Towards a greener Egypt

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 7 Dec 2021

Much work is being done to meet Egypt’s environmental challenges, underlining the country’s hosting of next year’s UN COP27 meeting on climate change, writes Azza Radwan Sedky

An episode of the television programme Al-Shahed on Channel Ten recently was entitled “The Environment and Earth’s Future – Between Pessimism and Cautious Optimism.” 

It included a group of experts discussing the issue of climate change with special reference to the COP27 meeting, the UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt in November next year.

The group provided viewers with a range of information on ways to produce a greener environment in Egypt. 

The progress that has been made on this issue is worth noting. From the discussion, it was clear how appropriate it is for Egypt to host the COP27 meeting. Egypt has environmental challenges, but it is working on them vigorously. 

Among the experts interviewed on the programme was Yasmine Fouad, the minister of the environment. Stressing how climate change is affecting countries worldwide, she elaborated on what had materialised after the 2015 Paris Agreement that aims to keep the world’s average temperatures from “rising by 2°C and preferably to keep them below 1.5°C.” 

She explained the difference between mitigating the crisis, which reduces the severity of climate change, and adaptation, which seeks to change the ways in which people live in the new environment.

Fouad moved on to the Egyptian view on climate change and the ways in which the nation’s political leadership has placed climate change at the top of its priorities. The issue is crucial for all sectors of government with the hope of creating a strong momentum towards a greener environment. 

Assessing the cost of environmental degradation in Greater Cairo is an example of the type of research being conducted today on climate change. The results are unsettling. A study has put the cost of solid waste and vehicle and factory emissions from burning fossil fuels at $47 billion annually in Greater Cairo alone. It shows that CO2 emissions, air pollution and waste are devouring Egypt’s financial assets, which could otherwise be directed elsewhere. 

This has led to a $200 million project financed by the World Bank to support initiatives to reduce air and other types of pollution. The project focuses on reducing vehicle emissions, improving the management of solid waste and strengthening decision-making when it comes to air quality and pollution.  

According to Fouad, the “climate change triangle” in which physics, economics and politics are combined creates the best environment for change. By linking sustainable development to the economy, benefits are reaped even at the grassroots level, she said. 

She gave an example of how a farmer would adhere to sustainable development principles if he realised they were profitable for him. He would also do so if he understood that climate change would affect his personal economic situation, as a result, say, of leading to lower crop yields and scarcer water availability. This is where awareness becomes vital, Fouad said. 

Many of the projects that Egypt is undertaking are essential to sustaining this approach to climate change. One such campaign, led by VeryNile, a NGO, recycles solid waste through partnerships with local stakeholders to decrease the use of single-use plastic and reduce water pollution. 

VeryNile removes an average of 100 kg of plastic waste from the Nile on a daily basis, which is almost 40 tons per year. But it believes that no matter how much waste is removed, it will not be enough if behavioural change cannot be created among the public. Again, this is where awareness becomes vital.

Another successful environmental project is a biogas project that converts agricultural waste such as crop residues and livestock manure into household gas and organic fertiliser. It saves farmers money while maintaining a cleaner environment. 

The project is led by 26 start-ups that build the biogas units and later maintain them. The small-grant programme, part of the government’s Decent Life Initiative, supports farmers in paying the cost of the units to a total of LE7,000. 

Resolving the crisis behind the burning of rice straw, the roots of the black clouds that used to envelop much of Egypt, is another success story. To mitigate this environmental problem, the authorities are supporting farmers in compressing the straw to turn it into artificial wood. Though some farmers still burn the straw, today over 1.4 million tons of it are recycled.

The other side of the coin is preserving the country’s nature reserves and protecting its heritage sites. Approximately 14 per cent of Egypt’s land is protected in this way, with Wadi Al-Hitan in Fayoum, a site where the fossilised remains of early whales are preserved, being a good example of the work being done to protect natural and heritage sites in Egypt. Wadi Al-Hitan is a wonder that must be preserved.

To deal with the environmental crisis that the world faces, trillions of dollars are needed. Who will provide this support? The “big offenders” as far as emissions of greenhouse gases are concerned are mainly the US, China and the European countries, and they should be held accountable and asked to help the developing countries to meet the necessary targets and improve their approach to climate change. 

* The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

Short link: