Climate change: growing threat as Middle East simmers

While climate change is not the most pressing issue for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the climate risks are sig­nificant and will compound the current hazards caused or aggravated by the Israeli occupation. As confirmed by recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) consultations on climate adapta­tion in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), comparing the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of most Palestinians with the effects of the Israeli occupation is highly politically charged.

The expected effects of climate change are likely to compound the negative effects of the occupation, primar­ily by impairing existing coping mechanisms or forcing the adoption of new ones. As important, the policy discourse on climate change affects not only Palestinian living conditions and livelihoods but also state-building efforts.

In a major report, Compounding Vulnerability: Impacts of Climate Change on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the authors Michael Mason, Mark Zeitoun, and Ziad Mimi, point out that coping with, or adapting to, climate risks must be seen in a political-economic context: like the neighbouring countries, the oPt faces projected significant reductions in water availability as a result of climate change.

The International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that warming for southern Europe and the Mediterranean over the 21st century will be greater than global annual mean warming, between 2.2°C and 5.1°C according to a credible emissions scenario. Annual mean precipitation is deemed ‘very likely’ to drop in the Mediterranean, decreasing between 4 and 27 percent, with an increased risk of summer drought. Climate projections to 2100, derived from higher-resolution regional climate models applied to the Eastern Mediterranean, gener­ally confirm IPCC predictions, with temperature rises of 3.5°C to 4.8°C and winter precipitation decreasing up to 35 percent.

Much of the best agricultural land in the Jordan River valley is taken by Israeli settlements, while over a third of arable land in Gaza is effectively not accessible to farmers because it falls within areas declared by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) as ‘no-go’ and ‘high-risk’ zones adjoining the border. Similarly, the terms and procedures of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (‘Oslo II’) effec­tively prevent bulk water imports into Gaza and sustainable develop­ment of new sources for irrigation or drinking water in the West Bank.

Projected climate change induced reductions in precipitation would exacerbate groundwater salinity levels through reduced soil flushing and groundwater recharge, while reductions in air moisture increase the soil-water requirement of crops. Additional saline contamination of groundwater is expected with projected sea-level rise, compounding “natural” sources of salinization.

The authors conclude: ‘Palestinian calls for legal and equitable distribution of trans-boundary waters remain central to their aspirations for sovereignty and self-determination. On this issue, it is instructive that, should serious final-status negotiations resume, Israeli negotiators have cited forecasted climate-change impacts as justification for opposing any reallocation to the Palestinians of shared groundwater sup­plies. Such a stance exposes as disingenuous calls from Israeli authorities for cooperation with Palestinians on climate change’.

(Please click here for link to article: http://www.palestine-studies.org/journals.aspx?id=11374&jid=1&href=abstract

Jasper Humphreys, Marjan Centre

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