Why the MENA region needs to better prepare for climate change- Atlantic Council

Why the MENA region needs to better prepare for climate change- Atlantic Council

15 Apr 2020

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been hotspots for exploration and exploitation of energy resources for decades. Yet, the Mediterranean climate is proven to be just as volatile as its security issues. The consequences of changes in temperature, extreme weather conditions, and rainfall superimposed on a severe water crisis, political turmoil, and a web of intersecting violent conflicts, are all destabilizing issues likely exacerbated by climate change.

At the heart of the climate change discussion is the agriculture-water-food security nexus which overlaps with one another. Agriculture employs more than 35 percent of the region’s population and contributes 13 percent to the region’s GDP vs the global average of 3.2 percent. The world’s top nine wheat importers are MENA countries. Yet, around 50 percent of regional wheat and barley, 40 percent of rice, and nearly 70 percent of maize for the region is met through imports.

Such high levels of import dependency result in high vulnerability to global food price fluctuations, which, to some extent, are also driven by climate change impacts in food-exporting regions. Studies showed that climate and hydrological events coupled with global market fluctuations contributed to high wheat prices in Egypt during 2008 that affected the price of bread.

In terms of water security, a recent World Bank report estimated that over 60 percent of the population in the MENA region live in areas with high or very high surface water stress with reduced available amounts of water for immediate uses such as agriculture or filling reservoirs for drinking water. According to the World Bank, this region is expected to have the greatest economic losses from climate related water scarcity.

The MENA region should develop high levels of climate resilience by using developing countries’ capacities to access climate finance, efficient water governance and awareness, and building the regional strategy for climate mitigation and adaptation.