While en route to the World Economic Forum of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where climate change will be a subject of debate, I participated in this event and shared the World Bank’s position and perspective. I was struck by the high level of commitment and the cooperative spirit of the host of event; Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who was joined by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad, Malta’s Premier Lawrence Gonzi, and other representatives of the Mediterranean countries.
This event, in some sense, is a historic event. Abandoning political differences, the Prime Ministerial commitments and the time devoted to provide national and regional perspectives, as well as listening to the technical debates, which aim to steer the agenda going forward, is commendable. The event brought together policy makers, academic experts, NGOs, financiers, and industry representatives who are leading the way, by launching a wide range of initiatives to tap “green opportunities.” This gathering brought a level of awareness of what is out there. Indeed, it was clear that a range of impressive supportive services and networks are emerging. Academics, in the U.S and European public institutions are working to perfect early warning signals for climate changes through sophisticated models that are striving to ensure predictability at a broad, as well as narrow range.
Delegates echoed the broad consensus regarding the magnitude and severity of the problem and the cross boarder implications of the environmental degradation. While not the worse polluters, the Mediterranean countries face an increase of four degrees in the average temperatures, and a 70 percent drop in precipitation in the coming years. Some parts of the region are the hottest and driest in the world; while the Middle East and North Africa average water, scarcity is the lowest, about 1,200 cubic meters/per day/per years relative to the global average of 7,700.
A recent World Bank study has shown that warming in the Arab region is about 50 percent higher than the average global warming. Many of the largest cities in the region are located on the coast and are vulnerable to both, the sea-level rise and increases in extreme weather events, particularly Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, and the UAE. A study released by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), found that the regions bordering the Mediterranean, could see "almost unprecedented" drought conditions within the next 30 years, unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Climate changes threaten water and energy sources, agriculture businesses, and tourism, among others. This would reverse the economic gains and poverty reductions achieved thus far.
Delegates shared their contributions and efforts. Prime Minister Papandreou highlighted that about 45 billion Euros for green infrastructure investments are expected in Greece by 2015. He characterized this prospect as a "hope in a period of economic crisis particularly for our country." Financiers, including the European Investment Bank, provided perspectives on how they are devoting substantial resources to alleviating stress in the Mediterranean.
While the International Community struggles for a global deal on climate change, there is a lot that can be done across the world and in the Mediterranean, which has become a hub of renewable energy and offers opportunities and technological solutions for green investments and businesses. Besides the large resources devoted at the global level for climate change initiatives, within the MENA region, the World Bank has devoted over half of its funding over the 2005-2010 period to climate change initiatives, helping the adaptation and mitigation agenda. Our strategy is to promote adaptation and mitigation, while exploiting opportunities and knowledge to address issues of climate change.
Under adaptation, the World Bank in the MENA region is working to promote the low carbon water desalination and reuse of wastewater by applying experiences gained in some regional countries including the GCC. At the same time, providing technical work to examine ways of improving the supply & logistical chains and storage capacity for import of food grains – food security will alleviate the pressure on domestic water usage. Cross border, cooperative arrangements will also facilitate protecting and sharing water resources efficiently. The Bank and the Global Environmental Facility are supporting a sustainable program for the improved environmental management of the Mediterranean, including dealing with pollution. Coastal city protection and its sustainable development programs are also underway in a number of countries; though more work needs to be done.
The potential for mitigation is high, as MENA, despite its large fossil fuels potential, has large tracks of ideally conditioned land to tap solar and wind power potential. Regional concentrated solar power (CSP) programs intend to accelerate the global adoption of this technology by utilizing the unique characteristics of the MENA region—ample sun and proximity to high paying markets in Europe where demand for green electricity is growing. To facilitate trade in “green electricity,” the EU, and other concessional financing are being tapped for both the launching of countrywide CSP projects and nurturing regional cooperation for establishing suitable grid interconnections.
Regional cooperation, through the sharing of knowledge, technology and innovation, both at the North-South and South-South levels, will facilitate cost effective adaptation and will promote mitigation and green business opportunities. Some argued for the establishment of a Green Fund to sponsor and promote alternative technologies and technology transfer, PPPs, and attract investments to green businesses and opportunities. To catalyze these investments, it was well recognized that Governments need to clarify further their policy and regulatory positions, and the EU will need to take a conformed view to allow proper pricing and trading of green electricity from CSP. Greater coordination on the assessment of future climate scenarios and risks and the development of appropriate frameworks and institutional mechanisms for more cost-efficient and coordinated interventions, was also advocated. The reality is, the MCCI was borne out of a need to collaborate to face both, the threats and opportunities that climate change presents to the region. As George Papandreou said, “Threats unit us” and success will depend on carrying this political commitment to the logical stage of action and implementation.
Also Read my Blog Post: "Threats and opportunities unite us".