Nairobi, 22 February 2012

Secretary General of the Arab Forum for Environment & Development (AFED), Najib Saab, spoke on prospects of green economy in the Arab countries, at a ministerial roundtable during the Global Ministerial Environment Forum held at the Headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi. The panel, attended by representatives of 162 governments, debated green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

The event was chaired by the Minister of Environment of Spain Frederico Ramos de Armas, who is the president of UNEP’s Governing Council, and moderated by Sha Zukay, Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD). Alongside Saab, who represented the Arab region, the panel included Janez Zukay, European Commissioner for the Environment, and Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environment in South Africa.

Saab said that the recent report on Arab environment produced by AFED “prescribes green economy as the path to navigate a sustainable transition in the Arab countries.” He explained that “one major demand which drove people to the streets was the plight for decent jobs. On this topic, a main finding of the AFED report is that transitioning to a green economy helps to generate decent and lasting job opportunities. And when people whose lives are most impacted have more say in shaping policies, this will result in better management of natural resources.”

According to Saab, Arab economies, as currently structured, cannot create the 60 million new jobs needed by 2020. He stated some examples of how shifting to a green economy can help in this regard: Sustainable agriculture is expected to result in savings to Arab countries of between 5-6% of GDP as a result of increased water productivity, which amounts to $114 billion annually, and millions of jobs in rural areas, where 76% of the poor in the Arab region live. An investment of US$100 billion annually in renewable energy is expected to create about 600,000 new jobs. A 25% reduction in energy subsidies would free up over $100 billion over a three year period, which can be shifted to green energy and millions of jobs. Spending US$100 billion in greening only 20% of the existing building stock in the Arab countries over the next 10 years, mainly for retrofitting, is expected to create 4 million jobs. Arab share of international tourism can increase by 12%, mainly by expanding cultural and eco-tourism, which generates $228 billion annually and create additional 5.6 million jobs.

Saab pointed out that the willingness to pursue a green economy agenda provides a window of opportunity for fundamental re-examination of current public policies in Arab Countries, stressing that “Green Economy, after all, requires the transformation from the prevailing ‘virtual economy’, primarily based on sales of raw extractive products like oil and phosphates and speculation in real estate, to a diversified ‘real economy’ focusing on sustainable production, which alone can protect the natural capital and generate long term jobs.” He concluded by giving examples of success stories in green economy applications in the region, including Masdar renewable energy initiative in Abu Dhabi, the inclusion of green economy in the government strategy in Jordan, the soft loans for energy-saving projects in Lebanon, and wind energy projects in Egypt and Morocco.

During the panel discussion, Edna Molewa, Minister for Water and Environmental Affairs, South Africa, called for enhancing public-private partnerships and ensuring solid fiscal policies to bolster the transition to a green economy.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, called for mobilization of funds from non-traditional sources to facilitate a smooth transition to a green economy, particularly in the developing world.

The international conference was attended by delegations from 162 countries, including over 120 ministers. The Arab group was chaired by the Minister of Environment of Sudan, and included ministers and heads of environment agencies from Egypt, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, Yemen and Palestine. The two biggest Arab delegations were those of Iraq and UAE, headed by their respective ministers. Lebanon, Syria and Jordan were not represented at any level. AFED participated in the daily coordination meetings held by Arab environment ministers during the Nairobi Forum, and concluded cooperation agreements with many participating agencies.