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Contrasting Regional Environmentalisms in the Eastern Mediterranean: A social Constructionist Perspective

Environnementalismes régionales contrastés en Méditerranée orientale : une perspective constructionniste sociale
Stuart Schoenfeld et Jonathan Rubin


Comme projet sociopolitique, le régionalisme suppose la production collective de connaissances. Des intérêts communs aux partenaires impliqués sont identifiés et une identité commune autour de ces intérêts collectifs est promue. En Méditerranée orientale, trois projets de coopération transnationale en matière environnementale débouchent sur la construction de différentes régions géographiques centrées sur Israël, sur les Territoires palestiniens et la Jordanie, sur la région Méditerranée dans son ensemble et sur la région arabe. L'analyse de ces projets très différents s'appuie sur la littérature consacrée à l'encadrement, au régionalisme au Moyen Orient et à la gouvernance régionale de l'environnement. Dans ce texte, l’auteur tente de savoir si ces initiatives sont en concurrence ou si elles font partie d'un processus dans lequel elles se renforcent mutuellement.

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1The importance of regions as spaces for social action offers the opportunity for an intersection between political sociology and political geography. This exploration of environmental regionalism, a study in the social construction of knowledge, takes as its focus the multiple and different constructions of the geographic unit that are proposed for understanding and taking environmental action in the Eastern Mediterranean. The paper does not review the extensive literature on environmental issues in the Eastern Mediterranean – water, pollution, unsustainable consumption, population growth, endangered species / habitats, disappearing natural landscapes, climate change effects and more. These have been extensively documented, indicating current severe environmental stress and projected greater severity (Brown and Crawford 2009, Lesser 2009, Regional Bureau for Arab States 2009, Shuval and Dwick 2006, Tolba and Saab 2008, Tolba and Saab 2009, Twite and Isaac 1994, Twite and Menczel 1995, 1996, Waslekar and Futehally 2009, 2011, El-Ashry, Saab, and Zeitoon 2010). Rather, the focus is on the production of these documents and how they identify different geographical areas for regional environmental initiatives. These differences matter because environmental initiatives that specify the area of action in different ways involve different configurations of social actors, who, in turn, are likely to conceive of environmental problems differently, pursue somewhat different strategies of response, and differ in their resource mobilization.

2This paper began as an extension of research on the survival and impact of one specific initiative for regional environmental cooperation: a small network of civil society organizations that have been promoting environmental peacebuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean (Alleson and Schoenfeld 2007, Abitbol and Schoenfeld 2009, Zohar, Alleson and Schoenfeld 2010, Schoenfeld 2010). In addition to this network the research found transnational environmental initiatives organized around other areas but including the Eastern Mediterranean: projects of cooperative Mediterranean environmentalism and projects addressing the environment as a shared Arab concern. These contrasting regional environmentalisms add yet another level of complexity to the challenges of peacebuilding and environmental stewardship in the Eastern Mediterranean.

3Literature on framing - “a process whereby communicators - consciously or not - act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be viewed by others in a particular manner, with some facts made more or less noticeable (even ignored) than others” (Kuypers 2009:182) - is analytically useful in defining questions to be asked of each regional environmental project. The literature on Middle East regionalism contains the useful distinction between regions as geographic areas, regionalism as a project of constructing a region, and regionalization as the process of greater integration that may take place independently of a project of regionalism. This approach problematizes the unselfconscious use of “Middle East” as the Eastern Mediterranean’s geographic referent and directs attention to other regional constructions. A review of literature on regional environmental governance identifies three variables along which projects of regional environmental cooperation differ: variations in the social actors, the issues addressed and the conception of what the geographic criteria are for regional environmental governance initiatives. These variables are consistent with the paper’s interest in framing and provide a basis for comparable descriptions of the three projects of regional environmentalism. Maps are reprinted in this review not as geographical referents but as documents that indicate how different groups use different maps to develop contrasting frames of regional environmentalism.

The social construction of regional environmentalism


4Since Goffman’s influential work (1974), the concept of framing has been widely diffused in the social sciences, particularly in the analysis of social movements and in media studies. Frames, which allow individuals “to locate, perceive, identify and label” experience (Goffman 1974:21), can vary in scale from personal outlooks to broad cultural perspectives. Snow and Benford note that frames in social movements simplify and condense perceptions in ways that are “intended to mobilize potential adherents and constituents, to garner bystander support, and to demobilized antagonists” (1988:198).

5Snow and Benford (1988) identify diagnosis, prognosis and motivation as the three core tasks of framing. Diagnostic framing identifies a problem and assigns blame. Prognostic framing suggests solution, strategies and tactics. Motivational framing provides the rationale for individual engagement in collective action. Similarly Kuypers writes that frames “define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgment, and suggest remedies” (2009:190). Frames resonate – are effective in mobilizing – when they are credible and salient (Benford and Snow 2000: 619-22). Snow and Benford, along with Gamson (1992), stress that frames are not static schema, but negotiated shared meanings. This understanding implies studying framing as a social process, raising research questions about the specific processes through which frames are developed and revised.

6Snow et al. (1986) identify four frame alignment processes social actors use to link potential or actual constituents and resource providers to a frame. Frame amplification engages participants by idealizing, embellishing, clarifying or invigorating existing values or beliefs. Frame bridging brings together two or more congruent frames that have previously been separate. Frame extension shows how the interests and values of potential adherents can be incorporated into a frame. Frame transformation aims directly at undermining old understandings in order to replace them with new ones that justify change.

