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Climate Change, The Environment, and Natural Disasters

Panel III-29, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Many countries in the Middle East struggle to combat environmental problems such as air pollution, poor water quality, overflowing garbage, and more. Yet little is known about how people in the region perceive these problems and the factors that influence their perceptions. This study examines the findings from surveys conducted by the Arab Barometer with 13,850 people across 12 Middle Eastern countries in 2018-19. The focus is on public perceptions about water pollution, air quality, and trash. About 91 percent of respondents said that water pollution is a very serious or serious problem. About 89 percent and 73 percent feel the same way about trash and air quality, respectively. Middle Easterners’ perceptions about environmental quality are mainly shaped by their educational background, current financial status, and level of support for democratic politics. Objective measurements of water quality and sanitation are directly linked to people’s perceptions: all else equal, countries with better water and waste management have populations that are less concerned about these issues. Yet in the case of air quality, objective measurements are divorced from people’s perceptions. Instead, a person’s age, gender, education level, minority status, and their political and economic attitudes are better predictors of the extent to which they perceive air quality to be a problem. These findings shed light on the topic of environmental concern in an understudied region, highlighting the ways that individual, local, and national factors shape how average people evaluate local environmental problems.
  • In November 2022, Egypt hosted the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm el-Sheikh. Billing itself as “Africa’s COP,” the two-week-long meeting drew more than 33,000 participants, including party delegates, observer organizations, lobbyists, activists, and members of the media from around the globe. COP27 put a spotlight on the Egyptian state, attracting international attention for certain initiatives (such as the Egyptian-led campaign to redirect at least 50 percent of Africa’s waste into treatment and recycling facilities by 2050) as well as condemnation for its worsening political context (with an estimated 60,000 political prisoners, including activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah). How does hosting a major global environmental governance event shape the material and discursive politics of the host country? Based on participant observation at COP27, interviews, and discourse analysis of media and official reports surrounding the event, this paper illustrates how authoritarian states seek to “sanitize” and depoliticize environmental issues, and how domestic environmental actors can leverage opportunities like COP to advance their own interests. I focus specifically on garbage as an issue that carries significant affective weight and can be traced discursively as well as materially. In preparation for the influx of thousands of diplomats to the small Red Sea resort city, air-conditioned buildings were erected, roads were widened, trees were planted, “renewable” energy buses were imported, and garbage was systematically collected. Longtime residents and visitors alike expressed skepticism of the changes as superficial at best and possibly damaging to the local ecosystem and economy. Despite the colorful displays of art made from reclaimed materials, one had only to watch a trash can for a few minutes to see the carefully separated waste all being put in the same bag. However, it would be oversimplistic to write off the event as solely greenwashing by the regime. COP27 also served as a catalyst for environmental activists in Egypt to connect with each other, gain the ear of international organizations who otherwise would never have met with them, and develop their networks.
  • Co-Authors: Anis Ben Brik
    Any climate policy framework ought to fit and mirror the realities, challenges, and policy problems for which it is designed. Since climate change phenomenon is utterly complex and plays out at and affects various geographic scales and governance levels simultaneously, policy design must address regional, national, and local issues coherently. Moreover, climate change itself is often interlinked with other major policy problems and challenges, including poverty, inequality, economic crises, wars and violence, failing institutions and states, forced migration, pandemics, food/water/energy insecurity, and more. This “perfect storm” of major global crises, also called “wicked problems”, which often reinforce and aggravate one another via so-called “positive feedback loops”, seems to become a new normal for policymakers and public managers and is characterized by unprecedented non-linearity, complexity and multi-causality, often paired with a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty (Yamu, 2014; Chapman et al., 2017; Kovacic & Di Felice, 2019; Head, 2008, 2019; Head & Alford 2015; Peters, 2017). This “crisis of crises” – with climate change being perceived as its central, most impactful component – is particularly precarious and disruptive for the Gulf region and the GCC countries, which are already affected by multiple ecological, economic, social, and political challenges and chronic conditions requiring urgent policy intervention and public management. Enormous disparities in income, wealth, and access to services and benefits; path-dependent exclusive reliance on hydrocarbons as both the source of domestic energy generation and income generation and economic prosperity; and the rapid depletion of ecosystem-based natural resources paired with food and water insecurity as well as biodiversity loss and pollution are but three clusters that actively interact with climate change and its manifestations in rapid and unprecedent warming, heatwaves, drastic change of precipitation patterns, droughts and groundwater depletion, as well as sea-level rise, coastal erosion, flood inundation, saltwater intrusion and many more. Our paper demonstrates how climate change manifests itself as the epitome of social issues, inequality, and injustice for countries in theMiddle East. The paper’s overarching scope and objectives are to (A) review, appraise, and critically discuss the state-of-the-art knowledge of how climate change impacts affect social issues and challenges in the Middle East; (B) identify and critically appraise existing legal and policy frameworks, policy and public management measures and initiatives that are in place to address the above impacts and their effects; and (C) how critical gaps can be addressed through policy innovation, social progress, and institutional change.
