The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 25 Mar 2023 02:09:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 IPCC’s Conservative Nature masks true Scale of Action needed to avert Catastrophic Climate Change Sat, 25 Mar 2023 04:06:34 +0000 By Kevin Anderson, University of Manchester | –

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) synthesis report recently landed with an authoritative thump, giving voice to hundreds of scientists endeavouring to understand the unfolding calamity of global heating. What’s changed since the last one in 2014? Well, we’ve dumped an additional third of a trillion tonnes of CO₂ into the atmosphere, primarily from burning fossil fuels. While world leaders promised to cut global emissions, they have presided over a 5% rise.

The new report evokes a mild sense of urgency, calling on governments to mobilise finance to accelerate the uptake of green technology. But its conclusions are far removed from a direct interpretation of the IPCC’s own carbon budgets (the total amount of CO₂ scientists estimate can be put into the atmosphere for a given temperature rise).

The report claims that, to maintain a 50:50 chance of warming not exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, CO₂ emissions must be cut to “net-zero” by the “early 2050s”. Yet, updating the IPCC’s estimate of the 1.5°C carbon budget, from 2020 to 2023, and then drawing a straight line down from today’s total emissions to the point where all carbon emissions must cease, and without exceeding this budget, gives a zero CO₂ date of 2040.

Graph with lines
If emissions stay at their current levels, we will exhaust the 50% chance of 1.5°C in 9 years. If we begin to immediately cut emissions following the blue line, then to stay within the carbon budget for 50:50 chance of not exceeding 1.5°C we need zero global emissions by 2040. The vertical axis represents how much carbon is emitted each year – note the pandemic-related blip in 2020.
Kevin Anderson / Climate Uncensored, Author provided

A full description of the above chart is available here.

Given it will take a few years to organise the necessary political structures and technical deployment, the date for eliminating all CO₂ emissions to remain within 1.5°C of warming comes closer still, to around the mid-2030s. This is a strikingly different level of urgency to that evoked by the IPCC’s “early 2050s”. Similar smoke and mirrors lie behind the “early 2070s” timeline the IPCC conjures for limiting global heating to 2°C.

IPCC science embeds colonial attitudes

For over two decades, the IPCC’s work on cutting emissions (what experts call “mitigation”) has been dominated by a particular group of modellers who use huge computer models to simulate what may happen to emissions under different assumptions, primarily related to price and technology. I’ve raised concerns before about how this select cadre, almost entirely based in wealthy, high-emitting nations, has undermined the necessary scale of emission reductions.

In 2023, I can no longer tiptoe around the sensibilities of those overseeing this bias. In my view, they have been as damaging to the agenda of cutting emissions as Exxon was in misleading the public about climate science. The IPCC’s mitigation report in 2022 did include a chapter on “demand, services and social aspects” as a repository for alternative voices, but these were reduced to an inaudible whisper in the latest report’s influential summary for policymakers.

DW News: “UN: Without halving emissions by 2030 world faces warming of around 3°C | DW News”

The specialist modelling groups (referred to as Integrated Assessment Modelling, or IAMs) have successfully crowded out competing voices, reducing the task of mitigation to price-induced shifts in technology – some of the most important of which, like so-called “negative emissions technologies”, are barely out of the laboratory.

The IPCC offers many “scenarios” of future low-carbon energy systems and how we might get there from here. But as the work of academic Tejal Kanitkar and others has made clear, not only do these scenarios prefer speculative technology tomorrow over deeply challenging policies today (effectively a greenwashed business-as-usual), they also systematically embed colonial attitudes towards “developing nations”.

With few if any exceptions, they maintain current levels of inequality between developed and developing nations, with several scenarios actually increasing the levels of inequality. Granted, many IAM modellers strive to work objectively, but they do so within deeply subjective boundaries established and preserved by those leading such groups.

What happened to equity?

If we step outside the rarefied realm of IAM scenarios that leading climate scientist Johan Rockström describes as “academic gymnastics that have nothing to do with reality”, it’s clear that not exceeding 1.5°C or 2°C will require fundamental changes to most facets of modern life.

Starting now, to not exceed 1.5°C of warming requires 11% year-on-year cuts in emissions, falling to nearer 5% for 2°C. However, these global average rates ignore the core concept of equity, central to all UN climate negotiations, which gives “developing country parties” a little longer to decarbonise.

Include equity and most “developed” nations need to reach zero CO₂ emissions between 2030 and 2035, with developing nations following suit up to a decade later. Any delay will shrink these timelines still further.

Most IAM models ignore and often even exacerbate the obscene inequality in energy use and emissions, both within nations and between individuals. As the International Energy Agency recently reported, the top 10% of emitters accounted for nearly half of global CO₂ emissions from energy use in 2021, compared with 0.2% for the bottom 10%. More disturbingly, the greenhouse gas emissions of the top 1% are 1.5 times those of the bottom half of the world’s population.

So where does this leave us? In wealthier nations, any hope of arresting global heating at 1.5 or 2°C demands a technical revolution on the scale of the post-war Marshall Plan. Rather than relying on technologies such as direct air capture of CO₂ to mature in the near future, countries like the UK must rapidly deploy tried-and-tested technologies.

Retrofit housing stock, shift from mass ownership of combustion-engine cars to expanded zero-carbon public transport, electrify industries, build new homes to Passivhaus standard, roll-out a zero-carbon energy supply and, crucially, phase out fossil fuel production.

Three decades of complacency has meant technology on its own cannot now cut emissions fast enough. A second, accompanying phase, must be the rapid reduction of energy and material consumption.

Given deep inequalities, this, and deploying zero-carbon infrastructure, is only possible by re-allocating society’s productive capacity away from enabling the private luxury of a few and towards wider public prosperity and private sufficiency.

For most people, tackling climate change will bring multiple benefits, from affordable housing to secure employment. But for those few of us who have disproportionately benefited from the status quo, it means a profound reduction in how much energy we use and stuff we accumulate.

