Climate change is the biggest challenge facing mankind – and now’s the time for the residents of Oman to stand up and take responsibility for the environment before it’s too late. Team Y reports
It is 2100 and the reality of global warming has hit catastrophic levels, with the average temperature of the Earth rising by more than 6° Celsius. However, in other regions, such as the water-stressed Middle East, the relentless, searing heat has reached record highs, killing off endangered species, damaging delicate ecosystems beyond repair and forcing humans to seek refuge indoors for months on end.
Sea levels have risen by one metre and are warmer, leading to sea life dying off or shrinking massively in size, hitting fishing industries hard. Agriculture has come to a standstill and crops are unable to survive the extreme conditions. Food and water have become highly expensive commodities and the global economy has come to a standstill. Mankind is struggling to survive.
Meanwhile, in Oman, the intensity and regularity of tropical storms have reached an all-time high, causing widespread, devastating damage. Camels, once the ships of the desert, are now fleeing inland to reach drier ground as low lying areas are flooded by rising sea levels.
While this dystopian future may seem like a Hollywood movie, it’s not as far removed from reality as we’d like.
Rewind to the present day and, once again, 7,000 cities across 25 time zones, including Muscat, united last weekend for Earth Hour, an annual event in which lights are turned off en masse around the world. The aim of Earth Hour is to keep global climate change in the spotlight in a desperate bid to save our planet from the environmental impact of mankind.
According to Suaad al Harthi, the programme director at the Environment Society of Oman (ESO), an environmental NGO founded in 2004, climate change is the greatest challenge facing mankind and poses a “grave threat to future generations in every part of the world”.
“The environmental challenges faced in the Sultanate are quite similar to those faced in other parts of the world and include pollution of air, water and soil, coastal construction and urban sprawl, waste management and overconsumption of non-reusable materials,” she says.
“Climate change places us at increased vulnerability and risk of powerful storms such as Gonu, Phet and Ashooba.
“Climate change will affect Oman in several ways, such as impacting human health and the spread of infectious diseases. There will be an impact on food supply, both as a result of changing crop yields with altered weather patterns, as well as fish stocks as marine ecosystems shift and marine productivity changes. The intensity and frequency of extreme weather events could also lead to more frequency of flash floods.”
Indeed, extreme weather conditions are already being witnessed around the world, including in the GCC.
Who could forget June 5, 2007, the day that super Cyclone Gonu slammed into Oman, bringing with it 900 millimetres of rain and gale force winds reaching speeds of 130kmh? Fifty people lost their lives on this fateful day, while the financial damage was estimated at a staggering US$4.2 billion (RO16.1bn). Just three years later, on June 4, 2010, Cyclone Phet hit the northeastern region of Oman, dumping 450mm of rain, killing 24 people and causing about US$800 million worth of damage.
Then in May last year, a heat wave engulfed the city of Nawabshah, in Pakistan, where the mercury hit 49°C four days running. As its burning tentacles spread to India, more than 2,500 people there died from the heat and roads began to melt in New Delhi.
At the time, India’s National Disaster Management Authority said it was the fifth-deadliest heat wave to hit the country, while it confirmed that it was experiencing record-high temperatures because of global climate change.
The punishing heat wave then pushed into the Arabian Sea, entering Oman, the UAE and other parts of the GCC, producing the highest daytime temperature in the world at Sweihan, in Abu Dhabi, with 50.5°C. Doha also saw a high of 46.1°C at the beginning of June, while Oman’s temperature had soared into the mid-40s, making it one very long, hot summer.
In fact, just this week, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which comes under the United Nations umbrella, warned in its Status of the Global Climate report that the rate of climate change was “alarming” and “unprecedented”.
The report details the frightening climate and weather records that were broken last year, such as record-high temperatures, extreme rainfall, cyclones, heatwaves and droughts.
“The year 2015 will stand out in the historical record of the global climate in many ways,” WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said in the report.
