Environmental problems and the future of regional security

In the past weeks, along with the political issues that have been hotly discussed in news circles, the intensity of the air heat has also become the subject of analysis by many media and news agencies; a subject that is not only a domestic issue, but it is a problem that all parts of the world, from North America to Western Europe and of course East and West Asia, are struggling with.
29 July 2023
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Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri

In the past weeks, along with the political issues that have been hotly discussed in news circles, the intensity of the air heat has also become the subject of analysis by many media and news agencies; a subject that is not only a domestic issue, but it is a problem that all parts of the world, from North America to Western Europe and of course East and West Asia, are struggling with.

At the same time as the temperature rises in many parts of the world, much news about forest fires, heavy rains, floods, and landslides has been reported in different countries. Forest fires in Canada and Switzerland, heavy rain and landslides in South Korea, and typhoon Talim in southern China and Vietnam are among these cases. The natural disasters and crises that we have seen bitter examples of in Iran in the past years the reasons for all of them are climate changes and the increase in the earth's temperature. According to scientists' estimates and warnings, we should continue to expect more disasters due to the continuation of these changes.

Based on this, the region where Iran is located, i.e., the West Asian region, is also facing many environmental challenges, problems such as the reduction of biological diversity, the loss of vital species and the destruction of natural ecosystems, excessive exploitation of natural resources, air and water pollution, climate change and changing the pattern of using natural resources. These challenges can seriously affect the environment, economy, and health of the region's population and threaten the security of this tense region from a new angle. In general, climate change in the West Asian region has multiple effects, some of which are mentioned here:

  1. In the economic dimension, climate change can directly affect the production process of agricultural products. Due to its arid and semi-arid climate, the West Asian region is significantly dependent on water resources. The increase in temperature, decrease in rainfall, and change in rainfall patterns may reduce this region's irrigation and agricultural capacity. This issue can lead to a decrease in the production of agricultural products and, as a result, have negative effects on the economic prosperity of the countries of the West Asian region. Also, the decrease in the production of agricultural products may increase the need to import food, which can have a negative effect on the livelihood of the population and the economic self-sufficiency of the region.
  2. In the social dimension, climate change can act as an aggravating factor of water crisis and drought. Decreasing freshwater resources and increasing drought rates may cause tension and increased competition between countries and ethnicities in this region. This issue can lead to the emergence of social and regional conflicts and, due to the intervention of large extra-regional powers, have serious effects on the balance of power in the region. Also, the reduction of water resources can be a new factor for migrating parts of the population to other areas to meet water needs and escape drought, which also has significant demographic and social effects.
  3. In the political dimension, climate change can act as an influencing factor in the international relations of the West Asian region. Competition for water resources can lead to more tensions and conflicts between countries. Also, with the increasing reduction of water resources, these resources may gradually be used as a factor of sanctions and political pressure in bilateral and multilateral relations between countries. These issues can lead to changes in the power dynamics and influence of countries in the region.

All of the above applies to Iran at the domestic level as well. Decreasing rainfall, frequent droughts, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and other climate changes exacerbate environmental problems. These problems in the country have serious political, economic, and security consequences and can cause problems for good governance in the domestic arena and bargaining power of the country in the regional arena for the following reasons:

  1. Climate change and a decrease in rainfall can lead to a further decrease in water resources. This issue has a serious effect on the agricultural and industrial sectors in Iran. Also, frequent droughts reduce the production of agricultural products and increase the risk of fire and drought. A decrease in water resources, a decrease in the production of agricultural products, and, as a result, an increase in poverty, a decrease in the purchasing power of people, especially farmers and ranchers, ultimately lead to the formation of inter-provincial tensions and competitions. A threat that has become more serious in recent years, and every year, we see different tensions between the citizens of different provinces and their representatives in the parliament regarding how to distribute or transfer water. Therefore, environmental problems, while reducing the level of production and food security in the country and creating numerous domestic economic problems, can cause unrest and popular protests and challenge the security and stability of the country.
  2. The decrease in the level of production and the weakness of the agricultural and industrial sectors in the country and, as a result, the increase in the export costs of Iranian products can weaken the country's position in the regional arena and make Iran's trade balance with neighboring countries negative.
  3. air pollution is also an important environmental challenge in Iran, which will soon become a political and security problem if it is not dealt with rationally. Using fossil fuels and polluting industries causes air pollution and increases the level of suspended particles in the air. This problem has led to respiratory diseases, disruption of the quality of life, and reduction of the useful life of the Iranian population. On the other hand, air pollution by creating frequent closures for economic centers (to control pollution) and, of course, reducing the level of health and efficiency of the Iranian population leads to economic weakness in the country and can be one of the reasons for the country's population decline, the increase in public protests and of course, the weakening of Iran's position in the regional arena.

Based on this, environmental problems in Iran and the region can become acute security issues. As a result, the management of natural resources and environmental protection in the country and the West Asian region is a very vital necessity. This requires unbiased and scientific studies and strategic planning in the domestic arena, and in the regional arena, it requires cooperation between countries and the adoption of common policies for resource management and climate change.

 Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri, University Professor

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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