In the summer of 2022, cascading climate risks and options for resilience and adaptation in the MENA are evident for all to witness. A write-up by Cascades.eu deserves to be looked at again, and every word in it is worth this trouble. It is a report on the southern face of the Mediterranean Sea and its northern facade.
This report assesses the current situation and future projections of possible and likely biophysical climate impacts in the MENA region, based on a literature review, news articles and CASCADES climate impact data analysis.
Cascading climate risks and options for resilience and adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa
Climate change is a shared challenge for the MENA and European regions
The societies of Europe and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are historically, socially and economically intertwined. Climate change presents a shared and urgent challenge. Stretching from Morocco in the west to Syria in the north, Iran in the east and Yemen in the south, the MENA region covered by this report comprises 19 countries and is home to an estimated 472 million people, with a fast-growing young population. Conditions are diverse with some nations registering among the highest national income per capita in the world (e.g. Qatar, Kuwait, UAE) while others are low-income, conflict-affected societies, where human displacement and extreme poverty are rife (e.g. parts of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Libya).
The MENA region is exposed to physical climate impacts that threaten human life and political stability on several fronts. Water and agricultural production are particularly sensitive to the extremes of global warming, given the region’s already arid and semi-arid climates. Sea level rise threatens rapidly expanding urban and industrial coastlines over the next century and most cities are ill-prepared for the ravages of cyclones, sand storms and flooding. Humidity may become the most serious challenge to human life, especially for coastal cities.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region covered by this report
Climate change is already interacting with more immediate threats from armed conflict, environmental degradation, corruption and social and gender inequalities. Such compound conditions have worsened the humanitarian fallout from flooding in war-torn Yemen and facilitated extremist militant recruitment in drought-affected northern Iraq. Across the region, the role of long-term environmental mismanagement in worsening the impacts of climate change is brutally clear.
How communities and governments respond to evolving climatic conditions will affect the severity of effects that cross borders and continents, ‘cascading’ into European societies. As witnessed with forest fires in Lebanon in 2019 and recent water shortages in Iraq, Iran and Algeria, government failure to deal with environmental stress can trigger violent, potentially revolutionary, protests. Figure 1 illustrates variation in the capacity to cope with and adapt to climate threats. While all countries are challenged by their levels of fresh water relative to population and none are ranked as politically ‘sustainable’, some have a larger economic cushion to enable adaptation than others. The countries towards the right of the figure, affected by war and economic crisis, are the most vulnerable.
At the same time, climate change policies and rapidly changing costs of technology will alter oil- and gas-dominated trade relationships with MENA countries. Europe’s demand for petroleum imports is set to decline and new regulations for green growth and alignment with the Paris Agreement goals will affect imports and foreign investment. As Figure 2 shows, most countries would not be able to sustain their current economies for long with oil prices below
$50/barrel. These present both challenges and opportunities for MENA countries and several are pursuing long-term visions for economic diversification, the success of which will depend on new investment and trade relations.
The MENA region already imports more than 50 per cent of its food and will require increasing foreign exchange to meet growing demand. Meanwhile, sensitivity to food price rises due to, for example, droughts in other parts of the world, is high.
Figure 1. MENA country variation in renewable freshwater availability, socio-political stability and spending capacity
Figure 2. Oil and gas dependence in selected MENA exporter countries
Climate resilience strategies, green economic diversification and investment in long-term adaptation are critical to achieving sustainable peace and prosperity in the region. The European Union (EU) and European countries can harness existing relationships, investments and capacities to contribute to this effort. These range from the EU’s evolving neighbourhood partnerships, humanitarian assistance and development bank lending to traditional bilateral diplomacy, trade agreements and engagement with UN bodies. The EU is already extending the principles of its Green Deal to partnerships in its Southern Neighbourhood with reinvigorated commitment to green transition and climate resilience through the Agenda for the Mediterranean. With a fast-changing combination of conditions intersecting with climate change, EU institutions and businesses will need to both learn lessons from the past and anticipate new realities on the ground.
