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One of the world's richest oil exporters is on the verge of becoming unlivable

Temperature records are being broken all around the world as a result of global warming

One of the worlds richest oil exporters is on the verge of becoming unlivable
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In the heat, trying to catch a bus at Kuwait City's Maliya station may be excruciating. The hub serves about two-thirds of the city's buses, although schedules are inconsistent.

The air is thick with fumes from bumper-to-bumper traffic. If space is limited, small shelters can accommodate a small number of people. Hundreds of people end up standing in the sun, sometimes shielded by umbrellas.

Temperature records are being broken all around the world as a result of global warming, but Kuwait, one of the hottest places on the planet, is quickly becoming unlivable.

The temperature on Earth reached 54 degrees Celsius in 2016, the highest reading in 76 years. They broke 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time last year in June, weeks ahead of the usual peak weather.

According to the Environment Public Authority, parts of Kuwait might become 4.5 degrees Celsius hotter between 2071 and 2100 than the historical norm, rendering huge swathes of the country uninhabitable.

It's almost there for wildlife. In the hot summer months, dead birds appear on rooftops, unable to find shade or drink. People who have found stray cats near death from heat stress and dehydration are bringing them to veterinarians.

Even wild foxes are fleeing a desert that no longer blossoms after the rains in exchange for the few spots of green that remain in the city, where they are considered pests.

"This is why we are seeing less and less wildlife in Kuwait, it's because most of them aren't making it through the seasons," said Tamara Qabazard, a Kuwaiti zoo and wildlife veterinarian.

"Last year, we had three to four days at the end of July that were incredibly humid and very hot, and it was hard to even walk outside your house, and there was no wind. A lot of the animals started having respiratory problems."

Kuwait is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) number four oil supplier, in contrast to countries like Bangladesh and Brazil that are trying to reconcile environmental concerns with burgeoning populations and widespread poverty.

With the world's third-largest sovereign wealth fund and a population of just over 4.5 million people, it is political inaction more than a lack of resources that is preventing the country from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adjusting to a warmer future.

Kuwait's neighbours, who rely on crude exports as well, have committed to take more aggressive climate action. Saudi Arabia announced last year that it will strive to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. The United Arab Emirates has chosen the year 2050 as its target.

Despite the fact that they are still among the world's largest producers of fossil fuels, both countries claim to be attempting to diversify their economies by investing in renewables and cleaner energy.

The next two United Nations climate conferences will be held in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as Middle Eastern nations recognise that rising temperatures and sea levels would affect them as well.

Kuwait, on the other hand, agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7.4% by 2035 during the COP 26 meeting in November, a commitment that falls well short of the 45 percent reduction required to reach the Paris Agreement's stretch goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030.

The country's $700 billion sovereign wealth fund invests specifically to hedge against oil, but it has stated that profits would remain a focus as it transitions to more sustainable investments.

"Compared with the rest of the Middle East, Kuwait lags in its climate action," said Manal Shehabi, an academic visitor at Oxford University who studies the Gulf nations. In a region that's far from doing enough to avoid catastrophic global warming, "climate pledges in Kuwait are [still] significantly lower."

The chairman of the Environment Public Authority (EPA), Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, told COP 26 that his country was eager to support international efforts to stabilise the climate.

Kuwait has also promised to implement a "national low carbon strategy" by the middle of the century, but it hasn't specified what this will entail, and there has been no sign of activity on the ground.

One Twitter user responded by posting photos of withered palm palms and asked how his government had the audacity to show up.

Jassim Al-Awadhi, a member of Kuwait's younger generation, is increasingly concerned about the country's future. The 32-year-old former banker resigned to campaign for a change that experts believe could be Kuwait's key to combating global warming: a shift in public perception regarding transportation.

His goal is to encourage Kuwaitis to use public transportation, which currently solely consists of buses, which are mostly used by migrant labourers with low-paying occupations who have no choice but to endure the heat.

It's a long and winding road ahead. Though Kuwait boasts among of the world's highest carbon-dioxide emissions per capita, most Kuwaitis have never considered giving up their vehicles in a country where gasoline is cheaper than Coca-Cola and towns are built around autos.

His goal is to encourage Kuwaitis to use public transportation, which currently solely consists of buses, which are mostly used by migrant labourers with low-paying occupations who have no choice but to endure the heat.

It's a long and winding road ahead. Though Kuwait boasts among of the world's highest carbon-dioxide emissions per capita, most Kuwaitis have never considered giving up their vehicles in a country where gasoline is cheaper than Coca-Cola and towns are built around autos. The sole extensive poll of climate opinions in Kuwait was performed by the London School of Economics, which indicated that elderly citizens are sceptical of the urgency, with some speculating on a plan to stifle Gulf economies.

The sole extensive poll of climate opinions in Kuwait was performed by the London School of Economics, which indicated that elderly citizens are sceptical of the urgency, with some speculating on a plan to stifle Gulf economies.

Everyone over the age of 50 who participated in a public survey opposed plans to establish a metro system similar to those in Riyadh and Dubai. Climate change, on the other hand, is seen by the private sector as a problem that requires government leadership to address.

"When I tell companies let's do something, they say it's not their business,'' Al-Awadhi said. "They make me feel like I'm the only one who has problems with transport."

This is largely due to the fact that the majority of Kuwaitis and rich inhabitants are immune to the impacts of rising temperatures. Air conditioning can be found in homes, shopping centres, and automobiles, and those who can afford it often spend their summers in Europe.

However, relying heavily on cooling systems increases the usage of fossil fuels, resulting in even higher temperatures.

Those who are unable to escape the heat, primarily workers from developing nations, have it considerably worse. Despite the fact that the government restricts peak afternoon outdoor employment during the hottest months of the year, migrant workers are frequently observed toiling in the sun.

According to a study published in Science Direct last year, the overall number of deaths doubles on particularly hot days, but it triples for non-Kuwaiti men, who are more prone to choose low-paying jobs.

Saleh Khaled Al-Misbah sees the cycle all too clearly. He was born in 1959 and recalls a time when homes lacked air conditioning but felt cool and shaded even in the hottest months. He used to spend months of the year playing outside and sleeping on the roof in the summers, but it's too hot anymore.

Children spend the majority of the year indoors to avoid the scorching sun or harmful pollution, which has lead to vitamin D deficiency — which humans produce when exposed to sunlight.

According to Fitch Ratings, temperature fluctuations in the 2040s and 2050s will have an increasingly detrimental influence on Kuwait's creditworthiness. Despite the mounting dangers, squabbles between the Gulf's only elected parliament and a government nominated by the royal family have made it difficult to enact reforms, whether on climate or elsewhere.

"The political deadlock in Kuwait just sucks the oxygen out of the air," said Samia Alduaij, a Kuwaiti environmental consultant who works with the UK's Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and UNDP. "This is a very rich country, with a very small population, so it could be so much better."

So far, little progress has been made on plans to produce 15% of Kuwait's power from renewable sources by 2030, up from a maximum of 1% presently. Oil is so plentiful that it is used to create energy as well as to fuel the 2 million cars on the road, polluting the air.

Some power plants have transitioned to gas, a less polluting fossil fuel that can leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Electricity and water consumption, which are extensively subsidised by the government, are among the highest per capita in the world, and any suggestion of reducing those advantages has proven politically poisonous.

"That obviously leads to a lot of waste," said Tarek Sultan, vice chairman of Agility Public Warehousing Co. When fossil-fuel powered electricity "is subsidized, solar technologies that can provide viable solutions get priced out of the competition," he said.

Countries will have to adjust to more extreme weather even if the world manages to cut emissions quickly enough to avoid catastrophic global warming. Experts think Kuwait's plan is now insufficient to keep the country livable.

"If it starts now, a lot can be done in the coming decades, but that would need to include protection against rising sea levels, making cities greener and buildings less energy intensive," said Nadim Farajalla, director of the climate change and environment program at University of Beirut. "It also needs to focus on transport, a leading cause of CO2 emissions."

The government's adaption strategy, according to Khaled Mahdi, secretary general of Kuwait's Supreme Council for Planning and Development, is in line with international policies.

"We clearly identify roles and responsibilities, and all the challenges in the country," he said, though he admitted that "implementation is the usual challenging issue."

Young Kuwaitis like Al-Awadhi aren't waiting for the government to act.

Kuwait Commute, his advocacy group, is launching a tiny push for bus stop shelters to protect passengers from the sun. Kuwait's largest bank, the National Bank of Kuwait, has financed a bus stop designed by three female graduates.

They stay outside the decision-making process, as does much of the private sector.

"I think I'm finally making progress," said Al-Awadhi, who hopes that getting more Kuwaitis to ride buses will fuel enough demand to improve the service. But "it has to be driven by the government. It's the chicken before the egg."

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