“The future is happening now. The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emission is unprecedented in modern records.”
There’s no doubt that Oman is vulnerable to climate change, which was confirmed by H.E. Mohammed Bin Salim Bin Said Al Tobi, the Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs, in a 2013 report titled Initial National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“During the last few years, the country has witnessed two severe tropical cyclones. The intensity of tropical cyclones and severity of their impact may increase in a future warmer climate,” the Minister wrote in the report.
“Climate change is predicted to have numerous impacts on the Sultanate of Oman. These include, but are not limited to the following: livestock and fish resources losses, severe water scarcity due to droughts and increased temperatures, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
“Along the coastal areas, sea level rise will affect the coastal infrastructures and fragile ecosystems.”
Oman is taking steps to protect the country from the devastating effects that climate change will bring. And while we have already witnessed a rise in the temperature of the sea and extreme weather conditions, there are a range of Royal decrees in place to ensure environmental protection. The country is also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of the landmark Paris climate accord signed in December last year by nearly 200 nations, while it joined the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to combat global warming, in 2005.
But it is the grassroots level that is proving to be the most frustrating when it comes to taking responsibility and protecting our precious environment. With tonnes of rubbish clogging wadis and scattered along the coastline and deserts, the carbon footprint of the residents of Oman is plain to see.
The ESO’s Suaad al Harthy says it’s important for people to respect the environment. “As a society, we need to understand that we are part of an ecosystem that we need to treat with respect in order to get the best ecosystem services and health benefits given back to us,” she says.
“It’s important for individuals to work at minimising their individual carbon footprint by reducing their energy and water consumption on a daily basis through small changes, such as switching off lights when not using them, using energy-efficient light bulbs and walking or carpooling.
“It’s also important for us to minimise our waste as much as possible through the use of reusable materials, such as replacing plastic bags with jute bags.”
The ESO has a range of programmes in place to educate communities around Oman about the importance of protecting the environment, as well as an initiative targeting schoolchildren. “We host an Eco-Summer programme for children during the summer months, which includes a series of workshops with environmental themes, including gardening, composting, environmental photography and recycling.
“ESO also engages with colleges and universities by encouraging the development of Eco-College Chapters and participation in the Inter-College Public speaking Competition.”
But the sooner we realise just how precarious the world’s climate situation is, the quicker we can start making a difference.
“It is an important reminder that every act we make, no matter how big or small, can play a pivotal role in saving our planet. It is time we take better care of this world; after all, it is the only one we have,” says Ms al Harthy.
Whether you take shorter showers, reduce food waste or make eco-minded choices at the grocery store, adopting one simple habit can make a difference in protecting the Earth’s natural resources. These simple, renewable lifestyle changes may even affect your personal mindset.
According to findings from a scientific study and survey commissioned by Tetra Pak, adopting simple renewable lifestyle habits can help people go from feeling glum to good. According to the survey, most people (70 per cent) feel happier when they make choices that help preserve natural resources. This study comes on the heels of the world’s first social experiment in renewability, carried out by three estimable academic experts in habit and behavioural science, which uncovered how renewable lifestyle choices – habits that help preserve natural resources – influence levels of happiness.
“We believe that even simple lifestyle behaviours have the power to make a big impact, on both a personal and global scale,” says Elisabeth Comere, director of environment and government affairs for Tetra Pak. “The combined benefit of the small actions we take, from taking shorter showers to choosing products in renewable packaging – made of natural resources that can be replenished over time – can benefit the world around us while making us happier.”
Adopting one of these simple renewable habits can help preserve the planet’s resources while fast-tracking levels of happiness:
To learn more about how making simple, renewable lifestyle changes can help boost happiness or to take the Habits of Happiness quiz to assess your personal happiness level, visit tetrapak.com/us/renewable-living.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable and can take up to 1,000 years or more to break down, posing a serious danger to marine mammals that often mistake them for food.
(* Various sources including Clean Up Oman, Save Our Seas Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund)