3 local environmental activists en route to Copenhagen

Heba El-Sherif
8 Min Read

CAIRO: Scientific experts say that the next 12 days will determine humanity’s future. If world leaders do not agree to significantly reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions and dig deep into their pockets to help developing nations adapt, the planet we call home will no longer sustain us.

The UN summit on Climate Change, COP15, opened Monday in Copenhagen. Leaders from 192 countries started to flock to the Danish capital in hopes of coming up with a binding agreement to supplant the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

While the decision-making will be left to world leaders and their governments’ representatives, Egyptian environmentalists are just as keen to take part in one of the most important climate change conferences the world is yet to witness.

Daily News Egypt sat with three Egyptian environmentalists who will be among some 4,000 observers at COP15 to discuss the role they hoped the Egyptian government would play at the summit and the general direction Egypt ought to be heading towards in its fight against climate change.

“Whether we will come up with a sufficient treaty remains ambiguous, said Lama El Hatow, an expert on farming, composting, carbon and water footprint services, and member of IndyAct, an advocacy NGO based in Beirut that calls for Arab governments to incorporate climate targets into their policies. She pointed out to one of the most crucial outcomes Egypt, as a developing nation, should push for: an adequate adaptation fund.

In the glossary of climate change, adaptation refers to the measures needed to cope with the effects of climate change, like building barriers for rising sea levels and building homes for those threatened by displacement.

“On the part of the developed world, there’s a dual obligation, she continued; developing nations should push for efficient reduction targets and more money.

Loop Holes

In addition, El Hatow stressed the importance of outlining binding emission levels for second world developing nations such as China, India and Brazil, a move that has been neglected under the outgoing Kyoto Protocol.

With huge industries under their belts, such nations are major contributors to green-house gases with no binding targets. In fact, China is currently the largest greenhouse gas emitter, followed by the US.

“There is no absolute solution in and of itself. There needs to be an intelligent mix of solutions, said Rania El-Abd, member of IndyAct and environment taskforce at the Social Contract Center.

“If the government commits itself to take a turn and shift to solar energy and other sustainable options… we can increase our share [in the global effort to curb climate change], she continued.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, several arrangements have been put forth to enable high-polluting countries to bend the rules without actually breeching the treaty, among which are Emissions Trading and Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM).

CDM allows industrialized nations who are bound to limited amount of emissions to carry out projects that reduce emissions in developing nations, where the cost could be far cheaper, and in doing so supplement for their domestic pollution.

At the end of the day, it’s one big atmosphere.

According to El Hatow, since 1995, Egypt has only seen five CDMs, as opposed to China where dozens have been implemented, she said.

The problem with CDM is that industrialized countries may be doing their part on a global level by reducing carbon in the atmosphere but not on a country level, which sheds light on what El Hatow refers to as “loop holes that has plagued most climate change policies in the past.

Meanwhile, Emission Trading refers to the mechanism through which highly polluting nations buy ‘carbon credits’ from less polluting nations in the event that they exceed their limit of emissions, a process also referred to as “Cap and Trade.

Eyes on Egypt

Governmental policies aside, a closer look into Egyptian society shows minimal action towards the peril of climate change.

“It has to start from the private sector, said Hazem Saleh, IndyAct member and project manager at Wadi Environmental Science Center, citing limited government resources as the reason why such change could not come from the government alone.

“A political space needs to be made for the private sector, to be able to take the lead in the fight against climate change, El-Abd jumped in.

Efforts by non-governmental bodies are “like stars scattered on a dark map, she added, referring to the haphazard nature of green initiatives in Egypt.

The government needs to instill a sense of national pride that comes from one’s affiliation with the surrounding environment, continued El-Abd. “We need to build a connection between scientific reports and people’s basic livelihood.

Since school curricula’s do not tap into climate change and local media rarely discusses it, Egyptians are often left in the dark when it comes to how the problem will directly affect Egypt.

According to the IndyAct activists, we need to view the problem as a direct threat to our personal security in order to feel the urge to be a part of fighting it.

The delta, Egypt’s most fertile land and home to the majority of the Egyptian population, is currently under the threat of rising sea levels, with effects predicted to take place by 2020. Not only that, but according to an article published by the United Nations news agency, IRIN, last October, by 2017, Egypt will have surpassed its natural water resources.

On their trip to Copenhagen, the three activists seem optimistic, though.

“I think it is a great opportunity to see how the mechanisms function in the developed world, said Saleh, adding that the summit will help bridge the gap between developed and developing nations in so far as ways of tackling the climate issue.

“It’s an opportunity and a challenge… I can read about climate change; I can even take a course, but being in the heart of COP15 is the prime inspiration, said El-Abd.

COP15 have garnered unexampled attention from the media, reaching people from around the world, and Egypt was no exception. News agencies have even dedicated a joint online forum to engage readers throughout the duration of summit.

To environmental activists in Egypt this was a much-needed call. “Now people will actually begin to listen, said El Hatow.

When the three of them come back from Copenhagen, their efforts to raise awareness and engage the public may not drastically change, but for a change, they won’t fall on deaf ears.

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