The question now is, will we high-consuming few make (voluntarily or by force) the fundamental changes needed for decarbonisation in a timely and organised manner? Or will we fight to maintain our privileges and let the rapidly changing climate do it, chaotically and brutally, for us?The Conversation

Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, University of Manchester

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IPCC report: We’re in Deep Trouble on Climate Emergency, and Don’t Have Much Time to Act Fri, 24 Mar 2023 04:04:44 +0000 By Frank Jotzo, Australian National University and Mark Howden, Australian National University | –

The world is in deep trouble on climate change, but if we really put our shoulder to the wheel we can turn things around. Loosely, that’s the essence of today’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC is the world’s official body for assessment of climate change. The panel has just released its Synthesis Report, capping off seven years of in-depth assessments on various topics.

The report draws out the key insights from six previous reports, written by hundreds of expert authors. They spanned many thousands of pages and were informed by hundreds of thousands of comments by governments and the scientific community.

The synthesis report confirms humans are unequivocally increasing greenhouse gas emissions to record levels. Global temperatures are now 1.1℃ above pre-industrial levels. They’re likely to reach 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels in the early 2030s.


This warming has driven widespread and rapid global changes, including sea level rise and climate extremes – resulting in widespread harm to lives, livelihoods and natural systems.

It’s increasingly clear that vulnerable people in developing countries – who have generally contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions – are often disproportionately affected by climate change.

Intergenerational inequities are also likely. A child born now is likely to suffer, on average, several times as many climate extreme events in their lifetime as their grandparents did.

The world is up the proverbial creek – but we still have a paddle. Climate change is worsening, but we have the means to act.

So much at stake

Over the past week in Interlaken, Switzerland, several hundred representatives from most of the world’s governments scrutinised the IPCC report’s 35-page summary.
The scrutiny happens sentence by sentence, often word by word, and number by number. Sometimes it’s subject to intense debate.

We were both involved in this process. The role of the reports’ authors and IPCC bureau members is to stay true to the underlying science and chart a way between different governments’ preferences. It is a unique process for scientific documents.

The approval process usually goes right to the wire, in meetings running through the night. This Synthesis Report was no exception. The scheduled time for the meeting was extended by two days and nights, wearing down government representatives and the IPCC teams.

The process reflects how much is at stake. The IPCC’s assessments are formally adopted by all governments of the world. That in turn reverberates in the private sector – for example, in the decisions of boards of major companies and investment funds.

The latest on greenhouse gas emissions

The Synthesis Report confirms both emissions and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are now at record highs.

To keep warming within 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, global greenhouse gas emissions must decline by around 21% by 2030 and around 35% by 2035. Keeping warming below 1.5℃ requires even stronger emissions reduction.

This is a very tall order in light of emissions trajectories to date. Annual global emissions in 2019 were 12% higher than in 2010, and 54% higher than in 1990.


But success in reducing emissions has been demonstrated. The IPCC says existing policies, laws, technologies and measures the world over are already reducing emissions by several billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, compared to what would otherwise be the case.

Most importantly, it’s clear global emissions could be reduced deeply if existing policy instruments were scaled up and applied broadly. The report shows large potential for emissions-reduction options across all parts of the world economy.

Many of these come at low cost. And many bring side benefits, such as reduced air pollution. If all technically available options were used, global emissions could be at least halved by 2030, at manageable costs.

As today’s report states, the global economic benefit of limiting warming to 2℃ exceeds the costs of emissions reduction. That’s without even taking into account the avoided damages of climate change or the side benefits that sensible action could generate.

We have the collective experience to turn the corner. As the report spells out, a great many regulatory and economic policy instruments have been used successfully. And we know how to design climate policies to make sure they’re politically acceptable and do not disadvantage the poorer parts of society.

The report also draws out the importance of good institutions for climate change governance – such as laws and independent bodies – and for all groups in society to be meaningfully involved.

Adaptation falls short

Rapid action on climate change is the economically sensible thing to do. If we fail to rein in emissions, adapting to the damage it causes will be more difficult and expensive in future. What’s more, our existing adaptation options will become less effective.

Every increment of warming will intensify climate-related hazards such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, fires and cyclones. Often, two or more hazards will occur at the same time.

Unfortunately, overall global adaptation has not kept up with the pace and degree of increasing impacts from climate change. Most responses have been fragmented, incremental and confined to a specific sector of the economy. And most are unequally distributed across regions and vary in their effectiveness.

The barriers to more effective adaptation responses are well-known. Chief among them is a widening gap between costs of adaptation and allocated finance. We can, and should, do a lot better.


As today’s IPCC report confirms, there are ways to make adaptation more effective. More investment in research and development is needed. So too is a focus on long-term planning as well as inclusive, equitable approaches that bring together diverse knowledge.

Many adaptation options bring significant side benefits. Better home insulation, for instance, can help us deal with extreme weather as well as reduce heating and cooling costs and related greenhouse gas emissions.

Moving people off flood-prone areas and returning these areas to more natural systems can reduce flood risk, increase biodiversity and store carbon dioxide in plants and soil.

And climate adaptation policies that prioritise social justice, equity and a “just transition” can also help achieve other global ambitions, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

We can close the gap

On both climate change mitigation and adaptation, a massive gap remains between what’s needed and what’s being done.

Countries’ current climate commitments do not add up to the shared ambition to keep temperature rise to below 2℃. And for many countries, current trajectories of emissions would also overshoot their targets.

What’s more, current total investments in low-emissions technology and systems is three to six times lower than what would be needed to keep temperatures to 1.5℃ or 2℃, according to modelling.

Likewise, on the whole not nearly enough effort is being made to understand, prepare and implement measures to adapt to climate changes. The gaps are generally biggest in developing countries, which can much less afford to invest in climate change action than rich parts of the world.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Developing countries are calling for large-scale climate finance to be provided by developed countries, and this is not happening to anywhere near the extent needed.

Predictably, issues of international equity and justice were among the thorniest in the approval of the Synthesis Report. The final version of the report frames the issue not as an irresolvable conflict, but as the opportunity for “shifting development pathways towards sustainability”.

The vision of most governments is for all the world to attain high standards of living, but to do so with “climate neutral” technologies, systems and patterns of consumption. And systems must be built so they’re robust to future climate change, including the nasty surprises that may come.

It must be done. It can be done. By and large, we know how to do it – and it makes economic sense to do so. In this report, the governments of the world have acknowledged as much.

Frank Jotzo is a Lead Author of the IPCC’s latest assessment report on climate change mitigation and member of the core writing team for the Synthesis Report. Mark Howden is a Vice Chair of the IPCC Working Group on climate impacts and adaptation and a Review Editor of the synthesis report. Both were involved in the government approval session for the IPCC Synthesis Report.

Fear & Wonder is a new climate podcast, brought to you by The Conversation. It will take you inside the IPCC’s era-defining climate report via the hearts and minds of the scientists who wrote it. The first episode drops on March 23. Learn more here, or subscribe on your favourite podcast app via the icons above.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy and Head of Energy, Institute for Climate Energy and Disaster Solutions, Australian National University and Mark Howden, Director, ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Calls for a ‘Green’ Ramadan revive Islam’s long Tradition of Sustainability and Care for the Planet Thu, 23 Mar 2023 04:08:31 +0000 By Noorzehra Zaidi, University of Maryland, Baltimore County | –

For many Muslims breaking fast in mosques around the world this Ramadan, something will be missing: plastics.

The communal experience of iftars – the after-sunset meal that brings people of the faith together during the holy month starting on March 22, 2023 – often necessitates the use of utensils designed for mass events, such as plastic knives and forks, along with bottles of water.

But to encourage Muslims to be more mindful of the impact of Ramadan on the environment, mosques are increasingly dispensing of single-use items, with some banning the use of plastics altogether.

As a historian of Islam, I see this “greening” of Ramadan as entirely in keeping with the traditions of the faith, and in particular the observance of Ramadan.

The month – during which observant Muslims must abstain from even a sip of water or food from sun up to sun down – is a time for members of the faith to focus on purifying themselves as individuals against excess and materialism.

But in recent years, Muslim communities around the world have used the period to rally around themes of social awareness. And this includes understanding the perils of wastefulness and embracing the link between Ramadan and environmental consciousness.

The ban on plastics – a move encouraged by the Muslim Council of Britain as a way for Muslims “to be mindful of [God’s] creation and care for the environment” – is just one example.

Many other mosques and centers are discouraging large or extravagant evening meals altogether. The fear is such communal events generate food waste and overconsumption and often rely on nonbiodegradable materials for cutlery, plates and serving platters.

Photo by Kizkopop on Unsplash

Quranic environmentalism

While the move toward environmental consciousness has gained traction in Muslim communities in recent years, the links between Islam and sustainability can be found in the faith’s foundational texts.

Scholars have long emphasized principles outlined in the Quran that highlight conservation, reverence for living creatures and the diversity of living things as a reminder of God’s creation.

The Quran repeatedly emphasizes the idea of “mizan,” a kind of cosmic and natural balance, and the role of humans as stewards and khalifa, or “viceregents,” on Earth – terms that also carry an environmental interpretation.

Recently, Islamic environmental activists have highlighted the numerous hadith – sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that provide guidance to followers of the faith – that emphasize that Muslims should avoid excess, respect resources and living things, and consume in moderation.

Although present from the outset of the faith, Islam’s ties to environmentalism received major visibility with the works of Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and a series of lectures he delivered at the University of Chicago in 1966. The lectures and a subsequent book, “Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man,” warned that humans had broken their relationship with nature and thus placed themselves in grave ecological danger.

Nasr blamed modern and Western science for being materialistic, utilitarian and inhuman, claiming it had destroyed traditional views of nature. Nasr argued that Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, scientific tradition, arts and literature emphasize the spiritual significance of nature. But he noted that numerous contemporary factors, such as mass rural-to-urban migration and poor and autocratic leadership, had prevented the Muslim world from realizing and implementing the Islamic view of the natural environment.

Scholars and activists expanded on Nasr’s work through the 1980s and 1990s, among them Fazlun Khalid, one of the world’s leading voices on Islam and environmentalism. In 1994, Khalid founded the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, an organization dedicated to the maintenance of the planet as a healthy habitat for all living beings. Khalid and other Muslim environmentalists suggest that Islam’s nearly 2 billion adherents can participate in the tasks of environmental sustainability and equity not through Western models and ideologies but from within their own traditions.

Partnering with the United Nations Environment Program, Khalid and other leading scholars crafted Al-Mizan, a worldwide project for Muslim leaders interested in Muslims’ religious commitments to nature. “The ethos of Islam is that it integrates belief with a code of conduct which pays heed to the essence of the natural world,” Khalid wrote in “Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity, and the Climate Crisis.”

Going beyond an eco-Ramadan

Environmental crises disproportionately affect the world’s poorest populations, and academics have highlighted
the particular vulnerabilities of Muslim communities around the world, such as the victims of devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022.

By highlighting Islamic principles, policies and community approaches, academics have shown how Islam can represent a model for environmental stewardship.

This push for environmental consciousness extends beyond Ramadan. In recent years, Muslims have tried to introduce green practices into the shrine cities in Iraq during pilgrimage seasons in Ashura and Arbaeen.

Photo by kilarov zaneit on Unsplash

This has included awareness campaigns encouraging the 20 million pilgrims who visit Arbaeen annually to reduce the tons of trash they leave every year that clog up Iraq’s waterways. Quoting from Shiite scholarship and drawing on testimonials from community leaders, the Green Pilgrim movement suggests carrying cloth bags and reusable water bottles, turning down plastic cutlery, and hosting eco-friendly stalls along the walk.

Muslim-owned businesses and nonprofits are joining these wider efforts. Melanie Elturk, the founder of the successful hijab brand Haute Hijab, regularly ties together faith, fashion, commerce and environmentalism by highlighting the brand’s focus on sustainability and environmental impact. The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Green Muslims pioneered the first “leftar” – a play on the word “iftar” – using leftovers and reusable containers.

These efforts are but a few of the diverse ways that Muslim communities are addressing environmental impact. The greening of Ramadan fits into a broader conversation about how often communities can tackle climate change within their own frameworks.

But Islamic environmentalism is more than just the dispensing of plastic forks and water bottles – it taps into a worldview ingrained in the faith from the outset, and can continue to guide adherents as they navigate environmentalism, a space where they may otherwise be marginalized.The Conversation

Noorzehra Zaidi, Assistant Professor of HIstory, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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“Plasticosis:” Seabirds that swallow Plastic Waste have Diseased, Scarred Stomachs Wed, 22 Mar 2023 04:04:36 +0000 By Matthew Savoca, Stanford University | –

As a conservation biologist who studies plastic ingestion by marine wildlife, I can count on the same question whenever I present research: “How does plastic affect the animals that eat it?”

