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Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions

Oli Brown and Alec Crawford

Climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East

AcknowledgementsFrom its inception this report has benefited from a great deal of support and advice. We are grateful to many reviewerswho provided invaluable advice and comments on successive drafts of the paper: Omar Abu Eid, Layla Al-Zubadi, IyadAburdeineh, Pinhas Alpert, Yeshayahu Bar-Or, Gidon Bromberg, Alexander Carius, Nadim Farajalla, Kerstin Fritzsche,Wael Hmaidan, Annabelle Houdret, Jad Isaac, Odeh Al Jayyousi, Vahakn Kabakian, Nedal Katbeh-Bader, Loulia Kochaji,Annika Kramer, Achim Maas, Olivier Maes, Amer Marei, Richard Matthew, Robert McLeman, Alexandra Meir, YoussefNaddaf, Yasar Qatarneh, Jochen Rudolph, Mercedes Sanroman, Mordechai Shechter, Avner Vengosh, Erika Weinthal andAbir Zeno.

We are also immensely grateful to staff at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs who helped to define and direct the project,provided invaluable comments on successive drafts of the report and gave us complete editorial freedom to expresspotentially controversial perspectives. In this context we stress that the terminology, analysis and conclusions in the reportdo not necessarily express official Danish policy or terminology.

Our consultations in the region were greatly facilitated with the help of Samir Altaqi, Soumar Dakdouk, Sarine Karajerjian,Peter Laban, Yousef Meslmani and Mikkel Eskjaer. Stuart Slayen skilfully shepherded the report through to publication.Last, but not least, our warm thanks to Loulia Kochaji, who provided invaluable research and logistical support.

2009 International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development

161 Portage Avenue East, 6th Floor, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3B 0Y4Tel: +1 (204) 958-7700 | Fax: +1 (204) 958-7710E-mail: info@iisd.ca | Web site: http://www.iisd.org/

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Rising Temperatures, Rising TensionsClimate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle EastOli Brown and Alec Crawford

Palestinian man standing above a village on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the West Bank. Source: iStockphoto

Cover images iStockphoto

SummaryThe Levantmade up of Syria, Lebanon, Israel,

Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)hasexperienced more than 60 years of bloody conflict.Despite some brief interludes of optimism in the early1990s, the history of conflict and mistrust between andwithin the countries, the ongoing occupation ofPalestinian territory and the Golan Heights, and periodichostilities mean that a durable peace in the regionremains a distant prospect.

Against this backdrop, the mounting scientificevidence confirming the speed and scope of climatechange seems, at most, a secondary concern to beaddressed once other problems have been resolved.However, climate changeby redrawing the maps ofwater availability, food security, disease prevalence,population distribution and coastal boundariesmayhold serious implications for regional security.

Hotter, drier and less predictable

In a region already considered the worlds most water-scarce and where, in many places, demand for wateralready outstrips supply, climate models are predictinga hotter, drier and less predictable climate. Highertemperatures and less rainfall will reduce the flow ofrivers and streams, slow the rate at which aquifersrecharge, progressively raise sea levels and make theentire region more arid.

These changes will have a series of effects, particularlyfor agriculture and water management. Under moderatetemperature increases, for example, some analystsanticipate that the Euphrates River could shrink by30 per cent and the Jordan River by 80 per cent by theend of the century.

This report, prepared by an independent Canadianenvironment and development research institute, seeks topresent a neutral analysis of the security threat of climatechange in the region over the next 40 years (to 2050),drawn from consultations and extensive interviews withexperts from across the regions political and ethnicdivides. The report presents the following conclusions:

The legacy of conflict undermines the abilityof the region to adapt to climate changeMore than 60 years of conflict have taken a heavy toll

on the regions ability to cope with climate change.

