ARI’s Environmental Politics Program seeks to place the environment at the heart of research, policy, and activism in MENA. We approach the environment not simply as a set of natural resources, but also as a shared public space, a domain of public health, and an arena of political economy. For us, environmentalism is not a “technical” issue, but rather inseparable from MENA’s broader political and economic discussions, requiring regular and engaged dialogue between different constituencies and disciplines and an amplification of the voices of those most affected by environmental damage.

The program brings together a network of scholars, practitioners, and activists to:

  • create a community of practice to share new ways of thinking about environmental conditions, challenges, and potentials;
  • foster trans-regional linkages among activists and movements advocating for environmental justice;
  • showcase the experiences of local communities contending with environmental injustices; and
  • identify critical locations and margins of maneuver for environmental change.

Activity Area 1: Understanding and supporting environmental activism in MENA

There is a growing and increasingly vibrant activism in MENA around environmental issues. From protests over land use in Egypt, to garbage handling in Lebanon, to water mismanagement in Basra, to phosphate pollution and toxic landfills in Tunisia, we have witnessed the rise of ad-hoc environmental activism campaigns as well as more organized social movements born out of environmental harms. Civil society organizations are also more active on the environment, their members campaigning at home and representing the region more regularly and visibly at international meetings on environmental causes. However, environmental activism has yet to be studied in the context of a broader process of social contestation seeking to change the region’s political and economic order. ARI works to highlight the various forms, demands, and expressions of environmental activism, understand its modes of organization and current needs, and document State responses. A priority is to link and strengthen networks across social movements and countries, as well as between activists and researchers.

Activity Area 2: Analyzing national-level governance structures and advocating for change

The institutional and political landscape that governs national-level decisions on the environment in MENA is a black box. Budget lines, functions, competencies, and regulatory powers on issues that affect the environment are fuzzy and opaque. ARI is mapping and analyzing governance structures and the politics surrounding them to better elaborate recommendations that would address environmental justice concerns. Our work also critically examines the role of international institutions (the European Union, World Bank, UN agencies, regional development banks) in setting environmental policies in the region, in defining what qualifies as environmental hazard or crisis, and in integrating the ubiquitous discourse on environmental into traditional development and infrastructure projects.

Activity Area 3: Highlighting and promoting local initiatives

Critical questions of environmental policy are experienced at the local level. Very often, the local is also the stage for responses and solutions to global environmental issues. From a grassroots angle, we see increasing use of adaptation and mitigation strategies to address the myriad of social, economic, urban, and environmental problems facing local communities. In Morocco, some local communities are reverting to ancestral ways of water sharing to deal with increasing shortages and address water injustices. In Tunisia, local activists are pushing for new concepts about food sovereignty and seeking to put on the agenda the notion of sustainable agriculture. Seen through a municipal politics lens, recent decentralization processes around the world have provided new tools and capabilities for environmental action at the subnational level. Local governments, especially municipalities — historically an overlooked site of change — are increasingly taking on new regulatory powers, moving into new policy spaces, and transforming into sites for meaningful political engagement and change. The program documents case studies of local practices to illustrate the constraints and opportunities and ultimately determine whether they could be replicated across localities or potentially scaled up.

Activity Area 4: Environment in Conflict

The scope of destruction in the post-2011 wars in MENA have profound environmental implications. In Yemen, Syria, or Libya, armed conflict is contributing directly to severe environmental damage, (both through the destruction of non-human activity and through the targeting of infrastructures critical for civilian wellbeing), while simultaneously making societies less resilient to environmental disasters such as drought or floods and delaying the adoption of needed change to attenuate the damage of climate change. ARI seeks to analyze the nexus of conflict, climate change, and environmental governance in the region, mapping initiatives that address this nexus and lessons learned for environmental peacebuilding.