Feeling the heat: Global warming in the Gulf

How much risk does the Gulf actually face from climate change and what steps is it taking to fight it?

Peter Iantorno November 10, 2015

We all read the recent sensational headlines claiming that by 2070, some major cities in the Gulf, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Riyadh, will become too hot for humans to inhabit.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that if global warming continues at its current rate, the Arabian Gulf will be exposed to extreme heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival, with temperatures occasionally topping 60C.

The results are based on a predicted increase in both temperature and humidity that makes it physically impossible for even the fittest human body to cool itself by sweating, with fatal consequences after just six hours of exposure.

In a bullish response to these claims, Abdullah Al Mandoos, executive director of the UAE’s National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology told Gulf News, “All weather research in the world comes with uncertainty. Reports based on assumptions and predictions that aim to create buzz are not based on scientific proof.”

Yet according to the annual report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), in 2014 concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases in the atmosphere hit a new high, meaning that despite Al Madoos' protests, global warming is a very real and imminent threat.

“Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now reaching levels not seen on Earth for more than 800,000, maybe even one million years,” WMO chief Michel Jarraud said, reacting to the findings. “This means we are now really in uncharted territory for the human race,” he warned.

US-based research group Climate Central shares the concerns of the WMO, with their recent projections showing that if the planet’s temperature continues on its current curve it will be an average of 4C hotter by 2100, causing sea levels to rise and claim lands inhabited by more than 600 million people.

Palm Jumeirah Dubai rising sea levels.jpg (1) Rising sea levels would spell trouble for Dubai's Palm Island.

And while there might be some dispute about the validity of the MIT study, it is clear that the Gulf – and especially Dubai – is serious about tackling climate change. Just this week the emirate joined the C40 Climate Leadership group, which aims to pool the resources of the world’s megacities in a collective effort to fight global warming.

Commenting on Dubai signing up, Sanjay Sridhar, the group’s regional director for South and West Asia, said, “In the region, Dubai is a shining star.”

Among the impressive initiatives that have helped Dubai gain entry into the exclusive group is the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which is expected to help avoid the creation of one million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year by 2030. 

And according to Eisa Al Maidour, deputy director-general of Dubai Municipality, there’s much more than just the power station planned to tackle global warming.

“It’s all embedded in our plan,” he told Gulf News. “If you talk to any department, you will see them talking about sustainability in transportation, power, water, buildings – they are the principles in our master plan. That gives us the best product for the future generation, for our globe.”

While Dubai is taking steps to tackle climate change, clearly this won't be enough to change the fate of the Gulf in the long term and if things carry on the way they are going, it will only get more and more difficult to live in the Gulf.

However, the only way a genuinely planet-altering solution can be found is if the world’s major countries can come to an agreement on how best to tackle the issue. And with a major UN conference on the matter set to take place on November 30 (which Russian President Vladimir Putin has already confirmed his attendance for), this truly is a key time for the future of not just the Gulf but the entire planet.