This is one of the biggest questions in this field, and the verdict is still out. However, a recent study from the Adrift Lab, a group of Australian and international scientists who study plastic pollution, adds to a growing body of evidence that ingesting plastic debris has discernible chronic effects on the animals that consume it. This work represents a crucial step: moving from knowing that plastic is everywhere to diagnosing its effects once ingested.

Scientists have identified a condition they call plasticosis, caused by ingesting plastic waste, in flesh-footed shearwaters.
Patrick Kavanagh/Wikipedia, CC BY

From individual to species-level effects

There’s wide agreement that the world is facing a plastic pollution crisis. This deluge of long-lived debris has generated gruesome photos of dead seabirds and whales with their stomachs full of plastic.

But while consuming plastic likely killed these individual animals, deaths directly attributable to plastic ingestion have not yet been shown to cause population-level effects on species – that is, declines in population numbers over time that are linked to chronic health effects from a specific pollutant.

MBARI: “Microplastics in the ocean: A deep dive on plastic pollution in Monterey Bay”

One well-known example of a pollutant with dramatic population effects is the insecticide DDT, which was widely used across North America in the 1950s and 1960s. DDT built up in the environment, including in fish that eagles, osprey and other birds consumed. It caused the birds to lay eggs with shells so thin that they often broke in the nest.

DDT exposure led to dramatic population declines among bald eagles, ospreys and other raptors across the U.S. They gradually began to recover after the Environmental Protection Agency banned most uses of DDT in 1972.

Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife without causing death via starvation or intestinal blockage. But subtler, sublethal effects, like those described above for DDT, could be much farther-reaching.

Numerous laboratory studies, some dating back a decade, have demonstrated chronic effects on invertebrates, mammals, birds and fish from ingesting plastic. They include changes in behavior, loss of body weight and condition, reduced feeding rates, decreased ability to produce offspring, chemical imbalances in organisms’ bodies and changes in gene expression, to name a few.

However, laboratory studies are often poor representations of reality. Documenting often-invisible, sublethal effects in wild animals that are definitively linked to plastic itself has remained elusive. For example, in 2022, colleagues and I published a study that found that some baleen whales ingest millions of microplastics per day when feeding, but we have not yet uncovered any effects on the whales’ health.

Scarring seabirds’ digestive tracts

The Adrift Lab’s research focuses on the elegant flesh-footed shearwater (Ardenna carneipes), a medium-size seabird with dark feathers and a powerful hooked bill. The lab studied shearwaters nesting on Lord Howe Island, a tiny speck of land 6 miles long by one mile wide (16 square kilometers) in the Tasman Sea east of Australia.

This region has only moderate levels of floating plastic pollution. But shearwaters, as well as petrels and albatrosses, are part of a class known as tube-nosed seabirds, with tubular nostrils and an excellent senses of smell. As I have found in my own research, tube-nosed seabirds are highly skilled at seeking out plastic debris, which may smell like a good place to find food because of algae that coats it in the water. Indeed, the flesh-footed shearwater has one of the highest plastic ingestion rates of any species yet studied.

Marine ecologist Jennifer Lavers, head of the Adrift Lab, has been studying plastic debris consumption in this wild shearwater population for over a decade. In 2014 the lab began publishing research linking ingested plastic to sublethal health effects.

Dead seabird with plastic fragments in dishes next to it.
In a 2021 study, scientists found 194 plastic fragments in the stomach of this great shearwater (Ardenna gravis).
Yamashita et al., 2021, CC BY-ND

In 2019, Lavers led a study that described correlations between ingested plastic and various aspects of blood chemistry. Birds that ingested more plastic had lower blood calcium levels, along with higher levels of cholesterol and uric acid.

In January 2023, Lavers’ group published a paper that found multiorgan damage in these shearwaters from ingesting both microplastic fragments, measuring less than a quarter inch (five millimeters) across, and larger macroplastic particles. These findings included the first description of overproduction of scar tissue in the birds’ proventriculus – the part of their stomach where chemical digestion occurs.

This process, known as fibrosis, is a sign that the body is responding to injury or damage. In humans, fibrosis is found in the lungs of longtime smokers and people with repeated, prolonged exposure to asbestos. It also is seen in the livers of heavy drinkers. A buildup of excessive scar tissue leads to reduced organ function, and may allow diseases to enter the body via the damaged organs.

A new age of plastic disease

The Adrift Lab’s newest paper takes these findings still further. The researchers found a positive relationship between the amount of plastic in the proventriculus and the degree of scarring. They concluded that ingested plastic was causing the scarring, a phenomenon they call “plasticosis.”

Many species of birds purposefully consume small stones and grit, which collect in their gizzards – the second part of their stomachs – and help the birds digest their food by pulverizing it. Critically, however, this grit, which is sometimes called pumice, is not associated with fibrosis.

images of birds' stomach tissues, stained pink and blue.
These images show scarring (blue) in the stomachs of flesh-footed shearwaters, from least affected, at left, to most affected, at right. Researchers attributed the scarring to ingestion of plastic fragments.
Charlton-Howard et al., 2023, CC BY

Scientists have observed associations between plastic ingestion and pathogenic illness in fish. Plasticosis may help explain how pathogens find their way into the body via a lacerated digestive tract.

Seabirds were the first sentinels of possible risks to marine life from plastics: A 1969 study described examining young Laysan albatrosses (Phoebastria immutabilis) that had died in Hawaii and finding plastic in their stomachs. So perhaps it is fitting that the first disease attributed specifically to marine plastic debris has also been described in a seabird. In my view, plasticosis could be a sign that a new age of disease is upon us because of human overuse of plastics and other long-lasting contaminants, and their leakage into the environment.

In 2022, United Nations member nations voted to negotiate a global treaty to end plastic pollution, with a target completion date of 2024. This would be the first binding agreement to address plastic pollution in a concerted and coordinated manner. The identification of plasticosis in shearwaters shows that there is no time to waste.The Conversation

Matthew Savoca, Postdoctoral researcher, Stanford University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Still “Not Free:” Bush’s Invasion of Iraq did not result in Democracy there or in the Arab World Mon, 20 Mar 2023 04:06:00 +0000 By Brian Urlacher, University of North Dakota | –

(The Conversation) – President George W. Bush and his administration put forward a variety of reasons to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the months before the U.S. invasion, Bush said the looming conflict was about eradicating terrorism and seizing weapons of mass destruction – but also because of a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East, a reference to the perceived lag in participatory government in the region.