7Framing, then, suggests a series of questions that can be asked of each approach to constructing a geographic region for environmental cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Who is framing, under what circumstances, and with what objectives? What processes within each approach allow frames to develop through a negotiation about shared meanings? How does each approach define the problem of regional environmental cooperation, understand its causes, make moral judgments, suggest remedies and motivate engagement? How are strategies of frame alignment used reach out to supporters and resource providers?

Regionalism in the Middle east

8International relations scholars have developed a literature on the emergence of the regional level of international organization that stands between the individual nation-state and global international institutions. Some areas have produced stronger regional structures than others. Studies of regionalism examine the intentional promotion of regional cooperation and identity. Regionalism can involve a wide range of non-state actors – transnational businesses, political activists, civil society organizations - as well as representatives of states. Regional projects involve framing. Regional organization has to be presented as a response to a problem that is sufficiently compelling to justify mobilizing the required resources. A separate process of regionalization refers to increasing region-wide interaction and activity that is not necessarily a conscious strategy but nevertheless creates a social reality (Fawcett 2009a:194).

9While the Eastern Mediterranean is commonly described as part of the Middle East, framing the geography this way is relatively recent. The “Middle East” was introduced into European and American foreign policy discourse in the mid-19th century and became commonly used in the 20th (Beaumont et al. 1988; p. 1-3). By the 1950s, diplomatic language established as normative the extension of the “Middle East” to incorporate the “Near East,” a geographic referent that had originated in discussions of the area around the Ottoman Empire and its successor states (Davison 1960). Scholarship on the Middle East as a region (e.g., Sailoukh and Brynen 2004, Fawcett 2009, Harders and Lengrenzi 2008) has been very much focused on strategic analysis of its role in international politics and the global economy. These concerns reflect the social construction of the region from the outside by dominant world powers.

10Contemporary scholars who write on the Middle East as a region note the lack of clear regional boundaries, the low level of legitimacy of many of its states, continuing regional conflicts, and the weakness of regional intergovernmental organizations as compared to other areas of the world. Labor migration, refugee flows, capital flows and electronic communications networks contribute to regionalization in the Middle East, in different ways in different parts of the region. Studies of Middle East regionalism also consider the role of subregions. These subregions are not autonomous but are parts of a larger Arab or Middle East regional system, intentionally constructed by regional projects (e.g., the Gulf Cooperation Council) or emergent from population flows, business relationships, and media flows.

11The distinction between regions as geographic areas, regionalism as a project and regionalization as a parallel independent process helps in understanding the framing of regional environmentalism in the Eastern Mediterranean. Projects of regional environmentalism in the Eastern Mediterranean have a strong pragmatic appeal. This area is not an exempt from transboundary environmental issues (e.g., upstream and downstream flows of water and pollution) or shared environmental challenges (e.g., water management, desertification, climate change, rapid urbanization, sustainable development). The geographic frame for regional environmental cooperation, however, is unclear. The Eastern Mediterranean is rarely presented as a distinct region or as a subregion of the Middle East. The older geographic conception of “the Levant” is infrequently used and the geographical referent “the Mashreq” is much broader than the Eastern Mediterranean.

12Sometimes, discussions of environmental issues in the geographic area of the Eastern Mediterranean simply use the broad geographic referent of the Middle East (Brown and Crawford 2009, Lipchin et al. 2007, Shuval and Dwick 2006). On the other hand, there have been projects using geographic areas other than the Middle East to construct regions that incorporate the Eastern Mediterranean. Bilgin (2004) discusses projects to construct Arab, Islamic and Mediterranean regions, all of which incorporate the Eastern Mediterranean. Pan-Arabism has been based on shared history, language and culture and institutionalized in the League of Arab States. A broader Islamic region constructs identity around a way of life based on a shared religious tradition. A Mediterranean regional initiative has linked the Middle Eastern countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean to their European neighbors. Bilgin explains how each of these geographic constructions has been problematic as a basis for regional institution building. The League of Arab States is composed of states that vary widely in socio-economic condition, has been a continuing setting for interstate rivalries involving regimes with endemic legitimacy problem, contains states with non-Arab minorities, and excludes contiguous non-Arab states (Turkey, Israel, Iran) whose policies have a major impact on the evolution of the Arab region. The Islamic region is fragmented by its large geographic range, competing and conflicting understandings of Islam, and internal resistance to defining contemporary identity in religious terms. Mediterranean regionalism is seen as largely a European Union (EU) project, potentially instrumentally valuable in the southern and eastern Mediterranean, but not yet a focus for shared identity.

13The analysis in this paper uses a list of regional projects similar to Bilgin’s. The Arab and Mediterranean regional projects that Bilgin identifies have environmental dimensions and are explored in this paper. In addition, this paper examines the environmental peacebuilding project in the more limited geographic space of the Eastern Mediterranean. On the other hand, Islamic environmental is not included because is it not linked to a project of environmental cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Regional environmental governance

14Each project of regional environmentalism that incorporates the Eastern Mediterranean aims at producing regional environmental governance. Balsinger and VanDeveer, in their review of regional environmental governance, note “the host of regional institutions established to foster environmental cooperation [and] … the multitude of regional institutions with an environmental component within their larger remit” (2010:6179) and comment that regional environmental governance had become commonplace by the early 21st century. Explicitly drawing on the literature on regions, regionalism and regionalization, they approach regions as social constructions (6182).

