Adaption to climate change must consider the local
Corruption, lacking climate politics, and an unjust resource division are all factors that obstruct adaption to climate change in the Middle East and North Africa. Those are some of the conclusions from three policy roundtables on climate change and environmental justice held at the University of Gothenburg.
The UN climate summit is currently taking place in Egypt. Decisionmakers from all over the world have gathered to discuss climate change as a global challenge and examine the progress made so far.
"The global perspective is important, but there is also a need for a greater understanding of how people are affected locally", says political scientist Thabit Jacob.
Thabit works for the Governance and Local Development Institute (GLD) at the University of Gothenburg. At GLD, they research governance and local development issues in the Middle East and North Africa region, or the “MENA,” as it is usually called. The MENA region is one of the most climate-stressed regions in the world. MENA hosts some of the poorest countries, and the majority of the population is dependent on agriculture, which harvests have been demolished by drought and water scarcity, high fluctuations in daily temperatures, shortened seasons, and heavy sandstorms.
Agriculture is also about identity
Before COP27, the GLD institute arranged three policy roundtables to discuss adaption and climate justice in the MENA region. Environmental scientists and climate- and agricultural experts from research centres in Sudan, Oman, Lebanon, and Palestine participated as panellists at the roundtables.
"Since the climate summit takes place in Egypt this year, there is an expectation among the countries in the region that their issues will be prioritized", says Thabit Jacob.
In Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, the entire agriculture sector is threatened by water shortages as desertification spreads.
"People are at risk of starvation. But it’s not only the food supply that is at risk. In many places, the dignity of people is tied to land. If you lose your land, you lose your dignity and everything", says research associate Ghadeer Hussein.
Corruption hinders climate adaption
Adaption is one of COP27’s goals. The goal implies that the most climate-stressed countries should have enough resources to adapt to the new circumstances. According to Thabit Jacob, decisionmakers need to include local contexts within each country to achieve solutions that are the least harmful for the individual. For example, by allocating resources for more sustainable farming.
Economic support is crucial for people living in poverty. However, the MENA region’s farming population is rarely reached by the financial support that governments assign to different adaptation actions.
"Corruption is a widespread issue. Cash subsidies and cooperatives often support followers of politicians instead of the farmers most in need of assistance. We also see that regional climate politics tend to favour oil-producing countries. For example, Oman has no policies to protect nature and the environment from industrial emissions. Instead, industry and lobby groups decide what is worth protecting and not", Thabit Jacob explains.
Although, some communities across the Middle East and North African countries are taking the initiative to adapt locally.
"I think there is this tendency to portray these local communities as victims. Like people just on the receiving end of the impact of climate change, but actually, they are building their own resilience. And I think some of these local success stories need to be highlighted, like farmers in Sudan using new crop varieties resistant to drought and saline conditions. They are also moving away from water-intensive farming methods. And in Lebanon, farmers join cooperatives to offer peer-to-peer support during difficult harvests. As well as integrating green construction and rooftop harvesting in the urban areas of Lebanon", says Thabit Jacob.
No political guidelines
Climate change also affects people differently depending on social class, ethnicity, age, and gender. And that the poorest are hit hardest is long known.
"Vulnerability and marginalization are at the heart of climate justice. Yet, during the roundtables, it was brought up that several of the region’s countries don’t have enough policies to deal with climate relating local vulnerabilities. Neither do enough policies exists for how climate change affects different groups differently. That is why it is so important to highlight the local perspective, to understand how people’s daily lives are affected", says Ghadeer Hussein.
On the ground, civil society organizations and NGOs have direct ties to donors and are responsible for implementation. However, they are not always representative of all community members, and some panellists are critical of whether the organizations do what they are supposed to.
"We discussed whether the aid really reach the ones in need or if they end up in the pockets of civil society organizations. If that is the case, it is impossible to implement just climate politics", says Ghadeer Hussein.
Oil producers should take more responsibility
During the policy roundtables, the researchers also talked about distribution justice. Poorer, non-oil-producing countries are most affected by the negative effects of climate change while, at the same time, they have the least resources to adapt.
"The imbalance between oil-producing countries and non-oil-producing countries is too big. Non-oil-producing countries rely on OPEC countries for energy and aid, which puts them in a dependency situation where they lack the power to push climate reforms. Moreover, the oil-producers mainly export to western, industrialized countries, which signals yet another global power imbalance", says Thabit Jacob.
Text: Sara Bjurenvall
- The Governance and Local Development Institute (GLD)
- Policy brief: Agriculture and Local Adaptation to Climate Change in the MENA (pdf), with Full Policy Roubtable, Recorded via Zoom and published via YouTube.