Many of these arguments would emerge as poorly grounded, given later events.

In 2004, then Secretary of State Colin Powell reflected on the weak rationale behind the main arguments for the invasion: that there were weapons of mass destruction. He acknowledged that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading.”

In fact Iraq did not have a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, as Powell and others had alleged at the time.

But the Bush administration’s rhetoric of building a more free, open and democratic Middle East persisted after the weapons of mass destruction claim had proven false, and has been harder to evaluate – at least in the short term. Bush assured the American public in 2003 that, “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”

He focused on this theme during the ground invasion, in which a coalition force of nearly 100,000 American and other allied troops rapidly toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution,” Bush said in November 2003. He also said that the U.S. would be pursuing a “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”

Twenty years on, it is worth considering how this “forward strategy” has played out both in Iraq and across the Middle East. In 2003, there was indeed, as Bush noted, a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East, where repressive authoritarian regimes dominated the region. Yet, in spite of tremendous upheaval in the Middle East over the past two decades, many authoritarian regimes remain deeply entrenched.

Measuring the ‘Freedom Gap’

Political science scholars like myself try to measure the democratic or authoritarian character of governments in a variety of ways.

The non-profit group Freedom House evaluates countries in terms of democratic institutions and whether they have free and fair elections, as well as people’s civil rights and liberties, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and a free press. Freedom House rates each country and its level of democracy on a scale from 2 to 14, from “mostly free” to “least free.”

One way to think about the level of democracy in the region is to focus on the 23 countries and governments that form the Arab League, a regional organization that spans North Africa, the Red Sea coast and the Middle East. In 2003, the average Freedom House score for an Arab League member was 11.45 – far more authoritarian than the global average of 6.75 at the time.

Put another way, the Freedom House report in 2003 classified a little over 46% of all countries as “free,” but no country in the Arab League met that threshold.

While some Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, were ruled by monarchies around this time, others, like Libya, were ruled by dictators.

The nearly 30-year-long regime of Hussein in Iraq fit this second pattern. Hussein was part of a 1968 coup led by the Ba’ath political party, a group that wanted all Arab countries to form one unified nation – but also became known for human rights violations. The Ba’ath Party relied upon Iraq’s oil wealth and repressive tactics against civilians to maintain power.

The fall of Hussein’s regime in April 2003 produced a nominally more democratic Iraq. But after fighting a series of sectarian insurgencies in Iraq over an eight-year period, the U.S. ultimately left behind a weak and deeply divided government.

Post-invasion Iraq

The U.S. 2003 invasion succeeded in ousting a brutal regime – but establishing a healthy and thriving new democracy proved more challenging.

Rivalry between Iraq’s three main groups – the Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as the Kurds, the largest ethnic minority in the country – paralyzed early attempts at political reorganization.

While Iraq today has a constitution, a parliament and holds regular elections, the country struggles both with popular legitimacy and with practical aspects of governance, such as providing basic education for children.

Indeed, in 2023, Freedom House continues to score Iraq as “Not Free” in its measure of democracy.

Since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011, Iraq has lurched from one political crisis to another. From 2014 to 2017, large portions of western Iraq were controlled by the extremist militant Islamic State group.

In 2018 and 2019, rampant government corruption led to a string of anti-government protests, which sparked a violent crackdown by the government.

The protests prompted early parliamentary elections in November 2021, but the government has not yet been able to create a coalition government representing all competing political groups.

While Iraq’s most recent crisis avoided descending into civil war, the militarized nature of Iraqi political parties poses an ongoing risk of electoral violence.

A man pushes a cart in a desolate looking area with sandy, dirt ground and blue skies.
An Iraqi man pushes a cart in Mosul after the government retook control from the Islamic State in 2017.
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

The post-invasion Middle East

While Iraq continues to face deep political challenges, it is worth considering the U.S. efforts at regional democracy promotion more fully.

In 2014, widespread protest movements associated with the Arab Spring toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. In other countries, such as Morocco and Jordan, monarchs were able to offer concessions to people and remain in control by delaying public spending cuts, for example, and replacing government ministers.

Yet sustaining stable democracies has proved challenging even where the Arab Spring seemed to succeed in changing political regimes. In Egypt, the military has reasserted itself and the country has slid steadily back to authoritarianism. In Yemen, the political vaccum created by the protests marked the start of a devastating civil war.

The average Freedom House democracy score for members of the Arab League is today 11.45 — the same as it was on the eve of the Iraq invasion.

It is hard to know if U.S. efforts at democracy promotion accelerated or delayed political change in the Middle East. It is hard to know if a different approach might have yielded better results. Yet, the data – at least as social scientists measure such things – strongly suggests that the vision of an Iraq as an inspiration for a democratic transformation of the Middle East has not come to pass.The Conversation

Brian Urlacher, Department Chair and Professor, Political Science & Public Administration, University of North Dakota

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

International Law doesn’t protect People fleeing environmental Disaster – But it Should Sun, 19 Mar 2023 04:02:52 +0000 By Morgiane Noel, Trinity College Dublin | –

Researchers have tried for decades to find a relevant legal status for people forced to flee their homes as a result of floods, droughts and storms – calamities which climate change promises to make more severe and commonplace – as well as appropriate laws which might ensure their protection. But climate migrants are sometimes forgotten among the various flows of people seeking asylum.

To protect climate migrants who were forced to leave their country, some legal scholars have proposed amending the definition of refugee in the Refugee Convention of 1951 to consider environmental degradation a form of persecution. This would expand eligibility for asylum as a refugee under international law beyond the existing grounds of persecution by religion, race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions.

But the principle of non-refoulment, mentioned in the refugee convention, already prohibits a host country of returning asylum seekers to somewhere they would not be safe. This could be interpreted as guaranteeing access to an environment offering decent air and clean water according to the European Environment Agency.

Despite this provision, international law is failing to protect climate migrants, which means that the scope of the refugee convention, however broad, must be widened.

Via Pixabay.

Ioane Teitiota is a citizen of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean. In 2015, he was denied asylum in New Zealand after floods forced him to flee with his family. He protested to the UN Human Rights Committee, which ruled that his situation did not constitute an imminent risk to life.

