While Egypt’s economy has managed to weather the Covid-19 pandemic, supported by the comprehensive macroeconomic reforms that the government initiated eight years ago, the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine is still unfolding and the outlook remains uncertain.
The immediate priorities include the availability and affordability of food, especially for poorer households.
As a result, talking about climate change now might be perceived as an unaffordable luxury amid the present conflict and economic crisis.
Unfortunately, the climate crisis is already here, with the potential to compound the risks to the country’s economic well-being, including food security, unless the global community takes collective action.
Egypt has recognised the need to move towards a greener and more resilient and inclusive development path. Its Sustainable Development Strategy Vision 2030 and National Climate Change Strategy 2050 are proof of that.
Accelerating climate action will be important for Egypt because climate and development are tightly intertwined. Climate change has the potential to deepen vulnerabilities, such as disparities in human development among Egypt’s 100 million strong population.
Those with fewer resources to cope or respond to the effects of climate change are the poor and the most vulnerable. The irreversible effects of climate change on health have deeper impacts on groups such as the elderly, children, vulnerable women, and individuals with underlying health conditions. Often it is the poor in rural areas who suffer most.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is among the hottest and driest regions in the world. The quickening pace of climate change is adding uncertainty to existing problems of water availability and already affecting livability, biodiversity, food production, and the size of crop yields.
Exposure to the risks associated with climate change, such as high variability in water availability, extreme temperatures, and rising sea levels, is very high in Egypt, with over 70 per cent of the population of the country’s largest cities facing at least one climate risk. The expected growth in urban population over the next three decades may increase the exposure of people and assets to climate risks.
More adaptation measures such as better information and information systems to manage risks, less waste in natural resources through better land use, water use, and waste management, and more resilient infrastructure such as cleaner public transport, investments that consider nature-based solutions, and green building standards can all help Egypt minimise the impact of climate change.
Currently, energy, transport, and industry together account for 70 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Egypt. With global markets shifting towards consuming goods with a lower carbon content, reducing GHG emissions will be essential to strengthen Egypt’s economic competitiveness. In order to ensure Egypt’s continued growth, development needs to be integrated into a long term-decarbonisation strategy.
Over the last few years, Egypt’s transition to clean energy has gained momentum. The country’s location and potential for wind and solar energy gives it a strong start. More investment in these could generate jobs and create more local employment. Egypt’s targets for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies are expected to deliver 7.4 million new jobs over the 30-year period to 2050. This means an average of 247,000 additional job opportunities a year, which amounts to 0.85 per cent of the country’s 29 million-strong labour force or eight per cent of the unemployed in 2020.
Transitioning to low-carbon, climate-resilient development requires significant private investment and a shift in how the private sector makes decisions. The private sector has an important role to play as a financier, innovator, and provider of climate-friendly goods and services.
Finally, improving human capital and helping people acquire the skills required to work in climate-friendly sectors is critical in the transition towards decarbonisation. Because consumption patterns are often the result of social interactions and norms, investments in education and awareness can help to shape behaviour and reduce emissions.
As Egypt gears up to host the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), we have a unique opportunity. Egypt can lead the world and show how climate can be integrated into development, while building on the commitments made in 2021 during the Glasgow COP26 conference to accelerate its climate-change agenda.
* The writer is World Bank managing director of development policy and partnerships.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.