A public opinion survey carried out by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) in 22 Arab countries revealed that a vast majority, exceeding 60 percent, believes that the environment has deteriorated in their countries over the last ten years. An even bigger majority of 95 percent thinks that their country is not doing enough to tackle environmental challenges. The questionnaire, circulated between March and June 2017 via internet, in cooperation with Arab media outlets, attracted 20,145 responses from across the Arab region. The survey is part of AFED report entitled “Arab Environment in 10 Years”, which will be launched on 2 November in Beirut, during the Forum’s tenth annual conference.

Respondents who thought that the environmental situation has worsened comprised 61 percent, reflecting findings of a similar AFED survey in 2006. In contrast, 20 percent said the situation has improved, down from 30 percent in 2006, and 20 percent said it has not changed. Overall results reflect a negative outlook, with the highest levels of public dissatisfaction recorded in Syria (96%), Lebanon (91%), Yemen (90%), Tunisia and Libya (78%), Iraq (74%) and Egypt (66%). It is obvious that war, conflict and political instability reflected negatively on the environmental situation in those countries. The only country where a majority of just over 50 percent thought that the environment improved was the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The most important environmental challenges according to the survey are solid waste, followed by weak environmental awareness, deterioration of water resources and climate change. Differences were observed in this regard among countries, where priorities chosen reflected specific problems at the national level. Food contamination due to improper use of pesticides and fertilizers was chosen as the top environmental threat in Egypt, reflecting increased concerns about food safety. The majority of respondents in Kuwait considered marine and coastal pollution the prime problem, which took second place in Lebanon. This can be explained by the repeated loss of thousands of tons of fish in Kuwait over the past decade due to the discharge of waste in the sea, and the worsening coastal pollution in Lebanon caused by untreated sewage.

The top causes for environmental deterioration chosen by those surveyed were bad environment management, non-compliance with environmental legislation, weak environment institutions and inadequate government spending on the environment. Results of Saudi Arabia and UAE highlighted weak environmental awareness as the main cause for environmental decline.

When asked about what personal action respondents were willing to take to protect the environment, 73 percent said they were ready to participate in environmental awareness campaigns and 65 percent were prepared to fully comply with environmental legislation. Regarding fiscal measures, 45 percent accept government taxes to protect the environment, while only 20 percent are willing to pay donations to an environmental protection fund.

Changes over ten years were evident on issues related to climate change, reflecting a higher level of awareness. The adoption of the Paris Agreement should have stimulated further recognition of the serious impacts of climate change. 93 percent say that the climate is changing due to human activities and 90 percent of the respondents believe that it poses a serious challenge to their countries. This represents a 6 percent increase over ten years. A regional average of 75 percent thought that the government was not doing enough to deal with climate change, with the highest levels of condemnation noted in Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. A majority of over 50 percent in Oman, the UAE and Morocco indicated satisfaction with government action to tackle climate change. This can be attributed to the specific inclusion of climate change in the cabinet portfolios in those countries, culminated, for example, in the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in the UAE.

The AFED survey shows that the public has become more familiar with the terminology and the concept of sustainable development goals. 83 percent of those surveyed say they know what the aims of sustainable development are, 98 percent think that changing consumption patterns can impact the environment, and 95 percent believe that environmental protection helps economic growth.

Results evidently show more understanding of environmental issues among the public, including their interrelation with economic and social factors. They also reveal that people are worried about the deterioration of the environment and depletion of resources, and that they are generally dissatisfied with the level of response of governments. On the other hand, the survey showed an overwhelming readiness from the public to support positive change, by encouraging stricter laws to protect the environment and preserve natural resources, alongside engaging in personal action in this regard.

The AFED report on the state of Arab environment in ten years which will be launched next month found that the situation has deteriorated, and called for immediate remedial action. As the people agree with the expert prognosis and are ready to endorse change, it is the right time for governments to enact appropriate policies and implement action plans to enhance the environment, with the engagement and support of the public.