Nairobi, 25 February 2011

AFED Presents Arab Green Economy Initiative

at the Global Environment Forum in Nairobi

Nairobi, 25 February 2011

Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) presented its program on Arab green economy, at a special session held during the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF), which convened in Nairobi between 21-24 February. The meeting concurred with the 26th Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-GC26), held at its headquarters in the Kenyan capital, in which delegations from over 130 countries took part. Main items on the agenda were Green Economy and Global Environmental Governance.

A host of delegates participated in the AFED event, including UAE Minister of Environment and Water Rashid Bin Fahad and Iraqi Minister of Environment Sargon Slewa, along with the Regional Representative of UNEP in West Asia Habib Al-Habr. AFED Secretary General Najib Saab presented the Arab Green Economy Initiative, which aims at “transitioning from virtual economy based on real estate and financial speculation and depletion of resources, to the real economy based on sustainable growth combined with productive investment which creates new job opportunities.”

Saab said that the Arab development agendas are facing demanding challenges, as rapid population and the need for economic growth are creating strains in institutional capacities and natural resources. He added: “Arab economies are requested to provide gainful employment to tens of millions over the next 10 years, alleviate poverty, address food and water security risks, drive sustained economic growth, and adapt to climate change.” Emphasizing that these challenges demand strong and urgent action by Arab governments guided by a bold vision, he concluded that a shift to a green economy can bolster the region’s economic competitiveness and diversify national incomes, while maintaining social stability, cultural identity, and environmental sustainability.

AFED announced that Arab Green Economy will be the subject of its annual report for 2011, covering eight topics: water, agriculture, energy, transport, industry, cities and green buildings, tourism, and waste management. The report will highlight opportunities of sustainable investments in each of these sectors, to be discussed at AFED annual conference in October 2011. Consultation meetings to discuss drafts of the report are scheduled in April in Cairo, Beirut and Amman.

An agreement between AFED and UNEP was inked during the session to organize training workshops on green finance and corporate environmental reporting, aimed at introducing the culture of accountability and measuring environmental performance in the Arab region. AFED programme in 2011 also includes training modules in energy and water efficiency audits.

UAE Minister of Environment and Water Rashi d Bin Fahad expressed his support to AFED initiatives, calling upon governments and agencies to cooperate with the “leading regional organization that has become the main source of credible information on the state of Arab environment and policy options.” Bin Fahad warned of attempts by some countries to “monopolize green economy and clean production technologies and sell them to developing countries as consumer commodities,” urging the latter to invest in human resources to develop indigenous capabilities, rather than being mere recipients of ready-made products. Bin Fahad concluded that Arabs have a historic opportunity to integrate environmental models in economic development, “utilizing income from oil in diversifying their economy and shifting to cleaner production and consumption practices.”

Arab Coordination Group and Cancun

As an observer member of the Economic and Social Council, AFED participated in the coordination meetings held in Nairobi by the Secretariat of the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE). Represented by its Secretary General Najib Saab and Board of Trustees member Salih Osman, AFED submitted a memorandum to the Arab ministers, urging them to activate the work of the Transitional Committee on Climate Change Green Fund, mandated by the Cancun Summit, especially that the Asian group is chaired by the Saudi chief negotiator. The group has been late to nominate its representatives to the global Transitional Committee, which will meet in March. AFED warned that continued delays in appointing Asian group representatives might lead to negative implications, including accusations of stalling the progress of negotiations.

AFED argued that a positive conclusion of the forthcoming climate summit in Durban in November requires expediting negotiations between various groups, to bridge the gaps. “It is now implicit that the second phase of Kyoto cannot be a copy of the first one. Concessions will be required from all parties, to meet somewhere in the middle, taking emerging realities into account. This demands a new and committed approach, by which developing countries as a group will accept the differentiated responsibilities for current and future emissions, provided that developed countries take full responsibility for past emissions. A two-track approach is needed, recognizing the right of developing countries to a grace period before applying reductions required by a new treaty to be agreed in Durban, while granting emerging economic giants like China, India and Brazil a shorter one.” Saab cautioned that it was in the interest of Arab states to play an active role in negotiations, lest they are sidelined in deals involving major players from developing countries, such as China and India.

AFED memorandum called upon Arab negotiators to actively support the work of the Transitional Committee, led by the Mexican presidency of COP 16, building on its record of fairness and effectiveness, which was a crucial factor in reaching the balanced Cancun agreements.

As part of the Arab coordination group, AFED team was instrumental in the negotiations and drafting of two resolutions for UNEP Governing Council, the first urging the United Nations to prepare a report on dumping hazardous and radioactive wastes on Somalia coasts, and the second calling UNEP to mandate its Coordination Bureau to the Arab League to support projects of mutual regional interest. According to the UN’s geographical distribution, Arab countries are divided in two groups, under the jurisdiction of UNEP’s regional offices in Africa and West Asia.

Jamal Jaballah, CAMRE’s Secretary General, announced that the Council was cooperating with AFED and other regional bodies to develop a joint Arab vision for green economy, to be presented at Rio+20 Summit that will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

The Global Ministerial Environment Forum concluded its meetings with several decisions which included attracting additional funds for moving swiftly to green economy, and activating the role of UNEP. There was wide support to changing the structure of UNEP from a programme under the auspices of the UN Secretariat to an independent specialized international agency. Ministers called on UNEP to support countries keen to operationalize a transition to green economy, and to play a key and ‘active’ role in putting the challenges, opportunities and strategies towards such a transition firmly on the agenda for next year’s landmark meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

Arab representation in this year’s Governing Council was modest, restricted to two ministers, two deputy ministers, three heads of national environment agencies, few ambassadors, and the secretariat of the Arab Council of Environment Ministers, which was seen as a reflection of the turmoil in the region. The absence of ministers from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria and Jordan was noticed in particular, as they have traditionally participated in this annual high level gathering. Lebanon was officially absent, as usual, with the country’s name tag even removed from the assigned seat. Also peculiar was the low level of Arab contribution to the Environment Fund managed by UNEP, as shown in the 2010 report circulated at the meeting. The list showed meager sums from Tunisia ($17,000), Morocco (12,000) and Algeria (10,000), alongside unpaid pledges by Kuwait ($200,000) and Mauritania ($7,000). Other Arab countries were completely missing from contributors list. Those amounts ought to be compared to contributions in the millions from various other countries, topped by the Netherlands ($13 million).