This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first UN Conference on the Human Environment (the Stockholm Conference) of 1972, which created the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and designated 5 June as World Environment Day.
The 2022 World Environment Day celebrations were held under the slogan “Only One Earth” and focused on sustainable living in harmony with nature through transformative changes in policies for cleaner and greener lifestyles.
In Egypt, the Supreme Council of Culture (SCC) with the Committee on Geography and the Environment celebrated World Environment Day in the Wadi Degla Protectorate in Maadi under the auspices of Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem and the supervision of SCC Secretary-General Hisham Azmi.
At a symposium for youth protectorate pioneers on the day, Abdel-Massih Samaan, professor of environmental education at Ain Shams University in Cairo and rapporteur of the committee, gave an overview of Egypt’s efforts to address climate change.
Samaan said Egypt had prepared an interactive map of areas potentially most affected by climate change and summarised measures already taken to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and pollution. Older cars were being replaced with newer ones running on natural gas to reduce pollution, canals were being lined to reduce leakage, and there are plans to manufacture electric cars in Egypt in 2023, he said.
Projects were being set up to generate renewable and solar energy such as at the Benban Solar Park in Aswan and a wind farm at Gabal Al-Zeit, he said. Egypt’s energy needs are currently 20 per cent covered by new energy sources, a percentage projected to increase to 40 per cent in the next 10 years.
Egypt has also issued green bonds worth LE750 million to finance clean energy projects, is implementing sustainable transport projects, and is transitioning to 50 per cent green projects by 2024 and 100 per cent by 2030.
Samaan explained that Egypt’s National Strategy for Climate Change, recently launched under the auspices of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, aims to address the impacts of climate change in a way that improves the quality of life, achieves sustainable development, and preserves natural resources.
It will also achieve low-emissions economic growth using new and renewable energy, he said, adding that it contains provisions for producing green hydrogen as a clean source of energy that does not emit carbon dioxide and contains three times the amount of energy contained in fossil fuels.
In parallel and as part of Egypt’s celebrations of World Environment Day, New Valley Governor Mohamed Al-Zamalot announced that the city of Kharga has been designated Egypt’s first environment- and climate-friendly city.
He said that the initiative to plant school roofs, which began at the Al-Salam Preparatory School at Kharga, was a hands-on model to introduce children to methods of preserving the environment as part of their daily lives.
The model is a template that will be replicated at all governorate schools, he said, with planted areas that include medicinal and aromatic plants, geraniums, and thyme. Part of the Al-Salam schoolyard is also being used for a greenhouse, a garden, and fruit trees to train students on agricultural processes.
The project helps to provide self-sufficiency in food, job opportunities for women, and teaches children the importance of agriculture and preserving the environment.
Al-Zamalot pointed to the vocational training centre and garment factory that are part of the governorate’s Plastic-Free City initiative to reduce plastic consumption and expand the use of environmentally-friendly products, in cooperation with the Nabd Al-Haya Foundation for Community Development.
He accompanied guests on a visit to the governorate’s first production line for paper products that manufactures cups, bags, and other supplies instead of using plastic under the label “Made in the New Valley”.
The project was being carried out in two phases, he said. In the first phase, machines have been installed that can make paper cups at a cost of LE500,000, producing 80 cups per minute, and creating 34 direct and indirect jobs. In the second phase, machines have been installed to produce paper bags to replace the plastic ones commonly used in shops.
The machines produce 100 bags per minute and create 56 direct and indirect jobs for young men and women. The machinery does not emit noise or pollution, performs all stages of production, and is controlled electronically via computer.
In a message marking World Environment Day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that “this planet is our only home” and warned that “Earth’s natural systems cannot keep up with our demands.”
“It is vital that we safeguard the health of its atmosphere, the richness and diversity of life on Earth, its ecosystems and its finite resources. But we are failing to do so. We are asking too much of our planet to maintain ways of life that are unsustainable… This not only hurts the Earth, but us too,” he said.
“It is essential that we wisely manage nature and ensure equitable access to its services, especially for the most vulnerable people and communities. More than three billion people are affected by degraded ecosystems. Pollution is responsible for some nine million premature deaths each year. More than one million plant and animal species risk extinction, many within decades,” Guterres said.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said that she hoped the world would move beyond the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022, “but we do so knowing that we still face three global crises: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.”
Andersen said 2022 was a year of ambition and action to address the crisis facing nature and an opportunity to fully integrate nature-based solutions into global climate action. Every day was World Environment Day, she said, and a powerful platform to accelerate, amplify, and engage people, communities, and governments around the world to take action on the critical environmental challenges facing the planet.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.