MOCK COP26 - Drought, Wildfires and the Syrian Civil War


INTERVIEW WITH NATALIE MOUSA, SYRIA DELEGATE, MOCK COP26


Q. How did you contribute to MOCK COP and why did you apply?


I found out about MOCK COP26 through my involvement in the Club of Rome (CoR) Global Youth Summit. I found a lot of interest in MOCK COP because it involved specific country analysis which gave me the opportunity to emphasize the issues in my home country.


I contributed to the event by helping brainstorm different policy ideas that ended up in the MOCK COP Treaty, along with writing and recording a High-Level Statement covering the climate crisis in Syria.


Lastly, as a delegate, I participated in the time-zone caucuses where I, along with other delegates from the region, voted on what policies we think are best to tackle the climate crisis.



Q. Can you talk us through your statement about Syria?


My statement on Syria was intended to look at where the climate crisis initially caused conflict in the country. This ended up being the 2006-07 drought, which resulted in an agricultural collapse and mass out-migration from the region, which exacerbated the internal socio-economic stresses. I wanted to establish a link concerning how that drought, which can be attributed to the rise in temperature and lack of rainfall, resulted in the 2011 civil war that is still in place today.


While the drought impacted many lives, it was also the governments’ inability to help their citizens recover from the drought. Clearly, the climate crisis has an ability to expose weaknesses in a nation’s government.



Q. In your statement, you talked about how global leaders must come together to tackle the climate crisis in Syria. What did you have in mind? How would such an international governance structure work?


Global leaders in the United Nations (UN) can help in several ways to tackle the climate crisis. First, there needs to be an acknowledgement that they are assisting the lives of the people and not let their political opinions hinder that assistance. It is clear that President Bashar al-Asad’s regime cannot solve the climate crisis, as they blamed what was in essence a state-induced socio-ecological crisis on climatic transformations beyond its control.


Global leaders need to put pressure on the United Nations to ensure Syria’s elections are held in a fair and transparent manner. There is an urgent need for political progress in Syria to lessen the suffering of people.


Water pumping stations need to be developed to allow for regular access to water. Water supply is essential to Syrian citizens to help their robust agriculture. Along with a stable water supply, there needs to be an increase in fertilizer and fuel subsidies to farmers in villages across the country to stimulate production and help the economic situation they are facing.


This international governance structure would work best through transparency. The UN should be the one to collect aid from global leaders willing to help tackle the climate crisis in Syria. The UN can then distribute this aid to different focus groups such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund, and the UN Country Team and the Area Humanitarian Country Team. These focus groups can use the aid given by global leaders around the world to go to Syrian villages that had the most robust agriculture prior to the war and help get those villages become economically stable again.


If there is transparency in the aid given and in the distribution of the aid, then global leaders will be more willing to help as they know the aid is going directly to supporting the citizens facing this humanitarian crisis as a result of climate change.



Q. You were also involved in the time-zone caucuses. Can you explain the concept to us? What was that experience like for you?


The time-zone caucuses were essentially where the delegate-state voting occurred.


Prior to these caucuses, delegates from countries around the world were working together to brainstorm different policy ideas that we wanted to see in the COP26 event (when it occurs in 2021). After these policy ideas were drafted, the delegates met in different caucuses depending on time-zone/region to vote on the policies we want to include in the treaty.


With every policy, one speaker had to present an argument for the policy, and one speaker had to present an argument against the policy. This experience was very enlightening for me because I got to listen to delegates from countries near mine and their similar frustrations on how governments have been handling the climate crisis. It was very interesting for me to see how countries in Africa and other nations share the same ideas as I do.

Q. Let’s talk about the 2006-2007 drought and its connection to the Syrian civil war. Do you consider the two to be directly correlated? How has drought continued to affect Syria?


I do consider the 2006-07 drought as being heavily correlated to the Syrian civil war. The three-year period of 2006-09 was northeastern Syria’s driest on record. The drought led to a collapse in agricultural production, pushing 2-3 million people into extreme poverty and displacing around 1.5 million from the northeast to dense cities. This led to competition over jobs and resources in these dense cities.


Although, there were other issues coming into play during the same period as the drought. In 2008, for instance, the President tightened restrictions on land sales across the northeastern-most province of Hasakah. This led to the extensive loss of land rights and a key factor in the increased migration from northeast Syria prior to the war. There was also a reduction in fuel subsidies and a removal in fertilizer subsidies, resulting in devastating economic consequences, especially for farmers.


Essentially, it was a mixture of government policy and the drought that sparked the civil war, but the reason these policies hurt individuals heavily, was because the drought was taking place during the same time. This was because farmers were already struggling to produce and sell agriculture, and the reduction in subsidies hindered their finances even more.



Q. What can you tell us about the wildfires in Syria? How has the government responded?


Wildfires occur yearly as a result of an increase in temperatures and decrease in rainfall, but 2020 has seen a large scale spread of these fires. The areas hit the hardest were the coastal regions, which include areas in Al Fakhoura, Al Qirdaha, Jableh and Lattakia. The wildfires have caused a number of villages to evacuate, as well as a loss in agricultural land.


While I could not find a government response from Syria, I did find an initiative by Japan. The Japan Platform (JPF) decided to launch an emergency response program to support the people by providing food, shelter, NFIs (Non-food items), WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and cash assistance.


Q. Has local and international media done a good job of explaining the extent to which the Middle East is suffering on the frontlines of the climate crisis? If not, why do you think that is and is there any way around it?


I do not think local and international media has done a good job of explaining the extent to which the Middle East is suffering on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Local and international media is too focused on the political and military aspects of the Middle East and creating alliance systems where it is one country backing up another against another country (if that makes sense, kind of like the alliance groups from WWI).


Creating political tension only makes solving the climate crisis difficult. This should not be an issue of political affiliation, but instead should be a humanitarian issue where all countries are on the same side of the table. I think much of the media coverage depends on what country you live in, for example, if you live in the U.S., most of the media coverage is focused on portraying Syria and Russia’s involvement as ‘dangerous’.

Although, this should not be the case. If Syria and Russia have an alliance, then then there should be more pressure put onto Russia to aid Syria in its recovery from the climate crisis, instead of the focus being military and political ties.


The world must focus more on the humanitarian situation in Syria, as such attention is being further reduced by combining today’s humanitarian crisis with a political one.



Q. When we spoke, you mentioned your thesis on environmental degradation and human rights. Has your participation in MOCK COP and your ambitions for it, influenced your thesis in any way?


My participation in MOCK COP has definitely influenced my thesis.


After brainstorming policy ideas and working with other delegates to hear their issues concerning the climate crisis, it is clear that individuals’ human rights are negatively impacted by environmental degradation. Looking at the treaty, one of the main focus areas was ‘Physical and Mental Health’. This area of focus discusses how the climate crisis has resulted in resource scarcity, which directly intervenes with people’s physical and mental health.


MOCK COP has shown me another way to prove human rights and environmental degradation are interconnected. The next step is to create legal reform, where governments can be held accountable for environmental degradation by their citizens.