Fighting climate change is an economic opportunity for Iraq – Iraqi president

    11 Nov 2021

    Let’s get acquainted with the opinion written by the president of Iraq for the Financial Times. He believes that the country can generate green industries and sustainable energy to combat threat of drought and desertification.

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    Iraq has been buffeted by ill winds over the past 40 years. Wars, sanctions, terrorism and domestic conflict have threatened its stability and the wellbeing of its citizens.

    But the potential economic and environmental impact of climate change is by far the most serious long-term threat facing the country. According to the UN Environment Programme, Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to changes in the climate.

    Very high temperatures are becoming more common, drought more frequent and dust storms more intense. Desertification affects 39% of Iraq’s territory and increased salination threatens agriculture on 54 per cent of our land.

    Dams on the headwaters and tributaries of the historic Tigris and Euphrates rivers – the lifeblood of our country – have reduced water flow, leading to shortages. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, our country could face a shortfall of as much as 10.8bn cubic metres of water annually by 2035.

    This will be worsened by a combination of demographic and environmental factors: Iraq’s population is projected to double from 40 m people today to 80 m by 2050 just as our income, largely based on oil production, will be drastically reduced as a result of the world abandoning fossil fuels as it moves to sustainable, clean energy.

    The indirect effects of climate change will be as severe, if not more severe than the direct ones. The loss of income may very well result in migration to cities whose infrastructure is even now incapable of supporting the existing population. This migration may well result in extremism and insecurity as young people are unable to find jobs that give them a decent standard of living.

    Confronting climate change must be an urgent national priority – but it is also an opportunity to diversify Iraq’s economy; support renewable and clean energy; participate in carbon markets; increase the resilience of environmentally and economically vulnerable areas; and provide better and more sustainable living conditions for our citizens.

    In January, I ratified our parliament’s decision to enter into the Paris agreement on climate change and we have submitted the Nationally Determined Contributions report in preparation for COP26. Iraq has also endorsed the ZEF agreement, which commits us to ending flaring of gas by 2030.

    In looking towards a better future, we must return to our recent green past. The Mesopotamia Revitalization Project is a set of projects focused on working with the private and public sector to achieve our climate goals. One route is through an extensive national reforestation effort in the south and west of the country, largely through planting palm trees – the cultural symbol of Mesopotamia — and on restoring forests in the mountain and urban areas of Kurdistan. Other ideas include the modernization of water management and the increased use of solar energy.

    Iraq will require the help of its friends in the international community for technical and planning support and technology transfer. We will look to access green funds, private capital markets and international donors to help finance the investments envisaged. We hope this can help transition Iraq’s economy from dependency to once more becoming the bread basket for the region as well as a major stop in the trading routes.

    Set in the geographic heart of the Middle East, and blessed with a rich biodiversity, Iraq has the potential to bring the countries of the region together as we address the threat of climate change. We face an arduous task and there is no time to waste. But addressing climate change also represents an opportunity for Iraq and the region to introduce measures that will leave them on a more solid foundation as they face the challenges of the decades to come.

     

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    We’ve found another opinion in addition to FT article. This is a text written by Lizzie Porter, a British journalist based in Iraq, where she is senior correspondent for “Iraq Oil Report”.

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    The massive challenge of climate action in oil-dependent Iraq

    Oil provides 90% of Iraq’s revenue. Even as farmland dries up, fractured governance makes reform seem almost impossible.

    Flying over southern Iraq at night, the sky burns orange. Heaven and earth are illuminated by dozens of flaming towers in the oilfields scattered across the desert. The towers – known as flare stacks – burn off gases released during the production of crude oil, the black gold that provides more than 90 per cent of the Iraqi state’s revenues. 

    Iraq is the world’s second-worst offender when it comes to gas flaring, according to a recent World Bank report, after Russia. Every year, the country’s flare stacks emit billions of cubic metres of carbon dioxide, polluting the local environment and making life miserable for people who live and work near the oilfields. 

    The scale of the gas flaring falls in line with Iraq’s significant crude oil output. The country is the second-largest producer in the Opec group, pumping 4.34 million barrels a day, according to an independent analysis by Iraq Oil Report.

