The stakes for MENA in the Paris conference
The UN climate summit in Paris is of vital importance to all humanity, which is why 195 nations are attending the ten-day gathering.
For the Middle East and North Africa the issues are of even more crucial importance. Due to accumulated factors, the MENA region confronts many vulnerabilities that require a concerted regional and international effort.
With continuing population growth and increasing socio-economic pressures, the region’s many ecological weaknesses will worsen if left unaddressed or unmitigated.
Scarcity of water is one of the foremost problems in the MENA region, as rainfall could decline 15-20% by 2040. According to the United Nations’ panel on climate change projections, an additional 80 million-100 million people could be exposed to “water stress” within two decades.
The World Resource Institute lists 14 MENA countries, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations as well as Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Iran, among the world’s most endangered in terms of water scarcity. Water scarcity already has been pushing MENA nations to tap into aquifer resources beyond replenishment rates and at the expense of the needs of future generations.
Increasing temperatures caused by climate change pose another serious problem for the region. The Paris conference negotiators are pushing for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
Rising temperatures could reach unbearable levels in North Africa and the Middle East, adversely affecting all vital outdoor activities, including farming and tourism. Higher temperatures can expose millions in the Maghreb to flooding.
Coastal areas in the region could be threatened by long-term rising sea levels in such diverse places as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Qatar. According to the World Bank, 43 port cities in MENA, including 24 in the Middle East and 19 in North Africa, are at risk.
A related phenomenon is the gradual encroachment of the desert. The Maghreb states have yet to find successful ways of dealing with the advancing dunes of the Sahara.
“Desertification is a silent, invisible crisis that is destabilising communities at a global scale,” warns the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
The decline of agriculture and other economic activities as a result of climate change will most adversely affect the poor. This could lead to further social unrest and the emergence of power vacuums likely to be exploited by terror organisations.
A number of scientific studies have pointed to the role of the climate change-induced drought between 2006 and 2010 as one of the triggers of instability and civil war in Syria, where large swaths of land turned into a desert.
There are some positive trends in MENA however, such as abundant resources for renewable energy. Laudable efforts are being deployed by countries such as the UAE and Morocco. Alternative energy resources can help curtail carbon emissions and improve living conditions.
Good governance should include sound water and energy planning as well as reforms to ensure more efficient uses of energy and water resources. The involvement of civil society could build trust in government decisions, especially as recent protests in Arab countries have widened the divide between the population and governments. This divide must be overcome to ensure the well-being of current and future generations.