Najib Saab at Climate Conference calls for shift in public policies
- Qatar: Tuesday, December 04 - 2012 at 16:15
- PRESS RELEASE
During a panel at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Doha, Najib Saab, Secretary General of Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), warned that only a shift in public policies can shield the Arab region from the devastating impact of climate change.
The same applies to water, where subsidies have generated levels of personal household consumption of fresh water in some water-scarce Gulf countries, which rank among the highest in the world. Sea level rise, drought and even sharper water scarcity are the main challenges facing the Arab region in an era of certain climatic changes. Saab was talking at a session on climate change resilience in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) organized by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) as part of COP18.
Saab showed a map with simulation made for AFED by Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing. It revealed that sea level rise (SLR) of only 1 meter will directly impact 41,500 km2 and 37 million people in the Arab region. Major impact will be in Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, based on percentage of population affected. Egypt's economy will be the most vulnerable; as such a rise will put 6% of GDP and 12% of agricultural land at risk. In UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, 50% of the population will be impacted. Still, Saab observed, no real plans for mitigation are put in action, and gigantic urban developments are still encroaching coastal areas.
Concerning fresh water, Saab pointed out that more work is needed to rationalize its consumption and harvest new non-conventional sources. Agriculture remains the biggest user of water, with 85% of the total consumption, while efficiency in irrigation is less than 40%, which means that there is room for great improvement. Only 40% of wastewater is treated, and one-third of the treated portion is re-used, opening another window of opportunity.
Saab stated that the best option for GCC countries in preparation for a low-carbon economy era is to "invest big portion of the present income from oil in education and technology." He cited some notable ongoing initiatives, such as Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah, and Qatar Foundation. He stressed, though, the need to involve more local researchers in the work of those institutions, and to focus on creating tangible results in society.
Regarding the Arab position in climate negotiations, Saab referred to the memorandum on the subject sent by AFED to Arab leaders and discussed with negotiators, urging positive involvement in the global endeavors, "as Arabs have a lot to gain from reaching a binding agreement, being among the most affected by climate change." He pointed out that the prospect of endorsing a second phase of commitment to Kyoto Protocol in Doha is high; however, this conceals a big failure. At the moment, Saab explained, countries committed to Kyoto are only responsible for 15% of the carbon emissions, as the biggest polluters, USA and China, are out. He added: "Any agreement without binding commitments from the big polluters is public relations."
Saab re-iterated AFED's call for a 3-track agreement, with developed countries committing to immediate high cuts in carbon emissions, China and the BRIC countries committing to fixed targets after a medium grace period of around 5 years, and developing countries given a grace period of 15 years, coupled with incentives. This alone, Saab said, might attract USA and China into Kyoto and break the deadlock. At the moment, USA insists that China commits to binding commitments immediately, while China hides behind developing countries in the Group of 77 to delay action. "It is unfair to treat China in the same way like Zimbabwe and Yemen, but it is equally unfair to put it immediately in the same category with USA," Saab explained, and also urged Arab countries to help break the vicious circle by endorsing the 3-track approach.
As part of COP18 Summit in Doha, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) will be holding on Thursday, December 6, a panel discussion on the theme "The Role of Arab Business in the Transition to Low-Carbon Economy". Guest speakers are Dr. Rashed Bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water in the UAE, and Dr. Andrew Steer, President of the World Resources Institute (WRI). Panelists from AFED corporate members Kharafi National, Acwa Power and Aramex will present policies and action taken by their companies towards transitioning to green low carbon economy. The session will be moderated by Najib Saab, AFED Secretary General, who is heading AFED's delegation to COP18.
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