15Balsinger and VanDeveer present variables along three continua to classify projects of regional environmentalism. The first variable is the conception of territory. Does the project of regional environmentalism conceive of its territory as a group of states or as a naturally defined ecoregion (e.g., river basin, mountain range)? The second variable asks about social agents. To what extent are the agents promoting regional environmentalism state actors or non-state actors? The third variable they call “thematic concern.” To what extend is regional environmentalism constructed around single issues or work towards comprehensive sustainable development? (6182-3). These variables are useful in the analysis of framing. The conception of territory and the thematic concerns of a regional environmental governance project are contents of its frames, and the focus on social agents draws attention to those engaged in framing and the processes through which frames are developed, negotiated and revised.

16Using these variables Balsinger and VanDeveer characterize the literature on regional environmental governance as follows:

First, the majority of writing on regional environmental governance concerns environmental problems within the scope of traditional nation-state territoriality. Second, the principal actors in these analyses are government actors. Third, the bulk of studies on regional environmental governance address thematically narrow issue areas such as water quality and quantity, air pollution or biodiversity conservation. Recent developments suggest changes along all three axes of the typology. .... regional agreements increasingly point to some sort of ecoterritoriality, state actors are increasingly complemented (sometimes even replaced) by nonstate or substate actors, and the thematic scope increasingly expands beyond purely environmental issues to encompass broader notions of sustainable development. [6182]

17The analysis below uses their approach for each project of regional environmentalism in the Eastern Mediterranean. To what extent does the regional environmental project frame its work as a state-centered approach or an approach based on natural ecoregions? To what extent are the agents doing the framing state actors or non-state actors? To what extent does each project frame issues as individual ones or as parts of a larger challenge of sustainable development?

Regional environmentalism and transnational environmentalism

18Each project of regional environmentalism incorporating the Eastern Mediterranean developed in the context of transnational environmental mobilization, institutional development and frame extension that began with the wave of environmental activism from the 1960s through the 1970s. During this wave, the transnational environmental NGOs World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace were formed, the first Earth Day was organized, and the UN held its first conference on the environment and created the United Nations Environment Programme. Subsequently, the tension within the UN system between the development agenda and the environmental agenda led to the United Nations conference on sustainable development and the associated Brundtland Report. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and the incorporation of environmental sustainability in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals continued this synthesis (Guha 2000).

19The inclusion of environmental security in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) definition of human security (United Nations Development Program 1994) further extended the frame of environmentalism. Academics, policy institutes and international agencies developed a related literature bridging transnational environmental issues and security studies. This literature examines the role of environmental stress in conflict and peacebuilding (Carius 2006, Halle 2009, Conca and Wallace 2009). The frame of environmental peacebuildng promotes negotiations between hostile states to establish mutually beneficial transboundary mechanisms of environmental cooperation. It promotes deepening the peace that political leaders agree to by creating cross-border business and civil society networks that work on the sustainable joint management of natural resources and coordinated responses to shared environmental challenges.

20The analysis below shows the importance of these institutional developments and frame elaboration in each project of regional environmentalism. Eastern Mediterranean environmental peacebuilding bridges sustainable development and the management of scarcity frames with conflict resolution and human security frames. Mediterranean environmentalism began with pollution control and has been subsequently broadened to incorporate sustainable development and security concerns. Arab environmentalism began with intergovernmental projects on specific issues and expanded to advocacy of sustainable development, with a civil society initiative linking environment, sustainable development and human security frames.

Regional environmentalisms in the eastern mediterranean

Environmental peacebuilding in the eastern mediterranean

21The frame of Eastern Mediterranean environmental peacebuilding developed from the 1991 Madrid Conference on Peace in the Middle East, sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union and involving Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization. While the refugee and regional security tracks dealt with the high-profile contentious issues, the less contentious water, environment and economic development tracks were opportunities to develop peacebuilding strategies. When back-channel negotiations produced the 1993 Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles (DOP), environmental peacebuilding was also in that document. The DOP envisaged cooperation in water, energy, and environmental protection and listed possible projects: joint exploitation of the Dead Sea, a canal connecting Gaza to the Dead Sea, desalination and other water development projects, regional agricultural planning (including coordinated efforts around desertification), and regional cooperation on gas, oil and other energy resources. The subsequent Palestinian-Israeli Interim Agreement developed the details and established joint committees on water, electricity, nature reserves and environment. Joint Palestinian-Israeli workshops on water produced a common knowledge base and joint recommendations for water management. The 1994 Jordanian-Israel peace treaty included the goal of “a comprehensive and lasting settlement of all the water problems” and noted the “great importance” of “matters relating to the environment,” with detailed Annexes on these topics. Coordinated technical monitoring and implementation of provisions on water sharing followed (Schoenfeld 2010).

22The diplomats who developed this approach framed environmental issues as opportunities for a solution rather than part of the problem. Water, a long-standing conflict intensifier, could be reframed as a joint problem to be addressed through technological innovations and coordinated regional management. Cooperation on nature reserves, energy and agriculture would be a development opportunity for adjacent states in with high rates of population growth, aspirations for a higher standard of living and limited natural resources. The remedies proposed by the multilateral process were regional peace agreements that including environmental provisions. The remedies proposed by bilateral processes were bilateral treaties and joint committees on a range of environmental issues.

