Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Meeting the SDGs

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be implemented by 2030, but some still wonder whether they can be met, writes Mahmoud Bakr

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As countries throughout the world mark World Environment Day, Egyptian Minister of the Environment Khaled Fahmi said this week that Africa urgently needs to move toward the implementation phase of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, agreed in the French capital in December, and prepare for the 22nd Conference of Parties to the Agreement that will be held in Morocco in November.

Moreover, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were agreed by UN member states in September 2015 and include several environmental goals will require the African continent in particular to face major problems, such as climate change, poverty, the lack of adequate healthcare in large parts of the continent and the deterioration of infrastructure and other systems, he said.

The continent must set out its own development goals in the context of the SDGs, and it was important for Egypt to set clear, common goals and ways to achieve them, both regionally and nationally, he added.

Fahmi pointed to the success of the organic energy project for sustainable rural development in Egypt, which is being financed by the ministry in cooperation with the UNDP and the Global Environment Facility. A model application of sustainable development, the project aims to produce gas from organic waste for domestic use and for the production of high-quality organic fertiliser. It will get rid of waste while also providing green jobs for young people making gas canister units and in the maintenance companies to service them.

The minister said the success of the project lay in its outputs, creating 15 companies offering young people jobs in maintaining gas canisters. Ultimately, the project will serve 60 villages in 14 governorates and has already begun in villages in Fayoum and Assiut.

Fahmi said there was a need to look to the natural capital of the African states in order to move forward with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the SDGs, noting that globalisation had created numerous challenges for the continent. He said that with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, states had agreed on integration to realise both environmental and economic development, but financing the Agenda required major investments.

Africa must make use of its own natural resources, environmentally and economically, to achieve the 2030 Agenda, Fahmi said.

He pointed to two initiatives that would help the region to confront climate change, in particular, one on renewable energy and the other on adapting to climate change. These two initiatives could help achieve rapid, sustainable development in Africa while also reducing carbon emissions, but ways to implement them must be determined, he said.

The continent’s joint strategy for combating the illegal trade in flora and fauna must also be implemented, since this was preventing Africa from utilising its natural resources, had a negative effect on ecosystems, and threatened international peace, he said.

Mustafa Hussein, a former environment minister and chair of the Basel Convention Regional Centre for Training and Technology Transfer for the Arab States (BCRC-Egypt), said it was time to find safe alternatives for sustainable development, to resolve environmental crises in the Arab world as well as health, education, and other problems, and to look at successful experiments in the Arab states.

He said there was a close relationship between the safe environmental management of chemical and hazardous waste and all the 17 SDGs, particularly those related to the protection of public health, water quality, sanitation, energy and production, and sustainable consumption.

Given the regional role of the BCRC and its mission in training and technology transfer for the safe environmental management of chemicals and waste, the BCRC has begun carrying out its own consultations to discuss mechanisms appropriate for the Arab region to meet the SDGs, aiming to integrate the goals into national and regional instruments for the implementation of international environmental conventions on chemicals and hazardous waste, he said.

“We can’t fly on our own,” Hussein added. “We need wings. We need a parliament that passes the relevant legislation and an active civil society, associations, private sector, and more.” Hussein said that governments could not act without the participation of all these parties, while also showing due regard for the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

 

COMMITMENTS TO THE SDGS: On international commitment to the SDGs, Mohamed Bayoumi, director of the UNDP office in Cairo, said there must be regular oversight and follow-up on practical steps to meet the SDGs, to determine whether progress is on target and identify obstacles.

 He added that for developing states in particular there must be participation on the national level, and on the international level there must be cooperation with the developed countries, especially when it comes to technical support, support for utilities and infrastructure, advanced technology, and expertise.

Seven of the SDGs were related to the environment, he said, including goals on energy, water, flora and fauna, climate change, and waste management, all of which are tied to the rest of the 17 SDGs.

According to Emadeddin Adli, chair of the Arab Network for Environment and Development (RAED), when the UN drafted the 17 SDGs it considered the whole world to be a developing nation. Every country, he said, needed development in education, healthcare, and the environment, and everyone was in the same global basket, facing the same problems and crises, even if to varying degrees.

Climate change was affecting the whole planet, and resource shortages and increasing pollution were vital threats to all. Adli said the whole world was a partner in development and that all countries, rich and poor, had an interest in achieving it. Though there were many problems and obstacles facing the world, we all must work together to resolve them, he said.

Adli said that Egypt favoured a participatory approach motivated by its concern to strengthen an Egyptian vision for sustainable development that could be realised by 2030. This vision required combined efforts, in which civil society and civic associations would play a leading role, he said.

Mohammed Abdel-Moneim, a consultant to the environment minister on African affairs, said that the continent lost $10 billion annually as a result of the illegal trade in fauna such as elephants and rhinoceroses. As a result of land degradation, Africa lost $68 billion every year, along with another $17 billion lost due to deforestation. Some 600,000 people die annually as a result of forest fires, and 80 per cent of Africa’s schools do not have electricity, he said.

Abdel-Moneim stressed the need to fight corruption in Africa in order to preserve its natural resources. If these were better managed and more properly utilised, the SDGs could be achieved by 2030, he said.

