Hexbyte Glen Cove Climate change a double blow for oil-rich Mideast: experts

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Sun-baked farmland in eastern Iraq’s Saadiya area, north of Diyala, pictured on June 24, 2021 amid a blistering summer heat wave and water shortages that killed fields and livestock.

The climate crisis threatens a double blow for the Middle East, experts say, by destroying its oil income as the world shifts to renewables and by raising temperatures to unliveable extremes.

Little has been done to address the challenge in a region long plagued by civil strife, war and refugee flows, even as looks likely to accelerate these trends, a conference heard last week.

“Our region is classified as a global climate change hotspot,” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told the International Conference on Climate Change in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.

Home to half a billion people, the already sun-baked region has been designated as especially vulnerable by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.

Yet it is also home to several of the last countries that have not ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement—Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen—weeks before the UN’s COP26 climate conference starts in Glasgow.

When it comes to climate change and the Middle East, “there are terrible problems,” said Jeffrey Sachs, who heads the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

“First, this is the centre of world hydrocarbons, so a lot of the economies of this region depend on a fuel that is basically anachronistic, that we have to stop,” said Sachs of New York’s Columbia University.

A Lebanese army helicopter drops water on a forest fire in the Qubayyat area of northern Lebanon’s remote Akkar region during a heat wave on July 29, 2021.

“Second, obviously, this is a dry region getting drier, so everywhere one looks, there is water insecurity, water stress, dislocation of populations,” he told AFP.

Sachs argued that “there needs to be a massive transformation in the region. Yet this is a politically fraught region, a divided region, a region that has been beset by a lot of war and conflict, often related to oil.”

The good news, he said, is that there is “so much sunshine that the solution is staring the region in the face. They must just look up to the sky. The provides the basis for the new clean, green economy.”

Like ‘disaster movie’

Laurent Fabius, the former French foreign minister who oversaw the Paris Agreement, pointed out that in this year’s blistering summer, “we had catastrophic wildfires in Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon”.

In this file photo taken on October 3, 2021 a man wades through a flooded street amid cyclone Shaheen in Oman’s capital Muscat.

“There were temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran. We have drought in Turkey, water stress in different countries, particularly Jordan.

“These tragic events are not from a disaster movie, they are real and present.”

Cyprus, the EU member closest to the Middle East, is leading an international push involving 240 scientists to develop a 10-year regional action plan, to be presented at a summit a year from now.

The two-day conference last week heard some of the initial findings—including that the from the region have overtaken those of the European Union.

Already extremely water-scarce, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been warming at twice the global average rate, at about 0.45 degrees Celsius per decade, since the 1980s, scientists say.

Graphic explaining the greenhouse effect, which contributes to a warming Earth.

Deserts are expanding and dust storms intensifying as the region’s rare mountain snow caps slowly diminish, impacting river systems that supply water to millions.

By the end of the century, on a business-as-usual emissions trajectory, temperatures could rise by six degrees Celsius—and by more during summertime in “super- or ultra-extreme heatwaves”—said Dutch atmospheric chemist Jos Lelieveld.

‘Future conflicts’

“It’s not just about averages, but about the extremes. It will be quite devastating,” Lelieveld of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry told AFP.

Peak temperatures in cities, so-called ‘heat islands’ that are darker than surrounding deserts, could exceed 60 degrees Celsius, he said.

“In heat waves, people die, of heat strokes and heart attacks. It’s like with corona, the will be suffering—the elderly, younger people, pregnant women.”

Fabius, like other speakers, warned that as farmlands turn to dust and tensions rise over shrinking resources, climate change can be “the root of future conflicts and violence”.

The region is already often torn over freshwater from the Nile, Jordan, Euphrates and Tigris river systems that all sustained ancient civilisations but have faced pressure as human populations have massively expanded.

Sachs pointed to the much-debated theory that was one of the drivers behind Syria’s civil war, because a 2006-2009 record drought sent more than a million farmers into cities, heightening social stress before the uprising of 2011.

“We saw in Syria a decade ago how those dislocations of the massive drought spilt over, partially triggered and certainly exacerbated massive violence,” he said.

