WASHINGTON: The effects of climate change are already being felt, and they are expected to worsen as temperatures rise, oceans warm, sea levels rise, and freshwater resources, already scarce in some regions, continue to dwindle. This will exacerbate war and mass migration, especially in the most impoverished and unstable parts of the Middle East and Africa.
This was one of many points made at a panel discussion on “Climate Injustice?” held by the Middle East Institute in Washington on Wednesday. When it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change, developing countries tend to take on more of the slack.
The director of the institute’s Climate and Water Program, Mohammed Mahmoud, has stated that many developing countries suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change despite contributing relatively few carbon emissions.
According to him, three main factors will determine which nations will be hit hardest by climate change in the future and the present.
First, as sea levels rise, countries with large coastlines and island populations are at increased risk of flooding and land loss. Furthermore, the saltwater intrusion may “compromis[e]” their fresh groundwater sources.
Second, countries with a high heat index are especially susceptible to even moderate increases in global temperatures, as they are more directly affected by the sun’s rays.
Mahmoud cited the scarcity of fresh water resources in some countries as the third and most crucial factor.
“The interesting thing to draw between these broad categories is that they are all present in the Middle East and North Africa region,” he continued. The greater the number of these problems that countries in the region have, the higher the potential for climate-related crises.
All of the experts on the panel agreed that a country’s economic might (or lack thereof) greatly affects its ability to deal with the risks posed by climate change.
East African countries, which are experiencing the worst drought in decades and have weak economies, will be less prepared to deal with the effects of climate change than a Gulf state like Bahrain, which is also water-stressed but much better placed economically to deal with potential challenges.
Mahmoud emphasized the importance of countries’ financial resources in tackling climate change issues, such as the availability of the technologies and resources needed to address local challenges. He also emphasized the importance of including education and training in any comprehensive plan to reduce climate change’s negative impacts.
Ayat Soliman, regional director for sustainable development for Eastern and Southern Africa at the World Bank, agreed that financial stability is crucial but argued that the unequal impact of climate change on different countries is unfair.
According to her, “we see climate charts are increasing in terms of its intensity” in Africa and the Middle East. She continued by saying that millions of people are going hungry because of the worst drought in parts of Africa in years.
Soliman predicts widespread displacement due to the effects of climate change in Africa, where some of the world’s most vulnerable populations live. According to studies conducted by the World Bank, approximately 90 million people will be compelled to relocate within the next 20 years due to the effects of climate change. This compounds the already severe threat to food supplies in less developed countries.
“It will be mostly the poor, the vulnerable, and rural dwellers who will be packing up and moving,” Soliman said. “Climate stress is also contributing to and will continue to contribute to conflicts worldwide.”
In order to effectively implement international agreements that shape global action on climate change, according to Hajar Khamlichi, president and co-founder of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network, it is crucial that young people in the worst-affected regions participate in the process and are listened to, which is not always the case.
He stated that “the voice of young people is not heard in the Arab World,” adding that this failure affects local and international strategies to deal with the effects of climate change.