The industrial revolution that began more than 150 years ago gave rise to the combustion of billions of tons of fuel, which contributed to the trapping of greenhouse gases, bringing about a change in the Earth’s climate. Despite the importance of this issue and the world’s disparate efforts to combat climate change over the past decades, the situation is expected to worsen.
In effect, the ramifications of climate change are on the rise, which compromises the sustainability of natural resources, particularly non-renewable ones. In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a landmark report considered the most comprehensive since 2013, indicating that “the scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.”. This prompted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to declare in one of his statements, “the alarm bells are deafening and the evidence is irrefutable”
This declaration came prior to the convening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, last November, which took on the Glasgow Charter aimed at accelerating the pace of combating global warming, but without confirming that it will be kept within the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling nor meet the requests for assistance from poor countries. That said, the Glasgow Charter was the first of its kind that explicitly provides for reducing the use of coal that causes an increase in gaseous emissions in the atmosphere.
Egypt is not in isolation from these repercussions, as it is one of the countries’ most vulnerable to impacts of climate change. This analysis reviews the future of the Nile Delta in view of climate change, the major expected scenarios, Egypt’s efforts to combat climate change, and the negative repercussions of climate change on the different sectors.
Climate Change: A Crisis Created by Major Industrial Powers, Developing Countries Pay the Price
Historically, industrialized and developed countries are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, which are the leading cause of climate change. While the developing countries do not contribute a high proportion of total emissions, they are the most affected by the climate change, a phenomenon that stands as a major challenge to sustainable development in these countries, particularly given the vulnerable economies of these countries, their reliance on climate-related sectors such as agriculture, fishing, and tourism, and the additional pressures that fall on them pertaining to addressing climate change consequences. Further, climate change is also expected to exacerbate the volatility of agricultural production across all areas while the most impoverished areas are likely to experience high levels of instability of food production, with food prices projected to soar as high temperatures until 2050.
The Impact of Climate Change on Egypt: Alternative Scenarios
While climate change is a global phenomenon that will affect all areas, Egypt will probably be one of the countries hardest hit by it. Warnings have increased the possibility of climate change –the signs of which started to emerge – triggering serious environmental disasters. The 2007 synthesis report of the IPCC indicated that Egypt will be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In addition to the direct implications of climate change on Egypt, including high temperatures, changes in rainfall, sea level rise, and other extreme weather events, the rise of the Mediterranean Sea level to 20-80 cm could mean inundation of coastal areas of the Nile Delta due to ice melt at the poles.
It is anticipated that about 15 percent of the area of the Delta, which accounts for about 40 percent of agricultural production and 50 percent of industrial production, will disappear. The five coastal regions that are expected to be flooded are coasts of the Delta, the northern coast, Sinai Peninsula coasts, the western coast of Suez Gulf and the Red Sea, and coasts of the Bitter Lakes and Timsah Lake. This poses a threat that inherently carries the risk of displacing about 10 million people to new areas. Perhaps Alexandria, Beheira, the southern part of Burullus Lake, and the southern part of Manzala Lake on the Mediterranean will the most affected areas by climate change.
According to the 2002-2017 IPCC reports, three scenarios unfold as regards the submerging of the Delta:
- The Optimistic Scenario: The sea level rises one meter until 2100.
- The Average Scenario: The sea level rises two meters until 2100.
- The Pessimistic Scenario: The sea level rises three meters until 2100.
If, according to the optimistic scenario, the sea level rises 1 meter, nine governorates in the Delta are likely to be affected, namely Alexandria, Ismailia, Beheira, Daqahliya, Sharqiya, Port Said, Damietta, North Sinai, and Kafr Al-Sheikh with a total of 37 cities, villages, and urban settlements covering a land area of approximately 35,505 acres being flooded while the total area of agricultural land to be flooded is expected to amount to approximately nine million acres, i.e. 40 percent of the Delta’s area.
In the case of the average scenario, the same nine governorates are likely to be the affected ones, yet with a total of 44 cities, villages, and urban settlements covering a land area of 4,6453.57 acres being flooded whereas the total area of agricultural land to be flooded is expected to amount to approximately 14 million acres.
Finally, if the pessimistic scenario comes to pass, a total of 10 governorates will be affected (the previously mentioned ones in addition to Gharbia governorate), with a total of 108 cities, villages, and urban settlements covering a land area of 4,6453.57 acres being flooded while the total area of agricultural land expected to be flooded by saline water amounts to 22 million acres.
