November 24, 2012 01:43 AM
By Niamh Fleming-Farrell
BEIRUT: With days to go before the United Nations conference on climate change opens for the first time in an Arab country, young Lebanese activists, alongside their regional counterparts, see the occasion as a chance to advance action on this important issue.

Representing the Arab Youth Climate Movement in Lebanon, Ali Fakhri, media campaigner with IndyACT, an environmental nongovernmental organization, spoke to The Daily Star about the pivotal opportunity the conference represents for action on climate change in the region.

“It is very crucial to mobilize the Arab youth now more than ever because [for] the first time in history an Arab country is hosting the U.N. COP [conference of parties] for climate change negotiations,” Fakhri said.

The COP, which has been meeting annually since the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change entered into force in 1994, brings 195 countries together to review the implementation of the convention.

Meeting for the first time in an Arab country, COP18 runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 6 in Doha, Qatar, a state with one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world.

Ahead of this meeting, youth in more than 13 Arab countries, including Lebanon, united on Nov. 10 to launch the Arab Youth Climate Movement, a group established to lobby the region’s governments on an ongoing basis to take action against climate change.

Emphasizing that it is time for Arab youth to speak up on this issue, Fakhri explained “decision-makers in the region have always had a null position and this is not acceptable for us, especially as youth whose futures are jeopardized by the problems that this climate catastrophe causes.”

Among these problems are desertification, an increase in temperatures and a rise in sea levels, Fakhri said.

IndyACT has been a regular attendee at previous COP conferences and has campaigned within Lebanon for years for the adoption of policies to reduce green house gas emissions.

Despite the threat of rain, on Nov. 10 IndyACT assembled a small group of second level students from Amjad school on the corniche in Ain al-Mreisseh to create a large panel reading “Arabs: Time to Lead!” in an effort to encourage citizens of nations typically stereotyped as caring more about oil reserves and revenues than the environment to put pressure on their governments to avert environmental disaster.

Reflecting on the event, Fakhri said, “[it] was a huge day for the entire region realizing that the Arab youth have collectively agreed on sending out the same message on the same day and time demanding that Arab leaders take leadership in the next COP instead of only fearing for their businesses [in fuel].”

Throughout COP18, IndyACT and the AYCM will continue activities to highlight their message to both Arab and world leaders.

“We are currently organizing a number of actions to transmit our message to the world’s leaders generally and the Arab leaders particularly. One of the actions will be a huge march against climate change, which we will be taking part of, in corporation with ‘Doha Oasis’ and a number of other international organizations.

“[To establish media pressure], we also will single-handedly organize the Fossil Of the Day Awards announcing on each day of the conference the worst three countries that have contributed negatively to the negotiations on that day,” Fakhri explained, adding that there will be a number of other direct actions taken at the conference.

So far, Fakhri said, “people in Lebanon have been very supportive of our initiative and … are becoming more and more aware of the hazards of climate change.” He added that the Environment Ministry has been “very receptive to our message” but noted the hope is that this year the ministry will go a step further and “make a clearly defined pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” at the conference.

Beyond COP18, Fakhri says, AYCM will continue its activities to “follow up with the government [on] the implementation of the pledges and promises” made during the conference.

“It’s basically our role as civil society to make sure that the government is doing its best to provide us with the best quality of life and it’s our right as human beings to ensure a healthy future for us and generations to come,” the media campaigner concluded.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 24, 2012, on page 3.

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