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The Use of Climate as a Scapegoat for Governance Abuses and Failures – and Why That’s a Problem

Lake Assad and the Tabaqah Dam

By Peter Schwartzstein

Getting environmental officials to expound on their countries’ crises can be futile in much of the Middle East and North Africa (and well beyond). These officials might not want to talk about pollution because they have no plan – or wherewithal – to tackle it. It can be difficult to draw them out on the causes of degraded landscapes as they’re generally powerless to stifle the perpetrators. Even biodiversity die-off is often out. It can be too closely linked to their own governments’ policies.

There is one subject, though, where many of these public officials have considerably less reserve, and that’s climate change. As a devastating global phenomenon for which most of their states are only marginally responsible, many feel it’s the safest of ground. In discussions across these regions, previously tight-lipped interviewees have frequently become outright voluble when I’ve solicited their thoughts on drought, desertification, dust storms, and more. ‘Ah, benign territory!’ their expressions sometimes seem to suggest. 

There’s a tremendous upside to this heightened interest, of course. With some of the fiercest climate stresses in the world and some of the most limited efforts to adapt or mitigate the damage to date, many Middle Eastern and North African states desperately need to face up to these threats, particularly in the field of climate security, where they’re feeling the pressure more than most. Indeed, some already are. A number of African states have redirected up to 10% of their GDP to combat stresses from climate change. The sooner laggard officials are moved to concrete action the better.


Statement From The Council On Strategic Risks: Black Lives Matter

CSR Logo_High Res_2020The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR), the parent organization of the Center for Climate and Security, recognizes the extraordinary strains on the U.S. democratic system today, which were laid bare viscerally and tragically by the murder of George Floyd, threats of the use of military force against American citizens, and other troubling developments. These strains on our society—driven by systemic racism and xenophobia, the legitimization of ethno-nationalist political views, rising authoritarianism, inequality, poverty, and other deep systemic phenomena that have long gone unresolved—will have increasingly dangerous human security consequences if allowed to continue and fester. In this context, CSR unequivocally affirms what should be a given: Black Lives Matter.

CSR’s mission is to analyze, anticipate and address core systemic risks in our society. Fundamental to this work is highlighting the plight of groups vulnerable to complex layers of endemic risks. This takes not just expressing solidarity, or highlighting injustice and inequality in the analysis and solutions we pose, but also committing as an organization to working with and elevating individuals with diverse backgrounds on, and direct experiences with, the issues of injustice being addressed. These are not commitments we take lightly—they are the heart of what we do and who we are. There is no peace, and there is no security, without justice. This core principle will continue to inform all of the CSR’s work now and in the future.