Green Social Capital in the Middle East: History
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The turn of the twentieth century marked the beginning of MENA’s reliance on oil as an export source. Since 1918, oil has become the most prominent and influential natural resource that drives the whole economy of the Middle East. Alan Richards and John Waterbury highlight that the Middle East throughout history has been centre stage in global politics and has been endlessly fought over due to its strategic importance and significant geopolitical resources. The economic reliance that MENA has upon oil is unprecedented as oil accounts for the vast majority of total exports in half of the oil-exporting economies, which are vulnerable to changes in global demand that can affect exports and imports, as well as cause the price of oil to rise or decline radically. The Middle East has experienced various economic structures from socialist-based financial planning to attempting to open markets to the Washington consensus. However, neither path has been successful in diversifying and modernising the economies for most citizens. At present, the reliance on oil is still present and the economies of the Middle East could be threatened with long-term stagnation or financial recession due to heavy reliance on the resource.

  • green social capital
  • international political economy
  • development
  • renewable energy
  • climate change

1. Introduction

MENA’s economic reliance that emerged in the twentieth century through Western interest has created a dependency culture upon oil in the region. What appeared, therefore, was an international rivalry over the region’s area due to its strategic importance and oil exports, which would ultimately become the regions “curse and its blessing” [1] (p. 2). Nationalisation and socialist economic planning would arise during the 1970s with the aim of MENA political parties and economists retrieving their voices, identity and sovereignty through the market. Nevertheless, the macro imbalances pushed aside these policies in favour of the not-so-great Washington Consensus that favoured liberalisation and laissez-faire economics, but this too has become a doctrine of the past. The twenty-first century is now and should be led by the realities of the adverse effects of climate change and how the international community is going to adapt to these issues. The oil market is and will become even more increasingly unpopular given the dirty energy and emissions it creates. The MENA region must diversify their economy to meet the demands of their young, sizeable workforce to ensure sustainability and tackle the damaging ecological changes in their nations. The twenty-first century should also bring new requirements to the international community such as the need to adopt green energy and to stabilise global relations in an unpredictable climate.

2. Oil and Social Economy in the Middle East

The consensus amongst academics regarding the primary driver of the Persian Gulf economy is the natural resource of oil. Halliday argues that simply oil is the essential economic factor for the whole of the Middle East [2] (pp. 263–264). In agreement with Halliday, Richards and Waterbury emphasise the significance of oil in being detrimental to the economy and add that the political economy of the Middle East is dominated by three simple facts: little rain, much oil and increasingly many young people [1] (p. 44). Population growth is a factor that Richard and Waterbury analyse in more depth than Halliday who appears to concentrate more on the effects of globalisation on international relations between the Middle East and Western superpowers. The population expansion of the region is only second to the population growth of sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in most people in the MENA region being under twenty years old and based in cities [1] (p. 45).
The end of the oil boom resulted in questions emerging concerning economic centralisation and the levels of state intervention in the Middle East. The issue of privatisation has come to dominate the economic agenda as some economists view the policy as a pathway towards stimulating adjustment and development. After the fight for independence in many nations in the Middle East, centralised economics was preferred to protect the national industries from foreign interference. The measures of nationalisation in the public sector came to dominate all aspects of economic life and the private sector was reduced to a subsidiary role. The only exception to this was the private sector of agricultural land ownership. Ideology did play a role in determining the economy and creating a new identity post-independence, but central planning was selected for pragmatic reasons. This enabled governments to intervene in the production and distribution of goods to control strategic natural resources and in some cases to cover the absence of a private sector willing to invest in industries.
Socialist economic planning was thought to have transformed and modernised the Middle Eastern economies, but performance resulted in deficits and low return on capital investment. Therefore, privatisation became the force to save the economy from oil shocks and declines in the price of export commodities. The international community’s answer to help implement neo-liberal free market values was the economist John Williamson’s term called the “Washington Consensus” [1] (p. 228). It was a response to the macro imbalances associated with state-led growth prominent in Middle Eastern economies. The answer to the problem would be to provide macroeconomic stability through greater openness to international trade, privatisation of state-owned enterprises, and policies to reduce the role of the state. Richards and Waterbury identify that two great games dominate economic relations: the game of international relations and the political economy of development [1]. Following 9/11, the Washington Consensus was used as a method to promote economic prosperity in the hope of easing tensions concerning the United States and the Middle East. However, the Washington Consensus did almost nothing to encourage growth in the MENA region. The countries that grew significantly were the East “Asian Tigers” and China, the latter of which adopted market-Leninism instead of neo-liberal economics.
The ideas of the authors explored above and the intrinsically close relationship between oil and the economy clarify how the political, economic and social realities of MENA have evolved throughout recent history. However, the economics of oil is now becoming a concept of the past and the reality of environmental change is growing in significance on the international political agenda. However, what is needed now is a new perspective on MENA that focuses on the adverse effects of climate change in the region as well as promoting sustainable economic growth through a new emerging market of renewable energy. Green social capital is a very new concept, let alone when concerning MENA economics, but there is great room for innovation in MENA given the large population, growing levels of educated graduates and of course the growing alarm of ecological damages to researchers global system that need immediate attention.
Postcolonial perspectives are also useful when analysing climate change and how it effects the most vulnerable and impoverished in society because it highlights how western dominance and monopolization through the earth’s natural resources has caused the impoverishment of the Global South’s limited access to human necessities. The influential literature provided by the leading scholars of this school—Dipesh Chakrabarty and Homi K. Bhabha—is once again important when understanding MENA’s fight against the adverse effects of climate change. Bhabha argues that capitalism through industrial development created a subaltern class, defined by Bhabha as “the stateless”, “migrant workers, minorities, asylum seekers, [and] refugees”, who are “undocumented” beings [3][4]. In addition, the subaltern class become “neither insiders or outsiders” of the international community. This is definitely applicable to the experiences of the climate-displaced people explored in chapter one, who have no legal representation through the 1951 Refugee Convention that does not define a refugee as one who is fleeing unliveable regions. The work conducted by these academics has influenced my interpretation of climate change in the MENA region and has driven my thought of decolonizing climate change through green social capital designed to fit around the demands and needs of MENA.
The work of John Wennersten and Denise Robbins, both respected environmental historians, Rising Tides has been influential in recent climate change and human experience analysis [5]. The chapter dedicated to MENA’s experience with adverse environmental effects provided great direction for further study. The intelligence of connecting the Syrian Crisis to climate change provided a lot of the basis for this dissertation as the situation clearly demonstrates the brutal reality of unliveable regions, water scarcity, conflict, war and persecution. The Arab Spring and Climate Change: A Climate and Security Correlations Series, published by the Center for American Progress and the Climate for Climate Security, has also provided useful journal entries on the relationship between the Syrian Civil War, the Arab Spring, climate change and the case for green capital. The understanding and advocacy for green capital by some authors has provided this with some groundwork which was initially difficult to find.