The purpose of this report
This report assesses the current situation and future projections of possible and likely biophysical climate impacts in the MENA region, based on a literature review, news articles and CASCADES climate impact data analysis.
The authors adopt a water–food–energy nexus perspective, given that this resonates with environmental interests in the region. However, this concept remains open to new understandings that put a greater emphasis on ecosystems and well-being – for example, air quality, biodiversity and nutrition. Irrigation for crops and agricultural processing, water for energy, energy for potable water as well as oil and gas revenues to pay for food imports are some of the dependencies that climate change is challenging in the region. These are also some critical areas offering opportunities for resilience-building.
Scenarios illustrate ways in which climate impacts in the MENA could compound other stresses and cascade, with effects that cross borders and affect Europe and European interests. Figure 3 shows a generic example of cascading risks. We highlight five subregions: Iraq (with relevance for Iran and Syria), North Africa, the Jordan Valley, the Nile and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Sister CASCADES studies on the Euphrates–Tigris Basin and North Africa, which are referred to in this study, provide more insight. The purpose of the scenarios is to enhance understanding of how resilience and adaptive actions might help to mitigate risks and limit the scope of harm that climate impacts could set in motion.
Figure 3. An example of climate-related risks in the MENA that can cascade across borders
Research benefited greatly from a series of interviews and workshops with regional experts. There are significant geographical, climatic and political differences between the subregions and within several countries. As such, this can only be a broad-brush introduction to the changes taking place and their interactions with ongoing resource and societal issues. The views and opinions of experts in the region have shaped the report’s discussion of vulnerability and resilience factors, the scenarios for the future and the recommendations.
Climate impacts are damaging human security in the MENA, yet resilience to climate change has been low on most public and political agendas. Climate change, particularly in the form of drought, flooding and storms, is already threatening lives and economies. The water and agricultural crises in Iraq are a case in point. Authorities and people in the region have generally not considered climate change and environmental health urgent issues, given more immediate threats of war, poverty, unemployment and human rights abuses. However, this is changing. In Oman, for example, cyclone devastation has spurred greater attention to disaster risk reduction (DRR) preparation for climate change. Civil society, particularly in parts of the Levant and North Africa, is increasingly vocal on environmental issues, often tackling them through a heritage conservation, local economy or social justice lens.
The two upcoming climate summits (COP27 and COP28) to be hosted by Egypt and the UAE, and the Saudi-led Middle East Green Initiative provide platforms for stronger cross-regional coordination and international partnerships.
Over the next 30 years, current water use, agricultural and building practices will become untenable; beyond 2050, liveability in the MENA region will be determined significantly by our global emissions trajectory. Irrespective of mitigation, cumulative emissions mean that the current warming trajectory will continue until at least around mid-century. While there are fewer long-term projections focusing on a 1.5°C scenario, this would suggest a far less damaging prospect for MENA countries than 2°C+, given existing aridity and coastal exposure. The extent of coastal land mass loss through sea level rise in this century will largely be determined by these trends.
Local and regional treatment of the environment is integral to climate risks. In all cases, local human developments and practices such as the density of population, overgrazing and monocropping, urban development on floodplains, damming of rivers, land reclamation and destruction of natural barriers such as mangroves and deforestation affect the vulnerability and severity of impact of climate-related events. At the same time, governance factors such as lack of transboundary water management systems, insufficient rule of law and military occupation affect a society’s ability to take resilience and adaptation measures.
Without effective measures, climate impacts will compound local vulnerabilities and have severe consequences for human lives, livelihoods, economies and security in the region. For example, in the absence of radical changes in water management and food production methods, competition among water users will grow and food security will diminish. While poorer and conflict-affected countries remain the most vulnerable, richer ones also face high risks.
Transition risks will be at least as important as physical climate risks for economies depending on oil and gas export revenues. The sensitivities of failing public services including water provision and electricity, combined with higher food prices and declining ability to pay for imports, could lead to political instability (as shown in Figure 3).