But Africa required investments of $55 billion for electricity, which is related to SDG7. Regarding SDG4 on education, the UN’s education agency UNESCO had announced that Sub-Saharan Africa needed $26 billion every year for investments in education, he said, and the WHO had said it needed $31.5 billion annually for investments in health. The industrial and infrastructure sector, related to SDG9, needed investments of $93 billion until 2020.

Mohamed Awad Kana, a representative of the Council of Arab Ministers on Environmental Affairs in the Arab League, said that the Arab Environment Facility would be inaugurated soon and would play a role in financing the implementation of projects that served the SDGs, highlighting the importance of the economy as a major feature of the strategic framework for sustainable development.

 Kana said that efforts were underway to complete the Facility’s roadmap, which should be put to the Council of Arab Ministers on Environmental Affairs in its next session in December. He stressed the importance of sustainable development indicators used in environmental integration assessment reports and sustainable development reports, for these offered a vital tool to identify, analyse, and assess problems, set priorities, and track changes over time in the fields of environment and sustainable development.

They were also an important tool for monitoring policy performance and measuring progress toward specific goals, giving decision-makers a simplified portrait of the state of the environment and sustainable development and current directions, he said.

 

THE ARAB REGION: Heba Nassar, a professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University and a member of the foreign relations committee of the National Council of Women, said that although major strides had been made in school enrolment and gender parity in education, the Arab region still faced many problems in the achievement of the SDGs on hunger, the reduction of maternal and infant mortality, and the provision of potable water, especially in the least developed countries.

According to Nassar, the most important challenges facing sustainable development were continued poverty, unemployment, gender disparities, maternal and infant mortality, and the gaps between urban and rural areas. She pointed to the weak links between poverty, employment, and growth and unequal progress toward the SDGs within the Arab region, as well as disparities on the country level, with gaps between men and women and rural and urban areas.

Nassar said that a high proportion of the population of Arab states lived in poverty, particularly in rural areas. The rural-urban disparities in poverty were most stark in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and Yemen. She added that the Arab region also lagged behind in achieving full employment with productive, suitable jobs for everyone, especially women and young people.

Regarding energy issues and their links with the SDGs in particular, Maher Aziz, a consultant on energy, the environment, and climate change, said that solar and wind energy could not be widely depended on, describing those who demanded that Egypt rely only on renewable energy sources as “dreamers”.

Aziz said that Egypt had no choice but to diversify its energy sources in order to ensure energy security, with a mixture of sources to meet both the needs of citizens and development being developed.

He said that Egypt was moving towards a mix of energy sources and that by 2030, 15 per cent of the country’s electricity would be generated by coal, four per cent by nuclear energy, 52 per cent by natural gas and mazot, three per cent by hydropower, and 26 per cent by renewable solar and wind energy. He said that reducing the use of natural gas from 80 to 52 per cent would be an important accomplishment for Egypt.

Aziz added that although 79 per cent of the population of Africa lived without electricity, the continent was nevertheless rich in energy resources. He said that Africa had confirmed gas reserves sufficient for 113 years and extractable gas reserves estimated at 632 years.

Discussing sustainable production and consumption in the Lebanese industrial sector, Lama Shoshani, director of the energy sector at the Lebanese environment ministry, said that a national plan had been adopted in the country based on the regional plan for sustainable production and consumption.

She mentioned three planks of this plan in particular. The first was to strengthen procedures to encourage a better use of the available technologies, relying on the concept of a life-cycle approach. This helps to rationalise the consumption of natural resources, particularly energy and water, as well as reduce waste, air emissions, and other forms of pollution.

The second was to develop policies and the legal framework needed to encourage sustainable consumption and production in the industrial sector, with the goal of moving toward a circular economy. Based on this, Lebanon had introduced several initiatives to put in place a fiscal policy favourable to sustainable consumption and production, supported by the Bank of Lebanon and various national and international agencies, Shoshani said.

The initiatives are focused on improving the quality and added value of Lebanese goods on the economic, social, and environmental levels. The third plank was consumer education, being to raise awareness and encourage consumers to use goods that are sustainably produced and disposed of. The initiatives also aim to spread awareness of environmentally friendly products and make them available on the market. Here, civil society and non-governmental organisations had an important role to play in supporting efforts to involve Lebanese consumers in practices and initiatives for sustainable consumption and production, she said.

Rehab Osman, an official at the Sudanese Ministry of Environment, admitted that there were major problems in financing environmental plans and projects targeting pollution and waste, as well as a lack of the coordination needed among government bodies to achieve the SDGs in Sudan.

Osman said her country suffered from poor environmental awareness across society and especially in the private sector. In addition, environmental laws and regulations were not always enforced and there was a shortage of up-to-date statistics and data enabling an objective qualitative and quantitative analysis of the reality of environmental problems to be made.

She said it was important to take advantage of the technical and technological support offered by international organisations in this field. Sudan had implemented several activities as part of a regional project to strengthen capacities and technical assistance to implement the Stockholm Convention on the Environment and a joint project was being implemented with the UN Industrial Development Organisation, she said.

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