3. Climate Change: The Cause of Conflict, Climate-Displaced People and Regional Rivalry in the Middle East and North Africa

Environmental and climate refugees are vulnerable individuals and communities who are forced to flee their homes due to extreme environmental changes that may have developed gradually over time or abruptly emerged [6] (p. 4). Finding refuge from adverse climate change effects targets mostly the world’s poorest located in the global south and has displaced millions of people, with a large percent of people forced to leave unliveable regions in MENA [7]. As statistics currently stand it is estimated that ten to twenty percent of current migration from MENA has been caused by climate change, particularly drought and water scarcity and that weather-related disasters across the globe in 2015 forced twice as many people from their homes as conflict and violence [8] (pp. 12–15). Despite the growing numbers of displacement and migration due to climate change in MENA, an area that demands immediate scrutiny remains underexplored with very little critical analysis. Therefore, a coherent framework and terminology on this issue are required to understand the interconnectedness of climate change, water scarcity, poverty, war and violence that ultimately determines individual and community decisions to migrate.
Population increase, a dramatic rise in sea levels and climate change will have significant ramifications for employment and coastal communities that rely on trade, particularly in the coastal cities of Alexandria, Benghazi and Algiers, where sixty percent of the population and ninety percent of businesses are located [8] (p. 24). The World Bank has recognised the seriousness of adverse climate and expects around one hundred million people at risk in coastal cities across MENA by 2030, up from sixty million in 2010 [9]. Care highlights one study that predicts that a sea level rise of 0.3 m would flood thirty per cent of metropolitan Alexandria by 2025, forcing around 545,000 people to migrate with a loss of an estimated 705,000 jobs [8] (p. 24). Subsequently, climate-displaced people are influenced by the instability of the environment but also by economic, social, political and demographic issues that affect decisions, and it is almost impossible to be sure if one of these concepts is a primary driver in migration or if climate change has single handily aggravated other drivers.
With a global temperature increase of 1.5 C moderate drought is set to affect the region for half a month each year, with heat weaves expected to significantly increase with twenty-five to thirty-three percent of the suffering from unusual heat waves. Even worse, two to five percent of the region is expected to suffer unprecedented heat extremes. Increasing temperatures will have a dramatic effect on how many days these unbearable heatwaves will accelerate for, with Riyadh, Saudi Arabia expected to experience eighty-one days of extreme heat, Tehran, Iran with forty-eight days and Iraq with forty-seven days. Mitigating opportunities must not be ignored because the harsh reality is that those intensifying heat temperatures that may rise by another 0.5 C will create what Care call a “new hostile reality”. In MENA, by the summer of 2050 temperatures in some regions will not fall below thirty degrees at night and during the day are projected to reach forty-six degrees [8] (pp. 24–32). By 2100, temperatures could reach to fifty degrees during extreme summer heatwaves, with Pal and Eltahir stating that record-breaking temperatures in Mecca during this period could exceed fifty-five degrees [10]. If the current trends of temperature increase continue without mitigation or adaption conflict and vast numbers of climate-displaced people will be a situation which the international community has unprecedentedly never dealt with before. New ideas are in dire need to be generated to save MENA from the shocking statistics explored above. Entrepreneurial enterprises in renewable energy through the creation of a new green workforce could be a realistic and practical way of addressing climate change and promoting the economy especially for climate-displaced people who were forced to abdicate from their livelihoods and homes.