Cascading risk scenarios show how climate impacts in the MENA could affect EU interests, including the prospects for peace, development and business investments, expatriate workers, migration flows, human rights and the demand for international humanitarian aid. They also suggest how things might play out differently depending on national, regional and international factors, which will determine the ability to cope with and adapt to climate stresses. Three broad medium-term meta scenarios – stagnation, fragmentation and cooperation – suggest different outcomes (see Figure 4). The actions of major powers, including the EU, will strongly influence how these factors evolve. More concerted, thoughtful diplomacy is essential to reduce conflict and to address shared environmental issues.
Figure 4. Meta scenarios for 2025–2035 which would affect countries’ ability to respond and adapt to climate change
In early 2022, the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear that the window of opportunity for climate resilient development is closing and will require transformative adaptation measures. This report identifies urgent priorities for the MENA region in the areas of improving water management, regeneration of landscapes and infrastructure resilience. National stakeholders and their international partners cannot address these effectively without acting within the wider political and economic context to strengthen sustainable peace and good governance.
Firstly, climate resilience and adaptation projects must include co-benefits that meet immediate country needs and align with national aspirations.
Secondly, given the transboundary nature of many of the risks we discuss above, planners should consider how measures might promote greater cooperation. This could be through knowledge sharing and technical exchanges, infrastructure that benefits more than one country, cross-border community land restoration and joint early warning systems and DRR cooperation.
Thirdly, deepening engagement with local cultural and religious understandings will be important in fostering stronger, long-term public awareness and more equal partnerships for environmental resilience.
Exploring future scenarios can improve understanding of how climate impacts might interact with societal dynamics, and suggest how investments might foster better conditions for long-term adaptation. For example, a particular challenge noted by regional experts was the lack of enablement at municipal, civil society and micro- to-medium-sized enterprise levels. The immense human capacity of the region, fully inclusive of women and youth, will be essential to address climate and environmental challenges nimbly, and with greater co-benefits for societal well-being.
The report makes six recommendations for EU approaches in the region. The EU should:
Take advantage of its role as a major trading partner of the region to push for regional peace and cooperation through alignment with its European Green Deal. The EU’s Agenda for the Mediterranean (AfM) , launched in 2021, aims to do just this. As cooperation and investment packages develop, careful thought should be given to creating policy coherence across the five key policy areas, and with member states.¹
Provide climate change modelling tools to support national and local scenario building and assist with monitoring and early warning systems for climate-related hazards. Emerging and existing programmes such as Copernicus² and I-CISK³ could be usefully extended or deployed through partnerships to improve local knowledge production.
Explore ways in which remedial and post-conflict rehabilitation work can help address humanitarian needs while fostering long-term environmental resilience. This could include assessing and supporting local action to remediate conflict-affected environments and encourage green infrastructure.
Build climate resilience in cities and subnational areas of the MENA region by developing technical skills to address climate-related issues and manage the water–energy–food nexus. This would build on the ‘human-centred’ approach of the AfM, targeting solutions-oriented capacity building at the municipal and community levels.
Pay close attention to the effectiveness of mechanisms to scale up sustainable finance and disburse funds, taking into account the respective capabilities of centralized bureaucracies versus local agencies and other actors in the area concerned. Greater inclusion of civil society, women, youth and vulnerable groups in consultation and decision- making can help improve accountability.
Use financial instruments for climate resilience and adaptation to empower local actors and build better national to subnational linkages. EU partnerships could, for example, help to scale up projects initiated by civil society organizations that have proven successful by linking them up with the relevant government authorities and making follow-up funding conditional on co-created plans for implementation.
These are: 1) Human development, good governance and the rule of law; 2) Strengthen resilience, build prosperity and seize the digital transition; 3) Peace and security; 4) Migration and mobility; and 5) Green transition: climate resilience, energy, and environment.
Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme.
Innovating Climate services through Integrating Scientific and local Knowledge (I-CISK) is an EU-funded project running from 2021 to 2025.
