EPI: World 'failing to address climate crisis', with Middle East showing mixed progress

Mounting evidence highlights the degradation of the planet’s life-supporting systems on which humanity depends, report says

The aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya, in September last year. Reuters
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The world is failing to address the climate crisis as countries veer off track from their goals, although the Middle East appears to be making some progress, according to the latest Environmental Performance Index.

The EPI – released on Monday by Yale University's Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia University's Centre for International Earth Science Information Network – provides a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world.

“Mounting evidence highlights the degradation of the planet’s life-supporting systems on which humanity depends,” the report said.

“A world economy that continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels translates into ongoing air and water pollution, acidification of the oceans and rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

The index incorporates 58 indicators to rank 180 countries on their progress at limiting climate change, protecting ecosystem vitality and promoting environmental health.

It noted that despite numerous international agreements, countries are off track from their stated goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Despite record deployment of renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising,” the report said.

“As the world enters uncharted climatic territory, there is a heightened risk of crossing irreversible tipping points in the planet’s climate system.”

The “Greater Middle East” region received a median score of 43.2, the second lowest globally, although this year's results are markedly higher than the median score of 35 the region received in 2022.

With a score of 52.0, the UAE ranked first in the region overall, followed by Oman.

“Both countries have large networks of protected areas that already cover more than 17 per cent of their land and 10 per cent of their exclusive economic zones,” the report said.

“The UAE is the regional leader in wastewater treatment and re-use, while Oman is one of the few countries that have successfully banned bottom trawling in their exclusive economic zone and fishing fleet.”

The Emirates ranked fourth globally in water resource issues and was the regional leader in biodiversity.

Iraq, meanwhile, came last in the region, with the report pointing to its “appalling performance across most issue categories”.

“Iraq’s protected areas cover less than 2 per cent of its land, its ecosystems are degraded and its species face a relatively high extinction risk, all leading to a low score in biodiversity and habitat,” the report said.

“It is also a major oil producer and its energy supply relies almost entirely on oil and gas, with greenhouse gas emissions having increased nearly 35 per cent over the last decade."

The report noted that air pollution, the leading environmental factor behind the world’s burden of disease, was rife in the Middle East.

While global deaths due to pollution have stayed relatively constant, more people are exposed to pollution and ageing populations are more vulnerable to it, the report said.

However, the air quality indicators for this year's EPI show that most countries in the Middle East have improved over the past 20 years, Sebastian Block, the report's principal investigator, told The National.

"Even on climate change mitigation there has been progress in almost every country, especially over the last decade," Mr Block said.

"Despite this progress, however, all countries in the region ... must do much more to mitigate climate change and diversify their economies to be ready for a sustainable future in which the world is powered with a minimum of fossil fuels."

Updated: June 04, 2024, 7:22 PM