John Waterbury, 2013.

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Executive Summary
The policy process in the Arab world is poorly understood. That observation is even more pertinent
with respect to policies aimed at adapting to climate change. Nonetheless, we can draw
lessons from the literature on policy-making with respect to economic reform in the Arab world
that bear upon the challenges political leaders face in undertaking adaptive measures to climate
change. In short, the fiscal crises of the 1980s did elicit significant policy responses but more as
a result of external pressures than of concern for domestic constituencies. That is the case as well
with policies aimed at addressing climate-related challenges.

The Arab region has been characterized by pervasive authoritarianism with weak institutions
of political accountability. That could mean that political leaders are relatively unconstrained in
taking bold policy initiatives or relatively unmotivated to take risks. The evidence over the past
decades indicates that inaction rather than action was the norm.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 may have begun to alter this picture of predominant authoritarianism.
It is to be hoped that greater accountability in some Arab states may bring environmental
issues more squarely to the front of the policy agenda. But we are in very early days, and even
in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia where greater accountability of political leadership may
become manifest, dealing with short-term economic crises may push environmental concerns to
the near-bottom of the list of policy priorities. What could move them up the list are environmental
crises, international pressure, and financial inducements and investments. These incentives will
prove operative regardless of political regime.

I assess the influence of conventional sources of pressure on the policy process: lobbies, interest
groups, public opinion, economic crisis, and the military-security apparatus. All are present and
sometimes active in the Arab world. With the exception of the security apparatus, they have been
ignored with impunity in the past. Working in favor of the environmental agenda are interlocking,
transnational networks of experts, sometimes with significant financial resources, which keep
environmental issues in full policy view.

Despite the apparent urgency of the challenges facing the Arab region as a result of climate change,
inaction is a viable political strategy and, in ways I attempt to specify, the most likely one. The
Arab and MENA regions have long suffered from symptoms we associate with global warming.
For that reason there are already in place an array of policy responses, legal infrastructure, as well
as competent experts who understand the problems.

What is recommended, therefore, is to build on existing policies and expertise. Radical departures
are not warranted nor feasible. Building on what exists avoids taking on the issues of authoritarianism
and lack of accountability, as political leaders will be asked only to continue what they have
been doing, but to do it better. If the Arab uprisings enhance accountability in specific countries,
so much the better.

I identify a number of policies that have been well established and call for a careful regional
assessment of their successes and failures with a view to improving them going forward. I also
identify a number of policies that exist in embryonic form and need strengthening. Finally, I
identify policies that are quite new, such as developing renewable energy sources, but which can
be developed on the strength of existing expertise and experience. The guiding principle is to do
what should be done even if there were no climate change.

It is often observed that mitigation is about energy and adaptation is about water. In the Arab
region adaptation will be played out to a large extent in the agricultural sector where most of
the water is used. Adaptation is also quintessentially political because it entails a range of social
welfare effects. Typically a fifth or more of total employment is in the agricultural sector and the
bulk of poverty is concentrated there. Political leaders may find themselves asking the poorest in
their societies to bear the costs of adaptation.

It is important to remember that mitigation necessarily entails collective action if it is to have significant
effects. By contrast adaptation can be undertaken at the national or even the regional level
unilaterally and still have positive results. This is important for the Arab world because adaptation
will be the dominant response to the challenges of global warming. Some adaptation challenges in
the Arab world can only be met regionally, but the precedents for regional cooperation and trade
are not encouraging. It is recommended that regional efforts be sharply focused, especially on sea
level rise or desertification. Sharp focus may simplify cooperation and coordination.
Because the MENA and Arab regions are not significant contributors to GHG emissions, and
because efforts they undertake to adapt to warming may be overwhelmed by the failure of the
main emitters to reduce their emissions, regional stakeholders will demand compensation for their
adaptation efforts. I believe that the costs of compensation in the Arab world will not be prohibitive.
By the same token I cannot guarantee that compensation will always be put to the purposes
for which it is intended.