The two-day Environment and Development Forum: The Road to the Sharm El-Sheikh COP27 Climate Change Conference closed on 13 September in Cairo. Its main aim was to provide a platform for organisations participating in the UN COP27 Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to be held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in November.
Participants at the Environment and Development Forum (EDF) encouraged the use of modern technologies and innovative solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change on different sectors and find more ways for adaptation. The forum was held under the sponsorship of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and other partners.
Clean and renewable energy were discussed, along with sustainable development, the preservation of the environment and biodiversity, limiting carbon emissions, food and water security in the light of climate change, and transportation and sustainable cities.
The participants said that innovative solutions should be found to make the best use of agricultural systems with the aim of securing food and eradicating famine and malnutrition. For these new solutions to work, there should be strong institutions, wise governance, political will, and robust regulatory frameworks, they noted.
The attendees tackled the need to establish green cities with infrastructure that can withstand climatic and natural disasters.
According to Ahmed Abul-Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League and speaking at the EDF, the Arab world’s contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions is meagre, yet the region is highly affected by the repercussions of climate change.
More attention should be paid to the region, which suffers from water scarcity that makes it difficult to secure enough food for its people, he said. The Arab world is also lagging behind on development issues, he added, with this having been made worse by the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and disruptions in supply chains.
In addition to rising rates of unemployment, the increasing population is putting more pressure on natural resources, he said.
Cooperation on the optimal use of natural resources, the strengthening of security, and the doubling of allocations to bridge the food gap were much needed, Abul-Gheit said, adding that Egypt had come up with a comprehensive strategy that would be presented at the next Arab Summit meeting in Algeria.
The Egyptian strategy focuses on increasing production, reducing food waste, mitigating the repercussions of climate change, and making more room for the private sector, he said, adding that these factors should top the list of priorities for joint action.
Abul-Gheit explained that the food crisis in the region cannot be resolved without improving the efficient use of water resources, which requires providing clean, inexpensive sources of energy, addressing water, food, and energy problems, and abandoning traditional policies that focus on separate solutions for each sector for the sake of a more comprehensive view.
Also speaking at the EDF, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that the COP27 was meant to transform pledges made earlier by the international community into action on the ground, pointing out that it provides an opportunity to discuss adaptation efforts and water and food security amid the global rise in the prices of food commodities.
Africa and the Arab world, Shoukri commented, were facing a host of political, economic, and social crises that threaten security and stability. Climate change was the tip of the iceberg, he said, heightening tensions over water, agricultural land, and limited resources.
The Russia-Ukraine war had intensified global food disruptions, causing a sharp rise in energy prices and increasing the prices of food and its transportation costs. The Arab countries were particularly affected by the war, Shoukri added, since they import one-third of their grains.
The food crisis in the Arab world will likely be exacerbated in the coming years, as will water scarcity, overpopulation, and rural-to-urban migration, Shoukri said. He noted that in the next three decades it is expected that the population of the Arab world will double to reach 800 million. In Egypt, the population will increase to 150 million, adding more pressure on available natural resources.
Mahmoud Abu Zeid, president of the Arab Water Council, said the sixth assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued in 2021, as well as several other studies, had indicated that changes to the natural water cycle and increases in evaporation and decreases in precipitation had resulted in droughts in the Horn of Africa, Europe, the US, and China in addition to floods and torrential rains in Sudan, Yemen, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
This imbalance in the water cycle, Abu Zeid explained, was the result of human activities causing alterations to the climate and leading to wild fires, deforestation, desertification, the deterioration of biodiversity, air pollution, urban expansion at the expense of rural development, and the impeding of the natural flows of rivers and lakes by building dams.
The latter are expected to change the flow of 93 per cent of the world’s rivers by 2030, he added.
Abu Zeid warned that regional conflicts would likely erupt as a result of the lack of the sustainable management of transboundary, underground, and superficial water sources, especially in the light of the absence of cooperation among the parties.
Annual per capital water use is estimated at 560 cubic metres in Egypt at present, which is way under the water poverty line, said Hani Sweilam, minister of irrigation and water resources, at the EDF.
Egypt, he added, is already being seriously affected by climate change, with a rise in sea-water levels affecting the Delta and decreasing the quality of its soil by increasing the salinity of the underground water.
Climate change has also affected the sources of the Nile, which provides Egypt with 97 per cent of its water, Sweilam said.
Meanwhile, Egypt is working on mega-projects in water treatment and recycling, such as the water treatment station in Bahr Al-Baqar, with a capacity of 5.6 million cubic metres, that will irrigate land in northern and central Sinai, and the Mahsama station, with a capacity of a million cubic metres, that will irrigate land east of the Suez Canal.
Other projects being implemented include the Hammam water treatment station, with a capacity of 7.5 million cubic metres, as part of the New Delta project, he added.
These projects, besides making use of every precious drop of water, provide thousands of job opportunities, Sweilam concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.