The Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh has been transformed into the epicentre of efforts to address the climate crisis as it hosts COP27.
But the coastline on which the UN climate conference is being held is more than just a backdrop for official negotiations.
The coral reefs that have long drawn tourists to the Red Sea peninsula are among the most biodiverse in the world. They are home to over a thousand different species of fish and around 350 coral species.
Mindful of their global importance, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced a major new fund to support the local ecosystem.
The US agency has contributed $15 million (€14.9) to the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR), it revealed at COP27 on Tuesday.
This initiative is the largest global blended finance vehicle – whereby development aid is used to mobilise additional private or public funds – dedicated to the UN Sustainable Development Goal on ‘Life Below Water’.
The fresh injection of funds takes the total amount of money mobilised by the GCR since it was launched at the 75th UN General Assembly in September 2020 to $187 million (€185.9 million).
Why are Egypt’s coral reefs so important, and how will the funding help?
As well as being astonishingly beautiful and rich habitats in their own right, the fate of coral reefs is one of several major ‘tipping points’ that could push us into climate catastrophe.
As ocean temperatures rise, some reefs are being bleached almost every year. It has caused the deathly pale appearance of swathes of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Given their unique potential to withstand increasing impacts of climate change, the Red Sea reefs might be the most resilient on Earth.
Protection of ‘coral refugia’ reefs – those in climate cool spots – is critical as they offer the global community the opportunity to safeguard ecosystems. They can also act as seed banks that could bring degraded reefs back to a vibrant and productive state, explains Nicole Trudeau of the UN Development Programme.
“The Red Sea is home to a rich underwater ecosystem that attracts millions of tourists who create millions of jobs for Egyptians and bring in billions in foreign currency each year,” says USAID Chief Climate Officer Gillian Caldwell.
The funding will ‘incubate and scale’ business models that address local drivers of coral reef degradation – including overtourism.
It also aims to increase the resilience of local communities – a key part of GFCR’s approach in the 12 countries where it works, from Mozambique and Indonesia to Sri Lanka and Micronesia.
Development of the Egyptian Red Sea programme is led by the United Nations Development Programme Egypt Country Office.
“In the face of an intensifying climate crisis, USAID’s investment in the Red Sea Initiative will help to drive a nature-positive economic transition while boosting the climate resilience of coastal communities in Egypt,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner adds.
“[It is] demonstrating that change is possible when leadership, political will, and investment comes together.”
Many more ‘blue finance’ announcements – concerning mangroves and seagrass as well as reefs – are expected in the coming days at COP27.
A High Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidelines report, for example, is set to launch on Saturday.
“Nature-based solutions are being discussed at COP, but we still need to amplify the central role of nature in our climate mitigation and adaptation strategies,” marine conservation expert Josheena Naggea tells Euronews Green.
Persistently high temperatures and related heat stress are a big problem for people living in cities, especially in slums and informal settlements. It’s a problem that is expected to continue.
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel in Climate Change assessment report, heat exposure in Africa is projected to increase in terms of person-days. That is, the annual number of days when the temperature is over 40.6℃ multiplied by the number of people exposed. Heat exposure will reach 45 billion person-days by the 2060s, over three times the rate between 1985 and 2005. This will make sub-Saharan Africa’s exposure to dangerous heat one of the highest globally.
Heat exposure challenges are increased by a shortage of basic services and infrastructure, along with low-quality housing, poor socio-economic conditions and few green spaces in slums and informal settlements.
Our recent study in Akure, south-west Nigeria, shows that poor residents in informal neighbourhoods experience higher heat exposure, compared to residents in rich neighbourhoods. Through a survey of 70 residents in each neighbourhood, we found that poorer households in low-income neighbourhoods were more disadvantaged and have lower capacity to adapt to heat. Housing features in the poorer neighbourhood did not completely prevent excess heat.
Richer households in more affluent neighbourhoods were able to install features such as air conditioners, ceramic tiles and shady plants which the poorer ones could not. For example, while 78% households had air conditioners in the rich area, only 22% had them in the poor neighbourhood.
Green spaces have the potential to reduce heat and, in turn, improve health, especially in vulnerable urban areas such as informal settlements.
Another study I led experimented with vertical greening systems in low-income communities in Akure and Lagos – both cities in Nigeria – and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The experiment established that vertical greening was a solution for heat problems in informal neighbourhoods. And it had the added benefit of providing healthy food in the form of vegetables.