    For decades Iraq has relied on oil to fund a bloated public sector at the expense of economic diversification. But as Iraq’s delegation, headed by President Barham Salih, arrives in Glasgow for Cop26, the country faces enormous challenges in combating the effects of climate change. A combination of years of conflict, poor governance and a lack of awareness leaves it ill-equipped to implement the needed reform. A rapidly growing population – the number of Iraqis is expected to double to 80 million by 2050 – adds even more pressure.

    “I can count on one hand the number of leaders that are even aware of the urgency of the situation,” said Azzam Alwash, a member of Iraq’s Cop26 delegation and founder of Nature Iraq, a non-governmental organization. “That is how bad the situation is, politically speaking.”

    Gas flaring is just one factor contributing to the climate crisis. A crippled electricity grid forces Iraqis to rely on power generators that belch diesel fumes into the air. Low rainfall and damming on rivers upstream in Turkey and Iran have caused water levels to plummet. Plastic and sewage fill waterways because waste management systems don’t work. This year, there have been widespread crop failures, drought-induced migration and an increasing sense of panic among people who rely on the land to survive. 

    “We see more migration towards the cities that are already struggling with poor water and power infrastructure,” said Maha Yassin, a researcher at the Planetary Security Initiative of the Netherlands-based Clingendael Institute. “This is creating social tensions, and maybe more internal conflicts.”

    Iraq is making some efforts to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. The country has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 2 per cent in the public sector and 15 per cent in the private sector by 2030. The pledge is made with a condition, though – that there is “stability and financial support”, said Alwash. Despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State (IS), security in Iraq is still unstable: there are frequent deadly attacks by IS insurgents and armed disputes between tribes.

    Earlier this year, the office of President Salih also published a nine-point plan for tackling climate change in Iraq. The ideas sound sensible on paper: a reduction in gas flaring at oilfields, reforestation, lessening reliance on fossil fuels, and better water management. But implementing them will be a challenge. A major problem is Iraq’s fractured system of governance, which mixes armed groups, tribes, political parties and sectarian and ethnic groups. Even when there is a well-intentioned plan for climate-oriented reform, officials cannot or will not act, observers say. 

    “Iraq is a hybrid regime where power is not constrained within the state apparatus only, but also with centres of power outside of the state – states within the state – and resources from the rentier economy have helped fund many of the operations of these groups,” said Zeinab Shuker, a professor of sociology at Sam Houston State University in Texas. “As a result, even if there is a state capacity that can tackle something as complicated as climate change and economic diversification, there is no political will to do so.”

    Law enforcement is also an issue. “There’s poor management of sewage water, waste management, salinisation in the south [of Iraq],” said Yassin. “I see members of the Ministry of Health and Environment writing warning notes to violators like hospitals and factories, but this never stops these institutions from polluting.”

    As for gas flaring, reducing it is easier said than done. The gas can be used as power plant feedstock, or reinjected into underground oil reservoirs. Such practices are happening in some places, but the infrastructure required is enormously expensive and can be politically sensitive. Earlier this year, the minister for natural resources in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region ordered oil companies to end flaring within 18 months. But the edict gave little detail on how oilfield operators – already facing slow approvals and missing payments from the Kurdistan Regional Government – are expected to fund the enormous investment needed. 

    In federal Iraq, the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad is trying to develop its solar power generation capacity – although so far, talks and agreements with investors from the UAE, France and Norway have not resulted in photovoltaic panels on the ground. 

    Weaning Iraq off its carbon-heavy and polluting oil industry with its ill-developed private sector is a huge challenge. “There are so many regulations that have been inherited from over 50 years of socialism that it is virtually impossible to do anything without falling into the traps of a system that discourages private enterprise,” said Alwash. “On top of that, there is very little public awareness about issues of climate change.”

    For now, Basra’s night sky remains illuminated by the light of toxic burning. Rivers stay clogged with rubbish and other pollutants. People continue to be forced to migrate from farms and villages to towns and cities, as the land dries up, unable to bear fruit.

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