Iran is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It also bears significant responsibility for climate change globally and in the region, as it ranks first in the Middle East and eighth worldwide, for its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with annual carbon dioxide amounting to nearly 617 tons. These substantial emissions stem primarily from Iran’s heavy reliance on oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, the country’s rapid urbanization process has also contributed significantly to elevated air pollution levels and the formation of heat islands, where urban areas experience higher temperatures than their surroundings.
Climate change in Iran is primarily distinguished by reduced precipitation and increased temperatures. Given its location in the mid-latitude belt, this poses a particularly daunting challenge for the country, encompassing arid and semi-arid regions with yearly precipitation less than one-third of the global average. More than 82 percent of Iran is already classified as arid or semi-arid, and rain in the country only reaches approximately 250 millimeters. Iran is also the sixth most natural hazard-prone country in the world, frequently experiencing floods, landslides, and droughts.
Temperatures in Iran, an estimated average of 50-54 degrees Celsius during the hot seasons, continue to rise. Recent reports have indicated that Iran is projected to witness a mean temperature rise of 2.6°C and a 35 percent decrease in precipitation in the coming decades. The impact of such escalating heat was evident recently when the government initiated a two-day emergency shutdown due to temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the capital.
The country also faces severe water shortages. Geographically, Iran is situated in a dry region with elevated temperatures and relatively scarce rain and snowfall. The distribution of climate categories in Iran is as follows: 35.5 percent hyper-arid, 29.2 percent arid, 20.1 percent semi-arid, 5 percent Mediterranean, and 10 percent wet. Water resources play a crucial role and serve as one of the most significant limiting factors in the country’s development, with approximately 35 percent of Iranians experiencing water scarcity since the early 2000s. By 2019, Iran ranked fourth among countries at high risk of depleting their water supplies. Rising sea levels pose another long-term challenge for the country. By 2050, it is estimated that over 300 million homes will be impacted by rising coastlines, displacing over 100 million people.
Despite the escalating risks of climate change, the government’s efforts to expand mitigation policies remain minimal. At the same time, environmental shifts pose significant security challenges for Iran, with the government facing unrest over water shortages and mismanagement. Protests have emerged, particularly in the arid southeastern region and in the dried-up bed of the iconic river in the central city of Isfahan.
Key environment indicators
Key impact areas
- World Health Organization – Iran health and climate change country profile
- UNFCC – Iran National Communication (NC). NC 3.
- Climate Centre – Iran climate fact sheet
- An overview of climate change in Iran: facts and statistics
- Climate change and health in Iran: a narrative review
Relevant publications and reports
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