Hydrogen produced from waste could soon be flowing from Egypt to Germany, with US-based H2-Industries signing deals this week that could see its ‘carbon-negative’ supplying the market with the lowest cost of hydrogen yet. This week, the company announced plans to produce 300,000 tons of hydrogen per year in Egypt, out of 4 million tons of organic waste and non-recyclable plastic. The announcement comes just days after talks at the MEFED energy conference in Jordan, where Germany climate minister Robert Habeck agreed to collaborate with H2-Industries to find German off-takers for the hydrogen produced in the MENA region, as part of the country’s new strategy to ramp up hydrogen imports to replace Russian gas.The company has also recently signed MoUs for the design, delivery, installation, and operation of hydrogen production plants in Egypt and Oman. In late April, it unveiled plans to develop a $1.4 billion waste-to-hydrogen plant in conjunction with 300 MW of solar power plants and baseload capacity in Oman. It claims that it is in discussion for subsequent projects in “30 countries from South America, Europe, the Middle East to all areas in Africa.” In total, the company’s projects in the MENA region will aim to produce up to two million tons of clean hydrogen per year from 2030.Further agreements are also being negotiated to see the hydrogen produced stored using the company’s liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology, which will then be transported to Germany for industrial off-takers.H2 Industries hydrogen production uses a process called thermolysis, which unlike combustion, uses a high-temperature conversion process to produce hydrogen without oxygen. In thermolysis units – which take a similar form to pre-assembled and scalable shipping container frames – waste is decomposed through steam-reforming at a temperature of around 900 degrees Celsius. The product from this reaction is a hydrogen-rich gas mixture, from which hydrogen can be extracted and purified, as well as some additional waste, which can be discarded, or sometimes used in fertilizers.The system can use a range of waste materials as its feedstock, including non-recyclable plastic waste such as hydrocarbons like polyethylene, biogenic residues from agriculture, forestry, food waste, and sewage sludge.Through preventing any emissions from this process, such production of hydrogen can essentially be labelled as ‘carbon negative.’ On a global scale, the vast majority of municipal waste goes into open dumps (33%) and landfills without gas collection (28.9%). With a high biomass content in this situation, waste can be a major source of methane – with an 84-times greater impact on the climate than CO2, over a 20-year period. By processing waste for green hydrogen, the methane emitted from waste can theoretically be eliminated. As could the emissions of toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls which occur when waste is incinerated.The other issue that the technology addresses is the current capacity to source green hydrogen solely from renewables. Using alternative technologies, wind and solar can be left dedicated to electricity production. To reach suggested targets of 24% of the world’s energy mix by 2050, green hydrogen production would demand 31,320 TWh of electricity – more than the 26,000 TWh of global power generation from all sources, and far more than the 3,000 TWh of wind and solar power generation used for electricity today.Another key advantage is that the costs of this type of hydrogen could be offset significantly by the ‘gate-fees’ that local authorities typically require for treating waste, as well as the carbon credits for avoiding landfill methane emissions. In California, for example, municipalities must pay in excess of $100 per ton to have their waste processed.By competing with these gate fees, H2 Industries believes that the cost of hydrogen it produces will be around half of the existing green hydrogen production technologies, and lower than the $1.50 per kilogram benchmark cost of grey hydrogen.One thing that must be considered, however – and is often neglected due to some sneaky accounting – is the significant energy needed to dry to waste before it can be turned into hydrogen.The Suez Canal project will be the first of its kind at this scale, although there are several others focused on producing hydrogen using waste feedstocks.Boson Energy – a Luxembourg based company – has developed a plasma-assisted gasification process that uses extremely high temperatures to break waste down into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and a molten slurry that solidifies into a glassy rock that can be sold for profit and used in cement, concrete or road building. The company claims that the income from this could offset the cost of hydrogen production, and allow the hydrogen to be produced at zero or even sub-zero costs.
