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date: 30 May 2017

Climate Change Communication in Middle East and Arab Countries

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Most climate change scenarios indicate that Middle East and Arab countries will be adversely affected by increasing heat and reduced precipitation, adding further stress to an already vulnerable region, due to low levels of socio-ecological resilience, potential conflicts over natural resources (e.g., water), and almost chronic refugee and migration crises.

At the same time, Middle East and Arab countries cover a vast and diverse region characterized by stark variations in ecological footprints, natural resources, and political priorities. Included are the large oil- and gas-producing nations (the Gulf States), as well as resource-depleted countries (Jordan, Syria). Most countries rely on carbon energy, while a few have developed an alternative vision based on renewables (Morocco). The region is home to both highly affluent countries (e.g., the United Arab Emirates), as well as poor and conflict-ridden societies (Iraq, the Levant, Yemen). Accordingly, there are considerable differences in the region’s mitigation strategies and adaptive resources.

However, these regional variations are rarely reflected in the region’s climate change communication, which, with a few exceptions, tends to follow a similar communicative pattern marked by media institutional constraints and low editorial priority. This may also explain the relatively sparse research literature on climate change and environmental communication in Arab countries.

Decades-long social and religious conflicts in the Middle East have pushed climate change down the agenda of public opinion and news reporting in most Arab countries. Moreover, many Arab countries share a semi-authoritarian media system, which only exacerbates this tendency. In order to avoid crossing editorial red lines, climate change reporting is predominantly copied from international news agencies. Local reporting is sparse as it may easily touch on sensitive issues concerning inadequate local or national governance. As a consequence, climate change has traditionally been covered as foreign news, with a focus on international climate change negotiations, and hence, of limited relevance for a regional readership.

However, new information technology, and an increasing regional focus on raising awareness of climate change, points toward alternative channels of climate change communication in Middle East and Arab countries.