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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.

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Why Water Conflict is Rising, Especially on the Local Level

By Peter Schwartzstein

That future wars will be fought over water, rather than oil, has become something of a truism, particularly with regard to the Middle East. It’s also one that most water experts have refuted time and time and time again. But while this preference for cooperation over conflict may (and emphasis on may) remain true of interstate disputes, this blanket aversion to the ‘water wars’ narrative fails to account for the rash of other water-related hostilities that are erupting across many of the world’s drylands. As neither full-on warfare nor issues that necessarily resonate beyond specific, sometimes isolated areas, these ‘grey zone’ clashes don’t seem to be fully registering in the broader discussion of water conflicts. In failing to adequately account for the volume of localized violence, the world is probably chronically underestimating the extent to which water insecurity is already contributing to conflict.

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Agenda 2021: Prospects for Climate Security and Other Strategic Risks at the UN Security Council

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is UN_security_council_2005-1024x639.jpg

By Evan Barnard, Center for Climate and Security intern, with contributions from Andrea Rezzonico and William Beaver

The 2021 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agenda promises to take on a range of issues central to the Council on Strategic Risks mission. This blog post provides recommendations for action by the UNSC, as well as an overview of the key topics we expect to see on the agenda. Key recommendations for the UNSC include:

  • Climate: Establish a robust institutional home for climate and security at the UN – a Climate Security Crisis Watch Center.
  • Bio: Invest in next-generation genome sequencing to guard against infectious diseases and biological warfare.
  • Nukes: Aim to reduce nuclear weapon arsenals and increase openness for negotiation between nuclear nations.
  • Intersection of risks: Rather than separating these risk factors into silos, consider their global security implications jointly over a range of timescales.
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BRIEFER: Connecting Nuclear and Climate Policy in the Biden Administration

Over the past four years, the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) has operated a working group to examine the convergence of two of the world’s greatest challenges: nuclear threats and climate change. Whether countries significantly expand reliance on nuclear energy to help address the climate crisis—or whether they pivot away from nuclear energy—either pathway will have a profound impact on future nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation trends. The strength and contours of international political will to aggressively address the climate crisis will in turn shape nuclear trends. 

Read the briefer here.

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