Ways2H, similarly, is looking to use a processed feedstock of Municipal Solid Waste, mixed with ceramic beads that have been heated to around 1,000°C. At this heat, the bulk of the waste is converted to methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and CO2, while a portion is left as solid char – which can be identified as ‘stored carbon.’ This char is recovered and burned as the supply of heat for the ceramic beads.
The mixture of gases then undergoes steam reforming, to produce hydrogen and CO2 from the methane – improving hydrogen yield by 50%. Depending on the initial feedstock, Ways2H claims that one ton of dry waste can produce up to 120 kilograms of hydrogen – although typical yields sit between 40 and 50 kilograms. This depends on the water content of the feedstock – which inherently boosts hydrogen content – with the 120 kg figure coming from Ways2H’s pilot in South America, which uses sewage sludge as its feedstock.
Last week, the UK also approved its second waste plastic to hydrogen plant, with the £20 million West Dunbartonshire facility using Powerhouse Energy’s technology aiming to produce 13,500 tons of hydrogen per year.
The above-featured image is of H2-Industries (Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ Alexander Kirch
People-powered resilience: Andalusia announces new climate action plan as per Climate-KIC should be considered a leader by example, be extended and therefore generalised to the neighbouring regions, i.e. the MENA countries. Mainly for better consequent outcome, if only, in the concerned region in this article.
Andalusia is the southernmost region of Spain. Covering 800 kilometres of coastline, it’s a region famed for its sunshine, beaches, rugged mountains, tourism and agricultural history.
Andalusia is less-known for its ambition to be a world leader in resilience and adaptation; a goal partly borne from necessity because, due to its geographical and climatic conditions, Andalusia is witnessing the worsening impacts of climate change on its territory.
The region is experiencing an increasing number of droughts and wildfires, and oppressive heatwaves during the summer months. In September, the region was hit with destructive flooding, with over 11cm of rain falling in Huelva in just one hour.
Mitigation and adaptation to climate change have consequently been priorities for the Andalusian Government, and on October 13th the Governing Council approved the Andalusian Climate Action Plan 2030 (PAAC 2030), making Andalusia the first Spanish community to approve plans in line with the new state law on climate change.
Risks and forging resilience
The Forging Resilience in Andalusia project, or Forjando Resiliencia en Andalucía, is co-financed by EIT Climate-KIC and part of the Deep Demonstration Resilient Regions programme. The programme contributed to the PAAC 2030 process by developing sectoral and multisectoral workshops in 2020 which collectively assessed the different climate risks in Andalusia, and co-designed a portfolio of actions for resilience and adaptation.
Identifying the dangers, impacts and vulnerabilities of climate change impacts on areas, and prioritising specific risks that need to be addressed in different regional environments, is a critical part of building resilience and will ultimately enable local and regional communities to better manage shocks and stresses caused by climate change.
The results of the sectoral workshops were analysed, and a series of preliminary conclusions were drawn up, with the main vulnerabilities identified based on the demand and availability of water. Extraction of water from aquifers, extraction wells, water reserves and lack of water were all highlighted in the PAAC chapter focusing on adaptation, which drew on the conclusions of the workshop. Other risks mentioned included intense rainfall, increasing sea levels and subsequent erosion, and extreme weather events like floods and heat waves, plus the knock-on potential social impacts of all these events, like unemployment or depopulation.
“But with vulnerabilities differing right down to the provincial level, the local aspect cannot be overlooked”, said Maria Lopez Sanchís from General Directorate of Environmental Quality and Climate Change, Junta de Andalucia.
“Our process also identified hazards and impacts taking into account territorial differences,” said Lopez Sanchís. “This will be more relevant in the different operational programmes of the PAAC, because the plan urges different areas to incorporate the territorial perspective in the risk assessments and definition of adaptation measures whenever possible. To build true resilience, we have to deeply consider geographical differences and the specific characteristics that determine the vulnerability of each territory’s exposure to climate hazards. Then we need to place special emphasis on the most vulnerable spaces.”