23Strategies of frame alignment to cultivate support for environmental peacebuilding were more successful outside than inside the region. The United States and the EU devoted considerable political and financial resources to the “peace process” in general, and to environmental peacebuilding as one aspect of it. Environmental peacebuilding bridged diplomatic and environmental agendas. Within the region, the frame of environmental peacebuilding was far less resonant. Its greatest success was in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, which established a coordinated structure for water management that guaranteed transfer of water by Israel to Jordan during periods of drought. Jordan and Israel, with the belated addition of the Palestinian Authority as a third partner, worked together to develop a proposal for World Bank financing for a megaproject that would provide desalinated water to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority by means of a Red Sea-Dead Sea water carrier (Schoenfeld et al. 2007). Proposals for other forms of Jordanian-Israeli environmental cooperation have had their local advocates, but progress is uncertain. The economic benefits of the peace treaty to Jordan have not been as great as anticipated and there is strong anti-normalization sentiment. As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled and then failed, the environmental provisions of the Interim Agreement were not implemented. The Joint Water Committee created by the agreement provides some minimal, essential coordination. The failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the return of violent conflict, and mutual recriminations have prevented the alignment of environmental peacebuilding with the frames used by governments and dominant political factions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

24The frame of environmental peacebuilding, however, has resonated with a loose Eastern Mediterranean network of peace activists, environmental activists, professionals and academics. The Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), which opened under joint Israeli and Palestinian directors during the first Intifada, created a Water and Environment Division in 1994. IPCRI brought almost 200 regional and international water experts to a five day conference on regional water issues (Shuval and Dwick 2006). Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME), was founded in 1994 as EcoPeace, a meeting place for environmental NGOs. FOEME has mobilized expertise to publish studies on a wide range of regional environmental issues. Its Good Water Neighbors project creates grassroots partnerships between Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian communities that are mutually dependent on shared water resources (Harari and Roseman 2008). The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, an Israeli institution, opened in 1996 with a mandate to provide university level environmental education to a student body from throughout the region. Over 600 Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and overseas students have spent one or two semesters in the institute’s remote location, where they engage with the challenge of environmental peacebuilding in both daily life and the curriculum. Former students created the Arava Alumni Peace and Environment Network to foster continuing work on this agenda. The institute’s research division has cultivated region-wide networks on water and solar energy (Cohen 2006, Alleson and Schoenfeld 2007, Zohar, Alleson and Schoenfeld 2010).

25While these organizations provide a continuing structure for promoting environmental peacebuilding, they are not the only contexts in which this frame is articulated. A recent book subtitled “Preparing the Groundwork for Cooperative and Sustainable Water Management in the Middle East” (Tal and Abed Rabbo 2010) is structured around chapters with Palestinian and Israeli experts in dialogue. The blog “Environment and Climate in the Middle East” collects environmental news from the Eastern Mediterranean, contains resources pages on environmental peacebuilding and links to organizations that work in the field. Rising Temperature, Rising Tensions: Climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East contains maps showing countries that extend north to Turkey, east to Iraq and south to Yemen, but the focus in the text is on the “Levant—made up of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory” (Brown and Crawford 2009:6). These documents supporting the frame of environmental peacebuilding use “Middle East” as the common geographic label, but the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean receives most of the attention.

26Organizations and individuals advocating environmental peacebuilding promote this frame by amplifying an existing orientation towards finding mutually beneficial solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They bridge growing environmental awareness in the Eastern Mediterranean and the agenda of peacebuilding. They argue that the practical interests of those they reach out to – environmental professionals and activists, students, water scarce communities, the people of the region as a whole - are addressed by environmental peacebuilding. They promote environmental peacebuilding as part of a broad beneficial transformation of the Eastern Mediterranean towards a peaceful and sustainable future.

27Environmental peacebuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean shows a shift from a largely failed state-to-state approach to an initiative sustained by a network of NGOs, think-tanks, environmental activists, academics, professionals, local communities, government officials, politicians, and peace activists. States and foundations, primarily outside the region, support this network. In the network advocating environmental peacebuilding, even though there is still much focus on individual issues (e.g., water, climate change), the continuing context is the bridging between peacebuilding and sustainable development frames. There is also a shift from thinking about adjacent states to thinking about ecoregions.

28Two maps from FOEME visually represent the Eastern Mediterranean peacebuilding frame of environmental regionalism. Map 1 is taken from an FOEME report that advocates a “regional campaign to raise awareness of the need to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River Valley” (Friends of the Earth Middle East 2005). It presents the Jordan River valley – including territory of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel - as an ecoregion, showing natural heritage features but does not show national borders. A parallel map (not shown) in the document shows historical sites along the river. Map 2 is taken from the section of the FOEME website on its Good Water Neighbors project. The project promotes awareness of the “shared water problems of Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israelis” by grouping together cross-border communities that share a common water source. The twenty-six local communities are grouped into nine cross-border sets of partners. Water sources and participating communities (color coded red for Palestinian, green for Jordanian and blue for Israeli) are highlighted on the map. Political boundaries are shown with a dotted line (Friends of the Earth Middle East 2010).

Natural Heritage in the Lower Jordan River Valley

Natural Heritage in the Lower Jordan River Valley

Source: Friends of the Earth Middle East 2005

Good Waters Neighbors Community

Good Waters Neighbors Community

Source: Friends of the Earth Middle East 2010

Mediterranean environmentalism

29The project framing the Mediterranean as a region of environmental cooperation has developed in various settings: the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) in the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the EU Mediterranean initiative, and transnational environmental NGOs.

