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Climate Lessons from a Hotter Arab World

Rachel Kyte's picture

Photo credit: Curt Carnemark/World Bank

This week in Doha, the marble corridors of the Qatar National Convention Center resonate with voices from around the world. Over half way through the conference, as ministers arrive and the political stakes pick up, a sense of greater urgency in the formal negotiations is almost palpable. But in the corridors, negotiations are already leading to deals and dreams and action on the ground.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the discussions by saying we need optimism, because without optimism there are no results. He reminded us all that Superstorm Sandy was a tragic awakening. He reiterated the call for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement and 100 billion in climate finance by 2020.

Meanwhile our focus was firmly on the region ...

When we look at the Middle East and North Africa, the challenges of climate change are evident. Farmers have been planting in drylands and dealing with climate variability and water shortages since the beginning of agriculture. They understand adaptation here, but no one is prepared for what we could face if the world doesn’t act to stop human-induced climate change now.

We published a report last week examining the science of climate change, and the findings should be alarming to anyone. If governments don’t take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, globally we’re headed for a 4 degree Celsius increase. The rise will be even higher across the Arab world, and the effects on water, agriculture, and livelihoods will be far more pronounced than what people here already face. Climate models show that over the last 30 years, temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa have increased 50 percent faster than the global average.

Aggressive mitigation is needed to slow greenhouse gas emissions, but here and in much of the world, adaptation is now critical to survive the changes that are already underway.

In a new report released today, Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries, we draw on the knowledge and expertise of the Arab world in adapting to changing climates. The authors, the majority of whom are from the region, consulted with civil society, academia, and governments, and worked in partnership with the League of Arab States.

2.3 Million Lives Lost: We Need a Culture of Resilience

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By 2050, the urban population exposed tos torms and earthquakes alone could more than double to 1.5 billion.

Looking at communities across our planet, there is a brutal lack of resilience in our modern lives. Cities have expanded without careful planning into flood- and storm-prone areas, destroying natural storm barriers and often leaving the poor to find shelter in the most vulnerable spots. Droughts, made more frequent by climate change, have taken a toll on crops, creating food shortages.

In the past 30 years, disasters have killed over 2.3 million people, about the population of Houston or all of Namibia.

Demystifying Natural Capital Accounting: 10 African Countries Sign On

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Credit: Juan-Vidal, Creative Commons

We’ve all seen what happens when natural capital is undervalued. Oceans that billions of people rely on for food and income get overfished and become dumping grounds for chemicals and waste. Mangroves that protect shorelines from storms are replaced with resorts.

Many countries are looking beyond GDP to help them address the challenges undervaluing natural capital has created. What they need is a measure of a country’s wealth that includes all of its capital — produced, social, human, and natural capital.

In Botswana at the Summit for Sustainability in Africa this afternoon, 10 African countries endorsed the need to move toward factoring natural capital into systems of national accounting. By Rio +20, the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development, we hope to see 50 countries and 50 private corporations join this effort.