People power towards a better scenario
The role of the workshops however wasn’t only to analyse the current risks, but also to look forward to how an ideal scenario for Andalusia could look. This meant identifying the levers of change that need to be engaged for that to be achieved and drawing up a roadmap of innovation options and portfolio priorities.
“As well as analysing the current situation, we also carried out an exercise to determine the ideal climate change scenario,” said Lopez Sanchís. “We want to look to the future and identify the levers of change that will allow us to define the means by which we can achieve a more resilient Andalusia,” she said. Lopez Sanchís added that a number of the levers identified to help Andalusia reach this goal are included in the PAAC report, including ecosystem management and land-use planning, but also people-powered interventions like education and behavioural change.
“In building this vision, citizen engagement is critical,” said Lopez Sanchís. “Through our different online workshops, we carried out a process of public participation aligned with the consultation and public exposure phase of the Andalusian Climate Action Plan.”
Both formal and informal education, as well as behavioural change, and political, social, cultural and ecological decisions are all addressed in the new climate plan, as is the promotion of sustainable lifestyles, which means rethinking our ways of life, how we buy and what we consume.
“The people piece is recognised as one of the required ‘adaptation dimensions’ in order to achieve the adaptation objectives set by the PAAC,” said Lopez Sanchís. “To meet the challenge of climate change, and to build resilience and adapt, yes, we need to recognise and analyse the threats, but then we also need to take whole communities with us as we develop a roadmap of innovation that will enable us to survive and thrive. Only people can make the PAAC happen.”
EIT Climate-KIC is proud to be a partner of the UN High Level Champion’s Race to Resilience campaign, which is working to step-up global ambition for climate resilience in the run-up to COP26 and beyond.
Marking five years since the passing of renowned architect and artist Zaha Hadid, Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska presents a celebratory and revelatory exhibition of her work entitled “Abstracting the Landscape”.
The picture above is for illustration and is of Ocula.
An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape” Exhibition At Galerie Gmurzynska In Zurich
I write about conscious luxury, focusing on travel, well-being & art.
Described as the “Queen of Curves”, this Iraqi-British innovator was one of the major figures of late 20th Century and 21st Century architecture and design. Her buildings and interiors always dared to be different and her global legacy reveals her creative and enduring genius. What she achieved is an influential body of work which others look to for inspiration.
Hers was a career marked by recognition for all that she contributed to the development of design and function. Her impact on the built environment was extensive and driven by her fusion of Modernism into her architectural creations. This saw her become the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the only woman ever to be presented with the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Her numerous and acclaimed exhibitions have included “The Great Utopia” at the Guggenheim Museum and Art Basel in both Switzerland and Miami.
Her architecture always evolved as she was never prepared to stand still or to accept anything that would compromise her vision. She was always eager to challenge preconceptions bringing some much-needed refreshment to an architectural establishment that can often appear stale and inflexible. The fact that her many buildings already seem timeless is a testament to her ongoing relevance and her ability to prompt those who follow to strive to achieve such a level of authenticity.
Galerie Gmurzynska has had a long association with Zaha Hadid having highlighted her work in a number of earlier exhibitions. There is therefore an initial poignancy around this collection of models, drawings, artworks and sculptures as it prompts the thought that she has now gone. However, the sheer vibrancy of the pieces quickly dispels any feelings of melancholy and it is a joy to look at and experience what is so carefully set out here.
“When we saw Zaha’s design for the “Great Utopia” exhibition of Russian Avantgarde at the Guggenheim New York in 1992, it took our breath away. And that is what our relationship was about, to implement breathtaking projects ever since. For most she will be remembered as the female architect who broke the glass-ceiling. For her the term “female architect” was irrelevant. For us, as a gallery, her drawings and paintings could be considered works of art, while Zaha never considered herself to be an artist. Zaha was an eternaly curious and artistic minded person with a vision. It is this Zaha that we attempt to present in our current exhibition as an homage to Zaha Hadid.” says Matthias Rastorfer, CEO and Partner at Galerie Gmurzynska
Zaha Hadid’s use of non-figurative forms and shapes fuses technology with art and the clever interplay of light and color combinations show her freshness of vision, creativity and technical expertise. Elements of the exhibition are so “reach out and touch” that they draw both the hand and the eye as they fill the gallery’s floor space. The sinewy contours of many of the works on display seem irresistible and lure both our eyes and hands to discover more. The mixing of media adds depth to the exhibits and there is also the contrast between the modernity on show here as it juxtaposes with the traditional architecture of the commercial building which appears opposite.