A recent study I led in Tanzania shows typical heat-related health problems reported among people residing in informal settlements. Among 405 residents surveyed in the study, 61% reported skin rashes, 42% reported malaria, 38% reported recurring headaches, 30% reported high blood pressure, 20% reported dizziness while another 22% reported confusion and inability to concentrate. Lower productivity at work (29%) and higher costs of cooling their spaces (57%) are other heat-related problems which, if not addressed, can negatively impact health conditions.
We designed and installed a vertical greening prototype made from high-density polyethylene pipes placed horizontally on walls of some residential buildings. The prototype was planted with indigenous leafy vegetables. In Nigeria, jute leaf (Corchorus olitorius), Lagos spinach (Celosia argentia) and African spinach (Amaranthus viridis) were planted. In Tanzania, Amaranthus spp., potato leaves (Ipomoea batatas), pumpkin leaves (Telfairia occidentalis) and legumes known locally as “majani ya kunde” were planted.
These vertical gardens provided healthy vegetables for the residents to eat. From a typical prototype in Nigeria, up to 1kg of vegetables were harvested in a six-week cycle. In Dar es Salaam, the different vegetables yielded varying quantities. For example, pumpkin leaves produced about 300g of vegetable harvested per 20-day cycle. For Amaranthus spp, a leafy vegetable, and potato leaves, bunches weighing about 660g and 450g were harvested respectively per cycle.
We can get vegetables which could have been bought … We usually harvest one type of vegetable twice per week, we are doing three days rotation to each type of vegetable, but it is for family use only … we never harvest for sale, unless a neighbour comes to ask for free.“
I have been getting vegetables. Like the ones I plucked today, it’s very green as you can see. And it is fresh. It nourishes the body more than the one you get from market.”
The vertical gardens also affected the indoor air temperature of the rooms they enveloped. Up to 2.88℃ maximum temperature and 0.7℃ minimum temperature reductions were recorded during a 45-day field measurement campaign held in September and October 2021 in Akure.
Wall temperature reduced by as much as 5°C during the 30-day measurement campaign undertaken between December 2020 and January 2021 in Dar es Salaam.
The temperature difference made by the vertical gardens means that residents feel more comfortable and thus may be less at risk of heat-related health problems.
Vertical greening can be scaled up. Parks and other green open spaces are usually created in formal and affluent neighbourhoods. While this is good, it must be complemented by policy initiatives and programmes that promote citizen-led, community-based vertical farming in dense informal settlements.
Incentives relevant for each local environment or community might help vertical greening to gain traction. There should be a strong push for vertical greening systems – for food, microclimate control and other health-related benefits.
The Washington Post published an Analysis by Michael Robbins and Amaney Jamal on how in the MENA, people are worrying about food.
In the Middle East and North Africa, people are worrying about food
Five things to know from Arab Barometer’s latest survey
What do people across the Middle East and North Africa think about food security, gender equality, democracy, climate change and China? Arab Barometer, the largest and longest-standing public opinion survey covering the MENA region, provides insights.
The new seventh wave includes more than 26,000 face-to-face interviews covering 12 MENA countries. The survey, conducted October 2021 to July, is the largest public opinion survey in the region since the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some takeaways.
Food insecurity has hit alarming levels
In half of the countries surveyed, a majority of citizens reported that they have often or sometimes run out of food within the previous 12 months. And most citizens in three-quarters of the countries surveyed say they worried that they would run out of money before they could afford more food, over the same period.
The bulk of these surveys were carried out before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which means the results don’t capture the full extent of the subsequent jump in food costs and shortages of food across much of the region. The growing sense of food insecurity is of particular concern beyond the clear human cost. Salma al-Shami explains in a new report how the lack of food is linked to a lower commitment to democracy, a higher desire to emigrate and diminished concerns about addressing climate change and other critical issues facing the region.
Citizens want democracy — but realize it’s not perfect
In previous Arab Barometer survey waves, the vast majority of respondents affirm that democracy remains the best system of governance. This seventh wave is no exception — but there have been dramatic changes in the perception of democracy overall. In the past few years, MENA publics have become far more likely to say that the economy runs poorly under democracy, that democracy leads to instability and that democracy is indecisive.
These outcomes could reflect the broader global retrenchment of democracy. Or perhaps these shifts are the result of MENA citizens reflecting on the recent challenges experienced by countries in the region such as Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq — three countries where governments have changed as a result of elections in the past decade. Regardless, the results make clear that citizens value democracy, though many have updated their views of how democracy works.
MENA countries are far from achieving gender equality
Arab Barometer surveys asked respondents whether men and women should play equal roles in public and private life. In most of the surveyed countries, majorities responded that men are better political leaders and that men should have the final say over decisions in the family. However, new analysis by MaryClare Roche demonstrates how these views are changing across much of the region.
