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Story | Education
1 July 2021

Climate change means more than just a change in temperature, says QF scientist

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Image source: FrameStockFootages, via Shutterstock

Mohammed Ayoub from HBKU’s QEERI says research needs to look at how the economy will be affected in addition to human life

Extreme heatwaves, rising sea levels and even more severe droughts – this is the scorching reality the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is headed toward. According to research, unless drastic action is urgently taken to effectively curb global emissions, parts of the MENA region could be uninhabitable by 2100.

The trouble is, people don’t fully appreciate the effects climate change will bring about if we continue living the way we do. It is dangerously naïve to assume climate change just means a change in temperature

Mohammed Ayoub

Despite knowing the harrowing consequences of global warming, efforts undertaken by individuals, corporations and governments often fall short when compared to the seriousness of the situation.

“The trouble is, people don’t fully appreciate the effects climate change will bring about if we continue living the way we do. It is dangerously naïve to assume climate change just means a change in temperature,” said Mohammed Ayoub, Senior Research Director, Environment and Sustainability Center, at Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), part of Qatar Foundation’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU).

Mohamed Ayoub

The effects that a change in temperature by a few degrees will bring about are far wider than most of us imagine. For example, changing rainfall patterns could shift agricultural production zones, significantly impacting food security and global demand for staples such as wheat and rice.

From a water perspective, increased sea level is just the tip of the iceberg. Other issues include increasing salinity and acidity, each of which could impact marine life in the Arabian Gulf, and also the efficiency of the desalination plants on which we rely for drinking water production.

Globally, coral reefs are not likely to survive past a rise of 2 degrees Celcius. About 25 percent of the ocean's fish depend on healthy coral reefs, loss of coral reef will also mean loss of the ecosystems and food chains they support.

Quite simply, climate change is everyone’s problem, and it is absolutely necessary that we adopt a multidisciplinary approach toward it

Mohammed Ayoub

It’s not just natural ecosystems that will be negatively impacted. Ayoub said: “Another aspect often overlooked is – will our infrastructure be able to withstand the projected 4-6° C change the region is expected to see? Could it mean shorter lifespan for critical infrastructure? How will it affect the health and productivity of the Qatari population?”

Solar power is increasingly the choice of renewable energy in the MENA region. A hotter regional climate means more challenging operating conditions and higher dust content in the atmosphere, which could potentially decrease both the yield and lifetime of solar plants in the region.

“Quite simply, climate change is everyone’s problem, and it is absolutely necessary that we adopt a multidisciplinary approach toward it,” said Ayoub.

Ayoub stressed on the need to not only study the net impacts of climate change, but also how it affects different aspects of our economy and society. The way to do this is through increased multidisciplinary research in the field of climate change.

Lack of research and data to support regional climate change impacts is one of the reasons the Middle East has been under-represented in global climate agreements, like the Paris Agreement and Kyoto before it

Mohammed Ayoub

“If we want research that's relevant to our needs, we have to do it ourselves. We cannot rely on others to prioritize our needs. Lack of research and data to support regional climate change impacts is one of the reasons the Middle East has been under-represented in global climate agreements, like the Paris Agreement and Kyoto before it.”

Part of the challenge is lack of transparency, or in some cases, availability, of environmental and socioeconomic data related to climate change.

“This lack of transparency is not only disabling us from improving our situation, but it's actually counterproductive,” Ayoub said. Global studies will often rely on lower accuracy data where local measurements are not available. This can often mischaracterize challenges and vulnerabilities in regions of the world where such data is not shared or published, resulting in solutions that are not relevant to the need.

Ayoub stressed the need to understand that research often has to be at the core of the decision making process, whether it's from a climate change, air quality or energy production perspective. The ability to make an informed decision is dependent on how accurately we understand the problem, the solution and the most efficient pathway to reach that solution. This is the primary role of research and development in any country.

He said: “For this to happen, synergistic engagement between research, policy development and implementation is indispensable.”

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Image source: Alexandros Michailidis, via Shutterstock

For example, Qatar Foundation is supporting the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) in preparing the State of Qatar’s comprehensive climate change action plan. Dr. Marc Vermeersch, Executive Director, QEERI said: “The climate change action plan is the document that outlines Qatar’s commitments and contributions. The level of ambition and aggressiveness presented in the plan will position Qatar as either a climate leader or follower, in a region that desperately needs to limit its climate change impacts.”

Efforts have been made by Qatar recently in reducing its carbon footprint, such as the North field gas expansion project announced in February 2021 is going to be powered entirely by renewable energy. This is a huge step in the right direction. It shows that the country is committed to the cause and its efforts to become more sustainable are gaining momentum.

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