  • A vibrant literature has addressed how colonial, settler-colonial, and geopolitical ambitions contributed to changes in water use and agricultural development in the Middle East through the 20th Century. The second half of the 20th century bore witness to a dramatic increase not only in irrigated, but export oriented modern agricultural systems – undergirded by narratives (socio-technical imaginaries) of modernity, economic prosperity, and liberatory development associated with post-colonial nation-state development. This paper asks how these imaginaries are changing in the context of climate change, political instability, and economic disruption. Climate change has led extreme heat, extended droughts and other climatic events that have significantly impacted agricultural production and the feasibility of irrigation, as well as exacerbating domestic water scarcity across the region. Further, political instability has coincided with declines in economic conditions for average people across the region, and the combination of global economic instability and the disruption of supply chains for food and other basic goods. In this context, new socio-technical imaginaries have emerged and are being enacted that promise technological solutions in the form of wastewater reuse, and desalinization, on the one hand, and increased attention to efficiency on the other. Through discourse analysis of regional environmental, water industry and trade publications and science media in major English and Arabic language news outlets in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon, this paper investigates the construction of new socio-technical imaginaries of water and development. Preliminary findings indicate that new sociotechnical imaginaries present the maintenance of societal well being as being made possible through adoption of new desalinization and wastewater treatment and reuse technologies, as well as increased attention to water use efficiency at the household, community, and national levels. At the same time, there is increased attention to a socio-technical imaginary (forwarded by Israel and the United States) of water technologies as tools to incentivize collaboration (“water for peace”). This occurs even as there is more attention to human right to water frameworks that call for water equity and expose the fallacies in the imaginaries of water justice through new water technologies.
  • The oil rich Arab Gulf countries are major producers of ‘black energy’ notably oil and gas. Furthermore, for decades these countries have ranked among the highest energy consumers pr. capita and continues to possess the largest Ecological Footprint in the world. Overall, this paper analyzes the current efforts extended by the Gulf countries to transition to a greener economy. First, the paper analyzes reasons behind the high energy consumption in these societies. Among them, the rentier economy which has led to heavily subsidized energy prices. Furthermore, the effects of the fact that the modern Gulf societies and cities have been built ‘on’ cheap energy. Phased differently, these societies represent a significant hydrocarbon ‘lock-in’ visible in a highly energy inefficient building stock, transport systems, layout of cities, state policies and not least the lack of a ‘sustainability consciousness’ among the citizens. Second the paper analyzes the seeming paradox that high oil prices manifest itself as a significant driver behind large domestic and global investment in renewable energy. It will be argued that the oil rich countries currently apply an economic model in which they can maximize their economic returns by suppling their own societies from renewable energy sources (which successively are becoming cheaper), while at the same time selling the amounts of oil and gas they save on the international market. As such, high oil prices provide a significant economic incentive for the Gulf states to invest in renewable energy. Finally, the paper critically discusses several of the major domestic and global energy projects and technologies undertaken by the Gulf states e.g. solar parks, nuclear energy and wind power and the attempted effort to ‘green’ the energy sector, by refocusing the oil companies, from ‘oil companies’ to ‘energy companies’ are furthermore analyzed and discussed. Data for this presentation originates from a series of interviews conducted in the region with decision makers and from a cross section of published sources.
  • The world population is steadily growing with the continuous push coming from the underdeveloped and developing nations. The more disturbing images of poverty and famine in several parts of our planet seem to occupy the media reports and academic works in the coming decades, due to many new developments. Speeding climate change, the Covid-19, the War in Ukraine and finally the natural disasters which are destroying lands and infrastructures, interrupting farming and industrial facilities, urban and rural life and order. Meanwhile, soaring oil and energy prices are an additional obstacle for the developing countries in overcoming their social and economic problems. Given the unaffordable crude oil and gas prices in the recent past and possibly in the coming years, many countries have no option but re-considering their water resources for regional development, energy and food. In the past 40 years, the situation in the Middle East and in the world has indicated that the dams and irrigation projects had not been the fashion of the 1970s and the 1980s only. Since then, the more countries have applied to freshwater resources in order to increase their energy and food production, including the countries in the Middle East. However, the four successive events which have been taking place one after another, from the climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic to the War in Ukraine and the recent massive earthquakes in the Southern Türkiye, have formed many challenges, setbacks and perhaps opportunities. My paper will assess the challenges, setbacks and may be opportunities in the transboundary river development projetcs and dam management after the massive earthquakes which have occurred in Türkiye, early February. A particular attention will be given to regional development, energy and food security for Türkiye and the adjacent Middle Eastern countries amid the damage left by the quakes. The paper will focus more on the security of the dams, infrastructure, population, energy, irrigation facilities and production. The damage caused by the earthquakes on the cities, rural areas, infrastructure, the quakes-related migration, the loss of work force, businesses and financial sources and their likely impact on the South-East Anatolia(GAP) Project will be analyzed. The paper will apply the concepts and theoretical framework on national security in the context of the development and international political economy.