Volker Turk, the UN human rights chief, said on Wednesday that the high summer heat and pollution in southern Iraq, where he has been touring, had demonstrated “that the era of global boiling” has come.
Turk’s remarks came at the end of a four-day tour to Iraq, during which he met with dignitaries and traveled across the nation, often in 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) heat, to discuss human rights, with a focus on climate change.
“Standing in searing heat in that scarred landscape, breathing air polluted by the many gas flares dotting the region, it was clear to me that the era of global boiling has indeed begun,” he said at a news conference in Baghdad, referring to his time in southern Iraq’s oil-producing Basra region.
The United Nations says Iraq is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world.
A reduction in rainfall combined with mismanagement of water resources has led to years of persistent drought, with water levels this year at their lowest on record, according to the ministry of water resources.
Iraq’s two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, bisect the country and gave birth to some of the world’s first civilisations thousands of years ago but are now too weak to sustain the agriculture that once flourished on their banks.
Drought has led thousands of families to emigrate from the country’s waterways and UNESCO-recognised marshlands, threatening a way of life, and worsening heat is leading to increasingly risky conditions for those who work outdoors.
“What is happening here is a window into a future that is now coming for other parts of the world if we continue to fail in our responsibility to take preventive and mitigating action against climate change,” Turk said.