In the case of Tunisia, over the past four years, Arab Barometer surveys show a 16-point decline in the perception that men are better at politics. And in Lebanon, surveys note a 16-point drop in the perception that men should have the final say within the household, compared with the 2018 survey. This recent survey wave found smaller but meaningful declines on these perceptions in a number of countries, suggesting that the region is moving toward a greater acceptance of women’s equality.
China remains more popular than the United States, but that might change
Arab citizens are more positive toward China than toward the United States, but views of America have improved, while views of China are rapidly changing. In Jordan and the Palestinian territories, citizens are now 20 points less likely to want closer economic ties with China than in 2018-2019. In Sudan, Morocco, Libya and Lebanon, Arab Barometer found a decline of at least five points on this same question. And none of the countries surveyed showed a meaningful increase in citizen support for closer economic links with China over this period.
China’s relative decline probably comes down to a closer familiarity with Beijing’s foreign policies. Arab Barometer also looked at perceptions of Chinese economic investment in local infrastructure. Although MENA publics largely see Chinese investment as the most affordable option for infrastructure projects, they also perceive these projects as low-quality investments that pay lower salaries to the local workforce than companies from other countries would probably pay.
Ultimately, most publics appear more likely to prefer investment from a U.S. or European company vs. a Chinese company. As China continues to pursue economic engagement in the region, these findings suggest that views of China might not improve as a result of this strategy.
Citizens worry about climate change but rank other concerns higher
The global COP27 meeting in Egypt will take place in November. New questions developed for this wave reveal that many MENA citizens think climate change is a critical issue and they want their governments to do more to address the problem. When asked about their primary environmental concerns, the primary issue is water — water scarcity, pollution of drinking water and pollution of their country’s waterways.
Citizens are also likely to assign equal blame the government and their fellow citizens for the lack of progress on environmental issues. Majorities in all the countries surveyed say that both parties are responsible for existing environmental challenges.
The survey also finds that levels of recycling or reusing basic items varies widely across the region. However, questions that asked why respondents recycle reveal that few cite the environment. Instead, the primary personal motivations behind recycling are cost savings and convenience. In short, concerns about the environment take a back seat when compared with other issues, but MENA publics are aware of environmental challenges and want action.
Michael Robbins is director and co-principal investigator at Arab Barometer.
Amaney Jamal is dean of the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and co-principal investigator of Arab Barometer.
Arab Barometer data and data analysis tools are freely available online thanks to our funders, including the Middle East Partnership Initiative, USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the BBC Arabic.
The MENA region is the most water-scarce in the world and possibly the most vulnerable to climate change. Water scarcity is also caused or made worse by conflicts, population growth, poor water management, deteriorating water infrastructure, and governance issues. All the above is millennia old and could only be aggravated by the increasingly apparent Climate Change impacting big and small countries. In the meantime, critical drivers behind water scarcity in MENA include rising agricultural demand and expanding irrigated land from aquifers decreasing pockets of water. The immediate effects are as elsewhere, the whole of the Mideast nations wake up to damage from climate change.
The above image is of:
An Afghan girl warms up her hands as she is resting from carrying the water in Balucha, Afghanistan, Monday, Dec. 14, 2021. The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impact of climate change, and already the effects are being seen. This year’s annual U.N. climate change conference, known as COP27, is being held in Egypt in November 2022, throwing a spotlight on the region. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
Mideast nations wake up to damage from climate change
By LEE KEATH
CAIRO (AP) — Temperatures in the Middle East have risen far faster than the world’s average in the past three decades. Precipitation has been decreasing, and experts predict droughts will come with greater frequency and severity.
The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impact of climate change — and already the effects are being seen.
In Iraq, intensified sandstorms have repeatedly smothered cities this year, shutting down commerce and sending thousands to hospitals. Rising soil salinity in Egypt’s Nile Delta is eating away at crucial farmland. In Afghanistan, drought has helped fuel the migration of young people from their villages, searching for jobs. In recent weeks, temperatures in some parts of the region have topped 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Fishermen navigate on the Shatt al-Arab waterway during a sandstorm in Basra, Iraq, May 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
This year’s annual U.N. climate change conference, known as COP27, is being held in Egypt in November, throwing a spotlight on the region. Governments across the Middle East have awakened to the dangers of climate change, particularly to the damage it is already inflicting on their economies.
“We’re literally seeing the effects right in front of us. … These impacts are not something that will hit us nine or 10 years down the line,” said Lama El Hatow, an environmental climate change consultant who has worked with the World Bank and specializes on the Middle East and North Africa.