30Following the first UN environmental summit in 1972 and the creation of UNEP, sixteen countries on the Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean and the EU negotiated the Barcelona Convention, formally the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution, in 1976. The MAP established on the basis of the convention was the first of UNEP’s Regional Seas projects. Using the variables that Balsinger and VanDeveer identify to categorize regional environmental governance, the MAP defined its territory of interest as an ecoregion, involved primarily state actors and had a restricted thematic concern with pollution. The MAP was revised in 1995 to highlight coastal zone management as well as marine management and to include sustainable development within its objectives through establishing the associated Mediterranean Committee on Sustainable Development. In addition to this extended frame, the MAP has brought civil society actors – national and transnational NGOs, national and transnational business organizations and technical experts – into its work (Brauch 2010, Scoullus 2010). These developments follow the trajectory that Balsinger and VanDeveer describe. Thematic concerns expand from specific issues to sustainable development, and non-state actors join state actors.

31The EuroMediterranean Partnership (EMP), launched in 1995, and the revised Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) of 2008 have somewhat different signatories than the Barcelona Convention, reflecting different processes of constructing a Mediterranean space. The Barcelona Convention involves the states that share the ecoregion of the Mediterranean Sea. The EMP and UfM were EU projects, framed by the needs of the EU as a block of adjacent and integrated European states managing its relationship with its southern perimeter (Jones 2006, see also Adler et. al. 2006, Bialasiewicz 2009). The EMP proceeded independently of the internal EU discussion of the Mediterranean environment. In Pace’s detailed study of how different actors within the EMP variously constructed Mediterranean regionalism (2006), there is only passing reference to environmental issues as a basis for a regional project.

32Pace also suggests speaking of the Mediterranean as an “area” rather than a “region” since the extent to which the Mediterranean is framework for common identity is not clear (2006a:2). Reflecting on the transition from the EMP to the UfM, Calleya noted that, “Successive attempts to enhance regional and subregional dynamics across the Mediterranean have remained at an embryonic stage at best. There is little to indicate that an intensification of trans-Mediterranean regional dynamics is taking place. On the contrary, centrifugal tendencies are the main characteristic in relationships between Mediterranean countries” (2009:49). He further writes, “the Mediterranean remains a frontier …. European and Middle East international region disparities and conflict continue to be the hallmark of Mediterranean interchange. …” (53). Making the case for a renewed Mediterranean region project, Calleya continues,

The UfM offers the blueprint to address the physical architectural deficit that has prevented the Mediterranean area from becoming a coherent functional economic regional space. The specific project areas that have been highlighted include renewable energy, depollution of the sea, transport, and a civil protection network. These would improve the physical dimension of the regional framework that, to date, has been lacking. (53)

33This extension of the frame of EU Mediterranean regionalism to incorporate environmental regionalism is also found in other recent policy publications. Lesser remarks on the “central place of environmental projects in the new UfM” (2009:26) and emphasizes their importance for economic development. Scoullus, director of the EU sponsored NGO federation, the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development, makes the case for a Mediterranean sustainable development agenda and identifies the institutional elements that contribute to it (2010). Faragina (2010) reviews and promotes a Mediterranean water strategy. Brauch (2010) writes on the challenge of climate change in the Mediterranean region, using a human security perspective, which brings economic (sustainable development), political (security) and environmental dimensions into one policy framework.

34The inclusion of environmentalism in the UfM regional project speaks to frame bridging and frame transformation. The UfM is framed as a tool for addressing the wide range of regional environmental problems and their intensification by climate change. The frame of sustainable development is not abandoned; rather, it acquires more urgency because of climate change. The UfM is also presented as transforming the understanding of the Mediterranean region by, in contrast to the EMP, giving a high priority to addressing the environmental dimension of economic development.

35A policy conference on “Environment and Security issues in the Southern Mediterranean Region” and an associated publication make a parallel argument. The conference organizers presented it as building on previous meetings on Mediterranean environmental issues, utilizing a model of participatory environmental assessment that the EU had previously employed in the Balkans (Cherterian 2010: 6-7). Based on the background document prepared for the conference, additional input from Moroccan, Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Tunisian and Algerian experts, and conference discussions, the sponsoring organizations presented the subsequent publication as the results of the workshop. The website hosting the publication ( describes the conference as a first step towards a Mediterranean environmental security partnership (MEDSEC) and gives an extended list of partners.

36The associated MEDSEC publication (Cherterian 2010), explains in non-academic, non-technical language how environmental issues can be seen as “human security” concerns. It uses this language to signal the shift away from a narrowly state-centered conception of security. The publication is built around a series of Mediterranean maps, which are also reproduced on the website. Thematic maps show agriculture and fisheries, desertification, migration, population, energy and mineral resources, climate change and water. Two “mapping exercises” show perceptions of environmental and security issues in two subregions – 1) Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, and 2) Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria and Tunisia (Cherterian 2010: 38, 40).

37Map 3 is one of the seven MEDEC maps listed above. It is taken from the section of the MEDSEC publication titled, “Energy and natural resources: new opportunities?” Mapping resources under this question in a document on the Mediterranean environment illustrates the integration of sustainable development and energy security concerns into the frame of Mediterranean environmental regionalism. A MEDSEC mapping exercise of Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria and Tunisia (not shown) drawn as a conference exercise develops this perspective by showing the potential to export solar energy generated in North Africa to Europe and a natural gas pipeline connecting North Africa to Europe (40-41).

Non-reneweable Natural Resources

Non-reneweable Natural Resources

Source: Cheterian 2010, 32-33.

