How to Read the Characteristics of Climate Change in Palestine? And what is the Relationship of Outbreaks of Diseases and Epidemics to Climate Change?
By: George Kurzom
As climate change worsens, the Palestinians will suffer more and more from the scarcity of water controlled by the Israeli occupation
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
Climate experts agree that Palestine and the rest of the Levant are affected negatively by four climatic directions: rises in temperature, increases in humidity, rises in sea levels, and more extreme fluctuations in weather. Some studies have detailed the expected impacts of climate change trends, specifically with regard to a number of factors related to our daily life; In the coming decades, the risks of natural disasters, floods, water pollution, forced migration, epidemics, famine, and increased border tensions are expected to increase. With regard to global warming, the Levant in particular, and what is known as the "Middle East" in general, is a hot geographical spot, which means that our Arab region will be affected by a greater degree of climate change.
Extreme weather events that we have witnessed in recent years, expected to increase in the coming decades, are exemplified by the increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves (a Palestinian summer is hotter year after year), an increase in strong rain precipitation (violent storms), and a change in the distribution of precipitation, i.e. changes in the frequency, duration and intensity of precipitation events (greater amount of precipitation over a short period of time).
United Nations climate reports say that the average temperature in Palestine increased by 1.4°C during the period 1950—2017, knowing that the last thirty years recorded the largest part of that increase. As for rain, during the same period, there was a decrease of 2 cm, i.e. a decrease of about 0.4 cm every ten years.
In the event of immediate implementation of emergency measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the optimistic scenario expects an additional rise in the average temperature in Palestine of 0.9°C by 2050; while the pessimistic scenario expects an increase of 1.2°C if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is, the amount of the maximum expected increase during the period 1950—2050 may reach 2.6°C.
The results of thermal measurements clearly show that the temperature in Palestine is increasing more quickly than the increase in the average global temperature, especially during the summer. The upward trend over the coming decades is also evident, and it appears that by the middle of the century, we will face a heavy heat burden during summers.
In line with the trend of global warming, the temperature in Palestine is rising, and at a faster rate. Measurements say that the average temperature has been increasing significantly since the 1980s. The average increase in the past thirty years has been 0.53°C for every ten years. In the short and long term, both warming trends have a statistical significance. During the period 2021—2050, the average temperature is expected to be 1.5 to 1.8°C higher, compared to the average in 1961—1990. During the same period (2021—2050), it is expected that the average temperature in the summer season will be more than 1.9 to 2.2°C, as the temperature of daylight hours will extend to the night period as well. The average winter temperature is also expected to be 1.3°C warmer.
A significant increase is observed in the number of days when the maximum temperature is above 30°C. According to climate forecasts, this trend will continue over the coming decades. In the optimistic scenario, the number of hot days in the coastal plain is expected to increase by 20 days, and if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the temperature increase, the increase may reach 40 days. Climate scientific estimates also expect rainfall amounts to fall by 15—25% on average, during the period 2071—2100.
Disruption of the Ecosystem
Climate changes may dry up rivers and wet habitats, and will affect the ecosystem related to terrestrial and marine biodiversity necessary for human well-being, as well as changing patterns of migration of some species, which will make invading harmful species more common, while forest fires will become more widespread. The impact on agriculture will also be devastating, as crops and livestock will be affected; pest control and land erosion just as well.
Scientific estimates expect harmful changes to public health, because a sharp rise in temperatures will lead to outbreaks of various diseases due to the spread of harmful insects that carry dangerous bacterial species. That is in addition to outbreaks of infectious diseases stemming from new and dangerous viral and bacterial genetic strains. In this context, the valid question arises: Is there a relationship between climate change and the COVID-19/Corona virus currently spreading around the world?
In addition, the continuous rise in pollution levels will lead to various respiratory diseases. Also, mental illness will become more prevalent.
Of course, the economy is not immune to the effects of climate change. As with the global economy, the Palestinian economy will seriously shrink by the end of this century. The effect on agricultural crops is clear, as their quantity and quality are highly vulnerable. Water sources are also not immune to degradation. The expectations are that there will be an increase in the salinity of the groundwater and a decrease in its quality, in addition to a decrease in the level of water production. The amount of water in the basin of Tiberia Lake (Sea of Galilee) will decrease, and the salinity of the water in the lake will change.
What to Do?
The urgent imperative is that not only is it required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to intensify practical preparations to deal with the impact of the climate crisis. To this end, it is assumed that a governmental-private authority on climate change should be established, with the responsibility to integrate the work of government ministries and non-governmental bodies into this matter and develop a plan of action; this requires allocating a special budget and some full-time workers.
The elaboration and implementation of the action plan must be led by a climate scientist (or expert). A budget must be allocated for the implementation of the plan, so that it includes the establishing of a multi-disciplinary expert group for researching and thinking strategically (a think tank) that regularly provides high-accuracy data, information, estimates and research on climate and hydro-climate issues to ministries and relevant civil authorities, and to study and research centers in general, whose work contributes in understanding climate changes in Palestine and the rest of the region. Otherwise, we cannot know how quickly the preparedness is and for what purpose. And the absence of such an investment is almost considered a lack of national responsibility.
Oil and gas companies claim that power generation from natural gas —in all its forms— is less harmful than oil and coal. However, scientific data refute this claim and confirm that natural gas is very harmful to the climate and human health. During the process of extracting, processing, and then transporting gas, more methane is emitted than previously thought. These emissions contain volatile organic matter, some of which are carcinogenic. Here, it is useful to recall that 50 countries in the world have committed to shifting towards 100% renewable energy, before the sharp drop in oil prices in recent months. Therefore, it is assumed that our Arab region, which enjoys massive solar sunshine most of the year, will raise the ceiling of its goals in the field of renewable energy, in light of the climate crisis and global shifts in the energy market.
Currently, renewable energies cost less than other forms of energy. In 2018, for example, average world electricity prices were $36 for solar energy, compared to $102 for coal and $59 for natural gas. Because of this price difference, 66% of new electricity construction in the world during 2018 was from clean renewable energy sources specifically and not from fossil energies (oil, gas, coal). It is clear that the future energy economy will not be central or monopolistic, as is the case at the Palestinian level, but rather distributed and based on logical networks or a small municipality.
Therefore, government plans and policies based on establishing a network of private power stations that depend on natural gas are inconsistent with the current economic trends in the energy market, and they carry high economic risks to citizens, and are not consistent with Palestinian international commitments in the field of climate change.
When comparing the reality of greenhouse gas emissions from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with global or Israeli emissions, we will find them marginal. The percentage of Palestinian emissions (West Bank and Gaza Strip) equals 0.01% of the total global emissions (Environmental Quality Authority, 2016. The First National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), and this percentage does not exceed the emissions of a large Israeli military factory. As for the carbon dioxide emissions per Palestinian capita, it is about 0.5 tons per year (ibid.), compared to about 11 tons per year per Israeli capita (Ha'aretz newspaper, 20/9/2018), meaning that the average Israeli emissions per capita equals 22 times higher than that of the Palestinian. The Israeli share of emissions is larger than most European countries.
According to the Israeli government decision in 2015, alternative energy is supposed to supply 17% of the electricity production capacity in Israel until 2030, especially from solar energy; not forgetting that the medium-term goal until 2020 was 10%. However, according to the data of the Israeli Electricity Authority, the current production capacity of alternative energies is only 6%, knowing that the share of wind energy is approaching zero.
Translated by: Carol Khoury