Sometimes this is tangible, manifested through thephysical destruction of infrastructure, the loss of forestand water resources, the expense of maintaining largestanding armies, or a lack of statehood, which complicatesparticipation in international processes. At other times, it

is more insidious, revealing itself through a steadyreduction in economic opportunity, an unwillingness tocooperate over water and energy projects, or theemergence of an island mentality approach to resources.

This legacy greatly complicates efforts to collaborateover shared resources, to invest in more efficient water andenergy use, to share new ways to adapt to climate changeand to pursue truly multilateral action on climate change.Ultimately, it means that climate change likely presents aneven more serious challenge than it would otherwise.

Climate change poses some very realsecurity concernsSecurity is a constant concern in the Levant.

However, the security threat of climate change is rarelydiscussed. Public and political attention tends to focus,understandably, on the many immediate dangers thattrouble the region. This is beginning to change with thegrowing realization among regional analysts that climatechange may present a real threat to security. The Levantalready struggles with scarce water, food insecurity anderratic economic growth, each of which could beexacerbated by climate change. This report argues thatclimate change present a security threat in six distinct ways:

THREAT 1 Climate change may increasecompetition for scarce water resources, complicatingpeace agreements: The impact of increased waterscarcity as a result of climate change may make someexisting peace agreements untenable, could complicatethe negotiation of new peace agreements and could be afactor in national instability.

THREAT 2 Climate change may intensify foodinsecurity, thereby raising the stakes for the return orretention of occupied land: Climate change couldfurther decrease local agricultural productivity and makeglobal food prices increasingly volatile, further politicizingthe issue of food security. As populations and demand forfood grow, this could further increase domestic pressurefor Syria or the Palestinian Authority to secure the returnof occupied lands and shift the strategic calculations inIsrael on whether to withdraw from these areas.

THREAT 3 Climate change may hindereconomic growth, thereby worsening poverty andsocial instability: The combination of higherunemployment, reduced government revenue andincreased demands on services, as an indirect result ofclimate change, could weaken governments ability toprovide services and create jobs, in turn potentiallycreating the conditions for extremism of all kinds,increased crime and social breakdown.

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THREAT 4 Climate change may lead todestabilizing forced migration and increased tensionsover existing refugee populations: Shifting rainfallpatterns, spreading desertification and falling agriculturalproductivity are likely to undermine rural livelihoods,worsen job prospects in rural areas and accelerate migrationto urban areas. This could strain services in cities and leadto increased resentment of existing refugee populations.

THREAT 5 Perceptions of resources shrinking as aresult of climate change could increase themilitarization of strategic natural resources: Theallocations of resources (falling in absolute terms as a resultof climate change and in relative terms as a result ofpopulation growth and increased demand) could becomeincreasingly tense. Control over them may becomeperceived as an increasingly key dimension of nationalsecurity, and resource scarcity could be a pretext for theirgreater militarization.

THREAT 6 Inaction on climate change may lead togrowing resentment and distrust of the West (andIsrael) by Arab nations: If the international community isunable to come to a deal in Copenhagen that shows acommitment to mitigate the effects of climate change andto help poorer countries adapt to its impacts, it mayreinforce the already pervasive sense in the Arab world thatmany countries in West (including Israel) are not acting asgood global citizens.

There are ways to pursue peace andsustainable development despite achanging climate The evolving impacts of climate change will shape the

progress and prospects of the region. It is possible thatclimate change, a shared threat like no other, mayencourage countries to work together despite theirpolitical and ideological differences, to tackle thecommon challenge. In so doing climate change couldbecome a vehicle for rapprochement and peacebuilding.

However, given the current political landscape, whichcontinues to be characterized by distrust, hostility and alack of cooperation, climate change is more likely tobecome an obstacle to peace. Indeed it could aggravatetensions in a number of serious ways. But it is importantnot to overstate the case. Climate change will not be theonly factor in future conflict, just as is not the only factorin the changing availability of water resources. Ultimatelythe wider political situation will determine whetherscarce resources or forced migration becomes a cause ofconflict or a reason for better cooperation.

The challenges of climate c