Some of the MENA region’s highest use of solar power is now seen in Syria’s last rebel-held area, the Idlib , which has long been cut off from the state power grid and where photovoltaic panels have become ubiquitous.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Researchers investigate mining-related deforestation in the Amazon thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Researchers investigate mining-related deforestation in the Amazon

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Most gold mines in the Peruvian Amazon are unregulated, small-scale operations, leaving governments without ways to protect the surrounding environment or track how much forest is lost to mining. Credit: Lisa Naughton

If you’re wearing gold jewelry right now, there’s a good chance it came from an illegal mining operation in the tropics and surfaced only after some rainforest was sacrificed, according to a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and alumni who studied regulatory efforts to curb some of these environmentally damaging activities in the Amazon.

The researchers, including UW-Madison geography Professor Lisa Naughton, investigated mining-related deforestation in a biodiverse and ecologically sensitive area of the Peruvian Amazon to see whether formalizing and legalizing these mining operations might curb some of their negative effects.

Their study, published June 2 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, was co-authored by a group including UW-Madison alumnae Nora Álvarez-Berríos, now studying land-use and at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, and Jessica L’Roe, now a geography professor at Middlebury College.

The team focused on an area around the Tambopata National Reserve in Peru from 2001 to 2014. During this , Naughton says, demand for gold rose, roads penetrated the region and mining surged. In turn, mining-related deforestation rose by almost 100,000 acres over their study period.

“Because the gold is in the sediment scattered under the , to extract the gold, you have to remove the forest and dig,” Álvarez-Berríos says. “You have to cut a lot of the forest and excavate sensitive waterways.”

While these mining operations are often called “artisanal” or “small-scale,” in aggregate they are very destructive. In many countries they operate outside the law, and millions of people are involved across the tropics. Álvarez-Berríos says the typical first step to reducing the environmental impact of artisanal mining is bringing it under governmental oversight, formalizing the activity. That way, local agencies can manage the impacts and protect both ecologically sensitive areas and the economic well-being of poor mine workers.

“Peruvian authorities, like authorities in other gold-rush sites, have given up on trying to stop gold mining. They’re trying to confine it and contain it,” L’Roe says. “Most of the studies about formalization are mainly about trying to help the poor, or make it more fair for the poor. Seldom, almost never, as far as we can tell, have these formalization projects been assessed for their environmental impact. So that’s what we were looking at.”

During their study period, local agencies issued provisional titles to miners to conduct their operations safely. After receiving a provisional title, miners would, in theory, undergo a series of environmental impact and compliance assessments before they started work.

But, as L’Roe says they found, the regulation process took a long time. Many miners simply took their provisional title as a green light to start mining, and never went through with the environmental impact assessments. Over their study period, no mining operations made it through the full compliance process, and as such they found little evidence for improved environmental outcomes in formalized mining areas.

To assess environmental outcomes, the team used satellite imagery analysis to see how much of the forest had been cut down, as compared to areas without formalized mining regulations.

Naughton says while formalizing mining has the potential to decrease environmental damage, it needs enforcement and regulations that match the local context. Formalization without environmental impact assessment or enforcement could just encourage more damaging and dangerous mining, or the expansion of these operations under the pretense that what they’re doing is legal.

But gold rushes are exactly what they sound like, Naughton says: rushed. They’re fast, and slow formalization processes with many steps and provisions and impact assessments often cannot keep up with the pace of extraction.

“To sort out in a fair way who owns what land, with what rights, that is a slow process,” Naughton says. “This gold rush is explosive. By the time you have well-regulated and transparent public land and property rights, the forest will be gone.”

The team plans to go back to Tambopata to present its results to local stakeholders. Many members of the community are already aware of the problems with mining formalization but have not had a chance to systematically study the environmental consequences. The three co-authors hope their study will set a precedent for monitoring formalization interventions in Tambopata and other tropical sites losing forest to mining. They are already sharing results and methods with colleagues concerned about gold mining impacts in Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia.

“We’ll go back to our study site and share the results—but in a humble way because folks there know that it hasn’t worked well, and they know the problems,” says Álvarez-Berríos. “So, yes, it’s important to share it with that group of stakeholders and experts, but maybe even more important is to share the results and our methods and design for studying this problem with folks working in the many, many other areas where there’s uncontrolled small-scale and where formalization efforts are being launched with best intentions.”


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