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Regional leaders set to ratify Middle East climate plan next year

Science-based 10-year action plan put together under auspices of Cypriot government

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

In this July 9, 2009, photo, Adilla Finchaan, 50, and her husband Ashore Mohammed, 60, check theIr land in Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this July 9, 2009, photo, Adilla Finchaan, 50, and her husband Ashore Mohammed, 60, check theIr land in Latifiyah, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

GLASGOW, Scotland — As world leaders wrapped up the first part of the UN climate conference here on Tuesday, the focus in one well-attended side session shifted to regional cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, a part of the planet recognized as a climate hotspot.

Cypriot Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Costas Kadis announced that ministers from throughout the area, including Israel, are set to meet in February to greenlight a ten-year action plan for regional climate collaboration.

State leaders will then assemble in the early fall to ratify the plan for implementation, capping a period of intensive work by the Eastern Mediterranean & Middle East Climate Change Initiative (EMME-CCI), launched in 2019 by the Cypriot government.

Last month, a group of unlikely bedfellows convened in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, to review the latest version of the action plan. Representatives came from Israel (from academia, EcoPeace Middle East and the Foreign Ministry), Egypt, Jordan, Greece and Cyprus, as well as from Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories.

Among those addressing the October confab, either via Zoom or in person, were Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan and Hassan Janabi, a former water minister in Iraq.

The initiative, coordinated by the Cyprus Institute, a nonprofit research and educational institution, has been gathering regional scientific climate data on which to base regional policy. Multinational task forces, comprising around 220 scientists, 12 of them from Israel, have been formulating a Comprehensive Scientific Report, due to be finalized in December. This focuses on 13 subjects, ranging from energy, the built environment, agroforestry and the food chain to the marine environment, education, migration and tourism.

Cypriot Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Costas Kadis (L) and Jihad Alsawair, adviser to Jordan’s Environment Minister, speak at the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel.)

Flanked on Tuesday by Jihad Alsawair, adviser to Jordan’s Environment Minister, Kadis said, “We need to act collectively, decisively and based on scientific knowledge.”

Fatima Driouech of the organization Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change, which published the results of the first-ever scientific assessment on climate and environmental change in the Mediterranean basin last year, noted that regional sea levels had gone up by 15 to 25 centimeters (six to ten inches) between 1901 and 2018 and that half of the region’s wetlands — important absorbers of carbon dioxide — had disappeared.

The annual mean temperature rise in the region has already hit 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial times, Driouech continued. This is the benchmark increase enshrined in the Paris climate accords of 2015. Worldwide, average temperatures are up 1.2°C, compared with the pre-industrial baseline.

Ambassador Gideon Behar, Israel’s special envoy for climate change and sustainability, told The Times of Israel, “The effects of climate change in the Middle East are so dramatic and severe that only through regional cooperation can we survive and prosper.

“The Middle East is warming faster than the world average. It is suffering from desertification and is the most water-scarce region on the planet,” he said. “By 2050, the amount of water per person (also taking population growth into account) will be half  of what it is today. We are seeing rivers drying up and people rioting over water shortages.”

Behar added, “We need the international community to be involved, because instability emerging from climate change in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East will affect the whole world. It’s important that we leave nobody behind.”

Costas Papanicolas, president of the Cyprus Institute, adviser to the Cypriot president and special envoy for climate change, told the Tuesday meeting that if the region continued with business as usual, temperatures could rise by an average of 5°C by 2090, “and nobody knows what that means.” Under such a scenario, today’s hottest temperatures would become the coolest and there would be danger of nature’s “total collapse.”

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