The legal right of the people of Kiribati to seek effective protection from saltwater intruding into farmland, coastal erosion and crop failures as a result of sea-level rise does not exist. New Zealand maintained that it could only reward refugee status to people if the state had failed to respect their fundamental human rights. The effects of climate change are systemic, the argument goes, rather than a personal persecution against Teitiota himself.

Nevertheless, the Human Rights Committee said that people who fled their country because of the effects of climate change can argue that their experiences amount to persecution and seek refugee status under the refugee convention. Vulnerable people could also claim that climate change threatens their right to life under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. This includes situations where environmental disasters are interlaced with conflict, leading to water or air being contaminated by chemical weapons.

States might consider asylum claims resulting from climate disasters in the future. But until consensus is reached among scholars or jurists about the legal status of climate migrants, they will probably avoid introducing a broad interpretation of what comprises a climate migrant into international law.

Environmental disasters are unpredictable and the damage they cause can blight a territory for years, taking decades for people to properly recover. The people displaced may need to seek shelter in another country or region while the reconstruction is underway.

Climate change will cause an increasing number of disasters such as floods, droughts and wildfires. Legal solutions, especially in the case of climate change disasters, will be difficult to predict in advance. A firm understanding of what works where climate migrants are forced to settle will be invaluable.

States neighbouring vulnerable countries are more likely to be affected by inflows of climate migrants. By shouldering a disproportionate share of this responsibility, these countries will keep the impasse over the legal status of climate migrants alive on the international stage and have an outsize role in constructing an international consensus around their legal status.

As these countries attempt to acquire funding and build shelters to house migrants, they’ll also be dealing with a rising number of asylum claims. This will inevitably prompt research within the country to determine the most relevant legal status climate migrants need to guarantee their protection. This could attract international recognition as climate change and the entwined refugee crisis escalate.

There was a dramatic spike in 2015 in the number of migrants fleeing war and famine, especially in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Eritrea and migration policy remains a very sensitive and divisive topic of debate as a result.

Preparing the efficient protection of climate refugees is a challenge for the years to come. But in the meantime, people need help. The recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria caused several thousand deaths, but may have left millions without homes.

Only the creation of an efficient international framework of laws can guarantee refuge for people fleeing such environmental disasters in future. Building that outcome is likely to begin in the countries nearest to the suffering.

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Morgiane Noel, PhD Candidate in Law, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Not Just Rallies: Iranian Protesters are Drafting Charters and a Bill of Rights Sat, 18 Mar 2023 04:08:46 +0000 By Mona Tajali, Agnes Scott College; and Homa Hoodfar, Concordia University | –

(The Conversation) – It’s been six months since the latest spark ignited mass protests in Iran — the death of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa (Jina) Amini in morality police custody after she was arrested for allegedly failing to wear her hijab properly.

The outrage over her killing resulted in women-led protests. Their slogan “woman, life, freedom,” originally a Kurdish manifesto, has helped fuel the Iranian protesters’ demands for radical change.

The perseverance, bravery and determination of the Iranian protesters, particularly women and girls, have been heroic. Despite risks to their lives and freedoms due to a brutal government crackdown, many remain active in publicly articulating their grievances in a variety of ways.

In recent months, while some street presence has continued in Iran — for example, in response to the poisonings of schoolgirls in cities across the country — protesters are also organizing strikes, sit-ins, boycotts and publicizing their demands in the form of manifestos, charters and bills of rights.

In fact, a key distinguishing factor between the recent protests and the previous ones is that Iranians have been forming coalitions to advocate for important structural and institutional changes in support of equality, human rights, democracy and freedom.

Demands for substantial change

Disillusioned with efforts to democratize and liberalize aspects of Iranian politics and society while working within the confines of the theocratic state, today’s protesters are demanding substantial political and social change that is markedly secular.

The woman, life, freedom protests are calling for basic rights and opportunities that have rarely been recognized throughout the 44-year rule of the Islamic Republic, even after landslide elections of reform-minded figures who promised reforms. In doing so, the protesters are challenging the core tenants of the theocratic regime.

The leaderless nature of the demonstrations, which some key protesters compare to other social justice movements like Black Lives Matter, has also fuelled democratic sentiments in Iran that have empowered ordinary Iranians to protest decades of unresponsive and unrepresentative government.

Protesters are now shifting to more concerted efforts involving charters or bills of rights that outline their specific demands — yet another indication that Iranians are politicized, organized and mobilized as they push for change.

Calls for a humane society

In mid-February, coinciding with the 44th anniversary of the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, several civil society groups — including labour unions, student organizations and women’s and human rights groups — collectively publicized a joint charter outlining their minimum demands for a “new, modern, and humane society.”

The charter focuses on the core demands of large sections of the Iranian population.

It advocates for a secular state in which “religion is a private matter … and should not interfere in the political, economic, social, and cultural destiny and laws of the country.”

The charter also includes demands for the release of all political prisoners, abolishing discriminatory laws against ethnic and religious minorities and ending environmental destruction.

Soon after the charter’s publication, many Iranian scholars, activists and notable opposition leaders outside of Iran expressed their support.

The rallying cry of “woman, life, freedom” has also inspired many women’s and human rights groups to capitalize on the gendered and ethnic aspects of the protests and highlight the interests of historically marginalized populations.

Solidarity among Iranian feminists

In February 2023, a group of feminists republished the Kurdish Women’s Charter that was originally drafted in 2004, but is still relevant given the ongoing systemic discrimination faced by ethnic Kurds in Iran.

One of the biggest successes of the protest movement has been the expressions of solidarity and collaboration among feminist groups, both inside and outside Iran.

After months of collaborative work, a collective of Iranian feminists announced their proposed Iran Women’s Bill of Rights on March 8, 2023 — International Women’s Day — outlining their key demands for gender equality, non-discrimination and social justice to be included in the future constitution of Iran.

Building on decades-long activism inside Iran, the mostly exiled group of Iranian feminists summarized some of these demands in 20 articles and invited feedback from the general Iranian public on each of them.

The document emphasizes the need for a bill of rights that addresses the historical and systemic discrimination women and other minority populations have long faced in Iran.

It also demands a secular form of government that prioritizes pluralism and egalitarianism, gender parity in political decision-making and immediate abolition of all discriminatory laws against women, ethnic and religious minorities and all other marginalized groups.

