Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Environmental investment

Arab investment in the environment was the subject of a conference held in Hurghada, Mahmoud Bakr reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Amr Al-Sammak, Head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), called for the creation of an executive mechanism to transform ideas into practical programmes while addressing the conference on investment opportunities in environmental projects held in Hurghada between 14 and 17 June. Egypt and other Arab countries have acquired considerable experience in programmes and projects in such fields as green architecture, sustainable transport, renewable energy, waste recycling and adaptation to climate change, he said.

The conference, timed to coincide with World Environment Day, was attended by Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League Mohammed Ben Ibrahim, the Omani Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Chair of the extraordinary session of Arab Environment Ministers Council Mohamed Ben Salem Al-Toubi, along with environmental and development experts from across the Arab world.

The conference, Al-Sammak pointed out in his speech, had been organised to implement resolutions adopted by the Arab Environmental Ministers Council “and in keeping with our aspirations for environmental reform by transforming environmental issues into opportunities for investment”.

 “We are looking forward, in this conference, to opening new horizons of joint Arab action through investment in environmental projects so as to realise a competitive edge for Arab goods and services and, simultaneously, attract foreign investments as we improve the living standards and health of Arab citizens.”

Former EEAA Head Ibrahim Abdel-Gelil addressed the Egyptian government’s plans to revert to coal as a source of fuel. He confessed he was surprised by the development. “At a time when the rest of the world is moving to limit the use of substances that pollute the environment we find the government permitting the import of coal without regard for international standards of environmental protection.”

The demand for new and renewable energy will grow very strong over the next few years, said Abdel-Gelil. He pointed out that an international convention obliging countries around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is likely to come in to force next year, and that the Egyptian government should be working to create an environment that encourages the private sector to help finance new and renewable energy projects. Since the government lacks resources, argued Abdel-Gelil, it is crucial it help the private sector invest in generating energy from solar power and other alternative sources.

Gamal Gaballah, Director of the Arab League Office for Environment, Housing, Water Resources and Sustainable Development, urged Arab governments to revise their investment laws with an eye on encouraging the private sector to invest in new and renewable energy.

While it is essential to encourage investment in renewable energy in Arab states, said Gaballah, the enormous amount of red tape generated by existing laws and regulations has led the private sector to avoid long term investment and look for quick profits instead. He appealed to Arab governments to draw up plans to encourage environmental investment. Equally important, he said, is for Arab governments to revise investment policies in general to ensure environmental impact studies are performed before projects are authorised.

Iyad Abu Mughli, Director and Regional Representative of the UN Environment Programme, expanded on the problems of small island nations that were the focus of this year’s World Environment Day. There are 52 such nations with a total population of around 62 million. These countries are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change yet they have contributed very little to the phenomenon. Together they accounted for less than 1 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Abu Mughli also stressed that climate change posed a grave threat to the entire world, including the Arab region where most major cities and commercial activities are located in coastal areas. Agricultural land in the Arab world is also mostly in coastal areas or low altitude zones. He cited the Nile Delta as a salient example.

The UN environmental official also warned of the threat of climate change to popular tourist activities that rely on maritime and coastal wealth such as coral reefs. More pressing, he said, is the possible impact of climate change on food production. Agriculture in Arab countries is mostly rain-fed and climate change is exacerbating fluctuations in levels of precipitation.

Abu Mughli also raised disturbing demographic changes. Although the number of people living on less than a dollar a day has dropped by 150 million in rural areas it his increased by 50 million in urban areas. More than 1.3 billion people lived without access to electricity. Some 2.6 billion people, most of whom live in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, have no access to clean cooking facilities. About 783 million people had no access to sanitary wastewater disposal.

He noted the shortage of skills in rapidly growing economic sectors such as renewable energy, waste management and efficient energy production. Renewable energy resources account for just 19 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and employ no more than 5.7 million people. On a more positive note, he said that the option of enhancing the efficiency of energy production and use has proven effective in terms of cost and has succeeded in reducing the anticipated demand for primary energy supplies around the world.

On the sidelines of the conference Al-Sammak signed a technical agreement with Abdel Latif Al-Kurdi, managing director of the Egyptian Salts and Mineral Company (EMISAL), to carry out two environmental projects. The first will recycle solid and liquid industrial waste to produce high purity sodium chloride (99.7 per cent) and high purity medical salt (99.8 per cent). The second project is to reduce waste in packing materials through automated packing lines.

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