38WWF, Greenpeace and FOE also frame the Mediterranean as a shared environmental region. These transnational environmental NGOs support the legitimacy of regional cooperation and offer experience at building environmental civil society organizations. While they have taken a Mediterranean regional perspective, they appear to lack the support base in the region or the financial resources to make a major impact on Mediterranean environmental cooperation. The WWF Mediterranean office is one of three regional offices; the rest of its more than sixty offices are national. It identifies the Mediterranean as one of its “global priority” places, but the only Mediterranean countries to have WWF national offices are Spain, France, Italy and Turkey. WWF’s Mediterranean work is coordinated through its regional office in Rome. The regional office engages in capacity building for environmental NGOs in southern and eastern Mediterranean (World Wildlife Fund 2010a, 2010b). Greenpeace has national offices in Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel. While it has had a Mediterranean office in Malta since 1994, its Mediterranean activists address their projects to their own national governments (Greenpeace 2011). FOE Europe established a Mediterranean program, MedNet, in 1992, last active in 2007 and now listed as a “former campaign” (Friends of the Earth Europe 2010). While MedNet’s core activities are described in Mediterranean terms, its only non-European member was Friends of the Earth Middle East.

39Mediterranean environmentalism remains primarily a UN and an EU project. Environmental NGOs are well developed on the northern shore but are hardly present on the southern one, limiting the ability of civil society groups to speak as representatives of a region-wide perspective. Mediterranean regional environmental governance is not well developed even though the extension of the frame of environmentalism to include sustainable development and human security has the potential to mobilize a supporting coalition on both shores.

Environmentalism as a shared arab concern

40Both intergovernmental and civil society initiatives have framed the environment as a shared Arab concern. The League of Arab States, founded in 1945, recognized environmental issues as a shared intergovernmental concern by establishing the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible For the Environment (CAMRE) in 1988. The Center for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE) was subsequently established in 1992, the year of the UN “Earth Summit” in Rio, as a joint initiative of CAMRE, the Arab Republic of Egypt, UNDP and the Arab fund for Economic and Social Development. As an intergovernmental organization, CEDARE occupies a niche in the UN system as a structure for collaborative Arab action, funding its operations through grants from a range of development funds and international agencies.

41CEDARE defines the problem of regional environmental cooperation as one of addressing areas of special concern – “climate change, coastal zone management, waste management, genetically modified organisms, etc.” by developing expert capacity and voluntary corporate adherence to international environmental standards (CEDARE 2011). CEDARE acts as a technical resource center and communications channel for governments and businesses. Its approach to motivating engagement with its regional environmental agenda consists of highlighting successful projects and technical possibilities through documents and projects. In 2005 CAMRE asked UNEP for a report on the Arab region. The report, The Environmental Outlook for the Arab Region, published in 2010, highlights environmental stresses and examines sustainable development options. UNEP describes it as “the first official, comprehensive, and integrated assessment of the state of environment in the Arab region” (Regional Office for West Asia 2010).

42These intergovernmental initiatives use pan-Arabism and the League for Arab States as the context for building environmental cooperation. They bridge the league’s conception of Arab states as a cultural and political region with the encouragement by UNEP and other international organizations of regional institutions that respond to global challenges. The interests of national regimes and business opportunities are aligned with this frame, and this framing accepts, at least rhetorically, that ways of life are changing and adaptation to new conditions is necessary.

43A somewhat different form of pan-Arab environmentalism, based on regional civil society and business networks as well as government support, has developed through the magazine Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia / Environment and Development and the work of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED). The origins of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia and AFED are in the Middle East Centre for the Transfer of Appropriate Technology (MECTAT), founded in 1982 in Lebanon by Najib Saab. The rhetoric of “appropriate technology” in MECTAT’S name refers to the environmentalist critique in the 1970s of using technology without considering context and consequences, and a preference for technologies that work with natural processes. MECTAT’s thematic areas - renewable energy, organic farming, tree planting, water and environmental health - reflect this approach (Middle East Centre for the Transfer of Appropriate Technology 2011).

44MECTAT began publishing the monthly magazine, Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia / Environment and Development, in 1996. Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia’s website connects the magazine’s beginning to the UN Earth Summit of 1992. In 2003, when Saab received the United Nations Environment Award, UNEP wrote that the magazine had a circulation of 38,500 in 22 countries, sponsored more than 360 environmental clubs in schools, was a main reference for environmental curricula in Arab schools, and sponsored environmental conferences and a related weekly television show (United Nations Environment Programme 2003). Saab’s website reports that he has written ten books, including one which received the book of the year award at the Beirut Arab Book Fair, and that his monthly editorial, published in ten newspapers, is the only regular syndicated commentary in Arabic on environment issues (Saab 2011).

45The activities of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia led to the creation of AFED in 2006, with Saab as secretary general, supported by a board of twenty-four trustees from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The trustees are drawn from political life, business and universities. AFED has only institutional members. Its thirty-three corporate members include multinationals active in the region (GM, Ford, GE, Philips) and major regional corporations, primarily from the gulf states and Saudi Arabia, in energy, oil and gas, waste management, construction, metals, fertilizer and finance. The fourteen media members reflect the public outreach agenda. The twelve NGO members are Lebanese, Syrian, Kuwaiti, Qatari, Tunisian and Jordanian. The eight academic and research institute members are Lebanese, Jordanian, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Bahraini and Palestinian. Government agencies from Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have observer status (Arab Forum for Environment and Development 2011). The national affiliations show the prominent role of the governments and businesses in the wealthy oil producing states.

