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Workshop: Climate Change in the MENA region


Workshop in Rabat
10th-11th of September 2011

Climate change presents clear and present challenges to the social, political, and economic well being of North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). There is broad consensus on this point; however, there are significant variations from country to country about what addressing these challenges entails. The region exists as a number of unique matrices of geography, energy, security, and resource management for which there are not yet coherent policies at all the necessary levels of domestic and transnational governance. A deeper and more sophisticated body of knowledge regarding the unique challenges facing the region must be developed in tandem with development of clearer political will, so that regional actors may progress down the path of informed, proactive adaptation. The alternative is a more costly path of deferred and impromptu reactions when environmental changes can no longer be ignored.

Regional Overview: Geography, Climate, and Environmental Issues

The majority of the land in MENA is arid or semi-arid dryland. Rainfall is highly variable but overall tends to be scarce—52% of the region receives less than 100mm per year. Some areas, such as parts of Syria, receive as much as 1,500mm annually, though the rate of loss in all parts of MENA due to evaporation and runoff is quite high. The northern regions of Algeria, Libya and Egypt, as well as the bulk of Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, and Iran are arid and semi-arid. Vast swathes of Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf states are classified as “hyper-arid” and are unsuitable for agriculture. These hyper-arid regions are ill-suited for habitation and have very low population density, though ‘desertified’ and some hyper-arid areas can be made available for human use through targeted rehabilitation and management schemes. Iraq, Lebanon and Syria are considered water-abundant.


Opening Speech – Richard Falk – Climate Change – Rabat 2011 from Foundation Moulay Hicham on Vimeo.

Though scientific consensus is elusive regarding how much and where precipitation is expected to decrease due to climate change, there is broad consensus that rainfall will decrease throughout MENA. Any decrease poses an unequivocal problem for this already water-scarce region. This is in addition to as-yet undetermined changes in the frequency, intensity, and seasonal predictability of rainfall. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification has identified drylands as ecosystems in which the challenges of climate change are most intimately linked to food security and poverty reduction. Currently, four MENA countries are consuming more than 100% of their renewable water resources each year and are dependent upon external sources to fulfill the remaining need. Water resource management and access are key players in the food security, economic security, and political interactions of all who live in this region. Yemen’s environmental ministry estimates that over 7 million hectares have desertified, with up to 97% of its land currently having been significantly degraded.

Nearly every MENA state borders at least one sea or ocean and to varying degrees will be affected by rising sea levels. The IPCC predicts a rise between 30cm and 1m for the Mediterranean over the next century ; the majority of human habitation and economic activity is near coastlines, and as the ocean level moves upward countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia can expect human displacement into the tens of millions of people. Furthermore, a rise in sea level reduces hectares of arable land and increases salinity in remaining arable land and groundwater supplies. In Egypt, which is likely to experience some of the most dramatic changes due to sea-level rise, a rise of .5m would displace 3.8 million people and damage 1800km2 of agricultural and industrial land concentrated along the Delta. Rising waters along with increased intensity of storm surges is expected to harm Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia’s tourist industries and to create highly significant human displacement.

Desertification has been underway in many parts of MENA for decades. This loss of arable land is due primarily to human activity such as overgrazing, deforestation, and erosion due to certain types of agriculture. Drylands are particularly sensitive to human use and require skilled management to be utilized sustainably. Without mitigation efforts and improvements in land management the advance of desertification will exacerbate other effects of climate change such as those described above. Much of the current information on desertification is based on empirical observation and incomplete data collection. There is consensus that land degradation and desertification is spreading, but to what extent and in which areas is difficult to pinpoint until more reliable data collection is in place.

The economies of most MENA states are resource-dependent, with environmental ramifications from current resource extraction techniques. In addition to petroleum-related activity, Egypt derives 15% of its GDP from mining for gold, natural gas, phosphates, and petroleum. Morocco contains 75% of the world’s phosphate reserves, and has one of the world’s largest sand-mining operations. As a result, ecosystems along the coast are degrading with significant detrimental effects on the health of wetland systems. Pollution from mineral extraction (along with increasing industrialization and urbanization) throughout the MENA is diminishing water quality and availability.


Title: Background paper on Climate Change Workshop
Author: Hilal Helver, Richard Falk and Berry Hold

Title: Climate Change and Security – Climate Change as a ‘threat multiplier’
Author: Hilal Elver

Title: Claryfying the impact of Climate Change in North Africa
Author: Miriam Lowi

Title: Climate Change, Human Security and Environmental Ethics
Author: Hans Von Sponeck

Title: Climate Change and Human Security – African Perspectives
Author: Balgis Osman-Elasha

Title: Climate change, water resources, and the politics of human security in the Middle East and North Africa
Author: Jeannie Sowers and Erika Weinthal