Climate change and democracy: The impact of climatic change on political stability in Iraq

During this week’s UN Climate change Conference, Iraq finally ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, which will enter into force on 1 December 2021. While President Barham Salih did not attend the COP 26 in Glasgow this weekend, he sent a video message to the COP members from the Marshes of Iraq. In it, he outlined Iraq’s need for a strategic framework to protect the environment and deal with the impacts of climate change.

Indeed, Iraq is massively affected by climate change, with its water and agriculture sectors suffering the most. New annual heat records with temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in parts of Iraq are particularly harsh on the poorer parts of the population. In rural regions, entire agricultural cultivation areas are threatened with desertification, leading to internal refugees. Indeed, the German Federal Academy for Security Policy sees climate change as an accelerator for conflicts in the entire near and Middle East region. Former World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin predicted as early as 1995 that “the wars of the next century will be over water.” In addition, existing social problems are increasingly fuelled by poor environmental conditions. An example of this is Iraqis, in particular young people, protesting against water contamination in 2018 and 2019 in southern Iraq (Basra, Nasiriya, Najaf, Kerbala) and Baghdad.

Two days before the start of COP 26, elbarlament concluded its 2 year-long project called Clean-Tigris, which addressed one major sector affected by climate change in Iraq: its water resources.

Several issues are exacerbating the water situation in Iraq, such as: an overlap in decision-making between the central authorities, local authorities and institutions regarding water management policies; weak diplomacy with neighbouring riparian countries, leading to decreased water revenues; poor water governance at the governorate level, with local disputes emerging as a consequence; as well the absence of modern and innovative water technologies.

Despite being culturally and emotionally attached to the rivers, the level of public awareness of the dire situation the country’s water resources are in, is still low. The risk of poor water management ultimately draining the country’s water resources is not addressed. Iraq struggles to find its path to turn its waters into an income-generating resource using water tariff systems or its hydropower capacity.  The high level of corruption and the low level of law enforcement are just two reasons to be mentioned that hinder the implementation of solutions to protect water, prevent water waste and render it a source of wealth.

What the Clean Tigris dialogue project did for the first time was to involve local and national policy and decision-makers, experts and academics, active members of civil society and  even artists living along the two main rivers Euphrates and Tigris and the marshlands. Together, they worked to identify sustainable solutions to fight water pollution and to improve water management. More than just providing a list of valuable recommendations, the project’s legacy will hopefully also be the message that bringing together all stakeholders involved is crucial in moving forward and creating change.

Regrettably, while climate change and ineffective policymaking on water resources affect all Iraqis, those more strongly impacted are also those without any say in decision-making. This is why it is so important to present the project conclusions to an even bigger group of civil society representatives who can share and discuss it with local communities. Our hope is for the Roadmap to be used as a tool for advocacy vis-à-vis those that have a political mandate to ensure that all Iraqis benefit from the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

The Roadmap is already available on our website in Arabic, and will  be available in the next few weeks on our website in English. Stay tuned!

A video made by one of the project participants, highlighting how important the river is to Iraqi people.