Climate Change Impacts in GCC

The GCC countries face multitude of climate change challenges including desertification, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and sea level rise. The region is characterized by high temperature, high humidity and arid lands resulting in seriously degraded soil and land damage in addition to salt intrusion in the aquifers affecting the small scale agricultural lands thus enhancing the food security threat in the region. All of the above geographical threats have therefore increased and activated the participation of GCC states in global negotiations recently as evidence are uncovered and impacts being felt across the region. If a couple of days of rain can flood parts of cities in GCC, and bring life to a standstill, the prospect of large scale climate change is a sobering thought, and a thought that needs to be translated into action.


Rise in Sea Level


One of the main climate change impacts is sea level rise on coastal areas of all Arabian Gulf states. This includes many of the large and small islands in the Gulf region which are highly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise. An example is the low-lying geology of Bahrain’s islands, which coupled with high land reclamation and extensive industrial, commercial, and residential activity in coastal zones, highlight the island’s acute vulnerability to climate change induced sea level rise.

The total land area that would be inundated under the various climate change scenarios was found to be substantial by the Bahrain Supreme Council for the Environment. Even the low sea level rise scenario will result in an inundation of about five per cent (36 km2) of the total land area of Bahrain by 2100. This level increases to about 11 per cent of total land area (69 km2) in the worst case scenario.

Inundation will unevenly affect Bahrain’s vulnerable infrastructure in the five main islands and would adversely affect cities, roads, agricultural areas, as well as beaches and salt marshes. Even in other cities, if reinforcement measures are not implemented on Dubai’s coastline for example, it would be damaged and altered from rising sea levels caused by climate change.


Water Availability


Continued use of non-renewable water is major factor in depleting groundwater reserves in GCC nations and puts Gulf countries at severe risk of climate impacts. In Saudi Arabia, water supply is drawn from four sources: groundwater from deep fossil aquifers, desalinated water, surface water and reclaimed wastewater. Extracting water from deep aquifers amounts to mining the resource, as supplies are non-renewable and have been severely depleted as a result of policies which for the past three decades have subsidized not only agricultural commodities such as wheat, but also the means to produce them. It is not surprising therefore that agriculture accounts for roughly 85% of water use in Saudi Arabia.

The depletion of Bahrain’s groundwater through urbanization has led to the loss of freshwater springs, which the country was once famous for, as well as its fertile lands. Same is the case with Qatar which heavily relies on energy-intensive desalination plants for its freshwater, further driving up its electricity demand. A vast majority of desalination plants in GCC are energy-intensive and installed at a huge cost to the environment.


Food Security


The Middle East is especially vulnerable to tensions brought on by spike in food prices. This is a region where putting new land into production is not that easy because of the nature of the terrain and water shortage. In Saudi Arabia, only about 2 percent of the country’s enormous land mass is arable, even with intensive irrigation and modern farming technology. Facing a probable 77 percent growth in its population by 2050, Saudi Arabia is grappling with the realization that its barren soil and dwindling water supply will be insufficient to feed all those people (Middle East Institute 2010)

In Bahrain there are over 6,000 people employed in the fishing industry. Deterioration of coral reef habitats will negatively affect associated fauna and fish stocks, and eventually threaten the viability of Bahrain’s fishing industry. The loss of agricultural land due to a one metre rise in sea level is likely to be over 11 per cent of the total arable land in the country.




The potential loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity under climate change is a major concern across the region. The Arabian Peninsula is a meeting point between the Indo-Asian and the Afro-European regions and enjoys a rich biodiversity in a hyper arid environment. For the terrestrial environment, the Arabian Peninsula has dozens of mammal species, hundreds of bird species, and scores of amphibian and reptile species.

For the marine environment, the Arabian Gulf’s relative shallowness supports a number of highly productive coastal habitats, including intertidal mudflats, seagrasses, algal beds, mangroves, and coral reefs, together with a wide variety of fish species, some of which are endangered. With climate change, these species, such as migratory birds and dugongs would be adversely affected.

Climate Change Impacts in the Levant

Many countries in the Levant ’” such as Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria ’” are afflicted by water scarcity, weak institutional and governmental resource management, high food import dependency and fragile economies ’“ all coupled with increasing populations and demand. According to the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the Arab World will be witnessing hotter and drier conditions with extensive droughts causing severe water shortages that will have dire impacts on agriculture and livelihood. Farmers in the Arab world for centuries have been addressing adaptation and resilience issues through farming, water management and environmental degradation. Global climate change is foreseen to increase the severity of climatic conditions and increase the vulnerability of resource dependent countries and communities.


