Adapting to Climate Change in the Arid Middle East

yemen rural donkey straw photo

Yemen and other countries in the Middle East are dry and dependent on agriculture. Photo by Ai@ce via Flickr.

Lying at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, both water-poor and heavily agriculture-dependent areas, Turkey has more reasons than many to worry about the effects of climate change. So what are Turkish officials and others in the region doing about it?Though Turkey has not yet officially announced its voluntary emission reduction target, a high-level official from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry said last week that it would likely be 11 percent by 2020. That's lower than the European Union's 20 percent goal, but Turkey doesn't have as far to go to cut back: Its per capita annual emissions are 4.5 tons compared to 11 tons in Denmark, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held next month -- and a whopping 23.5 tons in the United States.

Turkey Tries to Increase Energy Efficiency, Boost Reforestation Efforts
In preparation for the international summit, Turkish Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu wrote on the COP15 Copenhagen conference website that "contributing to global efforts on climate change, erosion control, and protection of water resources [are] high on the list of topics on our agenda." Turkey, Eroğlu wrote, is crafting policies to increase energy efficiency in its industry and transport sectors and has committed to reforesting 2.3 million hectares of land over a five-year period.

Other countries in the Middle East are starting to make changes as well. In what Batir Wardam of Arab Environment Watch called "an unprecedented expression from an Arab official using [a] modern social media tool," Jordanian Environment Minister Khalid Irani used this year's Blog Action Day as an opportunity to speak out about climate change on a popular local website.

Jordan's Agriculture at Risk
"Although Jordan does contribute a mere 0.1% of global carbon emissions it maintains strong commitment to the objectives developed by the international community for the integrated environmental and economic response to the threat of climate change," Irani wrote. "Global climate scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have also indicated that Jordan and the Middle East will suffer from reduced agricultural productivity and water availability among other negative impacts."

To help address the problem, the minister wrote, Jordan is aiming to increase its share of renewable energy resources from 1 percent to 10 percent by 2020 while reducing the share of energy produced from oil from 58 percent to 40 percent. To deal with a predicted 20 percent drop in precipitation in some of the country's major watersheds, Jordanian officials also aim to "maximize the use of available water through water conservation ... and substitution of freshwater with reclaimed water for agriculture."

A Vulnerable Region
Another recent post by Arab Environment Watch looks at what two other countries are doing in response to vulnerability to climate change in the Middle East, "one of the world's most water-scarce and dry regions; with a high dependency on climate-sensitive agriculture and a large share of its population and economic activity in flood-prone urban coastal zones." Increased frequency of droughts, heat waves, and water scarcity are all predicted for the region, where low-lying areas -- including 43 port cities -- could also face coastal flooding with a global temperature rise of as little as 1 degree.

But though this part of the world is particularly at risk, it also holds much potential for addressing the climate crisis. Writes Wardam:

societies of this region have been under pressure to adapt to water scarcity and heat for thousands of years, and have developed various technical solutions and institutional mechanisms to deal with these environmental constraints. As such, MENA [Middle East and North Africa] is a valuable repository of traditional and institutional knowledge, which, if preserved and made accessible, could prove an important contribution, globally, to efforts to address climate change.

In Morocco's Oum Er Rbia River basin, a key agricultural region suffering from water shortages, the government and the World Bank are working together to "make irrigation in the basin more sustainable, more profitable, and more resilient to climate change" by limiting growers to a fixed -- but reliable -- amount of water consumption, subsidizing efficient irrigation equipment, and connecting farmers with domestic and international markets.

Conserving Biodiversity in Yemen
In Yemen, where agriculture employs more than 55 percent of the economically active population, the World Bank is tapping local farmers "long traditions of agrobiodiversity farming practices" to create coping strategies for adaptation to climate change, including "the conservation and utilization of biodiversity important to agriculture (particularly the local land races and their wild relatives) and associated local traditional knowledge."

Such measures will hopefully help secure local populations' health and livelihood in the face of a changing climate, while reducing the Middle East's contribution to global warming. As Jordanian minister Irani wrote in his blog post: "We as environmentalists can occasionally fall into the utopian ambition of saving the world with our actions. The world will however, remain long after we perish. What we'd better seek is to save our own future now before it is too late for us to face the retaliation of nature."

More about the Middle East:
Green Prophet's Top 7 Mideast Eco-Tourism Spots
This Grass Ain't Greener: The Uncertain Fate of the Middle Eastern Lawn
Mid-East's Largest Solar Panel Manufacturing Plant to be Built In Dubai
What Credit Crunch? Two More Ecocity Projects from the Persian Gulf
The Jordan River Has Some New Good Water Neighbors
Carbon Cap & Trade To Give Middle Eastern, State-Controlled Oil Companies Market Advantage
TH Update: Dead-Red Canal
Ground Water Mining For Wheat To Be Phased Out In Saudi Arabia
Let Bygones Be Bygones Already, for the Environment's Sake!

Adapting to Climate Change in the Arid Middle East
Lying at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, both water-poor and heavily agriculture-dependent areas, Turkey has more

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