COP17 report on climate change in Arab world

Published online 7 December 2011

Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

Climate change is a threat to poverty reduction and economic growth and threatens to undo many of the developments in recent decades in the Arab world, according to a World Bank draft report presented at the COP17 in Durban, South Africa.

The report, Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries, is produced in partnership with the League of Arab States (LAS) to provide information on climate change in the Arab countries, as well as technical guidance on how to adapt to a changing climate.

"Climate change poses a challenge to Arab countries in achieving our Millennium Development Goals," commented Fatma El Mallah, advisor to the secretary-general of LAS.

Many Arab states are already feeling the effects of climate change, with 2010 being the warmest year on record since records began in 1850. The temperature is predicted to rise 0.3–0.4°C per decade, one and a half times the global average, according to the report. Most of the Mediterranean region will become drier and rainfall will decrease.

"The region will face a 10% reduction in water by 2050," warns Dorte Verner, climate change coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank. Today, demand for fresh water exceeds available supply by 16%, likely to increase to 50% in 2050,"

In Jordan, the fourth driest country in the world, this fall in water supply would be disastrous. At present, it needs 1.5 million cubic metres of water to meet demands, but only 900,000 cubic metres are available. A temperature increase and rainfall reduction, compounded with a growing population, will result in food insecurity and water insecurity.

Economic impact

Women are the most engaged in agriculture, but least in decision making processes.

"Climate change is not a stand-alone issue," says Amam Dababseh, director of sustainable development at the Amman Institute for Urban Development in Jordan. "It is linked to economic development and solutions need to converge across society, environment and economy."

The cost to the economy could be severe. The report contends increased droughts will reduce GDP growth by 1% and increase poverty levels by up to 1.4%.

According to El-Mallah, Arab countries import food worth US$30 billion more than they export. "Droughts are increasing in intensity, and it's a reality we have to live with. With climate change, Arab countries will grow more dependent on food imports," she said.

Nearly 70% of the Arab world's population live in rural areas, and will be the most affected. "The local food production system will come under stress", said Verner. "The agricultural output could decrease 20-40% by 2080 due to high dependence on climate sensitive agriculture."

Although the Arab climate has always been harsh, coping strategies used for centuries are inadequate for coping with climate change. The report cites the example of Syria's Bedouin herders suffering from a drought lasting several years, who were forced to move to the outskirts of cities, losing their livelihood and way of life.

Disproportionate effects

Climate change disproportionately affects the poor and has a greater impact on the daily lives of women. Poor people have little capacity to respond to prepare their home for more extreme weather, and in Yemen, for example, women must travel greater distances to fetch fresh water — some trips taking seven hours a day.

"Women are the most engaged in agriculture, but least in decision making processes," comments Verner. "We have to act now — together and differently," she asserted. "The vulnerable must be taken into account when planning policy."

Based on the report, the team has started to draft an action plan, Diversification, Integration, Adaptation, Leadership (DIAL). "Economic activities must be both at household and national level to improve climate resilience, and must be integrated into all projects, not standalone adaptation projects. We need a holistic approach", stresses Verner.

The report will inform the fifth IPCC report. Leila Dagher, an economist at the American University in Beirut, sees the report as an important first step. "The next step should be a fully-fledged economic adaptation study, to produce a range of estimates to help Arab countries be better aware of their climate finance needs", she said.

El Mallah pledged that LAS will do all it can to help the Arab world adapt to climate change. "We welcomed the proposition by the World Bank to compile this report. Climate change is on the political agenda of Arab summits, since the region is highly impacted by the effects."