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Middle East Environmental Law

Climate Change and Energy in the Middle East

According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, climate change is "any long-term significant change in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and oceans that a given region experiences." The IPCC, an international and multidisciplinary body set up to monitor and model changes in weather, has concluded that "most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" via the greenhouse effect.

Climate model projections summarized by the IPCC indicate that average global surface temperature will likely rise a further 0.6° to 4° Celsius with a likely range between 0.3° and 6.4° Celsius during the 21st century. The range of values results from the use of differing scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions as well as models with differing climate sensitivity. Increasing global temperature will cause sea level to rise, and is expected to increase the intensity of extreme weather events and to change the amount and pattern of precipitation. Increases in the amount of precipitation are very likely in high-latitudes, while decreases are likely in most subtropical land regions. Although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming and sea level rise (likely range between 0.18 and 0.59 meter by 2100) are expected to continue for more than a thousand years even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilized. The delay in reaching equilibrium is a result of the large heat capacity of the oceans. Catastrophic and unpredictable events such as ice shelf collapse in the Arctic, Antarctic, and/or Greenland could push sea level rise to surpass predicted ranges.

Other predicted effects of global warming include changes in agricultural yields, trade routes, glacier retreat, species extinctions (between 20 to 70 percent depending on the temperature increase), increase in the burden of disease and injury (reemergence of certain diseases, increase in water-related, cardio-respiratory, and vector-borne diseases). Remaining scientific uncertainties include the amount of warming expected in the future, and how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Except for a few countries including the United States of America, 175 countries had signed and ratified the 1997 Kyoto protocol on United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by the end of 2007. Only developed countries, or Annex I countries, are bound by emission reductions. Recently there have been significant efforts to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto protocol by 2012 through milestone meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010. But there is ongoing political and public debate worldwide regarding what and how much action should be taken to reduce or reverse future warming and to adapt to its expected consequences.

Many experts believe that climate change consequences are attributable to human activities causing modification of terrestrial and aquatic systems to meet basic energy needs as well as to satisfy other requirements. There have led to major changes in global land cover, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the land's future capacity to sequester carbon. Together, energy use and climate change represent intertwined forces of human-induced global change.

Energy production and use affect climate both directly and indirectly. Energy use can affect the atmosphere by changing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases as well as by heating or cooling the immediate environment. The burning of fossil fuels releases CO2 as well as radioactively particulate matter and NOx. Carbon releases from fossil fuels are estimated to have increased 19 percent between 1996 and 2006. Human activities that use fossil fuel have produced more than 130 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes and solar flares over the entire world from 1751 to 2007. Fossil fuels are responsible for about 88 percent of global CO2 emissions. The share of global emissions from fossil fuels is increasing as (1) economies become more fossil-energy intensive and (2) contributions from other major anthropogenic sources (e.g., land-use change) diminish as the world's forest land approaches equilibrium in biomass, with forest biomass losses being offset by new growth. In comparison to fossil fuels, renewable-energy technologies (such as wind or solar energy) and nuclear energy are closer to carbon-neutral and thus have a smaller effect on climate change. Even so, the creation of reservoirs for hydropower is a source of greenhouse gas release, though they release less CO2 per energy unit than does a coal-fired electricity generation system.

The disruptive effects of climate change will be multidimensional and will pose a grave threat to the water-stressed Middle East than to many other parts of the world. Climate change will represent an important additional stress to the already vulnerable Middle East region given the consumption of natural resources has increased as a result of growing carbon-intensive economies and urban population growth. These effects could be self-reinforcing and have far reaching consequences for the progress of future Middle East era societies as they will impact to various extents their public and private sector's human, social, capital, natural, and cultural assets.

The global effects of temperature increases due to climate change are illustrated in the following figure. Various temperature increase scenarios relative to 1980-1999 will affect waters, ecosystems, food, coasts, and health to various levels resulting in profound societal and environmental impacts worldwide.

Climate change has already started influencing energy demand patterns in most countries in the Middle East region. Peak hour patterns, air conditioning intensity, and need for water desalination are among daily life processes that have changed to cope with increasingly extreme temperature variations. Changes in energy demand may result from future effects of climate change.

Countries are forced to rely more on energy-intensive methods of providing sufficient water supplies, such as desalination and underground water pumping when precipitation declines and evaporation from waterways increases. This effect of climate change drives increasing energy demand and elevates costs. Also, agricultural practices are affected by temperature changes as farmers become more dependent on more energy-intensive methods (e.g., by crops requiring more fertilizers, intensive irrigation methods, and more varied harvesting patterns) in order to maintain productivity levels. Productivity levels are changing in the region as higher temperatures decrease the ability of laborers to work healthily in open-air conditions. Hours of operation for some businesses are therefore changing, for example to earlier or later hours in the day. This change in productivity hours may lead to growing overall energy consumption if hotter weather drives increased demand for air conditioning.

Adoption of new sources of energy presents various security risks. Nuclear energy creates potential proliferation concerns, economic and security risks, and huge potential financial costs to society (such as insurance costs not covered in the official costs of potential accidents in the initial cost assessment). The increased use of natural gas could result in additional competition for access to the available supplies among countries in the region. The potential exploitation of unconventional fossil fuel supplies, such as shale oil, also presents risks to water supplies and of environmental damage on the other hand. With respect to renewable energy sources, potential security benefits could include increased reliance on domestic sources of energy supply and reduced environmental and climate risks compared to other energy sources. Increasing interdependence through electricity interconnections and trade among countries and regions could contribute towards improving relations.

To minimize the adverse impacts of climate change, significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed on an urgent basis. Achieving these reductions will be challenging given current reliance on fossil-based energy systems for the achievement of economic development in the Middle East region.

Unfortunately, the Middle Eastern countries are not active in addressing the potential threats of climate change. Available methods to the Middle East countries to counter or ameliorate the effects of climate change include enhancing energy efficiency, shifting away from the current centralized energy production models, and allowing more players from the private sector to participate in energy production in order to mitigate supply disruptions. Not all changes in temperature and weather result solely in negative effects on energy supply. For example, in some parts of the region there have been more sunny days than before, which can increase the productivity of solar technologies and make solar farms more economically viable. Appropriate land-use management, including urban planning, could reduce threats of land degradation. Management options, such as better stock management and more integrated agro-ecosystems, could improve land conditions and counteract pressures arising from climate change.



The environment and the Middle East, Middle East Institute available at:

Jeannie Sowers and Erika Weinthal, Climate Change Adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, September 2010,

CLIMATE CHANGE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Paper from the High Representative and the European Commission to the European Council, available at:

Climate Change Adaptation in the Water Sector in the Middle East and North Africa: available at: