Climate Change in the Middle East

The impact of Climate Change is being felt all over the globe, but arguably the Middle East region is amongst the most vulnerable, with estimations of temperature increases being more than twice the global average by 2030 (1).

So why is there such as issue in the region and what is the cause? 

MENA’s history in regard to the control of carbon emissions is not a pretty one. For example, in 2018, MENA emitted 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and produced 8.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) despite making up only 6% of the global population. (2). The result of continued GHG emissions is an impact on the region’s climate.

Rising Sea Levels

An article published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that sea levels will rise by 20% to 30% by 2050, submerging a number of cities globally. (3)  The Middle East with its low-lying areas are of particular concern. 

One of these low-lying areas is Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, a key port, home to more than 5 million people and 40% percent of Egypt’s industrial activity. It is surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea. (4)

It is reported that ‘sea levels rose by an average of 1.8 millimeters each year until 1993. Over the next 20 years, it rose by 2.1 millimeters a year. Since 2012, however, the rate became 3.2 millimeters each year….Measurements show that the land on which Alexandria is built is also sinking at about the same rate. This is expected to increase the risk of dangerous flooding.’’ (4)

Higher Temperatures

As mentioned, temperatures in the MENA region are expected to increase dramatically in comparison to those globally, the cause of which is much to do with is its arid environmental conditions. The temperature increases are expected to be amplified further by rainfall reductions and the associated depletion of soil moisture, limiting evaporative cooling. (2) 

In a recent study completed by Scientists from the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center of the Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, it was comment that a business-as-usual approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would mean an increase in extreme events that will involve ‘excessively high temperatures of up to 56 degrees Celsius and higher in urban settings, and could last for multiple weeks, being potentially life-threatening for humans and animals.’ (5)

The impact of the increased temperatures is already being seen, an example of which is the salt lake in Jordan which in the last two decades has shrunk by almost a third. (6)

Low Rainfall

According to NASA, MENA has been experiencing almost continuous drought since 1998, the worst dry spell in 900 years. The World Bank has suggested that 17 countries in the region fall below the water poverty line set by the United Nations, with the region having just one percent of the world’s freshwater yet 6 percent of the global population. (1)(6)

With rainfall projected to decline 20 to 40 percent in a 2°C hotter world, and up to 60 percent in a 4°C hotter world, the region’s ability to provide water to its people and economies will be severely tested. It is expected that by 2025, 80-90 million people will be exposed to water stress.’ (1)

The Human Impact

These changes in climate undoubtedly have a direct impact on the inhabitants of the region. For humans this impact may be physical such as respiratory concerns or heat stroke.  It also impacts the ability to work in such extreme conditions, causing a loss of productivity across the labour force. In the end the population may choose or indeed be forced, to migrate further afield in search of cooler climes. (7) 

Agriculture is another area of concern. Rising temperatures and scarce water will decrease crop yields and the available agricultural land. Again, this may cause the movement of the population to other locales and potential conflict as resources become scarce. 

Climate Action in the Middle East

For some Middle Eastern companies, climate action and sustainability is firmly on their agenda. Majid Al Futtaim for example have recently achieved Platinum LEED certification on their 13-hotel portfolio, a first for a conglomerate not only in the region, but globally. (9)

In Oman, Muscat Livestock & Trading Co. LLC (MLS) are ‘estimating, reducing, and compensating its greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to make no net release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere’, making them the first carbon neutral company in Oman. (10) However, there is still more to do. 

Scientists from the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center of the Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, have recently predicted that ‘ignoring the signals of climate change and continuing business as usual with increasing greenhouse gas emissions will lead to extreme, life-threatening heatwaves in the region.’(6)

In a recent survey of the region’s CEO’s completed by PWC, they noted that ‘while 46 percent of regional respondents said they are starting to incorporate ESG and sustainability goals into corporate planning, it remains some way behind their global counterparts.’  They go on to state that ‘most Middle East CEOs do not see climate change and environmental damage as a threat to their organisations – only 17 percent said they include the issue in their risk management planning, less than half the global average.’(11)

It is now up to us all, the inhabitants of the region, to ensure we understand the effects of our actions and work towards a more sustainable and resilient region. 


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