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Jordan: At A Crossroads With Climate Change

Our friend in Amman takes a look at the intersectionality of climate change in Jordan.


King Abdullah II of Jordan attended the recent COP 21 talks in Paris to continue his country’s preparations for climate change. His numerous photo opps with other world leaders will hopefully raise more general awareness about the issue in Jordan and about the very hard crisis in the coming decades.

Climate change has fuelled the conflict in Syria and resulted in over 600,000 people fleeing to water- stressed Jordan. This influx strains government resources and strains a society with severe existing social problems, like sexism and economic inequality. The refugee situation is only a small preview of the long-term consequences of climate change as the planet is on track to overshoot the critical threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. This figure refers to a global average increase where temperatures over land will rise by more than that amount, since water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface.

The situation facing Jordan is stark. It belongs to the category of countries that will be disproportionally affected greater by climate change but will have fewer economic resources to cope with the new reality. Inherent in this is also an issue of climate justice because Jordan has had historically lower contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. As a state, Jordan is relatively stable and is the only country in the region to have had the same structure of government since the colonial mandates of the 1930s. Its current stability is due, in large part, to the financial support it receives from the international community. This might not be guaranteed in the future, especially when the United States does not provide enough funding for “adaptation and mitigation” and is opposed to any real commitments to providing resources for “loss and damage” that climate change will cause.

The current regime’s performance on environmental issues is also dubious. In an area of the Eastern Desert more than half the size of Wales, Azraq Oasis is the only permanent source of water. Once a vast wetland of over a hundred square kilometres that served as a transit point for migrating birds across three continents, the Azraq Wetland Reserve is now just a rump of its former expanse. It is maintained only by diverted water from a government restoration effort that started in 2008. A general decline of rainfall in the region when water began being taken for urban use has also exacerbated the situation. Hundreds of illegal wells prevent the further restoration of the area, even with international assistance. It is an example of how weak states are hamstrung in managing local environmental issues.

Negotiators must understand the historical context of climate change, which explains why the most affected regions of the world are governed by the weakest of states. The origin of climate change starts with the economic development of the greatest historical emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and the current European Union (combined they are responsible for over 50% of CO2 emissions since 1850). The foundation of their industrial expansion was slavery and imperialism, both rooted in racism and white supremacy.

The economic legacy of these processes is a grossly unequal distribution of physical and human resources. The political legacy of this economic dependency and wealth extraction is the persistent white supremacist framework of the world that inhabits all minds. Thus, the environmentalist’s soft call for reworking “man’s relationship with nature” is deficient. It is based on a post-Enlightenment, rationalist appeal to reason that completely absolves past injustices. What needs reworking is how white people perceive non-whites and, specifically, how conscientious whites convince others with white privilege to stop maintaining their power with violence.

No modern political entity has ever had to plan on the timescale that is required to mitigate climate change. If the ruling regime in Jordan wants to survive through the next century, it has to work to bring about that distant likelihood of a world where all post-colonial countries feel free to cooperate. King Abdullah II, his heirs, and a inchoate Jordanian democracy will grapple with a paradigm where financial and military relationships with the Global North are encouraged above all others. This is in contrast to relationships amongst countries in the Global South that are discouraged and actively sabotaged.

Climate change is racism. Centuries of white supremacy and colonialism mean that the centre of international relations and climate change negotiations are those countries with the greatest historical emissions. Climate change is sexism. In the near future, within the movements of millions of climate refugees across borders, it will be women and the children dependent on them who will be disproportionately affected. The problems created by a world dominated by white men cannot and will not be solved by white men alone. Future leaders of Jordan have to understand that the greatest historical emitters will take advantage of climate change to bolster the current international arrangement, rather than create an equitable global economy. However, in a post- climate disaster world, only two scenarios are possible: a civilisation that dispenses completely with these structures of privilege or a world with no civilisation at all.

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