From water shortages to cyclones, climate change is having a big impact on the MENA region

The final panel session of the Dubai World Insurance Congress 2020 did not shy away from the big topics as it looked to tackle the issue of climate change and whether or not MENA is in the midst of a climate emergency.

And Dr Aisha Al-Sarihi, research associate on the climate and environment program at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, was unequivocal in her answer.

“There is mounting scientific studies and evidence that climate change is truly significant in the MENA region,” she says. 

The issue is so bad that some research studies have predicted that temperatures in Saudi Arabia could even exceed the levels that humans are able to withstand.

“If we don’t take proper action on climate change, then the increase in temperature in Saudi Arabia is going to go beyond the human capability to adapt to high temperaturse,” Dr Al-Sarihi says. “And this will have an impact on a large portion of the world’s population every year when they travel to Mecca for the Hajj.”

To combat this, Saudi Arabia has proposed the idea of a circular carbon economy, with the country also set to host the G20 Summit in 2020.

“Oil producing countries are going to be negatively affected if the demand for oil falls due to the global effort to cut greenhouse gases,” Dr Al-Sarihi says. “Saudi Arabia is trying to find a way to maintain the competitiveness of the global oil market, and at the same time not be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, through the fours ‘R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle and remove carbon.

“In this way we are protecting the environment as well as adding economic value through the reused products created.”

And Ivano Ianelli, chief executive at the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence, says the opportunistic spirit found in the MENA region can help the private sector combat the effects of climate change.

“In the absence of pressure groups in the MENA region, everything falls on the private sector,” he says. “And the opportunistic nature of this approach means you have private entities understanding the value of taking the lead, as opposed to responding with compliance to legislative processes.”

But Dr Al-Sarihi says it is not simply climate change that the MENA region has to overcome, with a warming planet also set to exacerbate existing environmental and socio-political challenges facing the region.

“The MENA region is already facing many social, economic, environmental and political issues,” she says. “And climate change is only going to exacerbate these challenges.”