Heading to 50% More Droughts in the Middle East

Published December 16th, 2021 - 07:09 GMT
If current climate targets are met there will likely be a 50% increase in droughts in the Middle East by 2050 compared to a 2C rise in global temperature.

If current climate targets are met there will likely be a 50% increase in droughts in the Middle East by 2050 compared to a 2C rise in global temperature.

The individual targets, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs), set by each country have the world on a pathway towards a 3.1C rise in temperatures when compared with pre-industrial levels by 2050. Even if those pledges are met, agricultural drought in the Middle East could increase in frequency by 50%, and by around 25% in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

A report, published in Nature Climate Change uses a wide-ranging technique to explore the near-term risks to societies and long-term physical risks to the environment. 

A water and agricultural crisis already threatens more than 12 million lives in Syria and Iraq. The region at large is threatened by record low levels of rainfall, rising temperatures, and more droughts. 

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, “More than five million people in Syria directly depend on the river. In Iraq, the loss of access to water from the river, and drought, threaten at least seven million people.  

“Some 400 square kilometres of agricultural land risk total drought. Two dams in northern Syria, serving three million people with electricity, face imminent closure. Communities in Hasakah, Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir ez Zour, including displaced people in camps, have witnessed a rise in outbreaks of waterborne-diseases such as diarrhea, since the reduction in water.”

NDCs need to be considerably more ambitious if billions of people are to avoid extreme suffering. Corporations and governments dragging their heels in fear of short-term economic effects need to move much more quickly away from fossil fuels. 

There has been growing concern amongst the financial and business world over the effects government policies, such as pricing greenhouse gas emissions, could have on profits.   

Part of the problem is the dominance of market-led economies where governments have little control over the actions of businesses. The world’s second largest polluter, the U.S., recently revealed plans to make federal energy consumption carbon free, an all-but symbolic policy. Climate Action Tracker judges the U.S. policies to be “critically insufficient” in reaching below 3C of global warming.

U.S. foreign investment in climate financing is judged as “critically insufficient”, highlighting Washinton’s insistence that its transition to “tackling the climate crisis” will protect American workers and “makes the country more economically competitive”. 

At COP26, wealthy nations promised to commit further funds for low-income countries to move away from fossil fuels. Despite vague pledges from the Biden administration earlier in the year, there is little evidence that such premises will be kept. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has moved funds away from its development aid budget towards climate financing in direct contradiction to a UN-brokered agreement that said financing would be “new and additional”. 

The effects of the worsening climate catastrophe have been felt keenly in the Middle East this year. Cyclone Shaheen struck the coast of Oman, temperatures of 50C caused blackouts in Basra over the summer, and forest fires caused huge swathes of damage across Turkey, Algeria and Syria. 

Despite announcements during November’s COP26 that 1.5C is “still alive”, under current policies it is an impossibility. The Middle East, like many places around the world, is already suffering from increasingly common extreme weather events. This latest report calls for even more ambitious targets by wealthy nations to cut their emissions sooner.

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