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Let’s learn lessons from others’ mistakes

Kuwait is OPEC’s number 4 oil-exporter, home to the world’s third-largest sovereign wealth fund and a nation with just over 4.5 million people. And more importantly, its one of the hottest countries on the planet which is fast becoming unliveable. In 2016, maximum temperature touched 54C, the highest reading on Earth in the last 76 years. Last year, for the first time, they breached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in June, weeks ahead of usual peak weather. Parts of Kuwait could get as much as 4.5C hotter from 2071 to 2100 compared with the historical average, according to the Environment Public Authority, making large areas of the country uninhabitable.

Dead birds appear on rooftops in the brutal summer months, unable to find shade or water. Vets are inundated with stray cats, brought in by people who’ve found them near death from heat exhaustion and dehydration. 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.

Being one of the largest oil exporters in the world it’s not a lack of resources that stands in the way of cutting greenhouse gases and adapting to a warmer planet, but rather political inaction. Kuwait pledged at the COP26 summit in November to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7.4% by 2035, a target that falls far short of the 45% reduction needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s stretch goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C by 2030. The nation’s $700 billion sovereign wealth fund invests with the specific aim of hedging against oil, but has said that returns remain a priority as it shifts to more sustainable investing.

Perhaps root cause of the present problem lies in the ‘Kuwait Master Plan’ prepared in 1952 which drew its inspiration from British urban planners such as Ebenezer Howard’s garden city movement and completely remodelled the city, demolishing the previous close-knit mud-brick buildings adapted to the local climate that made up the Old City, and replacing them with more western notions of what an urban environment should look like.

Kuwait City subsequently underwent a radical transformation, switching to a grid system where cars – powered by cheap petrol – were required to navigate the maze of highways for almost all everyday tasks and that was the beginning of the end.

The problem faced by Kuwait can become our problem tomorrow as we too have adapted similar development plans. It’s high time we learn from such mistakes and take corrective actions right now. We need to a rethink of the way buildings are designed and come out with an alternative to the large, glass-clad structures reliant on continuous air conditioning in cities. Make use of technology to make life easier and environment friendly. Though we are nearly five decades away from making ourselves ‘Net Zero’, achieving the goal much earlier will only make life that much simpler and easier.

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