Water Scarcity


Water scarcity is one of the issues expected to increase with climate change. This will adversely affect livelihoods and sectors like agriculture, which is the largest water user in the country. The Levant region is projected to be one of the most severely impacted region in the world as per most general circulation models (GCMs) due to the expectation of severe water scarcity which will in turn impact its socio-economic development (Assaf, 2009). The Levant states’ engagement in the UNFCCC process is vital since major regional studies conducted by the Arab Development and Environment Forum forecasts alarming impacts part of which suggests that increasingly scarce water resources will be further reduced between 15-50% in all four countries.

Moreover, due to water loss and land degradation agricultural self-sufficiency is dismal, especially when considering inefficient irrigation techniques that are more suitable to other areas instead of the Levant region, e.g. severe land degradation in the Euphrates Valley of Syria (Nasr, 2009). This in turn will result and influence the whole issue of food security leading to widespread poverty in the region. The situation may be exacerbated due to current political instability and conflict in the area ’” noting that Syria is heavily dependent on water resources outside its borders, while Jordon already consumes more than 100% of their available water (Nasr, 2009; Tolba and Saab, 2009). Jordon, ranked as the fourth most water insecure country in the world, has already identified four critical sectors ’“ water, energy, agriculture and food security ’“ in addition to waste reduction and management.




Increase in temperatures and decrease in rainfall also characterizes the main climatic changes facing Levant countries such as Lebanon. Agricultural sector in Levant is expected to experience minimal impact of climate change. However, a reduced amount of agricultural land will be available due to desertification and urban expansion. This means that agriculture will be affected and the price of vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products will rise as well, bringing about negative impacts on marginalized communities.


Increase in Sea Level


An additional factor is the expected rise in sea level that could further contaminate the nearby aquifers such as the coastal aquifer of Gaza that should provide water to impoverished Palestinians. The annual decrease in precipitation has led to less freshwater availability for surface or ground water. It is being projected that a one meter rise in 50 years will cause salt intrusions in Iraq well into the north beyond Basra and intrude into water aquifers in Lebanon, as far as downtown Beirut and Dbayyeh areas (Nasr, 2009).


Political Vulnerability


With stringent Israeli control on natural resources use and management, the Palestinian Authority lacks the capacity to enforce regulations and mechanisms to ensure the integ1ration of climate change impacts into development planning in the country. This ultimately increases the vulnerability of governmental and nongovernmental institutions and further intensifies the vulnerability and exposure of communities to the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, climate change adaptation planning is supported by governmental institutions like the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and the Water Authority in addition to environmental NGOs and engaged stakeholders. Similar to Jordan, Palestine climate projections clearly state that water shortages will increase, increasing the water asymmetry already existing due to the unequal use of water between Israel and Palestinian areas.


Economic Considerations


In the Levant region, the water sector currently undergoes several environmental stresses resulting from different socio- economic activities and practices, including agriculture, energy, and transport. The potential impacts of climate change on the coastal zone include losses in coastal and marine economic activities such as tourism, agriculture, fisheries, transportation and other essential services. Coastal communities relying on ecosystem services, such as fishing for livelihoods will bear the impacts of increase in sea water temperature as the marine fish stock might decrease and marine biodiversity miay change or decline.

In countries such as Lebanon, the coastal zone has very high population density (estimated at around 594 inhabitants per km2) and is characterized by a concentration of Lebanon’s main economic activity. In fact, the largest Lebanese cities (Beirut, Saida, Tripoli and Tyre) are located along the coast, and contribute to more than 74% of Lebanon’s GDP through commercial and financial activities, large industrial zones, important agricultural lands as well as fishing and tourism.

In addition to organizational and technical constrains similarly faced by other Levant countries, Palestine is also experiencing political constrains due to the Israeli situation. The shared trans-boundary groundwater is unequally distributed with Israel using more than 80% of Palestinian water resources.


Research Gap


Due to economic growth and increasing population, energy demand is expected to rise by at least 50 percent in some countries over the next 20 years. The provision of reliable energy supply at reasonable cost is thus a crucial element of economic reform and sustainable development. Transportation sector is of crucial importance for the regions further economic development. In general terms, lack of and access to data are the main barriers that proved to be the most hindering. The lack of statistics particularly affects the assessment of GHG emissions and economic development scenarios. In turn, governments have blamed the weak economic base for the inability to support research. The absence of scientific assessments and research in terms of assessing e.g. economic impacts of climate change, the ecological impacts of global warming and the degree of resilience of the different systems are hindering the prioritization of adaptation strategies in the decision-making process.