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Emission Reductions Stall as Global Heating Makes Kuwait ‘Unlivable’

Kuwait, already one of the world’s hottest countries and one of the highest per capita emitters, is rapidly becoming unlivable as a result of rising temperatures brought on by climate change. Yet climate action in the country has been stymied by a lack of political will and a population that is heavily reliant on oil.

“Even if the world manages to cut emissions quickly enough to stave off catastrophic global warming, countries will have to adapt to more extreme weather,” writes Bloomberg Green. “As it stands, experts say Kuwait’s plan is nowhere near enough to keep the country livable.”

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Kuwait’s daytime temperatures can exceed 50°C and are steadily climbing. In 2016, the mercury reached 54°C—the highest recorded temperature on Earth in the last 76 years, according to Bloomberg. 

The heat is intense enough to pose a threat to life for outdoor workers, often labouring migrants from developing countries. A recent study found that, while the country’s death rate doubles on hot days for the population as a whole, it triples for non-Kuwaiti men who make up a large portion of the migrant labourer population.

The heat is also lethal for wildlife, as indicated by the preponderance of dead birds unable to find shade or water in the summer months, or stray cats found near death from heat and exhaustion. “Even wild foxes are abandoning a desert that no longer blooms after the rains for what small patches of green remain in the city, where they’re treated as pests,” says Bloomberg.

The Kuwaiti cabinet recently ordered a review of the country’s plans to reduce emissions. So far, Kuwait’s pledge to reduce emissions by 7.4% by 2035 falls drastically short of the 45% cut that would be necessary to align with the Paris climate agreement target to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C, Bloomberg reports.

But achieving any change will be an uphill battle. Unlike many countries, Kuwait doesn’t lack the resources to make the necessary changes, but its status as OPEC’s fourth-largest oil exporter undermines political motivation to cut emissions. As a result, there has been little progress on the plans on paper so far, like a pledge to produce 15% of the country’s power from renewable sources by 2030.

Kuwait’s citizens themselves are among the highest per capita emitters worldwide, with lifestyles that are strongly reliant on fossil fuels. Personal vehicles are so integral to Kuwaiti society that many are unwilling to consider alternatives, and oil—heavily subsidized by the government—is a major source of electricity generation. The low prices enjoyed by citizens, and their high consumption, means any efforts to diminish oil’s role in the country would be “politically toxic.”

As “home to the world’s third-largest sovereign wealth fund and just over 4.5 million people, it’s not a lack of resources that stands in the way of cutting [Kuwait’s] greenhouse gases and adapting to a warmer planet, but rather political inaction,” Bloomberg writes.