It outlines mechanisms for how to achieve each human right, building on feminist thought and the work of the global human rights movements. First, however, the living document will be presented to the Iranian public, initiating discussion and dialogue on its evolution and improvement.

In another historic move, the LGBTQ+ community in Iran also published its manifesto in early 2023, outlining its central demands.

This document in particular marked an important moment for Iran in that it publicly addressed assumed taboo topics such as recognition of non-binary gender identities and ways to concretely address systemic violence and discrimination against marginalized populations.

To address the historical and systemic discrimination and injustice that has limited women’s and minorities’ rights, Iran’s protesters and feminists are actively preparing for substantial change.

These types of coalitions and solidarity among diverse populations are important steps towards the realization of fundamental human rights in the democratic, pluralist and just Iran of the future.The Conversation

Mona Tajali, Associate Professor of International Relations and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Agnes Scott College and Homa Hoodfar, Professor of Anthropology, Emerita, Concordia University

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The US invaded Iraq 20 Years ago–What can Today’s Youths Learn from it? Thu, 16 Mar 2023 04:08:31 +0000 By Andrea Stanton, University of Denver | –

(The Conversation) – The United States invaded Iraq 20 years ago in March 2003, claiming it had to disarm the Iraqi government of weapons of mass destruction and end the dictatorial rule of President Saddam Hussein.

U.S. soldiers captured Saddam in December 2003. And a 15-month search revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction to seize.

Via Pixabay. File.

But the conflict between Western powers and Iraq dragged on until 2011. More than 4,600 American soldiers died in combat – and thousands more died by suicide after they returned home.

More than 288,000 Iraqis, including fighters and civilians, have died from war-related violence since the invasion.

The war cost the U.S. over $2 trillion.

And Iraq is still dealing with widespread political violence between rival religious-political groups and an unstable government.

Most of these problems stem directly or indirectly from the war. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the war that followed are defining events in the histories of both countries – and the region. Yet, for many young people in the United States, drawing a connection between the war and its present-day impact is becoming more difficult. For them, the war is an artifact of the past.

I am a Middle East historian and an Islamic studies scholar who teaches two undergraduate courses that cover the 2003 invasion and the Iraq War. My courses attract students who hope to work in politics, law, government and nonprofit groups, and whose personal backgrounds include a range of religious traditions, immigration histories and racial identities.

The stories of the invasion and subsequent war resonate with them in the same way that stories of other past events do – they’re eager to learn from them, but don’t see them as directly connected to their lives.

A generational shift

Since I started teaching courses related to the Iraq War in 2010, my students have shifted from millennials to Generation Z. The latter were born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s. There has also been a change in how these students understand major early 21st-century events, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I teach this event by showing things like former President George W. Bush’s March 19, 2003, televised announcement of the invasion.

I also teach it through the flow of my lived experience. That includes remembering the Feb. 15, 2003, anti-war protests that took place in over 600 cities around the world as an effort to prevent what appeared to be an inevitable war. And I show students aspects of material culture, like the “Iraqi most wanted” deck of playing cards, distributed to deployed U.S. military personnel in Iraq, who used the cards for games and to help them identify key figures in the Iraq government.

Via Pixabay. File.

The millennial students I taught around 2010 recalled the U.S. invasion of Iraq from their early teen years – a confusing but foundational moment in their personal timelines.

But for the Gen-Z students I teach today, the invasion sits firmly in the past, as a part of history.

Why this matters

Since the mid-2010s, I have not been able to expect students to enroll in my course with personal prior knowledge about the invasion and war that followed. In 2013, my students would tell me that their childhoods had been defined by a United States at war – even if those wars happened far from U.S. soil.

Millennial students considered the trifecta of 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq to be defining events in their lives. The U.S. and its allies launched airstrikes against al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This followed the Taliban refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11.

By 2021, my students considered Bush’s actions with the same level of abstract curiosity that they had brought to the class’s earlier examination of the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine, which said that a country could request help from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by another country, and was used to justify U.S. military involvement in Lebanon in 1958.

On an educational level, this means that I now provide much more background information on the first the Gulf War, the 2000 presidential elections, the Bush presidency, the immediate U.S. responses to 9/11 and the Afghanistan invasion than I had to do before. All of these events help students better understand why the U.S. invaded Iraq and why Americans felt so strongly about the military action – whether they were for or against the invasion.

The Iraq invasion lost popularity among Americans within two years. In March 2003, 71% of Americans said that the U.S. made the right decision to use military force in Iraq.

That percentage dropped to 47% in 2005, following the revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Yet those supporters continued to strongly endorse the invasion in later polls.

In 2018, just over half of Americans believed that the U.S. failed to achieve its goals, however those goals might have been defined in Iraq.

A new set of priorities

Older Americans age 65 and up are more likely than young people to prioritize foreign policy issues, including maintaining a U.S. military advantage.

Younger Americans – age 18 to 39 – say the top issues that require urgency are providing support to refugees and limiting U.S. military commitments abroad, according to a 2021 Pew research survey.

Generation Z members are also less likely than older Americans to think that the U.S. should act by itself in defending or protecting democracy around the world, according to a 2019 poll by the think tank Center for American Progress.

They also agree with the statement that the United States’ “wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan were a waste of time, lives, and taxpayer money and they did nothing to make us safer at home.” They prefer that the U.S. use economic and diplomatic means, rather than military intervention, to advance American interests around the world.

As current undergraduate students make their way toward careers in the government and in the private sector, their tendency to interpret the events of the early 2000s as historical lessons rather than as part of their own long present may influence their professional decision-making, whether they work in the State Department or for an international hotel chain. Helping them recognize how events like the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq have influenced their views on U.S. foreign policy today can help them connect the dots from the recent past to the present – and to their future.The Conversation

Andrea Stanton, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies & Faculty Affiliate, Center for Middle East Studies, University of Denver

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Saudi-Iran deal won’t bring Peace to the Middle East but will enhance China’s role as Power Broker Wed, 15 Mar 2023 04:04:41 +0000 By Simon Mabon, Lancaster University | –

(The Conversation) – After more than four decades as seemingly implacable enemies on either side of a deep political-religious divide in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies. The deal, which was signed in Beijing, comes seven years after diplomatic relations were severed in the aftermath of the execution in Saudi Arabia of Shia cleric Nimr Al Nimr and has been heralded as a “game-changing moment” for the Middle East.

