I recently had the honor of meeting Iraqi artists whose paintings – on display at the Iraqi Plastic Artists Society – portray Iraq’s rich landscapes. The exhibition, which included women artists, captured the diversity of Iraq’s environment, from its green valleys in the north to its lush marshlands in the south. The message I took from these artists is clear: We must act now to protect this natural beauty by addressing climate change.
The impact of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions is not limited to changing landscapes, nor is it a problem that resides only in the future. Blazing hot temperatures, blinding sandstorms, and enduring droughts are now realities that negatively impact nearly every facet of daily life for millions of Iraqis. Without swift action from governments around the world – including the Iraqi government – the pace of these changes will accelerate, making whole areas within a region once dubbed “the fertile crescent” uninhabitable for future generations.
We cannot allow this to happen. We must quickly take measures to preserve and protect our planet, and the United States is committed to taking meaningful action in the global fight against climate change. This month, President Biden signed landmark legislation law securing the largest-ever investment in tackling the climate crisis, a $369 billion investment that will significantly increase energy efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This important legislation complements U.S. efforts to increase global climate ambition, led by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
That international commitment extends to helping the government of Iraq to address climate change. With the United States Agency for International Development leading the way, we have provided funding, technical expertise, and systems to help Iraq meet the challenges of the future. This has included improving Iraq’s management of water, helping expand access to this vital resource for more than ten million Iraqis. We have also joined with Iraqi businesses, schools, and local governmental institutions, from Ninewa to Basrah, to raise public awareness of the impacts of climate change. And we have assisted the Iraqi government in developing a five-year climate strategy to improve climate forecast communication to farmers and eliminate crop and soil damage, protecting Iraq’s food supply from the dangers posed by increasingly unstable weather patterns.
I am especially proud of our efforts to connect Iraqis with Americans so that we can learn from one another as both our countries face the challenges of climate change. Two weeks ago, more than two dozen Iraqi officials returned from a visit to sites across the United States, where they met with hydrologists and other experts and learned about how the United States is adapting to climate change. As one Iraqi participant said of the visit, “The knowledge we gained will help Iraq better use its limited water resources.” Under the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE), the United States is committed to building stronger partnerships to increase our collective capacity to adapt to climate impacts.
The climate crisis affects every country, and no single country acting alone can solve it. Fortunately, the Iraqi government has joined the global effort to reduce emissions, shift to renewable energy, and embrace climate-smart practices. In 2021, it acceded to the Paris Agreement, set the goal of a one to two percent reduction in emissions as part of its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), and joined the Global Methane Pledge. While the United States heralds these landmark commitments, it is now essential that Iraq proceed with measures to meet them. We urge Iraq’s leaders to use COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, later this year to revisit and strengthen Iraq’s NDC and invest decisively in the technology and investment necessary to achieve the goals it outlines.
Decreasing Iraq’s emissions may seem difficult; the economic pressure to pursue carbon-intensive energy is real, perhaps nowhere more so than in the Middle East. But this goal is within reach, and present conditions hold advantages that previously would have been unimaginable to some. With high oil prices generating trillions of dinars in reserves, Iraq is better positioned than ever to make the infrastructure and other investments that will be decisive in conserving resources and reducing emissions and positively impacting the daily lives of millions of Iraqis.
Climate change does not care about political parties or ideology. While talks on the formation of Iraq’s next government continue, one thing is clear: Iraq’s leaders, regardless of their affiliation, will continue to face the reality of needing to help its citizens adapt to a warming planet and an environment under stress. Each of the hundreds of Iraqis I have met during my first months as Ambassador faces this same reality, no matter their age, where they are from, or what faith they practice.
We all have a role to play as we work to give our children and grandchildren a resilient, prosperous, and equitable world with net-zero emissions. In doing so, we will not only preserve and protect the landscapes so beautifully illustrated by Iraqi artists that are the proud ancient inheritance of every Iraqi, but also secure a safe, stable, and vibrant planet for future generations around the world.
Alina L. Romanowski is the US Ambassador to Iraq
[The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of BasNews.]