It is in our national interests to address climate change immediately
Last week, Qatar received all of its annual rainfall in four hours, an event that resulted in water leaking onto the concourse of the $17 billion Sheikh Hamad International Airport. Earlier this summer, temperature and humidity reached such levels in Iraq and Iran, that it led to a heat index value of 71oC and 73oC respectively, something that makes working outdoors (and indoors without air conditioning) untenable. Further from home off the west coast of Mexico, on 23rd October, Hurricane Patricia became the strongest hurricane ever recorded with sustained winds of 200mph.
The science of climate change points towards these sorts of events becoming the ‘norm’ in a world that is getting warmer due to human interference with the planet’s climate. Scientists predict that more intense Hurricanes will be the norm in the future. Research that was recently published in the esteemed scientific journal Nature Climate Change highlighted that extreme heat and humidity events like what occurred in Iraq and Iran this summer will also be the norm in countries of the Arabian Gulf.
However, when faced with science that highlights that temperatures or sea levels will rise in 60 or 70 years, decision makers often choose not to prioritise action and delay action. This ‘later’ syndrome is a dangerous trap, because carbon dioxide emissions (the main gas responsible for the warming we’re experiencing) stays in the atmosphere for many years, so the planet will keep warming and experiencing impacts even if the world stops all emissions today. Urgent and concrete action must start today to ensure we avoid the worst impacts in the future.
So what can we collectively do to tackle climate change in the Arabian Gulf? The answer lies in ambitious international and domestic actions that result in real change on the ground. This week, decision makers from all countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will be going to Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is crucial that negotiators from the GCC approach the talks in Paris with a positive and energized mentality. The negotiation stance of GCC representatives needs to be driven by the fact that it is in their national interests to avoid the worst impacts and secure the most ambitious global deal that will limit global temperature rise to below 1.5oC.
Furthermore, all GCC countries should start leading by example domestically to rapidly reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and start to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The recent announcement made by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to create a 100 billion dirham clean energy fund and increase Dubai’s solar energy target to 25% target by 2030 and 75% by 2050 are very welcome. This demonstrates that focusing on renewable energy can bring great economic and environmental benefits to the UAE, help the economy diversify away from oil and create new jobs for young and talented citizens. We hope this kind of domestic ambition is actually implemented on the ground, extends to the rest of the UAE and other countries in the region.
The need to act has never been so urgent. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 2015 is predicted to be the hottest year ever recorded, with temperatures rising to 1oC above preindustrial levels for the first time. In order to avoid such extremes becoming the norm, COP21 in Paris provides a unique chance to ensure we can set a new marker for action on climate change. And the GCC must play a crucial and positive role at the negotiating table as it is in the national interests of every country to ensure we avoid such impacts.