November 30, 2012
By Stephen Dockery

BEIRUT: Arab countries are using twice the natural resources that their own ecosystems can provide, an alarming statistic that needs to be addressed by national governments, Environment Minister Nazem Khoury said Thursday.

Speaking at the beginning of a regional environmental conference in Beirut, Khoury was commenting on a new report from the Arab Forum for Environment and Development

The two-day annual conference at the PhoeneciaHotel aims at reducing the ecological impact of Arab countries.

Over 500 delegates from around the region attended the event to exchange ideas about sustainable energy, reducing consumption and raising a warning about the dangers of environmental destruction.

The Arab region is on the edge of ecological bankruptcy, the report claimed, reporting that countries in the region have some of the largest ecological footprints in the world and don’t have nearly enough local resources to support them.

An imbalance in resource supply and demand is leading to an economic crash and a disruption of its stability and security, chairman of AFED Adnan Badran said at the opening of the event.

To a large extent, the report and participants at the conference said, Arab countries are wasteful users and not using basic environmentally friendly practices like recycling.

Many states in the Arab world import the majority of their agriculture and Gulf states in particular are known for their extravagant use of energy resources because of their abundance of oil wealth.

“Arab countries are facing an urgent challenge: how to provide sustainable well-being for all inhabits and not simply seeking growth for the sake of growth at any cost,” the report states.

Despite a wealth of ecological resources, Lebanon is facing a number of environmental degradation issues including large levels of pollution in its rivers, uncontrolled landfills and disregard by business for the country’s environmental laws.

Khoury has worked to bolster the country’s environmental legislation and awareness with a number of initiatives throughout the year, but waste and pollution reduction remain low on the government’s priorities and recycling is still scarce.

Lebanon is not agriculturally sufficient, importing more food than it produces, putting it at the mercy of international price fluctuations.

The conference brought together a number of experts to discuss just how issues like that could be remedied region-wide.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati launched a wide-ranging new strategy for the country’s environmental protection and green industry development several months ago at a conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The strategy was embraced as a positive step by some but also criticized by environmental activists for lacking any tangible commitments to ecological protection.

It didn’t square with the economic and governmental realities in the country, they said.

“We can’t have infinite growth using finite resources. If we continue as we do, we’ll overshoot, and the environment will collapse. Business as usual won’t work. Ultimately we need empowerment,” said Ashok Khosla, a sustainable resource expert. “The oil and gas in the Mediterranean will only buy us five to 10 years. Oil and gas is limited,”

The conference also included a roundtable with youth environmental leaders to try and encourage the next generation of policymakers and environmentalists to make change.

“It’s necessary to obtain a sustainable well-being,” said AUB student Hadi Abi Abdallah, speaking about the need for cooperation in the region to achieve sustainable resource consumption in every nation.

“As citizens of one same region we have the right and need to overlap each other but the duty not to exploit each other,” he said. – additional reporting by Brooke Anderson

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 30, 2012, on page 4.

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