Countries from Egypt to Mexico could lose 95 percent of their income from coral reef tourism, and parts of West Africa could see their ocean fisheries decline by 85 percent by the turn of the century if planet-warming emissions continue to rise, ocean experts warned in a recent study.
The study, which looks at the potential impacts of climate change on ocean economies, was released at the UN climate negotiations in Madrid and was commissioned by the leaders of 14 countries with ocean-dependent economies, and looked at ocean fisheries, seafood cultivation industries, and coral reef tourism.
“Action in reducing emissions really needs to be taken, or we will be facing very important impacts” on oceans and people, said Elena Ojea, one of the authors of the paper.
The study found that reef tourism, a nearly $36-billion-a-year industry, could see more than 90 percent losses globally by 2100 under a high-emissions scenario.
Countries that depend on coral reef tourism – Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand and Australia – could see income cut by 95 percent, the paper noted.
The report builds on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings that climate-related damage to oceans is likely to cost the global economy nearly $430 billion by 2050, and close to $2 trillion by 2100.
According to UN data on climate change, 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans is absorbed by the oceans, which endangers marine live.
One of these dangers affecting marine life is coral bleaching, a process that happens when the coral reefs' colour turns white due to being stressed by the warming up of oceans, according to the US National Ocean Services.
Being one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the world, Egypt’s coral reefs are found mainly along the coasts of the Red Sea, in the Gulf of Suez and in the Gulf of Aqaba, where more than 1,200 different fish species live among 300 kinds of coral. It is a tangible part of the Egyptian tourism economy.
Aside from the natural effects that can cause coral bleaching, human behaviours such as poor management, irresponsible construction activities along the shoreline, waste disposal, overfishing and harmful physical contact are reportedly causing a serious threat to Egypt’s reefs, which are ranked among the most beautiful in the world.
The best coral reef destinations in Egypt are in Ras Mohamed natural reserve, and Dahab city in South Sinai, as well as Marsa Allam resort town on the Red Sea to the south of Hurghada.
Gamal Allam, an environment expert and former senior advisor for Egypt’s Ministry of Environment, tells Ahram Online that coral bleaching is not the biggest threat faced by Egypt when it comes to the effects of climate change.
“The world is currently in an environmental state of emergency,” Allam says, pointing out that extreme climate change threatens Egypt in agriculture, coastal life and water resources.
Despite being one of the countries that contributes least to global greenhouse gas emissions, at a rate of 0.6 percent of the world's total, Egypt is one of the countries most at risk from the effects of climate change.
Egypt has already been witnessing the signs of extreme climate change in recent years, and “being a desert environment, Egypt is particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of global warming,” Allam explains.
The most immediate threat Egypt faces is the rising levels of salinity in the Nile Delta’s agricultural lands, as well as the rising water levels in the seas and oceans.
Studies predict that with the current level of global gas emissions, 15 percent of the land of Egypt's Delta is threatened with sinking and losing 4,100 square kilometres of agricultural land.
“Over the past few years, Egypt has received funds from the United Nations Green Climate Fund, but these funds are relatively very low to combat the effects of climate change,” Allam says.
Another climate challenge facing Egypt, and the world as a whole, is the melting of the polar ice caps, which will cause sea levels to rise and affect millions of people living in low-lying areas in the coming decade.
The Egyptian state has spent millions of dollars in recent years to build huge concrete blocks to control sea erosion in coastal cities like Damietta, Rashid, Alexandria as well as other Nile Delta governorates.
Other predicted effects of climate change include a decrease in country’s water supply, which could have serious implications given Egypt’s rapid population growth and current status as a country already in water poverty.
“Egypt needs at least $35 billion over a span of 10 years to be able control the impacts of climate change,” Allam said.
According to Egypt’s Minister of Environment Yasmin Fouad, who is currently attending the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Madrid from 2 to 13 December, Egypt jumped up four places in the Climate Change Performance Index for 2019, ranking 24th out of 57 evaluated countries.
In 1994, Egypt ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In Paris COP 2015, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that Africa contributes the least to harmful emissions and demanded a “just” and “clear” solution to climate change that takes into consideration the disparity between developed and developing countries.