December 01, 2012

BEIRUT: The Arab Forum for Environment and Development wrapped up its fifth annual conference Friday, calling for countries to reduce the demand they place on their ecosystems.

The conference recommended that Arab countries reduce their ecological footprints by restoring degraded land, refilling depleted aquifers and fisheries as well as reducing pollution and generating less waste overall.

In addition to fighting against the damage already done, AFED also urged governments to invest in green development, suggesting that some of the region’s oil wealth should be used for this purpose.

It added that this green development should be extended to energy efficiency in construction, transportation and industrial sectors.

In a region that is using up its natural resources – a problem the conference’s report said would eventually have a major impact on economic competitiveness – AFED suggested regional cooperation and resource management as strategies to prevent further loss.

Over 500 delegates from 48 countries participated in the two-day meeting, and Friday’s proceedings included a standing ovation of congratulations to Palestinian Environment Minister Youssef Abu Safiyyeh for Palestine’s new status as a non-member observer state at the U.N.

Lebanon suffers from many of the same problems as the rest of the region, which AFED’s report “Surviving Options: Ecological Footprints in Arab Countries” said in general do not have enough natural resources to account for their impact on the environment.

Lebanon has high levels of pollution, unchecked landfills and there is little respect or enforcement of environmental laws. Levels of recycling are low, and it imports more food than it produces.

Environment Minister Nazem Khoury warned Wednesday that national governments are using twice the natural resources their ecosystems can provide.

In the field of agriculture, AFED called on Arab countries to improve irrigation efficiency, promote organic farming and develop crops that have a high yield and are resistant to salt and drought.

There was also a financial aspect to this year’s AFED recommendations: It called on development funds and banks to use “ecological accounting” in evaluating the grants and loans they provide. AFED itself was urged to provide assistance to various economic sectors in understanding sound ecological accounting principles, meaning a consideration of the environmental impact of business decisions.

A Friday session was dedicated to how business can help reduce a country’s ecological impact. It discussed several green corporate initiatives and included a panel discussion on how to incorporate ecological footprints into national budgets.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 01, 2012, on page 3.

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