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Arab environment ministers call on wealthy nations to keep climate cash promises

At first UN Middle East and North Africa regional climate confab, West’s failure to provide annual $100 billion to help poor nations cope with climate crisis emerges as key issue

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (in blue), is flanked by dignitaries and environment ministers at the first Middle East and North Africa Climate Week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2022. (Courtesy, UNFCCC)
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (in blue), is flanked by dignitaries and environment ministers at the first Middle East and North Africa Climate Week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2022. (Courtesy, UNFCCC)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The reluctance of the developed world to cough up the money it promised to help developing nations cope with the worst effects of climate change emerged as a key issue on the first day of the UN Middle East and North Africa Climate Week conference in Dubai, and looks set to loom large at COP27 — the next world climate conference, set to take place in Egypt in November.

At a climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, wealthy countries pledged to provide $100 billion annually to poorer nations through 2020, later extending it to 2025.

But that promise was not kept and is not expected to be met until 2023, at the earliest.

At the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year, for example, US President Joe Biden committed the US to spend $11.4 billion a year by 2024. But earlier this month, Congress approved only $1 billion in international climate finance for 2022.

“We need to implement a collective call for finance internationally, for the $100 billion,” said Egypt’s Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad. “We are working on an Arab climate finance strategy,” she added. “The Arab region must go to COP27 with a tangible document” that details the region’s collective needs.

Sessions attended by various environment ministers from the region revealed stark differences in those needs and abilities to cope with climate change.

Dr. Yasmine Fouad, Egypt’s Environment Minister (right), gestures to the UAE’s Environment Minister, Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, at the first Middle East and North Africa climate conference, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2022. (Courtesy, UNFCCC)

Jordan’s Environment Minister Muawieh Khalid Radaideh said his country has formulated a green growth action plan and has $9-10 billion worth of projects, but needs to find the funds.

He noted that some countries were so overburdened with loan repayments that they would need grants, not credit.

Lebanon’s Environment Minister Nasser Yassin also told the confab that finance was the main obstacle to meeting climate goals. Lebanon is currently in the grip of a severe economic crisis.

Yassin, who, like Radaideh, would not speak to the Times of Israel, said that it was essential that a green economy underpinned Lebanon’s recovery.

But, he added, his ministry was the smallest of all in the Lebanese government and the country has to rebuild its institutions before it could attract investment. Yassin said that when he spoke about climate change at the Lebanese council of ministers, people still thought he sounded “odd.”

Syria’s Minister for Local Administration and Environment, Hussein Makhlouf, complained that his country could not fulfill its environmental obligations to the UN because of international sanctions imposed after the “terrorist invasion” of 2011. He was referring to pro-democracy demonstrations that broke out in early 2011 and were brutally put down by the Assad government, sparking a civil war that has reportedly claimed almost a quarter of a million lives so far.

Jordan’s Environment Minister, Dr. Muawieh Khalid Radaideh, makes a point at a ministerial roundtable on the green economy at the first Middle East and North Africa climate conference, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, environment minister for the UAE, which is hosting the MENA conference and will host the UN’s COP28 conference next year, said: “The solutions are there, and we need to scale up, but how do you do it when everyone is at a different level?”

In sharp contrast to Lebanon and Jordan, the UAE is handing money out rather than asking for help.

According to Sultan Al Jaber, the country’s special climate envoy and minister of industry and advanced technology, the UAE has provided $1 billion in climate aid to more than 40 countries worldwide. “Once this kind of finance is there, private finance will follow,” he said.

With the US, the UAE has created the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) to increase investment for climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation through 2025.

The UAE was providing funds and building partnerships, Almheiri, the environment minister, said, and many financial platforms were available, but accessing them could be a problem.

According to Issam Abousleiman, the World Bank’s regional director for the Gulf Cooperation Council and MENA region, 20 million people within the MENA area will become internally displaced as a result of climate change by 2100 if business continues as usual.

Parts of the region were projected to see temperatures of 56 degrees Celsius (nearly 133 degrees Fahrenheit) and more, he went on. Bahrain would lose more than half of its land due to sea level rise. The challenge was to cut emissions from energy, industry and manufacturing, and transport. But the issue was “whether there is the will.”

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 would require a regional investment in renewable energy of $27 trillion dollars, Abousleiman added.

This could have many benefits, among them providing jobs for many of the 350 million young people expected to be looking for work mid-century.

Nigel Topping, the UN’s high level champion for climate action at COP26, pointed out that the world economy stands to grow by $25 trillion if net-zero carbon emissions are achieved by 2050.

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