Press Release

RELEASE: The Arab Spring and Climate Change

For the full volume, click here.

Washington, D.C. — Today the Center for American Progress, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Climate and Security convened a discussion with Thomas Friedman and Anne-Marie Slaughter on a newly released collection of essays titled “The Arab Spring and Climate Change.” While the Arab Spring was not caused by climate change, the five essays contained in this volume argue that climate change is an additional factor that adds stress to further ignite a volatile mix of underlying causes. In this volume, connections are made between climate events and food supply fluctuations—in the Middle East and elsewhere—which may have contributed to the Arab Spring, and recommendations for turning these risk factors into sustainable growth and job-creating opportunities are offered.

The Middle East and North Africa region is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in food supply and prices. With little arable land and scarce water supplies, it imports more food per capita than any other region, accounting for 25 percent to 50 percent of consumption in some Middle East and North African nations. The first essay in the volume, “Chinese Drought, Wheat, and the Egyptian Uprising” by Troy Sternberg, examines the link between China’s reduced global wheat supply, a consequence of their once-in-a-century winter drought, and skyrocketing bread prices in Egypt at a time when the country experienced protests that focused on poverty, bread, and political discontent. The subsequent essay, “Global Warming and the Arab Spring” by Sarah Johnstone and Jeffrey Mazo, similarly cites the spike in global food prices and points to a spring 2010 record rainfall in Canada—the world’s second-largest wheat exporter—and bushfires across Russia—the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter.

“Climate Change Before and After the Arab Awakening: The Cases of Libya and Syria” by Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell looks at the role that climate change and subsequent environmental stresses may have had on the political and social unrest in Libya and Syria, and highlights the possibility of action on climate change and water security as a tool for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Creative strategies to address economic and environmental pressures are outlined in “Sustaining the Spring: Economic Challenges, Environmental Risks, and Green Growth” by David Michel and Mona Yacoubian as a way to simultaneously unlock sizable potential for economic growth and mitigate mounting risks to essential ecosystems and natural resources.

Longstanding political grievances, ethnic and sectarian mistrust, and economic marginalization were driving forces during the upheaval of the Arab Spring. Climate change contributed to high food prices and shortages, however, which were a central grievance. As argued in “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict” by Michael Werz and Max Hoffman, given the shape of the challenges, a new approach is necessary. The United States, its allies, and the global community should focus on human security, livelihood protection, and sustainable development. Engaging on these issues is a cost-effective and proactive way to reduce the risk of conflict and improve global security for all.

For the full volume, click here.

To speak with CAP co-authors, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected]. To reach The Center for Climate and Security, please contact Francesco Femia at 571.263.5691 or [email protected]. For the Stimson Center, please contact David Egner at 202.478.3413 or [email protected].