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We summarize what we assess as the past year's most important findings within climate change research: limits to adaptation, vulnerability hotspots, new threats coming from the climate–health nexus, climate (im)mobility and security, sustainable practices for land use and finance, losses and damages, inclusive societal climate decisions and ways to overcome structural barriers to accelerate mitigation and limit global warming to below 2°C.
We synthesize 10 topics within climate research where there have been significant advances or emerging scientific consensus since January 2021. The selection of these insights was based on input from an international open call with broad disciplinary scope. Findings concern: (1) new aspects of soft and hard limits to adaptation; (2) the emergence of regional vulnerability hotspots from climate impacts and human vulnerability; (3) new threats on the climate–health horizon – some involving plants and animals; (4) climate (im)mobility and the need for anticipatory action; (5) security and climate; (6) sustainable land management as a prerequisite to land-based solutions; (7) sustainable finance practices in the private sector and the need for political guidance; (8) the urgent planetary imperative for addressing losses and damages; (9) inclusive societal choices for climate-resilient development and (10) how to overcome barriers to accelerate mitigation and limit global warming to below 2°C.
Social media summary
Science has evidence on barriers to mitigation and how to overcome them to avoid limits to adaptation across multiple fields.
Chapter 1 establishes the Human–Environmental–Climate Security (HECS) framework and the context that links climate change and the Syrian conflict. Over the past few decades, a climate–conflict nexus has emerged drawing on narratives of collapse, and it has more recently been applied to the Syrian case. The author questions this line of reasoning given Syria’s history of climate, water, and food insecurity, arguing that government policies were at the heart of Syria’s vulnerabilities in the buildup to the uprising. To evaluate this central claim, the book introduces a new theoretical approach: the HECS framework. This introductory chapter shows that a new multidisciplinary framing is needed to examine the claim that climate change caused the conflict in Syria.
Chapter 2 explores the securitization of climate change by engaging with the scholarly debate around environmental and climate security, human security, water and food security, and climate-induced migration. The chapter traces the broadening of traditional security studies to include non-Western perspectives and a more diverse array of potential threats, including environmental degradation, poverty, water scarcity, and climate change. This theoretical review provides the foundation for the discussion of a potential climate-food insecurity and migration nexus. The author shows that the literature has not conclusively shown linkages between climate change, food insecurity, migration and conflict – either globally or in Syria – but that the HECS framework can be used to rigorously evaluate the interactions between these variables. A key theme of this chapter is the need to recognize and prioritize non-Western and marginalized perspectives and agency in environmental security and migration discourses.
Chapter 4 analyzes the political dimension of the HECS framework in the context of Syria, contending that ideology played a key role in creating Syria’s vulnerabilities in the lead-up to the uprising. The chapter focuses on two key ideologies – Ba’athism in the 1970s and neoliberalism in the early 2000s – and their economic and agricultural policies. The Ba’athist regime under Hafez al-Assad effectively securitized food production to justify agricultural reforms designed to maintain the support of rural agrarian constitutiencies. The author shows that these Ba’athist policies, which included intensive irrigation, food and fuel subsidies, and large-scale hydroprojects, led to unsustainable water and agricultural practices and poor governance. Finally, the chapter examines the liberalizing reforms under Bashar al-Assad, which culminated in a 2005 shift to a social market economy, and concludes that they increased the vulnerability.
Chapter 3 provides the historical and regional context of water security in Syria prior to the major droughts of the 1990s and 2000s. It traces the role of water in Syrian society throughout history, first by reviewing domestic water legislation and then by examining Syria’s international riparian relations in the Euphrates and Tigris basins. Water resources have been key to the development of civilizations in Syria for millennia because of its arid climate and dependence on agriculture; there is therefore a long history of the regulation of water. The chapter contends that Islamic law codified norms around water use that emphasized social justice and environmental protection, and these norms were included in modern Syrian water legislation centuries later. Concluding the chapter is an analysis of how the management of Syria’s main transboundary rivers has been impacted by its relations with its upstream riparian neighbor, Turkey.
Chapter 5 evaluates the claim that climate change caused the Syrian conflict and concludes that ultimately political factors were more important than a climate-induced drought in the buildup to the uprising. While some international scholars attribute the Syrian uprising to a climate-induced drought, the chapter finds that domestic sources point to a different conclusion: Political context was more significant than water scarcity from drought in worsening the human security of the vulnerable populations of Syria, paving the way for the Syrian uprising. This conclusion is based on an analysis of the sources of Syria’s environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities following the 2006–2010 drought and an earlier 1998–2001 drought, which reveals a vulnerability nexus in the northeast of Syria. The region was experiencing high levels of poverty and unemployment, high dependence on the agricultural sector and water scarcity, and poor soil quality from unsustainable practices. Together with increased corruption, these factors made the region disproportionately vulnerable to the impact of drought. Ultimately, the government’s poor water and agricultural policies pushed a weather event into a crisis, which could have been avoided or mitigated with sound policies.
Over the past few decades, a climate–conflict nexus has emerged which draws on narratives of collapse, and it has more recently been applied to the Syrian case. This book has questioned this line of reasoning given Syria’s history of climate, water, and food insecurity, arguing that government policies were at the heart of Syria’s vulnerabilities in the buildup to the uprising. Chapter 6 argues that the war in Syria has intensified the patterns of human insecurity outlined in the previous decade. Rather than building intrinsic resilience, the current postwar reconstruction phase is paving the way for regime resilience on the basis of structural inequalities while increasing the broader population’s vulnerability, particularly the refugee population. By centering the narrative on vulnerable populations, the HECS framework provides an in-depth analysis of the human-security impact of the environment, including poverty, unemployment, marginalization, and the failure of sustainable development. The HECS framework could, therefore, be helpful for others moving forward. It shows that policy choices matter for dealing with climate change. This understanding of climate vulnerability and resilience is a critical contribution to international policy debates on the need to optimize regional and local responses in the face of global warming.
Does climate change cause conflict? Did it cause the Syrian uprising? Some policymakers and academics have made this claim, but is it true? This study presents a new conceptual framework to evaluate this claim. Contributing to scholarship in the fields of critical security, environmental security, human security, and Arab politics, Marwa Daoudy prioritizes non-Western and marginalized perspectives to make sense of Syria's place in this international debate. Designing an innovative multidisciplinary framework and applying it to the Syrian case, Daoudy uses extensive field research and her own personal background as a Syrian scholar to present primary interviews with Syrian government officials and citizens, as well as the research of domestic Syrian experts, to provide a unique insight into Syria's environmental, economic and social vulnerabilities leading up to the 2011 uprising.
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