A New Plan to Support Action on Climate Change in the Arab World

November 15, 2016

Water crisis
Piyaset l Shutterstock.com

  • The Middle East and North Africa region is already suffering the consequences of climate change, and will be hit especially hard by the ongoing rise in global temperatures.
  • Countries in the region are aware of their vulnerabilities and have begun taking action to confront the impacts of climate change, but the challenges are enormous.
  • The World Bank Group has launched a new plan for the region that will increase the portion of financing dedicated to climate action, provide more support for adaptation and focus on protecting the poorest that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Snow in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

A drought in Morocco that wipes out half the wheat harvest.

Extreme summer temperatures reaching 54 degrees Celsius in Kuwait.

This is the new normal of extreme weather caused by climate change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As global temperatures rise, they will rise event faster in MENA. Climate conditions will become even more extreme in a region that is already the hottest and driest on earth.

There are now less than 1,000m3   of renewable water resources per person in MENA, as compared to 4,500m3 in East Asia Pacific countries, and 9,000m3 in the United States. Competing demands among agriculture, population growth and rapid urbanization are putting immense pressure on the region’s scarce water resources.

Climate change will make things worse. Reduced rainfall and longer droughts will take their toll, and the region will struggle to meet the basic demand for water.

With a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise, rainfall in MENA is projected to decline by 20 to 40 percent. Increasing water scarcity will have an economic impact, and is expected to lower growth by 6 to 14 percent by 2050. But the impact will vary, with poorer, more agriculturally based economies suffering more. Poorer communities have fewer resources to cope with the impacts of climate change and will be hit hardest.

Declines in agriculture will increase rural unemployment, driving large numbers of people to crowded cities. Urban areas will experience worsening heat waves, air pollution, and dust from land degradation and desertification. In Amman, the number of days with exceptionally high temperatures is expected to increase from an average of four days per year to over 62 days. Finally, sea level rise will bring worsening flooding of rapidly urbanizing coastal and delta areas. Rising seas will cause salt-water intrusion into coastal aquifers, degrading water for drinking and irrigation.

Countries in the region are aware of the challenges and have begun taking action to protect their people, communities and livelihoods. Every country in the region, except Syria, has submitted a plan for how they will adapt to the new climate reality and contribute toward the goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement of lowering emissions and slowing the rise in global temperatures.

But the challenges are enormous. Confronting climate change will require changes across all segments of society. In view of the risks and the need for action, the World Bank Group has launched a plan to help countries adapt to what is already happening and plan for what is on the horizon.

To help countries implement their national plans, the MENA Climate Action Plan aims to nearly double the portion of Bank financing supporting climate action, which at current levels means a target of US$1.5 billion annually. The plan will focus on three core areas:

  1. Foster water and food security,
  2. Making sure cities are ready to cope with the impacts of climate change, and
  3. Lowering the emissions that cause global warming by improving energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, reducing pollution from industry, transport and waste, sequestering carbon from agriculture, and investing in agro-forestry and the preservation of forests.

In all of these efforts, special attention will be given to helping the poor, who are the most vulnerable to the disruptions of global warming, and others—like coastal communities and those threatened with land degradation and desertification—whose livelihoods depend on eco-systems that will be particularly affected.

 “Much can be done to adapt to the challenge of climate change,” says Hafez Ghanem, World Bank MENA Vice President. “Considering how severely the MENA region will be affected, the World Bank is making five commitments to the region and its people.” The Bank will:

  1. Increase from 18 to 30 percent the portion of Bank lending that supports climate action.
  2. Raise significantly from 28% the portion of climate lending that goes to adaptation measures, such as promoting climate smart agricultural practices that use less water, protect soil and sequester carbon, and developing social safety nets to protect those who lose their jobs due to the impact of severe weather.
  3. Support policy reforms that lay the foundations for a green future. This includes policies to encourage economic diversification, the shift toward low-carbon energy, better regulations for improved management of natural resources, and the lifting of fossil fuel subsidies that benefit the rich more than the poor and encourage wasteful use of energy.
  4. Attract private finance. Governments and the Bank have only limited funds. Mechanisms such as investment guarantees can encourage private investments in renewable energy, desalination water plants.
  5. Support collective action to increase security in key cross-border challenges such as water management and energy market integration.

As it works to foster water and food security, the Bank will support agricultural practices, like drip irrigation, to draw less groundwater, as well as other water supply and sanitation techniques to waste less water and re-use more. First projects in Iraq and Palestine in 2017 will promote better management of water supply in low-level conflict situations while improving the quality and efficiency of water and wastewater services. 

In helping to make cities more resilient, the Bank will aim to replicate its work in Morocco on disaster risk management, with the development of early warning systems, flood protection, and the introduction of national disaster risk insurance. In Beirut, a bus rapid transit project is expanding the city’s bus network and creating dedicated bus lanes, thereby reducing the need for private car use and reducing air pollution.

For thousands of years, the region has found solutions for coping with a changing climate. The potential consequences, such as increases in poverty and the reversal of development gains, are now much more severe. But there are still solutions. They will require leadership and commitment from individual countries, resources, innovation and the adoption of effective practices from around the world. The new plan will allow the Bank to channel its resources and global knowledge to help the region protect the most vulnerable and meet the challenge of climate change.