Another Year AFED Working for Arab Environment:
Revolutions do not Substitute Resource Management
Najib Saab
November 2013, issue 188

“Sustainable Energy” is the sixth annual report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab
environment. It is released at a time of decisive transformations across the Arab region. So how can a regional organization dedicated to environment adapt to the bitter reality in an area where more than half the population witness revolts and uprisings? It appears almost impossible to implement an environmental agenda in a region whose inhabitants struggle for survival and are totally uncertain about their future.

This is why genuine efforts were needed to convince our partners that despite – or rather due to – this situation, AFED should persist to pursue its endeavor. After all, when fights and struggles are over, people will still need to safeguard the natural capital in order to continue to drink, eat and breathe.

The new AFED report analyzes the current state of energy in the Arab region, shedding light on major challenges, discussing different policy options and, ultimately, recommending alternative measures that promote the smooth transition to a sustainable energy future. The report concludes that although the Arab region’s energy intensity and per capita carbon emissions are among the highest in the world, 60 million Arabs remain without access to reliable electricity supply. This highlights the need for more efficient management of the energy sector and the urgency of regional cooperation in power generation and distribution. The Arab region is, however, well endowed with renewable sources of energy, primarily sun and wind. Together with enhanced energy efficiency and cleaner technologies, those renewable sources can help diversify and power a more sustainable energy future.

The report indicates that the Arab region can reduce 50 percent of its energy consumption just by improving energy efficiency, without adding further generation capacity. Due to the fact that the oil and gas sector makes up more than 97 percent of the GDP in some Arab countries, the report calls for more economic diversification, using revenues from oil exports to enhance local capacities in science and technology, and fostering regional cooperation. The report, further, maintains that with a commitment to the right policies and investments, Arab countries could join the global clean energy club, thus creating high paying jobs and exporting renewable energy in addition to oil and gas.

With the release of the latest AFED report during the sixth annual conference in Sharjah, some may question the significance of research and studies that frequently remain mere ink on paper. But an account prepared by AFED has shown that great progress has been made towards the achievement of its mission, namely “to advance prudent environmental policies and action in the Arab countries, based on science and awareness.”

In this context previous AFED reports have been used as major sources for more than 32 executive plans in 2013 only. Parts of the reports have been reproduced by several regional and international organizations including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the World Bank, the League of Arab States (LAS), OPEC Fund of International Development (OFID), and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), in addition to international scientific journals such as “the Lancet”. During 2013, AFED also contributed to 42 regional and international conferences, reports and programs, and was an active player in the climate change negotiations.

AFED’s green economy initiative gained more recognition and was endorsed by many Arab countries to promote development strategies. A significant endorsement came in the statement of Iraqi vice-president at the United Nations General Assembly, which revolved around green economy as the basis for the countries development plan. Several Arab bodies have used AFED’s Energy Efficiency Handbook for office buildings in 28 training sessions and its Water Efficiency Handbook in 18 training sessions.

Upon the presentation of the AFED report on Ecological Footprint in Arab Countries in Kuwait, the Environment Public Authority (EPA) announced the launch of a national ecological footprint program and environmental audits. UAE was regional pioneer in introducing its national ecological footprint program. The Arab Atlas of Footprint and Biocapacity, produced by AFED, has been used as the main source for various development plans.

The most important achievement of AFED in 2013 has probably been the propagation of its environmental education program, supported by the Environment in Schools handbook, which was put in use throughout the Arab countries. Thousands of teachers received training on using the handbook and the related reference website. AFED also created a network for Arab eco-friendly schools, through helping create school pages on Facebook which attracted hundreds of schools and hundreds of thousands of students from different Arab countries.
During the first year after being donated to AFED by its founder and publisher for 17 years, Al-BiaWal-Tanmia (Environment and Development) magazine witnessed a major transformation involving the launch of a portal that made 17 years of the magazine’s archives freely available online. This website, www.afedmag.com, has become the leading Arabic reference address online, attracting around 5 million visits and 100,000 users in just 9 months. The magazine’s Facebook page attracted over 200,000 members and 12 million visits in 10 months. Moreover, 12 leading Arabic newspapers are now publishing monthly environment pages in association with AFED and Al-BiaWal-Tanmia magazine.

For those who think that working for the environment in this turbulent Arab world is some sort of mania, I say that to neglect planning for the future is mania per se, because revolts and uprisings are no substitute for sound resource management.