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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.


On Record-Breaking Heat, Security and US-MENA Relations


U.S. Army Spc. Kayla Hammonds, demonstrates to Iraqi army soldiers how to accurately gather the heat index in Baghdad, Iraq

The Cipher Brief published a commentary from us today on the recent record-breaking heat in the Middle East and North Africa, how that fits into the picture of climate and security risks in the region, and what that may mean for the US role in the Middle East and North Africa. From the article:

Instability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is at its worst in recent memory. While political volatility has been something of a constant in the region for much of the past century, threats to regional security – and to the nation-state system itself (for example, powerful terrorist groups seeking to establish a transnational caliphate) – are increasing.

Common headlines include air strikes, massive refugee crises, attempted coups, and battles with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) spanning multiple countries. Another headline – the kind too often ignored by foreign policy and security analysts – is the record-breaking heat wave occurring in places such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, and Iraq, and speculation about the long-term habitability of parts of the region. Coupled with precipitation decline, increasingly severe droughts, and rising sea levels, the heat waves and the actual climate of the region cannot be separated from its political climate. If these problems aren’t addressed as a systemic whole, the region will likely not recover. The United States must take that into consideration.


Spring Thaw: What Role Did Climate Change and Natural Resource Scarcity Play in the Arab Spring?

City skyline from a coastal defense breakwater in Alexandria, EgyptIn a new post titled “Spring Thaw: What Role Did Climate Change and Natural Resource Scarcity Play in the Arab Spring?” the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Schuyler Null and Maria Preble have done an admirable job of reviewing both our report with the Stimson Center and the Center for American Progress, “The Arab Spring and Climate Change,” and E3G’s “Underpinning the MENA Democratic Transition.” From their summary: (more…)

Climate, Energy and Resource Security in the Middle East and North Africa

Luxor_west_bank4E3G has just released an excellent new report titled “Underpinning the MENA Democratic Transition: Delivering Climate, Energy and Resource Security,” co-authored by Nick Mabey, Sabrina Schulz, Taylor Dimsdale, Luca Bergamaschi and Amal-Lee Amin. From their website: (more…)

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