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Consequences of climate change in the Middle East

Jan 04,2024 - Last updated at Jan 04,2024

According to a report issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), countries in the Middle East and regions in Central Asia will face dire economic and financial consequences if adequate measures are not taken to mitigate emissions and adapt to the worsening climate crisis year after year. The executive director of the IMF said that climate change is already affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in the entire region, and that the problem will worsen gradually if the world fails to curb rising temperatures in the atmosphere near the surface of our planet.

The latest IMF report, “Feeling the Heat: Adapting to Climate Change in the Middle East and Central Asia”, shows the urgency of this issue. When the temperature has already risen today by 1.1Cº compared to that at the end of the eighteenth century when the industrial revolution started, half the world’s population is facing fresh water insecurity, as well as losses in agriculture, industry and infrastructure. Over the past two decades, the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters have risen faster here than anywhere in the world: droughts in North Africa, Somalia and Iran, epidemics and locust outbreaks in the Horn of Africa, and severe floods in the Caucasus and Central Asia. As the new study shows that during this century, in one average year, climate disasters in the Middle East and Central Asia have injured or displaced seven million people, caused an access of 2,600 deaths, and $2 billion in damage.

To address this problem, the world needs to cut global emissions by half as we reach 2030. The economic and financial impacts of these climate change impacts pose a major threat to growth, health and prosperity in the region, and have even caused a permanent loss in the level of GDP amounting to 5.5 percentage points in the Caucasus and Asia Central Sub region. Since today’s climate challenges are already taking a heavy toll, all countries must work to reduce emissions significantly in order to stabilise global temperatures and make the adaptation challenge more manageable to reduce GDP drop.

To achieve this end, the IMF recommends raising the carbon tax gradually and making industries pay for their carbon emissions. This action would incentivise companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Other actions involve setting a limit on overall emissions (Cap-and-Trade Systems) and allowing companies to buy and sell emission allowances on the global market. This encourages emission reductions in the most cost-effective manner. Add to this increasing the level of green investments and Energy-Efficient Infrastructure, such as investments in energy-efficient green buildings, clean transportation, and developing technologies (including facilitating technology transfer) that contribute to reducing the overall energy consumption and minimising environmental impact, as well as taking the necessary measures to ensure a fair transition to clean energy. The United Arab Emirates in this region of the world, for example, has led regional efforts through its pledge to conserve fresh water and invest more than $160 billion in renewable energy sources in order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Another leading example is that the share of sustainable clean renewable energy in Jordan compared to the total electrical energy produced has developed from 2 per cent in 2015 and has reached about 30 per cent in 2023, aiming at 50 per cent in 2030.

Transitioning to a cleaner energy requires support for communities, as transitioning to clean energy may affect communities dependent on traditional industries. This can be achieved through insuring new jobs training programmes, social support and opening new economic opportunities that can make the transition fairer. Also requires Social Safety Nets, as implementing safety nets and social programs can protect vulnerable populations from the economic impacts of transitioning industries.

Countries should also prioritise high-risk management measures, which can be justified under all possible future climate scenarios. There are important examples from North Africa, where Egypt invests in modern irrigation techniques, education, and health care. Nevertheless, adaptation policies should be included in national economic strategies. Specific interventions can help boost public investment in resilient infrastructure, including increasing flood protection, improving irrigation methods, and improving building design. Simulations for Morocco show that investing in water infrastructure improves drought resilience and reduces GDP losses by approximately 60 per cent.

Therefore, countries in these regions, at the local level, including Jordan, should begin mobilising revenues, increasing energy efficiency, water and irrigation efficiency, selecting agricultural crops appropriate to water scarcity, and reprioritising public spending, where ever possible. Internationally, a good start for advanced economies is to meet or exceed the goal of providing $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries

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