Regional Cooperation Series

This Policy Paper is part of The Middle East Institute's Regional Cooperation Series. Throughout 2016, MEI will be releasing several policy papers by renowned scholars and experts exploring possibilities to foster regional cooperation across an array of sectors. The purpose is to highlight the myriad benefits and opportunities associated with regional cooperation, and the high costs of the continued business-as-usual model of competition and intense rivalry.

Summary

Analyst Gerald Stang assesses the environmental challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa, and the potential for regional cooperation to address them. While environmental issues have not been central to conflict in the region, they have served as threat multipliers, adding stress to existing social and political tensions. With the MENA region predicted to be affected by significant heating and drying trends over the coming decades due to climate change, the risk of further fragility and instability is heightened. As the entire region shares similar climate-induced challenges, the environment need not be an added source of friction, but rather an opportunity for cooperation.

Key Points

  • The common environmental challenges faced by regional states present opportunities for improved policy-making and closer cooperation at regional and, especially, subregional levels
  • The MENA region is pressing against the limits of available water, air, land, and biodiversity resources

  • Climate impacts in the coming decades are likely to add stress to existing resource challenges, with serious potential consequences for the economy, and for social and political stability

  • Regional cooperation on environmental issues is mostly limited to “talk fests” at summits with little follow-up

  • Increased connectivity and evolving rules of public discourse have resulted in greater public awareness of shared environmental concerns

  • Continued global momentum on climate action will likely encourage regional states to better incorporate environmental concerns within their economic and development plans

  • While targeted pollution programs can most quickly be institutionalized and affect lives, cooperation on broader issues such as sustainable development could have the most potential for helping build wider cooperative relationships across the region

Read the full Policy Paper.