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A new plan to support action on climate change in the Arab World


A new plan to support action on climate change in the Arab World

A new plan to support action on climate change in the Arab World
Photo credit: Piyaset l Shutterstock

World Bank steps up climate funding in the MENA region; target set of US$1.5 billion per year to support climate action

The World Bank Group on 15 November 2016 announced a new plan to ramp up support for countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to confront the multiple threats of climate change. Over the next four years, the MENA Climate Action Plan aims to nearly double the portion of Bank financing dedicated to climate action, taking it to around US$1.5 billion per year by 2020.

Speaking at a press conference at the COP 22 global climate summit in Marrakech, World Bank MENA Vice President Hafez Ghanem said the plan would focus on the four priorities of food and water security, sustainable cities adapted to new climate conditions, the transition to low-carbon energy, and the protection of the poorest who are most exposed to the impacts of climate change.

“Climate change will make a difficult situation much worse, and will affect millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa region,” said Ghanem, “this is especially true of the impact on scarce water resources, already the lowest in the world, which will become even scarcer, threatening critical industries such as agriculture, on which millions in poorer, rural areas depend for their livelihoods.” 

Nearly two-thirds of agriculture in the MENA region relies solely on rainfall, which makes it especially vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. As global temperatures rise, they will rise even faster in MENA, causing more frequent and severe droughts. The 2015 drought in Morocco destroyed over half the wheat harvest and led to a 1.5 percent drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Output. About one quarter of the region’s workforce is employed in agriculture, in Morocco it is as high as 40 percent, but as climate change impacts the sector’s ability to support livelihoods, more people will move to cities looking for work.

Apart from increased pollution and overcrowding, stepped up migration to the region’s large coastal cities exposes people to another risk: a rise in sea levels. If global temperatures get 1.5 degrees centigrade hotter, the Mediterranean is expected to rise between 0.2 and 0.5 meters, which could affect up to 25 million people between Algiers and Beirut. 

“Countries in the region are aware of the challenges, and have begun taking action,” said Ghanem. “Morocco has taken steps to adapt its agriculture, with better water management and more climate-resistant crops, while also lowering its emissions by eliminating most energy subsidies and with the construction of the large solar plant at Ouarzazate. This is the kind of comprehensive climate action we will support across the region, with a special focus on the poorest and most vulnerable.”

But the challenges are enormous. Confronting climate change will require changes across all segments of society. In view of the risks and the need for action, the World Bank Group has launched a plan to help countries adapt to what is already happening and plan for what is on the horizon.

“Much can be done to adapt to the challenge of climate change,” says Ghanem.

To help countries implement their national plans, the MENA Climate Action Plan aims to nearly double the portion of Bank financing supporting climate action, which at current levels means a target of US$1.5 billion annually. The plan will focus on three core areas:

  1. Foster water and food security,

  2. Making sure cities are ready to cope with the impacts of climate change, and

  3. Lowering the emissions that cause global warming by improving energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, reducing pollution from industry, transport and waste, sequestering carbon from agriculture, and investing in agro-forestry and the preservation of forests.

In all of these efforts, special attention will be given to helping the poor, who are the most vulnerable to the disruptions of global warming, and others – like coastal communities and those threatened with land degradation and desertification – whose livelihoods depend on eco-systems that will be particularly affected.

The MENA Climate Action Plan is based on a set of five commitments that draw on the Bank’s strengths in climate financing, global experience and building partnerships. 

The first is to shift more of Bank financing to climate action, and the second complementary commitment is to almost double the support for adaptation to the new climate reality. This will include support for social safety nets that protect the most vulnerable to climate change, urban design and disaster preparedness that protect people and property from extreme weather and its consequences, as well as better management of natural resources, especially in vulnerable eco-systems.

The third commitment is to support the policy reforms that will lay the foundations for a green future, such as lifting costly fossil fuel subsidies that encourage inefficient use of energy, and creating the right regulations to encourage private investments in renewable energy. The fourth is to meet the costs of transitioning to green growth by using Bank programs to attract private finance, and guarantees to lower the risk for private investors. The fifth and final commitment is to build regional partnerships to develop common solutions for common challenges such as water scarcity and access to energy.

As it works to foster water and food security, the Bank will support agricultural practices, like drip irrigation, to draw less groundwater, as well as other water supply and sanitation techniques to waste less water and re-use more. First projects in Iraq and Palestine in 2017 will promote better management of water supply in low-level conflict situations while improving the quality and efficiency of water and wastewater services. 

In helping to make cities more resilient, the Bank will aim to replicate its work in Morocco on disaster risk management, with the development of early warning systems, flood protection, and the introduction of national disaster risk insurance. In Beirut, a bus rapid transit project is expanding the city’s bus network and creating dedicated bus lanes, thereby reducing the need for private car use and reducing air pollution.

For thousands of years, the region has found solutions for coping with a changing climate. The potential consequences, such as increases in poverty and the reversal of development gains, are now much more severe. But there are still solutions. They will require leadership and commitment from individual countries, resources, innovation and the adoption of effective practices from around the world. The new plan will allow the Bank to channel its resources and global knowledge to help the region protect the most vulnerable and meet the challenge of climate change.


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