Deputy Chief of Iraqi NCCC to Jusoor Post: We need $100B to adapt to climate change impacts

Deputy Chief of Iraqi NCCC to Jusoor Post: We need $100B to adapt to climate change impacts
Iraq highway along Euphrates River- CC via Picryle

A $100-billion package of finance is required to help Iraq adapt to climate change impacts such as droughts, rebuild agriculture infrastructure destroyed by the terrorist group ISIS, and secure the water sector after being hampered by constrictions of dams along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in neighboring Turkey and Iran.


As high temperatures, droughts, and water scarcity made Iraq the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to “climate breakdown” according to the United Nations, Jusoor Post conducted an interview with Sahar Hussein Al Jassem, Deputy Chief of the Iraqi National Center of Climate Change (NCCC) at the Ministry of Environment, on the sidelines of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) that was held in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh on November 6-19.


Jassem, who is a member of a 100-member delegation that attended COP27, told Jusoor Post that Iraq has asked for $100 billion in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) report to be distributed to the development of 13 sectors. “The priority sectors include food and water security, health, climate risks, ecological systems, and energy. We will work on these five sectors in the period between 2020 and 2025,” she said.


Consequently, in a way to convince the major financial climate institutions that Iraq is strongly in need of financing in order to be able to adapt to these climate crises, the Iraqi negotiating delegation at the COP in Sharm El-Sheikh included for the first time representation from the Iraqi parliament.


“It is the first time that the delegation includes representatives from the parliamentary committee of health and environment, because we count on COP27 when it comes to financing,” she added, noting that a series of meetings took place with financial institutions like Global Environment Facility (GEF).


In response to a question about the extent to which these funds could contribute to phasing out greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Jassem said Iraq is working on reducing GHG emissions by 1 percent through the national efforts without any foreign assistance over 10 years from 2020 to 2030, adding that if financing was delivered upon, Iraq’s GHG emissions could be reduced by 14-15 percent.


“At the negotiations on climate change, we say that Iraq is a country that is in need of financial support, because our country already has tremendous burdens [political and security ones] and you should not add more burdens of climate change [on me],” Jassem said.


“Also, you should not come and hold me accountable just because we are a country producing oil. Yes, we are an oil-producing country, but we have parallel challenges,” she said, noting that the decline of fuel prices below $30 per barrel was a hurdle against the Iraqi economy to finance major climate projects, as 90 percent of the county’s economy depends on the fuel. 


Complicated challenges 


Iraq has experienced considerable complicated challenges posed by the regional administration of transboundary water, climate change impacts, and the insecurity and instability that occurred when ISIS seized one-third of Iraqi lands in three provinces in the period between 2014 and 2018/2019, said Jassem.


Regarding the water crisis, Iraq has been witnessing an acute water crisis that has caused an ongoing lean period over the past few years, especially in the southern governorates, as its two main lifelines – the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – are drying up because of the impact of climate change and the construction of several dams on the two rivers by the upstream countries, (Turkey and Iran).


It is worth mentioning that rain in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has declined by 73 percent, according to remarks given by Sami Dimas, Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Program, in a press conference held at the Iraqi Ministry of Environment on March 22. Also, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported in May 2021 that the amount of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers received from Turkey decreased by 50 percent, while the water coming from Iran to the Darbandikhan Dam on the Diyala River near the border reached nothing.


These factors caused a sharp decline in the annual water share per capita, which has declined gradually from 7,000 m3 (cubic meters) to 1,250 m3 annually in the period between 1990 and 2022, Jassem revealed, saying “If we added [the factors] of the increasing population and the urban expansion, it is expected that the annual rate would reach 700 m3 per capital meters annually by 2030, and at that time we will be among the countries that suffer severe water scarcity in accordance with the international standards.” 


Adding to this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) expectations say that precipitation in Iraq and the region of the western Asia continent is expected to decline by 30 percent, she continued, noting that the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in contact with the neighboring countries regarding the issue of the transboundary waters.


ISIS’s havoc on environment 


In conjunction with these climate factors, Iraq has suffered several political and economic setbacks, especially when ISIS took control over three major cities that make up one-third of the Iraqi territories in the period between 2014 and 2018/2019. This insecurity crisis wreaked havoc on the environment and development plans in the agriculture and water sectors.


“Over this period, we don’t deny that we had financial allocation for the development, but the then-Iraqi government had directed [huge] financial allocations for the military support in order get rid of ISIS,” said Jassem, adding that the government had to cut from the financial allocations to water and agriculture, education, and other vital sectors for the security sector.


According to Jassem one-third of Iraq's territories were completely destroyed, and 8 million people were displaced, causing stress on the infrastructure of the other safe places. However, she continued, this consequently forced other people to leave these safe places. The poverty rate went up from 21 percent to 30 percent over this period, and the government was also forced to formulate a plan for rehabilitating and developing the destroyed provinces, she added.


As a result of these integrated factors, 70 percent of Iraq's arable lands have become desert or threatened with degradation over the past 20 years, she continued.


Seventy percent of arable land means a decline from 9 million square kilometers to one and a half million of arable land that is being cultivated right now, said Mustafa Mahmoud Mustafa, Chief of the Iraqi National Center of Climate Change (NCCC) in an interview with Jusoor Post.


“This matter has tremendously affected us, besides other issues like the global economic crisis, COVID-19, the declines in fuel prices, and cholera. The Iraq water administration suffered a lot from the shortage. The water infrastructure has hugely been harmed. Also, international management has caused a high deficit in water,” said Mustafa, noting that there are other factors such as wasting water by farmers.


National efforts


Despite all these challenges, Iraq has adopted new solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts on the national level, through providing alternative sources of water, like using underground water in only three provinces in a way that does not affect the aquifer storage, as well as treating sewage water. 


“The usage of underground water is conditioned, and it is allowed only in three provinces where renewable aquifers exist. These renewable aquifers relatively eased the pressure of water shortage,” Jassem said, calling for more finance in order to apply mitigation solutions in the other provinces.


She talked about how the Iraqi authorities are rationalizing water and electricity consumption, saying that all water pumps are run by solar power and the lighting of government buildings has been changed to LED lighting, adding that desalination water plants need to be established, as 65 percent of Iraq’s coastline is located along the Arabian Gulf.


“So, to solve my problem, provide me with finance. If you provided me with part of the money, part of our problem will be solved. I am a country in need of any source of financing to achieve development. At the same time, reduction of fuel [emissions] is related with the finance, because we are not the main reason for these emissions,” Jassem said.