The exhibition involved close co-operation with the late artist’s designs team who act as the guardians of her legacy and who seek to preserve and respect her artistic integrity. It is fitting that Galerie Gmurzynska has decided to incorporate key elements of Zaha Hadid’s work as a permanent element of its gallery space. This will act as a reminder and a living memorial of this great architect and artist’s depth of contribution over the length of her career.
Impressive on all levels.
I view luxury lifestyle from a conscious perspective and am most passionate about wellbeing, art and travel. I am the founder of the lifestyle blog her-etiquette.com (follow me on Instagram: @her_etiquette). I also run the consulting firm HER CIRCLE which specializes in sustainable luxury strategies and marketing concepts with purpose. Before becoming an entrepreneur I have worked in Sales & Marketing at Coutts & Co, Deutsche Bank and Hugo Boss. Based between Zurich and London, I travel the world and write about the joy of the journey.
Efforts to curb carbon emissions are falling short. As climate change impacts become all too clear, geoengineering is again in the spotlight. Some see it as a last-resort option to fight climate change. Detractors highlight the risks and uncertainties. Will governments end up ‘tinkering with Earth’s thermostat’?
In the summer of 2018, a succession of heatwaves struck the EU. Record-breaking temperatures were reported, and wildfires ravaged the continent. Sweden suffered the worst forest fires in modern history. In Greece, blazes swept through Attica and left 102 dead. For many citizens, wildfires threw the reality of climate change into sharp relief.
Under the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries pledged to keep global warming well below 2°C. But progress in curbing carbon emissions is not on track. If the current trend is not reversed, extreme weather events like the 2018 heatwave will become more and more frequent.
Geoengineering refers to large-scale interventions in the global climate system, intended to counteract climate change. In 2008, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity called for a moratorium on geoengineering ‘until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities’. Only a decade later, scientists and policy-makers are again looking for last-ditch solutions to buy some extra time. Geoengineering is again in the spotlight.
Potential impacts and developments
Geoengineering includes a number of techniques of varying complexity, risk, and cost. In policy-making, the debate revolves almost entirely around ‘solar geoengineering‘. This describes a set of methods aimed at cooling the planet by reflecting a portion of solar energy back into space, or increasing the amount of solar radiation that escapes the Earth.
Cirrus clouds are known to have a warming effect on Earth. Seeding the atmosphere with innocuous Sahara dust would prevent the formation of cirrus clouds, and reduce global temperatures. Stratospheric aerosol injection entails creating an artificial sunshade by injecting reflective particles in the stratosphere. Its working principle is based in nature. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 pumped around 15 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere; in the two years that followed, global temperatures decreased by about 1°C.
But there is no simple solution. For a start, solar geoengineering does not target the root of the problem; it only mitigates its effects. Solar geoengineering has never been tried before. If done incorrectly, it could cause even more global warming; and there could be other unintended consequences. The real challenge, however, may not be technological but rather one of governance. Climate politics is slow and complex; agreeing on using untested technology on a planetary scale could prove impossible. Who decides to use solar geoengineering? Who benefits from it? Who is affected?
Solar geoengineering is a geopolitical issue. The atmosphere has no borders, and the actions of some countries could affect the climate of others. To make matters worse, the science is not always conclusive. Some climate models suggest that almost every region in the world would benefit from solar geoengineering. Other scientists claim that since heat-trapping gases would still operate, temperatures would be more evenly distributed. This would reduce precipitation. Such a geoengineered world would be cooler, but also drier.
