Stories from the Future of Climate in Iraq

December 31, 2020

_We decide our future_ an artwork by Zahra Shakarchi.

The elements of nature imagined the future of Iraq, a land located between two rivers in Western Asia. The rivers started the story “We, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, will be abundant with the essence of life, water, and with essential nutrients for the growth of this civilization.” The sun interrupted and suggested another start for the story; “I will be called the “red sun” in the future, I will take over all our days and nights and people won’t be able to enjoy the sweet breezes of March’s spring. The land’s pride, palm trees, will seize to exist and their shade and dates will no longer provide a safe escape from my heat; the fertile land will collapse.” Here, science interrupted the opposing images of the future, and proposed to use discipline to keep things the way they are “we can use my solar power to mitigate the climate change challenges happening now.” Humanity disagrees with all stories and has a spiritual transformative story of the future “I believe in us, we can change, we can unmask ourselves and reveal prosperity and transformation for our land, rivers, palm trees and even the sun.”  

These stories are interpretations of artworks presented by Iraq’s current generation,  depicting their different visions of the future of climate in Iraq. The UNDP-Accelerator Lab in Iraq asked them to consider the current signs and formulate their visions by thinking about their lives, the effect of climate change on them, and the future of their country. The aim is to further sense and explore the question:  “Why isn’t climate action prioritized by the Iraqi community?” This time, from a future perspective. 

The First Future of Climate Exhibition in Iraq

As an explorer in the UNDP-Accelerator Lab in Iraq, I went on a journey to innovatively sense and explore how people were reacting to climate change issues, and grasp the weak signals furthering or worsening the issue and the impending consequences resulting from current actions and behaviors in Iraq. The exploration journey, this time was imaginative, required a visual medium to express people’s vision about the future and enhance their learning about the climate in a collective manner. What better way to express this, than through visual art?

For that, the UNDP-Accelerator Lab in Iraq launched, in cooperation with the Station Foundation for Entrepreneurship, The First Future of Climate Exhibition in Iraq. It was an exhibition that asked the Iraqi community to represent their thoughts of the future of climate in their country through artworks. Precisely, showing the alternative images of the future they expect to see in Iraq depicting the climate change challenge as growing, collapsing, transforming, and/or simply remaining as is. The exhibition used a participatory future thinking technique that engaged the public audience through three categories: Fine Art, Children’s Art, and Digital Art. The exhibition included two phases, submissions, and the final exhibition. The online submissions phase took five weeks and was accompanied by promotion using the support of four influencers. The second phase included the physical exhibition, which was held in Baghdad with different climate action supporters in Iraq. The artworks that were submitted from all over Iraq revolve around climate change imagined via a future perspective.

A picture of a drought river in Anbar, Iraq by Othman Al-Baz.

What has the imaginative journey from the future taught us?

The use of alternative images of the future has heavily enhanced the sensing and exploring the journey of the UNDP-Accelerator Lab and have led to different imaginings of the future of climate in Iraq. The imaginings, top artworks, can be found in the story: Iraqis sharing their vision for the future of climate in Iraq. The artworks were labeled according to the generic images of the future. The growing category represents 12% of artworks; growing artworks are the ones that foresee a renewing future of climate in Iraq. Another 12% addressed the need to be disciplined in our actions and behaviors and protect our environment. While 16% of images saw a transformation in the climate of Iraq. Most importantly, 60% of the artworks foresee collapsing, a future where climate change is worsening, leading to a drastic increase in heat, desertification, and pollution. The collapsing images held individuals to account, emphasizing how their actions and behaviors are worsening the environment. Hence, as an explorer this allowed the UNDP-Accelerator Lab to see the climate change issue from the perspective of people’s behaviors to find grassroots innovations to tackle this issue. 

The alternative images have also led to a realization that climate change accumulates inconspicuously in Iraq, and that small behaviors and actions affect it. Participants expressed that the dominance of other issues in Iraq like instability and economic challenges drive attention away from climate change, which led to a gradual build-up rather than a stark, noticeable effect of climate change. A metaphor that can be used to describe this issue is the boiling frog effect. This metaphor is taken from frogs who don’t feel the gradual increase of temperature until the heat is unbearable and they collapse. Climate change, and especially the human causes of climate change, are usually not recognized until it is too late, and the damage cannot be reversed or will be extremely difficult to reverse.

The sensing and exploring activity led to raising awareness about the climate in Iraq, particularly among children through the  Kids Messages “Art Exhibition”. Adding to that, the exhibition has successfully inspired UTV Channel to broadcast a full episode about climate change in Iraq, which has also led the community to recognize the climate change issue.

One of the most practical insights the exhibition provided for the learning cycle of the UNDP-Accelerator Lab in Iraq is information about the level and type of most useful local solutions for experimentation in Iraq. The alternative images of the future are focused on pushing for more responsible individual and systematic coherent behaviors towards climate change. This insight informs the identification and experimentation of local solutions; according to community priorities, it would be more useful for local solutions to focus on laying the groundwork for promoting and supporting climate solutions that focus on individual behavior. This allowed us to explore the acceptability of local solutions and the feasibility of implementing and sustaining them in the future.  

But wait! Why the imaginative journey in the first place?

The status-quo learning journey of climate change in Iraq completed by the UNDP-Accelerator Lab in the first half of 2020 investigated the individual level, specifically used Mission 1.5 game and Design Thinking, to explore the way of thinking of the Iraqi community about climate. This resulted in invaluable insights regarding the present status of the challenges, and the individual level behavior. These insights informed the characteristics of solutions design that incentivize individuals to direct their attention towards the deteriorating climate in Iraq and their role in changing the status quo. The solutions produced by design thinking were largely focused on the present and did not take into consideration the need to foresee the future to have future-proof solutions. But how to make solutions future-proof?

The fastest and largest learning network in the world, UNDP-Accelerator Labs, embedded future thinking into the work of labs. We took this opportunity to experiment in future thinking in our sensing and exploring journey. Future Thinking allowed us to take a systematic approach to recognize the interconnectedness of the system, not merely focus on direct cause and effect and it resulted in multiple options of what the future might look like. Hence, this systematic approach will enable us to identify and experiment on sustainable local solutions.

The Future of Climate in Iraq Exhibition.


Immersing a set of alternative images of the future of climate in Iraq enabled us to sense and feel the present and recognize all the current information, signs, weak signals, human behavior, policies, cities structure, and other factors affecting the climate nowadays. Now we know how the future will look if the current actions and behaviors towards the climate continue. Next, UNDP-Accelerator Lab will start working on finding local solutions that will tackle the emergence of the collapsing images of the future, with a particular focus on sustainable solutions that change individuals’ behavior.