World Bank urges Arab leaders to adapt to new world

Published online 11 December 2012

Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are especially vulnerable to effects of climate change as extreme temperature events set to become the new norm.

Hazem Zohny


A report by the World Bank warns that unmitigated climate change will hit Arab states hard, and calls on policy makers to take urgent action.

The new report, Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries, was released during the UN's climate change conference (COP18) in Doha.

Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable change at the World Bank, said that while the science is nearly unanimous in predicting a 4°C increase in temperature resulting from climate change by the end of the 21 century, that figure is a global average.

"In North Africa and the Middle East we can expect increases of 6°C, or more even, in average monthly summer temperatures," Kyte says. Under such a scenario, the extreme heat waves that occur in the region once every few hundred years would strike every summer.

Temperatures in the Middle East are already increasing 50% faster than the global average, with 2010 seeing 19 cities in the Arab world setting new record temperatures, adds Kyte. This increase could make some places in the Middle East hard to live in. "Imagine living in cities which today are experiencing temperatures of 50, 51, 52°C – imagine living in those cities when they regularly experience 54, 55, 56°C," she says.

Rising sea levels could also wreak havoc in the region. Coastal areas will be worst hit by a one metre rise in sea-level by 2100. A rise of half a metre could flood 30% of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, the report says. This would displace 1.5 million people and the World Bank estimates losses of US$30 trillion.

The report also predicts severe economic challenges for several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. A decline in rainfall and hotter temperatures could cost Tunisian farmers US$700 million by the year 2050, for example. And in Yemen, rural non-farming families — the country's poorest people — are projected to be US$3.5 billion worse off.

According to the report, Yemen appears to be particularly vulnerable as it is already water-stressed. Climate change over the next 30 to 40 years is projected to lead to a 24% reduction in household income if no action is taken. "Forfeiting 24% of household income over the next 30 years poses an economic challenge which is mindboggling," says Kyte.

Despite the various specific projections, Junaid Kamal Ahmad, the World Bank's director for sustainable development in the Middle East and North Africa, notes that it is uncertainty that marks this wide geographical region. "Common across all the countries is the uncertainty that is facing them in terms of temperature rises, in terms of floods, in terms of coastal city sea rise," Ahmad says.

The report stresses the importance of political leadership and the various avenues currently available for implementing policy responses to increase societies' resilience to climate change.