Water, Oil Key Climate Issues in Arab World

Posted on 17 December 2009 by editor

An activist from Arabs Against Oil. Credit:  Claudia Ciobanu/IPS

An activist from Arabs Against Oil. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS

Terna Gyuse

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – In outlining a position on climate change, the League of Arab States must somehow account for looming problems like water stress – a problem found from Morocco in the west to the Gulf states in the east – and the importance of oil to the economies of many of the league’s members.

Dr Emad Adly, in Copenhagen representing the Arab Network for Environment and Development, says there was a time when countries like Saudi Arabia wouldn’t listen to even a mention of worldwide emissions reductions, for fear it would affect revenues from the sale of fossil fuels.

There are still misgivings, but this has shifted. The Arab ministers responsible for the environment met in Egypt in November and endorsed a call for reductions in emissions, though stopping short of setting a definite target.

The priority for the League is financing adaptation and the transfer of technology to cope with the impacts of global warming.

Water is a key issue throughout the Arab world, and drought is a threat to most countries. Rising sea levels are another anticipated problem, with implications for people living in coastal zones.

Roughly half of Egypt’s more than 80 million people live in the Nile Delta – with a large part of the population found in coastal zones.

George Conway, of Imperial College, London, said earlier this week that our detailed understanding of exactly how climate change will unfold in a given location is still imprecise. “There are twenty different models predicting what will happen to the Nile, but we don’t know what is going to happen.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates as many as six million people could be environmental refugees from the Nile Delta by 2050.

Assessing risks and vulnerability accurately is a priority. Conway said better country weather data is needed for the adaptation of the global climate models to local levels.

Adly feels that the present deadlock in talks is not unexpected or even necessarily a bad thing.

“The crisis (in the negotiations) in itself is progress.” It was expected, he said, and through it the world will have to find ways to negotiate an agreement amongst nations.

We will accomplish nothing unless we agree on two key points, he stresses: meaningful emissions reductions from industrialised countries and financing for those who will be most affected.

As to how this can be accomplished, he points to the G77/China group as a powerful bloc of interests.

But beyond this, Adly stresses public opinion around the world. Politicians everywhere must ultimately answer to their constituencies, and there is enormous public pressure to reach a deal here. He says the media has played a very important role in highlighting the challenge and framing the problems, leaving reluctant politicians with less room to maneuver.

“They have to show that they are not against humanity.”

The long-time environmental activist – he organised his first event on climate change in 1991 – does not underestimate the difficulty of succeeding here. Compromise will be key, he says, offering China as an example. One can respect China’s desire to continue to grow, but for the survival of us all, it must accept some limits.

Future growth need not repeat all the polluting mistakes of the past. China is a superpower, he concludes, and it has the capacity to do development while reducing emissions.


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