Jordan’s coming climate crisis will hit youth hard

Jordan’s coming climate crisis will hit youth hard

15 Jan 2022

As in much of the Middle East, most young people are focused on jobs and finances, unaware of mounting climate risks

Climate change is not considered a national priority in Jordan, underming the country’s efforts to take a position at COP26. Young people, who will be most affected in their lifetimes, are disadvantaged by a lack of relevant education and information provision. They are also more preoccupied by immediate challenges of poverty and unemployment — even though the country’s acute vulnerability means environmental challenges are already exacerbating these problems.

What next

Without effective mitigation, global temperature increases and lower precipitation by 2050 will cause major stress on Jordan’s fragile natural resources. More droughts will increase disruptions to water and food supplies. This will play into existing economic problems of disrupted livelihoods, poverty and joblessness among youth that are exacerbated by the existing education system, which does not meet market needs.

Subsidiary Impacts

  • Climate change will further undermine employment prospects, driving more young people to emigrate.
  • Environmental deterioration will have most impact on the poorest, further worsening inequality.
  • Water shortages will constitute an acute regional challenge, with spillover effects into and from neighboring countries.

Analysis

Unemployment reached 25% in 2021, with youth unemployment at 63% — among highest in the world. With poverty around 16% and a large inequality gap, most Jordanians rank environmental issues and scarcity of natural resources near the bottom of their pressing concerns (see JORDAN: Vested interests may block urgent tax reform – May 20, 2021).

Regional exemplar

This is not unusual among Middle Eastern countries (see MIDDLE EAST: Climate change poses multiple threats – October 21, 2021). A 2020 survey showed that in crisis-hit Lebanon, economic issues were the main focus of public attention, with high living costs (48%), the weak economy (34%) and unemployment (31%) concerning most respondents respectively.

However, even in Saudi Arabia, a relatively wealthy oil producer, a 2019 survey showed that the top concerns were still unemployment and jobs (34%) and taxes (31%). This may in part reflect the large number of expatriate workers in the country.

Education and information

Although a Jordanian youth delegation did attend COP26, most young people are distracted by poverty and unemployment from the very real local threat of climate change. Without mitigation, the country’s 2021 National Climate Change Adaptation Plan is forecasting significantly higher local temperatures as well as a 20% rainfall decline cutting agricultural production by 10% by 2050, more electricity cuts and infrastructural damage from more extreme weather events.

Despite this threat within their lifetimes, most young people — even educated cadres such as engineers — have little knowledge of or interest in climate change. Consequently, they are unlikely to participate in initiatives seeking to tackle the problem or hold leaders accountable over climate issues.

Although Jordanian youth have relatively good access to education, the curriculum does not cover environmental issues. This in part reflects wider problems of a system that tends not to be student- centred or encourage analytical thinking. University degrees — for instance in civil engineering and medicine — follow old-fashioned structures and often fail to fit graduates for employment, thus worsening the distraction caused by immediate economic problems.

Religious and cultural factors may also play a role. Among conservatives, some reportedly believe that the impacts of climate change — such as increased droughts and flash floods — are the result of ‘fate’ rather than severe natural reactions to increase in mean temperature levels. On a similar basis, climate change adaptation initiatives, such as the adoption of new natural resource management practices, have not been widely accepted by users.

Young people are less likely to see environmental disasters as ‘fated’

This mindset is increasingly less common among young people, in part due to their improved access to more diverse sources of information. These include:

  • international social media accounts such as CNN Climate and UN Climate Change;
  • regional accounts, for example the Environment and Development Magazine and Climate Action Network Arab World;
  • online training courses like org; and
  • extra-curricular school or university environmental clubs.

Nonetheless, in many cases, the information accessed is misleading, due to a lack of transparency and presentation skills. In particular, available data on climate change tends not to be available in Arabic and to be expressed in dry, scientific terms. Moreover, much of it is not open-source.

This causes many young people to lose interest in content that comes across as intangible.

COP26 dynamics

The outcomes of COP26 Glasgow showed that, even on the global level, the world is far from any consensus on actions to mitigate climate change (see INTERNATIONAL: Pressure for climate action will build – November 19, 2021). For its part, Jordan offered an ambitious contribution in its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) report.

However, it lacked clear, attainable goals. For example, it committed to a highly speculative 31% reduction in greenhouse gases. Given the country’s limited capital and resources, that target will likely prove impossible to achieve in the promised timeframe.

Moreover, Amman’s participation in COP26 was superficial in several areas. The delegation included representatives from the environment ministry, state non-governmental entities and youth, but it lacked wider civil society and local media representatives. Although representatives participated in several side events and discussions, they lacked a common strategic agenda and guidelines.

Members were absent from many high-level negotiations aiming to form shared commitments with other countries that are principally receivers rather than emitters of greenhouse gases, in order to communicate climate vulnerabilities, adaptation needs and investment opportunities to developed countries. The result was a missed opportunity to bring green funding and investments into Jordan.

Future trends

Ultimately, the major challenge of youth unemployment in Jordan cannot be separated from factors related to the ecosystem. Already, environmental problems are contributing to the low economic growth rate and high unemployment, especially in rural locations.

<100 cubic metres per year Per capita water availabilty

Water availability is under 100 cubic metres per person per year, below the acceptable global threshold (see JORDAN/ISRAEL: Despite cooperation, water may be short – February 9, 2018). The forecast impacts of climate change on rainfall and temperature will exacerbate this, leaving even fewer renewable water resources available to supply the growing population.

As well as shortages in drinking water supply, there will be decreased availability of water for irrigation and industrial purposes. That will have an impact on growth, since water is an essential input for key sectors contributing to GDP, including government services, finance, manufacturing, transport, tourism and agriculture.

This will have a knock-on impact on jobs, livelihoods and food security. Particularly vulnerable are young people living in poor agricultural communities in the rural highlands and Jordan Valley, who have a lower adaptive capacity and spend a higher share of their incomes on food.

Ultimately, addressing these intertwined problems would require an interdisciplinary approach across sectors. However, there is little sign of a concerted top-down effort in this respect. Meanwhile, young people preoccupied by immediate economic challenges and with little access to reliable and comprehensible information sources on climate change are unlikely to lead a grassroots initiative for change.