From water scarcity and food insecurity to climate change adaptation, the Middle East faces a slew of serious environmental concerns.
The Middle East is one of the most sensitive regions to climate stress, especially rising temperatures and water scarcity, due to its geographic location and arid climate conditions. The Middle East is the world’s most water-stressed region, according to the World Resource Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, with only 1% of the world’s total sustainable freshwater supplies. Rising temperatures and prolonged droughts, combined with increasing populations, socio economic development, and urbanization, are putting further strain on limited water supplies, posing major hazards to lives, livelihoods, biodiversity, economic stability, and human security. Climate change impacts are expected to be felt across borders, given the region’s common topography and natural resources.
Middle Eastern countries are becoming increasingly aware of and committed to tackling these climatic stressors, particularly through the construction of dams and the expansion of water desalination. Such domestic solutions, while useful, may introduce unforeseen domestic and transboundary hazards and vulnerabilities. Given the diversity of natural resource endowments and socioeconomic conditions, states can use their shared culture, language, and religion to come up with collective solutions to regional climate and environmental concerns, such as:
Recognizing that now is the moment to act:
Being on the front lines of climate change, Middle Eastern countries should recognize that the issue requires immediate attention and that there is no time to waste.
Taking quick action:
Regional governments have built momentum in terms of both mitigation and adaptation to climate change. That momentum, on the other hand, has mostly focused on defining projects and targets without necessarily tying them to the policies and regulations required to achieve them. It is also critical to put the plan into action. States in the region must move beyond setting goals to implementing action.
Enabling local ideas and solutions:
Despite increased interest in tackling climate and environmental concerns, the majority of the technology and know-how required is imported. These imports, while valuable, are not necessarily suited for the location and must be altered to fit local requirements. Middle Eastern countries must capitalize on their huge youth populations by establishing a national innovation framework to ensure that technology and skills are tailored to local requirements and goals. In 2020, the Middle East’s average investment in research and development (R&D) did not exceed 1% of GDP, UNESCO’s minimum requirement for a viable scientific and technology basis. Existing institutions, such as universities and R&D entities, should be nurtured in order to boost technological innovation, develop scientific competence and skills, and facilitate the transmission of knowledge among important stakeholders.
Some countries in the Middle East share geography and natural resources, such as shared water resources and marine environments, coastal ecosystems, and agricultural regions. As a result, the effects of climate change are likely to be felt across borders, perhaps leading to conflict or insecurity if not adequately managed. As a result, transboundary remedies to climate challenges are required. Middle Eastern countries can benefit from regional governance and cooperation, especially in the areas of policy coordination and agenda setting, research and knowledge and information sharing, technical assistance and capacity building, and leveraging finance, given their differences in income and development.