Water, Energy, and Climate Change in the Gulf
CIRS Newsletter

CIRS organized a panel presentation on the is­sues of
“Water, Energy, and Climate Change in the Gulf.” The panel, chaired by the Interim Dean of
GU-Q Mehran Kamrava, was made up of Pro­fessor Tim Beach of the Georgetown University,
Professor Sharif Elmusa of the Georgetown Uni­versity School of Foreign Service
in Qatar, and Mari Luomi, a
researcher at The Finnish Institute for International Affairs and a PhD
candidate at Durham
University. All three
experts approached the panel topics from their unique disciplinary perspectives
of geoscience, environmental poli­tics, and political science respectively.

Tim Beach gave the first presentation in which he
illustrated the state of the world’s bio­diversity in the current ecological
climate and how its degradation relates directly to issues of diminished
resources and, ultimately, to issues of human rights. He argued that “the world
and the Gulf are faced with solving two ends in the equation of water.” One
aspect of the politics of water is to maintain ecosystems and the other is to
provide adequate amounts of water for direct human needs and uses. Currently,
with increases in global population numbers and temperature levels, there is a
water deficit in many parts of the world. Beach maintained that “in the last
hundred years or so, about half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared.”

Currently, “wetlands cover 6% of the world, but provide a
disproportionate amount of the ecosystem services to humanity and form hotspots
for biodiversity” as they have a high net primary productivity, Beach said.
“However,” he noted, “wetlands face continuous threats,” and there are many
areas of disappearing wetlands around the globe due to human agricultural and
farming projects as well climate change effects. Beach argued that wetlands,
marshes, and man­groves are some of the most important areas for ecosystem
services such as fish, wildlife, and soil habitats. Critically, from an
environmental eco­nomic perspective, apart from being habitats for endangered
species and spawning grounds for fishing industries, Beach explained that “wet­lands
are natural water quality improvers” and so, in the long run, their worth per
hectare is far greater than prime farmland. As such, “wetlands are natural
carbon sequestration areas” that need proper maintenance for their full
potential to be activated.

As a final thought, Beach argued that water is a basic human
right that needs to be pro­tected through United Nations declarations and
supported through development programs in the impoverished areas of the world.
Human interactions with wetlands do not have to be degrading, but it is
possible to learn from vari­ous tribes in South America
who have a sym­biotic and long-term sustainable relationship with these areas.

Sharif Elmusa gave the second presentation on the subject of
“debating water and oil wars” in the Middle East.
He argued that water wars, although long predicted, have not come to pass, but
what we have instead are wars over oil. The reason for this, he argued, is
because water is of regional significance, it is not a resource sold on the
world market. The primary reason there is international political interest in
the dearth of water is that it could lead to the disruption of oil supplies.

Countries with valuable resources – ones that can be
appropriated and sold on the world market – are more likely to suffer violent
con­flict than countries that do not, and oil qualifies as one of these finite
and highly sought-after resources. Elmusa explained that these resourc­es do
not only underlie armed conflicts, but help in the prolongation and
intensification of existing ones; “you cannot understand what is happening in
Iraq today, without understand­ing the role of oil in the civil war that is
taking place,” he said.

In this regard, Elmusa, quoting Gary Wills, said that the United States
has had two long-standing and active interests in the Gulf area and its fossil
fuels. One goal “is to guarantee the secure supply of oil to the industrialized
countries, and the second is to prevent any hos­tile power from acquiring
political or military control over those resources.” Historically, “any attempt
by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region was regarded as
an as­sault on the vital interests of the United States of America,” he

This entrenched mindset was translated into the two
American-led wars involving Iraq.
While 9/11 may have triggered the 2003 war, as some have claimed, it would not
have hap­pened without the prior fixation on “securing” the oil supply from the

Elmusa noted that although “water is scarce and is going to
become even scarcer because of rapid population growth, urbanization, and
global warming,” he speculated further on why wars were fought over oil rather
than water. Water, he argued, flows across countries, but oil does not. To get
oil, you must go to the source.

If, however, a war was to be waged over wa­ter, it would
happen among the downstream Arab states, the reason being their dependence on
the geography and the distribution of power in each basin. Syria, for instance, cannot go to war with Turkey over the Euphrates
River be­cause Turkey is much
stronger militarily and be­cause taking over the origins of this watercourse
would entail domination over millions of Kurds. However, Syria and Iraq
could find themselves engaged in military confrontation if Turkey does not
release enough water for the two states. The same could happen in the Nile
basin between Egypt and Sudan, because Egypt
cannot proj­ect its military away from its immediate borders to Ethiopia, the source of the bulk of the Nile’s flow. But this, he said, depends on the unknown
future of Sudan

In conclusion, Elmusa explained that avoiding water or oil
wars in the future requires that we stop thinking of these wars as political
possibilities, and begin thinking innovatively of viable alternatives.

The third and final speaker, Mari Luomi, presented a
political science perspective of the pressures and potential sources of threat
that climate change poses to the Gulf monarchies. She argued that “cli­mate
change itself is envisaged to have dif­ferent kinds of nega­tive consequences
that could potentially be destabilizing for the countries of the Middle East.” Although this was the case, Luomi warned
that discussing cli­mate change within a strict security framework could lead
to emphasizing adaptation measures over mitigation as well as shifting approaches
to the problem from multilateralism to unilat­eralism and responsibility from
the individual to the state. She argued that “the six Gulf Co­operation Council
states, particularly the four OPEC member states – Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait,
the UAE, and Qatar
– perceive climate change mitigation as a threat to their economies.”

The negative consequences of climate change affect the
physical, social, and eco­nomic aspects of any country or region. The physical
consequences include temperature and sea-level rise, changes in precipitation,
and intensity and frequency of natural disas­ters. Social consequences include
problems with food and water security, migration, and instability and, finally,
in terms of economic consequences, “the cost of delayed action to fight climate
change will be higher than that of prompt action,” she said.

With regards to the Middle East,
Luomi explained that there is a dearth of historic data recording past weather
patterns and climate change effects, but because of the region’s water scarcity,
and pockets of political instability, it is considered to be one of the most
vulnerable ar­eas in the world. However, in the international negotiations on
climate change, the OPEC countries have concentrated in emphasizing the
potential negative consequences that policies and actions of the industrialized
countries to mitigate climate change might have on their oil revenue in the
long term.

In terms of responsibility for alleviating climate change,
she noted that “although it is indisputably the industrialized states that bear
the responsibility for climate change, and should take the lead in fighting it,
developing states will have to understand that the battle can only be won if
everyone participates ac­cording to their capabilities.”

Concluding the final presentation, Luomi explained that
climate change presents the Gulf countries with opportunities that could be
actively exploited. She argued that “there are tangible finan­cial benefits to
be gained through decarbonizing Qatar’s
energy economy by exploring energy effi­ciency, solar energy, and carbon
trade.” To this ef­fect, new ministries for the environment are be­ing set up
in many Gulf states
that try to project new images of themselves as an energy-efficient and
sustainable countries by investing in a variety of alternative energy projects
and initiatives.

Finally, because there is a regional leader­ship vacuum in
the Gulf and in the Middle East, “Qatar should, among other things,
seek to develop technologies and solutions related to natural gas, which is
widely seen as a transitional fuel,” Luomi said.