The Arab climate is changing

Torsdag, 15. Oktober 2009     0 kommentti(a)
Mari Luomi
Internationell miljö- och naturresurspolitik forsknigsprogram
Today marks the third international Blog Action Day that unites thousands of bloggers around the world to post on October 15 on a single topic. This year’s theme is - guess what - climate change. UPI-FIIA partipates.

Climate change is starting to have an impact on the Levant, also called the Middle East proper. Government attitudes are changing as a consequence, but in a region where most problems generally are interconnected, is unilateral action enough?

Egypt’s Environment Minister explained recently that 15 percent of the Nile Delta area is currently under threat from rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion. The government estimates that a large scale disaster is at hand by as soon as 2020 if rapid action to manage the country’s water resources and adapt to the rising sea is not taken. Ironically, Egypt is facing a water crisis while Alexandria will be inundated. Some measures are already being taken, as $300 million are used to build concrete fences on Alexandria’s beaches.

Jordan is already facing major water shortages with the government able to provide tap water in the capital Amman only one day a week. Recently, Jordan decided it would go forward alone in building a $2 billion pipeline between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, which it has been planning with the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The project would enhance Jordan’s water security by 120 million cubic metres a year.

In Syria, droughts have been plaguing the country for the past two years. As a consequence, 160 villages have been deserted and 800 000 people are estimated to have lost their livelihood. Syria, Turkey and Iraq are experiencing increasingly tense talks on their shared water resources, the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. In May this year, Syria re-established the Ministry of Environment, which is to receive assistance from President al-Assad, an initiative which has already received criticism for insufficient funding and lack of influence.

In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference in December, where countries are expected to strive to agree on an ambitious treaty for the post-2012 period which could prevent a dangerous increase of more than 2ºC in global temperatures, the countries of the Levant have been conspicuously silent about the international process. Three days ago, the Jordanian Environment Minister Khalid Irani declared that ‘it is vital to head into the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen carrying a clear and unified vision regarding the impact of climate change on the Arab region and needed measures to address them, as well as the required international commitments to limit the phenomenon's impact’.

So far, however, the unified vision awaits its creator. In the Middle East proper, the negative consequences of climate change are already visible but money is scarce. The wealthy Gulf states, in turn, can afford to postpone the societal impacts of these consequences for yet some time with the help of water desalination techniques, food imports and land reclamation. It is the voices of these oil exporting countries that are most heard in the UN talks. Safeguarding their main export product from the adverse effects of response measures to climate change is still their overriding concern. A unified Arab climate vision would ideally bridge this divide by make the voices of the less wealthy Arab states better heard. Unfortunately, as the stakes rise, polarisation of views among the haves and the have-nots in the region is the most likely outcome.

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