4. Terminology Surrounding Climate-Displaced People

Environmental and climate refugees are recognised by the international community including bodies such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but international law and the 1951 Refugee convention does not provide climate refugees with the same legal protection as refugees who are fleeing their homes as a result of war, persecution or conflict [11]. Individuals and communities who are escaping their country for any other reason, even due to extreme climate and absolute poverty, are referred to as migrants, which Friends of the Earth argue that the term migrant undermines the urgency of any other form of refuge to a “voluntary” level. Furthermore, the term “climate refugee”, according to Null and Risi from the Wilson Centre and the Mixed Migration Platform, can be misleading concerning what rights those escaping climate changes have [12] (pp. 4–5).
What appears to be the causes of individuals and communities fleeing vulnerable regions in MENA is a combination of climate, war and persecution, poverty and water scarcity and the term climate refugee does not highlight the extent of the interconnectedness of these issues that frequently attack MENA. However, removing the term “climate refugee”, according to Francois Gemenne, de-politicises the reality and experiences of those most vulnerable escaping environmental persecution and that in the past migration has been used as a commodity to victimise climate-displaced people instead of using migration as a progressive adaptation strategy that can be incorporated into environmental policy [13] (pp. 70–71). However, it is difficult to describe many climate-displaced peoples experiences of migration as optimistic and given the documentation of climate-displaced people, incorporating this into policy would be challenging.
Subsequently, this will refer to individuals and communities migrating from unliveable regions in MENA as climate-displaced people as the term provides a more precise definition of the seriousness of their displacement and suffering. One factor rarely triggers conflict, violence, war and persecution. However, Schleussner et al. highlight that those adverse outcomes of climate change including drought and water scarcity can exacerbate already heated tensions across vulnerable regions [14] (pp. 9216–9217). Also, the desertification and rising numbers of dangerous dust storms heighten these tensions further. As a result, the fragile and weak economic and political structure which dominates many of the MENA states may not be able to respond effectively to adverse climate change effects.

5. The Demand for Green Growth

The urgency for environmental action and the demand for employment, democracy and civil liberties through the Arab Spring has created significant economic tests in MENA. David Michel and Mona Yacoubian highlight that the nations in MENA must produce tens of millions of job opportunities over the next decade to meet the demands of the young revolutionary growing labour force [15] (p. 41). However, it is crucial that the economic developments in the region go hand-in-hand with the adaptation process needed to combat water scarcity, food security and increasing urbanisation. If the economies of MENA do not produce a coherent economic plan with climate change in mind, productivity, public health, people’s livelihoods and welfare for citizens will be under threat [16].
The growing market of a green enterprise can help to elevate some of these concerns through the creation of new employment sectors while tackling the complicated issues that emerge with the changing ecological system of the region. Green finance through financial products and services such as bonds in green projects, loans and insurance can provide public-welling and social equity. Hallegatte states that global interest in green energy finance is increasing rapidly, for example, in 2015, investments in green energy reached an all-time high of $298 billion [17]. Also, green-growth policies and capital can help to make the process of economic growth more environmentally friendly without slowing the process down [17]. Nevertheless, green finance must take into consideration the realities and experiences of developing economies in MENA. Ban-Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, stated that global investments in green energy need to increase from roughly $400 billion at present to $1–1.25 trillion, out of which $40–100 billion annually is required to achieve universal electricity [16]. Forbes identifies that these figures leave developing economies like nations in MENA in a difficult situation as some regions are facing hardships concerning infrastructure, clean water and energy; however, green energy is expected to fill this gap by aligning financial systems with the monetary needs required to support a sustainable, low-carbon economy [15] (p. 48).

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/su14073756

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