Q&A: Jassim Abdul Aziz al-Falahi, Minister of Environment

Iraq's envoy to the COP26 climate summit discusses the effects of global warming and the country's position on international action.
Minister of Environment Jassim Abdul Aziz al-Falahi at his office in Baghdad in November 2021. (LIZZIE PORTER/Iraq Oil Report)

BAGHDAD - A deterioration in national security as a result of climate change is a major worry for Iraq’s Minister of Environment, Dr. Jassim Abdul Aziz al-Falahi.

"We do not have water security. We do not have food security," he told Iraq Oil Report in a recent interview in his office at the Ministry of Environment. "I think these might result in what is called internally displaced populations. It might result in what's called environmental refugees. So it has a great impact on our national security."

After being merged with the Ministry of Health under former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Ministry of Environment once again became an independent ministry in August 2021, with its own building in the al-Waziriya area of Baghdad.

Over-dependence on oil for government revenue, low investment in infrastructure, and reliance on cross-border water sources mean that Iraq is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change.

Already, severe drought has forced agricultural workers to move into cities, further straining inadequate water and electricity distribution networks. Pollution blights waterways and urban dwellings. And Iraq wastes about half of the natural gas it produces along with oil, burning it off in an environmentally disastrous practice known as flaring rather than using the valuable commodity for power generation.

The minister formed part of Iraq’s delegation to the recent COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Iraq has presented its so-called "Nationally Determined Contributions" to the United Nations — the goals that nations set voluntarily to reduce the effects of climate change, including carbon emission reduction targets. Iraq has proposed a reduction of up to 15 percent in carbon emissions by 2030, dependent on support from the international community.

Iraq also ratified the Paris Climate Agreement this year. This is "an important step," he said, saying that the Cabinet has supported moves towards carbon reductions and use of green technologies to reduce the impact of climate change on Iraq. Nevertheless, he acknowledges a lack of interest in the urgency of the climate crisis among many other Iraqi officials.

"In a country like my country, I think the environment is not a priority for decision makers," he said.

A transcript of the interview is available below for Iraq Oil Report subscribers.

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