Egypt and climate change: the fast road to hell
Snow in Cairo - YOUM7 (Archive)
By SARAH MOURAD

CAIRO: A thin blanket of snow covered Tahrir Square the morning of Dec. 13, 2013, the first snow in the capital had seen in decades.

On May 7, severe sandstorms in Aswan in southern Egypt led to a boat accident that killed one, and damaged to a local museum. The next day, Ain Sokhna road in Northern Sinai was hit with strong rains accompanied by thunder, lighting, winds and a substantial decline in temperature.

“Out of 7 possible scenarios expected regarding the River Nile due to climate change, only one is positive,” said Mohamed Hamdy Darrag, Manager of Climate Change Technology and Researches at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA.) The only optimistic scenario modeled by the Japanese, shows that water levels will increase from 20 to 25 percent due to an advance in the rain belt. However, the other six scenarios show that water will decrease, from 40 to 80 percent.

“luctuations in climate were the norm, not the exception, throughout this calamitous past. ods due

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River, a major tributary to the River Nile, currently under construction. At 6,000 MW, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the 8th largest in the world, sharing the spot with Krasnoyarsk. Ethiopia has denied that the dam will have any negative impacts on the downstream water flows and contends that the dam will in fact increase water flows to Egypt by reducing evaporation on Lake Nasser.

Egypt has planned a diplomatic initiative to undermine support for the dam in the region as well as in other countries supporting the project such as China, Italy, and Norway. However, other nations in the Nile Basin initiative have expressed support for the dam, including Sudan, the only other nation downstream of the Blue Nile.

A 2010 report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that Nile flows, rainfall, and ground water resources affect the vulnerability of Egypt’s water resources. As for the agriculture sector, the study predicted a reduction in the productivity of two major crops in Egypt: wheat and maize by 15% and 19%, respectively, by 2050.

In 2013, IPCC reiterated the scientific opinion that the largest driver of global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and land use changes such as deforestation, and that human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes.

Climate change and food in Egypt

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Egypt is the world’s leading importer of wheat. Egyptians consume between 15 and 20 million tons of the grain per year, producing only 10 million tons locally. In a report about Middle East and North African countries in February 2014, UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned of demographic issues and vulnerabilities to price fluctuations and climate change conflicts.

The region’s high population growth of 2%, compared to 1.2% globally, also comes with a high rate of urbanization, with 70% expected to be living in cities by 2050, the report said. “A rapidly increasing urban population, which has distinctly different food consumption habits and a greater dependence on the market than the rural population, is a particular challenge for the food system,” it stated.

In the long term however, such reliance on imports, the report warns, exposes countries to price fluctuations of international markets, which is a major risk. In addition to unknown climate changes that could cause droughts, and will surely be a major risk

Moreover, projected temperature rises are likely to increase crop-water requirements thereby directly decreasing crop water use efficiency and increase irrigation demands of the agriculture sector. Additionally, temperature increases is expected to have adverse effects on livestock and fish production.

According to the EEAA, venerability of crops to changes in pest infestation and plant diseases is another potential impact of climate variability. It also increases the risk of land degradation and desertification. Major crops like wheat and rice will be affected.

“EAA, venerability of crops to changes in pest infestation and plant diseases is another potential impact of climate variability. It also increases the risk of land degradation and desertificat contamination of ground water resources. These impacts are expected to lead to the immigration of 6 to 7 million people from the Nile Delta.” Lydia Elewa, Manager at the Climate Change Researches Department, EEAA told The Cairo Post; adding that necessary adaptation policies entail changes in land use; integrated coastal zones management, and proactive planning for protecting coastal zones.

Lydia also said that tourism sectors, coral reefs, constituting a major attraction in Red Sea resorts, are highly vulnerable to climate change.  “Sea level rise on the low elevation Mediterranean coast will definitely lead to losses of beaches.”

The increased frequency and severity of extreme events are expected to negatively impact the archaeological heritage in Egypt, she added.

The 2010 IPCC report also confirms that for the health sector, climate change will contribute to the burden of diseases in Egypt through direct and indirect effects, including communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Share of blame

The National Communication report on Climate Change that was issued in Egypt in 2010 (and is released every 5 years in developing countries but annually in developed ones) state that USA releases the highest global warming gas effects (25% of the world’s), while Russia releases 19%, China 17%, Africa 4%, and the Arab world only 1%. Egypt on its own releases just 0.56%.

“While Russia releases 19%, China 17%, Africa 4%, and the Arab world only 1%. Egypt on its o are highly impacted,” Darrag said.

A rise in temperature and heat waves threaten public health, as well as affect activity and productivity. Darrag also stated that excess warmth of the urban atmosphere compared to the non-urbanized surroundings is another consequence. “The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1-3 degrees Celsius warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 12 degrees Celsius.” he said, adding that all this is because most of green house gas emissions that contribute to global climate change come from urban areas.

Despite the well-known negative consequences of usage of coal as an energy source and calls by environmental groups and specialists in Egypt over the past months to prevent the usage of coal as a means of energy, to date the government still plans to expand its usage of the fossil fuel,  “Even though the whole world has taken steps to decrease and even stop using coal as a form of energy, like USA, Germany, and China” Elewa told The Cairo Post.

Xinhua News Agency recently reported that China, which is the country most reliant on coal as an energy source, has announced plans to ban the use of coal by the end of 2020 as the country fights deadly levels of pollution.

Prominent astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and host of TV show “Cosmos,” originally hosted by scientist Carl Sagan, last month made an episode about Global Warming and Climate Change; he concluded the episode with a discussion about how burning ancient life forms dating from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal, has dumped carbon dioxide into the atmosphere “at a rate the Earth hasn’t seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions” will only bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs.”

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