Climate diplomacy and the road to regional trust

Climate diplomacy and the road to regional trust

Climate diplomacy and the road to regional trust
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Reports suggest that Jordan, Turkey and the UAE have agreed to move ahead with Israel’s proposal forregional cooperation on tackling the effects of climate change, an issue that has become an integral part of the region’s recent diplomatic traffic.

The worsening environmental crises in the region are an opportunity for regional actors to advance their foreign policy goals by joining regional diplomatic efforts to combating climate change. Such cooperation on a common issue can prevent friction on other regional issues that these countries disagree on.

The next two years will be important for the Middle East, one of the regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Last year, several countries in the the region caught the world by surprise with plans to tackle climate change and protect the environment. Turkey ratified the Paris Agreement more than five years after signing it. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel announced a plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060. Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, also vowed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. For the Gulf countries, climate diplomacy is closely intertwined with economic development and their own national visions. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that regional leaders sought to play a greater role in climate cooperation and the shape of the new world economy.

Egypt will host this year’s COP27 climate conference, and the UAE will host COP28 next year — a clear indication that regional countries do not want to miss the train for climate action while they need to cooperate on common challenges. Turkey’s Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati will visit Egypt on June 1, the first visit by a Turkish finance minister in nine years. The meeting will be important before COP27. Turkey signed a deal on climate change during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the UAE in February. Jordan, the UAE and Israel agreed last year to cooperate on tackling climate change, signing an agreement to work on renewable energy and water desalination projects. Ankara’s jumping on the climate bandwagon shows that it is payingmore attention to climate issues as Turkey, like all other countries, faces the harsh reality of climate change.

The next two years will be important for the Middle East, one of the regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Sinem Cengiz

Turkey and Iran have been at odds recently over the water issue, which has also been a problem between Turkey and its other two neighbors, Syria and Iraq. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said lastweek that Turkey’s proposed construction of dams was “unacceptable,” and would “cause problems for our people in the country and the region.” The week before, in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart, he proposed a “joint water committee” to deal with climate change and water issues.

Water is a naturally scarce resource in this region and a potential source of conflict. Obviously,

without policy coordination each country in the region will have to face the adverse effects of climate change alone. This will not only lead to tensions between leaderships and society, but will also cause tensions between countries, probably neighbors.

While states that were once enemies may agree on climate solutions, the political and socio-economic realities of the region — continuing conflicts, sectarianism, increasing poverty and economic issues — raise questions about the sustainability of long-term cooperation. Moreover, Turkey, the UAE, Israel and others have been part of a multidimensional regional game in which the goals they seek might not be prevented by climate diplomacy.

So the real question is whether climate diplomacy can pave the way to more trust and peace-building. This will depend on how regional leaders shape their priorities.

  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
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