Tag: Arab Spring

Arabs: It’s time to lead!

For the first time in the history of UNFCCC negotiations an Arab COP has officially begun. Qatar, of the rich Persian Gulf, is hosting the 18th Conference of Parties. A lot is at stake in these 2 weeks and we are all expecting the Presidency and the Parties  to deliver a successful, balanced outcome that will ensure climate action pre and post 2020. Our eyes are on Qatar and all the other Arab countries as negotiating Parties. 

The COP not only brought the climate debate into this climate vulnerable Arab peninsula, but also stimulated the newly established Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM). ECO easily spotted many of them in the hallways, and they had a message for their countries; “Arabs: It's time to lead!”
The Arab world is feeling the grave impacts of climate change with droughts, decreased precipitation and floods. They have, however, not planned major shifts away from business as usual, let alone put climate change on their political agenda nor do they demonstrate willingness to take action internationally. The Arab spring has created a platform for social change, youth engagement and social change. It has in turn brought a climate spring and many young activists who will be strongly calling on their governments to provide mitigation/adaptation strategies to combat and reduce climate change impacts. 
The AYCM has set out to create a generation-wide movement across the Middle East and North Africa, driven by over 20 national coordinators spread across 15 MENA countries, and aims to make its presence felt from the Gulf to the Atlantic. They are here to play their role in the struggle to solve the climate crisis and will be engaging their delegates, carrying out actions and organising side events in order to influence the positions of Arab governments in the negotiations and beyond. More than one hundred Arab youth are here and pushing for greater ambition across the board. They want their countries to do their part and tell the world in Doha, take action before 2020 and work for a legally binding agreement  to ensure a safe climate future in the Arab world.
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The Rio Gap

One of the key obstacles to achieving sustainable development is agreeing who will carry the burden. Stopping environmental degradation requires resources. Some argue those resources could be needed somewhere else, such as eradicating poverty. So it could appear that the need to eradicate poverty and the need to stop environmental degradation are in conflict.

ECO does not buy into this argument.  At all.  Environmental degradation is fast becoming the biggest contributor to increased poverty. If we want to eradicate poverty, then we need to invest also in what is leading to more poverty, which includes fighting environmental degradation.

The more scarce resources become, the more sustainability must be at the center of poverty alleviation. The world has no choice but to choose a path that would combine them.  In fact, many developed and developing countries are already providing a lot of good examples on the national and subnational levels, such as developing efficient public transport that reduces CO2 emissions and at the same time increase mobility and affordability, which is needed for economic development.

Now that governments have agreed as little as they have, given the existing and rather pathetic political will now available, the question is what will they do when they go back home. The current conference document, with all its weaknesses, has nonetheless indicated many potential opportunities for further action. There are no hard numerical commitments and actions in the text, but it provides processes for governments to develop these commitments and actions. Such processes include:

  •  establishing an intergovernmental high level political forum that will follow up on the implementation of the sustainable development commitments contained in Agenda 21,
  • committing to promote an integrated approach to planning and building sustainable cities and urban settlements,
  • committing to maintain and restore marine resources to sustainable levels with the aim of achieving these goals for depleted stocks on an urgent basis by 2015,
  • adopting the 10-Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) on sustainable consumption and production (SCP),
  • resolving to establish an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process on SDGs that is open to all stakeholders.

There are many other opportunities highlighted within the existing text for governments to take us forward. Nevertheless, this will not happen unless political reality on the ground changes.

The failure of the international process is not because multilateralism is wrong. The process is good. What we lack is political will. The international process can only work within existing political will. If there is no new political will to capture, the process will not do anything.

Political will is not created at international venues, it is created back at home, and on the streets. It is up to the youth and civil society movements to take it forward.

But reality can change, and we saw it in the Arab Spring. What is needed is persistence, and continued action.  Civil society campaigned for years in Egypt to achieve political change against harsh suppression, but they never gave up. Then a tipping point was reached, and everything changed in only one day.

Civil society must use all the anger that exists as a result of the Rio+20 reality check, and then alter that reality.  After all, we are running out of time.

So ECO is going home for now.  We are angry, but that will focus our energy, and we will organize. Because as Nelson Mandela so wisely said: “it always seems impossible, until it is done.”

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