Saudi Arabia’s climate action can help defuse regional conflicts

Saudi Arabia’s climate action can help defuse regional conflicts

Saudi Arabia’s climate action can help defuse regional conflicts
FAO’s Dr. Abdulhakim Elwaer makes a presentation at an MGI workshop, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 19, 2022. (UN Photo)
Short Url

There is clear evidence linking severe climate conditions, such as drought, desertification and water scarcity, to civil wars and cross-border conflicts. Conversely, such conflicts make it difficult to carry out sustained efforts to mitigate against those conditions, fight climate change and reverse the devastating effects on development and livelihoods. The Sahel region and the Horn of Africa are two clear cases where those conditions have contributed to violence, economic hardship and famine, but the threat of environmentally driven conflicts is also growing in many other parts of the world.
The rising awareness of the need to combat climate change provides an opportunity to break that vicious cycle. Recent climate initiatives, such as Saudi Arabia’s Middle East Green Initiative, provide practical solutions to fight desertification, reclaim arable land and reverse climate change. In the process, those solutions could be mobilized to deal with conflicts and civil wars. Climate action could therefore serve as a tool of mediation by providing solutions that address some of the root causes of war and strife.
The UN, through its Department of Political Affairs and Peacebuilding, and the EU organized an important conference in Brussels earlier this month on the increasing role of regional organizations in mediating conflicts, including those related to climate conditions. While traditional mediation tools and principles, including those famously developed by the Harvard Negotiation Institute, remain relevant and useful, mediators nowadays need to take into consideration the real impact of climate conditions, including competition over land and water resources. Solutions to conflicts have to include solutions to the growing scarcity of natural resources.
Because it takes place over a long period of time, it is not easy to demonstrate a direct causal effect of climate change on conflicts or quantify it in the short run. However, climate change can be shown to prolong and worsen extreme weather conditions and, as such, indirectly affect conflicts. In addition, studies have shown that climate change can act as a threat multiplier, i.e., accentuating the effects of other more direct factors as an accelerant, a catalyst, a driver or an otherwise important factor in heightening tensions and prolonging conflicts.
Regardless of these distinctions, climate action can address both long-term climate challenges and short- and medium-term environmental degradation, helping to mediate conflicts and wars.
Climate action has the potential to break the vicious cycle between extreme weather conditions and climate changes on the one hand and conflict and strife on the other. It can instead create a virtuous cycle between restoring favorable environmental conditions and the de-escalation of conflicts.
At the Brussels meeting, I presented the Saudi Green Initiative as a new example of proactive methodology to reverse environmental damage that could also contribute to resolving conflicts rooted in land disputes and water scarcity.
The Middle East Green Initiative has put Saudi Arabia at the forefront of climate action in a region devastated by environmental degradation and conflicts feeding off each other, now accelerated by climate change. Across the Middle East and North Africa, rising temperatures are making extreme weather events, including droughts and water scarcity, worse. The annual economic loss due to dust storms in the region is estimated in the billions of dollars.
The initiative represents a regional effort led by Saudi Arabia to mitigate the impact of climate change on the Middle East and to collaborate to meet global climate targets. By increasing regional cooperation and creating the infrastructure needed to reduce emissions and protect the environment, it can help in the fight against long-term climate change and environmental damage. And by creating economic opportunities, it provides a useful tool to sort out some of the region’s existing conflicts and potential future disputes.
To accelerate the implementation of initiatives to achieve these goals, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced before a summit of heads of state in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022 that Saudi Arabia will establish and host a dedicated secretariat for the initiative and will allocate $2.5 billion to support its projects and governance. Before the November summit, a ministerial meeting in Riyadh in October had agreed to a framework to implement the initiative.
Other countries are invited to allocate similar funds for this initiative or parallel efforts. To ensure effective climate action, the initiative calls for an alliance to unify and support relevant stakeholders across the region to achieve their shared objectives.
One of those objectives is the planting of 50 billion trees across the Middle East — the equivalent of restoring 200 million hectares of degraded land. A fifth of those trees are planned to be planted in Saudi Arabia alone, with the remaining 40 billion hoped to be planted across the region in the coming decades.
Achieving this target will help to generate new employment opportunities and strengthen the resilience of remote communities. The trees will help stabilize soils and protect against desertification and dust and sand storms, while helping reduce global carbon levels by up to 2.5 percent.
As part of the initiative, regional centers are planned for carbon extraction, use and storage, for the sustainable development of fisheries, and for early storm warnings. There is also a regional drive to remove plastics from water bodies to improve their economic potential and an initiative for clean fuel solutions for cooking that could benefit 750 million people around the world when fully implemented.
As part of its initiative, Saudi Arabia has proposed the establishment of an independent nonprofit foundation to support its work and a regional investment fund for circular carbon economy technology solutions.

Climate action could serve as a tool of mediation by providing solutions that address some of the root causes of war and strife.

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

The Middle East Green Initiative is by far the largest climate change effort in the region. By pledging $2.5 billion of its own funds toward the initiative’s projects, Saudi Arabia is challenging others to do the same and join hands to reverse climate change, while in the process fixing the broken environment throughout the region. The agreed framework and the contemplated structures provide the foundations needed to meet the ambitious goals.
When fully implemented, the initiative will create millions of jobs and economic opportunities throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These economic windfalls, combined with reclaiming arable land and improving access to water, have the potential to obviate many causes of conflict and strife in the region. The contemplated projects to be supported by the initiative can serve as useful instruments and force multipliers for peacemakers to mediate conflict and de-escalate wars.

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view