By Mariam Alsaad
Both natural and man-made defences can help Kuwait tackle the rise in sea levels. Source: Cajetan Barretto, Flickr
Climate change is one of the most challenging issues that Kuwait faces due to the country’s climate characteristics, high CO2 emission rates, heavy dependence on unsustainable energy sources and its existing complex socio-political status. The predicted impacts of climate change are at this point irreversible and unavoidable, however, the shock of these impacts can be absorbed through climate adaptation. Climate adaptation reduces vulnerability to climate change impacts; this vulnerability is dependent on the scale of the climatic impact, and on the capability of the affected country to respond. Therefore, the relationship between Kuwait’s built environment and its changing climate must be examined to understand how climate adaptation can improve the status quo and ensure reduced future negative impacts.
Kuwait is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, as temperatures within the past five years have reached unprecedented highs and are expected to increase in the future. This affects the habitability of the country severely, especially during the summer months, as well as causing mental and physical stress to the health of residents as exposure to high temperatures causes exhaustion, heat strokes and intensifies existing respiratory, cerebral, and cardiovascular diseases. Constant thermal discomfort causes other issues such as increased irritability and violence, insomnia and reduced cognitive abilities. This will impact vulnerable communities in Kuwait (i.e. migrant workers living in poor conditions, economically challenged families, Bidoon citizens) more so than those with better economic statuses and uninterrupted access to indoor cooling, creating inequity and social disparity as well as reduced economic and development opportunities for those most vulnerable. An increase in temperature also has a negative impact on existing ecosystems and wildlife (i.e. an increase in seawater temperature will cause a large-scale migration of fish species to nearby areas). The increase in temperature also means that there will be an increase in the use of indoor cooling which means more energy demands, and more energy demands translate to more CO2 emissions. Given that the country is reliant on unsustainable energy sources, this means the impacts of climate change are intensified because of this, creating a never-ending cycle of negative bearings.
Another impact Kuwait is struggling with is water scarcity, as the country is largely dependent on desalination processes to produce drinking water because there are no natural freshwater resources. Rainfall and precipitation levels are decreasing as a result of climate change. The country’s groundwater supply, which is mainly used for agricultural and industrial purposes, is also depleting, and this puts the country in a difficult situation as depending fully on desalination processes will create a water-energy nexus which is sure to put pressure on the country’s already strained energy system. The water scarcity issue also greatly affects the health of ecosystems and wildlife in the area as this will cause a reduction in urban agriculture and inhibit the growth of certain species. Furthermore, it will create changes in the structure and composition of vegetation and will have long-term effects on plant growth and animal population numbers.
The sea level rise is another climate impact which will affect Kuwait, as mean sea levels are expected to increase by 0.16–0.63 m by 2050, which will cause coastal erosion and destruction of ecosystems and low-lying urban infrastructure. Rising sea levels will also affect Kuwait’s islands, for example, Boubyan Island is expected to be fully submerged within the next few decades while one third of Failaka Island is expected to be submerged.
Climate change is an issue that requires proactive solutions rather than reactive ones and Kuwait’s response to the climate crisis has been very poor as there has been no real commitment from the government to meet global goals for CO2 reductions. Nor have there been any major projects that have introduced sustainable technologies or practices aimed at reducing climate change impacts. If the country continues on this path, it will be extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and this no doubt will have detrimental social, economic and environmental impacts. In order to reduce Kuwait’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and improve its resilience, the following must be done:
- Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources: this will dramatically reduce the country’s CO2 emissions and create more sustainable practices which will in turn reduce the future impacts of climate change.
- Introducing measures of climate change mitigation: subsequent to assessment of the country’s three main climate change impacts; increase in temperature; reduction of water resources; and rise of sea levels, it is imperative to introduce long-term solutions such as creating blue-green infrastructure. Blue-green infrastructure is a method of design which incorporates and protects hydrology and ecology. This includes the creation of green spaces, mass tree planting, green roofs, ponds and water surfaces in a symbiotic setting, and this increase in greenery and water bodies will create a cooling effect and reduce the urban island heat effect within the built environment, reducing surface temperatures. Sustainable water management will be essential to ensure issues of water scarcity are addressed. The rise in sea levels can be tackled through creating both natural and man-made defences such as groynes, beach nourishment and seawalls.
- Investing in community-based initiatives to promote positive sustainable attitudes: initiatives such as creating communal gardens within residential areas, which not only improves climate resilience but also improves the mental and physical health of residents.
Our natural environment and ecosystems suffer greatly at the cost of urbanisation, and given the rapid nature of Kuwait’s urbanisation, it is no wonder that its existing arid and harsh climatic conditions have worsened over the past few decades and will continue to do so under the climate crisis unless changes are implemented. This will require intensive planning and full governmental engagement to ensure successful sustainable climate adaptation and that Kuwait is resilient in the face of future climate change impacts.