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Environmental Politics in the Middle East

Working Group Summary Report Hydrocarbons, petroleum, and, increasingly, natural gas have dominated discussions of the Middle East’s natural resources—particularly in terms of their impact on domestic, regional, and international politics—so that little concerted attention has been paid to the broader environmental parameters of the region. The Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) launched this research initiative to explore the geopolitics of natural resources in an attempt to expand the focus to include the region’s many other natural resources, such as land, air, water, and food, but also to study the regional environment as a whole, rather than merely the resources extracted from it. As such, these studies adopt a holistic approach, attempting to integrate the study of the region’s diverse natural resources and environmental constraints, and their various impacts on geopolitics. Natural resources have shaped the Middle East more than most other regions, and hydrocarbon revenues have been especially crucial to powering the rapid state-building efforts underway in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The discovery of oil increased external powers’ interest in the region in the aftermath of the Second World War, exemplified by a 1945 US Department of State memorandum describing Saudi Arabian oil as the world’s greatest source of strategic power. This intense historical interest in oil and gas, however, has served to obscure the study of the diverse range of natural resources present in the Middle East, which is not to say that many of these—for example, the quality of air in the modernizing Gulf states—can be completely isolated from the legacy of hydrocarbon extraction. This multidisciplinary project accounts for a broad range of political, economic, social, and geographic variables. Environmental history, an emerging field that has been sparingly applied to the Middle East region, forms one avenue of investigation through which to explore the influence of the region’s environment on its people, states, and economies over the long term. Other topics included in the research examine human relationships to the land and country case studies related to contemporary pastoralism; the impact of natural resources on the processes of state formation; and the relationship between natural resources on economic diversification, among other pertinent issues. The research initiative accounts for broader concerns about the depletion of natural resources across the planet, and places emphasis on the environment and environmentalism in the Middle East, which is a severely understudied topic. CIRS launched this research initiative to explore the geopolitics of natural resources in the Middle East in an attempt to expand the focus to include the region’s many natural resources other than natural gas, such as land, air, water, and food, but also to study the regional environment as a whole, rather than merely the resources extracted from it. Some of the issues under investigation include a focus on water scarcity, which is a global issue but one that is particularly acute in the Middle East; its impacts are examined through a case study on Yemen. Food security is studied in the case of Syria, which before the civil war began, in 2011, was one of the region’s notable food exporters. Aside from acute food shortages within Syria, the conflict has had ripple effects on the region and has led to rising food prices in neighboring states, such as Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. This summary report provides synopses of the original chapters published in Environmental Politics in the Middle East: Local Struggles, Global Connections (Oxford University Press/Hurst 2018), edited by Harry Verhoeven. to read full report please click on Environmental_Politics_in_the_Middle_Eas


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