“More and more states are starting to understand that it’s necessary” to act, she said.
Egypt, Morocco and other countries in the region have been stepping up initiatives for clean energy. But a top priority for them at COP-27 is to push for more international funding to help them deal with the dangers they are already facing from climate change.
One reason for the Middle East’s vulnerability is that there is simply no margin to cushion the blow on millions of people as the rise in temperatures accelerates: The region already has high temperatures and limited water resources even in normal circumstances.
Trash piles up in the heavily polluted Litani Rver, in Saghbin, Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Trash piles up in the heavily polluted Litani Rver, in Saghbin, Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Middle East governments also have a limited ability to adapt, the International Monetary Fund noted in a report earlier this year. Economies and infrastructure are weak, and regulations are often unenforced. Poverty is widespread, making job creation a priority over climate protection. Autocratic governments like Egypt’s severely restrict civil society, hampering an important tool in engaging the public on environmental and climate issues.
At the same time, developing nations are pressuring countries in the Mideast and elsewhere to make emissions cuts, even as they themselves backslide on promises.
The threats are dire.
As the region grows hotter and drier, the United Nations has warned that the Mideast’s crop production could drop 30% by 2025. The region is expected to lose 6%-14% of its GDP by 2050 because of water scarcity, according to the World Bank.
A horse cart driver transports wheat to a mill on a farm in the Nile Delta province of al-Sharqia, Egypt, on May 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Droughts are expected to become more frequent and severe. The Eastern Mediterranean recently saw its worst drought in 900 years, according to NASA, a heavy blow to countries like Syria and Lebanon where agriculture relies on rainfall. Demand for water in Jordan and the Persian Gulf countries is putting unsustainable pressure on underground water aquifers. In Iraq, the increased aridity has caused an increase in sandstorms.
At the same time, warming waters and air make extreme and often destructive weather events more frequent, like deadly floods that have repeatedly hit Sudan and Afghanistan.
The climate damage has potentially dangerous social repercussions.
Many of those who lose the livelihoods they once made in agriculture or tourism will move to the cities in search of jobs, said Karim Elgendy, an associate fellow at Chatham House. That will likely increase urban unemployment, strain social services and could raise social tensions and affect security, said Elgendy, who is also a non-resident scholar with the Middle East Institute.
People cross the Diyala River, a tributary of the Tigris, where decreasing water levels this year have raised alarm among residents, near Baghdad, Iraq, June 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Adapting infrastructure and economies to weather the damage will be enormously expensive: the equivalent of 3.3% of the region’s GDP every year for the next 10 years, the IMF estimates. The spending needs to go toward everything from creating more efficient water use systems and new agricultural methods to building coastal protections, beefing up social safety nets and improving awareness campaigns.
So far, developed nations have fallen short on those promises. Also, most of the money they have provided has gone to helping poorer countries pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — for “mitigation,” in U.N. terminology, as opposed to “adaptation.”
For this year’s COP, the top theme repeated by U.N. officials, the Egyptian hosts and climate activists is the implementation of commitments. The gathering aims to push countries to spell out how they will reach promised emission reduction targets — and to come up with even deeper cuts, since experts say the targets as they are now will still lead to disastrous levels of warming.
Afghan farmer uses donkey to carry water canisters across the dried-out river near Sang-e-Atash, Afghanistan, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
Developing nations will also want richer countries to show how they will carry out a promise from the last COP to provide $500 billion in climate financing over the next five years — and to ensure at least half that funding is for adaptation, not mitigation.
World events, however, threaten to undercut the momentum from COP26. On emissions cuts, the spike in world energy prices and the war in Ukraine have prompted some European countries to turn back to coal for power generation — though they insist it’s only a temporary step. The Middle East also has several countries whose economies rely on their fossil fuel resources — Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf most obviously, but also Egypt, with its increasing natural gas production.
Persistent inflation and the possibility of recession could make top nations hesitant on making climate financing commitments.
With international officials often emphasizing emission reduction, El Hatow said it should be remembered the countries of Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in the developing world have not contributed substantially to climate change, yet are bearing the brunt of it.
“We need to talk about financing for adaptation,” she said, “to adapt to a problem they did not cause.”
On June 30th, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a report, titled ‘The New Gold Rush: Bioprospecting,” which elucidates the benefits of bioprospecting for sustainable economic development for underdeveloped countries. Bioprospecting is the exploration of biodiversity for animal and plant substances for medicinal, biochemical, or other commercial purposes. One cause of the socio-economic disparity between rich and poor countries stems from colonial practices of environmental exploitation; larger countries pilfered the resources of smaller countries or current or former colonies to support the metropole’s industrialization and growth.
