Introduction

With the Middle East being the world's most water-stressed region, the projected impacts of climate change, such as more extreme weather events, decreased precipitation and sea-level rise, will contribute to even greater water stress in the region, with severe environmental, economic, political and security implications.

That is, climate change is likely to act as a 'threat multiplier', exacerbating water scarcity and, as a result, tensions over water between nations linked by hydrological resources, geography and shared political boundaries (CNA Corporation, 2007). 'In fact, the enormously intricate water politics of the [Middle East] region have been aptly described as a hydro-political security complex' (Campbell et al, 2007).

The following factors will play a role in determining the likelihood for greater conflict or cooperation in this region, which already possesses some of the greatest political tensions in the world, as climate impacts become more significant:

• the existence of water agreements, and their degree of sustainability, including the ability of parties to deal with extreme circumstances, such as longer periods of drought;

• the influence of destabilizing economic and political factors (e.g. unemployment and mass migration due to agricultural decline and the large-scale flooding of agricultural areas);

• the extent of national economic and political development, including the degree to which local institutional structures and infrastructure exist;

• a given political entity's ability to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change;

• power relationships between the parties involved; and

• whether it is politically expedient at a given time to cooperate (or to continue to cooperate) over water resources.

Keeping these factors in mind, climate change provides both challenges and opportunities for cross-border cooperation to ameliorate and prevent the problems that are already occurring and are projected to intensify. For this reason, water issues, for example, have been an important part of all peace talks in the region. The following are some highlights of the unique aspects, as well as some of the gaps, in the water-sharing agreements that do exist, and some of the anticipated problems where such agreements do not yet exist, as the impacts of climate are expected to intensify.

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