46AFED has held three annual conferences (2008, 2009, 2010), each launching a major report. AFED’s first report, Arab Environment: Future Challenges (Tolba and Saab 2008), takes a more holistic approach to environmental issues than the documents produced by Arab intergovernmental initiatives, including chapters population growth, urbanization, environmental legislation, environmental education and the media, and the environmental impact of the several continuing conflicts in the Arab region.

47AFED released its detailed second report, on climate change (Tolba and Saab 2009), at its conference held a month before the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen. Map 4 from the 2009 AFED report shows the vulnerability of the Arab Region to sea level rise. It is similar to many others in AFED reports. National borders do not appear or are minimal. The map, like the textual approach of AFED documents, conveys a shared challenge across a large, geographically contiguous region.

Sea level rise scenario at 4 meters

Sea level rise scenario at 4 meters

Source: Tolba and Saab 2009, 35.

48The third report, Arab Environment: Water (El-Ashry, Saab, and Zeitoon 2010), documents the widely acknowledged water scarcity in Arab countries, but also continues the AFED thematic interests in public education and government reform. It is particularly pointed on the latter, writing,

This AFED report has found that most public organizations in the Arab world, serving both irrigation and urban water needs, do not function properly and have not served their clients effectively. Responsibility for managing water and water services is dispersed across multiple institutions which rarely coordinate among themselves. Moreover, decision making is top-down with no, or ineffective, stakeholder participation. (El-Ashry, Saab, and Zeitoon 2010:viii)

49The frame alignment strategies used by AFED and Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia differ from those used by Arab intergovernmental organizations. AFED considers public education particularly important. Its transnational educational and organizational work builds on a shared Arab cultural identity, and on the latent pan-Arab ideology that Arabs can express agency collectively and not just through national governments. Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia has contributors from throughout the Arab world. AFED conferences are transnational events. Its reports are presented as collective efforts; each chapter has its individual author(s) and the editors supply an integrating voice. The reports have additional legitimacy from the participation of Mostafa Tolba, executive director of UNEP from 1975 to 1992, as co-editor of the first two.

50An indirect link to the UNDP sponsored Arab Human Development reports (AHDR) indicates bridging to the movement for Arab governance reform. The first AHDR (Regional Bureau for Arab States 2002) attributed much of the lack of Arab development to institutional shortcomings, particularly in governance. This critical assessment was followed by a 2003 AHDR on knowledge, a 2004 report on freedom, a 2005 report on women and a 2009 report on human security. The 2009 report paid particular attention to the environmental challenge facing Arab countries, addressing it in detail as the first of seven threats to Arab human security, and has considerable overlap with the 2008 AFED report on Arab environmental challenges. The AHDR wrote, “Arab countries have not shown a level of environmental stewardship that is consistent with protecting environmental security” (Regional Bureau for Arab States 2009:192) and endorsed a list of recommendations similar to those from AFED. AFED has also worked to align its environmentalist critique with the interests of multinational and regional corporations. Multinationals and regional corporations have a long term interest in the AFED agenda because these businesses cannot sustain themselves if the failure to address environmental challenges in Arab countries leads to economic and political upheaval. The support of AFED from oil producing states also indicates alignment of these states’ interests with an environmentalist agenda. Their long term prosperity and stability depend on using wealth that comes from resource extraction to build sustainable economies.

51The inclusion of environmental concerns echoing AFED criticisms and recommendation in the 2010 AHDR has some relevance for the process of developing and negotiating frames. The AHDR is published by UNDP, while The Environmental Outlook for the Arab Region published by UNEP in coordination with Arab governments omits governance issues, environmental education and the media, and the environmental impact of continuing conflicts. The two UN agencies draw on different Arab networks and frame Arab environmentalism in different ways.

Conclusions and a question

52Each project of regional environmentalism in the Eastern Mediterranean has created intergovernmental and civil society organizational settings to advance the project of regional environmental cooperation, has produced studies and policy recommendations, and has led to activities that mobilize supporters and respond to environmental stress. The review of Eastern Mediterranean environmental peacebuilding, Mediterranean environmental regionalism and Arab environmental regionalism has discussed how the frame of each defines the problem of regional environmental cooperation, understands its causes, makes moral judgments, suggests remedies and motivates engagement. It has noted strategies of frame alignment used to reach out to supporters and resource providers. The analysis of the framing of each project has been supported by Balsinger and VanDeveer’s review of environmental governance. Their comparison of social actors as well as the conception of territory and thematic concerns in environmental governance projects focuses on those who are framing and the processes of developing and revising frames as well as on the content of the frames.

53The developmental trajectory they describe is useful for identifying similarities and differences in the framing of each project. The thematic concern of each has broadened, reflecting the broadening environmental agenda at the international level from the 1970s to the present. Environmental peacebuilding continues to give high priority to water issues but in the context of a bridging broad peace and sustainability frames. The Mediterranean Action Plan was initiated around the single issue of pollution; current discussions of Mediterranean environmentalism extend the frame to sustainability and security themes. Recent Arab reports promoting an environmentalist outlook amplify the frame by invoking emotionally powerful pan-Arabism. The conception of territory has shifted from projects involving adjacent states to incorporate projects that use an ecoregional perspective. The focus on the Jordan River valley in environmental peacebuilding shifts the focus from state interests to shared interests of those in a transboundary ecoregion. The Mediterranean project began with national coordination on pollution control and then expanded to more ecoregional concerns of coastal zone management and sustainable development. Both the environmental peacebuilding and the Mediterranean frames are transformational. They each document increasingly severe environmental stress and argue for the much stronger ecoregional responses. A shift to an ecoregional perspective in Arab environmentalism, however, is constrained by the wide geographic extent of the League of Arab States. The role of state and non-state actors varies, and intergovernmental and civil society agendas differ in each project. In environmental peacebuilding, civil society groups, with support from state and non-state actors from outside the region, maintain the project and advance sustainable development strategies while the intergovernmental project is almost paralysed. Mediterranean environmentalism is still largely a state-to-state project, with limited engagement, and environmental NGOs have not become major actors. AFED and Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia, funded by regional states and corporations, have built a civil society base, with an environmental agenda that is much broader than that of Arab intergovernmental bodies.