As underdeveloped countries aim to promote economic growth and political stability, the UNDP report encourages the sustainable extraction of plant and animal substances for pharmaceutical and biochemical purposes, specifically discussing bioprospecting’s potential in Cambodia due to its wealth of biodiversity. As the report articulates, as Cambodia transitions from a “subsistence agriculture-based economy to an agro-industrial economy, its biological resources are increasingly under threat.” Bioprospecting would thus harness traditional environmental knowledge alongside modern science and technology to promote sustainable development; in this way, the UNDP report attempts to revitalize the goals of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Policy and scientific recommendations on how to deal with the loss of biodiversity due to climate change gained traction with the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Commission on Environmental Law in the 1980s. Their efforts fed into the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in November 1988, which advocated for a multilateral institution to establish norms and protection over biodiversity– ultimately leading to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD sought to reconcile the need to conserve biodiversity, but also recognize its utilization towards economic and societal development for underdeveloped nations. The CBD begot a Treaty that established three goals: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its resources. 196 parties have ratified the treaty, including China, the U.K, Canada, and the E.U, but not the U.S due to its failure to pass the Senate. Its failure derived from three fears of U.S policy makers: that U.S biotech corporations would be required to share their intellectual property in genetic research with other countries; that the U.S would become financially responsible for other country’s conservation; and that the CBD would impose more environmental regulations on the U.S. Even after the Biden Administrations’ efforts to reimpose environmental policy slashed by Trump, similar concerns are thwarting their efforts to ratify the CBD.
These guidelines thus recognize the right of a country to benefit from the extraction of its resources and attempted to prevent biopiracy – a centuries old practice through which indigenous environmental knowledge was exploited and turned to profit. While not a new practice, biopiracy surged throughout the 20th century as modern biotech fields crystallized, often developing by drawing on indigenous knowledge of plants and animals and then patenting them. Furthermore, the Treaty stipulates that potential bioprospectors would need permission from the country’s government,and would require them to state the country of origin of the resource in the patent. The country’s government may also impose access fees or royalty payments for bioprospectors and obtain the research results. Supplementary protocols sprouted from the initial CBD Treaty, including the 2010 Nagoya Protocol, which helped promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, and the 2000 Cartagena Protocol, which ensures the safe handling of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology. Such guidelines attempt to reaffirm small countries’ sovereignty over their land and resources, promote sustainable utilization of plant and animal substances, and avoid the recurrence of environmental exploitation that has, among other factors, impeded development in the past.
The inhabitants of the mountainous upland regions of Cambodia have a rich knowledge base of natural resources and conservation. Their cultural norms and worldviews, as well as their livelihoods depend upon a symbiotic relationship with their environment. Climate change currently threatens more than 300 medicinal plants that are native to Cambodia and face extinction. One such plant is Tepongru (Cinnamomum cambodianum), a species of cinnamon that grows in the Cambodian mountains. The healers and herbalists of Khmer traditional medicine– or Kru Khemer, harvest the bark of Tepongru to cure indigestion, tuberculosis, and the regulation of menstruation. The bark also has high concentrations of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which biotechnology companies synthesize to use in both perfumes and essential oils, but also as an anesthetic. Furthermore, Kru Khemer engage in a variety of traditional medical practices including bone setting, herbalism, and divination; in this way, Kru Khemer maintain a vital societal role given their deep knowledge not just in medicinal plants and animals, but also in their knowledge of spiritual rituals that mediate the supernatural and the plant.
The CBD Treaty has been interpreted as an important step in sustainable development, a goal for which the U.N established its own ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ protocol under its department of Economic and Social Affairs. Furthermore, the report describes how the UNDP has attempted to support the goals of the CBD in actionable policy: “since 2011 the UNDP, with funding from the Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has been supporting governments, local communities, and the private sector to develop national ABS frameworks, build capacities, and harness the potential of genetic resources”— and specifically, the UNDP is working with Cambodian officials to implement the new project “Developing a Comprehensive Framework for Practical Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol in Cambodia”. And so, despite lacking crucial support from the United States, responsible bioprospecting, and the revitalization of the CBD, presents an opportunity in combating climate change while encouraging sustainable development and international economic equality; the most effective practices for successful environmental protection derive from supranational pursuits, but they still require national cooperation.
Originally posted on HUMAN WRONGS WATCH: Human Wrongs Watch (UN News)* — Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday [2 May 2023], calling for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news. UN Photo/Mark Garten | File photo…
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