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Source: Small Island Developing States

The 22 countries of the Arab region already suffer from aridity, recurrent drought, water scarcity, and natural disasters. Climate change is expected to exacerbate such existing challenges and put additional social, environmental and economic pressures on different sectors such as water, agriculture, infrastructure, aquaculture, health and tourism.

Given the shared geographies and natural resources, the impacts of climate change are likely to be felt across borders, including those on shared water aquifers and marine environments, food security and migration. Addressing climate challenges should therefore not only be restricted to domestic action but also involve transboundary responses. Enhancing regional governance and cooperation in the Arab region will not only support implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change but also the UN SDG 13 (climate action).

This realization was the starting point for a recent study we undertook that looks at the status of existing climate change cooperation and governance efforts in the Arab region and explores potential for further cooperation. In this article, we share the main findings of this study, published by the Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

First, we identify areas in which regional governance and cooperation can be particularly advantageous, and analyze existing dynamics and activities in each:

Policy coordination and agenda setting: The Arab region is bound together by a common language, culture and, to an extent, similar political systems and economic endowments. It also suffers from conflicts with transboundary causes and implications. The Arab region has in place the outline of an institutional architecture conducive to regional climate governance: the League of Arab States provides an umbrella for both high-level agenda setting and technical cooperation; the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) offers support to activities in several areas; and a number of other regional organizations have been undertaking programmatic activities.

Research and sharing of knowledge and information: Most of the research on climate change in the region has been conducted on an ad hoc basis and by separate regional organizations such as ESCWA and the UN Development Programme’s Regional Bureau for Arab States (UNDP-RBAS), which have so far delivered the most substantive contributions both in the area of adaptation and resilience.

Technical assistance and capacity building and leveraging of finance: Despite the significant differences in income and development across Arab countries, there are important synergies in various areas where the wealthier and more stable countries stand to benefit from supporting the poorer and less stable ones – and vice versa. Regional institutions, too, can play an important role in capacity building and leveraging climate change. ESCWA, UNDP-RBAS and the League of Arab States have been active in building capacity, but climate finance-related efforts are still thin and fragmented.

Incorporating non-state actors: Regional-level institutions and initiatives can facilitate horizontal interactions among specialized agencies and stakeholder groups and support multi-stakeholder engagement on regional-level policy issues. Regional governance and cooperation can also help give a voice to weaker actors in the regional system, both States and non-state actors. At present, regional cooperation and networks of Arab non-state actors is overall weak and fragmented, which hinders efforts to engage them in activities at the regional level.

Despite these efforts and recent positive developments, the Arab region does not yet have in place any major action-oriented climate initiatives or partnerships. We identify several weaknesses in the existing regional and sub-regional arrangements that have contributed to delaying action on climate change, including:

  • A legacy of weak regional institutions: Compared to some other regions, due to the region’s legacy of conflict and ever-shifting alliances, regional organizations such as the League of Arab States do not exercise as strong a coordinating role in regional policies and initiatives. This same legacy has also pushed cooperation on environmental and climate change issues down on the policy agenda.
  • Absence of clear implementation targets, defined roles and follow-up mechanisms: While a sufficient backbone of regional declarations and regulations is already in place, their translation into national policies and implementation is very weak.
  • Low levels of transparency and accountability of governance activities: Most regional and cross-regional organizations hold regular meetings to discuss climate-related issues. However, their membership and scope of activities are generally not well understood beyond a small group of high-level officials and technocrats. Information about regional governance activities is in general difficult to find and highly fragmented across the websites of various organizations.
  • Limited focus on mitigation: Given its high economic dependence on fossil fuels and its limited historical contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (2.5% of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1850, according to the World Resources Institute), the Arab Group’s general position in international climate negotiations has been that its contributions to global emissions reduction shall reflect the principle common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and the “special national circumstances” of its countries. This, however, has led to a prioritization of adaptation on the regional agenda and, consequently, most existing regional cooperative efforts are focused on adaptation.
  • A siloed approach both within and across institutions: In the League of Arab States’ architecture, the sectors most affected by climate change – water, food and energy – are dealt with by separate ministerial bodies. Cooperation is also weak among the two major UN regional organizations – UNDP and ESCWA. A siloed approach to climate change is also characteristic of national-level institutional settings in many Arab countries.

In our study, we conclude that Arab countries can take advantage of existing regional arrangements, but should work closely together to overcome the main aforementioned weaknesses, including by:

  • Enhancing sub-regional cooperation through strategic implementation initiatives;
  • Developing detailed regional action plans with clear targets and strategies, and defined roles for implementation, review and follow-up;
  • Adopting an integrated approach to climate change and the SDGs in regional governance;
  • Improving transparency on relevant regional governance activities and proceedings of meetings; and
  • Mobilizing Arab development finance institutions to provide sustained funding for regional-level scientific and technical assistance initiatives and implementing climate action.

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This article was written by Aisha Al-Sarihi, Research Associate, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, and Mari Luomi, Senior Research Fellow, Emirates Diplomatic Academy.

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