54As noted above, this paper began as an extension of continuing research on Eastern Mediterranean environmental peacebuilding. To what extent are these three initiatives independent or part of a process in which they positively reinforce each other? All three projects have much in common in the way in which they frame their messages. These commonalities reinforce each other’s messages, even if they are presented to different audiences in different ways. Each references the work that UNEP has done since the UN first acknowledged environmental stress as a global problem. The rhetoric of sustainable development, diffused from UNDP into many settings, is found in each project. Similarly, each project includes climate change in its framing. Occasional intertextual references in the documents produced by each project bridge their frames. The MEDSEC publication on its conference notes the presence of representatives of the Arab League intergovernmental group CEDARE. The 2008 AFED report contains a chapter on the environmental impact of wars and conflicts that includes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as one of several within the region, and supports cooperation on the environment as a tool of regional conflict resolution efforts (Partow 2008). The 2010 AFED report includes a chapter on transboundary water resources (Stephan 2010) that devotes four pages to a reprint of a favorable article on FOEME originally published in the National Geographic. Reports of the Euro-Mediterranean Information System on Know-how in the Water sector, begun under EMP and continuing in the UfM, direct readers to studies that have been produced by all three projects.

55There are settings in which these projects relate to each other. The connection of FOEME to Friends of the Earth Europe has related Eastern Mediterranean environmental peacebuilding and Mediterranean environmentalism. The Palestinian and Jordanian sections of FOEME work in the context of Arab environmentalism as well as in environmental peacebuilding. The Arava Institute cultivates relationships with Arab environmentalists. European agencies that fund environmental peacebuilding and Mediterranean environmental activities are important settings for relating these two projects to each other. Professional networks bring together experts from all three projects.

56The three projects could be integrated into a larger but still only partially developed frame of Middle East regional environmentalism. As noted earlier, discussion of the Middle East as a region has focused on the role of this geographic area in the global political and economic system, and the area lags behind others in regional institutional development. A few publications from outside the area do use a Middle East geographic region as the context for studying the politics and economics of environmental issues. (Allan 2001, Waslekar and Futehally 2009, 2011). Experts involved in all three regional environmental projects have been participated in these studies. Within this larger frame of Middle Eastern environmentalism, the Eastern Mediterranean, like the Gulf, the Nile or the Maghreb, can be conceptualized as a sub-region in interaction with the broader region.

57There are clear barriers to the emergence of a Middle Eastern regional environmentalism. There are obvious political barriers to cooperation and shared identity - the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict, other regional conflicts, governance issues throughout the Middle East, national competition for regional influence, and the weak political influence of grassroots environmentalists. The economics of the Middle East may also be a barrier, despite the heavy economic costs of environmental degradation and climate change. Urgent issues of unemployment, poverty and coping with inflation in food and fuel costs can push environmentalism down the list of priorities, with long-term sustainable development projects overwhelmed by immediate needs. In addition, oil producing countries have a mixed record on environmentalism, particularly on the response to climate change, and have different economic stakes in environmentalism than countries without oil. Cultural understandings can also act as a barrier to a larger Middle East environmental regionalism. Each project of regional environmentalism mobilizes supporters on a different cultural base, reinforcing – at least temporarily – differences within the Middle East rather than promoting a common outlook.

58On the other hand, dynamic systems have their own emergent properties. As the organizational and professional networks within each project develop, as each project produces studies and policy recommendation on topics of shared interest, and as each project shares and contributes to the common stock of knowledge of global environmentalism, it is inevitable that those involved in each project will become better informed about the other projects. It is not inevitable that a common environmentalism will emerge from this dynamic. However, even if regional Middle Eastern environmental institutions are not formed, it is possible for this dynamic to produce better coordinated and more effective action around a shared agenda.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Natural Heritage in the Lower Jordan River Valley
Crédits Source: Friends of the Earth Middle East 2005
Fichier image/png, 170k
Titre Good Waters Neighbors Community
Crédits Source: Friends of the Earth Middle East 2010
Fichier image/png, 135k
Titre Non-reneweable Natural Resources
Crédits Source: Cheterian 2010, 32-33.
Fichier image/png, 640k
Titre Sea level rise scenario at 4 meters
Crédits Source: Tolba and Saab 2009, 35.
Fichier image/png, 292k
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Stuart Schoenfeld et Jonathan Rubin, « Contrasting Regional Environmentalisms in the Eastern Mediterranean: A social Constructionist Perspective », L’Espace Politique [En ligne], 14 | 2011-2, mis en ligne le 11 juillet 2011, consulté le 20 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/espacepolitique.1939

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Stuart Schoenfeld

Associate Professor and Chair
Sociology, Glendon College, York University

Jonathan Rubin

Graduate, Master's Program in Public and International Affairs
Glendon College, York University

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