting the Net-zero approach by 2060[7], yet it doesn’t cover the entire region. Most MENA states are, directly or indirectly, still dependent on conventional sources of energy and carbon emission. A shift to affordable, renewable energy will require more than lengthy speeches and impractical promises across all levels. World leaders must look beyond their limited political agendas and short-term electoral interests, instead their commitment to climate action needs to be universal and immediately effective.  

A proactive and pragmatic approach to meet the mitigating goals and avert the unfolding climate cataclysm in the MENA region is essential for reversing and halting the negative implications. The COP26, or UN Climate Change Conference, that was convened at Glasgow recently provided a vital platform for an in-depth insight into present affairs and for an overview of mounting challenges that the region is facing or will face in the coming decades. However, only a regionally-engaged, politically-practical and jointly-executable climate plan can successfully secure the future of MENA states. Upholding the true spirit of the Paris Climate Agreement is mandatory for any summit or conference on climate action to achieve desirable ends. 

Given the scale of implications, MENA states must sincerely take up the climate cause. Individually, bilaterally or multilaterally, measures should be taken to meet policy goals and formulate a stable regional approach. For, if climate question is left unresponsive even by a single regional state, then all are bound to suffer repercussions regardless.    


References:

[1] “Flash Floods in Turkey Kill 59, and Dozens Are Still Missing”, The New York Times, August, 15, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/15/world/europe/turkey-floods.html

[2] Mezahi, Maher, “Algeria’s desperate wildfire fight: Buckets and branches”, BBC News, August, 22, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58269789 

[3] Lila, Muhammad, “Tehran smog blamed for hundreds of deaths”, CNN, November, 17, 2017, https://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/17/middleeast/tehran-smog-deaths-iran/index.html

[4] Raymond, Colin, Tom Matthews, and Radley M. Horton. “The emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance.” Science Advances 6, no. 19 (2020): eaaw1838.

[5] Greenpeace International, “Investigation finds plastic from the UK and Germany illegally dumped in Turkey”, May, 17, 2021, https://www.greenpeace.org/international/press-release/47759/investigation-finds-plastic-from-the-uk-and-germany-illegally-dumped-in-turkey/

[6] PAX “Environment and Conflict Alert 4 Baniyas: An Environmental Disaster in the Making’, October, 19, 2021, https://paxvoorvrede.nl/media/download/PAX_ECA_Baniyas_FIN_lowres.pdf

[7] Krimly, Reem, “Saudi Arabia’s Green Initiative plan for net zero emissions explained”, Al Arabia English, October, 24, 2021, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/10/24/Saudi-Arabia-s-Green-Initiative-plan-for-net-zero-emissions-explained

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