Many stakeholders see a moral hazard in solar geoengineering. All efforts are now focused on reducing emissions. With new tools in their climatic toolbox, governments could become complacent. Scientists insist that geoengineering is a supplement and not a substitute for mitigation. For example, solar geoengineering will not solve ocean acidification, and its impact on the water cycle is uncertain. Eventually, part or all the carbon released into the atmosphere will need to be recaptured, regardless of whether geoengineering is used or not.
To some citizens, meddling with the climate may sound like playing god. But across the world, about 40 % of the population live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Rising sea levels will threaten these coastal communities. Many regions will see more intense and frequent summer droughts, extreme weather events, and heavy rainfall. This could strain the fragile agricultural systems in the global South, sparking an exodus of climate refugees. As the consequences of climate change accumulate, the public’s opinion on solar geoengineering could shift rapidly.
Perceptions could be as important as the science. In 1962, the US started a programme to weaken hurricanes through seeding. In 1963, Hurricane Flora caused thousands of deaths in Cuba. The Cuban government accused the US of waging weather warfare. Similarly, any country suffering from extreme weather could blame geoengineers. In addition, geoengineering would be deployed progressively. Its effects would be initially difficult to decouple from natural fluctuations and climate change. Detractors would be quick to discard it as a failed idea.
There is a bigger problem, however. Once started, solar geoengineering cannot be stopped. Assuming that carbon emissions continued, the artificial sunshade would mask increasing amounts of extra warming. If geoengineering ceased abruptly – due to sabotage, technical, or political reasons – temperatures would shoot up rapidly. This termination shock would be catastrophic for humans and ecosystems.
Solar geoengineering should only be considered as a last-resort solution. There is ample consensus that cutting emissions is the safest, most economical route to tackling climate change. The world needs a climate champion to accelerate these efforts, and the EU could lead the way.
Ultimately, the debate surrounding solar geoengineering could come down to balancing the risks and benefits. Solar geoengineering is not without risks. However, failing to mitigate climate change will also bring major new risks, disrupt ecosystems across the world, and hit the most vulnerable regions particularly hard.
Ironically, one reason that solar geoengineering may become necessary is the slow pace of international climate negotiations. Yet discussions on geoengineering are following the same path. Should solar geoengineering become necessary, governments need to be ready. The EU could help advance preparedness in this area; for example, by throwing its diplomatic weight behind multilateral initiatives moving in this direction.
The EU and its partners could promote an international governance framework for solar geoengineering. However, all parties must be on board. There are real risks that some of the countries worst affected by climate change could act unilaterally. Even if well-intentioned, this could create geopolitical tension. An international regulation system would ensure that no country ‘goes rogue’, and that geoengineering is not done for some at the expense of others.
The EU could also support research on solar geoengineering. Studies and trials may have been hampered by fears of promoting a quick ‘technofix’. But if geoengineering became necessary to avert disaster, its full effects must be known. Current techniques are criticised for posing a risk to biodiversity, precipitation patterns, and the ozone layer. A better understanding of these problems is the first step towards tackling them. Research could also help governance. For example, counter-geoengineering tools could serve as a deterrent against unilateral action.
Originally posted on The Omer's Speech: The protection of cultural heritage is a crucial aspect of preserving the history and identity of nations and communities around the world. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of various declarations and international organizations such as UNESCO, these illegal activities in cultural heritage and the theft of cultural objects remain…
Originally posted on Travel Between The Pages: On this day in 1960, Albert Camus, French author, philospopher and journalist, died in an automobile accident at age 46. In his coat pocket lay an unused train ticket. Camus had intense Motorphobia (fear of automobiles), and thus avoided riding in cars as much as possible. Instead, he…
Originally posted on Levant's Agora: By Nick Butler. Many have dismissed last month’s COP27 climate conference as a failure, owing to the lack of progress on pledges made at the COP26 summit last year, and to the absence of clear commitments to phase out fossil fuels. More broadly, the COP process itself has been…
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