While undeniably a positive move, the agreement will not end conflict in the region – with serious domestic issues continuing to drive conflict and violence in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Yet serious economic challenges have prompted the Saudis and Iranians to engage in diplomatic talks over the past few years to create a more stable regional order, allowing their countries to engage in domestic reform programmes as a result.

The rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran has fractious roots, shaped by the interplay of security concerns, claims to leadership over the Muslim world, ethno-sectarian rivalries, and differing relationships with Washington. Lazy analysis has often reduced the rivalry to a sectarian conflict, a consequence of “ancient hatreds”. But such a reading of events is xenophobic and orientalist and ignores the context and contingencies shaping relations between the two states.

Despite the fractious roots, relations between the two states have oscillated between overt hostility and burgeoning detente since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, playing out in different ways across the Middle East.

Troubled region

The presence of shared religious, ethnic and ideological identities across the region has also prompted others to view conflict across the region through the lens of “proxy wars”. Various groups in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and elsewhere have been seen as merely doing the bidding of paymasters in Riyadh or Tehran. This ignores the internal drivers of conflict and division, reducing analysis to a simplistic binary pitting Sunni against Shia.

Map of Middle East, 2023
The Middle East is riven with conflict, both political and sectarian. Reconciliation between Riyadh and Tehran is unlikely to fundamentally change that.
Library of Congress

Across the region, states where Saudi and Iranian interests have clashed, have also been beset by a range of their own complex socioeconomic and political challenges.

Since Saddam Hussein was deposed, Iraq has been characterised by a struggle among various factions to dominate the state. Shia parties, representing the country’s majority, have typically won elections, often with the support of Iran and much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia. Yet to think of Iraqi politics purely as representing a proxy war between its two neighbours would be wrong. It ignores the domestic concerns of many and efforts to create a political landscape that works for Iraqis and is not just an arena for Riyadh and Tehran to increase their power.

In Yemen, while Saudi Arabia and Iran have both played a prominent role in the civil war, the key drivers of conflict are domestic, amid a broader struggle over territory, politics, visions of order, tribalism, resources and sectarian difference. The involvement of Riyadh and Tehran – in different ways – exacerbates these tensions. Fears about gains by Iran-backed Houthi rebels across Yemen prompted Saudi Arabia to embark on a devastating bombing campaign to curtail the group’s actions.

Tehran’s support for the Houthis – and the group’s attacks on the Saudi mainland – exacerbated the kingdom’s fears. Yet the war in Yemen is also a consequence of the fragmentation of the state and the emergence of several different groups vying for influence across a landscape beset by serious environmental challenges and food shortages.

In Lebanon, a devastating socioeconomic crisis plays out in the shell of the state, with sectarian groups providing support and protection to their constituencies in place of a functioning government. Key groups have received support from Saudi Arabia and Iran – most notably Hezbollah, which possesses strong ideological links with the Islamic Republic, and the Future Movement the party of government across most of the past decade, which has a complex relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Clearly the Saudis and Iranians have a keen interest in Lebanese politics. But in reality any conflict here is driven by competition between local groups seeking to impose their visions of order on a precarious political, social and economic landscape.

While there is little doubt that Saudi Arabia and Iran have the means to exert influence on politics across the region, local groups have their own agendas, aspirations and pressures. It remains to be seen how the reconciliation between Riyadh and Tehran will resonate in spaces beset by division.

There are undeniably positives for regional security. The reconciliation improves the possibility of a revived nuclear deal with Tehran – although it remains to be seen what Saudi Arabia has offered Iran to facilitate the agreement, and vice versa. Also, there are questions as to what monitoring and enforcement mechanisms have been put in place by China.

The role of China

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all of this concerns China’s role in proceedings. While diplomatic efforts aimed at improving relations between the two rivals have been taking place for several years, China’s ability to forge an agreement out of these talks points to Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

China has long had close economic ties with Iran, but in recent years Beijing has sought to increase its engagement with Arab states, notably Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Deteriorating relations between the two major Gulf powers would have had a negative impact on Chinese engagement and investment across the Middle East, both in terms of its infrastructure projects and the broader Belt and Road Initiative.

Although the US has publicly celebrated the initiative, privately there are several concerns about the broader implications for the Middle East and for global politics. This comes at a time when relations between Riyadh and Washington are tense.

This was perhaps best seen in the visit of the US president, Joe Biden, to Saudi Arabia after his vocal criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record and the publication of a report stating that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved the operation to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US citizen. During the visit, Biden and bin Salman endured a tense meeting which largely failed to improve relations and highlighted the precarious nature of relations.

In such an environment, rising Chinese influence in the kingdom and across the Middle East is hardly surprising. China’s move into mediation offers some semblance of hope that an agreement can also be reached to end the war in Ukraine, but at what cost? The Chinese model of investment and the provision of “untied aid” – the provision of financial support without conditions – has long ignored concerns about democracy and human rights. So the agreement between the Saudis and the Iranians has been read by some as a victory for authoritarianism, further marginalising reform movements in both countries.

Much like the US, Israel is also concerned about the deal. For successive Israeli governments, Iran has long occupied the role of regional
bete noire, ultimately feeding into the signing of the Abraham Accords in the summer of 2020 which normalised relations between Israel, the UEA, Bahrain and Morocco as a strategic alliance against Tehran. The Netanyahu government has long sought to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia and hoped to use the Iranian threat as a means of achieving this goal.

Additionally, the deal raises questions about the future of regional security. The US has long been a mediator in regional disputes and has been viewed as a security guarantor by Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. China’s actions here suggest that it is seeking to assert itself more keenly in the region’s politics. Reports suggest that Beijing is to host a meeting of Arab and Iranian leaders later in the year. If accurate, it positions China firmly as a – if not the – dominant actor across the Middle East.

A reconciliation between the Saudis and the Iranians is certainly good for regional order. But it will not address the causes of conflict in Yemen or elsewhere across the region. It also raises several serious issues around regional security and global order, the salience of democracy and human rights, and the future of US engagement with the Middle East.

While the initiative is a positive step, it is not a solution for the region’s conflicts. This Beijing-mediated agreement may in fact lead to further significant challenges for the people of the region.The Conversation

Simon Mabon, Professor of International Relations, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.