Evolving Risks in a Climate-Changed MENA Region

Evolving Risks in a Climate-Changed MENA Region

Climate change can undermine stability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  During a recent Wilson Center event on building climate resilience in MENA countries, Nick Mabey, from the environmental think tank E3G,  said “We saw, in the 2008 food and fuel crisis, how spikes in prices and changes in availability can very quickly lead to social instability.” It’s likely that such shocks will happen again as climate impacts intensify, which makes building social, economic, and physical resilience increasingly urgent in these areas. Summer temperatures in the Middle East are set to soar twice as fast as the global average, possibly threatening the habitability of the region by the end of the century.  Climate impacts like extreme droughts and heat waves—in combination with population growth, natural resource scarcity, and migration—pose significant socio-economic risks for countries in the region.

Islamic State (ISIS) recruiting in Iraq and Syria was driven also by climate change and water shortages.  Studies from Syria suggest that anthropogenic climate change has tripled the probability of long, debilitating droughts. When ISIS came along, many of the most environmentally damaged Sunni Arab villages, quickly emerged as some of the jihadists’ foremost recruiting grounds.  Throughout 100 plus interviews conducted in a survey over three years, farmers and agricultural officials alike, sometimes wondered aloud: if only we’d received a little more assistance, might this entire blood-soaked mess have been averted?  For the moment at least, ISIS is mostly defeated in Iraq. But the conditions that contributed to its success in the countryside are, if anything, more pronounced than ever. “ISIS is gone for now, but with all these water and heat problems, things will only get worse,” said Jabouri, the tribal sheikh from Shirqat. “We need help now.”

Operating in a climate-changed world. In pursuing transformative policies in the MENA region, Sherri Goodman, a senior research fellow with the Wilson Center, said “we need to recognize that we are operating in a climate-changed world.” Rather than focusing on the threats, this is an opportunity to “use our climate awareness [and] our ability to innovate. The MENA region will need more than money to avoid climate-induced instability, for ”countries can’t “grow their way to resilience,” said  Nick Mabey. The question is, he added, “how do you deliver some of the clever ideas that are easy to come up with on paper, but quite hard to do in practice?”

Resources: Wilson Center event Video |