At a time when it is no more Climate-related disasters posing a ‘major’ growth threat, can the Middle East avoid the Coming Climate Disaster?

While the costs of mitigation and adaptation reforms will be high, the price of inaction is immeasurable.

The Middle East has a severe climate problem. According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, the average temperature in the region has risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1990, which is more than twice the global average. On top of that, countries there and in Central Asia account for nearly half of the fifty countries most prone to “extreme heat events” (periods of excessive temperatures and humidity). Further temperature increases are expected, with adverse economic, environmental, and societal consequences for the region.

For example, in 2019, the United Nations sounded the alarm of a coming era of “climate apartheid,” wherein extreme temperatures and prolonged heatwaves threaten to “‘undo the last 50 years’ of development, global health and poverty reduction” and impoverish millions. This new reality will be particularly consequential for the Middle East, which has already been struggling to address electricity shortages, economic inequality, and human harm intensified by lengthy heatwaves with record temperatures. These pains are likely to have a pronounced economic effect: as the IMF reports, “Even in a moderate emission scenario (RCP 4.5) that limits global warming to 2-3 [degrees Celsius] by 2100, mortality-related costs [the cost of deaths and adaptations on society] … could reach an average of 1.6 percent of GDP per year during 2040-59.” And the situation is even grimmer for the region’s hottest countries—such as Bahrain, Djibouti, Mauritania, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The IMF says that these nations could see an “immediate decline in per capita economic growth of around 2 percentage points” for every “temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius.”

Of course, it is not just rising temperatures but also declining precipitation rates that are exacerbating the region’s challenges. Indeed, decreasing annual precipitation rates are aggravating the Middle East’s water crisis, which is one of the world’s worst due to the region’s arid climate and years of state governments mismanaging their water resources and subsidizing water-intensive agriculture and animal husbandry. Adapting to the coming climate emergency will greatly burden the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that uses, on average, more than four times of its available freshwater resources and is home to twelve of the seventeen most water-stressed countries in the world.

Image courtesy of the International Monetary Fund’s report, “Feeling the Heat: Adapting to Climate Change in the Middle East and Central Asia,” where MENAP represents the Middle East and North Africa plus Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The above featured image is of Arab News