Climate change: ‘an unfolding catastrophe’

Friday 27/11/2015
An Iraqi man walks on dry, cracked earth in the Chibayish marshes near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya.

Beirut - As world powers seek to find common cause to crush Islamic extremists following the November 13th bloodbath in the City of Light by Islamic State (ISIS) killer squads and fears of further atrocities, these heads of state and government will be tasked during their 12-day gathering with over­coming years of acrimonious divi­sion over how to tackle an even greater threat — climate change.

Many see this as a clear and pre­sent danger that will ultimately decimate humanity unless man­kind can come together on an agreement, to apply to all countries, to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-in­dustrial, or pre-1850, levels to avoid what the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London calls “catastrophic and irreversible climate change”.

The Middle East and North Africa are particularly vulnerable to cli­mate change. They are among the water-scarce regions in the world and a large portion of their popula­tion and economic activity are con­centrated in low-lying coastal cities that are threatened by rising sea lev­els as polar ice caps melt.

Many say that the war in Syria was triggered in large part by a dev­astating drought between 2006 and 2010 that, worsened by a warming climate, turned nearly 60% of the country into a desert.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has observed: “It’s not a coinci­dence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country­side experienced its worst droughts on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the politi­cal unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

Climate experts say the semi-arid Sahel region of North Africa, the southern periphery of the Sa­hara where the Maghreb meets sub- Saharan Africa, is heading for the same fate.

Mali, which erupted into a war zone after the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s Libyan tyranny in 2011, is the centre of this time bomb as the nomadic Tuareg’s grasslands shrivel and die from desertification, threatening a way of life that goes back thousands of years.

As the Middle East, arid for the most part with its few main rivers such as the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris being choked off by dams in upstream states, mainly Turkey and Ethiopia, and dwindling rain­fall, becomes prey to growing water shortages, the prospect of resource wars looms alarmingly.

Michael T. Klare, an expert on international security and conflicts over dwindling resources such as oil, said the number of failed states in the region will grow as peo­ple scramble for food, farmland and water, tribe against tribe, sect against sect, breakdowns that the region is already witnessing on a frightening scale.

“Imagine significant parts of the planet in the kind of state that Lib­ya, Syria and Yemen are in today,” says Klare with a nod towards the ever-swelling flood of Middle East­ern refugees already seeking salva­tion in Europe and threatening a clash of populations scrapping over shrinking resources.

“Some people will stay and fight to survive; others will migrate, almost assuredly encountering a far more violent version of the hostility we already see towards immigrants and refugees in the land they head for. The result, inevitably, will be a glob­al epidemic of resource civil wars and resource violence of every sort.”

For Klare, who has been warning of these impending disasters for years, the Paris conference “should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference — perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history — a kind of pre-emptive peace conference, one that’s taking place before the wars truly begin.”

Many of the major cities in North Africa and the Levant — from Casa­blanca on the Atlantic Ocean and eastward to Oran, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Benghazi, Algiers, Alex­andria, Tel Aviv and Beirut — face slipping, Atlantis-like, beneath the waves.

A scientific study published Oc­tober 26th warned that the Arabian Gulf, which contains a large portion of the planet’s oil and gas reserves, will suffer killer heatwaves, more intense than anything ever expe­rienced by humankind, if climate change is not checked.

The report, by professors Jeremy Pal and Elfatih Eltahir of the Mas­sachusetts Institute of Technology, indicates these extreme heatwaves would start after 2070, with com­puter simulations showing the heat index — which combines heat and humidity — going as high as 74-77 Celsius, so hot the human body can­not get rid of heat.

Climate campaigner Naomi Klein calls all this “an unfolding catastro­phe” and condemned the French government’s ban on protests and marches by people from the most threatened parts of the planet dur­ing the conference as part of the post-November 13th security crack­down.

“When governments and corpo­rations knowingly fail to act to pre­vent catastrophic warming, that is an act of violence. It is a violence so large, so global… that there is not yet a word capable of containing its monstrousness.”

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