How The Kurds Could Unlock Middle Eastern Climate Action

By Dave Olsen

The Kurdish ‘state’ doesn’t currently exist — not because of other countries not recognising it, but because of the fact that it hasn’t declared independence, at least in Iraq. Despite a referendum in 2017 which was a clear indication of the will for independence, no declaration has been made yet.

However, Kurdistan’s potential borders could span many countries, not just the region of Iraq. Syria’s Kurds are trying, currently, to create a democracy in Northern Syria — called Rojava, or the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria — whilst fighting against IS. There are also significant numbers of Kurds in South-East Turkey and Iran.

Many argue that the aims of the Kurds are a compelling argument for Western backing. Democracy, liberal values, and gender equality are rare commodities in the region, and the fact that they have been so pivotal in the fight against Daesh makes the Kurds perhaps more deserving of statehood after the war is won — which could be within weeks or even days.

Indeed, it may well be in the West’s interests to support a Kurdish state, because it would provide another Middle Eastern ally along with Israel, and perhaps one less tainted by present politicians than Israel. It would weaken potentially hostile countries, such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and could provide a new stability to the region, being more capable of holding off IS than the current states.

But more importantly, it could be the key to getting the Middle East on board with a broad agenda of climate action. Not only would a Kurdish state uphold values similar of that to the West, and therefore be a proponent of environmentalist causes, but a sense of loyalty to its Western backers could help to spur on the cause of climate action in its borders.

However, Kurdistan could also have far-reaching influence outside of its borders too. Instead of unilaterally declaring independence from Iraq or Syria, the leadership has entered into discussions with the regimes in both countries, and clearly wants a peaceful route to independence, or to otherwise solve the divisions peacefully.

This isn’t to say that the Kurdish are perfect. Infighting is present, naturally, and there are some Kurds who would prefer another authoritarian regime and wars with their neighbours. But, if Kurdistan went down a more diplomatic route, then the influence it could potentially have over other countries in the region could be immense — and certainly much greater than that of Israel, which is adversarial with most Middle Eastern countries.

The Kurdish state is still a dream for the vast majority of Kurds, and a distant one at that. So too is the democratic governance that many Kurds hope for, as well as the diplomatic style being sought for.

But, with clear Western backing, strong leadership of the Kurdish people, and a diplomatic break from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, a Kurdish state could flourish, and bring climate action onto the regional agenda, in a place which has so far proved to be tough to negotiate with on climate change.

The Middle East will be key to the advancement of the fight against climate change, and the West can adopt strategies such as allegiance, trade deals, and climate funds to bring it onside. But perhaps more innovative solutions are needed, and backing the Kurds could be the answer.