2015 is a watershed moment for climate change. Urgent actions are required to prevent the worst of these effects, like diminished air quality, degradation of food and water supplies, and worsening health threats.
The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention to Climate Change) that took place in Doha 2012 concluded that there has been an overall reduction in CO2 emission by 18% since the 1990s, but it is not enough to guarantee that the temperature rises will stay below 2 degrees.
The Paris Climate Summit at the end of the year provides a focal point for international action. There is an expectation from Paris that developed countries will sign up to new targets to reduce emissions, but is that enough? The ongoing war in some regions adversely contributes to climate change. Countries that are subjected to massive sanctions, because of geopolitical reasons or conflicts, are unable to contribute possibly due to these limiting their roles. The ones to pay the price are the people, as they are in an ongoing risk to face drought, famine, earth quakes, outbreaks and many other adverse consequences of climate change. All these issues are interconnected; reducing emissions is a good step towards combating climate change, but it is not enough. Since the visible problems are connected, shouldn’t we think of multiple solutions that can address these issues simultaneously for a better world and a better future? It has already been agreed that adaptation is not a transformation strategy, and countries like the Arab States cannot adapt indefinitely.
As mentioned in the African Agenda expert meeting that took place in October 2014, Policy makers at the global level have failed to stem emissions from developed countries. Their focus is to curb developing countries, especially Africa (and the Arab states), from emitting more carbons. But climate change cannot be solved by condemning Africa or the Arab States. This applies to Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries of the Arab states that have been condemned by sanctions and war and on which the civilians have to pay the price of adverse effects. For example Yemen is experiencing reduced rainfall, its main alternative water source is underground water, which requires fuel to be pumped. The sactions imposed on the country are limiting that activity, making water availability rare: again, those who pay the price are the civilians.
“Rich countries have already chosen growth over reducing carbon emission” ,“It is not just about climate justice; it is about growth justice too”. Much has been said about the rolling back of development results and vulnerability of communities in parts of the Arab region because of violent conflicts, but less has been said about the increasing changes that communities face from natural disasters and risks that are a result of climate change.
Debates at the recent world conference on Disaster risk reduction in Sendai, Japan highlighted that in the 21st century, development will need to be increasingly resilient to shocks and crises, and address the multi-dimensional nature of risk. This holds special relevance to the Arab region, as the most food-import dependent and water-insecure region on the planet today. Many communities face the convergence of conflict, and one of the largest mass movements of forced migrants and refugees in modern history, and the exacerbating force of climate change, which brings more frequent and severe droughts, degradation, and food and water insecurity. Out of a population of 357 million, about 150 million in the region are exposed to drought crises.
In Somalia for example, during the drought of 2011, the famine killed between more than 100, 000 people. This, coupled with the protracted conflict, has increased the vulnerability of the majority of the Somali population and led to massive population movement and displacement, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, wide spread malnutrition and increased disease burden. Today nearly 1 million Somalis are experiencing Crisis or emergency levels of acute food insecurity and 1.1 million are Internally Displaced People (IDPs). In Syria, the drought of 2006-2010 decimated the livelihood of more than 20% of the rural population, unleashing a wave of internal migrations and exacerbating many social tensions.
Looking at the health problems caused by climate change, the polio outbreak that took place as a result of conflict but also related to climate change in Syria is one of many examples. Vaccination rates in Syria fell from 91% to 68% in 2012. The Syrian government says it has continued to vaccinate across the country during the conflict – a claim supported by the WHO, but disputed by many Syrian doctors and foreign health experts. In a similar example, the polio outbreak in Somalia in May, 2013 could be attributed to the protracted conflict in the country since 1991 as well as to climate change after the country has been declared polio free for the last 6 years until May, 2013. The epicentres of the polio outbreak in Somalia are the South and Central regions of the country where the conflict is escalating and raging. The polio cases increased in the areas which were harder to reach due to the conflict which constrained the access to the areas by the vaccination teams.
The tribal conflicts in the Sudan could be also be blamed on climate change forcing mobilization, which ends in dispute over land and natural resources. Last year the seasonal rainfall across many parts of Sudan has been above average, this led to flooding that affected some 44,000 people in the states of Khartoum, Kassala, North and South Kurdufan, White Nile and Sennar. Over 30,000 houses have been destroyed.
Looking at Egypt, the river Nile is its only water source. The rainfall amount has decreased throughout the past decade worldwide, and this has led to adaptation projects, such as the Renaissance Dam project in Ethiopia. Since the Blue Nile’s source is from the Ethiopian highlands, the Renaissance Dam will reduce the amount of water that flows in the Blue Nile and therefore reduce the total amount of water in the River Nile. This in turn could ignite a war between Egypt and Ethiopia and eventually suck in the surrounding countries connected to the Nile bed. Civilians will have to pay the price again, as is already happening in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. This is a clear and logical example of the adverse effects of climate change, and great emphasis should be put into climate change and conflict in combination, as the two are very much inter-related.
Acknowledging the complexity of the issues faced and connected with climate change is fundamental to try to study how to solve a problem and as a consequence how it can help resolve other problems related to it. Representatives of the Arab states must urgently discuss this in the coming UN Climate change convention in Paris and attempt to seek solutions that address all issues faced by the Arab region. They should not only agree to the proposed solutions of the West, which have clearly been working on the western benefits. Governments should try to overlook political disputes and sanctions as it is quite clear that the people, and the planet, are paying the price. Radical and bold decisions need to be taken or else the people will perish, and the future of the Arab states will be obliterated by war, famine, drought and illness.