In January 2021, a study investigating the coastal vulnerability of Deltaic and sandy beaches of North Africa was published, and the results of which indicated that Damietta, Ras El Bar, and Gamasa cities as well as cities around the Burullus, Manzala, and Bardawil lakes will be flooded during the period from 2040 to 2050. These areas will become detached islands with water surrounding them from everywhere. A rise of sea level by 50 cm will result in the displacement of 8,3 million people from northern Delta, including fishermen in the northern lakes and the displaced from tourist areas, particularly on the Red Sea, as a result of the shrinking of tourism due to the high temperatures, dust storms, and air pollution.
Notably, several studies confirm that parts of the Delta lands located around lakes have already been salinized and that the seawater has permeated into the soil in the northern parts of the Delta, which reduced the characteristics and quality of groundwater.
In view of the above, it becomes clear that Egypt is on the verge of a catastrophic environmental disaster, given the magnitude of the anticipated losses for the Delta region. This catastrophe will have an impact on all sectors of planning development in the Delta as well as the various humanitarian, economic, and environmental aspects, noting that eliminating coastal cities and changing their locations is a big, if not impossible, challenge.
Strenuous Efforts for Control
Over the past years, Egypt has made vigorous efforts to address impacts of climate change. Historically, Egypt was one of the first countries to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994 and the Kyoto Protocol, which Egypt ratified in 2005. This year, Egypt is slated to host COP27, and this will be the first conference on climate change to be organized in Africa after the Paris Agreement. In effect, Africa is the continent most affected by climate change although its emissions do not exceed four percent of the total global emissions. COP27 is envisaged to discuss climate issues facing the developing and middle-income countries that have not received sufficient financial support and loans from the international financial institutions to support them in climate change adaptation and mitigation measures and the green transformation.
In addition to the above, Egypt has made considerable efforts to combat and adapt to impacts of climate change, including:
- Optimizing Egypt’s utilization of the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms through implementation of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects. In this vein Egypt established the National Committee for CDM, which achieved significant successes in a number of sectors.
- Focusing on renewable energy projects and projects to improve energy efficiency through the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
- Promoting efforts of agricultural research centers to develop new crop production methods that can withstand heat waves resulting from climate change.
- Launching pilot projects that encourage the private sector to invest in clean energy and waste treatment projects and create tree forests.
- Developing a vision for the green transition aiming at converting 50 percent of the projects funded by the government to green ones by 2025, and 100 percent by 2050.
When it comes to the submerging of the Nile Delta, the government has developed a national plan to address beach erosion and potential high sea level rises, through adopting the principle of “coexistence with the sea”, as a new technique that capitalize on non-traditional and environment-friendly means of protection, such as the use of the product of dredging inlets in protecting beaches that are exposed to erosion while implementing pilot projects such as sand bridges to protect the Delta from erosion. Notably, the government has implemented protection works for 25 percent of the Delta coasts, covering 220 km long, using various sea walls, and has developed early warning systems that help reduce the impact of floods on the northern coastal areas in Egypt.
In sum, the effects of climate change on Egypt and the Delta submerge scenarios are a nightmare threatening Egypt, represent an imminent long-term danger. As such, there is a need to stop urban growth along the affected coastal cities in the north of the Delta, move towards the development of the south, raise community awareness of the concept of climate change and confrontation and adaptation measures, proceed with CDM projects and the transition to green economy, and increase the national capacity to attract international support and financing to support the government in combating climate change and avoid imposing any commitments on African countries and Egypt as regards reducing emissions.
- Abu Kahla, M. A. & others. (October 2021) “Dūr al-takhṭiṭ al-omrani fi mūgabahet makhaṭir gharaq ad-Delta jara’ ẓaherat al-eḥtebas al-ḥarari” [The role of urban planning in managing the risks of the Delta submerge due to global warming], Al-Azhar University Journal, Department of Engineering.
- Joel B Smith, and others, “Egypt’s economic vulnerability to climate change”, Journal of Climate Research, 2014.
- Suleiman, S., & Fawaz, M. (June 2015). “Dirasa iqtisadiah lil-taghayūrat almonakhia w-atharāha ‘ala at-tanmia al-mostadama fi Misr” [An economic study of climate change and its impacts on sustainable development in Egypt’, The Egyptian Journal of Agricultural Research.