Members of the Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) delegations at the 26th United Nations Global Climate Summit in Glasgow, United Kingdom, have told Rudaw that they are committed to climate action ahead of the final COP26 deal.
Iraq and the KRG have already supported targets, including reducing methane emissions, preserving the forest and land use, and cutting gas flaring, of which Iraq is currently the second-largest contributor in the world after Russia.
Azzam Alwash, the delegation advisor to the president of Iraq and founder of Nature Iraq, updated Rudaw from Scotland on Iraq’s support for the methane reduction pledge aimed at bringing down global methane emissions by 30% by 2030 and warned of the danger of inaction.
Few Iraqi politicians foresee the risk of not transitioning the economy away from its reliance on oil, Alwash told Rudaw, and he “can count on one hand” the number of Iraqi political leaders who understand the huge challenges facing Iraq’s economy – and stability – that inaction will lead to.
According to US-based independent power and water consultant Harry Istepanian, Iraq’s economy is currently 95% dependent on the export of oil and must diversify away from carbon emissions in order to thrive in the future; an argument that another leading Iraqi delegate, Jassim al-Falahi, Deputy Minister of Health and Environment, continues to make.
Stressing the scale of the climate threat facing Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, Alwash drew attention to the nine domestic programs of the president’s Mesopotamia Revitalization Project (“A Climate Change initiative to Transform Iraq and The Middle East”), promising that the government would continue to address the issue after the conference, plant “hundreds of millions of trees,” and promote climate-related enterprises in the climate sector, “capitalizing on the Iraqi youth.”
The team is coordinating with the Arab group in Glasgow, and Alwash has been keen to collaborate with island nations, too, “given that Basra is expected to flood with higher sea levels before Alexandria, Egypt.” According to Istepanian, the country loses around 7 billion cubic meters of water per year due to water evaporation and by 2030, the gap between the demand and supply of water will be approximately 20 billion cubic meters short – issues exacerbated by a growing population.
Azad Noori Awla, the KRG’s Director of Technical Affairs at the Environmental Protection Authority and a member of the KRG team accompanying the larger Iraqi delegation, told Rudaw that forming relations with developed countries, benefiting from their progress in cutting emissions, and attempting to obtain approval for environmentally friendly projects from the Green Climate Fund was top of his agenda.
The KRG will adhere to Iraq’s decisions, and both are in alignment with the Paris commitment “to reach the zero-emission limit and intended targets by 2050.”
Last year, Iraq ratified the Paris Agreement. It set out its National Adaptation Plan Project (NAP), which committed to implementing nationally determined contributions from 2021 until 2030, leading to a 1-2% reduction of its emissions and working towards a greener and more sustainable economy. However, significantly greater action will be needed to hit COP26’s target.
Climate breakdown poses a particular risk to Iraq, the fifth-most vulnerable country to climate breakdown, with soaring temperatures, droughts and water shortages compounded by increasing water security leading to instability and health issues over the coming years. In a demonstration of how frequently the country’s political instability takes priority, Iraq’s President Barham Salih was forced to cancel his planned trip to COP26 last week, and many climate targets are tethered with the disclaimer, “provided there is stability and outside funding.”
This year’s annual UN climate change conference is especially critical because, under the Paris Climate Agreement to which Iraq is a signatory, every five years countries must strengthen their climate commitments. Countries’ commitments are made in ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) which are currently estimated to add up to around 2.4 degrees of warming, dangerously above the upper 2 degrees limit the Paris accord warned the world to stay “well below”, and far from the 1.5 degrees that scientists are calling on global leaders to stick to.
Yet, despite exporting the majority of the world’s oil, Middle Eastern countries contribute only around five percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but suffer disproportionately more from the impact of climate change. The carbon emission of Iraq is 5 tonnes per capita, which comes to around 200 million tonnes per year.
A new Oxfam report published on November 5 highlighted this carbon inequality, reporting that the world’s richest 1% are set to have a per capita consumption rate of emissions 30 times higher than the per capita level compatible with the 1.5 degree goal of the Paris agreement. This stands in stark contrast to the carbon footprint of the poorest half of the world’s population, estimated to be several times below this level and in line with the levels required to hit 2030 climate targets.
UK President of COP26 Alok Sharma shared his delight on Tuesday with solid commitments to the Least Developed Countries Fund and Adaptation Fund (LDCF). “Contributions to the LDCF now total over $410 million and to the AF over $350 million”, he commented, adding that “increasing adaptation finance for vulnerable countries and communities is critical.”
Great meeting yesterday between Iraq's Environment Minister and UK COP26 Middle East Ambassador. Welcome Iraq's commitment to stop gas flaring, and support for pledges on methane, and forest and land use pic.twitter.com/QnDMOJwe9X
— UK in Iraq ???? (@UKinIraq) November 10, 2021
The European Commission on Tuesday announced €100 million in finance for the Adaptation Fund; the largest pledge to the UN Adaptation Fund made at COP26 so far, but well short of the $70 billion a year that the UN has estimated developing countries’ adaptation needs will cost.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Oil announced that four new oil fields are set to be developed in Dhi Qar Governorate in collaboration with the US oil company Chevron, with the target output of 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day over a seven-year period. Chevron also has interests in the Sarta and Qara Dagh blocks in the Kurdistan region.
Earlier this week, Iran, the world’s eighth-largest CO2 emitter, refused to ratify the Paris agreement unless US sanctions on the republic were lifted. Whether Middle Eastern countries will also follow through on previous commitments remains to be seen.