Open or obstinate, the Arab world heads to Copenhagen

Open or obstinate, the A

By BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT / THE MEDIA LINE
December 6, 2009 16:48
3 minute read.

 
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The oily lands of the Middle East have an image problem. As the nations of the world prepare for the most significant international negotiations on carbon emissions in two decades, countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Morocco are rarely depicted as 'leading the charge'. Mohammed al-Sabban, head of the Saudi negotiating team at the conference, is often quoted questioning the role of human beings in climate change, fighting international attempts to curb emissions, or arguing that international agreements that may affect oil sales should include hefty financial compensation for fossil fuel dependent economies. Moroccan King Muhammed VI's penchant for fancy cars recently made headlines when the leader chartered a Hercules cargo plane to fly his Aston Martin to Great Britain for repairs. But whether the Arab world's much publicized reputation for obstinacy and opulence is deserved is a matter of intense debate among pundits, politicians and academics throughout the Middle East and Africa. Munqeth Mehyar, Vice President of the Jordan Society for Sustainable Development and the Jordan director of EcoPeace, argued that the oil producing Arab states posed one of the principal obstacles to international consensus on combating climate change. "There are two positions in the Arab world," he told The Media Line. "The oil producing countries and the non-oil producing countries. The non-oil producing countries want to see less emissions and to see the developing world lead in cutting emissions. But the oil producing states are absolutely unsupportive of all this talk about carbon emissions." "It's all about personal interests," he said. "They are basically becoming rich off carbon emissions, so their vision is to cash in on their resources now or be compensated to reduce their production." "But they have absolutely no right to ask for compensation," Mehyar argued. "They are supposed to take responsibility for carbon emissions and we are trying to convince them that oil will always continue to be an important commodity. Almost everything we do involves oil, so we can get energy from the sun, the wind, the sea, the earth, and still not threaten the oil market." Nejib Friji, a United Nations official in Bahrain, argued that Gulf states' reputation for working against international initiatives towards sustainability was undeserved. "I take exception to the depiction of oil producing Gulf countries as obstinate to working to curb the effects of climate change," he told The Media Line. "Over the last few months there has been quite an active reaction to the summit both on the government and civil society levels, and you can see, read and hear lots of talk about climate change in the local media." "Arab nations are trying to come to a consensus with other UN member nations," Friji said. "Of course it's not easy but at least they are actively involved." "There are lots of major challenges threatening this region," he said. "The rising sea level could flood the Nile Delta and endanger small islands throughout the Arab world, temperatures will increase by three to four degrees and the Sahara, which is a huge phenomenon of desertification, is affecting the ecosystems in most of the Arab regions, and water scarcity will increase throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, with shorter rain seasons for farmers impacting our food security." "So there is a growing awareness that nobody is hidden from the risk of the impact of climate change," Friji stressed. "The Arab states are just as concerned and desperate to seal the deal in Copenhagen." "Although climate change largely carries a "made in the west" label, the region is set quite literally to take the heat for it," Khaled Diab wrote in The Guardian. "Both temperatures and populations are expected to rise over the coming decades, causing water reserves to diminish, or at best stagnate, and desertification to accelerate. This means that scarce water will become even scarcer. Rising sea levels could also threaten major coastal population centres." "In the Arab world, although direct industrialisation has slowed down over the past three decades, modernisation has not - stressing the environment enormously," Diab added. "The region may be the world's main petrol pump, but this finite resource is rapidly dwindling and dependence on it has affected air quality in large urban centres and on the coastal plains where half of the region's population lives. Major investment in harnessing the region's massive solar resources makes both economic and environmental sense."

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